Almost since entering the league, Anthony Davis and his nominal position on his teams has been the subject of scrutiny. It has been clear throughout the past nine years that both Davis and his teams are much more effective when the big man is slotted as a center rather than his preferred power forward spot. While he has shown the willingness to play center, particularly in important playoff moments, his minutes break downs suggest a reluctance to do so full time, whether as a failsafe against injuries or simply shying away from the more grueling contact down low.
Some reports suggest that that could change this season. Almost immediately after Russell Westbrook was traded to the Lakers just ahead of the NBA draft, questions arise about his fit alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and another big man inside the paint. Soon after, reports came out that the Lakers were willing to take the high-potential risk of acquiring the All-Star in part because they expected Davis to move down a position, almost appearing to be a calming beacon for Lakers fans. Then, when DeAndre Jordan was signed to replace the outgoing Marc Gasol, another report suggested the same thing – that Davis would be starting at the five even with Jordan joining Dwight Howard as an experienced rim protector and dunker.
Despite the reliability of these reports, we will have to wait and see whether Davis will finally make the move that could prove immensely consequential both for his career and legacy and for the Lakers’ title chances during this wide open window.
If true, the move could send a tidal wave across the Lakers’ roster. It allows for a more balanced starting lineup featuring James and Davis in the frontcourt with their new superstar teammate Westbrook handling the ball. They could now be joined by two of their complementary 3-and-D role players in Kent Bazemore and Trevor Ariza (this is my prediction though there will likely be an open competition for these spots throughout training camp and into the season).
Howard can now come off the bench to wreak havoc on opposing reserves, where his diminishing athleticism is more than enough when paired with his experience and strength. Howard will still get plenty of chances to play next to AD as they did for the 2020 title team but likely not with Westbrook in tow as a non-shooting ball handler.
This takes away any reliance on Jordan, who struggled with the Nets last season, and allows him to be a reserve in case of injury, foul trouble, or if Howard doesn’t have it one night. It also gives the inexperienced backcourt trio of Kendrick Nunn, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Malik Monk an experienced veteran center that can play in bench lineups with them to correct their defensive mistakes and be a lob threat when they are stuck in tough situations. Vogel will likely adjust the minutes allocations so that any Rajon Rondo minutes come alongside Davis to take advantage of their chemistry.
Davis at the center position gives him and James a chance to alternate roles to keep defenses guessing. LeBron can stand on the west side during a Westbrook and Davis pick and roll, ready to catch a kick out and attack a reeling defense. Davis can be in the dunker spot, ready to catch a lob from James after he sets a screen for Westbrook. Both James and Davis have the ability to cut, screen, and space the floor, making them ideal weapons for Westbrook to find or ideal decoys to allow him to attack the basket with the ferocity he has always shown in his career. Defensively, the duo could be the best help defending tandem in the league and with a couple of defensive wings next to them, the Lakers could still manage a top defensive rating despite losing some of their most valuable players on that side of the ball this summer.
Davis’ reported position change does not come without risk. He will take more of a beating by being the lone big man for a larger percentage of his possessions this season and, after a year that was brutalized by injuries, that can be an anxiety-inducing thought for a player with his history. But the high ceiling for this change – one that, in my mind, is the difference between a title contender and a title favorite – makes the risk worth it.
Davis had arguably the worst year of his career, considering his standards and expectations, last season. He will be coming into this season motivated to regain the goodwill and status that he achieved after leading the Lakers to their 17th championship. In order for the Lakers to win their league-record 18th, Davis will be the team’s most important player. And in order to be their best player, he will have to come out of his comfort zone and make a change that will have snowballing effects throughout the roster.
For Lakers fans, the early returns are positive. We could be just weeks away from seeing Anthony Davis at his peak.