Good games, weird data

Is Anthony Davis LeBron's best ever teammate?

Is Anthony Davis LeBron's best ever teammate?

We’ll always have those forty or so hours after the Raptors victory. For one beautiful moment, the NBA celebrated Toronto’s first ever championship and caught their breath. This fragile peace exploded after another Woj bomb: Anthony Davis had finally been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. This trade had everything: a jettisoning of a young core prophesied by Game of Zones, a complete upheaval of Thursday’s draft, and the unwelcome return of Lavar Ball. It also reshapes an NBA landscape already in flux.

Anthony Davis may transform the Lakers from lottery-bound to potential contenders while jumpstarting the Pelicans’ rebuild. 

I enjoyed SBNation’s recap on the winners and losers, along with The Ringer’s roundtable on the deal. I wanted to use this space to instead try and answer a different question. 

Is Anthony Davis now the best teammate LeBron James has ever had?

Methodology for the study

I pulled together the stats for every LeBron teammate since 2003 from Basketball Reference, filtering for players who had at least fifty games played and averaged at least twenty minutes a game. All stats are pulled for just the seasons they shared with LeBron; for example, Chris Bosh’s output will only be from 2010 to 2014.

Anthony Davis’s stats are his total career to date. Any stats included are defined in this handy Basketball Reference index.

What do the advanced stats tell us?

Given the variations in games played and seasons shared, I focused on two metrics that adjust for those differences. Win shares per 48 directly measures the player’s ability to produce for his team while adjusting for time played.

Look at Javale McGee flourish! Why trade for AD when the answer was right in front of you, Shaqtin all sorts of a fool?

Davis tops our list here as the only player with a win share per 48 above 0.200, nearly double what Basketball Reference considers the average player performance. His closest competition is the likely counterargument to anything declarative about AD, Dwyane Wade.

Wade figures prominently in the debate. Although stats are useful, they do fail to capture LeBron and Wade’s psychic connection that produced so many amazing highlights.

While WS/48 can be illuminating, it shouldn’t be the only consideration. PER’s a helpful if imperfect way to assign overall value to a player. For our purposes, PER will be illuminating to measure total impact on the court.

With LeBron often the top player on his team, this view nicely shows the performance of both the second and third options. Wade again finishes second, while Kyrie Irving sits with…again somehow JaVale McGee. I really didn’t appreciate his production in this unheralded year in LA.

You also see the remaining Big 3 members in Kevin Love and Chris Bosh, with the original Cleveland counterparts like Carlos Boozer, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Drew Gooden rounding out the top ten. 

Shaq’s sole season in Cleveland produced one of my favorite Sports Illustrated covers ever.

Anthony Davis after the trade

We see AD top the list for PER and WS/48, but I think Lakers fans should be most excited for his ability to slot in next to LeBron. I filtered the list of teammates to the players in the top 25th percentile of usage, trying to isolate the second stars. LeBron sits around 30% usage for his career, meaning he uses roughly one-third of his teams’ possessions, so the second star should ideally produce on what most likely will be a reduced workload. Ten teammates fit this criteria. 

Davis has the most points and rebounds per game of this cohort, while still posting the second-highest true shooting. His combination of efficiency and scoring stands above the rest of the group. Typically, scatterplots are most useful to show correlation, but in this case I think it’s worth showing where he stands on points and true shooting. AD’s production is shaded red.

You want your coveted trade asset to fit in the top right corner of that graph.

We’ve still got the rest of the offseason to wait on, and the Lakers now must figure out how to replace so much of their lineup while introducing a different system under new coach Frank Vogel. Yet, the numbers make it clear that if Anthony Davis can merely put up career average numbers in LA, he’ll instantly become the most productive teammate of LeBron’s career.

I can’t wait to watch. 

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Jamie Larson