Anthony Davis secured his first NBA championship Sunday when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in the 2020 NBA Finals. Winning an NCAA tournament, an Olympic gold medal and the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Davis became the eighth player to earn the prestigious triple crown of basketball. He is also the only one of those eight to win a FIBA gold medal. There are no ifs about it — Davis is a winner, but where does that rank him all-time so far?
Davis just completed his eighth NBA season at 27 years old, meaning he potentially still has seven-plus years of high-level basketball left in the tank. However, even if Davis announced his retirement today, I believe he is in the conversation with some of the greatest players ever to play the power forward position, joining the likes of Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Dirk Nowitzki. I would add Tim Duncan to this list, but whether Davis can get close to matching Duncan’s five championships and two MVPs remains to be seen.
When looking at these five all-timers, Davis’ accolades aren’t too far behind. The Brow already has four All-NBA first-team selections, which is the same number that Nowitzki and Garnett achieved in their full careers and only one fewer than Barkley has. Davis has also been named to four All-Defensive teams, two of which are first teams. While Malone matches that mark, neither Nowitzki nor Barkley was ever selected to an All-Defensive team. Depending on his longevity, Davis has a shot to lap these players in certain accolades, including arguably the most important one: championships.
For some unknown reason, all-time great power forwards have struggled to win titles consistently, except for Duncan. Davis’ one title is already tied for second-most among this group, trailing only Duncan’s. Nowitzki and Garnett each also have one, while Barkley and Malone are ringless. If Davis can win even one more championship, that would separate him from the pack.
Davis stands out in this group statistically. In terms of each player’s first eight seasons per 36 minutes, when compared to Barkley, Garnett, Nowitzki and Malone, Davis ranks first or second in numerous categories, including points, rebounds, steals, blocks, free throw percentage, true shooting percentage, player efficiency rating, win shares per 48 minutes and box plus/minus. Davis has been a statistical monster his whole career thus far, and this season, for the first time, he has had a team around him to prove that his numbers do translate to winning, despite what some critics may have thought.
Davis averaged more than 27 points and nine rebounds in this season’s playoffs while delivering a scorching true shooting percentage of 67. Nobody in NBA history has ever matched these numbers while playing beyond the first round of the playoffs. In the bubble playoffs, Davis had a player efficiency rating north of 29 and more than 0.280 win shares per 48 minutes. The only other players to match that for a playoff run and win a title at the end are LeBron James in 2012 and Michael Jordan in 1991. Talk about an elite company — none of Davis’ fellow power forwards have ever come close to accomplishing this feat.
There is one thing all of the top-tier power forwards have that Davis doesn’t: an MVP award. Davis has come close a few times but has never been on an elite team where he was the clear-cut best player. Even now, he is playing alongside James. Perhaps after James retires, Davis will have a chance to win the award and cement himself into this group of legends. Until then, he should remain in the tier below. There is no shame in that — I believe that Davis has a very good chance to surpass most, if not all, of the power forwards ever to play the game.
Until today, Davis was often overlooked by many. Rotting away in New Orleans, Davis was putting up numbers but losing in the first round, or entirely missing the playoffs. It’s time to put respect on Davis’ name and acknowledge him for what he is: an all-time talent who has spent most of his career surrounded by mediocrity. Now that he is in a position to succeed, the Brow should start flying up the all-time ranks fairly quickly. It won’t be long before people begin comparing new talent to the great Anthony Davis.
Tom Aizenberg is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].