The Best All-Around NBA Player You May Have Never Heard Of

George MercurioContributor IJanuary 11, 2010

1989-1990:  Guard Fat Lever of the Denver Nuggets goes up for two over guard Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns during a Nuggets game versus the Suns at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado. Mandatory Credit: Tim DeFrisco  /Allsport Mandatory Cre
Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images

If I ask you to name the greatest all-around players in the NBA's long history, you will probably answer me with the names of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and you will say Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler. 

You will think of today's great all-around players and you will say LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. 

And you'd be remiss if you forgot to name the players from yesteryear, players like Jerry West, Rick Barry, Walt Frazier, and of course, arguably the greatest all-around player of all-time, Oscar Robertson

And you'd be right to name those players.  They were great all-around players, and everyone knows that.  Or at least, everyone should know that.

But are there great all-around players we may have forgotten?  Are there great all-around players who have flown under the radar, sunken into the depths of anonymity, players who need to be recalled for the sake of their exceptional accomplishments?

In order to find such hidden gens we first need to identify what it is that makes one a great all-around player.  The answer usually goes something like this: they can do everything on the court short of selling refreshments; they can score the ball, they can rebound, and they can pass the ball and rack up assists. 

There are, of course, many other facets of the game: shot blocking, steals, three-point shooting.  But the three categories that are most commonly cited as the measuring stick for an all-around player are points, rebounds, and assists.

The NBA has a little stat that makes it easier for us to identify and compare these all-around players.  It's called, of course, the triple-double.   

What makes the triple-double such a rare feat is the fact that the three stats mentioned above are normally compiled by three very different types of players.  Although scoring can obviously be performed by any position, it is normally done by an agile player, someone like a shooting guard or a small forward; the rebounding is normally done by a big man, usually a center or a power forward; and the assists are usually racked up by a lightning quick playmaker, a point guard.  So it is a rare player who can combine all three facets of the game into one package.

A few weeks ago, on December 18, one of these rare players, New Orleans' Chris Paul, had a monster game against the Denver Nuggets.  He posted 30 points, 19 assists, and nine rebounds, just missing a triple double. 

It made me wonder: who was the last player to have a similar line?  Did anyone ever record 30 points, 20 assists, and 10 rebounds in an NBA game?  I discovered only two players in the history of the NBA had ever produced such a line. 

The one player who did it was Magic Johnson, but that's not too surprising, is it?  He was on our above list of great all-around players.  But the other player doesn't normally make such lists.  In fact, some of you may not even know who he is.

The only other player to ever produce such monster numbers in a single game? 

Fat Lever.

Some of you may have heard his name.  Others may have actually seen him play for those high-scoring, no-defense Denver Nuggets teams.  Congratulate yourself.  Like me, you're getting old.

Others may be thinking, that's just one game. I know the nickname "Fat" is cool and all, but I need to see some more before calling this Lever guy one of the great all-around players.

Let's think back to that triple-double stat, one of the simplest yet fool-proof formulas for measuring an all-around player.  There are only six players in the history of the NBA who have more than 40 triple-doubles for their career.  They are:

Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird ... and who joins this glorified temple of basketball gods?  My boy Fat Lever, with 43 career triple-doubles.

Who else rounds out the all-time triple-double list, you ask?  John Havlicek with 30, Grant Hill with 29, Michael Jordan with 28, and Lebron James with 26.

As if that's not enough to raise some eyebrows, Lever accomplished all those triple-doubles in only 752 games, second fewest on the list to only Lebron James. How many more triple-doubles may he have had if he played as many games as John Havlicek, who played in over 500 more games (and yet produced only one more triple-double)?

Lever is one of a handful of NBA players to even come close to averaging a triple-double over the course of an entire season, and he did it in three consecutive seasons. He averaged 18.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 8.0 assists in the 1986-87 season, 18.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists in the 1987-88 season, and 19.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists in the 1988-89 season.   

Lever is one of only three players in NBA history to record at least 15 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists in a single playoff game.  The other two? Jason Kidd and Wilt Chamberlain. 

Doing my own research, Lever  and Jason Kidd are the only two players ever to average career numbers of at least 13 ppg, six apg, six rpg, and two steals.

What would Lever's marquee value be today, with today's press, with today's networking?  In a day when rookie Brandon Jennings is crowned as the Second Coming after a 55 point performance, how would the night in and night out efforts of a Fat Lever be received?  In a quality point-guard depleted league, would Lever make more than the two all-star games he played in during the late 80's?


Many people may think that Lever, who is now Director of Player Development for the Sacramento Kings, is not to be put in the class of the players with whom he shares such outstanding honors.  And people may say that he was nothing more than a product of a Denver Nuggets system that ran the ball up and down the floor and often scored 130 and 140 points in a game.  But if my name were ever mentioned on par with Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, and Magic Johnson, I really wouldn't care what you said about me.

There are others like Fat.  There are other great all-around performers who have been mostly forgotten.  Alvin Robertson, who played for the Spurs, the Bucks, and the Pistons, comes to mind.  

We remember the great scorers.  Most people, for example, know Fat Lever's high-scoring teammate on those Denver Nuggets teams: Alex English.  But it was Fat who facilitated many of English's buckets; it was fat who pulled down 10 rebounds on many of those nights that English scored 40 points. 

So maybe we tend to overlook those players who do a little bit of everything and concentrate more heavily on the specialists: the scorers, the rebounders.  Will a player who does a little of everything, someone like Utah's Andrei Kirilenko, be largely anonymous in a few years?

Who can you think of?  Who played a great all-around game, and yet is for the most part forgotten today?   I, for my part, will at least remember Fat Lever, one of the great all-around players of the NBA.