Much has been said about the Lakers’ offseason moves so far, citing the aging roster and lack of shooting as the major concerns for the 2020 NBA Champions. If we look back at the 2019-2020 season, the Los Angeles Lakers surprised the world by playing a traditional lineup with two big men at the Power Forward and Center positions. The Lakers captured the best record in the league before the Coronavirus-induced suspension by punishing opponents with their size and physicality, not only with their big men but with relentless rim attacks from their 6’8 point guard LeBron James.
However, when the playoffs came around, the Lakers’ rotation changed significantly due to match-ups. The Centers, Javale McGee, and Dwight Howard, barely saw any playing time except the conference finals against the Denver Nuggets. The two big men were deployed sporadically to help slow down Nikola Jokić, but Anthony Davis played the five for most of the Playoffs to allow for more shooting on the floor alongside their two stars. The lineup adjustment ultimately led to banner number 17 for the Lakers, leaving many to say that having AD at the five was the best lineup for the eventual champions.
With the acquisition of Russell Westbrook, the lack of shooting in the Lakers’ starting five is as glaring as it’s ever been. Should LA decide to play with two big men, the best three-point shooter on the floor would be whoever plays the shooting guard, for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s Wayne Ellington at 42.2% based on last year’s numbers. After that, it would be LeBron James with the best shoot from deep in the starting five at 36.5%, not terrible but not great either when your second best shooter on the floor is LeBron. We know that playing AD at the five is going to play a big factor in the Lakers’ success, and it seems that The Brow realizes it too, based on what his agent Rich Paul has been saying.
Allowing AD to play the five gives him a quickness advantage over most centers and a size advantage for teams that choose to go small. Davis doesn’t give up much on the defensive end either, with the ability to slide his feet to keep up with guards and still protect the rim with some ferocious blocks. The only issue is that historically, Davis has not loved playing the five, which is why the Lakers acquired several big men as soon as Davis joined them. AD reportedly does not enjoy the physicality of playing the center position and prefers to play the four to preserve his health by avoiding some of the punishment in the paint.
If AD is willing to play the five more often, that allows LeBron James to slide over to the four spot, a position The King is not exactly fond of. However, keeping those two guys alternating as the screeners and dunkers allows them to quickly get to their sweet spots to become much more effective scorers. Doing so also allows the Lakers to play another shooter on the wing, someone that James, Davis, or Westbrook can throw the ball to for an open shot if the defense collapses on the three juggernauts. Between Wayne Ellington, Carmelo Anthony, and Trevor Ariza, the Lakers have an average of just under 40% accuracy from beyond the arc to keep defenses thinking about how they want to play the Lakers’ big three.
Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan will be situational players for this edition of the Los Angeles Lakers, with the main difference now being Westbrook dictating the pace and tempo for the Lakers when he’s on the floor. Perhaps we see James take on most of the playmaking duties when Westbrook is on the bench, but one must believe that Russ is in Los Angeles because LeBron wants to make some changes to his approach. Without a doubt, LeBron thought of all the easy buckets he would get with Russ pushing the pace and how that will help both James and the Lakers be successful next season.
On the flip side, could this be one of Rich Paul’s elaborate ploys to get teams to think it’s time to prepare for the Lakers’ small ball, only to set up their traditional big lineup for success? Think about it, if teams decide to downsize to content with both the Lakers and the Nets, how would they survive the punishment in the paint coming from James, Westbrook, Davis, and Howard? I know Rich Paul is slick when it comes to things like this and perhaps is already thinking of how teams will approach the buyout market to gear up for the postseason. So if I were the rest of the league, maybe it’s time to stock up on bigs, or perhaps it isn’t? However, come June, the teams with multiple looks will have a shot at winning the championship.