Instead of locking down the 5th seed and fine tuning the small ball lineup with AD at the five that won the championship last year, the Lakers are foolishly chasing a pipe dream Big 3 of James, Davis, and Drummond.
Frankly, the Lakers would be hard pressed to find a poorer option to be the third member of a Big 3 with LeBron James and Anthony Davis than Andre Drummond, a center whose mental and physical tool sets simply don’t fit. That Frank Vogel’s first look at a James, Davis, and Drummond Big 3 ended with a costly and disappointing 110–106 loss at Staples Center to a Kings team with the worst defensive rating in the league was not a big surprise.
Anybody who watched Drummond play in his 11 games with the Lakers before last night could have easily have predicted Andre would post empty stats and fail to generate any winning chemistry with LeBron and Anthony. While Drummond is talented, there’s no chance he‘ll be able to learn how to win in time to help the Lakers repeat as NBA champions after spending 8 years acquiring poor habits and failing to develop his game on losing teams.
Offensively, Drummond is an inefficient low post scorer and poor lob threat whose constant presence in the paint makes it easy for teams to build a wall and prevent James and Davis from penetrating and getting to the rim. Defensively, he’s not the shot blocker or rim protector McGee or Howard were and is vulnerable like them to becoming unplayable in the trapping, switching, rotating defense the Lakers used to win the championship.
While Vogel praised the potential of the James, Davis, and Drummond Big 3, the eye test and analytics painted a different picture: 17 minutes with a subpar 97.3 offensive rating, 105.4 defensive rating, and -8.1 net rating. While Drummond scored 17 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, he ended up with a -3.0 plus/minus for game, including a key stretch late in the fourth quarter where a 3 point Lakers’ lead turned into a critical 2 point deficit.
The danger of the Lakers foolishly chasing a pipe dream Big 3 of James, Davis, and Drummond is they waste valuable time experimenting with a big lineup when they should be honing their small ball lineups for the playoffs. Andre Drummond is not going to replace Anthony Davis as the Lakers’ best center and no big lineup is going to replace the proven small ball lineups with AD at the five that defined the Lakers’ championship run last year.
It was frustrating watching Vogel ignore the great play from Marc Gasol (+12 plus/minus) at center in the first half and then stubbornly only play centers Drummond (-3 plus/minus) and Harrell (-11 plus/minus) in the second half. In the 9 games left, the Lakers need to lock up 5th seed in the West, re-integrate LeBron and AD, and figure out their playoff lineups and rotations. The last thing they should be doing is chasing a pipe dream Big 3 lineup.
The Lakers are likely to get a wake up call when they play the Nuggets and Clippers next week. If there is any hope a James, Davis, and Drummond Big 3 can actually work, Vogel is going to have to see it in those two games. Otherwise, the Lakers will have no option other than to look to reprise their championship run of last season by going small with Anthony Davis starting and closing games at the five and hope they can recapture that magic.
Should the James, Davis, and Drummond Big 3 crash and burn against the Nuggets and Clippers, the Lakers would still have six regular season games to switch to small ball lineups with Davis and Gasol playing as stretch fives. That should still be enough time for Vogel and his staff to re-commit to playing small ball, reexamine their starting and closing lineups, and narrow their rotations from 10–11 to 8–9 players for the upcoming playoffs.
Rooting for anybody on the Lakers to fail has never been an option for me but the best thing for the Lakers vs. the Nuggets and Clippers might be to find chasing a James, Davis, and Drummond Big 3 was a foolish pipe dream.
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