LeBron James Just Secured a New Role With the Lakers That Anthony Davis’ Return Shouldn’t Change
In his 19th season, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James isn’t showing any decline in his performance. James has put the Lakers on his back with his MVP-caliber play. It’s led head coach Frank Vogel to voice one prominent change regarding James will stay even when Anthony Davis returns.
LeBron James is still proving to be an ageless wonder
Since battling through early-season injuries, James is back to proving that Father Time hasn’t caught him yet.
The 37-year-old dominated the month of December behind MVP-caliber play. He averaged 30.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 6.5 assists while shooting 55.5% from the floor and 40.4% from 3-point range. It included him becoming the first player age 36 or older to post seven straight 30-point performances.
It has pushed him to average 28.5 points, which is the highest total for any player in their 19th campaign. Within that surge has come another promising feature that the Lakers will continue to utilize even with Davis comes back.
LeBron James just secured a new role with the Lakers that Anthony Davis’ return shouldn’t change
With Anthony Davis sidelined, the Lakers have experimented with several lineup combinations, including the four-time league MVP finding tremendous success playing at center.
Before Davis’ injury, Los Angeles played around with that lineup in spurts. However, that challenging parameter, coupled with Dwight Howard’s continued recovery from his COVID-19 bout and DeAndre Jordan falling almost out of the rotation, pushed James into that role.
The 37-year-old has thrived in the small-ball lineup due to his offensive versatility, while his size allows him to guard opposing centers effectively. Head coach Frank Vogel has become quite enthused by the early success with James at center, leading him to recently voice that the 17-time All-Star will continue to play that role even when Davis returns.
“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 via Lakers Nation. “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.”
Howard will factor into the equation, but the Lakers want to keep James a part of the formula. According to Basketball-Reference, the lineup combination with James playing center alongside Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, and Stanley Johnson holds a +17.4 points in net rating per 100 possessions in 35 minutes played together.
Meanwhile, James playing that spot next to Westbrook, Bradley, Monk, and Carmelo Anthony holds a +31.4 points in 20 minutes. The concern will become wear and tear over the long haul of the season. Ultimately, it’s a lineup combination the Lakers want and should continue to optimize.
Russell Westbrook must step up his play for the Lakers to vie for an NBA title
The Lakers certainly don’t want to ride James’ coattails throughout the rest of the season, but his play has anchored their push forward.
It places an increased onus on Russell Westbrook to step up as the second offensive option with Anthony Davis sidelined. Westbrook has struggled to find his footing, especially with decision-making and shooting. On Sunday, the Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he committed nine turnovers and missed all five 3-point attempts.
Los Angeles needs Westbrook to be highly efficient behind his passing and scoring, and he’s only provided that in spurts. The circumstances haven’t been the greatest due to injuries and COVID-19 related issues, but the floor is his to excel. All that is even more the case with Davis out of action.
If the Lakers want to make a realistic NBA title push, Westbrook must become the x-factor they hoped.
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