Antawn Jamison Should Never Play Center

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In the beginning of the Lakers season, the back-up center for the team was Jordan Hill, who’s effort and energy off the bench provided a nice spark for the team when Dwight Howard needed to take a rest. He hustled for loose balls, rebounded at a high rate, and shot about 50% from the field. He was also a tenacious defender, who, despite being under-sized, was able to run around, cover his assignments, and “annoy” players on the other team with his pesky play. Although the team was struggling in the early months of the year, Jordan Hill was one of the few bright spots. On January 6, Kobe Bryant stepped on Hill’s foot, while Hill was running in another direction and Hill pulled his hip. The injury requited surgery and Hill was lost for the season.

The Lakers then turned to Pau Gasol, their veteran power forward who was struggling in the starting line-up and didn’t play well with Dwight Howard. He became to come off the bench and, although he still played with Dwight Howard at times, took all of the back-up center minutes. At this point, the Lakers had a back-up center who not only was a skilled offensive player in the post, could shoot from mid-range well and was an excellent passing big-man, but they also had a very underrated defender under the basket. Despite battling tendinitis in both knees as well as plantar fasciitis, Pau Gasol was able to post a very impressive post-up defense mark. In the time he played this season, he held opponents posting up on him to 0.74 points per possession. According to Synergy Sports Technology, that means he played better post defense than players like Tim Duncan or Serge Ibaka, both of whom are considered by some to be a defensive player of the year candidate Unfortunately, the plantar fasciitis that Gasol had been playing through tore on February 5, taking Gasol out for 6 to 8 weeks.

The Lakers were left with three options to fill the void left at the back-up center role. (1) Play Robert Sacre there, the rookie from Gonzaga that they drafted 60th overall last summer. (2) Play Antawn Jamison there and play with a small line-up for the dozen or so minutes each night that Howard needs to sit. (3) Acquire an adequate center from either the D-League or from another NBA team via trade.

Well, Robert Sacre has played 15 minutes since Gasol has gotten hurt, coming in three blowout games against Boston, the Clippers, and the Timberwolves. The Lakers let the trade deadline come and pass without making a single move, and there haven’t even been rumors from the team about possibly adding a free agent center or signing someone from the D-League to fix this problem. Yes, that means the Lakers have committed to having Antawn Jamison play center between about 8 and 15 minutes a night, for nearly the entire last month.

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge just how well Antawn Jamison has been playing offensively for the past couple weeks. In the last 5 games he has an eFG% of 60% and a PER of 22.0. He’s really helping the offense off the bench and is making nice cuts to the basket so Nash or Kobe can feed him the ball for the easy basket. His versatility for a power forward is tough for defenses to deal with. He can shoot the three ball well and also has a solid, unorthodox game around the basket including lay-ups at every arm angle imaginable as well as a solid baby hook. I would be fine with all of this. IF HE ONLY PLAYED POWER FORWARD.

If you look at the Lakers defensive statistics, their inability to protect the rim with Jamison at the 5 is startling. According to nbawowy.com,  in 386 possessions this season (about four games worth, enough to dismiss “small sample size” in my opinion), opponents of a Jamison-anchored Lakers defense are scoring 1.228 points per possession. By comparison, the league-wide  average points per possession is 1.056 points per game. To put it in another perspective, the Jamison-led defense for the Lakers allows opponents to effectively shoot 58% from the field, compared with the league average of 49% eFG%. You be curious about a confounding variable in this analysis. Is it really Jamison’s defense, or is it poor perimeter defense that causes opponents to torch this lineup so badly? When Jamison is center, opponents shoot 70% from the restricted area under the basket. That’s WAY worse than league average, which is about 59% shooting from there. Even the Sacramento Kings, who are last in the league in defense at the rim, hold opponents to a stellar-by-comparison 65.0% shooting in the restricted area. Jamison is just too old, slow, and weak to be elite on the defensive end as a center. He’s never been a good defender throughout his entire career, playing at the less-important power forward position, but at center it’s just a train wreck.

Once I learned the extent of Jamison’s rim-protecting ineptitude, I tried to look into the situation and dissect it a bit. I found that the peak of Jamison’s horribleness on D was the game last Monday against the Denver Nuggets. With 2:59 in the first quarter, Dwight Howard subbed out of the game with the Lakers leading the game 25-23. At this time, Antawn Jamison moved over to center. Here are the next 12 Nuggets offensive possessions:

  1. Javale McGee two-point shot.
  2. Andre Miller lay-up
  3. Corey Brewer dunk
  4. Andre Miller lay-up
  5. Andre Iguodala draws foul, gets to the free throw line
  6. Javale McGee draws faul, gets to the free throw line
  7. Corey Brewer and-1 lay-up
  8. Andre Miller draws foul, gets to the free throw line
  9. Anthony Randolph lay-up
  10. Anthony Randolph dunk
  11. Corey Brewer missed lay-up, Anthony Randolph tip-in
  12. Corey Brewer lay-up

Remember the two-point Lakers lead they had when Howard exited the game? In the span of 4 minutes and 25 seconds, the Nuggets scored 22 points and scored points on 12 possessions in a row, ALL VIA PENETRATION, to turn the scoreboard into a 14-point lead in the Nuggets favor. The Lakers ended up losing the game by 11 points. Perhaps if they had an adequate free-agent defensive center who could have been playing the 5, the game would have been different. There are certainly options out there. Ben Wallace, Hassan Whiteside, Arinze Onuaku, Henry Sims and Tim Ohlbrecht. These are people that can play defense at an adequate level. They can sacrifice offense in that bench unit. They just need to find a way not to lose a lead like that. It isn’t necessarily Jamison’s fault, but he’s a POWER FORWARD and he should play POWER FORWARD and if Mitch Kupchek truly wants to make a real effort to get the team into the playoffs, he should fill this blatant hole in the bench unit, immediately.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter @SkylerJGilbert.

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About Skyler Gilbert
Follow me on Twitter @skylerjgilbert

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