THE noughties brought us the dominant years of Shaq and Kobe, the arrival of LeBron James and 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. During Arenas’ 11 seasons he reached the playoffs five times, while Davis qualified in seven of his 13 pro years. Arenas only won one series during his time though and was a large non-factor in his last few appearances. Davis, on the other hand, had success in Charlotte/NOLA and with the Warriors when they knocked off the No.1 seeded Dallas Mavericks in ’07.
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THIS category is probably the most hotly debated among fans, with both dudes seriously talented offensively. 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 over his three consecutive All-Star seasons (2004-05 to 2006-07), and finishing with averages of 25 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 points a game through his 835 game career. The scoring punch that Arenas provided outweighs the gift Davis had at setting up his teammates with Arenas usually finding a way to throw in five or six assists a game as well.
PERHAPS the most one-sided category, Baron Davis wins out here. Twice Davis led the league in steals and in five of his 13 seasons he had two or more thefts a game. Arenas only had one such season. In 11 pro years, Arenas contributed a grand total of 13.0 defensive win shares (DWS), with three seasons of a DWS of two or higher. Davis’ career DWS total was over 30, with a DWS over two in nine seasons. The advanced numbers back up the eye test. Arenas was a lethal scorer, but he was nowhere near as good a defender as Davis.
DAVIS – 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 the game 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 – I’M willing to debate this one, with Arenas’ 60 point outburst against a Kobe led Lakers outfit tough to top, but this game-winner remains synonymous with Agent Zero’s career. Those 60 points are a Wizards franchise record, but they came from 27 free throw attempts and included an overtime period. Arenas’ ‘walk-off’ buzzer-beating three against Utah in ’07 though? There’s nothing you can say to throw shade at the captivating game-winner from Arenas.
BOTH plays epitomise the extreme highs of each players career, able to reel off YouTube-worthy highlights that live on a decade later at any point in time. Again, I may be delusional to think that Gilbert’s 60 point game wasn’t his best moment, but Davis’ dunk will feature on NBA Playoff promo videos from now until the end of time.
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 to 18.3. Arenas was the only one out of the pair to make the All-NBA second team as well as claiming more Player of the Week honours throughout his career.
Edge: Arenas. Just
VERDICT – BARON DAVIS
ALTHOUGH Arenas had the better peak Davis had the better career. Regardless of team achievements, Davis was more of a traditional point guard, setting up teammates and becoming a respectable defender over his career. Arenas became the ultimate heat check guy, able to turn it on and score in bunches, but he didn’t reach the top of his powers for long. With the exception of one Warriors season, Gilbert’s only highlights came as a Wizard, while Baron contributed meaningful game time for three franchises (Hornets, Warriors and Clippers). Neither of the two was able to live up to the great heights that they showed flashes of reaching, but there weren’t many fans who weren’t drawn to their copious breathtaking plays in the mid to late 00’s. Arenas will always be one of my favourite players, but there’s little debate that Baron Davis was the better player over the lengths of their NBA careers.
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