The Lakers’ season now depends on Year 20 LeBron James regaining his youth due to Anthony Davis’ injury.

Early in his career, it was frequently claimed that LeBron James could inspire just about any supporting cast to 50 victories. The information supported that claim. Mo Williams was after all his best teammate, and together they won 66 games. He advanced to the NBA Finals with Larry Hughes as his top scorer, and if it weren’t for J.R. Smith, he might have defeated the best lineup ever put together while only having one other teammate (Kevin Love) reach double figures. The credentials for LeBron’s awful team are verified.

But this season, King James has basically given up the throne to what may be his first-ever superior partner. Anthony Davis helped the Lakers, who had a 2-10 start, get back into the playoff hunt. So far this season, he has outperformed James in terms of scoring, rebounding, and blocking, and he has done so while shooting the ball much more effectively. With Davis on the floor, the Lakers have outscored their opponents by 11 points per 100 possessions, eventually retaking the plus-minus crown from James after years of subpar bench lineups contributed to the Russell Westbrook deal.

The team’s shifting priorities are demonstrated by the 11-point net rating disparity. James is no longer the only offender in this case. Anthony Davis is now the focal point of the game. Certainly, it did. Davis’ right foot ailment is expected to keep him out for at least a month. His past indicates that it might be lengthier. James, the rising tide that has been raising all ships over the past 20 years, is suddenly back at the top of the food chain.

The simplest of reasons could make this problematic: James is 37. He has played in 20 NBA seasons. Over the past few years, he’s been hurt just as frequently as Davis. He intentionally gave his teammate control of the Lakers. It’s unclear if he still has the ability to exert the kind of solitary force he once did. The data indicates that he can’t.

Almost every measure of a player’s ability to create individual shots will show James to be drastically deteriorating. During the Lakers’ run to the 2020 championship, he averaged over seven pick-and-roll points per game. This season, that number is down to four. In that time, he has isolated losses of one point each game. James ranks second in the NBA for fast-break points scored per game, but his drives per game have decreased from above 14 in 2020 to below 8 this season, which has helped his dwindling rim attempts. His teammates are starting to suffer as a result of his declining ability to gain advantages. In comparison to his career average of 7.3 assists per game, his current average is relatively low at 6.3.

Of course, James remains one of the NBA’s top players. He’s only been able to partially compensate for his age-related, reasonable reduction in other areas. He is making more three-pointers. As a cutter, he’s scoring more goals. In pick-and-roll, he now has additional roll-man responsibilities. The Lakers should value these qualities if they are healthy. For the Lakers of today, those are luxuries. The Lakers need to replace over 70 touches per game that were received by Davis. They will undoubtedly fall primarily on James.

After all, this team embodies the adage that LeBron James can accomplish any task given the right personnel. The battle to replace Davis will mostly revolve over players making minimum wage. All three potential Davis replacements, Thomas Bryant, Damian Jones, and Wenyen Gabriel, are among the nine that the Lakers have. Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder, two important guards, are also eligible, and while Lonnie Walker IV came for the mid-level exception, he wasn’t exactly in high demand prior to moving to Los Angeles. Even though Westbrook was a past MVP, he can only contribute so much when he plays off the bench.

It all comes full round to James. The Lakers gave him a poor roster, and unless he convinces them that he deserves it, they won’t do much to better it. In principle, it makes sense to do it that way. Even with James and Davis in good health, the Lakers have been reticent to include first-round picks in transactions. This season is in risk without Davis.

The Lakers’ current record is 12-16. As it was, they had no space to lose games. They’ll have to accept losses as a result of the post-Davis world. The Lakers’ executive management will completely stop holding win-now discussions if they fall far enough behind in the standings. How healthy Davis is in February won’t matter if the Lakers are 10 games down. 500.

James is now under pressure to not only rescue his own season but Davis’s as well. Even while it’s a load no player has ever had to bear in his 20th season, by LeBron’s standards it feels nearly manageable. He is not required to lead a subpar team to 50 victories. Just long enough for his best teammate to return to the court unharmed, he needs to keep one afloat. if he is unable of doing that? So this season was already doomed from the beginning.