Four Trades for a Modern Defensive Center to Fix Lakers’ Rim Protection!
While the Lakers still have the top defensive rating in the league, the rim protection from their new centers Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell has not met the standard set last season by JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.
The problem is the Lakers decided to make a major change in how they defend ball screens and challenge ball handlers to prevent the penetration and wide open shots that came from having their bigs play drop coverage. That strategic change was a big reason why the Lakers rolled through the playoffs and won the championship. But it was also why JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard essentially become unplayable during those playoffs.
While McGee and Howard did a great job protecting the rim, they were like fish out of water defending on the perimeter in the playoffs, which led to the Lakers opting to play small with Anthony Davis and Markieff Morris. Unfortunately, Gasol and Harrell have not only failed to to provide the rim protection of McGee and Howard but also haven’t shown the mobility and athleticism required to aggressively hedge, trap, or double on ball screens.
While both Gasol and Harrell have brought valuable skills to the Lakers’ offense that have made the Lakers a better and more versatile team, neither has the ability to bother shots at the rim and switch onto the perimeter. What the Lakers need to fix their defense is a modern defensive center who can not only block shots and protect the rim but who also has the quickness, mobility, and athleticism to challenge ball handlers out to the 3-point line.
While the Lakers will have space under the hard cap in February to sign a minimum contract veteran, their best option is probably going to be a trade. Here are four possible modern defensive centers the Lakers could target:
1. NEW YORK BACKUP CENTER: NERLENS NOEL
Nerlens Noel is 26-year old, 6' 11,” 201 lb, 7-year NBA center backing up Mitchell Robinson for the New York Knicks and averaging 3.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.0 steals in 16.8 minutes per game.
Nerlens checks both of the boxes for a modern defensive center as he is capable of protecting the rim and defending shooters on the perimeter. He’s not the offensive threat of Gasol or Harrell but a huge upgrade defensively. Noel is currently making $5 million on 1-year contract. With 22-year old Mitchell Robinson established as the starter, the Knicks might be tempted to trade Noel for a veteran mentor like Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews.
While the Lakers would lose the spacing and playmaking Gasol provides the starting lineup, Nerlens Noel would give them a starting defensive center capable of defending all positions and levels to complement Anthony Davis.
2. DALLAS BACKUP CENTER: WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN
Willie Cauley-Stein is 27-year old, 7' 0,” 240 lb, 7-year NBA center backing up Kristaps Porzingis for the Dallas Mavs and averaging 6.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, and 0.4 steals in 18.6 minutes per game.
Like Noel, Cauley-Stein also checks both of the boxes for a modern defensive center as he has the speed, mobility, and athleticism to block shots and protect the rim and switch and defend smaller players on the perimeter. Willie is currently making $4.1 million and the Mavs have a player option for next season. With Porzingis back from injury, the Mavs might be willing to trade Cauley-Stein for a package of Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews.
As with Noel, the Lakers would be trading offense for defense by replacing Gasol with Cauley-Stein but they would be dramatically upgrading their rim protection and perimeter defense and boosting their chances to repeat.
3. TORONTO BACKUP CENTER: CHRIS BOUCHER
Chris Boucher is 28-year old, 6' 9,” 200 lb, 3-year NBA center backing up Aron Baynes for the Toronto Raptors and averaging 13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 2.1 blocks, and 0.6 steals in 22.6 minutes per game.
While unproven, Boucher is enjoying a breakout year and is a candidate for MIP. What sets him apart from Noel and Cauley-Stein is his ability to shoot the three as well as protecting the rim and defending out to the 3-point line. Chris is making $6.5 million with a player option next season. The Lakers would need to send Marc Gasol’s 2-year contract, Wesley Matthews, and their 2025 first round pick to tempt the Raptors to trade Chris Boucher.
Boucher would give the Lakers an ideal replacement for Gasol in their starting lineup, a modern offensive and defensive center who could protect the rim, defend on the perimeter, and stretch the floor with his shooting.
4. INDIANA STARTING CENTER: MYLES TURNER
Myles Turner is 24-year old, 6' 11,” 250 lb, 5-year NBA center starting for the Indiana Pacers and averaging 14.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 4.1 blocks, and 1.3 steals in 32.6 minutes per game.
As the only proven starter among the four candidates, Myles Turner would be the perfect center to play alongside Anthony Davis. Unfortunately, he would also be the most expensive in terms of what it would cost in assets. Myles is in the first year of a 3-year contract paying him $18 million per year. It would take an offer of KCP’s 3-year deal, Gasol’s 2-year deal, and the Lakers’ 2025 first round pick to tempt the Pacers to trade Myles Turner.
Turner checks all the boxes for a modern two-way center. He leads the league in blocks, can defend on the perimeter, and stretch defenses with his shooting. And he has the size and weight to guard Jokic and Embiid.
There’s another four weeks before players signed this offseason will be eligible to be traded but the Lakers are going to be watching and monitoring the above four players and how they and their teams are playing closely. While the Lakers have the option of Anthony Davis playing the five come the playoffs, their biggest roster need is for a long term solution at center to enable them to play the kind of defense that won the championship.
Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Chris Boucher, and Myles Turner are all promising trade targets whose age and skill sets are perfect matches to play alongside Anthony Davis and make their championship defense even better.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to share your ideas and comments with other informed Lakers fans, please join us to discuss on Lakerholics.Com.