6 Reasons Why Thomas Bryant Must Start at Center Next to Anthony Davis
The Los Angeles Lakers have a good problem to deal with once Anthony Davis returns from injury, which is what should they then do with young backup center Thomas Bryant, who’s been nothing short of sensational?
Since Anthony Davis was injured on December 18th, Thomas Bryant has averaged 27.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.4 blocks in 29.3 minutes per game starting at center while the Lakers finished 8–6.
Thomas did this shooting 65.8% from the field, 52.4% from beyond the arc, and 75.0% from the line. Along with Schröder and Westbrook, Thomas Bryant’s breakout performance has basically saved the Lakers’ season.
Once AD returns, Darvin Ham must decide whether to continue starting Thomas Bryant at center or make him the team’s backup? Considering how great Anthony Davis was playing at center, that will not be an easy decision.
In the end, positionless basketball should win out. The Lakers know their formula to win is Davis playing low post center on offense and paint shot blocker on defense, which he can do as starting center or power forward.
While the Lakers could revert to Anthony Davis starting at center in the playoffs, here are 6 reasons why Thomas Bryant should start at center and Anthony Davis at power forward once he returns for the regular season.
1. Starting Bryant Gives Lakers Positional Size Advantage
One major advantage of starting Thomas Bryant at center with Davis and James sliding to the four and three is it gives the Lakers positional size advantage at the small forward, power forward, and center positions.
While the Lakers desperately need more size at the small forward position, finding even a quality 3&D wing to backup LeBron James has been a challenge and landing a starting quality small forward is near impossible.
But starting Thomas Bryant at center and pushing Anthony Davis to the four and LeBron James to the three is the other way the Lakers can solve their size issues. We may also see Davis defending threes and James fours.
A Lakers’ front court of James, Davis, and Bryant at 6' 9", 6' 10, and 6' 10" would be one of the biggest and most physical front courts in the league and would be matchup nightmares for many of the teams in the NBA.
Barring a trade at the deadline for an elite 3&D wing like O.G. Anunoby, keeping Bryant as the starting center is likely the easiest way for the Lakers to add desperately needed size and shooting to their starting lineup.
Positional size advantage is critical for Lakers. The only way they can win with this roster is by offsetting the points they lose in the 3-point shooting battle by winning the free throw and points-in-the-paint differentials.
2. Starting Bryant Could Help Keep Davis Injury Free
The Los Angeles Lakers would be foolish not to realize at this point that Anthony Davis is injury prone and take necessary steps in constructing a roster and establishing rotations to keep AD healthy and on the court.
One obvious strategic move would be to start a bruising physical center like Thomas Bryant next to Anthony Davis to limit the banging and physicality he has to endure against bigger centers like Jokic, Embiid, and Sabonis.
While it’s hard to specifically link Davis’ injury history with his playing center or power forward, it just makes sense for the Lakers to pair AD with a stretch five like Bryant who can share some of the low post physicality.
One of the traits the Lakers love about Thomas Bryant is his engine and motor. He’s exactly the kind of court mate that Anthony Davis needs to take on the more physical aspects of playing the center position in today’s NBA.
NBA teams have learned that being physical with Anthony Davis is the best way to limit or stop him. Providing him with an aggressive physical front court mate like Thomas Bryant should help keep AD fit and healthy.
Building a roster to support an injury prone Anthony Davis is a better path than giving up and trading a transcendental MVP and DPOY caliber player. Lakers should start Thomas Bryant so help keep Anthony Davis healthy.
3. Starting Bryant Opens Backup Center for Rim Protector
As terrific as Bryant has been offensively, his lack of footspeed and lateral quickness severely limits his impact defensively. Starting him alongside an elite three-level defender like Anthony Davis covers his defensive liabilities.
Starting Bryant at center also opens minutes for a backup center who can protect the rim when AD’s not in the game. Next to a big wing defender, L.A.’s greatest defensive need is a backup center who can protect the rim.
Now is also the perfect time for the Lakers to find a better third center than Damian Jones as there’s a good chance Thomas Bryant will have played himself out of the Lakers price range and they’ll lost him to free agency.
Thus, finding a backup center who can stretch the floor and attack the rim offensively like Thomas Bryant but also block shots and provide defensive rim protection when AD rests is a critical need the Lakers need to fill.
The best possible candidate could be the Orlando Magic’s Mo Bamba, a 24-year old, 7' 1", 231 lb center who‘s averaging 7.7 points, shooting 37.0% on 2.8 3PA’s per game and blocking 1.1 shots in just 18.0 minutes per game.
Starting Thomas Bryant at center opens up an opportunity for the Lakers to pursue a defensive oriented backup center who can provide greatly needed rim protection for the team whenever Anthony Davis is on the bench.
4. Starting Bryant Improves Spacing for James and Davis
The biggest challenge the Laker front office faces right now is surrounding superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis with shooting. Starting 6' 10" sharpshooting Thomas Bryant at center could help the Laker spacing.
Right now, Bryant leads the Lakers in 3-point shooting percentage, hitting 45.2%. While Thomas does most of his scoring damage at the rim while AD was out, he has the gunner attitude to become a high volume stretch five.
Assuming the Lakers want AD to continue to dominate in the post when in the game, it’s logical to expect the them to want to turn Bryant into a high-volume stretch five similar to the Bucks’ starting center Brook Lopez.
The Lakers have struggled all season to come up with lineups to surround James and Davis with role players who can shoot and are big enough to defend their positions. Bryant is the cure for those three guard lineups.
Starting Bryant leaves Darvin Ham with only starting point guard and shooting guard to decide. From the current roster, the best options would be Dennis Schröder (38.5% 3P%) and Austin Reaves (36.0% 3P%).
Starting Thomas Bryant at center is a key first step towards finally surrounding LeBron James and Anthony Davis with volume 3-point shooting to give them the spacing needed to attack the paint and rim.
5. Starting Bryant Enables Davis To Play Preferred Position
Anthony Davis has never wavered in his preference to play power forward rather than center. But he’s also always said he would do ‘whatever it takes’ and proved that by playing the five in the 2020 championship in the bubble.
Frankly, the Lakers prefer the version of Anthony Davis they saw right before he injured his foot in December, an MVP and DPOY caliber player replacing long twos and threes shot selection with easier dunks and layups.
Davis and the Lakers need to remember the game is becoming positionless. There’s no reason Davis can’t continue to take and make the exact same kinds of shots he did before when starting at center as power forward.
All Anthony Davis wants is space to do his thing. If that means starting lower in the paint, so be it. If it means attacking the rim to get a dunk or get to the line, so be it. Anthony Davis totally understands ‘whatever it takes.’
It will be Thomas Bryant’s whose game will change once Anthony Davis returns and becomes the primary option. While he’ll get his touches in the paint, Thomas’ primary goal as a starter will be to create spacing for AD.
While Anthony Davis will get to return to his preferred starting power forward position if Thomas Bryant starts at center, the Lakers will focus their offense on getting the ball to Anthony Davis close to the rim.
6. Starting Bryant Allows Ham to Play Offense Like Bucks
Head coach Darvin Ham’s original plan was to have the Lakers run the two-bigs offense he used in Milwaukee with Antetokounmpo and Lopez having Bryant or Jones playing center and Anthony Davis playing power forward.
Injuries to Bryant and a poor start by Jones caused Ham to throw out the two-bigs plan and revert to Anthony Davis at the five, which turned out to be the move that unleased a new version of him better than bubble AD.
Then came the unfortunate foot injury in December, which opened the door for a finally healthy Thomas Bryant to throw his cap in the ring as a legitimate difference maker since he helped resurrect the Lakers’ season.
Bryant has basically played so well that Ham and the Lakers are already leaning towards continuing to start Thomas once Anthony Davis returns, which gives Ham the opportunity to run a version of the Buck’s two-bigs.
For the Lakers, returning to two-bigs for at least the rest of the regular season makes sense. In fact, playing two bigs during the regular season was a major favtor in the Lakers 2020 championship run in the bubble.
Darwin Ham has been ‘hamstrung’ all season by a poorly constructed roster from the Lakers’ front office but everything now suddenly seems to be falling in place for Los Angeles. Kuddos to Coach Darvin Ham!
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