Among all of the talking points from the Lakers’ thrilling overtime win against the Clippers was a brand new lineup debuted by Darvin Ham. Austin Reaves and Max Christie shared the backcourt, while all three of LA’s bigs—Anthony Davis, Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood—held down the fort up front.
I previously wrote about how two-big lineups with Wood and Davis were beginning to give LA some success, but a combination with all three Lakers centers? No one saw that coming.
How well did Ham’s experiment work out, and could we see more of it in the future?
The Lakers’ Newest Experiment: Go Big or Go Home
The Group’s Performance
There were obvious advantages with LA going big—particularly in the areas of rebounding and defense—but the numbers back up just how well they performed.
Some very small sample size lineup data
LeBron/Wood – 49 min, +56.7 net rating
Davis/Wood – 52 min, +29.8 net rating
LeBron/Davis/Wood – 44 min, +63.7 net rating
Davis/Wood/Hayes – 4 min, +116.7 net rating
— Jacob Rude (@JacobRude) November 2, 2023
In the four minutes they played together, Davis, Wood and Hayes combined for 15 points and ten rebounds while shooting 4/10 from the field. They also had a plus-minus of +10 in their time together.
Furthermore, the trio collected 71% of the team’s rebounds (including 75% of their defensive boards) and held a true shooting percentage of 59%. They had bright moments that didn’t reflect on the stat sheet, as Ham noted in his postgame presser, and ultimately allowed LA to carry the momentum into the final frame:
“Athletic ability. The length. The size. Their ability to move their feet. It also allowed us to finish the quarter without having to rush Bron back into the game. That three-man lineup across the front line, these guys take up a lot of space defensively, they all have great hands, they all get off the floor and block shots so anything at the rebound is going to be highly contested and they all rebound.”
Based on their performance, there’s reason to believe that this unique lineup isn’t going to be a one-game wonder.
The Big Trio’s Sustainability Going Forward
It’s worth noting that the Lakers deployed this lineup without half of their regular rotation. Taurean Prince—LA’s original starter—was a precautionary late scratch due to a sore ankle. Gabe Vincent was out with a knee injury—and will now miss two weeks with a left knee effusion. Rui Hachimura missed a second straight game with an eye contusion. And Jarred Vanderbilt continues to deal with a heel contusion, which will keep him out for the first two weeks of the season. Once all of them come back, the odds of this big lineup being back on the floor could shrink. However, it brings forth an important lesson and priority for the Lakers: the ability to play big.
In a Western Conference filled with formidable frontcourt members—Nikola Jokic, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Victor Wembanyama—the Lakers have debuted a potential solution to succeeding in non-LeBron minutes. The same could hold true for their Eastern Conference counterparts—filled with talents such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Jimmy Butler.
Again, it’s a very small sample size, but the compatibility of AD, C-Wood and Hayes was on full display Wednesday night. The three of them can fill up the paint and protect it just as well—not to mention how Davis and Wood have improved their perimeter jumpers and defense to begin the year. They all played key roles in the Lakers on both ends of the floor, but it’s their rebounding and defense where they’ve made the biggest impacts.
The key factor in this lineup is using it in spurts, so as not to tax AD, Wood or Hayes by playing them any longer than they need to. While it likely won’t be a consistent theme in the next few games, a center-filled lineup is a fascinating option for Darvin Ham going forward.
The Last Word
There have certainly been unique lineup combinations thrown out by coaches—whether the games count or not. The Lakers are the latest example of throwing something to the wall and seeing if it sticks. If this lineup makes an appearance again—and if it’s just as effective the second time around—then Ham could add it to the numerous tricks up his sleeve.