Last summer, LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers with the hope that he’d be able to take a step back on an up-and-coming young team. While James did end up averaging a career-low 35.2 minutes per game last season, he was tasked with carrying the load on offense on most nights. Even though he was able to do so capably, that shouldn’t be the expectation for him at 34 years old.
Luckily for James, he’ll be splitting the burden on offense with Anthony Davis next season, and it sounds like he might even divert to Davis.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, James privately encouraged Lakers management to make Davis the “focal point” of the team’s offense. Upon hearing that news, Davis told Haynes that he’s up for the challenge:
“I’ve kind of been a focal-point player my whole career, especially in New Orleans. But first off, to have a guy like LeBron, someone of his caliber, go tell management and ownership and the coaches that he wants me to be the focal point is an honor,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “I know what comes with that, and that’s a lot of heavy lifting. I want to be able to do that. I think I have the capabilities of doing that. And obviously with the team’s support, it’s going to be a lot easier on me. We have a great team.”
However, as much as Davis is confident that he can make an impact on the offensive end, he wants to be just as valuable on the defensive end. In fact, Davis said he wants to be the best defensive player in the league, and he expects James to be right there with him:
“I want to be Defensive Player of the Year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “I think if I’m able to do that, I can help this team win. The offensive end will come around, but defensively, I want to hold myself, teammates, including LeBron, accountable in order for us to take on the challenge of being the best we can defensively. In doing so, we’ll have a good chance of winning every night. I want to make sure me and LeBron are on the All-Defensive Team. And for me personally, I just want to be the Defensive Player of the Year. If we’re able to hold teams under 100 [points], which is probably unrealistic but it should be our goal, I think we’ll have a shot at winning the title.”
Davis was named a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and he likely would have been in the mix again last season had his playing time not been affected by his midseason trade request, so it’s not hard to imagine he’ll be in the conversation again next season. The case for James is a little harder to make.
James hasn’t sniffed an All-NBA defensive honor since 2014 and the players that made the first and second teams last season, like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Draymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. That’s not to mention the players that didn’t make the cut last season, like Jimmy Butler, Danny Green, Patrick Beverley and Derrick White.
Suffice to say, it’s going to be really, really hard for James to make an All-Defensive team next season, especially when you consider the reputation he has for being a lazy defender. Generally speaking, narratives are hard to shake and, considering he’s going into his 17th season, there’s reason to wonder how much he can give on a nightly basis.
However, James should still strive to play All-NBA defense, at least in big spots, even if it’s unlikely he’ll get recognized for it. One of the biggest question surrounding the Lakers right now is whether or not they have anyone capable of defending elite wings like Leonard, George and Antetokounmpo. If James can save energy by carrying less of the load on offense next season, he could potentially be that player for the Lakers on defense.
Meanwhile, if Davis can be dominant on both ends of the ball, he’ll be in the running for more than just Defensive Player of the Year.