Anthony Davis doesn’t like playing center. Never in his career has he wanted to be a center. He frequently says that he doesn’t like doing it which is why his teams have always made sure to have at least two capable centers on the roster with him.
When the Lakers traded for Davis they immediately made moves to support this. They re-signed Javale McGee and brought in a favorite former teammate of Davis’s in DeMarcus Cousins. Which did lead to some questions as to why Los Angeles did this. After all, Davis is best when he plays center and LeBron James is even better when he’s playing power forward. Theoretically, that would give them their starting four and five and bolstering the backcourt would have seemed to be a bit more pressing need than the five spot.
Well, Davis put that answer to bed when at his introductory press conference he re-iterated how much he doesn’t like playing center, via Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times.
As soon as he could, Davis started working with James to help Pelinka create the right type of team around them. Both Pelinka and Davis said they and James were constantly on the phone throughout free agency as Pelinka sought their advice on which players to sign.
And one thing Davis wanted was a big, bruising center to play a position the 6-foot-10 big man would rather not.
“I like playing the four,” Davis said, referring to power forward. “I’m not even going to sugarcoat it. I like playing the four. I don’t really like playing the five.”
For Davis, the center position is really awkward for him. He’s a matchup nightmare at the five and small-ball lineups with him there were often when the Pelicans have been at their best, but he has long been on record as saying he doesn’t want to play center. It’s not that Davis won’t play center ever. He plays plenty of his minutes there, but he doesn’t like to do it all the time and the physical wear and tear can contribute to the nicks and bruises that have fairly regularly knocked him out of games.
Said Pelinka: “We want a decade of dominance out of him here, right? So we got to do what’s best for his body, and having him bang against the biggest centers in the West every night is not what’s best for his body or for our team and the franchise.”
So, in this case, the Lakers are trying to keep their star big man happy, while also mitigating the physical toll placed on his body. They’ve found players that are capable of playing center so Davis doesn’t have to play it quite as much. This doesn’t mean he’ll never do it ever, and Davis told us that the versatility of this roster going big or small as needed (which would include him at the five) is one of it’s biggest positives.
Where the real question with this will arise in the playoffs, if the data shows they are at their best with Davis at the five. If that’s the case, playing Davis sparingly at the five in the regular season could help save him for the postseason when they might want to play small more often, depending on matchup. Whatever the case, don’t expect the Lakers to spend too much time this season trotting Davis out there at center in an effort to keep him happy and healthy.