The Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most talked-about team in the association this season due to issues surrounding their Big Three of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. James has missed almost half the season so far doe to injury, but even with Davis and Westbrook healthy for the majority of their games, the Lakers are currently just eighth in the Western conference with a 12-12 record.
Head coach Frank Vogel has been experimenting with a slew of lineup combinations, hardly surprising given Los Angelez’ 11 new acquisitions over the offseason. It’s been a headache for Vogel because there are certain injuries and illnesses that have prevented him from fully utilizing all the players at his disposal, with Kendrick Nunn and Trevor Ariza failing to suit up for even one game this season.
The easiest fix for the Lakers’ woes? Playing Davis at center, a lineup choice that brings a tremendous amount of opportunity and versatility on both sides of the ball for Los Angeles.
Floor spacing is maximized
With DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard taking up a ton of space in the lane, Westbrook and James lack space to attack the paint because defenders surround the shaded lane and force them to take contested jumpers. With Davis at center, the Lakers’ five-out offense causes chaos and shambles for defenses because their pace and ball movement with these lineups are incredible.
Some of Los Angeles’ best point differentials this season have come with Davis at center alongside Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Talen Horton-Tucker and Avery Bradley. When James is finally at his peak self, he and Westbrook could run the offense with Davis and two other wings that would play phenomenal on both sides of the court and complement each other well.
Ability to switch on pick and rolls
The ability and reflexes of Davis to switch on guards is an underrated facet of his game. If he is the biggest player on the floor, he could play free safety defensively and continue being vocal and attentive with the constant movement of opposing teams. When guards switch on bigs like Nikola Jokic or Deandre Ayton, the Lakers will be able to help and scramble quickly because all five individuals can react instantly with the defensive principles of Vogel.
The Lakers were the best defense in the league last season with a 106.8 defensive rating, but they’ve plummeted to 17th this year so far. Their offense has already been subpar with their inconsistent shooting and abysmal free throw numbers, but lackadaisical defensive possessions must be prohibited with the schemes of the Lakers. Their role players must realize that consistent, exceptional hustle plays and a constant nose for the ball could be reasons for Vogel to increase their minutes every game.
Versatility and change of pace
With the addition of Westbrook, the Lakers are currently third in pace this season, per NBA.com/stats. That’s not necessarily a negative, because a quick pace could result in more possessions for their squad to rack up easy buckets. However, a breakneck style of play also leaves Los Angeles more susceptible to turnovers, where they rank 26th with 15.8 turnovers per game.
As James, Davis and Westbrook are surrounded by two skillful wings or guards, it gives them the chance to mix it up and play various paces or contrasting sets because of the immense talent of their Big Three. For instance, they could run an effective half-court offense by giving Davis the ball on the elbow and put in a dangerous pick-and-roll with Westbrook. With this lineup, Westbrook and James have the luxury of not being forced to push the pace and attack a packed paint with reckless abandon.
The Lakers need more court time and games played for their core to develop chemistry as a well-oiled unit. They have not had the liberty of doing so at this early juncture of the season, but there are still three-fourths of the season remaining. Though James has proven throughout his legendary career that his teams don’t need a high seed to advance deep into the playoffs, Los Angeles still needs to avoid falling below sixth in the standings, destined for the play-in tournament.