The Lakers should’ve listened when Anthony Davis said he didn’t want to play the 5

The Lakers should’ve listened when Anthony Davis said he didn’t want to play the 5


Anthony Davis would love it if the Lakers would sign an actual center.
Image: Getty Images

Basketball fans always wondered why the pre-Kevin Durant Golden State Warriors didn’t start its vaunted Death Lineup but instead opted to begin games with Andrew Bogut at center. The combination of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green finished the 73-win season plus-45 in 177 minutes of action.

For a frame of reference, the best five from the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs that blew out everybody, including the Heatles, were Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, and Danny Green. They logged 103 minutes together to finish plus-29 for the year. That also wasn’t their starting five as the group with Thiago Splitter in lieu of Diaw played the most minutes.

This is a long way of saying that as great as small ball is, it’s physically taxing. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask a guy who seems like the perfect center for today’s space and pace era to play the five when he’s been a four most of his career. That said, it has to be done judiciously, which brings me to Anthony Davis.

While he wasn’t Cal Ripken in New Orleans, Davis never played fewer than 56 games and surpassed the 60-game mark every other year. He’s only appeared in more than 60 contests once as a Laker — his first year with the team, the one that won the Bubble title.

The most used lineup that year by now-former coach Frank Vogel was the one that had Javale McGee next to AD. Since then, it’s been the corpse of Marc Gasol or 21 games of Andre Drummond in 2020-21, no center/Carmelo Anthony last year, and much the same this season.

Whoever convinced Davis to bulk up and lose the agility and springiness that made him one of the best basketball players on the planet needs to be fired immediately. As should the GM who has failed to bring in one of the many centers that other teams seem to find off the street to fill a rim-protecting role. Rob Pelinka, call Dwight Howard right now before he gets to Taiwan.

Think about Duncan. He probably could’ve played his entire career as a center. His prime wouldn’t have lasted as long, and the Spurs-issance most likely doesn’t happen, but he could’ve done it.

Duncan didn’t have to though, and he was able to extend his effectiveness well beyond the lifespan of his knees because San Antonio paired him with a big man to ostensibly take the bulk of the punishment. Also, if you remember, the greatest power forward of all time cut — not gained — weight as he aged.

This notion that James should be passing the torch to Davis has been beaten into the brains of Lakers fans because it’s fucking true. The Brow averaged 26, 9, and 3 with two blocks and a little over a steal in his first season in purple and gold. He’s attempted the same amount of shots per game (17) in the subsequent seasons, and can’t break the 23 ppg barrier while leading the league in grimaces.

The natural reaction, as is always the case, is to point to LeBron as the reason AD is at the 5. He’s a point forward in every sense of the term, and thou shall not put the King on a team that’s not specifically tailored to him. Yet, the decision by L.A.’s front office to appease James now over thinking about AD’s future was the choice they made.

Many even agreed. The most effective way to maximize those two players is to let them run pick and roll surrounded by shooters. That’s basically how the Warriors did it with their Death Lineup, and, look, it still worked last season with the Curry, Green, Thompson, Jordan Poole, and Andrew Wiggins combo.

Oh wait, what’s that? The Dubs’ most-used and best plus-minus five in the 2022 playoffs was the one featuring Kevon Looney in place of Poole? The original Death Lineup actually had a negative point differential in the playoffs? And the bubble title Lakers’ best/most-used five during their title run was the lineup that featured McGee and Davis?.

People rightfully questioned whether Draymond could still play his game after returning from injury last playoffs. He had some peaks and valleys for sure, but in the closeout game put up 12, 12, 8, 2, and 2 in 41 minutes of action. Now in his 11th season, he’ll turn 33 in March, and while his future is uncertain in the Bay Area, it’s not because he’s washed or injury-prone.

Steve Kerr doesn’t stick Green at center all 82 games for the same reason that Gregg Popovich always kept a Splitter or a Fabricio Oberto next to Duncan. And that’s because playing up a position is a capital G Grind.

Davis will turn 30 a week after Green celebrates his Larry Bird birthday, and the Lakers need to take a hint from their Northern California rivals on how to prolong the prime of a power forward. So, for the love of god, sign a center to alleviate the burden that’s rapidly eroding AD’s health and prime.



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.