It’s mind-blowing to think that ever since LeBron James walked across the NBA draft stage 20 years ago, he’s always been his team’s best player. He turns 39 in a little over a month. Many people predicted that 2023 would be when he finally hands the Los Angeles Lakers’ keys over to teammate Anthony Davis. However, in the first 13 games of the season, the King surprisingly still wears his crown.
Davis is a confusing talent. The league’s blocks-per-game leader (3.3) is by far the best defender on the planet. Plus, he ranks first in many offensive metrics from the post. If you were to count on your fingers the number of players better than him when he’s on, you would have many fingers left. Most would say the big man is better than James at their best.
Unfortunately, AD’s offensive production is more up and down than a roller coaster. In the Lakers’ first meeting with the Sacramento Kings, the former Kentucky Wildcat scored 30 points and hauled 16 rebounds. In the second match, he failed to score double-digit points or boards.
The Lakers extended Davis through the 2027-28 season with the richest annual salary for a reason: to take the number one option role from James. However, Davis’ unpredictable production has forced the Lakers to continue to rely on James despite his age.
Father Time must have made an exception for James. He is averaging 26.4/8.2/6.5 on a ridiculous 58.6/39.7/69.1 shooting split. Davis has some catching up if he wants to be the man. 22/11.7/3.3 on 53/30/86.3 shooting splits is great, but not enough to be the best player on the Lakers.
Everyone agreed that James would still be Lakers’s best distributor. But not many foresaw him continuing as the LakeShow’s primary scorer at 38 years old. In last night’s 105-104 win against the Houston Rockets, James dropped a season-high 37 points on an extremely efficient 74 FG%. Davis’s 27 points was the game’s 2nd-highest scorer, but foul trouble removed him from big spots.
The offensive gap between the duo was more apparent in last Friday’s 107-95 win in Portland. James tallied 35 points, doubling Davis’ 16.
James has scored 28 points or more six times this month. Davis has failed to score more than 20 points five times this month. The Brow plays exceptional defense and is capable of star-level offense, but James never reaches the same offensive lows as his partner. The Lakers know what to expect from James on a nightly basis, but crosses its’ fingers with the big man.
The Lakers’ early season story has been that the squad is not even functional when James is off the court. He had a 25.6 +/- net per 100 possessions in his first 12 games. Without the King on the floor, the Laker offense cannot move the ball in the half-court or push in transition.
It’s not like the Lakers don’t have the personnel to be fine without James running the show. But Davis’ inconsistent offensive aggression begs the opponent to go on a run. James subbed out with 4:29 left in the first quarter while up 13 points in Portland. The Blazers looked utterly outmatched but found life on a 15-4 run in following six minutes. Davis was scoreless during the attack.
What ultimately separates James from Davis is James’ ability to close games. The Clutch Player of the Year award could find its way amongst James’ stacked trophy case because he’s been the king of the fourth quarter. He’s averaging a league-leading 9.2 points per fourth quarter on 66.1 FG%.
In the Lakers’ last two contests, the team needed to pull away in final quarter with Davis on the bench in foul trouble. That might have been a problem for most players, but not for James.
James scored 14 fourth-quarter points against the Rockets, including the game-winning free throw. Davis put up a donut hole in the quarter’s points column.
To close out the Blazers, James put on an offensive masterclass. No one in the building could stop the man from scoring or assisting on 23 of 25 Laker points in the 4th. Flashbacks had to have hit Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. James scored the Cleveland Cavilers’ last 25 points to win Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against Billups’ Detroit Pistons. 16 years later, James still owns the final quarter.
On Tuesday, the Lakers host the 4-9 Utah Jazz. The opportunity is there for Davis to silence his haters by proving some consistency. A 30-point and 12-rebound game would be ideal. But another underwhelming offensive night would further prove why James is still the Lakers’ best player.