The Los Angeles Lakers must figure out the best way to use LeBron James alongside Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram next season, but that’s obviously a good problem to have.
During an episode of The Lowe Post podcast on July 16, NBA analyst Brian Windhorst wondered if James could play center for the Lakers (via ESPN):
“Do they intend to have LeBron play center? Because Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is your two guard, right? Who’s your three? [Ingram]. Who’s your four? [LeBron]. What about Kyle Kuzma? … So you’re going to have a team that thinks of itself as a legitimate team that is going to start JaVale McGee at center?”
While it sounded strange at first, it could legitimately be in play for the Lakers – especially when they play a team like the Golden State Warriors, who often opt for a more small-ball style of play. James has played just one percent of his career minutes as a center, but played as much as nine percent in 2012-13, when the Miami Heat won the NBA title.
Even if the Warriors run a more traditional big like Jordan Bell on the court, it’s worth noting that the Golden State rookie matched up against James both in the 2018 NBA Finals and during their regular season games as well.
While Windhorst was just speculating, an executive for the Lakers recently told Eric Pincus that LeBron spending time at the five is indeed in the plans for Los Angeles (via Bleacher Report):
“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron.”
This could just be seen at the end of games, of course, but it could also be the best five guys on the court at the same time for head coach Luke Walton.
It makes sense to see Hart next to James, rather than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, because of his natural ability on open three-pointers and catch-and-shoot attempts. Hart was the MVP of the 2018 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and someone who has caught LeBron’s attention.
When the Lakers did not sign any pure shooters in free agency this offseason, it was an indication that James was more likely to play off-ball next year than he had been earlier in his career.
After watching longtime friend Chris Paul finally have someone to share the on-ball duties with last season alongside guard James Harden, especially at this point in his career, it must seem appealing for James. Ball will likely be the primary playmaker for the Lakers in the starting lineup.
Even though some worry about the lack of three-point shooting, a lineup that features James next to Ingram, Kuzma and Hart is far more impressive than a lineup with Caldwell-Pope and McGee. This helps to solve that problem and makes the team a quicker team, more natural to run the transition offense.
No team ran transition offense more than Los Angeles did last season. It was their most-used play type with 19.5 percent of possessions. They were able to score a league-high 23.4 points per game when running this offense.
James, meanwhile, ranked No. 3 overall with 6.5 points per game when in transition. Kuzma was No. 26 overall with 3.8 ppg while Ingram had 3.6 ppg, Hart had 2.7 ppg and Ball had 2.1 ppg.
Expect their efficiency to improve with James on the court, however, as he averaged 2.2 assists per game in transition. This ranked No. 4 overall in the NBA. Ball averaged an impressive 1.7 assists per game on this play type, too, which will be a key component of their fast-paced team when they operate as a small-ball death lineup.