Thanks to injuries, COVID restrictions, and uneven player output the star Lakers forward changed up his responsibilities and played a role typically reserved for Dwight Howard, DeAndre Jordan, and Anthony Davis.
And it went well: the team ended up winning 132-123 with James securing 32 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds.
For the first time in his 19-year career, LeBron James started at center.
His fifth consecutive 30-point outing and the end of the Lakers’ five-game skid.
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) December 29, 2021
But was this the smart call and is it something we can expect to see more of?
The Course To Center
The idea of James playing center for the Lakers isn’t a new concept.
For a while now, people have been crying out for head coach Frank Vogel to try James at the 5.
The reason for this is partly because, quite frankly, the team hasn’t found a lineup that works and is willing to try anything if it leads to success.
Howard, Jordan, and Davis have all tried their hands at playing center, yet the team is still seventh in the West with a record of 17-19, proving that nothing has worked well yet.
Lakers starters at Houston:
Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, Stanley Johnson and LeBron James
This is the 19th starting lineup the Lakers have used amidst their early-season flurry of injury and illness absences.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) December 29, 2021
The team has been terribly inconsistent and looks like a mere shadow of what they used to be.
However, one of the few strong points of the Lakers has always been James: even as his team has been middling, he has been putting up record numbers and consistent triple-doubles – even as he turns 37 years old.
It’s not like James is a small guy either – he would easily be smaller than many centers in the league but he could fit into the role against certain smaller teams.
So when you look at James, you see someone who succeeds at nearly everything he does and when you look at the Lakers you see a team that needs a strong defense.
All of this creates an equation that adds up to James attempting center.
Earlier in the season, Vogel toyed around with the idea of James playing center but it was acting head coach David Fizdale who decided to put James in that spot for the whole game.
Fizdale told Sports Illustrated:
“To have guys out with COVID and stuff like that, I just took a gamble and said, ‘You know, I think that tonight’s the night to start him at 5.'”
The experiment paid off but you have to remember it paid off against a lesser team and it paid off once.
Is this something you should expect to see more often?
Is This The Right Choice?
The truth is that James at center is a temporary fix to a larger problem.
Yes, it’s a smart move but it’s also one that the Lakers shouldn’t rest on.
This is another case of the team relying on James for just about everything and it’s time they stop demanding he carries the whole team.
If the Lakers want long-term success they should allow James to continue to make plays and run the team, as he is best at doing, and find another player to fill the center position.
Davis doesn’t like playing center but he is really the best fit for the spot on this team.
With Davis as starting center and a healthy Howard and focused Jordan playing back-up, the team could solve many of their defensive problems – it will just take dedication and determination.
That, or trading for a true center, should be the plan – not leaning on James again.