Assessing the Center position for the Los Angeles Lakers
All three different types of centers with different strengths. McGee and Chandler were championship-tested veterans who offered defense, rebounding, and rim protection, while Zubac was a gifted young big man that offered points, rebounds, and some blocks in limited time. But after trading Zubac, and all of the turmoil, injuries, and struggles that came, the center position has been in constant flux. It is still a position of intrigue for the Lakers as they head into a critical offseason.
JaVale McGee reinvented himself from a journeyman and weekly Shaqtin’ a Fool fixture to a key contributor for two championships with the Golden State Warriors. This season, he has posted his best overall season since 2011-12, when he was with the Washington Wizards.
He was even in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year for a period of time in the early part of the year. However, just before Christmas, he had a severe bout with pneumonia, and after he returned, his effectiveness was not the same for quite a while.
After the All-Star break, however, his play picked back up on both ends. His high point of the season came against the Brooklyn Nets, with 33 points, 20 rebounds (both career-highs), and 6 blocks, on 15-20 shooting from the field. Only Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have posted 30-20-5 in the history of the Lakers franchise. He can make boneheaded plays at times still, and he gets caught out of position on defense at times, particularly against quick guards or shooting centers. But this has been a very solid season for him.
Evidenced by his shooting percentage, his best shot remains the dunk, but he has shown a Kareem-like skyhook at times, and he will even hit an occasional jumper. His fun and quirky personality also livens up the team. It is possible that he will be brought back, and he wouldn't mind being brought back, though there figure to be suitors. He has arguably been their second-best free agent pickup after LeBron James.
Tyson Chandler had inspired the Lakers with his rebounding, defensive tenacity, and his leadership. He even had a game-saving block vs the Atlanta Hawks in November, against rookie sensation Trae Young. After LeBron’s injury and the Lakers’ subsequent freefall down the standings, Chandler’s effectiveness and minutes decreased significantly. He also has gotten hit with the injury and flu bug. He has seldom played since the All-Star break.
It is commendable that Chandler chose to return home rather than join contenders such as the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics. However, at 37, he is clearly in the twilight of his career, though he has stated that he plans to keep playing. It appears unlikely he will be brought back to the Lakers.
Rookie Moe Wagner was seldom used for a good chunk of the season, but he consistently been in the rotation at power forward and center over the last few weeks, even drawing a few starts. Even in spot minutes early in the season, he showed some signs of potential.
Wagner plays with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He has shown range from the 3-point line, and has an array of moves in the post. He needs to bulk up to bang with bigger centers. He also needs to improve his post defense and become a more consistent rebounder. But he has a bright future and figures to be a key part of the rotation next season and beyond.