Time Has Come for Anthony Davis to Be Lakers’ Small Ball Center Full Time
Between two Covid colored seasons, the rise of a new generation of stars, and a looming changing of the guard in the NBA, this offseason may be the time for the Lakers to ask Anthony Davis to play small ball center full time.
While Davis at the five might be a delicate subject to discuss right now since his injury susceptibility was a big part of why the Lakers aren’t in the Finals, AD at the five is the ultimate weapon around which the team should build. The Lakers have major decisions to make this offseason. They need to catch up. The competitive landscape has changed. Their reign as champions is over. They’re no longer the favorites. What’s worked may need changing.
The Lakers need to sit down with Anthony Davis and explain to him that it’s crazy for the team not to play him at the five since that’s his best position and since fivesomes with him playing center have been their best lineups. We didn’t win the NBA championship last season playing Anthony Davis at the four. We won because AD dominated at both ends playing the five. For some reason, we seem to have conveniently forgotten the reason we won.
The Lakers should stop accommodating Anthony Davis’ preference to play the four and do what’s best for the team. Here are five reasons the Lakers need to build their offense and defense around AD as a small ball center.
1. AD at Small Ball Center Is the Lakers’ Best Lineup.
Let’s start with the obvious, NBA pundits all agree Anthony Davis’ best position is small ball center and the Los Angeles Lakers’ best lineups are when Anthony Davis plays small ball five rather than power forward.
While Davis prefers to play the four due to concern over his susceptiblity to injuries because of the physicality of playing center, he’s clearly said he has no problem playing the five when needed, especially during the playoffs. Yet the Lakers continue to avoid playing Davis at the five. Last season, he played center 10% during the regular season and 20% in the playoffs, down from 40% in the regular season and 60% in the playoffs the year before.
Rather than continue to accomodate Davis’ preference to play the four, the Lakers should be sit down with him and figure out how they optimize his time as a small ball center while limiting the physicality of playing the five.
2. AD at Small Ball Center Would Modernize the Lakers.
Aside from the lunacy of not playing your best lineup, AD at small ball center would modernize the Lakers both offensively and defensively. Davis is the modern offensive and defensive center the Lakers need to win.
Offensively, Anthony Davis is the perfect modern center. He can dominate in the low post, score at will with midrange jumpers, and stretch the floor and create space for himself and his teammates with his 3-point shooting. Defensively, he can not only protect the rim but has the speed, quickness, and mobility to switch, rotate, and defend smaller players out to the 3-point line. Unlike traditional low post centers, he can’t be played off the floor.
The Lakers need to stop wasting time and resources on short term rent-a-centers who get played off the floor in the playoffs when they already have the league’s best modern offensive and defensive center in Anthony Davis.
3. AD at Small Ball Center Can Be Protected From Physicality.
Once the Lakers commit to AD at small ball center, there are specific moves they can make to enable Davis to avoid overly physical matchups against bully ball centers like Joel Embiid, Deandre Ayton, or Nikola Jokic.
Rather than spinning wheels trying to find a center would be a good fit next to Davis at the four, the Lakers should focus on finding a power forward like Julius Randle or PJ Tucker with the size and mentality to guard big centers. The Lakers should also adjust their defensive schemes to double team and trap bully ball centers to prevent them from overpowering Davis one-on-one, which is the only way to stop superstar centers like Embiid or Jokic.
The answer to concerns about AD getting injured playing the five is to pair him with a bully ball stretch four capable of defending centers and/or give him help in the form of traps and double aganst the tougher matchups.
4. AD at Small Ball Center Simplifies Roster Building Process.
The Lakers need shift their roster building stretegy to focus on players to complement Anthony Davis at small ball five rather than stretch four. They need a bully ball stretch four to go with AD rather than an old school five.
There are more power forwards available who can bang with big bully ball dominating centers like Embiid and Jokic than modern defensive centers like Davis who can’t be played off the floor for slow foot speed and mobility. The Lakers already have a proven candidate in Markieff Morris who played stretch four to AD’s small ball five in the playofffs but should be looking to add more elite 3&D fours like Julius Randle, PJ Tucker, or Jae Crowder.
The NBA is a matchup league and the Lakers need power forwards who can physically bang with bully ball centers to free up Anthony Davis to play the small ball five position and reach his ultimate ceiling as an NBA player.
5. AD at Small Ball Center Is Where the League Is Heading.
The Lakers have spent two years generally ignoring their most lethal lineup in an attempt to live up to the promises they made to recruit Anthony Davis. That decision is like a giant cargo ship that’s hard to stop and turn around.
But that’s exactly what the Lakers need to do at this point in time because we wasted time and opportunities building a roster around the foundation strategy that Anthony Davis was going to play the four and not the five. Whom we drafted, signed in free agency, and traded were all part of that grand plan. Now it’s time for the Lakers to rethink that plan and make AD at small ball five the franchise’s foundation strategy starting this summer.
Anthony Davis will take the baton from LeBron James as the face of the Lakers’ franchise sometime over the next few years. The Lakers need to commit to taking full advantage of his unique skills as a small ball center.
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