While a large portion of the Los Angeles Lakers rotation was out due to health and safety protocols, the team decided to take a closer look at LeBron James playing the center position. It had already been seen in small spurts — to great success — but the lack of available centers allowed them to try it over full games.
The results were as expected from the early small sample, that James at center opens things up for Russell Westbrook and allows everyone more space to operate. Defensively, James also improves things, as he’s able to act as a sort of free safety, pressuring wherever the team needs him to.
Before getting into the benefits and drawbacks of James at the center position, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel praised James for making all lineup combinations look easy.
“We can talk about the space all we want, but he lit up Memphis with Dwight [Howard] out there screening for him too. This is just a LeBron James thing, and playing at a superior level more than it is about the environment around him,” Vogel said.
“Obviously he has a strong belief in our group, we all have a strong belief in our group and while AD [Anthony Davis] is out, he’s intent on doing everything he can to pile up some W’s, and obviously playing at an extremely high level.”
While Vogel’s point here is strong, there is no denying how open things are when James is playing at the five. The Lakers could be making it a more permanent fixture in their rotation as well.
“It’s huge. It really is. We’ll see how our season evolves, you know? I think the Indiana game is the game that stuck out for me. We may have done it prior to that some, but him playing alongside Melo in the centerless lineup or Bron at the five lineup, however you want to put it, during that stretch really showed us that this could be something that makes the game easier for him.
“He’s not wrestling so much and there’s more space for him to be a roller,” Vogel said of James. “There’s just a lot of positives to that and can we get away with it against certain matchups on the other end? Obviously when AD comes back, he’s gonna play a lot of minutes at the five and then we can play the smaller lineup as well. So it is a direction I think that we’re taking our team and so far we’re having some success with it, but we got to keep getting it better.”
There’s no doubt that James at center has come with success this season. They’ve used him as a full-time big man in two games this season, and they are 2-0 in relatively convincing fashion, with wins coming against the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.
When Anthony Davis eventually makes his return, it would make sense for him to be the primary center, while James takes a majority of the backup center minutes. Dwight Howard could play spot minutes in matchups where a traditional center is needed as well.
It remains to be seen if this is how L.A. will approach things, but it’s starting to look like they’re seriously considering this drastic change of identity.
James discusses recent scoring outburst
James has legitimately been putting the Lakers on his back over the past couple weeks, scoring in bunches of 30 and 40 with regularity.
He spoke about this recent outburst as he turned 37 on Thursday. “I think anytime you lose a 25-point scorer or more, then I think everyone has to pick their game up offensively, including myself,” James said after the game. “And if that’s what our team needs then I’m OK with that. But along that road, I still take pride in being efficient. I’m not a guy that just goes out and sees if I can jack up a bunch of shots.
“I want to be efficient every single night anytime I’m playing. Along this streak I’ve been on as far as my scoring, I’ve been extremely efficient as well and I take way more pride in that than the scoring. That’s just who I am as a basketball player.”
Have you subscribed to our YouTube channel? It’s the best way to watch player interviews, exclusive coverage from events, participate in live shows, and more!