Surprise Anthony Davis vs. Nikola Jokic Debate: Who Deserves the Nod?

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The release of the All-Star starters created a debate on the Open Floor podcast. Although Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic will both be reserves in the All-Star Game, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver of The Washington Post talked voting and went back and forth debating whether Davis or Jokic is the better player. 

(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Andrew Sharp: I’m higher on the rest of Denver’s talent than I think a lot of people are, and I think Nikola Jokic has gotten a lot of credit for lifting up a lot of that roster and serves a lot of credit. That’s why I think he’s a lock to make the All-Star Game. There’s no doubt he’s probably the sixth or seventh most deserving guy in the West. I just think Anthon Davis is one of the five best players in the NBA, and so I don’t really understand why it has to be that complicated. 

Ben Golliver: Andrew, Andrew, Andrew. I’m not sure he is. He’s one of the top-five producers in the NBA, but when we’re talking about impacting winning, creating an elete offense around him, two-impact play, is Anthony Davis really on that top-five level? To me he’s not. He’s amazing, there’s no question about it. He’s a guy that the Lakers and Celtics and every single one of these teams should chase. He’s not a guaranteed top-five talent. Look, his team’s well outside the playoff picture yet again. He’s got some degree of help. I’ve seen some people floating that Jrue Holiday also should be an All-Star this year. It’s not like Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic are complete bums.

You contrast that environment with what Jokic has cultivated in Denver. He’s the driving force of the whole thing. The offense has been unbelievable, their chemistry has been unbelievable, his assists numbers are completely off the charts for any seven-footer in NBA history. The advanced stats are there. His resume is rock solid, he should be a starter, you wasted your vote. 

Sharp: No, sorry, I can’t get there. Just as an aside, the Anthony Davis truthering that’s going on around the NBA strikes me as something a lot of people are going to regret 12 months from now, OK. I understand the Pelicans cubbard isn’t entirely bare, but it’s pretty damn close to being entirely bare. Jrue Holiday is going, but let’s not overstate quite how good he is. He’s a borderline All-Star, would maybe be an All-Star in the East, is still somebody who ultimately will never affect the grand scheme of the NBA. Nikola Mirotic, the guy shoots 30-35% for 90% of the time he’s in the NBA. He’ll have one hot month each season that leads to people kind of mistakingly thinking he can be the missing piece.

When he was playing well last year, Anthony Davis looked like the best player in the NBA. Which is telling in that it shows you what Anthony Davis can look like when he has the right help. As far as the All-Star decision, for me the tiebreaker always comes down to talent, and I think that Anthony Davis is just better and he should be a starter because I think the All-Star starters should reflect the 10 most talented guys in the league, and so I would put Anthony Davis in there over Jokic. You don’t really believe that he’s overrated, do you? 

Golliver: I’m not saying he’s overrrated, but if you think he’s a top-five player in the NBA this year I think you are overrating him. He’s very, very good, but we’ve talked about this before. What drives successful basketball? Ballhandlers, guys who are attracting tons of attention, leading the offense, creating everything for their teammates. That’s just not the best thing that he does.

And so he’s incredible and better at what he does well than anyone else in the league, but his skills do not align with the most valuable skills in the NBA right now. If you’re telling me Harden vs. AD, I’m taking Harden 10 times out of 10. That’s the argument for Jokic because he is the engine of the whole thing, and he is making his teammates significantly better every single night. It’s being constructed around him. You can just look at his assists points created. It’s off the charts. This is a guy who is in that same category. Even though he’s not a ballhandling guard, he is a lead offensive option. 

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Sharp: OK, so what you’re saying is that you’re rewarding Jokic based on the Nuggets’ success this season, and you give Jokic the credit for how impressive Denver has been? 

Golliver: He’s got sick statistics, he’s got amazing advances statistics, he plays for a winning team. He is an essential driver of the winning team, he leads an elite offense. I’m telling you his case. 

Sharp: Anthony Davis has better statistics across the board when you’re comparing him to Jokics. 

Golliver: I’ll take 20, 10 and seven on a winner over whatever Anthony Davis’s stats are. 

Sharp: Ultimately, this comes down to Denver’s success. And I have to ask, do you really believe in the Nuggets as a contender?

Golliver: That’s a poor way to frame it, it’s wrong, because we’re looking at the preponderance of the evidence right now. He checks every single box. 

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Sharp: I’m showing you two players: one player has better numbers, the other player is winning more. 

Golliver: It’s very close. Anthony Davis is 6.7 RPM (Real Plus-Minus), Jokic is 6.5 RPM. That’s basically a dead heat. They’re basically both top-five level guys. One plays for a team that’s at the top of the standings, the other plays for a team that’s well outside the bubble. Looking at health, Jokic has been more healthy than Anthony Davis. I look at assists and team offensive efficiency, that’s a stat, right? We give that to Jokic. I mean, he’s got all sorts of things all over Davis, and the only thing he doesn’t have is the reputation that’s been engrained for four or five years that everybody assumes Anthony Davis is. 

Sharp: Wait a second. This drives me insane. I can’t believe you’re one of those people. I’ve seen other people out there argue out there that Anthony Davis is better than Jokic, but I feel betrayed to be sitting here on the phone with you having you make this argument. 

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