Last month, Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden boldly proclaimed himself “the best all-around player in the NBA.”
The headline led to some raised eyebrows, and a few chuckles, because although Harden is an undeniably talented scorer, he has frequently shown little to no interest in defense. As a result, we can safely eliminate him from the “best all-around player” conversation.
In fact, there is no real debate. If we are going to attempt to answer the question: “Who is the best all-around player in the NBA?” – we can do so with one word. LeBron.
This is no direct knock Harden, as most top-tier athletes in each and every sport believe they are the best at what they do. It’s part of the reason for their success. However, it’s almost impossible to argue that anyone other than LeBron James is the best all-around basketball player on the planet. There is almost nothing James can’t do. He’s an elite scorer and the best playmaker on every team he’s ever played on. Furthermore, he can guard all five positions on the floor. When focused, he’s one of the league’s best defenders.
However, the argument over who is the “best all-around player not named LeBron James” is a conversation worth having.
Most folks would likely argue that Kevin Durant deserves this distinction. And it would difficult to disagree. Durant is game’s the preeminent scorer, by a wide margin. He is also solid rebounder, and a vastly improved player maker (he averaged a career-high 5.5 apg last season). While certainly not an elite defender, his length allows him to bother opposing players and close down passing lanes.
However, it could be argued that another young, lanky star also deserves heavy consideration in this discussion.
At just 21 years of age, Anthony Davis has played a grand total of 131 games in his NBA career, yet he has displayed an incredibly versatile skill set that demands a case be made for his inclusion in this conversation.
The jaw-dropping numbers Davis posted across the board last year, in just his second pro season, were incredibly impressive.
Davis will never be Durant’s equal on the offensive end of the floor, but he is already one of the NBA’s most feared defenders. Davis led the NBA in blocks last season, swatting 2.8 shots per game. He also led the New Orleans Pelicans in steals, averaging 1.3 steals per contest. In the process, Davis became the first NBA player since 2008 to average at least 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game in the same season.
Davis also did damage on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds a night. He joined Shaquille O’Neal as just the second player in NBA history to averaged 20 points, 10 boards, and 2.5 blocks during their age-20 season.
But Davis’ domination was not limited to the defensive end. He has already established himself as a remarkably effective and efficient scorer. Davis shot 51.9 percent from the floor during the 201-13 campaign and knocked down over 79 percent of his free throw attempts, a notably high number for a center. In fact, Davis was only player in the league last season to shoot over 51 percent and 79 percent from the field and free-throw line, respectively.
Davis also became just the second player in the last two decades (Tim Duncan, 2012-13) to shoot above 79 percent from the charity stripe and average 2.5 blocks per game.
Further boosting his value, Davis also takes excellent care of the basketball. From 2009 through 2013, no NBA player averaged more than 20 ppg and less than 1.7 turnovers over the course of a full season. In 2013-14, Davis averaged 20.8 ppg and just 1.6 turnovers per contest.
And the scary reality is that Davis is simply scratching the surface of his potential. At just 21 years of age, the sky is the limit for this kid.
Over the course of the 2013-14 campaign, Davis began expanding his range, and was knocking down long jumpers with remarkable consistency. He has greatly improved the mechanics on his jump shot (Exhibit A), and clearly now feels comfortable facing up on defenders and firing away from mid-range. He was lethal on pick-and-pop plays over the final few months of the season. Last year, per basketballreference.com, Davis knocked down over 43 percent of the jumpers he attempted from between 10-to-16 feet away from the basket. That’s an extraordinarily high percentage for a center. As a point of comparison, James shot 40 percent from that same range last season.
In recent years, various methodologies have been created in attempt to quantify a player’s total value into a single metric. The most popular of these is ‘PER,’ or “Player Efficiency Rating.” Last season, only 4 players posted a PER of 26.5 or higher: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Anthony Davis.
Davis is just the sixth player in NBA history to tally a PER of at least 26.5 in either their first or second NBA season. Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Pettit, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal (all Hall-of-Famers) are the only other members of this prestigious group.
At some point, Father Time will catch up with James and there will actually be a lively debate to be had. When we reach that point, there’s a very good chance Anthony Davis will be the most popular name bandied about.
Davis still has plenty left to prove in order to garner increased national attention and respect, but the youngster is well on his way. If he keeps improving at his current exponential rate, he’ll be universally recognized as the game’s next great superstar and potentially regarded as the rightful heir to King James’ as the NBA’s best all-around player.
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