What Exactly Should the Lakers Do With All Those Power Forwards?
The Lakers offseason has gotten really strange over the last few days.
The fact that they drafted Julius Randle (a power forward) seventh overall in this year’s draft and re-signed Jordan Hill (also a power forward) was fine. Hill plays some center and Randle might not demand heavy minutes right away, so that could’ve worked itself out over time.
Things got a little weirder, though, when they signed former Raptor/Grizzly Ed Davis (another power forward) to a two-year contract on Wednesday night. And then got flat-out silly when it was announced on Thursday that they had “won” the amnesty waiver claim on freshly released Bull Carlos Boozer (in case you’re keeping score, yet another frickin’ power forward).
The Lakers struck out on all the big-name free agents this offseason, but I guess they can hang their hat on the fact that they’ve cornered the market on middling power forwards.
Boozer is a former All-Star, but entering his 13th season at age 32, he just came off a year in which he posted his lowest scoring and rebounding averages since his rookie season (13.7 and 8.3), his lowest field goal percentage ever (45.6%), and a mere 4.6 fourth quarter minutes per game for being a horrendous defender. Randle may have an NBA-ready body, but is unproven until he plays at least an NBA minute or two and comes with foot and conditioning concerns. Neither Hill nor Davis has ever averaged double digits in scoring and both have spent the majority of their careers coming off the bench.
Oh, and they still own should-be-benchwarmer center Robert Sacre for two seasons and the rights to restricted free agent Ryan Kelly (although you have to imagine they are ok with letting him walk now).
The Lakers still don’t have a coach yet, so it’s not like we can ask him to tell us what he plans to do with this mess. Let’s see if we can do his homework for him.
Let’s assume the Lakers show some mercy and let a relatively promising Kelly go to a team with less of a logjam at his position, and that Sacre goes back to waving towels like he did in his rookie season (and probably would’ve last year had the Lakers had any clear talent on their roster). Out of the four players remaining, who’s a four and who can be a five?
|Player||Height||Weight||Career PF%||Career C%|
|Carlos Boozer||6’9”||258 lbs||76%||24%|
|Jordan Hill||6’10"||235 lbs||49%||49%|
|Ed Davis||6’10"||225 lbs||55%||44%|
|Julius Randle||6’9"||250 lbs||N/A||N/A|
Boozer and Randle have the biggest bodies, but they give up a bit of height at the center position and have the least amount of experience playing it. Randle will have a hard enough time adjusting to NBA players at his natural position at the four, so it wouldn’t make sense to even consider him at the five yet anyway.
Hill and Davis, despite their relatively thin frames, have each played half of their careers in the middle and will probably have no choice but to do so quite a bit this season. Hill was primarily a center back in his Houston days and Davis played a fair bit of time in the middle for the Raptors, so they should both be able to get back in that groove fairly easily.
Let’s assume that the Lakers treat Randle like any rookie and make him earn minutes at the beginning and come off the bench. Which of the three remaining bigs should start for the team?
If the Lakers are forced to start two natural power forwards at the four and the five, as appears to be the case, they’re likely going to give up a lot on the defensive end. They were already 28th in the league by our defensive efficiency metrics last season, so that could be a concern. With that in mind, who are their best rim protectors?
|Player||MIN||BLK / 36||Opp FGA at Rim / 36||Opp FG% at Rim|
Predictably, Boozer loses out on this side of the argument by a rather large margin. He relied heavily on reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah to erase his mistakes on the defensive end when he was on the floor this past year and several before it. Although both Hill and Davis played fewer minutes than Boozer on average, they faced a higher volume of shots at the rim and protected it admirably.
In fact, they would both rank among the league’s best in the category with a starter’s share of minutes. With Pau Gasol and his rapidly declining defensive abilities gone to Chicago, a Hill/Davis combo could actually be an upgrade on the defensive end over what they had last year.
Offense and Rebounding
While Boozer’s once excellent offensive and rebounding numbers have kept him as a starter for every game he’s played over the last eight seasons, it might be time to reconsider penciling him in there by default in his new home in LA. If we compare the three forwards and their per-36 numbers (to even out the minute discrepancy), he’s not even an obvious choice in those areas anymore either.
|Player||USG%||PTS / 36||FG%||REB / 36||REB%|
Boozer finished over a quarter of his team’s possessions while he was on the floor, compared to much lower rates by Hill and Davis (as evidenced by the usage rates above). That explains away the marginal differences between their scoring averages and it’s clear to see that Hill and Davis scored their points far more efficiently anyway.
As for the rebounding, they were both just as good or better than Boozer in per-36 rebounding average and rebound rate (a percentage of available rebounds they grabbed while on the floor). Considering how much more time they spent protecting the rim than Booz, one can imagine they had fewer chances to get into position and pad their rebounding stats. That makes their glass achievements all the more impressive.
Add together the superior defense, better efficiency, and equal or better scoring and rebounding rates and it's hardly a surprise that just about every all-encompassing advanced metric - from player efficiency rating, to win shares per 48 minutes, to our own nERD metric - favors Hill and Davis pretty easily over Boozer.
According to nERD, which estimates how many wins over .500 a team would be with a given player starting with four league-average players, Hill and Davis both contribute wins to their squad, while Boozer takes them away.
In other words, the Lakers should start Jordan Hill and Ed Davis (which of them plays power forward or center is probably irrelevant at this point and should probably just be matchup-based).
Boozer has All-Star selections on his résumé and might be a de facto starter on opening night, but now might be the time to experiment with what’s up-and-coming (Hill, Davis, and especially Randle) instead of what’s down-and-going (Boozer).
Hill was under-utilized by Mike D’Antoni and Ed Davis has bounced around in loaded frontcourts his entire career-to-date, robbing him of chances to reach his full potential. Neither player is necessarily destined to breakout, but on a Lakers team almost certainly headed for the lottery, they certainly deserve a chance.
Besides, the Lakers will owe their first-round pick to the Suns (via the Steve Nash deal) next year if they finish any lower than top five in the lottery. By starting and riding some unproven young guys with upside, it either works out and they develop into something great or they fall flat and the team gets a better chance to keep their pick.
Or maybe, as the numbers seem to suggest, playing Boozer heavy minutes is the easiest path to retaining that pick. We’ll see what exactly the Lakers plan to do with their logjam of middling power forwards soon enough. Either way, Kobe's got to be happy with the situation, right?