Thursday, January 27 2022
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The Los Angeles Lakers won a championship playing Anthony Davis at center, but it’s a move they’ve hesitated to use consistently in lower-stakes regular-season games. Sure enough, DeAndre Jordan started the first five games of the season for the Lakers at center seemingly for the sake of preserving Davis’ body. With Russell Westbrook compromising the team’s spacing at point guard, though, those lineups struggled out of the gate. But over the past two games, with Dwight Howard out, Lakers coach Frank Vogel opted to start small with Avery Bradley in place of Jordan in order to separate his two remaining big men and ensure he’d be able to get enough minutes out of both. The result? Two wins. 

Just don’t expect Vogel to stick with those smaller lineups moving forward. Before Tuesday’s win over the Houston Rockets, Vogel told reporters that the Lakers “do intend to start big again soon,” likely when Howard returns from the neck injury that’s kept him out, but revealed that the Lakers plan to continue experimenting with their lineups early in the season. As he explains, their big men are just fine with that. 

“They know that we have been at our best the last couple of years being a hybrid unit,” Vogel said of Jordan and Howard. “Sometimes A.D. plays the 5, sometimes he’s at the 4. They [Dwight and DJ] both knew that when they signed here and the whole mindset of our whole group is that we’re trying to win a championship this year and whatever sacrifice is required, everybody is all in.”

If the goal of starting Jordan at center is simply to preserve Davis’ health, it may work. On the basketball court, though, nothing about Jordan’s presence has been especially helpful for the Lakers. In the 47 minutes that he has played with Davis, Westbrook and LeBron James, the Lakers have a net rating of negative-14.2. That trio, with Jordan off the floor, is plus-9.3. Theoretically, the benefits of having two big men on the floor would be superior defense and rebounding. Yet that trio is allowing 13 more points per 100 possessions with Jordan on the floor than off it (112.3 vs. 99.3), and lineups featuring those three stars without Jordan are pulling in 49.6 percent of available rebounds compared to 44.5 percent with Jordan in the game. 

The spacing benefits of going small are obvious. The Lakers won a championship that way, and maximizing shooting is critical on a Westbrook team. But even if the Lakers were convinced they needed to play an extra big with their starters, Jordan just hasn’t been good enough to warrant those minutes. Perhaps Howard should get a look with the starters when he’s back or perhaps another big man needs to be added during the season, but Jordan as a starter just hasn’t worked thus far this season. 



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