The Los Angeles Lakers have made a much-needed change to their starting lineup
A few nights ago, Los Angeles Lakers fans around the world were elated, as head coach Frank Vogel finally decided to start superstar Anthony Davis at center. Free-agent acquisition DeAndre Jordan had been manning the middle for the Lakers through the first six games, to much controversy from fans and analysts alike.
LA defeated the Houston Rockets by a final score of 95-85 with Davis’ first game of the year at center. LeBron James had an off-night, only shooting 6-of-19 from the field, but Carmelo Anthony picked up the slack, scoring 23 points on five 3’s off the bench.
By moving Jordan out of the starting lineup, Avery Bradley was inserted as an off-ball shooter on the perimeter. Ultimately, the Lakers are on a quest to find the two remaining starters alongside Davis, James, and Russell Westbrook.
Excluding garbage time, the Lakers have hoisted up 674 shots from behind the line, only hitting 33.2 percent of them, making them the 23rd best shooting team in the league. After trading for Westbrook over the offseason, many questioned the spacing of the star-studded roster, with both LeBron and Davis being average shooters at best.
Alongside Russ, who’s a far below average shooter on a reasonable high volume, the 2019-20 champs were destined for a cluttered offensive scheme.
To counteract this, Rob Pelinka and company attempted to sign as many shooters in free agency as they could, adding the likes of the aforementioned Bradley, Kent Bazemore, who started on Sunday night, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, and Wayne Ellington. Ideally, two of those players will start with the Lakers’ big three every night, giving them some sort of offensive spacing that allows both LeBron and Westbrook to operate.
Due to their lack of shooting, Russ has felt the need to take a larger offensive role, and it has not gone well: He’s only hit 25 percent of his long-distance shots this year, taking four attempts a game. He has shot below 30 percent in four of his last five years, hitting the 31 percent mark last year in Washington. These types of numbers have made some even suggest him taking a bench role, sparking the second unit with his energy.
When Westbrook was struggling in Houston, then general manager Daryl Morey decided to trade their productive starting center Clint Capela, which shocked most. However, this allowed the Rockets to go to a five-out offense, letting Russ attack the hoop 1-on-1. This led to an all-star second half from the former MVP, living up to his legacy that was set in Oklahoma City.
By using Anthony Davis at center, the Lakers can go to a similar system that was used in Houston, emptying the paint for Westbrook to work in his comfort zone.
In this young season, Frank Vogel’s most-used lineup consists of the team’s big three, DeAndre Jordan, and Kent Bazemore. This group has played 104 possessions together, accumulating a poor -11.3 point differential, scoring only 99 points per 100 trips. Additionally, their defense hasn’t been much better, as teams have easily taken advantage of the aging Jordan in the pick-and-roll.
Davis is perhaps the best defensive big man in the NBA, as he is able to guard opposing forwards and centers both on the perimeter and in the paint. When Jordan is on the floor, he is a net negative on both offense and defense, only providing value in securing defensive rebounds.
This has clearly affected Russell Westbrook’s start to the year, as he holds on a -9.2 point differential himself in 250 minutes. If Russ is able to operate with an open paint, rather than having a defender waiting for him to drive due to Jordan’s presence.
With no defenders in the paint, Russ can make game-winning plays. On the other hand, he can look foolish and take your team out of the game if he is forced to shoot in isolation due to horrendous spacing.
Overall, Anthony Davis needs to start at center for the Los Angeles Lakers to have a competent offense, both unlocking the skillset of Russell Westbrook and LeBron James.