Why the Los Angeles Lakers Envision Anthony Davis as a Stretch Five Center
At the heart of the Lakers’ vision for the future is Anthony Davis as a stretch five center. That’s why Frank Vogel wants him to shoot more threes per game and why the Lakers dumped traditional centers McGee and Howard.
While the Lakers don’t want Davis to endure the physical wear-and-tear of playing traditional low post centers in the paint, they clearly understand they’re at their best as a team when he is playing the five instead of the four. The stats and the eye test confirm this so the Lakers’ goal is to figure out how they can play him at the five for more minutes or even all of the time. Part of the answer is for Anthony Davis to become more of a stretch five.
While old school traditionalist complain that takes Davis away from the basket and dilutes his impact on offense, the reality is AD is best in space, where he can use his handle and gravity as a shooter to attack defenses. Playing Davis like a traditional low post center on offense presents the same problems as having him defend more rugged opposing centers in the paint. He’s more of a finesse player like Kareem than a power player like Shaq.
Instead, the Lakers have a vision for Anthony Davis where he is a stretch five on offense and a roaming defensive free safety and help rim protector on defense, which requires pairing him with bigs that complement him. Offensively, he needs a big who can stretch the floor like Gasol or Morris to create spacing to attack. Defensively, he needs a big like Morris or Harrell with the size and strength to hold their ground against opposing centers.
While the Lakers will miss McGee’s and Howard’s rim protection, they learned in the playoffs that traditional low post centers who clog the paint on offense and can't guard on the perimeter on defense were unplayable. Ideally, the Lakers need a modern center like Indiana’s Myles Turner, who can stretch the floor on offense and protect the rim and guard the perimeter on defense. That may be the Lakers’ top roster priority going forward.
Meanwhile, the Lakers decided Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell would be better solutions to complement Anthony Davis than JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard as they obviously did not want to bring back either of them. Gasol has good 3-point shooting and playmaking ability but may not be able to defend in the paint or on the perimeter. Harrell, while undersized, has a mid-range shot and the energy and athleticism to be a plus defender.
While we’ve only played two regular season games, Gasol has struggled to have an impact while Harrell has been even better than the Lakers had hoped, providing relentless hustle and energy at both ends of the court. Hopefully, Gasol will start to play better though he could become this season’s JaVale McGee, who starts the first and third quarters. So far the best solution may be Harrell and Morris sharing time alongside Davis.
We’ve seen the same pattern so far in the Lakers’ first two games when Marc Gasol goes to the bench. Davis plays the five on offense but it’s Harrell or Morris who defend the opposing team’s center, leaving Davis to roam. It’s the perfect strategy to optimize Davis at both ends of the court with minimal wear-and-tear. Offensively, he operates best facing up his opponent in space. Defensively, he plays best as a help defender and shot blocker.
Right now Morris does a better job than Harrell defending the opposing team’s center but expect Trezz to become better as he becomes acclimated to the role and learns how to take advantage of playing alongside Anthony. While Harrell does not have the 3-point shooting stroke to stretch the defense like Morris does, he has his own gravity as a rebounder and shooter who can hit mid-range jumpers from the baseline and complement Davis.
For now, Frank Vogel will continue to encourage Anthony Davis to shoot the three ball and Markieff Morris and Montrezl Harrell will continue to defend opposing centers when Lakers go ‘small’ and AD becomes a stretch five. That’s why all the worry about the Gasol’s slow start and the Lakers letting McGee and Howard walk aren’t important in the short or long term. The Lakers have their plan for the future and it’s Anthony Davis as a stretch five.
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