LeBron James is pursuing his 10th NBA Finals appearance and fourth championship, his first with the Los Angeles Lakers and teammate Anthony Davis.
James has played with some great players through his stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat. How does Davis stack up? Is he the best big man James has ever had since joining the NBA in 2003? Is he James' best teammate altogether?
Davis may not have a title on his resume (check back in about a month), but his individual talent and ability to complement James to near perfection positions the Lakers forward/center as the ideal partner.
The Big Men
James made his first NBA Finals appearance in 2007, a four-game sweep by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. In the middle was 7'3" center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
"The fact that he got Cleveland to the Finals during his first go-around there is probably more of a miracle than anything else he accomplished in his career," an Eastern Conference executive said.
The second-leading scorer on the squad was Larry Hughes (14.9 points per game), followed by Ilgauskas (11.9) and then Drew Gooden (11.1).
"Z is a cult hero [in Cleveland]," a former Western Conference executive said. "If he played now, he'd be a perennial All-Star."
Beyond a bit of sentimental value for Ilgauskas, the heart of the debate is Davis vs. Chris Bosh and Kevin Love.
"I don't even think it's close. AD is way better than any of those guys," the Eastern Conference executive said. "Bosh and Love are really good players, but AD is at another level."
"Bosh was strong, but AD has nearly realized [his] MVP potential," Andre' Snellings of ESPN said. "When factoring in fit, I might say Davis is the best partner at any position LeBron ever had."
Bosh's best individual season with James and the Heat was the 2010-11 campaign, when he averaged 18.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, but his efficiency and shot-blocking improved in later seasons as his scoring and rebounding dipped.
"AD is better than Bosh, but Bosh was a beast," the former Western Conference executive said.
Through the 2019-20 regular season, Davis averaged 26.1 points and 9.3 rebounds. His 3.2 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.5 steals per game were higher than Bosh and Love contributed in any one season.
"Davis is more talented," a current Western Conference executive said. "Bosh is closest in terms of size, length and athleticism, mixed with shooting touch and rim protection—but Davis is a different class."
Despite his championship earned in 2016 with James and the Cavaliers, Love was a distant third among those polled (but ahead of Ilgauskas as the honorable mention). The biggest issue: Love was never as impactful on the defensive end when compared to both Davis and Bosh.
In Cleveland, Love's scoring peaked at 19.0 points per game (with 11.1 rebounds) in 2016-17, though his three-point shooting jumped from 37.3 percent to 41.5 percent the following year.
Bosh and James went to four straight NBA Finals, winning back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. James also went to four Finals in a row with Love, with the single championship in 2016. Bosh and Love also shared touches with elite guards in Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving, a luxury Davis doesn't have.
All-Time Best Teammate
Can Davis compete with an all-time great like Wade, who won his first championship in 2006 before James and Bosh arrived ahead of the 2010-11 season? What of Irving, who was a vital part of the 2016 title in Cleveland?
"Until Davis wins a chip, he's second to Kyrie," the former Western Conference executive said. "Wade all day [over both]."
"Wade nearly had an MVP-caliber season in 2009-10, [and] he had a title. I would say Wade, Davis and then Kyrie," the current Western Conference executive said. "But I do believe Davis has a chance to go down as the best of those because he's soooo talented."
Wade, who retired after the 2018-19 season, has the benefit of a completed career, while both Davis, Irving and Love are still active. Wade led the league in scoring at 30.2 points per game in 2008-09 before James' arrival and then averaged 25.5 points and 4.6 assists in his first year with the Big Three.
"I'd say Wade at his best was better than AD at his best," Snellings said. "But a) it was later in his career by the time Wade played with LeBron and b) Wade and LeBron overlapped skills more, while Davis complements LeBron perfectly."
The Eastern Conference executive doesn't believe the current Lakers roster is as good as what the Heat and Cavaliers fielded in their championship runs, bolstering Davis' case as James' best teammate.
"In Miami (Bosh and Wade) and Cleveland (Irving and Love), [James] had better talent after the top three than the Lakers right now," he said, before ultimately deciding on Wade.
"I'd say prime Wade was better than AD because of his body of work and championship pedigree," the Eastern Conference executive continued. "But I think AD is better than Kyrie as a two-way player. Plus, I think AD is young enough that he hasn't quite reached his prime. At 27, he has the potential to get a little better. I think Kyrie may have plateaued somewhat more so than AD."
Irving, 28, has struggled to stay healthy dating back to his one year at Duke, but he gave the Cavaliers 72 games in 2016-17, averaging 25.2 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Davis' individual numbers stand out among all of James' teammates, but that may be more a function of how the Lakers are built with the two stars. The Heat and Cavaliers were triumvirates, with the big man stepping back into more of a support role.
And while Davis is clearly front and center with the Lakers and James, he still needs a title on his resume. That next step starts Friday as the Lakers draw Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
The Supporting Cast
After Davis, Wade, Bosh, Irving and Love, how do the rest of James' teammates rank? The following top-10 list only reflects the years played specifically with James and their fit alongside him. While Lakers fans might declare, "Alex Caruso times 10," the goal here is to be slightly more objective...slightly:
1. Ray Allen
2. Zydrunas Ilgauskas
3. Mo Williams
4. Tristan Thompson
5. JR Smith
6. Mario Chalmers
7. Kyle Korver
8. Shane Battier
9. Anderson Varejao
10. Alex Caruso (couldn't let Lakers fans down!)
Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @EricPincus.