Ranking the 25 Best NBA Players of all time

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Ranking the 25 Best NBA Players of all time

By Ian Shimizu, Reporter

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25. Elvin Hayes

The 70s are the forgotten era of the NBA. No team dominated the era and apart from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, almost all top players have been forgotten. But Elvin Hayes is quietly the 10th leading scorer of all time. He actually was a 12 time All Star and averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds a game through an entire 16 year career, and is one of the most underrated players of all time.

24. Jerry West

”The logo” is more than just a stick figure. He was one of the best in the 60s, averaging 27 points a game throughout his career and making the all star game 14 times.

23. Julius Erving

When it comes to team value and actual statistics, it’s tough to see how Dr J is considered an all time great. But when you consider how he evolutionized the game through his high-flying style of play, it’s clear that he was one of the best.

22. Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett was probably the most dominant Power Forward in NBA history, with an MVP and 15 All Star appearances to his name.  Few players were more scary to guard.

21. Isiah Thomas

Despite being the shortest guy on the court most nights, Thomas was always one of the grittiest. The star behind the team that won back to back championships and swept Jordan,  Thomas was one of the best players in the 80s.

20. Patrick Ewing

The best Knick of all time, Patrick Ewing was really a great talent at the wrong time. He played in the East when none other than Jordan’s Bulls were in their prime. Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson also took away some of the attention he deserved. His teams were built around his physicality, scoring ability and intimidating presence on defense. He never had quite the star power around him to win it all, but he was such a great player in my opinion.

19. Karl Malone

The second highest scorer of all time, Karl Malone played 19 seasons and averaged more than 20 points in 17 of them. He also averaged double-digit rebounds in 10 of them and shot better than 50% in 11 of them. If Michael Jordan never played basketball, we would likely look at Malone as one of the bests of all time.

18. Kevin Durant

Love him or hate him, you have to accept that Kevin Durant deserves this spot. He has an MVP, 4 scoring titles, 2 rings, and has had the decorated 50-40-90 season before. While we may overlook and bash him due to his controversial decision to join the Warriors, when it’s all set and done, we will realize just how great of a player Durant really is.

17. Elgin Baylor

In my opinion, Elgin Baylor is the most underrated player in NBA history. Unfortunately, his legacy was destroyed by the greatest dynasty of all time, going 0-9 in the finals. But that really is unfair, considering the Celtics dynasty won 11 championships in 13 years and Baylor once scored 62 against them- game 5 in 1962. Fans forget that in the 1961-62 season, Baylor averaged 38 points and 19 rebounds-as a small forward!

16.David Robinson

Part of the influx of great 90s centers, David Robinson is sometimes forgotten on these lists. Robinson was a scoring and rebounding machine in his prime, and started one of the most successful dynasties of all time.

15. Moses Malone

Moses Malone is the NBA’s forgotten legend. Malone was a three time MVP who averaged 24 points, 15 rebounds, and two blocks in the Sixers famous 1983 season in which they went 16-0 in the playoffs. He is probably the best offensive rebounder in the game’s history, and played a ridiculous 21 seasons in the league. When people bring up the best NBA players or even best centers, people seem to forget about Malone, for whatever reason.

14. Scottie Pippen

Batman is nothing without Robin. Jordan is nothing without Pippen. Before the Bulls drafted Scottie Pippen in 1987, Jordan was 1-9 in the playoffs. The most points Pippen ever averaged in a season was 22, and he was never the best player on his team. But Pippen’s defensive excellence, athleticism, and smart play-making were what made those Bulls one of the best teams of all time.

13. John Stockton

Sure, he wasn’t the flashiest or most impressive. But John Stockton got the job done, and he did it seemingly forever, missing just 22 games in 19 years. If you could design a point guard, he would probably turn out just like Stockton- a tremendous passer, a lock-down perimeter defender, and a guy who can score when you need him to. John Stockton is the all time assists leader, a record he holds by an absurd 3,700. If Stockton didn’t play the last 6 years of his career, he would still be the career leader in assists. Unluckily, the Jazz reached their peak at the same time as the 90s Bulls, so Stockton was never able to obtain the ring he deserved more than anyone. Stockton also is the all time leader in steals, meaning he is the career leader in 2 of the 5 main statistical categories. That warrants a top 15 ranking.

12. Shaquille O’Neal

He was physically dominant, but in my opinion Shaq often gets overrated in best player conversations due to his charming personality and overall likeableness. Still, Shaq was a force to be reckoned with. In 1996, just 4 years into his career, Shaq was ranked in the original list of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time, and his time with the Lakers cemented his spot as one of the best of all time. To stop Shaq, a whole new strategy had to be created-hack a Shaq- conceding to Shaq’s dominance, hoping that he would only get one point instead of two.

11. Oscar Robertson

He was known for his triple doubles, but was more like Lebron James than Jason Kidd- the Big O was one of the best scorers in NBA history who could simply do it all on the court. Averaging 26 points on 49 percent shooting for his career, Robertson was one of the most dominant players the game has seen. He could get to the basket, bully smaller point guards in the post, and had a smooth jump shot from mid range. In addition to his scoring, Robertson was one of the best passers and undersized rebounders. If you double teamed him, he would fire a precise pass and rack up the assists.

10. Kobe Bryant

One of the most skilled players in NBA history, Kobe had an iconic 20 year career in which he brought 5 championships to Los Angeles. Known for taking contested shots and draining them, when Kobe was on his game, no one on Earth was going to stop him.

9. Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan wasn’t that exciting to watch. He didn’t do the freak things Lebron, Jordan and Kobe did nightly. But the big fundamental was always there for his team. Is your team on a cold streak? Duncan has you covered with the put backs. Do you need some stiff defense on a night where the opposing team can’t miss? Do you need five Championships? Tim Duncan is the man for the job.

8. Bill Russell

When you look at his individual stats, Bill Russell wasn’t all that (since my rankings are based heavily on individual value and dominance, he is ranked a bit low). But when you take into consideration the ability to win a basketball game… Russell is truly a great. The guy won 11 championships in 13 years, and even won an NCAA title. Russell blocked so many shots by himself  that he forced the NBA to literally add a new statistic.

7. Hakeem Olajuwon

For whatever reason, Olajuwon is often not discussed as one of the greatest centers of all time. But just look at his resume and his value to his team. He won 2 NBA championships pretty much by himself, won an MVP, is the all time leader in blocks, and was probably the best two way center of all time. Hakeem blocked seemingly every shot, hogged passing lanes, was tremendous in the post, and evolutionized the game with his passing out to 3 point shooters, setting the blueprints for the 3 point revolution. He was known for outplaying other great centers on both sides of the ball. There’s a reason why the Rockets beat the Magic and Knicks in the finals. Both Pat Ewing and Shaq were the leaders of their respective teams, but Olajuwon was simply better in those games.

6. Magic Johnson

The greatest Point Guard of all time, Johnson was the anchor behind the Showtime Lakers, who won 5 championships. Going against the 6’9 point guard was simply a nightmare for opposing teams. He overpowered any other smaller guard, and out crafted anyone who was his size. With his combination of athleticism, vision, and versatility, Johnson is most often accepted as the greatest Laker of all time.

5. Larry Bird

This might seem high for Bird, but in my opinion he is more than deserving of this spot. The 3 point shot was a gimmick in Bird’s era, never fully being utilized , yet Bird shot and invented the 50-40-90 line in 1985. In fact, almost nobody has played better basketball than Bird did from 1984-86, as he won three consecutive MVPs and two rings. In 1984-85, Bird averaged a downright outrageous 28.7 points, 10.5 boards, 6.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks. Not only was Bird one of the best overall offensive players to ever exist, but he also finished top 10 in rebounds 9 times, was top 10 in steals 3 years, and four times lead the league in defensive win shares. Despite being harsh rivals with Magic Johnson, Magic at one point called Larry the greatest basketball player ever. He was an all time trash talker, and could more than back it up.

“I’d want Jordan to take the shot with the game on the line. I’d want Bird to take it if my LIFE was on the line.” – Pat Riley

4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Abdul-Jabbar is always talked about as one of the best players of all time, but never THE best. With his 6 MVPs and 6 Championships, it’s honestly so easy to say he is a top 5 player of all time, and even at 4 I feel like I’m undervaluing him a bit. Kareem put up a monstrous 35-17-5 line in the 1971-72 Bucks championship season, and invented probably the most unstoppable move of all time in the skyhook. Of course, he is the all time leading scorer, and shot 56 percent for his career. It’s honestly surprising that people don’t talk about Kareem as the GOAT more often.

3. Michael Jordan

Jordan was a player that created a one man brand that benefited not only his team, but his sport forever. Jordan won six championships, five MVPs, and ten scoring titles. When you think of basketball, you think of Jordan. That’s because he was such an unstoppable force that every basketball player thrives to be one day. My ranking of two players above him is not to discredit Jordan, but to acknowledge that he is human, after all.

2. Wilt Chamberlain

The most dominant player of all time. The man averaged 50 points and 26 rebounds over an entire season. The pace may have inflated his stats, but those are numbers you can’t even achieve on 2k.  He even led the league in assists as a center one year. Few videos exist of Wilt, so his ridiculous stats and athleticism make him seem like more of a myth than an actual man. And before you bash him for the era that he played in, read this. Chamberlain could reportedly bench 500 pounds, dunk from the free throw line, and had a 45+ inch vertical. He ran track in high school, often beat guards on the fast break, and could block Kareem’s “unblockable” skyhook. In his 14 year career he never fouled out, despite playing a taxing average of 46 minutes a game. Remember, this guy was 7’1 and weighed 275 pounds. His skill set stretched far beyond simply “being tall”. Wilt was probably the best athlete not only the NBA, but the world will ever see.

1. LeBron James

Deemed “The Chosen One” coming out of high school, LeBron has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations. No one in history has been more valuable to their team than the King. In LeBrons last season with the Cavs in 2010, they finished 61-21, the best record in the entire league. The first year that LeBron left, the Cavs went 19-63. That’s a 42 game difference.  LeBron is the most dominant player since Jordan, physically overpowering smaller players with his size and hustling until his legs give out. Few things are scarier than a 6’8, 250 pound physical force driving to the basket. Performances like his 3-1 comeback against one of the best teams of all time while averaging 31-12-9 are why I think LeBron is the greatest to ever do it.

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