1) Michael Jordan
There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player in NBA history. He was so good that he didn’t win MVP awards because of it. People got tired of voting for him so they started passing the award around to other NBA stars. In all, Jordan won six NBA Championships, six Finals MVPs, five NBA MVPs, and three All Star game MVPs. He was even selected to nine first team All-Defensive teams. Had Jordan not retired for two years the first time around, his career accomplishments would have been even more ludicrous. He almost surely would have won two more NBA Championships as well as two additional MVP awards. Luckily for the Houston Rockets, that never happened. Even with multiple retirements, Jordan is easily the best player in NBA history.
2) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
I always knew Kareem was good. You don’t hold the record for most points in NBA history by being average. What I didn’t know was just how good he was. I only got to see the “bald” portion of his career. In his prime, Kareem was unstoppable. He amassed six MVP awards (most all-time), six NBA Championships, two Finals MVPs, and 19 All-Star appearances (most all-time). His patented “skyhook” was an unblockable weapon. His defensive skills earned him five selections to the First Team All-Defense. His all-around skills made him the perfect big man for Pat Riley’s up-tempo offense. Kareem has the most First-Team All-NBA selections of any center in history. He has the most All-NBA (first, second, and third) selections of any player in history. He finished in the top five of the NBA MVP voting 15 times. No player has even come close to that.
3) Magic Johnson
Magic’s greatness can be quantified by citing a lot of statistics. But, I think the single most compelling evidence of his greatness is that there hasn’t been a player since who has been able to do the things he did. He was a 6’8 point guard who could run the break, drive to the hole, rebound and post-up. His excellence produced five NBA Championships and three MVPs. He accomplished all of that despite the fact that his career ended at 31 years of age. One can only imagine what he could have done with five-to-ten more years added to his career. Magic holds a slight edge over Shaq in a number of categories. He holds a 5-4 Championship advantage, a 9-8 All-NBA First Team advantage, a 9-8 advantage in top-5 MVP finishes, and a 3-1 MVP advantage (although both won three Finals MVPs). Magic is 6th on the all-time Wins Shares Above Average-list. Shaq is 7th. Plus, as a 6’8 point guard, Magic is one of the few players in NBA history who can claim a size advantage relative to his position on par with Shaq’s.
4) Shaquille O’Neal
I realize that this won’t be a popular placement. I’ve actually thought about moving Shaq down the list simply to make this list “look” more accurate. But, if I did that, it wouldn’t be my list. Shaq is the most unstoppable force in NBA history. His size and athleticism transcend all eras. There are a number of reasons why he won’t be rated this highly by most but few, if any, have anything to do with the fact that he dominated the most talented and physically demanding era in NBA history. To be honest, I can’t say that I’m thrilled to have Shaq at #4. The majority of his skills are below average. He can’t shoot free throws. He can’t shoot outside of eight feet. He can’t drive to the rim. The things he can’t do significantly outweigh the things he can. His game isn’t well-rounded by any means. However, the one thing that he has going for him makes him the most unstoppable force in NBA history. No player has ever been able to successfully guard Shaq straight up. In fact, defensive ploys such as the “hack-a-Shaq” were used to avoid having to play defense against him. Shaq benefits from being the biggest man to ever play the game. He has received the benefit of doubt on thousands of uncalled offensive fouls due to his “size”. Right or wrong, Shaq’s size has allowed him to get away with liberties. Those liberties, combined with his size and athleticism make him un-guardable. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell had similar success but the difference is that Shaq would have bullied Chamberlain and Russell, too. Shaq is bigger and stronger than Wilt. And, considering Shaq and Wilt shared virtually the same skill-set, Shaq gets the advantage. He is bigger and stronger and dominated in a more difficult era. The average frontcourt player in Wilt’s day was 6’7–or Rip Hamilton. Shaq has three NBA Finals MVPs. Only Michael Jordan has more. He has been selected to 14 NBA All-Star games. Only Kareem has more. Shaq has eight First Team All-NBA selections. Only Kareem has more among centers. He has a career shooting percentage of 58%. Only Artis Gilmore was better. By the time he retires, Shaq will have played in more playoff games than anyone in NBA history other than Kareem and Robert Horry. He has the second best PER (Player Efficiency Rating) in NBA history behind Michael Jordan. PER measures everything that a player contributes both positive and negative. Shaq took his teams to the playoffs in 15 of his 16 seasons including nine Conference Finals appearances, six Finals appearances, and four NBA Championships. For all his greatness, Wilt won two Championships in a mediocre era. If you were building a team right now and you could choose any player in NBA history—in their prime—Jordan would probably be your first choice and Shaq would probably be the second choice even ahead of Kareem and Magic. Wilt and Russell could not handle Shaq in the post and they would have a difficult time scoring on him in the post as well. Differences aside, no reasonable list should have Shaq rated any lower than #7.
5) Wilt Chamberlain
More than a few people probably think that Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest NBA player of all-time. I can respect that viewpoint. I just don’t agree with it. He dominated the competition like nobody before or after him. There are a number of reasons why I can’t rate Chamberlain higher than fifth. First, Jordan, Kareem, and Magic just have better resumes. Second, his competition wasn’t anywhere near what Shaq had to play against. There is no way to quantify the differences in competition-levels but Chamberlain most likely wouldn’t have fared as well as Shaq had he played in his era. Keep in mind that Chamberlain was essentially Dwight Howard (big, strong, lean, athletic player without much of a game outside of 8’) playing in the 60s and 70s. Howard gives us a glimpse of what Wilt might be like if he played today. He’s good but he certainly isn’t scoring 100 points or grabbing 55 rebounds in a game. Lastly, Shaq was the prototype for his position. Shaq was bigger, stronger, and more explosive than Chamberlain. Shaq also won twice as many titles in a vastly more difficult era. As for a Chamberlain/Russell comparison, I give the edge to Wilt. Bill Simmons (“The Sports Guy”) recently said that revisionist history has caused Chamberlain to be rated higher than Bill Russell. He also said that back when both men were playing, it was common knowledge that Russell was the better player. If that is the case, then why was Wilt selected to the First Team All-NBA ahead of Russell in seven of the nine seasons that they played together? Also, Chamberlain was 7’1 while Russell was only 6’9. That is a significant difference in height. A match-up like that in the NBA today would be called a “mismatch.” The extra four inches are likely the reason Russell wasn’t able to match Chamberlain’s dominance offensively in an era plagued by 6’7 post-players. The edge goes to Chamberlain.
6) Bill Russell
I am a big fan of taking into consideration championships when analyzing a career. That’s not to say that a player who never won a championship can’t be better than a player who did win a championship. Nobody, in any sport, has won more championships than Bill Russell. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Unfortunately, I can’t justify rating him above the players ahead of him on this list. Winning that many championships takes a good amount of skill and an absurd amount of good fortune. Russell played along side Bob Cousy and John Havlicek who are among the top 50 NBA players of all-time. He also had the “Chamberlain factor” of matching up against much weaker competition than Shaq and Kareem. Russell was awesome. I almost feel like I need to justify ranking him only 6th all-time. Eleven championships will do that to you. He was great, but he was vastly inferior offensively to the players above him on the list. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is also, by far, the lowest of any player that I have rated in the top 20.
7) Tim Duncan
Duncan seems to be slowing down. He is still relatively young. If he can pick things up a bit, he could easily reach the top five. His career accomplishments already stand up pretty good to Magic and Bird. Duncan has won four NBA Championships, two MVPs, and three NBA Finals MVPs. He has been equally good on both offense and defense. He has been selected first team All-Defense eight of his eleven seasons. His PER is the 7th best in NBA history.
I went into the Magic/Bird comparison with an open mind. After looking over everything seemingly a million times and recalling what I saw from each personally, I can’t rate Bird higher than Magic. They both won three MVPs but Magic won more NBA Championships (5-3) and more NBA Finals MVPs (3-2). Magic was also a more dynamic player with his ability to play point guard at 6’8. Regardless of his standing behind Magic, I do not feel bad about ranking Bird 8th all-time.
9) Oscar Robertson
I never had the luxury of seeing Robertson play as I’m sure most people haven’t. But, his numbers speak volumes. He is the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double over an entire season. He barely missed in four other seasons with assist averages of 9.7 and 9.5 and rebound averages of 9.9 and 9.0. If you’re a “rounder”, then that’s four seasons of averaging a triple-double. His team success doesn’t match that of some of the other greats but he did manage to win an NBA Championship and an MVP.
10) Karl Malone
If this list was “championship or bust” then Karl Malone would be out. Malone had a remarkable career that famously produced zero championships. He came close twice but was upended by Michael Jordan’s Bulls both times. Thanks to Jordan, there were a lot of great players who never won an NBA Championship including Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, and Patrick Ewing. Malone came close but it never happened. He ranks second on the all-time scoring list behind Kareem. He finished in the top five of the MVP Voting nine times. He was selected to 14 All-Star games which is the second most in NBA history behind Kareem. He won two MVPs and was selected to the All-NBA first team a league record 11 times. That last statistic is why Malone got the nod over the players just below him including Hakeem. A lot of people think Hakeem had the better career but the comparison isn’t that close. Malone holds the edge in First Team All-NBA selections (11-6), Top Ten MVP finishes (14-10), Top Three MVP finishes (5-2), MVPs (2-1), and All-Star appearances (14-12). Malone played at least 80 games in 17 of his 19 seasons. Hakeem did it five times. The only edge Hakeem has is the two Championships that Michael Jordan gift-wrapped for him. I’m not going to hold that against Malone.
11) Kobe Bryant
Where Kobe winds up on this list remains to be seen. He could end up in the top five or stay right where he is at. It all depends on whether he can bring the Lakers back to Championship-glory without Shaq. As it stands now, Bryant’s career has been spectacular. Although, there is no question that his career was greatly enhanced by Shaq’s presence. Together they won three-straight NBA Championships. Apart, Shaq has a title and Kobe does not. Kobe’s stellar combination of offensive and defensive brilliance is rarely seen in the NBA. In fact, the only guard that I can recall that played both sides as well is Michael Jordan. Kobe finally has an MVP under his belt which will help his profile. He needs to start piling up the individual hardware if he is going to make a move into the top ten. A few Finals MVPs wouldn’t hurt. Jordan has six. Kobe has zero.
12) Hakeem Olajuwon
I view Hakeem Olajuwon on two different fronts. First, I think he might have been the most “skilled” center who has ever played. His repertoire of offensive moves was second-to-none. He was superb on defense and was an excellent passer. His domination of a 23-year old Shaq (and everyone else) in the 1995 NBA Championship was shocking. However, I do think that Hakeem’s legacy was greatly enhanced by the first retirement of Michael Jordan. Because of Jordan’s retirement, Hakeem managed to finally win an NBA Championship (back-to-back) as well as winning an MVP and two NBA Finals MVPs. Hakeem was a fantastic player but he was definitely in the right place at the right time. Had Jordan retired two seasons later, Karl Malone and John Stockton would have likely gotten those two rings. Hakeem’s two Championships, two Finals MVP and NBA MVP all came with Jordan out of the league. Malone’s best teams were with Jordan in the league. That’s not a knock on Hakeem. It’s just important to acknowledge that in a comparison with Malone.
13) Julius Erving
Based on his NBA numbers alone, Dr. J probably doesn’t deserve to be rated this high. However, he was so dominant in the ABA that it would be a shame to penalize him for coming from the wrong league. Erving won three MVP’s in the ABA which is an impressive feat but shouldn’t be confused with winning an NBA MVP where the competition was second-to-none. Erving won two ABA Championships and one NBA Championship. It’s not like his NBA-career was second-rate, either. He made 11 All-Star teams. He was selected First Team All-NBA five times. He finished in the top five of the MVP Voting five times and won the MVP in ’81.
14) Moses Malone
Moses Malone’s career was a lot like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s. Few played better for longer. Malone averaged a double-double for 15 straight seasons which is more than Russell, Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar. All told, Malone collected three MVPs, an NBA Championship and an NBA Finals MVP.
15) David Robinson
David Robinson was my favorite player growing up. I had several posters of “The Admiral” up in my room. He was equally smart as he was exceptional on the court. He single-handedly rejuvenated the San Antonio Spurs organization. The Spurs improved an astounding 35 games from the previous season in Robinson’s first year. He led the Spurs to two NBA Championships. He also won an MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year award. He finished in the top three of the MVP Voting five times. He is second all-time in Wins Shares Above Average (WSAA) and third all-time in PER. The most amazing stat that anyone could ever cite about Robinson is that in his 14 seasons, he only accounted for 11 Loss Shares (LS). That number is unfathomable. Antoine Walker accounted for 42 alone in 2005. He missed three seasons to start his career while serving his commitment in the Navy. Had Robinson not missed that time, his resume would have been even more impressive.
16) Bob Pettit
I don’t know much about Bob Pettit but what I do know is that he was awesome. He won two MVPs while being selected to the All-NBA first team ten times (second most all-time). His PER was through the roof for a player from his time. He helped lead his team to the NBA Championship in 1958 as well as Finals-appearances in 1957, 1960 and 1961. He is the only player in NBA history to average more than 20 points in every season that he played.
17) Kevin Garnett
KG rates higher than Barkley simply because I would take KG in his prime over Barkley. Both were saddled with average teammates throughout their careers. Both won an MVP award. Both were overshadowed by better players at the same position (Malone for Barkley and Duncan for KG). KG’s career also resembles Elgin Baylor’s. Both had awesome stats for teams that never had much of a shot at winning an NBA Championship. Both were overshadowed by other larger than life stars (Shaq and Wilt). KG has a second lease on life in the NBA with Boston where he has already added a Defensive Player of the Year award to his trophy case. A Championship might move him up a bit but it’ll take more than one to make a significant movement.
18) Charles Barkley
I thought Malone and Charles Barkley would have been harder to differentiate but I think the difference between the two is bigger than the difference between Magic and Bird by a large margin. As I stated above, Malone was selected First Team All-NBA 11 times. Barkley, playing the same position at the same time, only made the First Team five times. Malone won two MVPs and reached the NBA Finals twice. Barkley won one MVP and reached the NBA Finals once. Barkley was fantastic. He was one of my favorite players to watch when I was younger. I still remember watching his 56-point performance in the 1994 NBA playoffs. But, it’s tough to argue he should be rated higher.
19) George Mikan
I had a rough time rating George Mikan. The fundamental question that I tried to answer was whether or not Mikan was as good as his numbers and legend indicate or whether his vast size contributed to most of his dominance. I think the answer is a mixture of both but I leaned towards Mikan being that good. There is no question that he had a huge advantage by being bigger and taller than everyone else. Size counts for a lot. However, the fact that nobody had ever been that big and that skillful before means Mikan had something special. Nobody had ever seen that level of agility from a man that size. He was the predecessor to Wilt, Russell, and Kareem. His skills and athleticism probably wouldn’t match up well against those players but he was no doubt the best of his time.
20) Jerry West
Jerry West was a fantastic basketball player. He is literally the face of the NBA as he is the silhouette portrayed on the league’s logo. West was a first team All-NBA selection ten times (second all-time). He had the luxury of playing with Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor during his career. That may be the greatest collection of talent on one team the league has ever seen. West was also a stellar defensive player being named first team All-Defense four times. West didn’t win an MVP award for the same reasons Baylor didn’t. Chamberlain and Russell made it virtually impossible for anyone else in that era to win the award.
21) LeBron James
LeBron James is the closest thing to Magic Johnson that the league has seen since Magic retired. Unlike most “pie in the sky” comparisons, I actually think LeBron will end up being better than Magic. In fact, I think LeBron has the potential to end up being the best player the league has ever seen. He is physically dominant at the ripe age of 23. At 6’9, LeBron can do everything Magic could do and more. He is bigger and stronger than Magic already. Barring a career-ending injury, LeBron will dominate the NBA like few have ever seen.
22) Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy is a tough player to rate because he literally played on an All-Star team his entire career. When he wasn’t playing with Bill Russell and Sam Jones, it was Bill Sharman and John Havlicek. Cousy played for six NBA Championship teams. He also won an MVP award and was selected to the All-NBA first team 10 times (second all-time). His PER is the second lowest (Russell is the only one lower) of anyone I have rated in the top 25. I can only guess that Cousy’s career was greatly enhanced by the talent around him. That’s not meant to discredit his abilities. Being the 22nd best player in NBA history is nothing to scoff at. I just wanted to make it clear why he wasn’t rated higher.
23) Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor is the only player besides LeBron in my top 40 (George Mikan played before MVPs were handed out) not to have won an MVP award. In a league where MVP awards are “measuring sticks” for greatness, that doesn’t sound too impressive. However, it’s important to remember that during Baylor’s playing career (1959-1972) Bill Russell won four MVPs, Wilt Chamberlain won four MVPs, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won two MVPs. Those three players just happen to be rated in my top six of all-time. Baylor’s statistics are eye-popping. Over his career, he averaged 27.4 points and 14 rebounds per game. He was selected first-team All-NBA ten times which is the second best mark in NBA history behind Karl Malone. He also played for eight teams that went to the NBA Finals. Baylor’s record in the Finals? 0-8!
24) Dolph Schayes
Dolph Schayes was one of the early “greats”. When he retired, he was the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. The main reason that I can’t justify ranking him higher is that he was only selected to six All-NBA First Teams in 15 seasons in an era when the talent around the league was relatively thin. He was a member of an NBA Championship-team but never won an MVP.
25) Rick Barry
Rick Barry was a great “scorer”. As far as career accomplishments go, he fell just short of Jerry West in just about every measurable statistic.
26) George Gervin
I can’t make a great case for Barry or George Gervin in a straight-up comparison. Their numbers are eerily similar and frustratingly indiscernible. However, I do think there is a big discrepancy in a statistic that puts Barry just ahead of Gervin. Both players played four seasons in the ABA and ten seasons in the NBA. In those seasons, Barry was selected to the All-League First Team nine times while Gervin only managed five selections. In a tight comparison that is enough to give the edge to Barry.
27) Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk takes a lot of heat. Some of it might be deserved but most of it is not. Dirk’s game is very specific. It’s not fair to criticize him for being something he isn’t. He is a skilled, big-man who tries to bang whenever possible. He is limited by his thin-frame. His mid-range jumper is his go-to shot. He can’t dominate games like Shaq, Tim Duncan, LeBron, or Kobe because he can’t get to the rim like those players. However, Dirk is unquestionably one of the best players in NBA history. He has been selected First Team All-NBA three times. He has finished in the top three of the MVP Voting three times. He won the MVP in 2007. He turned the Mavs into a juggernaut. His supporting cast featured nothing more than a bunch of upper-echelon role players. Dirk was the rock that helped the Mavs to eight-consecutive 50+ win seasons including three 60-win seasons and one of the best regular season win totals in NBA history (67). Dirk led the Mavs to the brink of the NBA Championship in ’06 but came up short to Shaq and the Miami Heat. Dirk’s Win Shares Above Average, Wins Shares, and Player Efficiency Rating are among the best in NBA history. Those numbers are tough to ignore.
28) John Havlicek
Havlicek probably gets rated a little higher than this on most Top 50-lists but I think that’s because of his good fortune of playing with Bill Russell. Havlicek has the lowest PER of any player in my top 45. He only made four All-NBA first teams in 16 seasons. Those are the reasons why I couldn’t have rated him higher. However, he was also selected to seven All-NBA Second Teams, five First Team All-NBA defense and played for eight NBA Championship teams. His legend probably precedes his resume slightly but he undoubtedly had a stellar career.
29) John Stockton
While it may seem obvious to some, I am not 100% certain as to who was more pivotal for the Utah Jazz; Karl Malone or John Stockton? Maybe it’s a tie. Most summaries of either player won’t go a paragraph without bringing up the other player. I didn’t even make it one sentence. Stockton was the “prototypical” point guard. He was often considered a “dirty” player for his aggressive play. He was quite possibly the greatest passer the league has ever seen. He was deadly from behind the arc. I have suspicions that Stockton was better than Cousy. The only difference is that Cousy won an MVP and six NBA Titles while Stockton came up empty in both.
30) Walt Frazier
If anything, I may have overrated Frazier just a tad but I am comfortable with placing him at #30. Frazier was a fantastic two-way guard. He was selected to the First Team All-Defense seven times and First Team All-NBA four times. He also helped lead the New York Knicks to two NBA Championships. There were betters players on offense and better players on defense but there weren’t many who had his level of proficiency on both ends.
31) Neil Johnston
I had a difficult time separating Dolph Schayes and Neil Johnston from one another. Schayes only got the edge on Johnston because of his longevity. Johnston only played eight seasons to Schayes’ 15. Although Johnston has the better PER of the two, Schayes’ PER would have been better had he only played eight seasons like Johnston.
32) Isiah Thomas
Out of all of the NBA greats, Isiah Thomas probably has the biggest fluctuation in perception from one person to the next. Some people think he was the greatest player six feet or under to ever play the game. Others think he tarnished the game of basketball by bringing a more physical style of play to the court as a member of the “Bad Boys”. Michael Jordan even went as far as to keep him off of the 1992 Dream Team. His image may not be the best but there is no doubting his dominance on the basketball court. He led the Pistons to two NBA Championships beating some of the great players the league had ever seen including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. He was a highly proficient shooter who took the ball to the hole with a big-man’s ferocity. His PER isn’t all that impressive which is one of the reasons why I can’t rate him higher but few players had his drive and determination to go along with superior talent.
33) Steve Nash
If there’s any pick that’s going to lead to the questioning of my credibility besides Shaq at #4, it might be this one. Then again, I think people know how good Nash is. He is one of only nine players to win back-to-back MVP awards. The other eight are in my top 15. Nash’s arrival in Phoenix in 2005 led to a 33-game improvement over the previous season. He is one of the great fast-break point guards in NBA history. Over his career he has shot over 43% from three point range and 90% from the free throw line. There isn’t a team in the NBA that Nash couldn’t lead to the playoffs. He is the ultimate team player in the sense that he makes everyone better. It’s not a coincidence that players seem to have career-years when they become his teammate.
34) Allen Iverson
I could see someone rating Iverson anywhere from the top 15 to outside of the top 50. His enigmatic persona and style of play are hard to put a finger on. He had the misfortune of playing for untalented teams throughout his career. As a result, he took it upon himself to shoot the ball often. The results on the stat sheet have been nothing short of impressive. The results on the court have been a different story. The question still remains as to whether a team can win a championship with Iverson leading the way. He hasn’t had as much of a chance to play “team” basketball as some of the other greats from his era. He was a tough match-up for anyone but it’s much easier to play defense against one guy than five. Iverson did win an MVP award and has a career average of 28.0 points per game which is third on the all-time list behind only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.
35) Elvin Hayes
Hayes averaged a double-double for thirteen-straight seasons. It would have been 16-straight had he not averaged 9.9 rebounds per game in 1982. He was a solid player throughout his entire career but he was never the best. Hayes did his best work in the playoffs averaging a double-double in every postseason that he played in. He led his teams to three NBA Finals and one NBA Championship. His PER is the third worst of the top 50 which is one of the reasons I can’t rate him much higher.
36) Bill Sharman
Sharman teamed with Cousy to form a legendary backcourt. Cousy’s production was better across the board and his accolades trumped Sharman’s by a considerable amount. Depending on how much one contributes Sharman’s success to being teamed with Russell and Cousy, I can understand rating him lower. However, he was selected to four All-NBA First Teams and three Second Teams. So, he was certainly accomplished in his own right.
37) Scottie Pippen
Pippen was so hard to rate that I had him outside of the top 50 for the majority of the ranking process. I can fully understand someone not wanting to include him in the top 50. There is no question that–more than any other player–his career was enhanced by the good fortune of playing with a superstar. While Jordan garnered a ton of individual success early in his career, it wasn’t until Pippen became an effective all-around force that the Bulls started winning. Pippen had a deadly jump shot and the ability to take the ball to the rim at will. He was also one of the elite defensive players in the league. He made eight All-Defense First Teams. Only Gary Payton and Michael Jordan had more. Speaking of which…
38) Gary Payton
I had similar problems rating Gary Payton but for different reasons. Payton looked like a “washed up” veteran at the end of his career. I started to wonder whether or not he was a bit overrated. But, I came to my senses. Payton looked like a “washed up” veteran because he was one. Before he got old (as all players do), he was the best two-way point guard in the NBA for more than a decade. During his prime, Payton averaged over 20 points and eight assists per game. He also made nine All-Defense First Teams which is the most all-time. Payton is the only player in NBA history to lead the NBA in steals, assists, and three-point field goals made. Payton finished in the top six of the MVP Voting six times.
39) Jerry Lucas
It is easy to overlook deserving players by simply focusing on statistics and career length. I made it a point to look up player reputations and the impact players had on the league to get a better understanding of how good they actually were. Lucas deserves to be in the top 50 and I may have underrated him at #39. Lucas averaged over 20 rebounds in two different seasons. Only four players in NBA history ever accomplished that in even one season. Lucas was chosen as an All-NBA First-Teamer three times in his career. He ranks fourth on the all-time list in rebounds per game. He didn’t receive the same amount of attention as Chamberlain and Russell but he was almost as good.
40) Willis Reed
Willis Reed may have had the most productive season in sports history in 1970. He was the All-Star game MVP. He was the regular season MVP. He was the playoff MVP. He was also named First Team All-NBA and First Team All-Defense. That is also the same season in which he made his heroic mid-game return to lead the Knicks to the NBA Championship in game 7 of the Finals. He was also the NBA Finals MVP in 1973. Reed averaged 19 points and 13 rebounds over his career.
41) Tiny Archibald
I found it incredibly difficult to differentiate between the last ten players who made the top 50 and the first ten players who didn’t make it. Archibald made the All-NBA First Team three times. Odds are that if a guy is the best player at his position for three seasons in his career, then he was probably one of the best 50 players of all-time. Although, there are a few with three First Team-selections who didn’t make the top 50.
42) Bob McAdoo
McAdoo made one All-NBA First Team and one Second Team in 14 seasons. That is one of the lowest totals of any of the 50 players. But, from 1974-1977 McAdoo had one of the greatest four-season stretches in league history highlighted by an MVP award in 1975. He also finished runner-up in the MVP Voting twice during that stretch. McAdoo became a very good sixth man near the end of his career winning two NBA Championships with the Lakers.
43) Dominique Wilkins
Like a few of the guys on this list, I didn’t initially include Dominique Wilkins in the top 50. Then, I came to my senses. ‘Nique might deserve to be rated higher than this but his career is not much different than Vince Carter’s and Carter isn’t near the top 50. In short, ‘Nique was a fantastic offensive player who never had team success, never won individual awards, and was overshadowed by some of the all-time greats like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to name a few.
44) Clyde Drexler
If a great player plays the same position at the same time as Michael Jordan, does anyone notice? Not really. Drexler is probably one of the least known stars in NBA history. Playing in Portland didn’t help his cause much but that didn’t have near the impact as playing in Jordan’s era. Let’s just say that if a shooting guard was going to win the MVP during Drexler’s career it wasn’t going to be Drexler. His career numbers are impressive. Not coincidentally, Drexler was finally able to win an NBA Championship when Michael Jordan retired. Drexler was a 10-time All-Star who led three teams to the NBA Finals. He also had an impressive PER at 21.4.
45). Jason Kidd
I like Kidd. I like the way he handles his business on the court. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t think he is overrated by some. Point guards don’t have to score a lot so it’s not a big deal if they don’t score a lot of points. However, it is a really big deal if they can’t shoot. Kidd is a terrible shooter. He is a career 33% three-point shooter which is pretty bad in itself. What’s worse is that he shoots 40% from the field. That is simply atrocious. A great player cannot shoot that poorly. Now, Kidd is a tremendously skilled point guard. He has excellent vision. He runs the break perfectly. He has a stocky-frame that he uses to finish. He is an above-average defender. Those attributes make him a very good player. Kidd has made the First Team All-NBA five times and First Team All-Defense four times. He came close to winning an MVP in 2002 but lost out to Tim Duncan. Kidd makes bad teams better. He did that in Phoenix and New Jersey. What he doesn’t do is make good teams great. There is no way Kidd can touch Gary Payton’s accomplishments. Payton finished First Team All-Defense nine times, First Team All-NBA twice and Second Team All-NBA five times. Payton shot 47% from the field. In his prime years, Payton averaged 22 points and eight assists per game. Kidd averaged 15 and 10 over his prime years. Payton finished in the top six of the MVP Voting six times. Kidd did it twice. My point with the Payton/Kidd comparison isn’t to rip on Kidd. It’s to show how Kidd stacks up against another great point guard who will undoubtedly be underrated more and more as time goes on. As for a Kidd/Nash comparison, all I can say is that Nash has won two MVPs with a better PER and has averaged 18 and 11 over the past four seasons. Kidd has never done that for even one season. So, my conclusion is that Kidd is a very good basketball player but that’s it.
46) Paul Arizin
Arizin was one of the great early-NBA players. He made three All-NBA First Teams. He averaged 23 points and eight rebounds over his career and led his team to an NBA Championship in 1956. He is probably the least accomplished of the 50′s greats (behind Mikan, Johnston, Pettit, Schayes, Bill Sharman and Bob Cousy) which is why he’s rated this low.
47). Dave Cowens
I would not have wanted to play against Cowens in the post. Darryl Dawkins says that Cowens was the dirtiest player he had ever seen and I don’t doubt it. Cowens averaged 18 points and 14 rebounds per game throughout his career. That is just unheard of in today’s game. He won the MVP in ’73 when he averaged 21 and 16. He also had second, third, and fourth place finishes in MVP Voting. Despite finishing in the top four in the MVP race four times and winning once, Cowens never made First Team All-NBA. That really doesn’t make any sense but he managed three Second Team honors. Cowens also helped the Celtics to two NBA Championships.
48). Tracy McGrady
T-Mac is an incredible basketball player. Based on talent, he should rank in the top 20. There is no doubt in my mind that he is considerably more talented than Dominique Wilkins, Scottie Pippen, and Clyde Drexler. T-Mac hasn’t reached his potential and I’m not sure he ever will. He lacks the infamous “killer instinct” that makes Kobe Bryant so great. McGrady doesn’t play with the same intensity on defense. He settles for too many jumpers on offense when everyone knows he can get to the rim anytime he wants. His malaised-attitude has been the primary culprit in never winning a playoff series. Still he has been selected First Team All-NBA twice and Second Team three times. When healthy, he is always a bet to finish among the top eight in the MVP Voting. He has been a part of a number of historically significant moments. He led the Houston Rockets to the second longest winning streak in NBA history at 22 games. He once scored 13 points in 33 seconds. He has led the league in scoring twice and has career averages of 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game.
49) Patrick Ewing
Ewing is one of those stars who had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Michael Jordan. I remember some of his dominating performances in the playoffs against the Pistons. He was one of the top two centers in the NBA in the late 80′s/early 90′s but he was never able to lead his team to a championship or win an MVP.
50) Dwyane Wade
Even though Wade is considered by most to be one of the best players in the NBA, I think he is vastly underrated. He gets to the rim better than any player I have ever seen and that’s saying something. Any coach who doesn’t give Wade the ball every possession over the last five minutes in a close game should be fired. When Wade takes the ball to the rim late in a game, he will either make it or get fouled. If he can stay healthy, Wade’s individual numbers will skyrocket without Shaq. He is as physically gifted as any player in the league.
51). Billy Cunningham
Cunningham made the First Team All-NBA three times. He averaged 20+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 4+ assists. He is one of only five players in NBA history to accomplish that feat over a career (Bird, Baylor, KG, and Chamberlain are the other four). Over his best five seasons, Cunningham averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds.
52). Artis Gilmore
Gilmore is one of the most underrated players in NBA history. In fact, he is so underrated that I think I have actually underrated him on my own list. Gilmore spent his first five seasons in the ABA where he absolutely destroyed the league. He averaged 23 points and 17 rebounds over those five seasons. During his time in the ABA, Gilmore won the MVP, All-Star MVP, and Playoff MVP. Gilmore made the leap to the NBA at the age of 27. Over his NBA career he averaged a double-double in eight seasons. Over 14 seasons in the NBA, Gilmore averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. He also had a phenomenal shooting % of .599 which is the best in NBA history. In what can only be described as ridiculous, Gilmore is not in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He made the NBA All-Star game six times. There is no question that he would’ve made the NBA All-Star during his five seasons in the ABA in which he played the best basketball of his career. That is the equivalent of 11 NBA All-Star games. There is no chance that another basketball player with 11 All-Star appearances would be kept out of the Hall of Fame. Gilmore deserves better.
53). Chris Webber
I find it laughable that the question, “Is Chris Webber a Hall-of-Famer?” was even asked when he announced his retirement. What’s even more laughable is that the first five TV personalities who answered the question said, “no.” Webber is one of only six players in NBA history to averaged 20+ points, 9+ rebounds, and 4+ assists. Webber was one of the most explosive players in NBA history. He took a lot of criticism for not getting the Sacramento Kings to the NBA Finals. People must have forgotten that once upon a team, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal played for the Lakers. That is why the Kings never made it to the Finals. Was Webber as good as those two players? Of course, not. Nobody was. Webber was selected once to the First Team All NBA and three times to the Second Team. He finished in the top ten of the MVP Voting five consecutive seasons. There isn’t another player with Webber’s numbers whose Hall of Fame status would be questioned. It’s also important to remember that Webber—at least until his knees were shot—was always the best player on his team. He didn’t have the luxury of players like Kevin McHale or James Worthy who got to play with some of the greatest players in NBA history.
54). Wes Unseld
Unseld was the Jason Kidd of power forwards. What Kidd is to assists, Unseld was to rebounds. However, what Kidd is to points, Unseld also is to points. In fact, Unseld didn’t even average 10+ points during seven of his thirteen seasons. He was a monster on the boards, though, averaging 14 rebounds per game over his career. Unseld won the MVP in his rookie season and a Finals MVP nine years later. There is no question that Unseld had a tremendous impact on the NBA. Although, his career statistics and accolades do not measure up to the top 50 players. He only garnered one First Team All NBA selection and zero Second Team selections in thirteen years. Despite being recognized as a great defensive player, he never made a First or Second All-NBA Defensive team either.
55). Kevin McHale
McHale is an enigma. He is one of the greatest offensive post players of all-time. He also happens to be one of the greatest defensive post players of all-time. However, he only started more than 32 games four times in his career. He only made one First or Second All-NBA team. His career stats and honors don’t put him anywhere close to the other players in the top 60. But, he was an integral part in leading the Celtics to three NBA Titles in the 80s. He teamed with Larry Bird and Robert Parrish to form one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
56). Grant Hill
Even as a hobbled veteran who has undergone countless ankle procedures, Hill is a valuable contributor for the Phoenix Suns. Hill only managed to play just over 22 games per year from 2001-2006. Still, before all of the injuries, He was easily one of the five best players in the NBA. He was selected First Team All NBA once and Second Team four times. He finished in the top ten of the MVP Voting five consecutive seasons. Hill is one of the few players in NBA history to average 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists over an entire season. Had Hill managed an injury-free career, he would’ve easily finished in the top 30.
57) Nate Thurmond
In 12 of Thurmond’s 14 seasons, either Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made First Team All-NBA at center. Thurmond averaged 15 rebounds per game throughout his career which is 5th on the all-time list. He was the first NBA player to record a quadruple-double. He is also one of three players to average 21 points and 22 rebounds per game over a two-year stretch (Chamberlain and Russell are obviously the other two). Thurmond didn’t put up the awesome offensive numbers like some of the other greats but few were better defensively. He finished in the top ten of the MVP Voting three times including a second-place finish to Chamberlain in ’67.
58). Dave Bing
Bing was a poor man’s George Gervin. He didn’t play nearly as long or garner as many league honors but he was a pretty good all-around basketball player. He was selected to the First Team All-NBA twice and finished in the top six of the MVP Voting three times. Bing was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Basketball Players of All-Time in 1996. It would be difficult to argue that he is still one of the 50 greatest players 12 years later but he certainly had a great career.
59). Lenny Wilkens
The problem I have with rating Wilkens is that he was never once selected to the First or Second All-NBA Team. He was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history in 1996 so clearly he was a very good player. I just have a hard time believing that a truly great player could play 15 seasons and never be selected to the All-NBA Team. Wilkens did make nine All-Star games and finished second in the MVP Voting in 1968. However, in 15 seasons, Wilkens only finished in the top 15 of the MVP Voting once. I may have overrated him. He will be one of the players who I revisit in the future.
60). Robert Parish
I only really got a chance to see Parish play near the end of his career during the Pistons/Celtics series’ of the late 80s. He was still pretty good at that time. Through the wonders of NBA TV, I have gotten a chance to see Parish in his younger days and he was very good. He only made the Second Team All-NBA once and also made a Third Team once. His career totals won’t blow you away but he was instrumental in leading Boston to three NBA Titles in the 80′s.
61). Joe Dumars
I think it’s possible for Joe-D to be overrated and underrated. His game wasn’t flashy but he was an extremely effective player on both sides of the ball. His jumper was lethal and nobody played Michael Jordan better defensively. Dumars was selected to the First Team All-Defense four times. He was an integral cog in Detroit’s back-to-back NBA Titles in ’89 and ’90. He also won the NBA Finals MVP in 1989. Still, he only managed one Second Team All-NBA honor and never finished better than 10th in the MVP Voting.
62). Ed Macauley
Macauley was a big-time player in the NBA’s formative days. He was selected to the All-NBA First Team three times and also garnered a Second Team selection. Macauley was the MVP of the NBA’s first All-Star game in 1951. Macauley’s St. Louis Hawks beat the Celtics in the 1958 Championship which ended up keeping the Celtics from a run of 10 consecutive titles. Instead, they had to settle for eight in a row. Of course, Macauley was slightly responsible for that streak since he was traded to St. Louis for Bill Russell. In his ten-year career, Macauley finished in the top 10 in scoring eight times. He also finished among the top ten in rebounds and assists a number of times.
63). Adrian Dantley
The NBA in the 80s was much different than it is now as Dantley and Alex English can attest to. They routinely averaged 30+ points per game and never even sniffed an MVP. In fact, Dantley only finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting once. He did manage two Second Team All-NBA selections and six All Star game appearances. Dantley was drafted by the Buffalo Braves in their last season in the NBA. The franchise moved to LA to become the Clippers. I met Dantley in 1987 at a Foot Locker where he was signing autographs. My lasting impression of that encounter was that he looked like Lionel Ritchie. Unfortunately, his time in Detroit didn’t work out and he was shipped off to Dallas just months before the Pistons won the first of two NBA Championships. Dantley never won a title.
64). Bill Walton
Walton had one of the greatest runs in NBA history which included one of the greatest seasons in NBA history (’78). His career was somewhat equivalent to Sandy Koufax’s but not nearly as long. Walton was the premier player in the league for two years. He won the NBA Finals MVP in 1977 as he led the Trailblazers to the NBA Championship. He finished 2nd in the MVP Voting in ’77 and won the MVP in ’78. Walton only finished in the top 20 in the MVP Voting during those two seasons. His only two All-NBA selections were during those two seasons as well.
65) Hal Greer
Nobody outside of my top 30 had more combined first and second team All-NBA selections than Greer. Of course, none of his seven selections were actually of the First Team variety. Greer was one of the finest guards of the 60′s. He also teamed with Wilt Chamberlain to end the eight-year Championship run by the Boston Celtics.
66). Spencer Haywood
In his first year of professional basketball, Haywood averaged 30 points and 20 rebounds (!!!) per game in the ABA. He made the leap to the NBA in his second season and found success there as well. In his first four seasons in the NBA, Haywood averaged at least 20 points and 12 rebounds. He was selected First Team All-NBA twice and Second Team All-NBA two more times. He also finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting twice.
67). Bernard King
King was the Cam Neely of the NBA. He didn’t play much but when he did, he was awesome. King only played in 70+ games seven times in 14 seasons. That doesn’t include the two seasons that he missed completely. He led the NBA in scoring in ’85 with a 33 ppg scoring average. He finished second in the MVP Voting in ’84. He was also selected to the First Team All-NBA twice and a Second Team once.
68). Alex English
English and Dantley had nearly identical careers. Both played from 1976-1991. Both were prolific scorers. Dantley finished in the top ten in scoring six times. English did it nine times. Despite their scoring prowess, neither player was a First Team All-NBA Selection. Neither player won a championship. English finished in the top ten of the MVP Voting twice. Dantley did it once. I gave Dantley the nod for two reasons. 1). His “Win Shares Above Average” is much better than English’s, and 2). Dantley had a much bigger gap between his Offensive Rating (points scored per 100 possessions) and Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). Dantley scored 10 more points than he allowed per 100 possessions. English scored one more point than he allowed per 100 possessions.
69) Pete Maravich
I struggled with the question of whether to include “Pistol Pete” in the top 50 or not. He is the talk of legend by millions of people that never saw him play. I have no doubt that he was spectacular but his resume isn’t as impressive as most of the players on the list. Maravich only played ten seasons. He only played in 50+ games in seven of those seasons. His collegiate resume is vastly more impressive. His NBA career was not quite as accomplished but he had a seven-year run worthy of making this list.
70). Kevin Johnson
KJ is the most underrated PG in NBA history in my opinion. He’s so underrated that I’m not sure he’ll even sniff the Basketball Hall of Fame. Over a four-year stretch from ’89-’92, he averaged 21 points and 11 assists per game. He is 6th on the all-time list for assists per game just a fraction of an assist (.13 to be exact) behind Isiah Thomas and Jason Kidd. He is also the only player in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 assists, 2 steals, while shooting over .500% from the field in a season. He was also selected to the Second Team All-NBA four times (three times behind Magic Johnson and once behind John Stockton).
71). Dennis Johnson
I didn’t get a full appreciation for DJ’s game until I watched the 1981 NBA All-Star game. Before that, I viewed him as the veteran DJ of “And…now there’s a steal by Bird, underneath to DJ who lays it in!” fame. Johnson was a perennial all-star and master of defense. He was selected First Team All-Defense six times. He was also selected First Team All-NBA and Second Team All-NBA once each. He was the 1979 NBA Finals MVP and finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting twice.
72). Paul Pierce
Sometimes statistics and/or reputation don’t tell the whole story. Pierce has only been selected to the Third Team All-NBA twice. That might change this year but he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. He is one of the most difficult players to defend in the NBA. He is a very good three-point shooter having eclipsed the 38% mark five times. He uses his large frame to get to the basket on just about anyone. And, he has a lethal mid-range game. By the time his career is over, I think Pierce will have been one of the 50 greatest players of all-time based on difficulty to defend. Whether that becomes a popular view remains to be seen. It’s not like his career numbers don’t impress. He has averaged 23 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4 assists and close to 2 steals a game for ten seasons.
73). Earl Monroe
There is no doubt that Monroe was a great player. I’m not as high on him as others. In 13 NBA seasons, he never finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting and he was only selected to one All-NBA team. His career is so underwhelming statistic-wise that NBA Reference.com’s Hall of Fame Probability puts Monroe at 26.4%. Obviously there was more to Monroe’s game than honors and statistics because he is in the Hall of Fame. I just think his legacy–one that was larger than life before he ever entered the NBA–probably puts him a little bit higher than he should be on most lists.
74). Chris Mullin
Mullin was a tough player to rate. Clearly, he was very, very good. There isn’t a member of the original Dream Team that wouldn’t be classified as an all-time great. Still, I think I might have underrated him but I can’t be certain. He was selected to the First Team All-NBA once and Second Team All-NBA twice. Over a five-year stretch from ’89-’93, Mullin averaged 26 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2 steals while shooting .520 from the field. Mullin was also a very good three-point and free-throw shooter having led the league in both categories.
75). Ray Allen
Allen has the prettiest jump shot the league has ever seen. Seriously, if you ever want to know how you should be shooting the ball, just watch Ray Allen. He has an insane amount of elevation and a quick, fluid release. By the time he retires, he will likely be the most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history. I’m also pretty certain that he will go down as one of the most underrated players in NBA history. That might change if Boston wins an NBA Championship. Allen averaged at least 21 points per game for 10-straight seasons. He averages more points, rebounds, and assists than Reggie Miller did. He’s also a slightly better three-point shooter. Allen is also more athletic than Miller. Allen hasn’t gone the same amount of “pub” as Miller but there is no question in my mind that he has been the better player.
76). Dave Debusschere
Debusschere was a rebounding machine at 6’6. He averaged a double-double for 12 consecutive seasons. He was selected First Team All-Defense six times and made eight trips to the All-Star game. He had a pair of 11th place finishes in the NBA Voting. Although he had some decent scoring seasons, Debusschere wasn’t nearly as effective offensively. He only shot .430 from the field throughout his career and never averaged more than 19 points in a season.
77). Alonzo Mourning
‘Zo is one of the greatest defensive centers to play the game. He was named NBA Defensive Player of the Year two times. He is 11th all-time in blocks just five behind Robert Parish. He led the league in blocks per game and total blocks twice. He was also a very good offensive player having averaged 21 ppg over his first eight seasons. He finished in the top three of the MVP Voting twice including a second play finish in ’99 in which he narrowly lost to Karl Malone.
78). Reggie Miller
Reggie was a good player but he wasn’t nearly as good as his reputation makes him out to be. Miller was as one-dimensional as an NBA player gets. He only averaged three assists and three rebounds per game which is nowhere near ideal. He wasn’t a great defender. He wasn’t a good rebounder. He didn’t get a lot of assists. He never finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting and never finished better than Third Team All-NBA. He was just an awesome three-point shooter. His Hall of Fame probability according to Basketball Reference.com is just a shade over 5%. Obviously, he is going to make the Hall of Fame but his numbers aren’t as impressive as some might expect.
79). Tim Hardaway
Hardaway had “skillz”. His career was very similar to Kevin Johnson’s only it was slightly less impressive. Hardaway did garner one First Team All-NBA selection (which is something KJ wasn’t able to do) and three Second Team All-NBA selections. Hardaway also finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting three times. Hardaway was never a great shooter but he had a number of successful seasons. He averaged at least 18 points and 8 assists six times in his career. He is one of only a handful of players to average at least 21 points and 10 assists in a season twice.
80). Sam Jones
Jones was a vital cog in Boston’s 60s dominance. He was a part of 10-Championship teams in just 13 seasons including eight in a row from ’59-’66. During that run, Jones was the second best player on a loaded Celtics roster behind only Bill Russell. Bob Cousy was on the downside of his career and John Havlicek was just getting started. He was selected to the Second Team All-NBA three times and finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting three times.
81). Vince Carter
Carter has the dubious distinction of being one of those players who never wins anything. Dominique Wilkins, Charles Barkley, and Tracy McGrady are other members of that club. To be fair, Carter has never been on a great team. If you put him on the 80s Lakers, there’s no doubt he would’ve won as many championships as James Worthy. Carter should take a hit for not being able to lead a team to serious contention but he should also be appropriately acknowledged for being a great player. Carter is 20th on the all-time list for PPG at 23.8. He takes a lot of shots but his shooting percentages aren’t that bad. He is a 45% shooter from the field and a 38% shooter from beyond the arc. Carter’s all-around game is certainly more evolved than someone like Reggie Miller. Carter has career averages of 5.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game to go along with a steal and a block. Carter’s career has been marred by injuries and untapped potential. Still, he is one of the most athletic players to ever play the game and is one of the top scorers the league has ever seen.
82). James Worthy
Worthy was a very good player. He was as important to the Lakers as Kevin McHale was to the Celtics. An argument could be made that Worthy’s place in history is overrated because he was fortunate enough to play with two of the top six players who ever played. However, I suppose it could also be argued that had Worthy been the go-to-guy on a different team, his numbers would be considerably higher. All I can judge him on is what he had to contend with and he was very Vince Carter-like. Like Carter, Worthy was never selected to a First Team All-NBA Team. Worthy never made a Second Team either. Carter has only managed that once. Like Carter, Worthy has never finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting. Carter scored more points and grabbed more rebounds even though Worthy was a 6-9 PF. Carter’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is also substantially higher. Carter was the more talented player and probably the better player. Worthy has the brass and I’m sure he’s not complaining about that.
83). Marques Johnson
Johnson is one of the best players to not be in the Hall of Fame although he should be. Ironically, his middle name is Kevin. Marques Kevin Johnson and Kevin Johnson are the two best players who are not in the HOF, in my opinion. Maybe it’s the name? He was selected to a First Team All-NBA and two Second Teams. Fewer than 60 players in NBA history have averaged over 20 points for a career and Johnson is one of them. He also averaged seven rebounds and close to four assists. His PER is in the top 55 of all-time. He also finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting twice.
84). Gail Goodrich
Goodrich was once on a Lakers team that also had Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West. Granted, Baylor was pretty much done playing by that time but that was some star-power. Goodrich was the Sam Jones/Kevin McHale/James Worthy equivalent for the 70s Lakers. He wasn’t the best player on the team but he was very important in helping the Lakers win the ’72 Championship. He was the team’s leading scorer barely edging out West by .1 points. Goodrich never factored in the league MVP Voting but he did finish First Team All-NBA in ’74. He was a very good player but I’m not sure a sound argument can be made that he deserves to be in the HOF over Marques Johnson and Kevin Johnson.
85). David Thompson
If Dwyane Wade doesn’t start taking care of his body, he’ll end up right around here with David Thompson. I have Wade rated higher because his career isn’t close to being over. The way I choose to rate current players is to assume a consistently good–not great–level of production for the rest of their career. If Wade’s career ended today, he would plummet. Thompson was a force in the NBA for four seasons. He scored 73 points in the final game of the ’78 season. He was selected to the First Team All-NBA twice and finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting three times. Unfortunately, injuries and substance abuse caused Thompson to be out of the league by the age of 29.
86). Paul Westphal
Westphal is a lot like Kevin Johnson in terms of being underrated. He isn’t in the Hall of Fame and I don’t think many people care. However, he had a very good stretch that culminated in being named to the First Team All-NBA three times and the Second Team All-NBA once. I would be surprised if there was another player in NBA history who has been selected First Team All-NBA three times who isn’t in the Basketball Hall of Fame. From 1976 to 1980, Westphal averaged 23 points, 5.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game while shooting better than .520. Westphal was selected to the All-Star Game five times and finished 6th in the MVP Voting in 1978. Despite not being in the HOF, Westphal’s accolades are just as impressive of many players who are in the Hall of Fame.
87). Mitch Richmond
Richmond had an interesting career. I struggled to compare him to Reggie Miller. Richmond averaged more points, rebounds, and assists. He also was selected Second Team All-NBA three times. Miller never finished better than a Third Team All-NBA selection. Miller shot a better percentage but it was very close. Miller shot 47% from the field to Richmond’s 46%. Miller shot 40% from three-point range to Richmond’s 39%. The big difference is that Miller’s teams won and Richmond’s teams didn’t. By “winning”, I obviously mean had success in the regular season. Miller never won anything in the playoffs. So, Miller gets the nod. Still, Richmond had a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. He is 34th on the all-time points list and 37th on the all-time list for points per game. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes it to the HOF.
88). Max Zaslofsky
Zaslofsky goes way back to the days of George Mikan. He was selected to the First Team All-NBA four times. Max led the league in scoring in 1948. He also led the league in rebounds in ’47 and ’48. Although he never won an NBA Championship, he led his team to the NBA Finals four different times. Max is not in the Hall of Fame which is a little bit ridiculous.
89). George Yardley
Yardley was teammates with Zaslofsky for the last two seasons of Zaslofsky’s career. I gave the edge to Zaslofsky because he was selected to the First Team All-NBA four times while Yardley only garnered that honor once. Yardley led the NBA in scoring in 1958. He led his teams to two NBA Finals appearances but came up short both times. Yardley finished in the top four of the MVP Voting twice. The MVP Award wasn’t given out until Zaslofsky’s career had ended so there is no comparison available there.
90). Jack Twyman
Twyman was a scoring machine as he became the first player in NBA history to average more than 30 points per game in a season (Chamberlain was also the first as both did it in 1960). Twyman finished in the top ten of the MVP Voting four times. He was selected to the Second Team All-NBA twice and made six All-Star games.
91). Walt Bellamy
Bellamy is one of only seven players in NBA history to score more than 20,000 points and grab more than 14,000 rebounds (Robert Parish, Karl Malone, Elvin Hayes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, and Wilt Chamberlain are the others). He finished in the top 10 in rebounding eight times, scoring five times, and field goal percentage 10 times. Some of Bellamy’s totals are just ridiculous. For instance, in 1962–his rookie season–he averaged 32 points and 19 rebounds per game. Despite his numbers, Bellamy was never selected to an All-NBA team and never finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting. Part of that can be blamed on the fact that his contemporaries were Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The other part–I’m sure–can be attributed to the fact that Bellamy was taller than everyone else at 6’11 and had the luxury of putting up big-time stats on bad teams (his teams only won two playoff series in 14 years).
92). Bob Lanier
Lanier had a good but not spectacular career. He only played more than 70 games in seven of his 14 seasons which is why his career didn’t play out as promising as it started. From the age of 23-29, Lanier averaged 23 points and 13 rebounds per game. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP Voting three times and won the NBA All-Star Game MVP in ’74. However, he was never selected to an All-NBA team. Lanier’s PER was among the best in the league over his career. He finished in the top five for eight consecutive seasons.
93). George McGinnis
McGinnis was one of those “tweeners” who spent time in the ABA and the NBA. His NBA totals were decent. He averaged 17 points, 10 boards, four assists, and two steals. His first season in the NBA was brilliant as he averaged 23, points 13 boards, 5 assists, and 3 steals. McGinnis made three NBA All-Star games and was selected First Team All-NBA and Second Team All-NBA once each. He also finished 5th in the NBA MVP Voting in ’76. While those numbers and accolades aren’t overwhelming, it’s important to remember that McGinnis destroyed the ABA for the first four seasons of his career. He was the MVP of the ’73 ABA Playoffs and the MVP of the ABA in ’75. He also made three consecutive First Team All-ABA teams.
94). Joe Fulks
Fulks was one of the early greats at the forward position. He led his team to the NBA Championship in his rookie season. He also won two scoring titles. His career started the same season as Max Zaslofsky. I gave the slight edge to Zaslofsky for two very small reasons. 1). Zaslofsky was selected First Team All-NBA four times while Fulks was given that honor three times. 2). Zaslofsky took his team to four NBA Finals while Fulks did it twice. Other than that, these guys are fairly indistinguishable.
95). Gus Johnson
Before there was Gus Johnson, the fantastic play-by-play guy, there was Gus “Honeycomb” Johnson of basketball fame. The latter is 12th on the all-time list for rebounds per game at 12.68. He was renowned for having a complete game, offensively and defensively. He was a low-post wiz and a physical defender. He was selected Second Team All-NBA four times and First Team All-Defense twice. Johnson–along with Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld–led the Bullets to the ’71 NBA Finals where they were dispatched by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson’s Bucks.
96). Dan Issel
Issel was difficult to rate because virtually all of his honors were achieved in the ABA. He made six ABA All-Star teams and only one NBA All-Star team. He was selected First Team All-ABA once and Second Team All-ABA four times and never made an all-league team in the NBA. He led the ABA in scoring three consecutive seasons Still, in nine seasons in the NBA, Issel averaged 20 points and eight rebounds per game. He has the 40th best PER in NBA history. It’s clear from looking at both his success in the ABA and the NBA that Issel was, indeed, a very good player.
97). Tom Heinsohn
Heinsohn barely gets the edge over Vern Mikkelsen. Their careers are nearly identical except Heinsohn was a part of eight NBA Championship teams. I really don’t have much more to go on. Both made six All-Star teams and were both selected Second Team All-NBA four times.
98). Vern Mikkelsen
Mikkelsen was the power forward for the Lakers 50s dynasty that won five NBA Championships. Mikkelsen, George Mikan and Jim Pollard formed one of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history. Mikkelsen was selected Second Team All-NBA four times and played in the first six NBA All-Star games.
99). Dikembe Mutombo
I propose a trade. Everyone has to stop insinuating that Mutombo is older than he really is and, in return, Mutombo has to give up his stupid finger-taunt. I think that’s more than fair. Mutombo can’t stand the insinuations and I can’t stand the finger wave. Mutombo is probably one of the two or three greatest defensive centers in NBA history. He has won the Defensive Player of the Year four times. He has led the NBA in rebounds four times and blocks five times. Only Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone have led the NBA in rebounds more than Mutombo. No other player in NBA history has led the league in blocks more. Mutombo led the league in blocks for five consecutive seasons. Nobody other player has done it more than twice in a row. He has also led the NBA in offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds on separate occasions. Mutombo gets a lot of heat for his offensive game but he averaged a double-double in each of his first ten seasons and shot over .520 from the field.
100). Amare Stoudemire
Amare gets the edge over Carmelo for a number of reasons. Amare has finished in the top ten of the MVP voting twice including a sixth place finish in ’08. Carmelo has zero top-ten finishes. Amare has a First and Second Tea All-NBA selection. Carmelo has never faired better than a Third-Team selection. Amare has a better offensive and defensive rating. He has more win shares and his PER is much better. Amare will rate much higher in just a few years. He’s only 25 and missed an entire season due to a knee injury. Carmelo will probably be among the top 100 within a year or two.
Honorable mention (in no particular order): Brad Daugherty, Mel Daniels, Kevin Willis, Jo Jo White, Sydney Moncrief, Chauncey Billups, Mark Price, Slater Martin, Lou Dampier, Maurice Cheeks, Rich Guerin, Alvin Robertson, Fat Lever, World B. Free, Reggie Theus, Rolando Blackman, Geoff Petrie, Anfernee Hardaway, Kiki Vandeweghe, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Ben Wallace, Yao Ming, Bobby Jones, Shawn Kemp, Jack Sikma, Bob Davies, Jim Pollard, Connie Hawkins, Rasheed Wallace, Shawn Marion, Walter Davis, Peja Stojakovic, Glen Rice, Lou Hudson, Jermaine O’Neal, Dennis Rodman, Cliff Hagan, Bob Love, Tom Chambers, Manu Ginobili and Chet Walker.