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Is Anthony Davis A Top-5 Player In The NBA?

Is Anthony Davis A Top-5 Player In The NBA?

Only 450 of the finest athletes in the world populate the NBA. A few dozen of them can say they’ve made the All-Star team at least once. Diving toward the core of the NBA’s talent pool, only about ten players have the type of all-around games to be considered superstars. Among the league’s best are the handful of athletes who have the type of gravity and all-around games to land inside the top-5.

Anthony Davis is a 6-10 big man who excels at all three levels of the court on offense and defense, and at 28, he’s piled up several significant accomplishments:

- 2020 NBA Champion

- 8x All-Star

- 4x All-Defensive

- 3x Block Champion

- 4x All-NBA

- NBA 75th Anniversary Team

Still, Anthony Davis has struggled to produce wins for the Lakers this season as the number one option, going 4-7 without LeBron James on the court. Among those six losses, two came against the lowly Thunder, and one was against the 8-9 Timberwolves at home.

Things came to a head for “The Brow” after the then 7-8 Milwaukee Bucks gave the Lakers a shellacking behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 47 points on 18-23 shooting while he meekly tossed in 18 points (7 less than Talen Horton-Tucker). Davis’s “struggles” against Giannis prompted ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to say this about the Lakers big man:

“When we look at his {Anthony Davis} skill set, we say he is one of the top-5 players in basketball. You know what we learned definitively last night? He does not belong in that conversation. I love Anthony Davis. But when your mindset and that thing inside your chest comes into question because a guy like Giannis said I don’t give a damn who you are, you ain’t on my level, and I’m coming directly at you and directly for you. And the coaching staff has to get someone else to put on Giannis because you can’t handle that challenge, and you are Anthony Davis. That is a problem…...”

What are we to believe?

Are AD’s accomplishments, talents, and 2020 title enough to put him in the top-5? Or is Stephen A correct in that Anthony Davis doesn’t have the right mindset to be among the few best basketball players in the NBA?

We’ll show the case for Anthony Davis as a top-5 player, the case against him, and finally, come to a decision.


The Case For Anthony Davis As A Top-5 Player In The NBA

LeBron James and Isaiah Stewart soaked up much of the attention on Sunday night for their tussle in Detroit, but Anthony Davis quietly helped the reeling Lakers secure the victory.

With 1:03 left on the clock in the fourth quarter and the Lakers clinging to a three-point lead, Anthony Davis sprinted back on defense and dug in against Pistons point guard Cade Cunningham from beyond the arc. Cunningham took a hard dribble right and launched from deep. AD swatted him. Cunningham grabbed the loose ball and eyed up Lakers’ center AD before going hard to his right into the lane. “The Brow” swatted him again at the rim, picking up his second block in ten seconds. AD didn’t rest as Russell Westbrook grabbed the rebound. He sprinted down the court and made a driving layup with 47.8 seconds on the clock, pushing the Lakers lead to what would end up being an insurmountable five points.

How many big men can stuff a point guard from the perimeter, block him again at the rim, and then sprint down the court for a layup after playing a game-high 39 minutes?

Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That’s it.

Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Rudy Gobert are great centers, but they’re too slow to cover a point guard from beyond the arc. Julius Randle (0.8 BPG) and Bam Adebayo (0.4 BPG) are All-Stars, but they’re too small to pick up multiple blocks on one possession.

Anthony Davis is the most well-rounded player in the NBA. Nobody impacts the game on offense and defense the way he does.

Over the summer, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka signed four of the worst perimeter defenders in the league, Carmelo Anthony (502nd in DEFRTG last season), Wayne Ellington (461st in DEFRTG), Malik Monk (199 in DEFRTG), and Rajon Rondo 124th in DEFRTG). To make matters worse, the Lakers’ top-3 perimeter defenders, Trevor Ariza, Talen Horton-Tucker, and LeBron James, have all missed significant time.

Simply put: This season, the Lakers have suited up the worst overall collection of perimeter defenders in the league.

Still, the Lakers rank 20th in the association in defensive rating, almost solely behind Anthony Davis’s do-everything defensive talent.

Tune into a Lakers game and focus on AD for a quarter or two. You’ll see him stifling pick and roll actions at the rim, flying out to harass open three-point shooters, and switching onto speedy guards beyond the arc. “The Brow’s” been on an island most of the season, yet he never hangs his head as he watches a power forward blow by Carmelo Anthony for an easy layup. Nor does he slap his hands on his hips after an opposing wing bullies Malik Monk for an easy 8-foot jumper. AD keeps playing hard, doing the best he can until reinforcements arrive.

On offense, AD has only one hole in his game, his three-point shooting. This season AD’s shooting an awful 18.9% from deep off of 1.9 attempts per game. Davis’s overall stroke is solid, though.

Check out his 2021-2022 shooting chart:

0-3 feet: 76.2%

3-10 feet: 42.2%

10-16 feet: 34.9%

16 feet- 3P line: 44.9%

Beyond the arc: 18.9%

Free throw line: 74.0%

Compare AD’s shooting numbers to the only other player in the NBA who has the same type of defensive impact, Giannis:

0-3 feet: 79.2%

3-10 feet: 33.3%

10-16 feet: 38.2%

16 feet- 3P line: 42.9%

Beyond the arc: 27.5%

Free throw line: 69.2%

Giannis has worked tirelessly to improve his shooting form, and we can see his numbers have risen steadily over the years. Dig deeper, though, and you’ll see that Giannis will still have problems in the playoffs keeping opposing defenders honest with his outside stroke. Giannis is hitting 42.9% of his shots from 16 feet to the three-point line, but he’s only taking 8.4% of his attempts from that range, well short of two shots per game, and not enough to unclog the middle of the court against a set defense in the postseason.

Anthony Davis struggles from deep, but he compensates by taking 19.6% of his total shot attempts from 16 feet to the arc, and he connects on one of the best marks in the league, 44.9%. AD’s a beast at the rim, he has a solid post-up game, and he can spread the floor with his deep midrange game.


The Case Against Anthony Davis As A Top-5 Player

Anthony Davis is one of the most talented two-way forces the league has seen in the last decade; there’s no denying that.

The case against placing “The Brow” in the top-5 rests entirely on his wins and losses.

Anthony Davis put up massive numbers through his seven seasons in New Orleans, making the All-Star game six times and becoming recognized as the most talented big man in the association. He consistently averaged 25-plus points per game, over 10 RPG, and led the league in blocks during three seasons. Going beyond traditional stats, his player efficiency rating (PER) became the stuff of legends, rivaling Michael Jordan’s early years, with a league-leading 30.8 PER in 2015 and a 30.3 PER in 2019.

Despite all the massive numbers, AD never won.

During his seven years in New Orleans, he made the playoffs twice, first in 2015, when the Warriors swept them in the first round, and next in 2018 when they made it to the second round before the Warriors (gentlemen's) swept again.

AD played (not won) in a total13 playoff games in seven years.

13!!!!!

Compare that to other current league greats:

Stephen Curry: 58 playoff games through seven seasons and one title

Kevin Durant: 73 playoff games through seven seasons and one finals appearance

Nikola Jokic: 43 playoff games through only six seasons

LeBron James: 71 playoff games through seven seasons and one finals appearance

Stephen Curry was surrounded by All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, while Kevin Durant suited up with two eventual MVP winners in Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Anthony Davis’s cupboards were bare, but so were Nikola Jokic’s and LeBron James’s. Jokic has never played with an All-Star, and LeBron James played with only one All-Star, Mo Williams, during the 2008-2009 season.

Anthony Davis never won meaningfully until he was traded to the Lakers in 2019. Once he teamed up with LBJ, perhaps the GOAT, he took down his first title, averaging a superb 27.7 PPG and 9.7 RPG while shooting 57.1% from the field in the playoffs.

Anthony Davis is a fantastic player, who shined next to a talented roster for the Lakers in the bubble, but he can’t do it on his own.


Is Anthony Davis A Top-5 Player?

Kobe Bryant is a Hall-of-Famer, who put winning above everything. Fans love to focus on the five titles he brought to LA during his career, but few people talk about his tenth year in the NBA.

During the 2005-2006 season NBA washouts, Smush Parker, Kwame Brown, Devean George, Chris Mihm, and Brian Cook took turns with Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom in the Lakers’ starting lineup. Kobe single-handedly dragged the Purple and Gold into the playoffs, averaging 35.4 points per game while playing the best perimeter defense in the league and competing harder than any other player in the last decade. Without Bryant, the 2006 Lakers would have won less than 15 games. With Bryant, they went 45-37 and took the highly talented Phoenix Suns to seven games in the first round of the Western Conference before losing.

The top players in the league pull off what Kobe managed in 2006: They guarantee a playoff berth.

During this modern version of the NBA, who ensures their squad the postseason?

Stephen Curry: Last season, he “dragged” a Golden State Warriors team featuring the underwhelming core of Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr, James Wiseman, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Draymond Green into the play-in (which is part of the playoffs) by averaging 32.0 PPG and 42.1% from deep off of a staggering 12.7 attempts per game.

Kevin Durant: He was injured much of last season, but while on the court, KD showed he has the most gravity in the league, attacking single coverages like he was by himself. More importantly though, in the playoffs, after Kyrie Irving went down with an injury, and James Harden struggled with a hamstring issue, Kevin Durant averaged 35.4 PPG in the second round of the Eastern Conference Finals against the eventual champion Bucks, coming inches away at the end of game seven from propelling his Nets into the next round.

Nikola Jokic: Last season Jokic won the MVP, nearly averaging a triple-double with 26.4 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 8.3 APG. Halfway through the 2020-2021 season, All-Star candidate Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL, leaving a massive hole in the Denver roster at the point guard position. Most squads would have been crippled without their starting point guard, but Jokic and the nuggets didn’t miss a beat, finishing the year 3rd in the Western Conference.

LeBron James: LBJ is 36-years-old, and he’s been injured much of the season. Don’t sleep on “The King.” Two nights ago in Indianapolis, James dropped 39 on the Pacers, helping secure the victory for the Lakers, while simultaneously putting the league on notice that when healthy, he’s still one of the surest bets to push his squad into the playoffs in the NBA.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Giannis’s offensive deficiencies can make him easy to game plan against. Fans have been hard on AD’s performance without LBJ, but Giannis went 3-7 without Khris Middleton in the lineup this season. In fact, Giannis might not have won the title last year without the addition of Jrue Holiday and Middleton’s transformation from an excellent 3-and-D player to a bonafide star.

Still, Giannis’s night-in and night-out determination pushes him into the top-5. “The Greek Freak” is relentless. He goes 100% on a Tuesday night in Orlando in front of 10,000 fans. Despite his shooting flaws, he has the most “Kobe” in him out of any player in the league right now. His pure hatred of losing guarantees his squad a date in the postseason.

Going beyond Giannis’s attitude, he has the hardware to back up his case for the top-5. He is a two-time MVP winner who also has a Defensive Player of the Year award and a Finals MVP trophy resting some place in his house.

Finally, we can’t forget Giannis was the best player on the champion Bucks last season, a place in the sky few players ever fly toward. The leading man on the chip holder must land inside the top-5 players in the world list; if that isn’t already a rule, it should be.

Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Luka Doncic, and Anthony Davis find themselves in the second tier, still in the top-10, but unable to push their squad into the NBA’s second season without proven help.

Kawhi Leonard is a robotic basketball beast who takes no prisoners when he’s on the court. The problem is, he’s injured half the time.

James Harden is a former MVP who’s played with future Hall-of-Famers, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook, yet never sniffed a finals appearance. Now, at age 32, he might be slowing down enough to take him out of the conversation.

Luka Doncic, at 22, is a one-of-a-kind player who should win multiple MVP awards during his career. Still, after playing only three full seasons in the league, he needs to mature and learn the ins and outs of winning. Plus, he has too many defensive warts to be considered for the top-5.

Anthony Davis was hard to omit from our top-5.

People forget last year in the playoffs, the Lakers were up 2-1 on the eventual Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns as AD imposed his will on Deandre Ayton and company. It wasn’t until Davis went down with an injury in game four that the Suns took control of the series and won.

Anthony Davis is also a champion in his own right, helping secure the Lakers title in 2020, behind a monster two-way effort in the bubble.

Despite AD’s accomplishments, Stephen A is right about him; he doesn’t have the mindset to go out and destroy teams every night like Kobe Bryant did at the turn of the century or the way Curry, Durant, Jokic, James, and Giannis do today.

Anthony Davis will have to settle for being the sixth-best player in the world, a supreme athlete who needs a partner to find genuine success in the association

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