Lakers Should Start AD at Center!
Lakers’ Head coach Frank Vogel must build his offense and defense around Anthony Davis for the Lakers to win a championship
If Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel wants to optimize Anthony Davis, he needs to commit to playing him full-time as the Lakers starting center and rim protector and limit his opportunities to play power forward.
While Davis has historically played around 45% of his time at power forward, there’s no question his best and most impactful position is center. During the 2017–18 season, he averaged 26.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 1.1 steals playing as power forward alongside DeMarcus Cousins. After Boogie went down midseason, he averaged 30.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, and 2.1 steals playing center as the Pelicans surged.
More importantly, Davis continued his great center play in the playoffs that year, averaging 30.1 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 2.0 steals in 9 playoff games including a four-game sweep of the Portland Trailblazers before succumbing to the champion Golden State Warriors in five games. That run confirmed that Anthony Davis’ best position was center where he could be the anchor that elevated the team’s offense and defense.
There was a time when Davis preferred playing power forward but he now recognizes that center is his best position and is more than willing to play there full-time. Other than the stint playing alongside Boogie, Davis has played center 70% of the time over the last three years. As he said during the Pelicans surge in early 2018: “I’ll play center or I’ll play forward. It really doesn’t make a difference as long as we are winning.”
The first major decision that Frank Vogel should make as the Lakers’ head coach is to install Anthony Davis as his full-time starting center. It’s a move that fits with Vogel’s belief that, even in the three-point era, defense starts with rim protection. There’s no center in the game today who can match the block and steal numbers that Anthony Davis produced. He is without question the best rim and paint protector in the league.
But unlike other elite shot blocking centers like Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis has the lateral quickness and mobility to defend in space out to the three-point line when necessary. He’s not the traditional dinosaur big man who can be forced to the bench by a stretch five center. If necessary, he can switch and defend all five positions. Opposing teams just aren’t going to be able to go small to get him out of the game. He can play big or small.
Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel needs to resist pressure to go big by starting DeMarcus Cousins at center and playing Anthony Davis at power forward, essentially replicating the New Orleans Pelicans’ front court of 2017–18. That’s a move that would ultimately hurt the Lakers’ defense. After Cousins went down in 2017–18 and Davis took over full-time at center, the Pelican’s team defensive rating jumped from 22nd to 4th in the entire league.
For a head coach who historically puts defense first, Vogel would be smart to keep Davis as the Lakers’ starting center and bring Cousins off the bench, where he could dominate offensively against teams’ second string centers. Keeping Boogie on the bench also opens up a starting spot for another plus defender. For example, if the Lakers were to sign Iggy, Bradley, Green, Iguodala, James, and Davis could be an elite defensive starting lineup.
Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel has become a convert to analytics and the value of the three-point shot. The Lakers have done a great job this summer adding the three-point shooting that LeBron James needs to be his best. Starting Anthony Davis at center is also the Lakers’ best option offensively as it opens up a starting spot for another three-point shooter to stretch the floor and spread the defense to give LeBron space to optimize his game.
While going big with DeMarcus Cousins at center and Anthony Davis at power forward could be effective against certain teams, it’s not the ideal strategy to optimize the talents of LeBron James or AD. The Lakers best offensive set this year is going to be the LeBron James/Anthony Davis pick-and-roll with three elite shooters stationed in the corners and weak side wing. That’s the set that’s going to be indefensible and unstoppable.
Coach Vogel needs to surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with dead-eye shooters to fully optimize their superstar talents. There is no better pick-and-roll initiator than LeBron James or better finisher than Anthony Davis. Surround them with elite three-point shooters and teams will be unable to help defend LeBron driving or Davis rolling. The Lakers will be an offensive juggernaut the likes of which we’ve never seen.
The talented Kevin Ding in a recent article for Lakers.com wrote what I think was the perfect description of the potential of the LeBron/AD pick-and-roll: “James and Davis as a pick-and-roll tandem is such a perfect pairing that about the only debate for opposing coaches shall be which player deserves more to draw the double-team that is going to reduce the defense to ants scrambling before accepting a dose of lethal bug spray.”
Finally, bringing DeMarcus Cousins off the bench to feast on opposing teams’ second string centers could be a gigantic difference makers for the Lakers this season, especially when surrounded a cadre of elite three-point shooters. It’s a much more effective way of taking advantage of Boogie’s talents than trying to cram him into a big starting lineup with Anthony Davis as power forward. Let them both benefit from great spacing.
The Lakers won the NBA offseason when they traded with the Pelicans for Anthony Davis but head coach Frank Vogel must commit to playing him full-time at center for the Lakers to win a championship.