Los Angeles Lakers: How would they be if they hadn’t traded for Anthony Davis?

(Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
(Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images) /
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Los Angeles Lakers
(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) /

How good would the Lakers be this season without the AD trade?

Back when I was in high school, I got up early one morning for a dawn patrol surf session at my favorite break, 56th Street in Newport Beach. This particular morning was about a week before the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, so there were a few up-and-coming pros in the lineup practicing before the biggest competition in the States. Naturally, everyone in the water watched these guys. They were good, but not much better than the top local surfers.

About an hour into my session, C.J. Hobgood, the number one ranked surfer in the world paddled out. He took off incredibly deep on a wave, and everyone’s head instantly swiveled-cartoon style- to gawk at him. Nobody thought he’d be able to work his way to the face of the wave, but he bottomed turned around 20 feet of white water. Then he lit that wave up. He was faster and more powerful than anyone I’d ever seen. The gap between him and the other pros in the water that day was as big as the Grand Canyon.

According to the numbers, the Lakers have been 0.7 points better without Anthony Davis on the floor. So, it would be easy to say the Lakers could flip Anthony Davis for fellow All-Star, Brandon Ingram in the starting lineup, and not skip a beat. That notion is ridiculous. The chasm between Anthony Davis and Brandon Ingram is just as vast as C.J. Hobgood and the young pro surfers.

Perhaps Brandon Ingram understood that defensive stalwart Derick Favors was out with an injury during the first half of the season, and his backline defense was Jahlil “Oakenfoot” Okafor. Or maybe he just wanted to focus on his scoring production. Who knows. It is clear though that Ingram hasn’t given any effort on the less glamorous side of the ball. Instead, he’s gone into stat-padding mode this season. He’s saved all his energy for offense while his assignments have routinely scored at will as he’s pretended to defend them.

Davis has been a two-way terror this year. He’s one of the few players in the league who can genuinely defend every position on the floor. He has the quick feet to coral guards, the strength to handle large wings, and the height to guard power forwards and centers.

On offense, Anthony Davis is so much more than his 27 points per game. He’s opened up a myriad of driving lanes to the rim for his teammates all season long because he’s the biggest lob threat of the last decade. Opposing centers are terrified to leave AD to help coral other players from getting to the rack. Plus, the most dangerous play in the league might be a LeBron James and Anthony Davis screen and roll.

Yes, the Lakers have a better point differential when AD’s on the bench, but there’s a simple explanation for that. Frank Vogel strategically rests Davis at the start of the second and fourth quarter. During that time, LeBron squares off against opposing bench units. Vogel understands that the Lakers don’t need Davis’s two-way play during those stretches. Also, AD spends the majority of his time on the floor without LeBron surrounded by Rajon Rondo, Kyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers three worst defenders. Nobody, not even a Superstar like Davis, can prop those three players up by himself.

If the Lakers hadn’t traded Anthony Davis for the young core, they’d probably be the third best team in the Western Conference this season.

Last year when LBJ played with the young core, even before he got hurt, he was awful on defense, and there’s was something lacking in his offensive approach as well. LeBron James isn’t the same player he was last season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo will almost certainly win the MVP Award this year, but “The King” has been the best player in the league. He leads the association in assists, he’s unstoppable in one-on-one situations, and he’s somehow ranked fourth in the NBA in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus. LBJ plus Ingram, Ball, Green, Bradley, McGee, Howard, Kuzma, and the rest of the roster would still be elite. However, the Clippers and the Nuggets would be better regular season teams.

Once this version of the Lakers entered the post season, they’d have a good chance of reaching the Western Conference Finals, behind LeBron’s stellar play. Still, there’s no way they’d be able to match the physicality of the Clippers and the Bucks. Those two organizations would render Ingram and Ball useless.

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James and the young core would have to watch the Clippers battle an Eastern Conference foe in the Finals. They’d be just another sweet story. The media would smile and talk about how bright the future is for them. But, who cares. Folks in LA look at a Western Conference Finals loss the same way a vampire looks at a cooked steak. Early playoff exits sicken us. We can only survive off of championships.