The Lakers got out to one of the worst starts in the NBA, even owning the league’s worst record for a moment after they fell to 2-10.
Things went from bad to worse when All-Star forward LeBron James — who was doing everything for his team with averages of 24.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game — suffered an adductor strain that would force him to miss up to two weeks of game action.
And while losing James was seen to be another nail in the Lakers’ coffin early in the season, Los Angeles was able to find a silver lining in the absence of its best player.
With James out of the lineup, the Lakers’ other star, Anthony Davis, was forced to take on a bigger role on both ends of the floor. If the team was going to be competitive without LeBron, it would be because Davis reverted back to the version of the eight-time All-Star we saw back in 2020, helping lead Los Angeles to an NBA title.
And when his team needed it most, Davis turned back the clocks and put forth his most dominant stretch of play we’ve seen in what feels like forever. With James sidelined for five games, the Lakers only went 3-2 but they rattled off three consecutive wins for the first time since last January.
Russell Westbrook embracing and thriving in a role off the bench played a big part in Los Angeles’ recent stretch of success, but Davis was undoubtedly the biggest catalyst of it all.
Now with James on the brink of returning from his adductor strain, what can the Lakers take away from their time without The King? The answer is right in front of them — let Anthony Davis be the No. 1 option.
Anthony Davis has proved he should be Lakers’ No. 1 option
Over James’ recent five-game absence, Davis averaged 33.2 points, 17.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 2.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game.
He had four consecutive games with 30 points and 15 rebounds, joining a short list of 12 players in NBA history — all of which are Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers — to reach those thresholds for at least four games in a row.
Over that stretch, Davis also recorded 10 blocks, re-establishing himself as one of the best rim protectors in the NBA.
In his most recent outing, albeit in a loss, Davis put together one of the most dominant performances we’ve ever seen from a big man, going for 37 points, 21 rebounds, five blocks, five steals and two assists against the Suns.
His stat line was the first of its kind in NBA history, becoming the only player to ever record at least 35 points, 20 rebounds, five blocks and five steals in a game (since 1973 when blocks and steals were first recorded). He also joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players in Lakers history to go for 35 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks in a game.
Anthony Davis was unbelievable tonight, posting his FOURTH 30+ point and 15+ rebound game in a row.
He becomes only the second Laker in history to record 35+ PTS, 20+ REB, and 5+ BLK in a game, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5 times). pic.twitter.com/BFZULyfR81
— NBA (@NBA) November 23, 2022
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In Davis’ 10 games prior to James’ injury, he registered a usage rate of 25.7 percent. In his five games without James, that usage rate has bumped up significantly to 34.5 percent. His average number of field goal attempts is misleading over this stretch compared to before because he’s doing a much better job of drawing contact and getting to the free throw line.
Davis has more than doubled his number of free throw attempts in James’ absence, going from 5.0 free throw attempts per game next to LeBron compared to 12.2 free throw attempts per game without him.
How is that comparison so drastic? The Lakers are running everything through Davis inside.
According to NBA stats, Davis was averaging 68.0 total touches, 10.0 paint touches and 5.2 post-up touches per game next to James. As the Lakers’ offensive focal point, Davis has upped those averages to 74.4 total touches, 12.6 paint touches and 7.6 post-up touches per game.
Los Angeles’ primary focus has been getting Davis set up near the basket, allowing the 6-10, 253-pound big man to take advantage of opposing defenders and force his way to the rim.
When the offense is run through James, the Lakers’ gameplan is much more focused on driving and kicking — which isn’t exactly the strong suit of a team that shoots a league-worst 30.6 percent from 3.
Prior to his injury, James had a usage rate of 32.4 percent, which is his highest mark since his first season back in Cleveland in 2014-15. Although James has beaten Father Time to this point, he’s still 38 years old with a lot of mileage on his body and could benefit from taking a slight back seat as the 1B to Davis’ 1A.
Even when James returns, Davis has proved it is in the Lakers’ best interest to continue to run the offense through him.