Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): To celebrate the NBA's 75th anniversary, the league is going to name the 75 greatest players to ever play in the NBA during the 2021-22 season.
We've already looked at which players in NBA history we believe are locks, as well as which active players are a safe bet to make the cut. Today, I wanted to talk about some of the active players who might be considered but probably won't make it.
Snubs, if you will.
Let's remove LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook from the mix because you already wrote about their chances. Is there another active player who intrigues for the NBA 75?
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): I think that group outlines the active players who have the best chance to crack the list, although as I noted in that article, I'm not sure I would consider all of them as locks. I do think there are a few players there who could be snubbed as well.
But to answer your question, I believe there are a few other active players who are in a tier below that group and deserve some consideration. There are two names that come to mind for me immediately: Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard.
Davis is an NBA champion, eight-time All-Star and has been named to four All-NBA and All-Defensive teams. He has been one of the best players in the league for probably eight of the nine seasons he has played in the NBA and has a decent case to make the cut.
As for Lillard, he's a six-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA team member, former Rookie of the Year and, well, does Bubble MVP count for anything? Jokes aside, he's one of the greatest shooters the game has ever seen and is also worthy of a look.
Are there any other active players who come to your mind who you feel should be mentioned in this conversation?
Rafferty: It's crazy to think that Davis is in this discussion considering where he's at in his career. He's only 28 years old and, I think it's fair to say, his best years are still ahead of him. As dominant of a defender as he is, he's never been named Defensive Player of the Year. He should be in the mix once again for that award this season. Coming off of the Lakers' championship, he was a popular pick to make an MVP push, but injuries limited him to 36 games last season. Health provided, I'm excited to see what Davis has in store the next few seasons.
Lillard's an interesting pick as well. We've talked about this off-air, but it feels like he never gets mentioned in the best shooters of all time conversation, which is a shame because he really is an all-time shooter. He's had some playoff success, but if he had a little more - a competitive Western Conference Finals series or a trip to the Finals maybe - he might get some more love. Even so, Lillard is one of the more clutch players we've seen in a long time, potentially ever.
There are a couple of players who come to mind for me as well: Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
For Thompson, he's arguably the second-best shooter of all time and someone who was a key part of one of the greatest teams we've ever seen. (Not to mention, he's had a number of unforgettable moments in the playoffs. Anyone who has followed the NBA over the last decade will know what "Game 6 Klay" is). It's a shame that he's missed two straight seasons with injuries because longevity hurts his case.
As for Green, he doesn't have the numbers - longevity also sort of hurts him - but he's one of the greatest defenders we've ever seen. His effectiveness as a small ball center changed the league as we know it. He's someone I don't know if you can tell the story of the last five or six seasons without.
We're obviously talking about NBA history here, not the last five or six years, but Green is still someone who crossed my mind when thinking of active players who could be considered.
Irving: I'm glad you brought them up as a pair because they were two of the next players I had in mind.
It sort of feels like a situation where you can't just have one of them, and I don't know if there's room on this list for both of them. They're among the most interesting cases for active players because they each played a vital role on one of the NBA's all-time great dynasties. Like you said, how do you tell the story of the past decade of the NBA without Draymond and Klay? You can't. But at the same time, were either of them ever a top-10 player in the NBA during that time period? Or at any point in their careers?
Not that being a top-10 player in the NBA is a real barometer for this list, but I'd assume that almost every player who makes the NBA 75 was, at one point, one of the 10 best players in the league. I love Draymond and Klay. There's no doubt they're both future Hall of Famers. But I'm not sure they both deserve a spot on the NBA 75 and you can't have one without the other.
Rafferty: That's a good way of putting it. I'm in agreement with you there.
Irving: There is another active player I want to mention who arguably checks a few of those hypothetical boxes I just touched on.
What do you do with someone like Kyrie Irving? He's an NBA champion and seven-time All-Star. He hit quite possibly the biggest shot in NBA history - which checks the storytelling box - and there could be an argument as to whether or not he was at any point one of the 10 best players in the league.
For comparison, would he make this list before Lillard?
Rafferty: It's funny because I was just going to mention that I don't know what to do with Irving.
I think it's because the last four seasons haven't quite gone to plan for him. His first season in Boston, he got injured before the playoffs. His second season, the Celtics were one of the most disappointing teams in the league. First season in Brooklyn, he only played 20 games due to injury. Last season he was, like, historically good, but he got injured in the playoffs.
Today, I'm not sure Irving's case is strong enough, but maybe it's much stronger the next time we do one of these anniversary teams depending on how the rest of his career plays out.
Is that fair?
Irving: More than fair.
I'd classify him as one of those players where I'd be much more surprised if he does make it than I would be if he doesn't. His case is there, but to put it plainly, do I really think he's one of the 75 best players in NBA history? Probably not.
How the rest of his stint in Brooklyn shapes out will play a major role in him being included in all-time great lists, Hall of Fame circles and all those types of conversations. But for now, I would personally say there's a significant distance between him and the group of Curry, Paul, Harden and Westbrook.
Are there any other honourable mentions you'd like to throw out there among active players? Or would you say we have any potential players covered?
Rafferty: Well, you mentioned that those who make the NBA 75 team were probably one of the 10 best players in the league at some point in their careers. If we're going by that, Derrick Rose and Nikola Jokic deserve mention because they're the only active players who have won MVP that we haven't discussed yet.
Now, Rose's prime didn't last nearly long enough for him to get in, I think we agree on that. And for Jokic, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who appreciates his game as much as I do - I've basically written a dissertation on him at this point - but he's only 26 years old. Giannis is the same age, but he's accomplished quite a bit more than Jokic has, so...
In saying that, I'll throw this out there: Jokic has a very good chance of making the next anniversary team at the rate he's going.
Irving: I agree with you on both of those points.
Rose has done an incredible job of reinventing himself and extending his career well beyond what anyone probably would have expected following those knee injuries, but he's far from one of the 75 best players in NBA history.
As for Jokic, if this list was being tallied even two or three years later than it is, he'd probably have a strong case to make the cut. But even coming off of his MVP season, I don't think he's done enough yet to receive consideration. At this trajectory, he'll be a lock for the NBA 100, though.
Rafferty: If nothing else, Jokic already has the greatest passing big man of all time crown.
Just to cover our bases, there are six players we haven't mentioned yet who have around a 50 percent chance or greater to make the Hall of Fame according to Basketball Reference. Their names? Jimmy Butler, Blake Griffin, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, Paul George and Kyle Lowry.
I know I'm opening up the door for a Rondo discussion with you, which is a slippery slope for someone who selected him No. 1 overall in an all-time Boston Celtics draft, but do you think any of them have a real case?
Irving: If this list was up to me, I'd probably start with Rondo and fill in the other 74 players after, haha.
But to be real, I don't think any players in that group have a real case. A couple of them have put together Hall of Fame-worthy resumes, but are they "75 greatest players in NBA history" great? I don't think so.
But since we're covering our bases, even though this player isn't near the same Hall of Fame probability as the group you just mentioned, I want to name drop Rudy Gobert. He's another one where he won't make the NBA 75 but depending on how the next few years of his career shapes out, he could certainly make the NBA 100.
Rafferty: I think we've just signed ourselves up for a chat on which active players to watch for the NBA's next anniversary team because I wasn't going to let this chat end without mentioning Luka Doncic, who is on GOAT trajectory. But that's also probably a sign that we've discussed every realistic option at this point.
Irving: You read my mind there. Let's chalk that up as a conversation to be had later. For now, we'll have to sit tight and see which active players make this NBA 75th anniversary team.
Rafferty: If there's one thing I've learned through doing this, it's that the voters have their work cut out for them.
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