Who are the greatest players ever to play in the NBA, past and present? Naturally, names like Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley, and Stephen Curry instantly come to mind. With so many talented athletes having graced the hardwood, it’s tough to decide who’s the cream of the crop. Some names are bound to rise to the top, though. Here’s our list of the top NBA players of all time (in no particular order). Do you agree with these picks?
Few in NBA history could compete with the sheer talent and hustle of Kevin Garnett. The power forward was a freak of nature that put fear in the hearts of defenders every time he stepped out to the court. Garnett led the NBA in rebounding with 12.4 between ’99 and 2008.
The big guy is also first all-time in career defensive rebounds, which lets you know you shouldn’t have tried to grab one when he was on the floor. Garnett could also score the ball too. He’s 17th all-time in career points.
Dirk Nowitzki had one of the most impressive playoffs runs ever for a superstar during the 2011 season. The 7’0 sharpshooter and the savvy postman swept Kobe Bryant and Lakers, beat Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden in six then proceeded to tumble the Miami Heat super team featuring LeBron James in the Finals.
Nowitzki helped revolutionize the NBA. Before he started hitting three-pointers, a total of 40 seven footers had done it. After him, that number jumped to 81. He made it acceptable for taller guys to shoot the long ball, which the game focuses on today.
Yeah, Kevin Durant left his Thunder buddy in Oklahoma City to ring chase. So what? That doesn’t matter when it comes to ranking the all-time greatness of a player, and Durant deserves to be near the top.
As of the 2019 season, his career averages are 27 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.8 threes. That’s insane when you consider he’s shared the court with a total of three other MVP’s throughout his career. After sustaining his Achilles tear in the 2019 Finals, it’ll be interesting to see how he returns.
Have you seen this man’s accomplishments? Many will point to the poor Finals record he has (six Finals losses out of nine times appearing), but what about everything else he’s succeeded at doing?
James’ accolades include 15 All-NBA selections, six All-Defensive selections, 15 All-Star selections, four MVPs, three Finals MVPs, three championships, and one scoring title. Statistically speaking, LeBron James could make the argument of being the best of all time.
Stephen Curry can safely say he changed the game. Before him, no one commanded double-teams 35 feet away from the rim. You never know where he’s going to shoot it from, and pretty much anywhere he decides to let it go, there’s a strong chance he’s going to make it.
“He is the most impactful offensive player in terms of what he does to the defense—maybe ever,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said in 2017. Curry is also the first unanimous MVP winner.
The logo himself, Jerry West, is the icon for the NBA for a reason. “As relentlessly competitive and prolific as Jordan; there’s a reason West’s silhouette is the NBA’s logo,” ESPN’s Rob Peterson wrote.
When you average 32.9 points per game in the playoffs from ’65 to ’69, you’re a phenomenal player. West would always play his best when it mattered and even averaged 40.6 points in the 1965 postseason. The 14-time all-star is part of the fabric of the NBA.
“Bill Russell has 11 rings,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said when asked to weigh in on the GOAT. “Hey, eight championships in a row? Eleven rings? Come on. It’s about winning the game. It’s not about this stat or that stat.”
Jabbar does have a point there. Not only does Russell have all that shiny hardware, but his career averages are excellent at 22.5 rebounds, 15.1 points, and 4.3 assists per game.
The all-world point guard Magic Johnson revolutionized the position and brought a spark to the game that hadn’t been around for a long time.
With five NBA titles under his belt and 12 All-Star appearances, Johnson put the “show” in Showtime Lakers. Players today like LeBron James and Ben Simmons follow the blueprint that Johnson left behind as a tall guard that can play make better than anyone else on the court.
When David Robinson, or “The Admiral,” was on the court, the opposing teams knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game. Robinson was one of the ’90s legends to win a championship after Michael Jordan owned most of that era.
Robinson also averaged 25.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks during his first seven years in the NBA. Jordan is also the only player ahead of Robinson when it comes to career win shares.
The original Mr. Triple-Double, Oscar Roberston, was the epitome of a point guard before Magic Johnson came along. He had size for a point guard (6’5″) and would gather triple-doubles at a ridiculous rate.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke in an interview with Colin Cowherd, saying, “LeBron is awesome, MJ was awesome—but I think Oscar [Robertson] would have kicked them both in the behind.” That’s high praise coming from the all-time leading scorer.
Kobe Bryant, the legendary 20-year NBA veteran, won five titles, one MVP, two Finals MVPs, made the All-Star team 18 times, and nabbed two scoring titles during his awe-inspiring career. Bryant also had a phenomenal ten-year peak where he averaged 28.5 points per game. Oh yeah, we can add that he scored 60 points during his last-ever game.
On January 25, 2020, LeBron James surpassed Bryant’s #3 spot on the NBA’s all-time points list. Bryant tweeted his support: “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother.” Little did anyone know that he would pass away the following day, further ensuring that his name will live on forever as a legend.
Tim Duncan, or the “Big Fundamental,” is everyone’s greatest power forward of all-time. While he did play center in his career, Duncan is unanimous with the power forward position. Not only did he have a long career, but the man also was uber-efficient during his time in the league.
During Duncan’s career, the San Antonio Spurs were first in wins, defensive rating, and effective field-goal percentage. Mix in three Finals MVPs, two league MVPs, and 15 All-Star appearances, Duncan is one of the best to step onto the court.
Outside of knowing that he’s the man who scored 100 points in a single game, who is Wilt Chamberlain? He’s the player who averaged 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game over his career.
If you were trying to rank players, it’d be tough to have Chamberlain score lower than anybody. You’d have to factor in the talent he played against during his era. A big question to ask yourself is, “how will Chamberlain have fared during today’s game?”
No one could come close to Michael Jordan when it came to competing. Most consider him to be the GOAT, and there’s plenty of good reasons for it.
He averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.3 steals per game over his career, and that’s including his time on the Washington Wizards when he was a shell of himself. Don’t forget he went six for six in the Finals.
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon was extraordinary. The big man had one of the deadliest signature moves with the Dream Shake, as well as a robust defensive game that made him a firecracker on both ends of the floor. Olajuwon managed to win two titles when Michael Jordan took a hiatus in ’94 and ’95.
In 1990, Olajuwon posted one of three quadruple-doubles in NBA history. He had 16 rebounds, 11 blocks, ten assists, and 18 points.
Had it not been for Michael Jordan and later the Detroit Pistons, Karl Malone would’ve retired with at least one ring. We’re not going to hold that against his legacy because few had the longevity and production that this man had.
From ’88 to ’98, Malone’s peak was absurd. He averaged 27.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. The Mailman ended his career second all-time in points scored and sixth in rebounds.
Charles Barkley is one of those players who isn’t fond of analytics. He thinks the numbers don’t tell the whole story, but ironically, the statistics say he’s one of the best to do it.
Barkley peaked between ’85 and ’97, where he averaged 23.9 points, 12 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, and Shaquille O’Neal have more seasons averaging at least 20 points and ten rebounds.
Kobe Bryant called him lazy late in 2019 and said the two would have had way more rings if he worked out more. Whether that’s true or not, Shaquille O’Neal dominated for being “lazy.”
His career averages were 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks, even with the end of his career not ending how he probably wanted it to end. The only drawback in Shaq’s game was his free-throw shooting, which spawned the coaching tactic, “hack-a-Shaq.”
Larry Bird doesn’t have the nickname of Larry Legend for no reason. He’s Kevin Durant’s favorite player and Magic Johnson’s biggest rival. The three-time NBA champion and league MVP was a sharpshooter that was ready to out-hustle anyone.
“During his years with the Detroit Pistons, Rodman recalls a time when Bird made four straight baskets and walked over to Pistons head coach Chuck Daly,” Jose Martinez wrote for Complex. “Who’s guarding me, Chuck? Is anyone guarding me? You better get someone on me or I’m gonna go for 60.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the all-time leading scoring in the NBA. Not even Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant could pass him. Part of that had to do with his unguardable move, the skyhook. He finished his career with averages of 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game.
He’s first all-time in All-Star appearances (19), first in MVPs (six), and tied for ninth all-time with six titles. He is the best center to do it.