Lakers plan to use LeBron James as backup center when Anthony Davis returns, Frank Vogel says


The Los Angeles Lakers have needed to play creative basketball in order to survive not only their flawed roste, but the injuries that have besieged it. Since Anthony Davis went down and it became apparent that neither DeAndre Jordan nor Dwight Howard would serve as an acceptable replacement, the Lakers have turned to LeBron James as their center of choice. James has started six of the past seven Laker games at center, and the results have largely been positive.

James is shooting over 56 percent from the field and over 42 percent from 3-point range when he is the nominal center on the floor, taking advantage of the extra space that the look provides. The Lakers have outscored opponents by 2.3 points per 100 possessions with him at center, and the Lakers are 5-1 in those six starts without another big man on the floor. It’s hardly a flawless alignment. The Lakers have struggled to rebound and defend without a true big man on the floor. But they’re surviving without one of their superstars in large part due to LeBron’s versatility.

But sooner or later, James is going to move off of the center position, at least in the starting lineup, to make way for Davis. It has been more than three weeks since he injured his knee and the Lakers initially set a four-week timeline before he would be re-evaluated. While the Lakers will happily welcome Davis back when he is healthy enough to play, reintegrating him into the lineup poses a slight challenge. The Lakers have grown used to playing without a big man. Davis is far too valuable to be benched. So will the Lakers scrap their new small-ball identity, or try to mesh it with their more traditional lineups featuring Davis?

According to Lakers coach Frank Vogel, the plan is to attempt the latter. While Davis will likely be the starting center, the plan will be for James to be the primary backup center at first. There can be adjustments based on matchups, but it has become clear that the Lakers play better with James at center than either Howard or Jordan. Perhaps a trade deadline or buyout addition changes the construction of the roster, but for now, the Lakers have a guard-heavy team. Their best players are small, so small-ball is their best look.

That is a stark contrast to the style that won them the 2020 championship. Going small, to that team, largely meant playing Davis at center. For most of the regular season, they used Davis with either Howard or JaVale McGee. The Lakers tried that with Jordan earlier this season and it failed miserably. It may have taken them half of this season, but the Lakers finally seem to have acknowledged that playing small is the smartest use of their roster this season.

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