It’s past due to get Wenyen Gabriel on the floor with the Lakers

Wenyen Gabriel
Image credit: Associated Press/David J. Phillip

The Los Angeles Lakers have had a size issue all season with the roster that Rob Pelinka (and I guess LeBron James and Anthony Davis) crafted this offseason. You might scoff at that idea considering Davis, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard were all on the roster and playing on opening night, but I’m mostly speaking about the way that Frank Vogel can fill out the 1-4 of his many lineups that are on the floor. They’ve been far too small in those positions throughout this season, having a ton of other issues with the players in those positions to compound the roster construction issue even more. That is why I was, sadly, extremely elated to see the Lakers sign the 6’9” Wenyen Gabriel to a two-way contract.

However, Vogel has basically not used Gabriel at all in the four games he has been active for the Lakers. He tallied four minutes against the Clippers on Mar. 3rd as part of the end of the bench getting on the floor in a blowout. But then, Gabriel finally received some rotation minutes in the Lakers’ most recent game against the Rockets. A measly two-minute run that came at the end of the third quarter. The Volume’s Jason Timpf analyzed the stretch that you can see in full below.

We did not get to see LeBron James in the lineup as it included Gabriel at the five, with Carmelo Anthony, Avery Bradley, D.J. Augustin, and Russell Westbrook at the four through one, respectively. As Jason Timpf discussed above, Gabriel didn’t necessarily play like a guy you’d be expecting me to be campaigning for more minutes within an article, but it’s really not about his individual skill. It’s about his size and his motor as a 6’9” 24-year-old with nothing to lose and everything to gain in this small amount of time he gets with the Lakers. That size and motor are what gets him those two rebounds, four free-throw attempts, and one 3-point attempt in only two minutes and 13 seconds of being on the floor.

Now, I’m not asking for Gabriel to start or to play anything. I just would like him to relieve LeBron of his center duties at the end of the first and third quarter and to give at least one Westbrook and Carmelo lineup the benefit of having Carmelo at the four instead of the five. Doing so would reduce the instances of the hilariously small 1-2-3 of Westbrook, Augustin, and Bradley out there (and sometimes Malik Monk for one of the latter two). You’ll see those three a part of two of the most used lineups for the Lakers since the All-Star break here in this list. Unsurprisingly, both lineups have steep negative net ratings with the LeBron, Carmelo, Bradley, Augustin, and Westbrook lineup being especially bad on defense with a 122.2 defensive rating.

Again, I see the limitations with Gabriel. Alperen Sengun made a living in the paint on Wednesday, basically putting his butt into LeBron’s chest all night in the post and backing him down to easy layups that resulted in a career-high of 21 points. Gabriel is just as tall as LeBron and definitely does not have the girth or muscle to do a better job than LeBron on someone like Sengun, a Nikola Jokic, or even a Jonas Valanciunas (who the Lakers might see in the play-in against the Pelicans).

But either way, this isn’t necessarily about Gabriel and what I think he can do individually on offense or defense. It’s about getting Carmelo out of playing the five. It’s about giving LeBron even just one lineup of not playing the five. It’s about getting Vogel out of his habit of playing extremely small, scrappy guards that he has a personal infatuation with (I don’t need to remind anyone of how much he loves Bradley but we may have the sequel to him now in Augustin who once played for Vogel on the Orlando Magic).

It’s about slotting everyone into their correct positions to get them to be the most comfortable and efficient they can be on the court. It’s something the Lakers probably hoped Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore could do, however, Ariza has shown that he shouldn’t be on an NBA court anymore in his career with the way he can move (or not move) side-to-side and up-and-down the court. As for Bazemore, well, Vogel has given him some chances over the past couple weeks, but everytime he gets in he has me saying something like what I said in the Tweet below. Those bone-headed plays helped him somehow have more turnovers than Westbrook against the Rockets in 31 less minutes played (to give Westbrook credit this is as much a reflection of Westbrook’s good night as it is Bazemore’s bad one).

Maybe Gabriel’s random shift at the end of the third quarter is a sign of things to come from Vogel in tonight’s game against the Wizards. Gabriel would be an interesting and most likely useful player to use against the likes of Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis as both players are extremely tall but don’t have too much in the muscle department to really bully players down low.

But no matter the matchup, it’s about time for Gabriel to play some more. Vogel needs to forget his talent level that has led to him being on his sixth NBA team in only three seasons and put out lineups that actually make sense. I know Vogel has struggled to do that all year, but at least he now has a player that has no choice but to give a damn as this is essentially a try-out for him for the rest of his career.

It’d be a refreshing change of pace to have that type of effort out there in addition to some sensible lineups, especially after watching how the team responded all night to getting punched in the mouth by the lowly Houston Rockets.

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