Davis’ presence was absolutely critical to the Purple and Gold winning last year’s title. From the regular season all the way to the 2020 NBA Finals, the 6-foot-10 forward provided stellar offense and suffocating defense.
Could Anthony Davis be that kind of force in the middle with James out for an extended period? How good can this LA Lakers team be with only Davis on the roster but without his setup man?
One has to wonder what kind of LA Lakers team we would have seen had they let James go to another team in 2018 but acquired Davis in 2019. While the makeup of the roster would look vastly different in this “what if” scenario, let’s pretend for a moment that this is exactly what the team would have looked like, sans James.
2019-20 LA Lakers with Anthony Davis but without LeBron James
Since last season, when James and Anthony Davis teamed up for the first time, there had only been three occasions when the LA Lakers had the latter on the court while the former was out.
It’s a very small sample size, but it’s the only evidence of how well or how poorly the Purple and Gold have played without King James.
All three games took place last season so we are still leaning heavily into speculation here when projecting the LA Lakers’ 2020-21 season without James.
Coach Frank Vogel’s squad had a 1-2 record in the absence of the 2020 Finals MVP but with Anthony Davis in tow. According to Stat Muse, in the three contests James was out, the LA Lakers averaged the following:
105.7 points / 48% FG / 45.7 rebounds / 20.0 assists / 10.3 steals / 6.7 blocks / 19.7 TOs
Davis’ numbers during those games were 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 2.3 blocks a night, per data crunched by Stat Muse. To put these stats in their proper context, let’s look at the LA Lakers’ averages for the season with James playing a majority of the games:
113.4 points / 48% FG / 45.7 rebounds / 25.4 assists / 8.6 steals / 6.6 blocks / 15.2 TOs
It’s very clear that though the LA Lakers had slightly better defensive stats, their offense was much better with James directing traffic. The 18-time All-Star contributes almost eight more points to the offense. While the field goal percentages are exactly the same, consider that the team without LeBron made just 82.7 attempts per game while their season average was 88.3.
The turnover numbers also tell a huge story. The LA Lakers had 4.5 more turnovers without James. Clearly, the offense runs more smoothly with the 6-foot-9 forward running the show.
The two losses came to title contenders (Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets) as Anthony Davis and the LA Lakers scored an average of only 100.5 points and lost by a whopping 40 combined points. Their only win came against the injury-riddled Golden State Warriors, who were missing Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Anthony Davis with the New Orleans Pelicans
While Anthony Davis’ previous New Orleans Pelicans teams don’t look anything like today’s LA Lakers, it’s good to examine how they performed. This exercise gives us an idea of Davis’ ability to carry a franchise as the team’s alpha dog.
Though we looked deeper into the stats earlier, this time we’ll only look at the Pelicans’ success or failure under Davis’ tenure.
Since his rookie season, the New Orleans Pelicans only reached the playoffs twice. In the first instance, the team had a 45-37 record and made it to the first round of the 2014-15 postseason as the eighth seed. They were subsequently swept by the eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors, 4-0.
In the 2017-18 season, the Pelicans made it to the playoffs once again but went deeper this time around. They had a 48-34 record and were the sixth seed in the Western Conference. This time, they were the ones holding the broom as Anthony Davis and company swept the Portland Trail Blazers 4-0.
Unfortunately, the Warriors once again awaited them in the second round. The Pelicans won only one game as the 2018 NBA champs gave them the gentleman’s sweep, 4-1.
What this means for Anthony Davis and the LA Lakers without LeBron James
The 2017-18 season was an interesting study because the New Orleans Pelicans’ success coincided with Anthony Davis being flanked by two smart perimeter players in Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo.
The two guards were among the best playmakers he had ever played with, and it’s no surprise that their team was able to reach the second round of the playoffs.
What this means is that Anthony Davis thrives as a superstar with a strong perimeter player and playmaker who complements his skills like Jrue Holiday and LeBron James.
The LA Lakers without James is devoid of a natural floor general who can feed Davis the ball and work a two-man game with him both offensively and defensively.
Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Andre Drummond are excellent players to have around, but the LA Lakers need something more to win the title.
The most that Anthony Davis can do is carry this team to between 45 and 48 wins (in an 82-game regular season) and hope that their record is enough to qualify them for the playoffs.
Once in the postseason, expect the LA Lakers to flame out in the first round with a slim chance of making it to the second round. That’s how good (or bad) this team would be if LeBron James was not on the roster and Anthony Davis was the lone superstar.