With the release of former first overall pick Anthony Bennett from the Brooklyn Nets yesterday, let’s see who’s been the best over the last 11 years.
I want to get this out of the way fast: Anthony Bennett should never have been a first overall pick. The 2013 class was a weak one, but there was a ton of guys who were safer options than him. Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter and Nerlens Noel come to mind immediately, and the first two are having solid seasons this year; Noel is still struggling, but he’s a guy who can make an impact on an above-average team if the situation is right.
Don’t think that 2013 was the only weak class in recent memory — because it wasn’t. Despite some poor talent collectively, the last 11 draft classes have churned out a handful of franchise players like Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and, potentially, Ben Simmons when he’s healthy.
Simmons has yet to suit up for the Philadelphia 76ers, so he won’t be included alongside the comparisons to Kyrie Irving, who’s the best player to come out of the last 11 drafts. This may be a little unfair to Towns and Andrew Wiggins since they haven’t been in the league long enough to develop a resume like Irving’s. Despite that, be on the lookout for them over the next few years once Minnesota can get themselves back on track.
Uncle Drew has only three real competitors for this title, and Davis and Griffin are two of them. The third is not Andrea Bargnani, believe it or not, but instead the most underappreciated point guard over the last couple of years. His name is John Wall.
If we’re going down to the park, Irving is undoubtedly the guy you’re taking with you with Davis close behind. He bruised ankles as an old man who was caked in makeup wearing a couple of extra pounds, and he’s also a handful for the best professional players in basketball to handle.
It’s like picking between The Wolf of Wall Street and The Godfather. The former is far more entertaining and comedic, but the latter is a much more compelling movie.
That’s where Davis comes in. Of the four that were listed, he’s, by far, the most talented all-around. At seven-foot with what seems like a 13-foot wingspan, AD can do things that would boggle minds a couple of decades ago. Irving is the best offensive player to come out of this span because there’s nothing he can’t do and he’s simply a cold-blooded killer. Just ask the Golden State Warriors about last June. (I’m sorry, but I had to!) Regarding all-around versatility on both ends of the floor, none of these guys come close to touching Davis.
He’s so dynamic that he can swat your shot out to half court, pick it up, dribble a few time and possibly put it behind his back and through his legs before he dunks on you — all within seven seconds.
Over his 297 game career, a number that’s low thanks to injuries, Davis edges out Griffin and Irving in the scoring department (21.8 to 21.4 to 21.1) and is second in rebounds and first in shots blocked with 10.0 and 2.4 a night, respectively. John Calipari rode the coat tails of Davis’ other-worldly defensive ability and the New Orleans Pelicans have watched him grow into an unguardable offensive player. But, talent isn’t the only deciding factor on this list.
If Davis is the top-tier Griffin is right below him. BG has had a consistent run in the NBA, mostly gaining notoriety for his tremendous athleticism that is harnessed perfectly by Chris Paul. But, even without CP3 throwing him lobs, Griffin is still a top power forward when healthy and could easily service a franchise as their go-to guy. The most important thing for him was the development as an offensive player, and Griffin can score from the post, in transition or even from mid-range, which took him to another level regarding his stardom.
Unfortunately, he’s not the defender that Davis is, but few are. He’s about as good a rebounder, but Griffin’s ability to facilitate is what makes him different. Over the last three seasons, only Draymond Green is the only other forward to have averaged more than five assists a game. Without that, Griffin’s another typical power forward, and he wouldn’t stand out as much as he does.
Now, I need to touch on Wall because if I didn’t, I’d be a hypocrite.
Why John Wall doesn’t get more national recognition is astounding. In the nation’s capital, you have the Washington Wizards who are slowly turning things around after a woeful start to the 2016-17 campaign. They’re back at .500 and also back in the playoff race, but Wall has been the leader of this team for awhile.
Yes, he’s an erratic player who probably turns the ball over too much for some peoples’ liking, but his talent is undeniable. And attempting to deny it is ignorant. Say what you win, but the guy makes plays. The way he racks up dimes is a different kind of flashy and is a nice contrast to how other point guards execute passes. Optimus Dime, even though I’ve never heard anyone call him that, has the passing ability of a lower-level Magic Johnson mixed with Russell Westbrook.
He’ll make a crisp behind-the-back or through-the-legs pass every so often, but his blinding quickness lets him penetrate and hand out dump off or kick out passes with ease. All those dimes leave him with a per game average of nine, and the second-closest player from this span is Derrick Rose with 6.1.
So, you’ve sat through me bloviating about three of the four guys, but why does Irving get the nod if he’s not even the best player on this list? It’s simple, and just having a championship isn’t the reason he’s ahead of Davis, Griffin and Wall.
The manner in which Irving assisted LeBron James during their miraculous comeback in the Finals is the separator. Up until then, Irving was a sidekick to LeBron, but to bring a trophy back to Cleveland, the Cavaliers needed him not to play the same role Dwyane Wade played when they teamed up in Miami.
Wade openly took a backseat to LeBron. The Cavaliers needed two drivers.
This is a dynamic seen a lot in football. A great quarterback will make any receiver look great, but pair a great receiver with a great quarterback and they enhance each other. Take your favorite combo — Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, Troy Aikman or Michael Irvin — and separate them. Those four guys alone are Hall of Famers, but together, they’re some of the best players in NFL history.
Irving averaged 27.1 points to James’ 29.7 and nailed the biggest shot in the history of Cleveland Cavaliers basketball. The other three guys have made the playoffs at least once in their career, but they didn’t execute on the big stage as impressively as Irving did.
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