LeBron James has compiled an impressive list of teammates over his 16 professional seasons.
From premier guards like Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving and Ray Allen to All-Star big men in Kevin Love and Chris Bosh, James has always long been surrounded by elite talent. Even Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mo Williams each made an All-Star squad while sharing a team with James.
While he's no longer part of a Big Three (apologies, Dwight Howard and Kyle Kuzma), James now has Anthony Davis, who should be entering his prime at age 26.
Davis should immediately become one of James' most valuable running mates, but will he be the best the 34-year-old has ever had?
Dwyane Wade vs. Kyrie Irving
When narrowing down the list of James' top teammates, two names stand out. As good as Love and Bosh were with James (six combined All-Star Games in eight years), both were third options.
Wade and Irving were the best to ever share a court with James, as playing with the ball in their hands allowed them to maintain impressive individual stats on top of team success.
Before we can determine if Davis will be better than both, it's important to determine who's been the best up to this point between Wade and Irving.
Wade was the far more accomplished player when James left Cleveland for Miami in 2010, having already won a championship and Finals MVP. He had made six All-Star trips in seven seasons and carried career averages of 25.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. Wade also led the NBA in scoring in 2008-09 with a career-high 30.2 points per game. At 28 years old when joining forces with James, Wade was older at the time than Irving is now.
Irving hadn't put together close to the resume of Wade when James returned to Cleveland in 2014, but it was clear he was becoming a special talent.
In his first three seasons, Irving was averaging 20.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He was the 2011-12 Rookie of the Year and made two All-Star Games, taking home All-Star Game MVP honors in 2014. While Irving was the better ball-handler and outside shooter, he hadn't even led the Cavs to a playoff appearance, much less a championship like Wade did in Miami.
While Wade's pre-James stats are far better than Irving's, it's their time with him that counts here.
This is how Wade and Irving stack up strictly as teammates of James (not counting Wade's brief time with James in 2017-18 on the Cavs):
|Dwyane Wade vs. Kyrie Irving as James' Teammates|
Both players can make a strong case as the best to play with LBJ. As good as Irving was, especially with his championship-clinching shot in 2016, Wade should be given the slight nod.
Wade made four All-Star and three All-NBA teams in four years with James, compared to two All-star nods and one All-NBA team for Irving in three. Wade was also the better defender, even as his body began to break down by age 32. For most of his time with James, Wade was in his prime, while Irving was only 25 when he was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2017.
Irving was outstanding in his brief time with James, but Wade was even better.
Dwyane Wade vs. Anthony Davis
We know all about Wade's performance alongside James, but how does Davis project?
The 26-year-old power forward is coming off a season where he averaged 25.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.4 blocks. Like Wade, Davis has spent seven years in the NBA before joining James, making the All-Star team every season save for their rookie years.
Davis has made the All-NBA first team three times and also has three All-Defensive team selections to his name. He has the third-highest player efficiency rating in NBA history behind only Michael Jordan and James.
Of course, we've seen big men put up monster stat lines that were slashed upon playing with James.
This time feels different.
The Lakers don't have a third star to take touches and shots away from Davis, something Love and Bosh both fell victim to. Davis may not equal his same eye-popping stats with James on the court, but he shouldn't fall that far off the pace.
FiveThirtyEight's CARMELO projections state that Davis is in the MVP candidate category, with the most comparable player being Tim Duncan in 2003. Duncan averaged 20.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.3 blocks and made five All-Star teams from 2003-04 to 2007-08, numbers Davis should replicate or even exceed.
Here's how Wade's stats with James compare to Davis' most recent season:
|Dwyane Wade (2010-14) vs. Anthony Davis (2018-19)|
While Wade was a very good defender in his mid-20s and made three All-Defensive teams, Davis has already led the NBA in blocks three times and has his sites set on a bigger goal.
"I want to be Defensive Player of the Year," Davis told Chris Haynes of 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."
Davis possesses the talent to be one of the league's leading scorers and its best interior defender, a combination not seen since Hakeem Olajuwon nearly 25 years ago.
While Wade had to be the second option on offense—and third on some nights when Bosh had the hot hand—Davis could be the leading scorer in Los Angeles if James gets his way. Haynes reported that James told the Lakers he wanted Davis to "become the focal point of the team's offensive identity."
James made a similar comment about Love at the start of the 2015-16 season, stating that Love would be the "main focus" and "focal point of us offensively." Love would go on to average 16.0 points on 12.7 shots per game, his lowest scoring average in five seasons with the Cavaliers.
The closest James has come to sacrificing his own offense came during the 2016-17 season, when Irving outshot (but not outscored) him.
Now with James entering year 17, there's a real chance he's willing to take a step back and let Davis take all the shots he can handle.
"I've kind of been a focal-point player my whole career, especially in New Orleans," Davis told Haynes. "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. 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."
If he can maintain a high level of scoring and be a defensive anchor for a Lakers team that at least sniffs the Finals, Davis should surpass Wade.
While others naturally had to play in James' shadow, Davis could be the first star teammate to steal the spotlight.
The Sports Illustrated Top 100 Players of the NBA is out, and list curator Rob Mahoney joins The Full 48 with Howard Beck to discuss the brand new #1, Giannis Antetokounmpo, why it’s not LeBron, how Kevin Durant factored into this season’s list, the Kyrie Irving effect, James Harden vs Steph Curry, and why the Charlotte Hornets have no players in the Top 100.