The NBA announced the league’s 75th anniversary team last week, a list of the greatest players to ever step on an NBA floor.
Only 25 new names were added to the list of 50 players that made the NBA’s 50th anniversary team in 1996, leaving very little room for current players to crack the squad.
Of the modern-day superstars, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic stood out as two international pioneers who had solid arguments to be included amongst the 75 greatest players in NBA history.
We asked our TSN staff to weigh in on the debate. Is it too early to include Doncic and Jokic?
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): It’s too early for Doncic. Look, I’m as high as anyone on Luka Doncic. I was lucky enough to watch him play and call one of his games for FIBA TV before he arrived in the NBA. I think one day he’ll make an anniversary team, but three years into his career isn’t the time.
I know Shaq made the ’96 team, but this isn’t the same thing, right? Shaq at that time wasn’t one of the 50 best to ever play the game — I think we can agree on that — but he was further along in his career accomplishments than Luka is. By the time Shaq made the 50th anniversary team, he had already brought the Magic to the Finals, finished top 10 in MVP voting three times and led the league in scoring. Luka has yet to win a playoff series.
Luka will have his time, it’s just not now.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I’m on the same page as Carlan. I’m not convinced there are actually 50 players in NBA history who are better basketball players than Doncic, who has proven himself to be a walking triple-double and totally unguardable at the young age of 22, but it’s hard to have him in the top 75 when he hasn’t won a playoff series yet.
In saying that, the way Doncic is trending, he’ll be a stone cold lock the next time we do an anniversary team. I know that much.
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Jordan Greer (@jordangreer42): Is there a case to be made that the version of Doncic we’ve already seen is one of the 75 best players in NBA history? Sure. He was named to the All-NBA First Team in each of the past two seasons, finishing fourth in MVP voting in 2019-20 and sixth in 2020-21. He’s been a monster in the regular season and the playoffs.
Is he one of the 75 greatest players in NBA history? No, not yet. He needs to play more than 200 career games before we put him alongside a bunch of basketball legends.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Without getting too repetitive, I’m with Carlan, Scott and Jordan on this one. From a talent standpoint, Doncic is on par with all of the players that made the NBA 75 list. I don’t think it’s any sort of a hot take to say that whenever the NBA does its next anniversary team, Doncic is a lock to crack that list. But as of now, without winning a playoff series, how could anyone make the case he deserved to be on the NBA 75?
Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): You’re all dead wrong.
Yes, it’s early. But Doncic is simply that special and there is precedent. When the NBA announced its 50th anniversary team in 1996, it included Shaq as Carlan mentioned earlier. And sure, he was slightly more accomplished but he had also yet to make First Team All-NBA, something Doncic has already done twice. Beyond Shaq, Doncic’s peak is already greater than at least half of the 75 and we’re still probably four years from seeing his absolute apex.
For his career, Doncic’s 25.7 scoring average places him among the top 10 in NBA history and there’s a statistical case to be made that he just had the greatest age-22 season ever. With the truly transcendent, Mt. Rushmore type players, you know right away. Russell. Wilt. Kareem. Bird. Magic. Jordan. Duncan. Shaq. And yes, Luka. Barring injury, Doncic will be at the very worst a top-30 player and even has a shot at that illustrious top-10 penthouse.
There is no wait-and-see with Doncic. He’s greatness personified, on the absurdly shortlist of players who left an indelible mark early on. Wait another 25 years if you want to but I’m not waiting. He’s one of the greatest 75 players ever RIGHT NOW. He should be here.
Gay: The Doncic decision was easy for me. Jokic is a little harder and the only reason why this was truly a tough decision is the inclusion of Damian Lillard. How Lillard made the NBA 75 is beyond me, but he’s there and unfortunately I’ll have to pick on him.
Right now, as it stands, when you stack up resumes side by side, I’m going with Jokic. He’s gotten as far as Lillard has in the postseason, he has an MVP to his name and he’s been in the conversation as being one of the best players in the league. While Dame is an ultra-talented player, he’s never been in the discussion of being the pound-for-pound best in the league — that’s a red flag in regards to this discussion for me.
I’d take Lillard out to add Jokic in.
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Rafferty: I had Jokic in. Longevity isn’t on his side, but he’s the best passing big man we’ve ever seen and he had a historic season in 2020-21, in which he earned MVP. He hasn’t made it to the Finals yet, but he’s been nothing short of incredible in the postseason, posting averages of 25.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists through 43 postseason games.
Want to guess how many players in NBA history can match those numbers? Not a single one. Jokic should’ve made it.
Greer: Jokic has a stronger case than Doncic because he has played in double the amount of regular-season games and advanced further in the NBA playoffs. Oh, and that MVP trophy doesn’t hurt.
And yet, I still can’t quite get there. If we’re going to remove players from the current era such as Damian Lillard or Anthony Davis, I would put a few guys ahead of Jokic. Dwight Howard was arguably the biggest snub of this entire project. Alex English was the NBA’s leading scorer in the 1980s. (Yes, the entire decade.) What about Bernard King?
The voters got it right by excluding Doncic and Jokic this time. Pencil both of them in on the NBA 100 list.
Irving: I wouldn’t have had Jokic on my list, either.
Only playing six years in the league at the time of the NBA 75’s announcement is really the only reason against the Serbian big man. He’s only a three-time All-Star and he hasn’t made it to the Finals yet (although he has had a couple impressive playoff runs, most notably leading a pair of 3-1 comebacks to reach the Western Conference Finals in 2020). The 2021 NBA MVP award certainly helped build a case, and I love Scott’s point of him being the greatest passing big man of all time because I agree with that and it adds another element to the discussion, but Jokic needed more years under his belt to warrant a selection.
Like I said for Doncic, you can lock Jokic into the next anniversary team, whenever it may be.
Adams: Jokic is already in his seventh season so we can’t play the experience card here. He’s also already played more career minutes than Bill Walton, the player that Jokic is most often compared to. We also need to talk about his postseason exploits. In three postseason appearances, he’s led the Nuggets out of the first round all three times and has yet to have an objectively bad series. As of right now, he is the only player in NBA history — THE ONLY ONE — with career postseason averages of 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game.
With Doncic, I at least understand the “too soon” argument even if I don’t agree with it. With Jokic, there’s not a single shred of evidence that he’s anything other than one of the top 75 players of all time.
This list without Jokic is going to look like an abomination within two years, tops.