LeBron James is said to be the only NBA player who can legitimately play all five positions. Get ready for that theory to be tested because LeBron playing small ball center could be the Lakers’ secret weapon to beat the Warriors.
While nobody from the Lakers’ front office or coaching staff has commented about LeBron playing center, it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots. The last thing the Lakers want is other teams worrying or preparing for LeBron playing small ball center. But if you look at the Lakers’ history of playing small, their current roster, and their recent decision to let Julius Randle walk, it’s obvious the Lakers’ grand plan is for LeBron to be their small ball center.
We already know Magic’s pitch to LeBron was you need to a team of smart, tough, athletic playmakers and defenders and not just shooters to defeat the Warriors. The second half of that pitch is you also need to be able to match up with the Warriors’ vaunted ‘Death Lineup’ if you hope to beat them and the only way to do that is for LeBron to embrace playing as our small ball center. That’s the move the Lakers need to make to match the Warriors’ small ball.
Even though he played just 1.4% of his time at center with the Cavs last year, LeBron is no stranger to playing small ball center and knows it could be the ideal position for him at this stage of his career. He did it when he played for the Heat and Team USA and when you think about his plans to play more in the post and off the ball this season, he’s really describing the point center role the Lakers are going to want him to play on offense when they go small.
But the big reason LeBron playing small ball center is critical to beating the Warriors is defense. The Lakers were a top ten NBA defensive team last year when they played small with Julius Randle as their small ball center. Like the Showtime Lakers, last year’s Baby Lakers used their defense to drive their league leading transition offense. LeBron playing a bully brand of defense as a small ball center could be the Lakers’ secret weapon to beat the Warriors.
The truth is the Lakers need LeBron to play small ball center and anchor Luke’s ‘switch everything’ defense more than they need him to turbo charge their offense. Expect Luke to reduce LeBron’s minutes from the 37 per game he played last year to the low 30’s so he’ll be fresher and able to focus his energy on returning to playing like an All-NBA defender and transforming the Lakers into a top-five defense capable of slowing down the Warriors.
Magic and Rob have made it clear the Lakers still plan to play at a breakneck speed and that means going small. Last year, Julius Randle played 2,190 minutes of the total 3,936 minutes at center, which meant the Lakers played small ball 55% of the time. That’s not going to change this year. In fact, the Lakers will probably play even more small ball this year since none of their current centers has averaged more than 9 minutes per game in the NBA.
That Magic was able to convince LeBron to play off the ball and more in the post like Kobe and Michael did to extend their careers was a surprise. That he was also able to talk him into being the Lakers’ small ball center is amazing.
LeBron’s not just our best option as a small ball center. He’s our only option. Get ready for a surprise because LeBron playing center and turning small ball into bully ball could be the Lakers’ secret weapon to dethrone the Warriors.