The Los Angeles Lakers have been one of basketball's biggest surprises this year—for all the wrong reasons. At 12-12, the team is sitting on the cusp of the playoffs at eighth in the Western Conference.
But there is no place for complacency in La La Land, and the biggest changes (unavoidable pun) surround the frontcourt.
With LeBron James back in action, he and the Lakers are growing fond of mid-game lineups with him at center. And to start games, head coach Frank Vogel is tightening the rotation, putting some faith in Dwight Howard while setting a new precedent for the position moving forward.
Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James: 2021's Newest Frontcourt
The Lakers began experimenting with LeBron at the 5 recently, and he's enjoying those lineups' potential. Speaking on the experience, he explained to reporters that "it's been pretty good for us this year when we've had myself and Melo at the 4 and the 5."
In those lineups, L.A.'s defensive intensity seems higher and the offense seems better-spaced. LeBron is keenly aware of both.
On offense, he pointed to the benefits of having "so much space and so many shot-makers on the floor." On defense, he emphasized being able to watch action unfold in front of him, enabling him to "bark out commands."
That latter point, about the defensive end, marks a similarity to another small-ball lineup's center: the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green. With that in mind, the Lakers' potential with LeBron quarterbacking the defense will be worth monitoring.
Dwight Howard Earns the Starting Role...for Now
Although L.A. likes LeBron at center, that's a schemed rotation and he won't be starting there. But said starting role is also in flux, with Vogel determining a new system this past week.
After giving veterans DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard shots as a starter and in the rotation, the Lakers are shifting gears.
Harrison Faigen @hmfaigen
I still can't get over Frank Vogel -- who guards his starting lineups like the nuclear codes -- saw enough in like 3 minutes the other night that he just volunteered Dwight is the starter at center moving forward and the Lakers are only going to play one. Emphasis mine: https://t.co/RoWvSq2uOb
Moving forward, though, the coach doesn't know who will be the starter—but he does know that whoever starts will be the only one to play. Explaining that the starting 5 will be decided on a "game-to-game basis," Vogel intends to give "those center minutes to one player and not two."
Splitting time for much of the year, neither Jordan nor Howard averages more than 15 minutes per game this season. With only one expected to play each game moving forward, starting with Howard, Vogel will give them a chance to play bigger minutes and find a rhythm.