Power of Positional Size Is Why Lakers Must Become Bigger at Every Position

Dominant size at every position was how the Lakers won the 2020 NBA championship in the bubble, playing a jumbo starting lineup that averaged 6' 8" or 2 inches taller at each of the five positions than the average NBA team.

Watching this season’s undersized version of those Lakers consistently lose the rebounding and points-in-the-paint battles will hopefully force the front office to reprioritize their roster building strategy to focus on getting bigger. What had been a fearsome small-ball-on-steroids attack that dominated at both ends of the court in the bubble has somehow evolved into undersized micro-ball lineups with Anthony Davis or LeBron James as the only big.

Positional size is not about prioritizing size over needed basketball skillsets. It’s about building a roster with players who are just as good at shooting, passing, rebounding, and defending as any at their position but are bigger. Having that kind of size advantage at every position is game changing at both ends of the court, as Lakers’ opponents discovered in the bubble. The Lakers dominated the boards and paint playing two bigs and small-ball-on-steroids.

While size still matters in the NBA, just being big is not enough and players need quickness, foot speed, and physicality to play and defend their position and not be constantly hunted by teams and played off the floor defensively. Heading into this summer, the Lakers’ top priority after hiring a head coach and trading Russell Westbrook should be to return to their winning strategy of positional size advantage when rebuilding around LeBron and AD.

Positional size is about creating a team-wide size advantage that translates into opposing teams getting worn out fighting against bigger players and frustrated as they give up more points, rebounds, blocked shots, and steals. It’s also about not just about size alone; it’s about how a player uses that size. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example, both play bigger than their physical measurements as do players like P.J. Tucker and Bruce Brown.

So let’s take a look at why positional size is so important to the Lakers, how more positional size will impact the team offensively and defensively, and why greater positional size could be the key to the purple and gold winning #18:

Why Is Positional Size Such a Key Factor in Lakers’ Rebuild?

Restoring the positional size advantage that helped them win the 2020 NBA championship should be the Los Angeles Lakers top priority this summer. Positional size is the strategic wild card the Lakers need to fully embrace.

The last two year’s injury plagued seasons should have convinced the Lakers’ front office that playing injury-prone Anthony Davis or 37-year old LeBron James extensively at center was simply not a smart or strategic move to make. James at the four and Anthony at the five actually leave the Lakers undersized at both positions since at 6' 9" James is 1 inch shorter and at 6' 10" Davis 2 inches shorter than today’s average NBA power forward and center.

But were the Lakers to acquire a new enter like 6' 11" Myles Turner or 7' 0" Isaiah Hartenstein and move 6' 10" Anthony Davis to the four and 6' 9" LeBron James to the three, they would have positional size edge at all three positions. That’s why the smart way for the Lakers to get bigger is by adding a 6' 11" to 7' 1" center and moving 6' 9" James and 6' 10" Davis down a position rather than playing them at the four and five and adding size with a bigger small forward.

Making positional size part of the roster building strategy reflects the reality that players at all positions have been and will continue to get bigger and their wingspans longer so it makes sense to prioritize size when the rest is equal. The other thing always to remember is it’s how the player plays that matters more than his actual height measurement. Individual motor, vertical leap, and physicality can empower players to play greater than their physical size.

While LeBron James and Anthony Davis have the skill and talent to play bigger than they are, their best positions are most likely small and power forward where they have a definite size advantage over their competition.

How Will Positional Size Will Impact Lakers Offensively?

Offensively, having positional size advantage should enable the Lakers to dominate the paint, score at the rim, and control the boards, playing both a versatile bully-ball two-bigs and small-ball-on-steroids style of basketball.

Restoring the Lakers’ positional size advantage on offense starts with finding a young modern two-way center to start games to enable Anthony Davis to start at the four in regular season games like during the championship year. Starting a 6' 11" to 7' 1" young stud at center and sliding Anthony Davis and LeBron James down a position to power forward and small forward would give the Lakers a significant 2" advantage at all three front court positions.

The only strategic tweak the Lakers should make is adding a modern center who can not only block shots and protect the rim but can also stretch the court with 3-point shooting and defend well enough not to get played off the floor. Acquiring a modern two-way center like Myles Turner or Isaiah Hartenstein could also limit the wear-and-tear and potential injuries due to Anthony Davis having to deal with the raw physicality of playing center in the regular season.

By adding a stretch five center like Myles Turner or Isaiah Hartenstein, the Lakers can not only improve their positional size advantage in the front court and also improve their shooting, rebounding, and points-in-the-paint issues.

How Will Positional Size Impact Lakers Defensively?

Last season, the Lakers’ lack of positional size hurt them defensively in three areas: lack of front court size to control the boards, shot blockers to protect the rim, and guards or wings with the size to prevent easy paint post ups.

Defensively, the Lakers need to get bigger at every position. They need a true starting center with the size to physically bang with Jokic, Embiid, Towns, and other legitimate NBA centers who are too big or physical for Anthony Davis. They need bigger small forwards who can guard taller wing scorers like Durant, Antetokounmpo, and Doncic. And they need bigger guards who can switch everything and not be constantly hunted as easy prey on defense.

Adding a defensive center who can protect the rim and defend in space, a proven wing defender who can guard bigger wing scorers, and bigger guards who can switch everything will give the Lakers a positional size advantage. They may start games with a traditional two bigs lineup with Anthony Davis at the four and the new center at the five and close games by replacing the center with an elite wing defender and finishing with small-ball-on-steroids.

Defensively, having positional size advantage should enable the Lakers to transform poor rebounding, weak shot blocking, and easily hunted defenders from being their three greatest weaknesses to their three greatest strengths.

Why Could Positional Size Be Key to Lakers’ Championship?

Dominant positional size was the path the Los Angeles Lakers took to win their 17th NBA championship and, with a few modernizing tweaks, should be the same strategy they follow when rebuilding their roster this summer.

In many ways, the Lakers have bought in on the league-wide lack of respect for what the center position means to winning in an NBA where Rudy Gobert can win DPOY but still played off the court by opposing teams going small. The minutes and games that have been wasted with the circus of forgettable and mostly over-the-hill rent-a-centers the Lakers have deployed over the last few seasons is almost criminal. Centers still matter, just like midrange shots.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis give the Lakers an advantage no other NBA team has in that they have two superstars who legitimately can play and defend all five positions on the court. They’re gold roster building wild cards. Getting bigger by adding a center instead of a forward enables the Lakers to take advantage of their superstars’ versatility while reducing their workload and limiting some of the low post physicality that can lead to injuries.

Next to hiring a new head coach and trading Russell Westbrook, deciding to bring in a young modern two-way center to start alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis would give the Lakers a significant positional size advantage.

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