Monday Mailbag: What position will Anthony Davis play?

Anthony Davis
How much will Anthony Davis play at the five? Image courtesy of Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers’ 2021-2022 roster is mostly set. While there’s plenty of excitement about the new pieces, there are quite a few questions as well.

Let’s answer a few of them.

A theme of the Lakers’ offseason seems to be pushing Anthony Davis towards his natural center position. It’s no secret that the Lakers and Davis are better when he plays the five, but he has been resistant to doing so during the regular season due to the added wear and tear.

I think adding Westbrook to the starting lineup makes the need for Davis to play as a center a bit more pronounced due to the spacing issues that the guard brings as a non-shooter. The Lakers’ playoff success will likely partially hinge on that dynamic. But in the regular season, I don’t see it changing much. Marc Gasol probably continues to start and he can provide spacing so long as he actually takes the open threes he will most likely have presented to him.

I do think it’s important for Davis to play a little extra at the five with Westbrook and LeBron James both on the floor just to get the reps that will be valuable for the playoffs. For all the hand-wringing about the team’s depth, their chances at winning a title ultimately rely on how their three stars play together and the more “practice” they get in the regular season, the more likely it is that they will be clicking on all cylinders when the playoffs start.

Speaking of that…

I have my concerns about the fit of the Lakers’ three stars. James and Westbrook both love to get in the paint and dominate there. Anthony Davis has a bad habit of moving further away from the rim to take jumpers and try to take players off the dribble. While he is capable of those things, it’s not his true strength; I am a bit worried that playing alongside two alpha-dog ball handlers will force Davis even further from the rim and ultimately that’s not a good thing for the purple and gold.

Now there will be around 20 minutes each game in the playoffs where one of James or Westbrook is sitting and that should be an ideal time for Davis to get more looks in the paint and get into his rhythm. Even if there’s another big alongside him, Davis can be a feature of their offense in those scenarios and dominate.

As for lineups, I think you have four locks (for the regular season) in Westbrook, James, Davis, and Gasol. The two-guard position is up for grabs; my early prediction is that Kent Bazemore grabs it. For the closing lineup I think you’ll see the big three alongside Trevor Ariza, who is probably the best big wing defender after James, and whichever of the shooters is hot that night.

You’re right that Nunn’s role is a little murky when one of Westbrook or James is on the floor at all times. But remember that injuries happen and if one of the two lead ball handlers go down, all of a sudden the Lakers look really shaky in the shot creating department.

I’m not a huge Nunn fan but he can definitely score at a high clip; there’s high value in that especially during the regular season when players get banged up and take rest days. I wouldn’t be shocked at him being traded given that he’s one of the team’s more valuable trade assets for lack of a better term. But I don’t think they will be shopping him unless they have a replacement in mind for someone who can get off the bench and create shots for himself and others in a hurry in the case of an emergency.

I’ll try to answer these two questions together since they are about the defense as a whole. I do think we’ll see a noticeable drop in the defense this season in part because the team is losing its best point-of-attack defenders (Dennis Schröder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso) as well as one of their top wing defenders (Kyle Kuzma).

Westbrook is not a good defender but he is much better as a point-of-attack defender than as a help and off-ball defender. Ariza and Bazemore are there to defend wings and smaller fours but it’s worth noting that Ariza has not looked very good the past few seasons (maybe he can have a Batum-esque resurgence). Beyond that, the Lakers are going to rely on their frontcourt quartet of Davis, Gasol, James, and Dwight Howard to protect the paint. That’s the best rim protecting unit in the league as a collective so yes, I do think you’ll see a lot of funneling by the guards towards their help.

What I worry the most about is pick-and-roll coverage when Gasol or Howard is the big defenders. Neither can move very well at their current ages so shifty guards, like Chris Paul and Devin Booker in the first round, can really exploit those matchups.

The Lakers clearly prioritized offense after how last season (and really the last two seasons) went. They’re placing a lot of faith in Frank Vogel and Davis to figure out the defense which, to be fair, is not a terrible strategy at all. If the Lakers stay in the top five defensively again, give Frank Vogel coach of the year and Anthony Davis defensive player of the year on the spot.

That’ll do it for this week’s mailbag. Thank you everyone for your questions. Remember the quality of these is only as good as the questions we receive so keep them coming on Twitter or through our e-mail!

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