Spotlighting and Breaking Down LA Lakers' Center Position

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2013

Jan 20, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol (16) against the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Lakers 108-103. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all of the drama surrounding him, the Los Angeles Lakers had one of the best centers in the league last season.

Dwight Howard averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 2013, and he did so while fighting a back injury that hampered him throughout the entire season.

Now, D12 is gone.

He’s a member of the Houston Rockets, but the Lakers have since dried their tears. Although this is still Kobe Bryant’s team, a lot of Mike D’Antoni’s offense is going to have to run from the inside-out—if he wants to keep his job, that is.

D’Antoni has been unclear about what the starting lineup will be next season, but he's going to have to tap into every bit of potential within his frontcourt in order to win.

Chris Kaman

After putting out an embarrassing—desperate, even—effort for Howard that ultimately led to heartbreak, Los Angeles went out and nabbed Chris Kaman.

The 10-year veteran is no Superman. What he is, though, is a productive and efficient big man who won’t be making headlines for feuds with Bryant or quarrels with his coach.

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He’s going to show up every night, give a gritty effort and go home—no drama, controversy or nonsense.

According to Rotoworld, Kaman is the top center in the depth chart and is expected to start alongside Pau Gasol in the frontcourt.

Kaman has put up 11.8 points and eight boards per game over the course of his career, and Basketball Reference projects that he’ll average 17.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes in 2014 in addition to 20.7 minutes a night (per ESPN).

He won’t have as big of a role as D12 did last season, but that’s actually a good thing—it means more touches for the true centerpieces of the team.

Pau Gasol

When the Lakers won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010, Pau Gasol was the team’s starting center.

During the postseason of the 2009 and 2010 championship runs, Gasol posted 18.9 points and 11 rebounds per game as the team’s primary frontcourt player.

While being featured as a power forward in the Lakers’ past two playoff stints, however, Gasol has averaged 13.3 points and 10.5 rebounds.

A more telling story lies within Gasol’s contrast in efficiency as a center and power forward.

The 12-year veteran connected on close to 56 percent of his attempts in the postseason from 2009-2010 but shot 45 percent from the field in L.A.’s last two trips to the playoffs.

Howard’s presence alone in 2013 took too many touches away from Gasol and clogged the lane. Next season will be different—Gasol will be free to thrive in both pick-and-roll situations and in the post with his back to the basket.

D’Antoni needs to be extremely versatile with his rotation next season, especially in the frontcourt. Gasol is currently listed as the starting PF, but look for him see time at both PF and C in 2014.

In 2014, Basketball Reference has Gasol pegged for about 16 points and nine rebounds per 36 minutes, and ESPN predicts that he'll be on the floor for 33.8 minutes a night.

Jordan Hill

Despite all of the problems that Jordan Hill has brought upon himself off the court, the 26-year-old big man can play.

While he’s listed on the depth chart as the second-string center, D’Antoni has encouraged Hill to work on his jumper in hopes that he’ll be able to throw him more minutes as a power forward.

Outside of Gasol, the Lakers don’t have a lot of options at the 4-spot, so Hill’s versatility in the frontcourt will be imperative.

Hill is extremely athletic and is quick for his size, but he has struggled to stay healthy. He played in just 29 games due to a hip injury in 2013, but L.A. will need Hill for most of next season to create a solid rotation with Gasol and Kaman.

During his four years in the NBA, Hill has averaged about six points and five rebounds a night. In 2014, he’s projected to put forth 14.2 points and 11.3 boards per 36 minutes. ESPN has Hill on the court for close to 16 minutes per game next season.

Robert Sacre

Robert Sacre has the potential to earn consistent minutes on the Lakers this season.

The big bruiser will come into 2014 looking to build off of a season where he put up just 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds per game.

The reason that he’s still relevant on the roster? The simple fact that he’s 7’0” and 263 pounds.

If he improves his ability to contribute on offense, Sacre could see some time that would give Gasol, Kaman and Hill—L.A.’s real primary big men—a much-needed spell here and there.

Rotoworld lists Sacre as the third center on the Lakers depth chart, and he’s projected to have 10.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per 36 minutes next season. ESPN predicts 6.3 minutes per game from Sacre in 2014.

The Lakers are pretty set as far as big guys go—it's just going to be a matter of their coach figuring how and when to use all of his weapons.

Hopefully last year taught him about the importance of production from the frontcourt.

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