Is there anybody out there who still believes the Los Angeles Lakers are going to repeat as NBA champions this season with Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, or Montrezl Harrell starting and closing games at center?
The bad news is the grand plan to upgrade the center position so Anthony Davis could play his preferred power forward position full time has been a failure and should force the Lakers to rethink their playoff plans at center. The good news is the Lakers still have the best two-way center in the NBA in 28-year old 6' 10,” 253 lb Anthony Davis who can dominate offensively and defensively in the paint, from midrange, or beyond the 3-point line.
It’s time for the Lakers to admit they need Anthony Davis to repeat his role from last year’s playoffs and devote half of his 36 minutes per game playing center rather than relying on Drummond, Gasol, and Harrell to play the five. The plan could have worked if the Lakers had traded for an elite center like Myles Turner, Chris Boucher, or Christian Wood last offseason but not with Rent-a-Centers like Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, or Montrezl Harrell.
Sticking with the Drummond and Harrell center rotation in the playoffs would be a mistake. Both pack the paint and make it difficult for LeBron and AD to get to the rim. Both are subpar shot blockers and poor rim protectors. Frank Vogel needs to realize starting Andre Drummond vs. the Nugget’s Nikola Jokic in the first round or the Jazz’ Rudy Gobert in the second round of the playoffs would be playing right into the Denver’s and Utah’s hands.
Anthony Davis is the only center the Lakers have who can match up with Nikola Jokic and play Rudy Gobert off the court by pulling him out of the paint. The Lakers should start and finish playoff games with AD at center. The Lakers are better at both ends with Anthony Davis at the five as they proved in last year’s playoffs with their 5-out sets opening up the floor on offense and their trapping and rotating defense suffocating offenses.
Frank Vogel and the Lakers know the recipe for the Lakers winning in the playoffs is starting and closing with Anthony Davis at center. Like last year, the Lakers need to plan on AD playing at least half of his minutes at the five. Assuming he plays 36 minutes per game like last playoffs, Davis could play center 18 minutes per game or the first and last 4 to 5 minutes of each half, leaving the remaining 30 minutes to be split between the other centers.
Starting and closing games with a ‘small ball’ lineup of Davis, Morris, James, Caldwell-Pope, and Schroder allows the Lakers to spread the floor and create space on offense and trap, switch and rotate on defense like they did last year. One of the problems with the three-headed center the Lakers deployed this season to prevent Davis from having to play big minutes at the five is he’s only played 7 minutes per game at center, which could hurt us in the playoffs.
While it’s easy to understand why the Lakers would like to minimize AD’s minutes at the five, Vogel also needs to realize that Drummond, Gasol, and Harrell are not going to be favorable match ups in the playoffs this year. Davis had no problem playing half his minutes at center last playoffs. He should be well rested and ready to do the same in this year. It would be a huge mistake for the Lakers to try to rely on anybody but Davis at center.
Heading into the playoffs, the Lakers need to start and close halves and games with their best center. If AD plays 18 of his 36 minutes per game at center, there would still be 30 minutes for Drummond, Gasol, and Harrell. The Lakers should spend valuable minutes these last 11 games playing small ball lineups with Davis at the five and Morris or even James at the four to get ready for the playoffs rather than devoting that time to the Rent-a-Centers.
While I expect Vogel to continue to try and start games with Drummond and to play all three centers in the playoffs, I expect to see a repeat of last year’s playoffs when McGee and Harrell became unplayable and were benched. Hopefully, Frank will be as decisive and proactive as he was in last year’s playoffs and he’ll make similar moves for Anthony Davis to take over the center position both as the starter and closer once we’re in the playoffs.
The path to this year’s NBA championship is going to be one of the toughest in years and the Lakers will need to be better than last year to repeat. The only way they can do that is to prioritize Anthony Davis at the five.
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