LOS ANGELES (CBS)- In the wake of Saturday’s blockbuster trade involving the Lakers acquiring Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Lakers have been installed as favorites to win the 2020 NBA championship. That may seem premature, as the Lakers roster is looking a bit empty, with only Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Isaac Bonga, Moritz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, Alex Caruso and, of course, LeBron James under contract for next season. They will have cap space (though how much remains to be seen) to spend in free agency, and they are reportedly targeting Kemba Walker to pair with Davis and James in a new super team.
Regardless of how the rest of the roster shapes up, one thing is clear. Davis will be the best player that LeBron plays with in his 15 seasons and counting in the NBA.
It’s a strong statement to make, for sure, as James has already played with one obvious Hall of Famer (Dwyane Wade), another likely one (Chris Bosh) and two others who are on the same track (Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving). But, the stats back it up. Entering his eighth year in the league, Davis has posted a player-efficiency rating of 27.4, good for the third-best career mark of all-time behind only Michael Jordan and, yep, LeBron James. That mark is nearly four points better than Wade’s career mark.
Now, Wade’s numbers are dragged down slightly by the later years of his career, when he wasn’t nearly as effective. Still, if we adjust the table based on the careers of LeBron’s teammates through the seasons that he played with them, Davis remains on top in PER and second to Wade in Box Plus/Minus and VORP.
Going one step further, through Wade and Davis’ first seven seasons in the league, Davis leads Wade in Win Shares (72-69.8).
For all the stats that can be thrown out, the main question is how will Davis fit with James in Los Angeles. After all, Wade and James’ games were very similar when the two decided to pair up in Miami. Both had dominated the ball, bullied their way to the rim, and generally struggled shooting from the perimeter to that point in their respective careers. The beginning stages of their partnership wasn’t exactly a smooth transition. But they did adapt and figure things out leading to four straight Finals appearances and a pair of titles.
Davis, at least on paper, fits better with LeBron. He is already an efficient shooter from the perimeter on catch-and-shoot opportunities, knocking down 38% of those types of shots last season.
The combination of Davis and LeBron in the pick-and-roll offers a devastating conundrum for defenses. Trap James, and you leave Davis with a free rim run. Switch and you leave either a lumbering center or a smaller five on LeBron with a forward on Davis. The possibilities make for a tantalizing vision of what the duo could become. Additionally, Davis offers some much needed rim protection behind James who has, not surprisingly, regressed as a defender with age.
As for James himself, this is the first time in nine years that he will have had a full offseason’s worth of rest. At 34-years-old, his body likely needed it, considering he played just 55 games last season, the lowest total of his career. It is worth noting that, entering his 17th season, James has played more minutes (46,235) than any other active player. How that affects his play going forward will be something to watch.
Wade’s greatness is undeniable. He goes down among the best players ever to play the game. Davis is right in that same category already and he hasn’t even hit the peak of his career which Hoops Hype estimated to be a player’s age 27 season. With Davis in the fold, the Lakers’ title hopes seem to be revived once more, and LeBron has the opportunity to play with a player seemingly uniquely suited to his game. Time will tell, but the partnership of Davis and James has the makings of a fruitful one.