The Los Angeles Lakers‘ recent time without their star big man Anthony Davis this season has looked a lot like what it did when he was still playing, an average .500 team. Compare this to their recent stretches without LeBron, and the Lakers have been able to keep the ship more afloat.
When the Lakers signed LeBron four years ago, they probably did not envision him being the best player on the team going into his age 37 season. Then when they traded for AD, they definitely thought he would be the one to take the torch from James.
However, it is year three into their partnership and that has still not happened for the Lakers.
For a brief period in the NBA bubble, it seemed as if that changing of the guard was becoming a reality, Davis was the one who hit the big shot when they needed it in the Western Conference Finals, and he was the best version of his Lakers self during that playoff run to the championship.
Since then, it has seemed like he has regressed, along with his outside shot, so his reliance on perimeter jump shots instead of getting to the basket has been less rewarded.
Before Davis went down with a left knee MCL sprain this season, the Lakers were 13 and 14 and they are 10 and eight since he went down in December. For comparison, they are five and seven without LeBron in the lineup this season, and they were eight and12 when he missed a long stretch of games with his own leg injury last season.
James’ ability to lead the team to wins without Davis on the floor is a big reason why he is still the most valuable player for the Lakers and who they miss most off the floor. His season averages of 28.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game could be good enough for MVP of the entire league let alone of his own team, but he would have a much better case if the Lakers weren’t struggling to remain in postseason position.
He has even done more since the Davis injury, in the last 16 games, LeBron has averaged 32.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. Davis has not had a stretch of games that long averaging those numbers in his entire career, and it seems unlikely that he would have the ability to moving forward.
Now, seems to be a good time to ponder the question of the best player on the Lakers, since there were reports last week that suggested that Davis could come back and play before the end of the month. Now according to Lakers reporter Mike Trudell, the Lakers have upgraded Davis to questionable and is a game time decision to go against the Heat.
One of the biggest takeaways from his absence has to be the Lakers’ ability to maintain their position in the conference standings staying around a .500-win percentage.
James was the obvious catalyst for keeping the team afloat while he has been out, and they have also gotten surprisingly stellar play from newcomer Stanley Johnson, Austin Reaves, and Malik Monk. LeBron has even stepped up to play center some in small-ball lineups that have been successful, a role Davis has been reluctant to play since his trade to the team.
One place the Lakers have sorely missed Davis is on the defensive end and he should make a big difference once he does eventually make it back out on the court. They have fallen to the 19th ranked defensive rating in the league without him in the lineup protecting the rim.
Since AD arrived in Los Angeles, he has been a defensive player of the year candidate and the driving force behind the team’s defensive identity and his absence as their defensive anchor has been the most noticeable while he has been injured.
So, if Davis’ time off the floor proved that LeBron is still the MVP of this team, it also proved that AD is the Lakers’ defensive player of the year every season including this one.
Now with him returning to the lineup the Lakers can possibly find their stride and build enough team chemistry to make a run in the postseason.