Since he came to Los Angeles, the Lakers have been in a constant back-and-forth battle with Anthony Davis over his minutes at the center position. AD has made it known he prefers not to play those minutes unless absolutely necessary, but the Lakers have seen they are at their best with him at the five.
The team has had success going both ways. Last season, Davis played almost exclusively at the center position and the Lakers made the Western Conference Finals. In 2019-20, though, Davis played alongside another big and the team won the title, though the playoffs saw a heavy dose of AD minutes at center.
Instead of the necessary choosing one exclusive route or the other this year, the Lakers and Davis look prepared to meet in the middle this season. Or at least try to.
A roster with versatility and depth as its biggest strengths could be a weapon the Lakers use this season in a unique way. On Wednesday’s episode of Brian Windhorst & the Hoop Collective podcast, Dave McMenamin of ESPN discussed how head coach Darvin Ham intends to approach the preseason and regular season this year.
“Darvin’s plan, at least — and it could prove to be complicated because we know how most NBA teams, they like to hear from their head coach a regimented rotation sooner rather than later — but Darvin’s plan is to use the preseason and in the season to have different look lineups. On the nights when you’re going to play Joel Embiid or a Nikola Jokic, maybe you’ve got Jaxson Hayes in there at the five. On other nights when you’re not taking as much of a pounding with a physical specimen on the other side, you could have AD playing that role.”
It’s an approach not often used in the NBA, though there’s no reason it couldn’t work. In baseball and soccer, lineups change on a game-to-game basis depending on the opponent while also allowing players to rest as well.
The mindset in the NBA isn’t like that, though, and that would be the biggest hurdle to overcome. The Lakers spoke at media day about their depth and how they don’t care about their roles, but it’s easy to say that before the preseason.
But if they can do that, it could be the solution to their problems while also allowing them to utilize their biggest strength. And, as McMenamin also stated on the podcast, it could be the way to meet in the middle with the AD center minutes debate.
“They think that their way to overcome that preference from AD is to not have him only have a diet of playing the five and have him buy-in, recognizing that this makes our team as lethal as possible but being able to play a variety of ways.”
The Lakers have the ability to throw all sorts of lineups out there. Whether it’s Jaxson Hayes or Christian Wood at center or Rui Hachimur and Jarred Vanderbilt in the front court instead, they could have all sorts of ways to attack opposing teams and keep them off guard.
It would require complete agreement and cooperation from the roster but it could be a zig when everyone else zags and unlock the Lakers even more this season.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.