The only thing consistent about LeBron James’ season with the Lakers so far has been his availability or, more specifically, the lack of it. First, an ankle injury, then an ab strain, then a suspension and now COVID-19 have all kept him sidelined, allowing him to only play 11 games so far.
And while he’s remained an active participant off the court and on the sideline, James hasn’t been able to be the on-court leader he’s long, long gained a reputation for being.
In his absence, it’s been Anthony Davis that has filled that void. After Tuesday’s win over the Kings, Davis spoke to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports about taking a bigger and more vocal role in the locker room this season.
“It’s like I’m being tested with my leadership,” Davis told Yahoo Sports following a team-high 25 points, along with seven boards and two blocks. “‘Bron has been out with injuries and now also with the COVID situation, so it’s a good test for me. It’s a good experience for me to lead these guys and the good thing about it, I have other vets on my side who’ve been in the game for a while to help me through the obstacles. It’s a good test, not just for our team, but for me to lead these guys.”
Davis’ improvements as a leader have been a constant topic of discussion since the moment he landed in Los Angeles. Back in 2019, Vogel said LeBron and Davis had split leadership duties. Last season, Jared Dudley said Davis had become more “vocal” and “demanding” as a leader, and proclaimed that this was going to be the year Davis needed to take the torch from LeBron. Dudley may be gone, but the remaining Lakers have matched his energy, as the team was telling Davis “this is your team” during training camp, and the last time LeBron was injured, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo were trying to help Davis grow into more of a leadership role.
The constant empowering by his coaches and teammates has really started to take hold in Davis, as he also told Haynes.
“I’m just taking that next step in leadership to my career,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “I’m going to lead the team my way. I’m trying to be one of the guys to express how he feels in our locker room. [Rajon] Rondo, ’Melo [Anthony], Russ [Westbrook] have all been encouraging me to use my voice because I’m normally a really quiet guy when I’m playing and the only time I really talk is when I get tipped over the edge. But they’ve been telling me to ‘Use your voice. Use your voice.’”
Memorably this season, it was Davis that called out the team following their dismal performance against the Timberwolves. He’s remained a critical voice of the team even in their successes, like the team’s comeback in Detroit. Even after the team’s best half of the season against Sacramento on Tuesday, it was Davis that pointed out the team shouldn’t need a second-half comeback against opponents like the Kings.
It’s the type of attitude leaders should have, always expecting better from the team and not settling for subpar performances. In search of a silver lining with James sidelined so often this season, Davis’ ascension to one of the unquestioned leaders of this team has been a positive sign.