How About LeBron James at Center?
LeBron James as small ball center with Anthony Davis at power forward could be the perfect solution when teams go small against the Lakers
Anthony Davis’ desire not to play center has left the Lakers struggling to figure out how to create LeBron and AD lineups with enough three-point shooters to space the floor and defenders to guard when teams go small.
With a projected starting lineup with LeBron James at the three, Anthony Davis at the four, and either DeMarcus Cousins or JaVale McGee at the five, the Lakers are inevitably going to find teams responding by going small. While I’ve written about the moves the Lakers can make for their big front court lineup to work against small ball lineups, there will be times when their best counter to teams going small will be for them to go small too.
While the Lakers’ best small ball lineup would have Anthony Davis moving from power forward to center, Davis has made it clear he does not want to play the five and the Lakers aren’t going to ask that of him. So unless the Lakers sign another candidate, LeBron James is really their only option to play small ball center. While he’s also been hesitant to play the five, LeBron would actually be a perfect candidate to play center in a small lineup.
You could argue that a lineup with James and Davis at the four and five surrounded by three good shooters and defenders would likely be the Lakers’ best overall five-man lineup so a small ball lineup with James at the five and Davis at the four would clearly be their best counter when teams went small. It would limit LeBron to defending forwards playing up as small ball centers and leave AD in his preferred power forward position.
Offensively, going small and replacing Cousins or McGee with a third three point shooter in the lineup would dramatically improve spacing for LeBron James and Anthony Davis and open the floor for them to attack the rim. According to coach Vogel: “It’s a simple concept, put shooters around elite offensive talents and you are going to be pretty good because your guys are either going to score or they’re going to find shooters on the weak side.”
Defensively, replacing Cousins or McGee with a third perimeter defender would enable the Lakers to better matchup with opposing teams’ small ball lineups. While LeBron’s no longer an elite post defender, small and power forwards playing small ball center aren’t going to able to push him around and having an elite help shot blocker like Anthony Davis alongside him is going to make it very difficult for opposing teams to score in the paint.
I couldn’t find any statistics on how many minutes NBA teams in an average game play small ball but I have to believe it’s close to 50% or half of the time. If the Lakers roll out a starting lineup with a front court of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins, I have to think that the percentage of the time other teams could play small could increase to 67% or two thirds of the time. LeBron may play center more than half the time.
Bottom line, small ball lineups with LeBron James at the five and Anthony Davis at the four could end up being a staple part of the Lakers’ rotation both during the regular season and for sure during the NBA playoffs.