Anthony Davis: A top 75 all-time NBA great? You be the judge

I’d like to preface this post by publicly stating I have nothing against Anthony Davis.  I’d even go so far as to say it’s a bit unjust picking on the guy while he’s on injured reserve.  Anyone familiar with Davis’s body of work, however, knows that’s a pretty good place to find him.

This season, the NBA released a list of its greatest 75 players of all time.  The league did the same 25 years ago when, for its fiftieth anniversary, they celebrated its top fifty players.  Criteria for selection into this group was vague at best.  A fairly, well-rounded number of people associated with the game’s history, i.e., former players, coaches, sportswriters, media members, etc. were asked to vote on who made the cut and who didn’t.  It goes without saying there were some snubs.

In its latest celebration of all things NBA, the voters did their best to make up for previous mistakes by nominating the best twenty-five players of the last twenty-five years, with a few notable exceptions.  The biggest snub from the previous top 50, Dominique Wilkins, was added to the list.  As expected, no names were taken off it.  I imagine that would have been difficult to explain.  No-brainer names from the latest quarter century were added, including Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade, some of whom were not in the league 25 years ago and some who were but had yet to make their mark.

As with the initial 50, there were some omissions, most notably Dwight Howard, who not many people like but who undoubtedly deserved to be on this list (8-time All-Star, 5-time first team All-NBA, 3-time defensive player of the year, 5-time rebounding champion).  The reasons Dwight Howard was left off this list, one can only assume, were strictly popular and this list is many ways exactly that: a popularity vote.  To find Howard’s name off it, while borderline blasphemous, is not surprising.  Usually, the NBA doesn’t go full Major League Baseball by ostracizing its greats, but it appears they did so in Howard’s case.

Another name was put on this list, again likely based on popularity but more accurately, recency bias.  That name is Anthony Davis.  As dominant as Davis is when he’s available, I’d like to submit that he did not merit being on this list using one statistic and one statistic alone that is far too often over-looked: total games played.

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

To be clear, Anthony Davis is a fantastic NBA player.  After winning a national championship at the University of Kentucky, Davis was drafted top overall by the New Orleans Pelicans (then Hornets).  He would play seven seasons in New Orleans and average just shy of 24 points per game.

In those seven seasons, however, he led New Orleans to the playoffs twice, winning only one playoff series, that coming in 2018.  Note: leading one’s team deep into the playoffs appears to be one of the prerequisites for making the NBA’s Top 75.

While in New Orleans, Davis played in a total of 466 games.  That’s an average of 66 games a season.  There are 82 games in a season.  Three seasons in Los Angeles, Davis has played in 135 games.  That’s 45 games a season.  In other words, in ten seasons in the NBA, Davis has played in a total of 601 regular season games.  That’s only 60 games a season.

That seems to be a little low to be ceremoniously considered an all-time great, so I decided to see where the 75 greatest NBA players ranked in terms of total games played, largely because I have nothing else better to do.

When it comes to regular season games played, playoff games played and total combined games played for the 75 men who made the list, Anthony Davis consistently ranks near the bottom.

With regards to total regular season games played, only George Mikan, Bill Walton and Kawhi Leonard have played fewer games than Davis.  George Mikan played in shorter seasons with shorter post-seasons, yet the league rewrote the rule book because of his dominance.  No one in their right mind would argue Mikan doesn’t belong on the list of all-time NBA greats.  Walton, like Davis, had a career shortened to injury but won a regular season MVP where Davis has not.  (Note: Also a prerequisite to making the list, only two NBA MVPs are not in the Top 75. One is Nikola Jokic who won it last year; the other is Derrick Rose. The highest Davis ever reached in MVP voting was third in 2017-18; he has never received a single first place vote.)   Furthermore, Walton single-handedly led the Portland Trailblazers to a title in 1977.  Kawhi Leonard’s career has become synonymous with the term “load management” but he boasts two Finals MVPs for two different teams and for years was largely considered the best two-way player in the game.  One would also be hard-pressed to make a case that neither Walton nor Leonard belongs on this list.    

When it comes to most playoff games played, Davis ranks 73rd.  Only Pete Maravich and Dave Bing rank behind Davis.  Maravich was (and maybe still is) the most electric player anyone had ever seen and while Dave Bing played before my time, my understanding is that he was one bad ass dude vanquished to play on some bad Detroit Pistons teams.

It just seems odd to me that Anthony Davis made this list without even the slightest second-guessing.  Again, he is a fabulous player when healthy, but I can’t help but feel this honor seems a tad premature.  What if Davis’ career ends abruptly or from here on out, he’s unable to play at the level we’ve become accustomed to seeing when he’s 100%.  Take away that recent Lakers’ title and there’s no way he makes this list, right?  It’s almost as if someone was afraid to upset LeBron James by leaving Davis off it.

You could throw a few names out there to replace Davis like Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Tracy McGrady, and Alex English, to name only a few but let’s focus on Dwight Howard, who statistically was the biggest snub.

Anthony Davis has led the league in total blocks (twice) and total field goals made (three times).  He has played ten (incomplete) seasons in the league.  Dwight Howard, who has played 18 seasons, has led the league in field goal percentage (once), free throw attempts (four times), offensive rebounds (once), defensive rebounds (six times), total rebounds (five consecutive times and six out of seven years) and total blocks (twice).

As someone who recalls vividly how Dwight Howard turned on his former coach, Stan Van Gundy, in Orlando, I was as harsh a critic of Howard as anyone.  However, Howard is not the first superstar to get a coach fired.  He has come a long way since those days, still playing and still contributing so many years later.

It’s not like the NBA to hold grudges, but it’s hard to argue that Howard, the only player in NBA history to win Defensive Player of the Year three consecutive seasons, hasn’t had a more accomplished career than Davis, especially when you consider they were both on that Lakers championship team.  Unlike Davis, Howard has overcome injury to play in the league twice as long and has played in over twice as many games (1,227 for Howard vs. Davis’ 601).  Longevity cannot be understated.

None of this matters.  Davis is on the list and Howard is not.  Twenty-five years from now the league will make amends with the 61-year-old Howard, maybe, letting bygones be bygones.  And Dwight will smile his smile, knowing that he should have been on it all along.

2 thoughts on “Anthony Davis: A top 75 all-time NBA great? You be the judge

  1. Mr. Glass….I swear the man is more prone to injury than my nearly 90 year old grandma.

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