Lakers Are Determined to Play Anthony Davis at the 4, but Is That Really Smart?

Within an era of the NBA built upon the concept of players being “positionless” stands one of its most important pillars willing to take a stand. Of course, with a few caveats baked in.

At 6’10”, 253 pounds and one eyebrow, Anthony Davis is not only one of the league’s most dazzling embodiments of modern basketball with his combination of size, shooting ability and guard-like coordination but also a throwback positionwise.

“I like playing the 4,” Davis told reporters during his introductory press conference with the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’m not even going to sugarcoat it. I like playing the 4. I don’t really like playing the 5.”

He would slyly put his hand on new head coach Frank Vogel’s shoulder after stating this and concede he would play the 5 if need be.

This is not a new preference for Davis. In fact, it is a stance the perennial All-Star has stuck with since entering the league. During what has already been a brisk seven seasons in the NBA for the 2012 No. 1 pick, he has played center more than power forward in only two, according to Cleaning the Glass. Last year, he spent a career-high 65 percent of his possessions at the 4 spot for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Although some believe Davis’ optimal spot on the floor—both individually and for his team—will eventually come at center, he has found success playing power forward. In his final two seasons with New Orleans, for instance, the Pelicans posted a better point/efficiency differential in lineups where he played power forward over center. It’s success his new team will hope carries over this year.

While there is a case to be made that Davis at the 5 on this Lakers team, in particular, makes the most schematic sense in terms of being more switchable on defense—expanding half-court spacing and unlocking lineups that feature the squad’s best players—there is merit for Davis spending a majority of the regular season at the 4.

The most prominent argument: It will help keep him fresh and intact for what is expected to be a deep playoff run. The Brow is reportedly “comfortable” playing center in the postseason, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, but the team has to get there first in a wide-open Western Conference. Davis being available as much as possible will play a substantial role in that.

Lakers fans have also learned firsthand in recent years that injuries can happen to anyone at any time. Reducing extraneous risks that can come with playing center is worth potentially sacrificing a few regular-season wins—especially for a player with an extensive injury history.

The Lakers appear happy to oblige Davis’ request. Likely not because statistical evidence proves they should, or because of the logistics of their roster construction, but because it’s what he wants.

And what Davis wants is paramount.