With the NBA G-League (formerly D-League) entering it’s 17th season and the debate between LeBron James and Michael Jordan for who is the NBA’s “GOAT” it brings a good time to discuss the GOAT at the lower level:
The G-League has gone through a lot of changes over the past five years including: a name change, every team being associated with an NBA team, and four expansion teams this summer to expand to 26 teams. To narrow down the GOAT conversation, the top four names on the league’s all-time scoring list are being considered:
- Renaldo Major 5,058
- Ron Howard 4,325
- Vander Blue 4,024
- Blake Ahearn 3,889
Through dissection of many aspects of their professional basketball careers, the strongest case can be made for Vander Blue being the GOAT of the now G-League.
The first case presented is Renaldo Major’s case for GOAT.
The 10-year veteran forward has played ten straight seasons in the then D-League, playing for the Dakota Wizards (now Santa Cruz Warriors) from 2006-11, the Bakersfield Jam (now Northern Arizona Suns) from 2011-16, and the Reno Bighorns this past year. There are two big factors playing against Major; career longevity and quality of competition.
While Major was able to rack up lots of high career stats, it was mainly because he played a whopping ten years in the league, compared to Vander Blue’s 171 games in the league.
When Major made one and only D-League All-Star appearance and won a championship in his rookie season in the 2006-07 season there was just 12 teams in the league, so the talent pool was very small. The league back then was also fighting for popularity and many of the premier college players weren’t looking at the D-League as a good option after college. Teams back then weren’t affiliated with NBA teams like they are today, so they weren’t getting the influx of NBA prospects and second round picks like the league is getting today.
Major also just wasn’t a great player having only one really great season, his aforementioned rookie year in which he made his one and only All-Star appearance and averaged 18.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. After that he averaged 16.9 points per game in his second year and never averaged above 16 points per game for the rest of his career.
Major was a good player in his early career, but not good enough to be the league’s GOAT.
Ron Howard might be Blue’s best competition. He played seven seasons in the league, all for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and recently had his number retired by the team.
Like Major, Howard had the advantage of playing in a weaker “era” as the NBA didn’t really start to fully use the league to much effect until the beginning of the 2009 season when they announced the formation of hybrid affiliations. While this would only be for two seasons, he posted 18.7 points per game in one of those seasons. Howard did make three All-Star appearances after the hybrid announcement but the league still wasn’t as strong as it is today. Besides scoring the only thing Howard was particularly good at was stealing the ball. Additionally, Howard only totaled one season with over 1,000 points while Vander Blue has recorded three in just four seasons.
Howard’s biggest advantage on Blue was his championship in the 2013-14 season, the same year he won MVP. Ron Howard was 31 years old playing against many players who were in their mid twenties. The league also had 17 teams and many teams didn’t suffer too many losses from players being called up to the NBA, like Blue has now losing key players like Jordan Clarkson and David Nwaba.
Howard made two postseason appearances in seven seasons, while Blue has made three in four seasons. So, Howard has played more seasons than Vander Blue and has totaled about the same numbers or less, and he played a part of his career in a less talented league.
Blue’s last competitor is Blake Ahearn.
Ahearn played six seasons in the league, and was Renaldo Major’s teammate on the Dakota Wizards from 2007-09. Ahearn also played for the Austin Toros (now Austin Spurs), the Bakersfield Jam, the Erie Bayhawks, the Reno Bighorns, and the Santa Cruz Warriors.
Ahearn won a championship with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the 2014-15 season, but he played only nine games that year. While not having as many career points as Major, Blue, or Howard, Ahearn has a higher career points per game than Major and Howard with 19.9. Ahearn also dished out a career 4.9 assists per game, more than Major, Howard, and Blue.
Ahearn played only five seasons in the league and still failed to score 4,000 points. Ahearn also failed to win a championship or earn an MVP award and only earned two All-Star selections. How could you be the GOAT of a league without ever winning the league’s highest honor?
That brings us to Vander Blue.
Blue has played four seasons in the league, the past three for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, now the South Bay Lakers.
Blue has played in the height of D-League talent level, as a record 44% of players this year had D-League experience. Blue is playing against lots of former or future NBA players every night. He also plays against many NBA prospects and second round picks.
Blue has a career 23.5 points per game and has averaged at least 23 points per game for three consecutive years, a level of consistency that neither Ahearn, Howard, or Major were able to achieve. Playing for three teams his rookie year he was still able to manage 16.8 points per game.
Blue has played just 171 games in the league and still managed to score 4,000 points. On his current pace for total points in a season Blue is poised to take over Major and Howard on the All-Time scoring list. He would’ve done it in half the seasons Major played and two less than Ron Howard, and Blue is still entering his prime.
Blue also has a career 113 defensive rating, four points better than Ron Howard and the same as Blake Ahearn. Blue has made three All-Star teams, was named to the 2016 and 2017 All-D-League first teams, and won the 2017 D-League MVP. Vander Blue already has the stats to back up his GOAT case and he’s not even close to being done.