Anthony Davis is playing on another level during the playoffs, but is he LeBron's best teammate ever? The Crossover staff debates.
Look, Anthony Davis is incredible, he’s having an outstanding playoff run, and he’s just about to approach his prime. But let’s not shovel dirt on Dwyane Wade, everyone. Wade was a Finals MVP before LeBron came to Miami. Wade also thoroughly—THOROUGHLY—outplayed LeBron in the 2011 Finals. If James had simply had an average series that year instead of whatever the hell it was that happened, Wade would have ran away with his second MVP trophy. (And even after being the Heat’s best player against the Mavericks, Wade still told James that summer he wanted LeBron to take control of the team.)
Maybe people asking this question are only remembering the 2014 version of Wade, one who was admittedly a shell of himself after four straight Finals runs. But do you remember the 41 points to close out Indiana in 2012? The 34 on 13-of-19 shooting to close out Boston in 2011? How about his 32 on the road in San Antonio in Game 5 in 2013? Maybe his double-double that same series in Game 7?
(And don’t even get me started on the pressure Wade was facing. The attention and scrutiny on the Big Three was like nothing Davis has faced. AD also hasn’t had to play in a hostile playoff environment yet. The Bubble is not easy. It’s also not going on the road to Boston when the entire world wants you to lose.)
Wade had a case for best player in the world by the end of his 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons. That hasn’t been the case for Davis yet in his career. Perhaps the best way I can put it is like this: AD joined James and the Lakers because he needed the help of a proven winner to get over the jump. In 2010, Wade was the proven winner, and James was the one who needed the help.
Yes, but this is like choosing between the finest of china. And it really comes down to Dwyane Wade. Take Chris Bosh and Kevin Love off the table; AD is a better version of both, though Bosh deserves way more credit than he received for Miami’s two championships. Kyrie Irving was a great scorer, but I’d rank Wade ahead of him. I think people forget how good Wade was in those early Big Three years. He was playing mid-30’s in minutes and averaging mid-20’s in points. And those numbers only dipped because Wade made a conscious decision to cede control to James. He was a monster. Maybe it’s recency bias, but AD’s versatility and defensive prowess give him a slight edge in my rankings—but I have no problem with an argument that goes the other way.
Yes, Anthony Davis is the best player who has ever played with LeBron James, except for USA basketball. This gets lost to history, but Dwyane Wade was in his 30s for most of James's time in Miami. He was obviously an elite player, but he had dropped off a bit—and would decline while James was there, thanks in part to his fearless style of play. Kyrie Irving was still on the rise in Cleveland. These debates usually devolve into somebody insulting a player to make a point, and I don't want to do that. Wade was an obvious first-ballot Hall of Famer. Irving is one of the best finishers in the game, and a terrific player. But Anthony Davis is a rare talent coming into his own, a first-team All-NBA player, and he gets the edge.
We actually asked LeBron James that question recently and even he was stumped. He called Davis a "unicorn" who can do some things his past teammates weren't able to do. But he added that he feels the same way about Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving. What I find fascinating is the mentorship role that James has had with Davis throughout the season. He's coached a generational talent to new heights by keeping him calm and measured throughout the playoffs and his first-ever Western Conference FInals appearance. They're close friends and great teammates and if they stick together for long enough, I wouldn't be surprised if James helps mold Davis into an all-time great.
No. Everyone knows LeBron’s best teammate was Larry Hughes.
O.K., not really. The question here basically boils down to, Who’s better, Wade or Davis? What’s more interesting to me is the rabbit hole you can fall down if you go back and look at the efforts teams (and by teams, I mean the Cavaliers) have gone through to find an acceptable sidekick for the King. Hughes was the first big name they went out and got, signing him as a free agent before the 2005 season from Washington, where he had just averaged 22.0 points per game with absolutely horrific shooting numbers. He never scored more than 15.5 in Cleveland, and the whole Dynamic Duo thing never really took off.
That’s not to say picking up a volume shooter who couldn't shoot was the first—or worst—acquisition Cleveland made in an effort to surround LeBron with talent. That would be Jiri Welsch, whom the Cavs acquired from Boston for a first-rounder in February 2005 as part of an unsuccessful push for a playoff berth. After 16 games and 46 points—46!—Welsch was flipped to the Bucks for a second-rounder that summer. That is what we in the business call “a horrible sequence of trades.”
Then, of course, there was the original sidekick, Carlos Boozer, whose Wikipedia page has a section titled “Free agency controversy,” which you really should read because if I try to explain it here my hair will catch on fire. Later attempts at finding an acceptably stout running buddy included Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, an over-the-hill Antawn Jamison and an over-the-mountain Shaquille O’Neal. For the majority of his time in Cleveland, James’s top sidekicks were Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams and Drew Gooden. There was actually a point in our nation’s history when Sasha Pavlovic was the second- or third-best player on a team that people who actually followed basketball thought had a chance to win a championship. There was also a season—the one following Cleveland’s first Finals appearance—in which James outscored his team’s second-highest scorer by more than 2-to-1.
Then he went to Miami and the whole “sidekick” thing became a “sidekicks” thing. By the time he came back to Cleveland, Kyrie Irving was around to try to inject himself into this conversation, as was Kevin Love. But at the end of the day, neither one of them carried the weight—and found the balance—that Wade and Davis did.
So which one? You could dissect this in a bunch of ways. Who was better? Who was the better match? Who contributed the most to the best team? Honestly, it’s too close to call. At the end of the day, I’m going to say yes, it was Davis, for the simple numerically based reason that no one—not Ronald Murray, not Ricky Davis, not Boobie Gibson, not Luke Harangody, not Sasha Kaun—has ever played on an NBA team with LeBron and outscored him until the Brow did it this year. That's good enough for me.
I think you still have to go Wade here until further notice, but LeBron and Davis accentuate each other’s strengths perfectly. Check back in two years.
I'll still give the nod to Wade even as Davis almost single-handedly wrecks the Nuggets' Finals hopes. Wade registered consecutive top-five MVP finishes before bringing James to Miami, and he proved capable of carrying a team to the Finals just a half-decade prior. Wade was a diminished version of himself for much of his last three years with James, hobbled by a stream of knee injuries. Yet compare Wade's first year with James to Davis’s, and there's a solid argument for the former Finals MVP. This isn't a slight to Davis, who is seizing his role as a lead option far sooner than expected. Perhaps this opinion will change before the 2021 season. For now, let's show some respect to the Heat legend.
Davis needs a ring, at the least, before he can be regarded as James's best teammate ever. Davis complements James well and provides a one-two punch that is hard to beat when both are on top of their game, but James has found further success alongside Irving in Cleveland and Wade in Miami. Davis has the potential to be the top teammate of James's career, but it is still too early in their partnership to tell. If the Lakers win the championship, then Davis can start to be put into that conversation.
While Davis might fit alongside James better than any teammate James has ever had, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is the best teammate James has ever had. Wade still gets that nod in my mind. Wade’s best season with James came in 2010–11, when the Marquette product averaged 25.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 50% from the field. And while Wade finished No. 7 in the MVP voting, throughout the Big Three’s first season in Miami, he often looked like the best player in the league, even better than LeBron. Together they went to four straight title matchups and won two of them. Davis and James’s success is still very much TBD. Would it be shocking if one day Davis and James achieved more success together than Wade and James did? No, absolutely not. However, let’s give 13-time All-Star, future first-ballot Hall of Famer Wade a little more credit.
I can't say Anthony Davis is LeBron's best teammate ... yet. I simply have too much respect for the legendary Wade and what he accomplished as a player, including winning a championship before teaming up with James. I'd also like to give a hat tip to Irving for being a natural fit next to LeBron and for a certain shot he hit in 2016. With all that said, Davis has a chance to go down as James's best teammate if he continues his current play. For one, he is essentially at his peak, which was not the case for Wade for much of the Big Three Heat, and he may get better and eventually take over as the Lakers’ best player, given LeBron's age. As of now, he and James teamed up at the right time. AD got a creator and LeBron got a prime superstar teammate, who I may be willing to dub the best player he's ever played with ... soon.