When we covered Anthony Davis talking about his expectation to win Defensive Player of the Year, one thing that kind of fell under the radar was what Davis had to say about his fellow Los Angeles Lakers star, LeBron James.
James has developed a bit of a bad reputation defensively in recent seasons, as while he is still great at stopping his man on the ball, his focus tends to wane when the player he’s covering doesn’t have the ball, with James using the opportunity for some patented, in-game load management.
While that makes some sense for a player of James’ age and with his miles on the tank, Davis made it clear to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that he doesn’t want to just let James coast this year. He thinks that for this team to be as good as it can be, he’s going to need to push James to be at his best on both ends whenever they take the floor (emphasis mine):
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.
That’s certainly big talk from Davis. James hasn’t made an All-Defensive Team since the 2013-14 season, in which he made the second team. James last made the first team during the 2011-12 season.
Can some pushing and prodding from Davis actually get James back to an all-league level on the defensive end? That remains to be seen, but potentially even more interesting — as far as the dynamic between Davis and James is concerned — is that Davis is even willing to try.
Davis and James only just joined forces this summer, and James — one of the best players in NBA history who doesn’t often get pushed publicly than teammates like this — is nearly a decade older than his co-star. This isn’t predicting some sort of Shaq and Kobe feud by any means, or to even suggest that James won’t like what Davis is saying. It’s just fascinating that Davis already feels comfortable and empowered enough not just to plan to push James, but to admit as much publicly.
From originally offering up his jersey number to Davis to pushing the Lakers to make Davis a “focal point” of the team’s offense, James has done just about everything he can to make Davis feel like this team belongs to both of them. Davis treating James like an equal, to the point of prodding him through the press to step up defensively, would seem to indicate that he feels right at home, and that the Lakers really are both of their team.
And to the point Davis is making, he isn’t wrong. James ramping up his effort level a bit on defense would really help the Lakers reach their full potential. But from talking about how his teammates need to buy in to talking about what the team needs from James defensively, Davis has now done a lot of talking about what others need to do for him. The natural response from James, it would seem to me, would be to ask something of Davis in return: To play center at least a little bit so that the Lakers can maximize themselves. A soul for a soul.
Now maybe James doesn’t see things that way, but that would appear to be the easy rebuttal to Davis cajoling. Would Davis be willing to play center in response? He’s indicated that he is, as long as the team needs him to. They probably need that — at least in limited spurts — more than they need an All-Defensive team performance out of James, as it happens.
And if the two superstars can push each other to get both of those things? Then the Lakers are going to be really special this season.