There are a lot of differences between playing for a small-market team like the New Orleans Pelicans, and a big-market, established juggernaut like the Los Angeles Lakers. Perhaps no one is more aware of that than Anthony Davis, who this offseason made the transition from the former to the latter, and seems to be learning all about how they compare.
In a wide-ranging and must-read feature on his trade saga, Davis told Dave McMenamin of ESPN that one of the biggest differences he’s preparing himself for with the Lakers will be how much more opponents want to beat a purple and gold team featuring him and LeBron James than they did a roster that was mostly centered on just Davis in the comparatively dim — at least compared to Los Angeles — lights of New Orleans:
“I think a lot of stuff that I did in New Orleans, people saw and heard about. But then again, people said, ‘Well, it was New Orleans.’ I think the big question is, ‘All right, let’s see what he can do on a big stage.’ Obviously the playoffs are the playoffs, but, ‘Let’s see what he does on 35 [national] TV games now,” Davis says.
”Nobody was really waking up [for a game] in New Orleans. Every game now is like, ‘All right, if we beat the Lakers [we accomplished something].’ [With the Pelicans] we could lose games and people were like, ‘OK, well no one expected them to win this game,’ or whatever. Now, every night you have to show up. If not, the next day, here comes your name through the tabloids.”
In order to prepare Davis for that bigger stage, it sounds like James wants him to make a few changes to his game preparation habits:
It’s a pressure the low-key Davis -- who admits that James already rides him for not watching enough game film on his downtime when he prefers to unwind with playing Madden -- says he embraces.
”I think having that for the first time is going to be fun,” he says. “I’m looking forward to it. Just to show the world, like, ‘All right, it wasn’t a fluke for seven years in New Orleans.’”
This actually continues a trend that’s existed all summer of James and Davis holding each other accountable, with each trying to drive the other one to be at their best. While James wants Davis to watch more tape, Davis has said he plans to push James to be better defensively than he has been in the last few years. James has said he embraces such leadership from Davis, and the two recently further detailed how they’re constantly in each other’s ears about what they can each do better.
That’s exactly the type of dynamic the Lakers should want from their two superstars, and a level of accountability that didn’t really exist for either last year. James wasn’t as bad defensively during the 2018-19 season as his lowlights would suggest, but it’s fair to assume that with Davis to share the offensive burden and hold James responsible for his errors and effort on that end that he’ll be better this season.
Meanwhile, last year in New Orleans — and really for his entire career there previously — there was no one even close to James’ stature that could call Davis out on the way he was preparing for games in the same way that it will hit home if his friend, fellow superstar and childhood basketball idol is doing it.
As Davis notes above, the Lakers aren’t going to be a team anyone inside or outside of the NBA sleeps on this season. They’re going to get their opponents’ best shot every single night. And with that being the case, it’s probably a good thing that they have two stars who are going to push each other to be at their best in ways that even the most locked-in opponents can’t.