With LeBron James at point, Anthony Davis at center, Lakers offer first peek at potential crunch-time lineup
Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Avery Bradley rounded out the unit
For a league operating in an almost entirely position-less era, there still seems to be a lot of talk about positions. Point guard and center -- the two most traditional positions in the game's history -- still get most of the attention, while shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards tend to get categorized as wings and bigs, encompassing terms that reflect the broadened responsibilities of modern players.
But as Jimmy Butler said when he was asked on Monday how the Heat will balance the point guard duties between himself, Justise Winslow and incumbent Goran Dragic: "What is a point guard nowadays? Anybody can bring the ball up and initiate offense."
Well, maybe not anybody. But you get the point, no pun intended. Lineups are constructed these days to have multiple ball handlers and playmakers, and usually one big man who oftentimes isn't even a traditional big man but more of a shooter. More than anything, it's about versatility on both ends, and you'd be hard-pressed to find two more versatile players in the world than LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Which brings us to Thursday, when the Lakers offered a first peek at a potential crunch-time lineup consisting of LeBron at the point, Davis at center, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Avery Bradley and Alex Caruso on the wing. From ESPN's Dave McMenamin:
Coach Frank Vogel instructed the scoreboard operator to put two minutes on the clock and have the score read 99-96 in the reserves' favor. It was time for the Los Angeles Lakers to test out their crunch-time lineup with LeBron James at the point and Anthony Davis at center on Day 5 of training camp Thursday.
At times it looked sloppy: James had several turnovers, including one where he had his pocket picked in the backcourt by Danny Green. At times it looked efficient: Davis was a ready recipient of touches at the high post that he converted into face-up jump shots. At times it looked tried and true: James hit a deep pull-up 3 to tie things up with six seconds remaining.
All of it was a work in progress.
To be honest, the most interesting part of this lineup isn't LeBron and Davis, it's the three guys who joined them. We know LeBron is going to have the ball in his hands most of the time, certainly in crunch time, and it's pretty safe to assume Davis will be the lone big man in most finishing lineups, though that could depend to some degree on matchups. It's deciding on the other three players that will be Vogel's toughest, and probably most important job. LeBron and Davis make the Lakers a really good team, even great, all by themselves, but it's the rest of the guys who will largely determine whether they can win a championship.
On Thursday, Vogel went with Caruso, KCP and Bradley, but this trio will be fluid all season as Vogel mixes and matches. In the end, the Lakers need shooters and versatile defenders around their two stars. Danny Green is one who figures to provide both, yet he wasn't playing with Davis and LeBron on Thursday. Don't read anything into that.
In effect, LeBron has been a point guard his whole career, regardless of the SF (small forward) letters you see next to his name on the scoresheet. His duties have always been to handle the ball and make everyone on the court better. He's considered one of the best passers to ever play, and has never played with a score-first mentality. He's a point guard by every traditional definition, just one who happens to be arguably the greatest scorer of all-time, too.
In designating LeBron as the "point guard" in the particular finishing lineup we saw Thursday, and likely whatever finishing lineup Vogel ends up preferring as the season progresses and the playoffs begin, what we're really talking about is the absence of Rajon Rondo, who will likely stagger some point guard minutes with LeBron throughout the course of games. Will Vogel play Rondo and LeBron together in crunch time? Again, if LeBron is going to control the ball, which he will, undoubtedly, then it's hard to find a use for a guy who can't shoot.
Again, this is all about how the other three guys on the court fit around, and complement, LeBron and Davis -- who, for his part, has spent a lot of time this summer balking at the idea of playing center. Again, let's just forget the actual position. It paints a deceiving picture that Davis is going to down on the block playing with his back to the basket banging bodies with Patrick Ewing.
That's not going to be the case. Yes, in the times the Lakers use two-big lineups, Davis may get a reprieve from having to defend bigger players, if that's what he's worried about, but regardless, on offense, he's going to play a lot on the perimeter. He's going to catch and face up. He's going to roll. He's going to pop. He's going to shoot 3-pointers. He's going to put the ball on the floor and make plays for others. Call it a center if you'd like, but Davis' responsibilities will bear little resemblance to the traditional duties of that position.
in the end, it's like LeBron told reporters after practice Thursday: "It doesn't matter to me. I do whatever it takes for us to win. So it doesn't matter. I'm a ballplayer. I'm not a point guard, I'm not a shooting guard, a small forward, power forward or a center. I'm just a ballplayer. You put me on the floor, and I can make things happen with whoever is on the floor. So, I'm just looking forward to getting out there with my teammates because it's exciting. It's fun."
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