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LeBron James Has Passed the Los Angeles Lakers' Torch to Anthony Davis

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 29: LeBron James #23 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers shake hands against the Memphis Grizzlies on October 29, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Weeks before the 2019-20 Los Angeles Lakers suited up for any regular-season action, LeBron James started preparing us for what would soon come from Anthony Davis.

"If we're not playing through Anthony Davis while he's on the floor, then there's no sense to having him on the floor," James said during the Lakers' media day, per USA Today's Josh Peter. "It's exciting to have such a beautiful young mind and a beautiful player, but also a great leader as well."

In Tuesday's 120-91 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, AD put every bit of that quote on display.

Heading into the season, it was fair to wonder whether James would follow through on deferring to Davis. After all, despite his gaudy career assist numbers, LeBron trails only Michael Jordan, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and DeMarcus Cousins on the all-time usage percentage leaderboard.

It's another thing to see LeBron truly trust someone else with his team's offense.

Coming into Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies, he had used 30.7 percent of his team's possessions, the fifth-lowest mark of his career. When he's on the floor with Davis, that number drops all the way to 24.8. Meanwhile, AD has used 33.6 percent of the Lakers' possessions when the two stars are sharing the floor.

In the third quarter against Memphis, the new dichotomy was on clear display.

In that frame alone, AD scored 20 points on 1-of-1 shooting and 18-of-18 from the free-throw line. Yes, you read that right: twenty points in a single quarter, 18 of which came from the stripe. The Lakers, and LeBron specifically, just fed the big man over and over. Memphis couldn't do anything but foul him.

By the time he was done, which was before the fourth quarter and after multiple rounds of "MVP!" chants, Davis had a staggering 40 points, 26 free throws, 20 rebounds and two blocks in 31 minutes. 

NBA TV @NBATV

AD (40 PTS & 20 REB) had a historic night at the Staples Center! 👏 #LakeShow https://t.co/QJT2Vy14Jq

The 26 free throws were a Lakers record. The 40-20-20 game had only happened twice in NBA history prior to Tuesday: Dwight Howard in 2012 and Wilt Chamberlain in 1962 (in a 100-point game you may have heard about).

If it wasn't already clear, the game against Memphis made it abundantly so: Davis, not LeBron, is the Lakers' No. 1 option. 

Pardon the cliche, but the torch has been passed. And AD has it firmly in hand.

He may well be the ideal companion for the twilight of LeBron's career. This isn't the first time James has ceded some control. Kyrie Irving's usage percentage was higher than LeBron's on the 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers (30.8 to 30.0). Same for Dwyane Wade on the 2010-11 Miami Heat, though the margin there was even thinner (31.6 to 31.5).

But this is the first time James has ceded this much control.

The 9.5 assists he's averaging after four games would be a career high. He could conceivably average double-digit dimes per game for the entire season. And that isn't because this version of AD is a better scorer than D-Wade or Kyrie. It's because he just might fit LeBron better than those two did.

That's a bold proclamation to make. LeBron went to four straight Finals with each of those two guards. But with both, especially Wade, he had to make adjustments. Wade, Kyrie and LeBron are all essentially ball-dominant guards (LeBron just so happens to have a power forward's body).

Meanwhile, Davis and James are an almost perfect plug-and-play guard/forward combo.

The pick-and-roll possibilities are obvious. But Davis' abilities as a face-up 4 from the high post or short corner, or as a traditional post player, work with LeBron as well, as James acknowledged during media day:

"It doesn't mean that every time down we throw it to him and throw it to him and throw him. But we have the ability to do that and he's been very efficient in his career and he commands double-teams. And when you're able to attract two defenders on one guy, then you've got the numbers game. … It opens up for other guys on the floor, including myself."

And that benefit can be a two-way street.

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 29: Anthony Davis #3 and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on October 29, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

With all due respect to Jrue Holiday, Davis has never spent a season with a teammate close to LeBron's level.

Double-team Davis at your own risk. The Lakers have a handful of above-average shooters to whom he can kick out. And if the defender recovering from doubling AD finds himself closing out on LeBron, he's probably cooked before he even gets out there. That's a blow-by waiting to happen.

Much has been made of this duo's supporting cast, and most of the criticism is fair. But the synergy between James and Davis has the potential not to just go off the charts, but also to obliterate them altogether. And that should benefit everyone.

Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and others should stare down loads of open looks this season. Defenses have to pay closer attention to LeBron and AD than them. That's already worked some magic on Dwight Howard.

Sure, there will be growing pains. This is all still new. We're just one week into the 2019-20 season, and the Davis- and James-led Lakers were struggling with Memphis throughout the first half of Tuesday's game.

But when Davis took over with LeBron's supportthe correct offensive balance for this teamthe Lakers quickly sent the Grizzlies into hibernation.

Longtime Chicago Bulls beat writer and current NBC Chicago analyst KC Johnson sits down with Howard Beck on the Full 48 podcast to discuss all things Chicago Bulls. 

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