Would Anthony Davis Be the Best Player Ever Traded in His Prime?

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2019

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 03:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center on March 3, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Trades have become a necessary fabric of NBA life, and at no time in league history have we seen more movement of star players than now.

It appears New Orleans Pelicans superstar forward/center Anthony Davis will be the newest member of this list. Rich Paul, Davis' agent, informed the team that he will not sign an extension and would like to be traded on Monday, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

This shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, given the Pelicans' disappointing season (23-28 overall) and the fact that Davis signed with LeBron James' Klutch Sports Group just four months ago. A move out of New Orleans seemed inevitable, whether it be through free agency or trade.

While we've witnessed a plethora of star players get traded in recent years (Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Jimmy Butler), none were playing at the level Davis has reached this season.

This begs the question, has any player ever been traded who's as good as Davis is right now?


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Where Davis Stands

Davis has been a top-five player in the NBA for years now, and everything about his game has improved this season.

He's averaging career highs in points (29.3 per game, second in the NBA to James Harden), rebounds (13.3, tied for third overall) and assists (4.4) and is second in the league to Myles Turner in blocks (2.6). The last player to put up such a stat line was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1972-73.

"He's top three in the world of complete players to be able to do everything," Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday told Bleacher Report earlier this season. "He can get 50 any night. He can score at will. He can pretty much do whatever he wants."

Whatever he wants, apparently, is to play for a different team.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

So we take Davis for what he is right now: an elite scorer, rebounder and defender who's constantly being double-teamed and, therefore, a more willing passer. If not for the Pelicans' sour record, he would be at the front line of the MVP conversation, given the stat line he's pumping out every night.

Let's also take into consideration the accolades he's racked up thus far in seven seasons. He'll undoubtedly make his sixth All-Star Game in February, and he took home the event's MVP honors in 2017. Davis has been named to the All-NBA First Team three times and All-Defensive Team on three separate occasions. He's led the league in blocked shots three times as well.

Assuming Davis gets his wish and is traded, how does he stack up against the best in history to be dealt?

Note: LeBron James, although technically traded to the Miami Heat from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, was not considered for this list given the trade was only contingent upon his already leaving in free agency.


Round 1: Recent Blockbusters

In the last five years alone, we've been hit with a flurry of stars changing zip codes.

Kevin Love moving from Minnesota to Cleveland. Kyrie Irving going from Cleveland to Boston. Paul George and Victor Oladipo exchanging Indiana and Oklahoma City residences. DeMarcus Cousins finally leaving Sacramento to join New Orleans. Jimmy Butler being shipped from Chicago to Minnesota, and then over to Philadelphia.

While all of them are phenomenal players, the most talented two-way star to be traded in recent years is Kawhi Leonard.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 03:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center on March 3, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

When he was traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Raptors for a package based around DeMar DeRozan in July, Leonard had perhaps established himself as the best two-way player in all of basketball. He averaged 25.5 points per game for the Spurs in 2016-17, made his second All-Star team and finished third in league MVP voting.

His postseason accolades accentuate the resume, as Leonard had started 87 playoffs games with the Spurs by the age of 25. He was named MVP of the 2014 NBA Finals after the Spurs took down LeBron James and ended the Miami Heat's mini dynasty. Leonard is also a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

What hurts Leonard in a comparison with Davis is the quad injury that sidelined the former Spurs star for all but nine games of the 2017-18 season. While Leonard is a superstar when healthy, there was some uncertainty regarding his health and lackluster 16.2 point-per-game average in those nine outings at the time of the trade.

Leonard (2016-17) vs. Davis
Basketball Reference

Advantage: Davis


Round 2: The 1990s and (most of) the 2000s

Pushing slightly past the five-year mark and into the golden '90s, there's plenty of competition for Davis here as well.

James Harden being traded from OKC to Houston has worked out for the Rockets, even if he was still a sixth man at the time. Carmelo Anthony joining the Knicks in his prime was huge. Dwight Howard was coming off six straight All-Star Games and three NBA Defensive Player of the Year Awards when he was traded from the Magic to the Lakers.

If you could combine star power, the additions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics in 2007 would top the list, although both were past their primes at the time.

Dropping back a decade, Charles Barkley was traded twice in the '90s, both times while putting up over 23 points and 11 rebounds per game. Great numbers, but still comfortably below what Davis is doing this season.

Enter the biggest transaction of this time period. Shaquille O'Neal's 2004 trade from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Miami Heat not only broke up the infamous Kobe-and-Shaq duo, but it also turned L.A. from a powerhouse into a 34-win lottery team.

When Shaq was traded to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and draft picks, he was 32 years old but still a massive force. O'Neal had already collected 11 All-Star appearances, an MVP, three championships and three NBA Finals MVP awards. He would later win another ring with Dwyane Wade in Miami and added another four All-Star appearances to his resume.

Had O'Neal been traded in his late 20s instead of slightly past his prime, he would have overtaken Davis here. By 32, however, his athleticism and numbers had taken a slight hit.

O'Neal (2003-04) vs. Davis
Basketball Reference

Advantage: Davis


Round 3: The Classics

Going back before the '90s, three trades stand out above all others.

The first is the St. Louis Hawks trading the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, Bill Russell, to the Boston Celtics in 1956. Russell would go on to win 11 championships in 13 years, taking home five MVP awards in the process.

Being traded before the start of his NBA career doesn't help him here, however, as he could not have been considered a star at that point.

This leaves two of the greatest big men in league history, both of whom ended up on the Lakers.

Wilt Chamberlain technically makes this list twice. Once for being traded from the San Francisco Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1965, and again from the 76ers to the Lakers in 1968. Chamberlain was a 13-time All-Star who led the league in scoring seven times. He towered above most opponents and rarely came out of games, averaging 45.8 minutes per night in his career.

The final option to rival Davis would be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The NBA's all-time leading scorer requested a trade from the Milwaukee Bucks and got his wish granted after the 1974-75 season. He had been named an All-Star in each of his first six seasons and twice led the NBA in scoring. That was the last season anyone put up the kind of scoring, rebounding and passing numbers Davis is recording this year.

Here's how the final stats for all three big men stack up.

Chamberlain (1967-68) vs. Abdul-Jabbar (1974-75) vs. Davis
Basketball Reference

Chamberlain joined the Lakers at age 32 on the downside of his career, still managing to help them win a championship in 1972. Abdul-Jabbar arrived in L.A. at 28 and in his prime, combining with Magic Johnson to help win five titles from 1980 to 1988.

With the help of James, Davis could follow a similar path.

If he is dealt before the Feb. 7 deadline or sometime this summer,  Davis will become the best player to be traded in the past 40 years. His numbers and accomplishments still don't match up with some of the all-time greats, however.

Given his age, state of his career and overall game when he was moved, Abdul-Jabbar is still the best player in history to ever be traded in his prime.

Final Result: Abdul-Jabbar


Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.