Every Los Angeles Lakers season starts with the same news cycle. Anthony Davis started at power forward the previous season, but perhaps this is the one in which he transitions to center full time. Even last season, when Russell Westbrook’s arrival at point guard necessitated smaller lineups with a heavier emphasis on spacing, the Lakers opened the season with DeAndre Jordan at center. Davis has made it clear publicly that playing power forward is his preference. The Lakers signed Damian Jones and Thomas Bryant this offseason to presumably serve as a buffer for Davis. And yet, with only a week to go before opening night, Lakers coach Darvin Ham broached the topic Monday.
“AD (starting) at the five is under heavy consideration,” Ham said at Monday’s practice. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that this comes a day after Davis started at center in a preseason game and scored 28 points in 21 minutes. The Lakers have started a different center in all four of their preseason games, with Damian Jones, Thomas Bryant and Wenyen Gabriel all getting looks.
Laker lineups with Davis at center have typically performed better than those with him at power forward. There’s a common sense to that. Big men tend to have an easier time offensively when surrounded by shooting that is unlikely to come from a traditional center. Davis is so good defensively that the Lakers have managed to hold their ground on that end of the floor even when he’s their lone big man.
The theoretical tradeoff here is that Davis is injury-prone. Playing center exacts a harsher physical toll than playing power forward does. That is at least part of why Davis seems to prefer playing with another big man. It doesn’t matter how well lineups with Davis at center perform if he isn’t healthy enough to take part in them.
This is the balance the Lakers are trying to achieve this season. They need to maximize their players, but not in such a way that risks losing them to further injuries. Historically, this has meant starting Davis at power forward and moving him to center only when game circumstances deem it necessary. Perhaps Ham will land at that conclusion, or perhaps he’ll be the coach who decides to move him to center once and for all.