One of the greatest players ever, David Thompson remains among the more underrated players in NBA history. How would he handle today’s league?
David Thompson is among a select group of players in Denver Nuggets history that enjoyed incredible careers, without getting anywhere near the kind of national recognition deserved as an all time great. Dan Issel, Lafayette “Fat” Lever, and Thompson are among the best players to ever put on a uniform, and Thompson in particular is a player who could have thrived in today’s NBA.
One of the most common debates in NBA circles is how the stars of today’s game would survive in the more physical NBA of 30 and 40 years ago. The general consensus has more or less been that players in today’s game would have a hard time adjusting to the bruising style of play most famously used by Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, and Bill Laimbeer.
The same idea can be seen in reverse. David Thompson was an absolutely freakish athlete, who excelled on both ends of the floor. Thompson played for seven years in Denver, and made four all star teams before moving on to the Seattle SuperSonics. In only nine years, Thompson averaged 23 points per game and is one of just six players in NBA history to score 70 points in a game.
Thompson came in the league as one of the most explosive players offensively, and averaged 26 points per game in his first two seasons, in an era where the outside jump shot remained seldom used. In the 1979 playoffs, he averaged 28 points per game, which would send shockwaves through the NBA community if any Denver Nugget were to do that today.
The Nuggets have reached the conference finals only two times in franchise history, and lost both times to the Los Angeles Lakers. Neither featured David Thompson. If the Nuggets were fortunate enough to have him in either of those championship round berths, the Nuggets would unquestionably have made the NBA finals multiple times.
Thompson’s athleticism would have given fits to lesser athletes who prioritize shooting like Stephen Curry and James Harden. His up-and-down the floor speed would not have been an easy task for players who are more accustomed to fouling in the open floor to stop a fast break than getting back and playing defense as they once did.
Dan Issel and Lafayette Lever would still be great players in this day and age, but neither of them possessed the kind of athleticism that Thompson had. The Nuggets, in both of their appearances in the western conference finals in 1985 and 2009, had a star forward on the roster in Alex English and Carmelo Anthony.
Both of those players would have been incredible compliments to Thompson, who would have formed an absolutely lethal one-two punch at the wing position, which is a feature every club is looking to find on their team. Thompson was way ahead of his time and remains one of the greatest players in team and NBA history.