The Los Angeles Lakers learned from their failed frontcourt experiment last season, bringing back big, athletic centers in the summer to partner Anthony Davis below the rim.
On the way to the 2019-20 NBA title, head coach Frank Vogel rotated between JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard at the five — or used Davis as center against rivals playing with smaller lineups. That frontcourt allowed the Lakers to establish themselves as a dominant force in the paint, which played a major role in their triumph in the Orlando bubble.
L.A. turned to less athletic and defensively-gifted big men for the 2020-21 campaign, replacing McGee and Howard with Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell. However, the move quickly started to backfire and to add the lacking rebounding and vertical threat to the team, the Lakers experimented with the signings of Damian Jones and Andre Drummond during the season.
But the NBA champions remained vulnerable in the paint, which played a part in their unsuccessful title defense.
Howard’s summer return signaled L.A.’s shift back to the frontcourt vision from two seasons ago. Los Angeles then signed DeAndre Jordan, adding another traditional center to the team.
And although Vogel said the Lakers’ big men “did a good job” last year, he hinted at using the blueprint from the 2019-20 campaign to find centers in the offseason that would help Davis in the paint.
“These guys are just different, obviously Dwight returning and DJ coming in and being another big like JaVale was for us, just the athleticism at the rim, the shot-blocking and the verticality, vertical lob spacing,” he said before Tuesday night’s season opener.
“To me, the lob spacing is every bit as important as 3-point spacing. If you have that target up at the rim, it puts a lot of pressure on defenses. And those guys play that role probably better than last year’s centers, but those did well and helped us too.”
Davis has said he expected to start playing at the center more frequently. However, Vogel decided to deploy Jordan next to the 28-year-old All-Star in the season opener against the Golden State Warriors.
Trevor Ariza’s injury could have inspired the diversion from such plans. Without the forward’s size and defensive prowess, L.A. might become vulnerable to the threat from athletic wingmen while playing small-ball formations.
Lakers sign center Jay Huff to two-way contract
The Lakers added another center ahead of Opening Night, signing undrafted rookie Jay Huff to a two-way contract. The 7-foot-1 big man joined L.A. after failing to secure a spot on the Washington Wizards’ roster in training camp.
Huff inked the deal with the Lakers after they waived Joel Ayayi, who was then claimed by Washington.
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