Inside the Lakers’ locker room Sunday afternoon, video from the Charlotte Hornets’ season opener played on the television, showing the Bulls getting easy bucket after easy bucket inside the paint.
As the Lakers got ready to play Charlotte, the scouting report probably read that Anthony Davis should be fed the ball against the Hornets front line. But to listen to LeBron James after the game later that night, a 120-101 win, that would’ve just been wasted reading.
“Every game is a game for A.D. to eat — no matter who we play,” James said frankly.
And if James believes it, you bet the Lakers are going to play that way.
In the opener against the Clippers, the Lakers attacked through Davis in the post. Against the Utah Jazz, Davis took 17 shots and was largely undeterred by Rudy Gobert, the two-time defensive player of the year. And against Charlotte on Sunday, Davis again dominated, scoring 29 to go with 14 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots.
Sunday was the second time in the three games that Davis led the Lakers in field-goal attempts.
James seems serious about Davis being a go-to player on a nightly basis in a way that hasn’t happened much in his career before — only one time in James’ 16 previous NBA seasons has a teammate taken more shots per game than he has (Kyrie Irving in 2016-17 at 19.7 to 18.2).
James has led every team he’s played on in the NBA in scoring, a streak that’s in real jeopardy because Davis is that good. So far this season, Davis is shooting more and scoring more than him, with James averaging 10 assists per game.
In the first quarter while James emphasized his role as a distributor, Davis unloaded 16 points on the Hornets, showcasing all the skills that made him the Lakers’ dream trade target the second he became available.
The list of big men who can dominate in the post with a defender on their back, who can win above the rim by catching lobs and throwing back offensive rebounds, and who can face up and make jumpers from mid-range or deep is short. And Davis is at the top of it.
The Hornets were the first team to see Davis’ full mastery of offense this season with his jumper thawing out after the first two games.
“This is probably the best representation our team has seen or our fan base has seen from him in a Lakers uniform,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Obviously his greatest skill set is his versatility, and his ability to do everything.”
And when “ability to do everything” is attached to your name, being the star on offense probably is always a great idea, so great that the Lakers stayed in a game during which James almost got shut out in the first half.
The luxury the Lakers have, though, is that they do have choices. While James can say that the answer will always be “Davis,” there are going to be nights when it makes more sense for him to try to be more aggressive as a scorer sooner than later.
“It’s amazing … especially when we are on the floor together. They have to pick their poison,” Davis said. “And we have great players around us who can score the basketball or make plays for themselves or others. And then when we both have it going, we are definitely a tough team to beat. So when you got two guys who are very aggressive and can score the basketball who are also willing passers, it makes our team even much more dynamic.”
As the Lakers grow this season, maybe they’ll do what Davis says. Maybe they’ll let the game dictate which star shines brightest, whether he or James gets the most shots. Maybe the Lakers will look to see who is hot and go with that player.
Or maybe they’ll lean further into what James might already know — that having Davis attacking and scoring as the team’s first option lightens the workload on him during the regular season. And it’s a good enough plan that it’ll work no matter who the Lakers play.
That seems like the plan — and whether Davis sees a team like Charlotte or a team built around interior defense — he’s going to leave the building well fed.