THE noughties brought us the dominant years of Shaq and Kobe, the arrival of LeBron James with the rest of the loaded ’03 class and some Popovich/Duncan magic as the Spurs became a dynasty. Two of the lesser remembered studs of that decade were Baron Davis and Gilbert Arenas, scoring guards who became cult heroes for their respective franchises . While their careers never took off to hit the heights they flirted with, they were still beloved by fans worldwide. Which one had the better career once it was all said and done though?
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PART of a player’s postseason success is attributed to their teammates and the franchise that they play for, which makes it tough to give either player the nod here given their lack of championship rings. Both Davis and Arenas made the playoffs in just under half of their seasons with the Wizards dynamo appearing in just 31 games to Baron’s 50. Davis had success in Charlotte and Golden State during the postseason, which attributed to his solid 18.8 PPG and 6.2 APG averages – both of which top Arenas’ per game numbers. Couple Davis’ superior averages with the surge he and the ‘We Believe’ Warriors went on to defeat the No.1 seeded, 67-win Dallas Mavericks back in 2007 and we have a clear winner here.
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THIS category is bound to be the most hotly debated among fans. Getting buckets was clearly the strength of both Davis and Arenas with multiple 20 PPG seasons between them. Arenas had a higher peak averaging over 27 points during his three consecutive All-Star seasons from 2004-05 to 2006-07 – finishing with averages of 25.0 PPG and 5.7 APG during eight seasons with the Wizards. Davis was more of a traditional playmaker averaging over eight assists in four seasons (Arenas had zero such seasons) while putting up 16.1 points a game through his 835 game career. The scoring punch that Arenas provided outweighs the gift Davis had at setting up his teammates despite Baron ending his playing days with three times as many dimes as hiw Wizards counterpart.
PERHAPS the most one-sided category, Baron Davis wins out here. Twice he led the league in steals and in five of his 13 seasons he had two or more strips a game. Arenas only had one season averaging 2.0 steals although his career average is in the similar ballpark as Davis. With the former Hornets and Warriors gun playing nearly 10,000 more career minutes it comes as no surprise to learn Arenas’ career steal and block tallies dwarf in comparison to Davis’ and there aren’t many other reliable metrics to use to compare the pair defensively. The numbers we do have back up the eye test and even though Arenas was a lethal scorer, he was nowhere near as good a defender as Davis.
DAVIS – 2007 West Semis Game 3
FRESH off a HUGE upset of the No. 1 seeded Mavericks in the ’07 playoffs the Warriors set their sights on the Utah Jazz. They weren’t able to continue their fairytale season, but there was a moment in that series that lives on in NBA folklore. Down 0-2 in the series and coasting to a 20-point win late in Game 3 at Oracle Arena, Davis drove to the cup and threw down one of the most memorable dunks of the decade all up in the face of Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko.
ARENAS – 2007 Regular Season vs. Jazz
I’M willing to debate this one, with Arenas owning plenty of highlight-worthy moments during the late 00’s. His 60-point outburst against a Kobe led Lakers outfit is tough to top and in the same calendar year, Gilbert scored an unreal 46 points on 16 shots – just a few examples of his excellence scoring the rock. In my eyes, you can’t look past Arenas’ walk-off buzzer-beater against Utah in ’07, with this game-winner remains synonymous with Agent Zero’s career. Not only did Arenas can the cold-blooded jumper to give Washington the win, those final three points gave him 51 for the night, which included 31 in the second half.
BOTH plays epitomise the extreme highs each player was capable of – thriving when the spolight shines the brightest rather than cowering from the moment. While there’s no denying Davis became an instant Warriors cult hero when he mashed on Kirilenko, Arenas was in another category when it came to delivering memorable moments and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s tried to emulate his game-winner in the backyard.
NEITHER player had a super impressive resume when their careers concluded with a few All-Star appearances and All-NBA nods between them. In just his second season though Gilbert Arenas won the Most Improved Player award after upping his scoring output from 10.9 points to 18.3 per. Arenas was the only one out of the pair to make the All-NBA Second Team as well, claiming more Player of the Week honours throughout his career too (yes I’m scrapping the barrel). Davis gets the longevity nod, but Arenas’ higher peak helped him capture more silverware than his rival.
Edge: Arenas (Just)
VERDICT – BARON DAVIS
ALTHOUGH Arenas was one of the league’s best scorers in the mid 2000’s, you can’t claim he had a better career than Davis. While with the Wizards there was a two-year stretch where Arenas performed like one of the game’s best, but injuries robbed him the chances of maintaining that form over a longer stretch. The stockier Davis was a more traditional point guard for lack of a better word, becoming a respectable defender over his career while Arenas developed into the ultimate heat check guy. With the exception of one Warriors season, Gilbert’s highlights only came during his days as a Wizard.
Baron, on the other hand, contributed meaningful game time for three franchises (Hornets, Warriors and Clippers). You can make the case that neither guy lived up to the heights that they once flirted with, but they still managed to capture the attention of basketball fans around the world as the Internet started to help increase the global reach of the NBA. Even though Gilbert Arenas will always be one of my favourite players, even I can admit Baron Davis had the better NBA career.
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