Much of the talk around the Los Angeles Lakers lineups has been around the usage of Anthony Davis at the five.
Davis has indeed increased his time played at the position, with Cleaning the Glass showing 70 percent of his minutes coming at the five so far in what would be a career-high mark.
Despite the bump, the Lakers are persisting with starting a traditional big, with DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard soaking up minutes in the rotation.
That changed against the Detroit Pistons at STAPLES Center on Sunday night, with Howard failing to see any playing time, while Jordan logged just 20 minutes as the starter.
This was partially due to a new-look Lakers lineup where LeBron James is playing as the nominal five, with head coach Frank Vogel hinting he may use the “centerless” lineup more often moving forward.
Prior to the game against the Pistons, James had played one percent of his minutes at the five, and has never topped three percent in any of his 19 seasons in the league.
Vogel continued by saying the “centerless” lineup would mean either Jordan or Howard would gain starting honors with the other likely to be squeezed out depending on who they choose to play.
“This is part of our evolution as a team and learning what our identity looks like,” Vogel said. “There is a lot more space for Russ, Bron has space to be a roller to the basket which was effective. We just have more switchability on the defensive side of the ball. I do think that’s something we’re going to grow and will be a part of our team going forward.”
Already missing an extended period this season with an abdominal injury, James appeared to reach for the area during the game, though he played down any suggestion of any damage postgame. Given he still carries such a heavy offensive burden, it’s at least curious that the Lakers would be also asking him to take responsibility of anchoring an already struggling defense.
The experiment is the continuation of a team trying to find the right mix. Although injuries and James’ suspension have hampered the ability for the Lakers to find continuity in the season’s early going, the results haven’t been all that impressive with Davis at the five thus far.
According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers have a NET rating of -4.2 across 1028 possessions with Davis on the floor while Jordan and Howard are on the bench. The defensive end has been particularly troubling, with the Los Angeles giving up 112.9 points per 100 possessions in those lineups. That number would rank 29th league-wide, with only the Memphis Grizzlies posting a worse defensive rating of 114.8.
“That’s why our lives are hard right now. Because we’re not fully committed,” Vogel said of the Lakers defense.
Scraping by the Pistons for a 110-106 win, the Lakers have now lifted themselves back to .500. The trio of James, Davis and Russell Westbrook combined for 82 of the 110 points but like many of this squad’s wins so far, it was far from convincing.
Regardless of the mixed results, the Lakers remain one of the most intriguing teams in the league to watch. Now to find out how the LeBron at center experiment works.