According to a recent report, Anthony Davis’ desire to play fewer minutes at center was part of the team’s motivation to sign Christian Wood.
Going all the way back to his introductory press conference with the Lakers, Anthony Davis has always been open about the fact that he doesn’t want to be a full-time center — even if he’s also consistently maintained that he will play the position when necessary, most notably by playing nearly all of his minutes there last season, and the majority (60%) of his playing time there during the team’s 2020 title run.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka has generally attempted to find centers that Davis can play alongside as a result, with last year (2022-23) the only season the team hasn’t mostly had a placeholder starting center alongside Davis for the majority of their games since he joined the team. Davis stepped up to that challenge, but according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, he made it known that he wanted to get back to playing the 4 more this season:
Sources told ESPN that Davis made it clear to the organization he wanted to have more support at center so he wouldn’t have to play so much 5 during the regular season.
Davis was slotted at center in 99% of his minutes last season, according to Cleaning the Glass data. While Davis’ performance in the middle earned him a three-year, $186 million contract extension this summer, the Lakers’ strategy with Rob Pelinka in charge of basketball operations has been to partner with their stars as stakeholders in the process.
Davis’ desire to spend more time at power forward was heard. (In addition to Wood, L.A. also signed 7-footer Jaxson Hayes.)
Pelinka telegraphed this a bit all the way back during Las Vegas Summer League in July, when he said the team wanted to play more two-big lineups this season with Davis and Jaxson Hayes, something that will almost assuredly apply to the Christian Wood signing as well, even if he doesn’t start.
Now, Davis has dominated when (even reluctantly) playing center, and is far more effective and optimized offensively at the position. Those are mostly agreed-upon facts. However, that doesn’t mean that finding other big men who can play alongside him — especially during the regular season, and even more so if they can space the floor a bit like Wood can — is a bad thing.
Where was Davis most effective in the playoffs last year? It wasn’t defending other centers; it was when he was serving as a sentient band-aid, playing off of a non-threat to swallow up any players foolish enough to challenge him near the rim as one of the most devastating rovers I can ever recall witnessing at the NBA level. Not only is this likely less physically taxing than asking him to bang with seven-footers every night, but it also might be where he’s at his most effective defensively. If the Lakers added a few more players to absorb that night-to-night banging so that they don’t have to ask Rui Hachimura or LeBron James to do so like they did in the Western Conference Finals, it’s worth trying and experimenting with over the course of 82 games.
When it matters, Davis is probably still going to be playing the majority of his minutes at center because of how unstoppable it can make the team’s offense when he’s the only non-shooter on the floor. But if he doesn’t want to do that every single night, well, there are arguments for saving him from that physical burden. And based on every comment he’s ever given about his role, it’s unsurprising that’s his preference. If the Hayes/Davis or Hayes/Wood lineups don’t work, then the Lakers can just phase two minimum players more out of the rotation. As long as the team isn’t devoting huge resources to fulfill Davis’ desire — and they’re not — it’s hard to get too worked up about it, and it’s easy to see the pros of such an approach, too.