Top 50 Best NBA Players of All Time
As we are just 3 seasons away from the 75th anniversary of the National Basketball Association, we have seen incredible talent come and go over the many years the league has been in existence. With every new generation, we see players of such extreme talent and athleticism, that we feel they will never be topped, and for a short period, they reign as the “Best Player in NBA History”. Our team at Playmaker HQ loves to look to the past, and to the future, and laugh as we are continually surprised by new athletes entering the league that take what we see as possible, what we see as “The Best in History”, and surpass them with relative ease.
With all of this talent, comes a generational debate that rivals even the conflict between Baby Boomers, and the all-terrifying Millennial. Every player wants to be the best, and every fan wants their choice to remain on top forever.
For years, the debate has raged on about who the NBA’s best player of all time is, so here at Playmaker HQ, our team has decided take the controversy head on, and bring to you our choices for the Top 50 Best NBA Players of All Time.
Honorary Mentions: James Harden, Anthony Davis, Alonzo Mourning.
Without further ado, let me present you with the first player on our list . . .
50. Kawhi Leonard
Perhaps a surprise to some, we at Playmaker HQ believe Kawhi deserves a spot on this list. As a player that was drafted No.15 overall, and has made his way to arguably the no. 1 defender in the NBA, Kawhi has earned his spot in the Top 50 Best Players of All Time.
Given that he is only 25 years old, has already won Finals MVP, two defensive player of the year awards, and has on occasion been compared to Michael Jordan, it is safe to say we can expect great things from the remainder of his career in the NBA.
49. Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard is probably another surprise for many of our readers. Even though his prime did seem to be quite short-lived, we can’t forget that Howard was an elite defender. He won defender of the year three years in a row starting in ’09, All-NBA First team 5 years in a row, and was a destructive force on offense in his prime. Due to his dominance on defense, we feel he should be in the same conversation as greats like Shaquille O’Neal.
Dominique Wilkins has easily earned his spot on our Top 50 list. He was an elite scorer for all 10 seasons he played in the league, he was an explosive dunker, and could seemingly score from anywhere on the court. Having faced down some of the greatest of his generation, including Larry Bird, he has left a lasting impact on the NBA.
46. Ray Allen
Ray Allen has earned a spot on our Top 50 list as the current 3 point king. Allen will most likely lose this title to Stephen Curry, or Klay Thompson during their careers, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Ray Allen was an incredible shooter, and great teammate.
45. Bob Pettit
Bob Pettit came from a time prior to televised NBA Games, so he often doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, Averaging 26.4 ppg and 16.2 rebounds per game made him one of the first, and great stretch fours in NBA history. All of this with no 3 point line to benefit his range. We can’t even imagine what his numbers would look like, given a 3 point opportunity.
44. Kevin McHale
McHale spent his career playing as the “Pippen”(Secondary Star) to the talented Larry Bird, but still managed to earn 7 all star appearances. He consistently had one of the highest field goal percentages in the league, and still helped to elevate Bird’s game every night.
43. George Gervin
Gervin is one of the few players from the 1970s-1980s that I could see fitting into the league today. He was built as a very long 6’7â€³, and had the athletic ability, and quickness to play at the shooting guard/small forward position. Gervin has earned a place on our list because of his elite jumping ability, which always lead to surprising rebounding statistics on top of his role as a scorer.
42. Gary Payton
Gary “The Glove” Payton, as anybody who has played NBA 2k19 can tell you, Gary Payton is one of the greatest defenders at the point guard position in history. Payton was aggressive and dominant both verbally, and in his play on both sides of the court. He was one of the few players to lead his team to challenge Michael Jordan in Chicago’s reign as NBA champions. Even late in his career, he went on to win a championship alongside Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in 2006.
41. Elvin Hayes
Hayes goes down in history as one of the best power forwards to ever play the game, having averaged a double double in 12 seasons, leading the league in rebounding for 2 years, and missing maximum of 2 games per year in the 16 years he played. Elvin Hayes was seemingly unstoppable.
40. Dolph Schayes
Schayes was a dominant 6’7â€³ bruiser in the early days of the NBA, he earns a place on this list because of his 12 All-Star appearances, and his crucial role in winning the 1955 NBA championship. Truly a dominant player in his day.
39. Rick Barry
Rick Barry, called “the pride of Roselle Park, New Jersey”, was the ideal small forward. Best know for his “granny style” free throws, he was unstoppable, scoring an average of 35.6 ppg in just his second season. The peak of his career would have to be the 1967 NBA finals, during which, he averages 40.8 ppg. He made every team he played for better, and for that reason he makes our Top 50 list.
38. Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce has earned a place on our list because he was “Mr. Clutch”, he could take over the game when he needed to like few other players in the history of the NBA. Nicknamed “The Truth” he was a cornerstone of the Boston Celtics for many years.
37. George Mikan
George Mikan was easily one of the most dominant players of his era. He has earned a place on this list purely because of the lasting impact he had on the NBA, as he really can’t be ranked in comparison to the NBA players of today.
36. Bob Cousy
Averaging nearly 20 ppg over his 14 season career, Bob Cousy has to be listing as one of the best guards of all time. His impressive career includes 6 championships, one MVP, and 12 All-NBA selections. He is the inspiration for all of the point guards that we see in the NBA today, truly a pioneer of the position.
35. Isaiah Thomas
One of the few players from the 80s that would be just as dominant in the NBA today. Thomas is truly special at the point guard position with 2 championships, a finals MVP, 12 All-Star appearances and five selections for All-NBA.
34. Jason Kidd
Kidd will go down as one of the two greatest passers in NBA History, while not super physically intimidating, he had one of the highest basketball IQs in history. Jason Kidd had 10 all-star appearances, 6 all-nba selections, and 9 All-Defensive team selections. He went on to become a head coach in the NBA.
33. John Havlicek
You can’t really think about the Boston Celtics without thinking of John Havlicek, he is really a representative of everything that is Celtic. He is an 8 time champion, with his team going a perfect 8-0 in NBA FInals Matchups.
32. Walt Frazier
Frazier is the embodiment of the Combo Guard, he could score when he wanted to, and create opportunities for his teammates when he wanted to. He always was a leader in assists, he truly made his team better every time he was on the court.
31. Patrick Ewing
In our opinion, Patrick Ewing is one of the more underrated stars in NBA History, mainly because he played in the time of giants. Throughout his career he played along side the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson, and shared the eastern conference with none other than Michael Jordan. He was truly a special player, 11 time All Star, 7 time All-NBA, and 3 time All-Defensive team.
30. Clyde Drexler
Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, known for dribbling with his head down, is another player who I believe would have been regarded as even greater than he was if not for playing in the same league as Michael Jordan. He was a near unstoppable scorer, with career stats similar to those of Kobe Bryant.
29. Steve Nash
As mentioned on the previous page, Steve Nash will go down as one of the best passers in history. He made every team he played for better with his unselfish play, and high basketball IQ. While he wasn’t the most formidable player in size, or strength, he still provided his teams with incredible play, and led his teams into every game.
28. Allen Iverson
For his size, Allen Iverson was easily one of the toughest players in NBA history, continually forcing his way to the basket, and taking physical punishment from players far bigger than him. He had handles that would rival any guard in the NBA, and even though he rarely had much talent around him, he still managed to drag his team into playoff contention, and in 2001 all the way to the finals.
27. David Robinson
Pictured above in the 1988 Summer Olympics, David Robinson, also known as The Admiral, was the picture of integrity. He always played at a very high level of respect and skill. including his most impressive season in 1994, when he averaged 30 ppg and 11 rebounds, and won MVP.
26. Elgin Baylor
Despite not having the ability to score 3 pointers in his time, the 11 time All Star scored 27+ ppg, even while playing with Jerry West or Wilt Chamberlain. He had an incredible jumping ability that made him a fantastic shooter. Even though he was never able to get his ring, we still feel he earned his place on this list.
25. John Stockton
John Stockton was the ultimate example of efficiency in the NBA. He was the best passer of all time, as the All-Time assist leader by 3,700 assists. He is also one of the all time leaders in steals. As a scorer, he wasn’t as impressive as many on this list, but he comes in at #25 because he made his team better every time he was on the floor.
24. Chris Paul
Just like John Stockton, Chris Paul is an incredible passer, with a very high basketball IQ, but he also added elite scoring to the mix. Paul can absolutely control any game his is in, he generates plays for his team, scored over 22 ppg in his prime years, and is one of the best two-way point guards in the history of the NBA. If he had earned any rings, we think he’d be even closer to number 20 on this list.
23. Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen, seen here tackling his fellow teammate Dennis Rodman, along with Michael Jordan. These three players made up one of the best NBA teams in history, and Pippen was the #2 on this team. He’s a 6 time champion, seven time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA, and 10-time All-Defensive. Truly, a very special resume for Pippen. It is no doubt that he was an incredible talent, but I personally have to ask, would he be this high on the list if he hadn’t been on a team with perhaps the best player of all time?
22. Charles Barkley
Barkley is without a doubt one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game of basketball. He was a great scorer, a skilled rebounder, and an even better trash talker. Given that he was only listed at 6’6â€³, it proves that he was incredibly tough and physical. If all of that isn’t enough, he went on to become easily the funniest basketball TV personalities working today.
21. Stephen Curry
Many people would question why Curry is this high up on the list, and even though he has done incredible things in his relatively new career, if it were based on what has happened already, I might agree. However, we put him at number 21 based on a projection of his career. As a young point guard, he already has multiple championships, and is on track to become the greatest three point shooter in the history of the NBA. In his 2016 season, he made a record 402 three pointers, a number that seems almost supernatural, and for these reasons, he has earned his place on our list.
20. Dwyane Wade
This one is by far the most painful for me to write, I personally feel he should be closer to top 10 in history. Dwyane Wade should be considered the third best shooting guard of all time, behind Jordan and Kobe. Wade has had an incredible career, and plays with the most heart of any player in NBA history, he had sacrificed his body, money, and spotlight for the game and his team from day one. He is a 3 time NBA champion, with a career high year in 2009 (30 ppg, 5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game), and has led the Miami Heat since his draft in 2003. That is why future Hall of Famer, Dwyane Wade, absolutely deserves a place on this list.
Kevin Durant has earned his place on this list because he near impossible to guard. He is 7 feet tall, has a wingspan of 7’5â€³, and has the athleticism and ball handling of point guard/shooting guard. He now has multiple titles, and MVPs to his name, even if some might not like how he got them. He is without a doubt one of the most dominant players in the game, and that is while in the same league as Lebron James, and Anthony Davis.
18. Julius Erving
Dr. J was almost a crystal ball for where the league was heading, His high flying athleticism, and incredible highlight reels are still incredible to watch decades after he retired from the NBA. He was a fantastic rebounder, and was always a leader in shot blocking. He was great from the beginning of his career to the end.
17. Dirk Nowitzki
Easily the greatest European NBA Player in history. He changed the NBA for good by giving us a tall forward that can shoot from 3, altering the spacing in ways nobody had seen before. Nowitzki Consistency, and longevity has earned him a spot in the top 5o of all time.
16. Karl Malone
Karl Malone is often under appreciated, given that he played at the same time as Michael Jordan. He was the NBA’s second all-time leading scorer, averaged over 20 points a game for 17 seasons, averaged double digit rebounds in 10 seasons, and for half of his career shot over 50 percent from the field. He was a two time MVP, a 14 time All-NBA player, and 4 time All-Defensive. Based solely on the resume just presented, he deserves his spot on our list.
15. Kevin Garnett
Garnett makes our list as one of the most complete players of all time. He was dominant on defense, and unstoppable on offense. He anchored the Boston Celtics along with Paul Pierce creating an incredibly dominant duo. KG’s most impressive quality was his longevity, he played at an elite level for the entirety of his career.
14. Moses Malone
Malone was a three time MVP, averaged 24.5 points, 15 rebounds, and two blocks per game in the 1983 season, and is arguably the greatest offensive rebounder of all time. He was a player that was liked by everyone he played with, and made them all better when he was on the court.
13. Jerry West
Mr. Clutch, a name given to Jerry West for his performances in post season play, where it really matters. Jerry West has got to go down as one of the top shooting guards in history for his domination in tough games, and when everything was on the line. In the 1965 postseason he averaged 40.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. His name truly belongs up there with the likes of Kobe and Wade.
12. Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson was the Lebron James of his era, known as the triple-double guy, he should go down as one of the best scorers in NBA history. The Big O averaged 25.7 points, and nearly 50 percent shooting in his 14 year career. He was borderline unstoppable, and for that reason he comes in at #12.
11. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem Olajuwon did not get the respect he deserved until recent years, as people started to look back at his incredible accomplishments in the NBA. Two-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, one MVP, two-time defensive player of the year, 12-time All Star. He truly belongs on this list right up here near other big greats, such as Shaquille O’neal.
10. Tim Duncan
“The Big Fundamental”, so named because he had mastered the fundamentals of basketball at the highest level. While his numbers weren’t the most impressive on our list, he was a true leader. This 5 time champion was an impact player from his first year in the league to his last. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will forever remain one of the great duos in NBA history.
9. Shaquille O’neal
Shaq, also called superman, is probably the most dominant physical force in NBA history. He defined what a center should be for an entire generation of players. Between his size, his relatively light feet, and touch at the rim, there was really no stopping him in his prime. The only problem he ever had was at the free throw line, where he struggled. Many teams would intentionally foul him, as it was the only way to stop him from scoring, and this coined the phrase “hack-a-shaq”.
8. Larry Bird
Back in the days of Larry Bird, the three point line was more of a novelty than an actual strategy, and because of this, Bird didn’t use it as much as he would have today. It would be safe to say that in today’s league, Bird would rival Curry from 3. Bird had one of the best shooting percentages in the history of the NBA, had 3 consecutive MVPs, and two championships. In one season he averaged 28.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks. Bird was not only a great scorer and passer, he was an elite rebounder, and often had big numbers in steals as well. Fellow great, Magic Johnson has referred to Bird as the greatest basketball player ever. It’s fair to say he belongs in the top 10 of our list.
7. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant still managed to make it on this list, despite his relatively unimpressive athleticism, compared to the likes of Lebron James or Michael Jordan. He made it on to this list because of pure drive to always get better at the game, and a level of competitiveness that rivals MJ. Even more impressive was his longevity, he played for an amazing 20 years. He had 17 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA selections, and 5 championships. Kobe also had an affinity for the fade away jumper with a hand in his face, and somehow continually made it. He earned his place on our list for his drive, commitment, and crazy skill.
6. Bill Russell
One of the most respected players in the history of the NBA, Russell literally invented the blocked shot. Russell opened the doors for African-Americans in the league, and did it in winning fashion with 11 championship rings on his mantle. While his stats may not compare to some players today, you just can’t argue with his impact, and winning history.
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Coming in at number 5 is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem “Cap” Abdul-Jabbar played an incredible 20 seasons, and shot over 50 percent in all but his last season. He was the inventor of one of the most unstoppable shots in NBA history, the skyhook, and he used it liberally. He won six championships and six MVPs, had 19 All-Star appearances, was damn near unstoppable for the entirety of his career.
4. Magic Johnson
Mr. Laker, he is the historical franchise player for LA, and is arguably the greatest point guard in history. Magic could play almost any position on the floor, and was really the first combination of athleticism, vision, leadership and versatility that made way for Jordan, and James. Even after his incredible career, he has returned to the Lakers as their President of Basketball Operations, and is listed as one of the main people responsible for Lebron joining the team.
3. Wilt Chamberlain
With an average of 30 points and 23 rebounds for his career, it is clear to see why Wilt makes number 3 on our list. In fact, in 1962, he averaged 50 points and 26 rebounds. That level of scoring, and rebounding will probably never be seen again in the NBA. He is and will forever be an NBA superstar.
2. Lebron James
A growing number of people will hate that we put Lebron at number two, and due to his freak athletics, incredible stats, and overall ability to win basketball games, we were very tempted to give him the number one spot.
He has everything that Michael Jordan had, the offense, the defense, the passing, Lebron also has a level of size, strength, and physicality that Jordan can’t match. Additionally, Jordan was able to achieve great success with his one continued squad in Chicago, Lebron has this unbelievable ability to instantly propel any team he is on into either contenders, or close to it. Lebron is desired by every team in the NBA, to the level that they would trade anything and everything to get him, and for that reason, we have to say that Lebron James is unquestionably in the running for the MVP in NBA history.
Throughout the history of the NBA, we have seen incredible talent come and go, and perhaps we have made some errors in judgement in regards to this list, but as I stated in my opening, all of these are just temporary. We have listed Lebron as the second best player in NBA history, but whether it’s this coming year, or in ten years, some young player will likely come along and knock the king off his throne.
For now, though, the only real debate is Lebron vs. Jordan. And, as of today, Jordan gets the benefit of the doubt. Let’s see what happens with Lebron’s Lakers chapter…
1. Michael Jordan
You guessed it! Perhaps the most controversial pick on the entire list, Michael Jordan coming in first. Michael Jordan has 6 NBA championships and 6 finals MVPs, he is one of the top scorers in history, He is an All-Defensive player, and he defines an entire generation of NBA basketball, and sports in general. He is a truly amazing athlete, competitor, and brand.
He gets number one today. The question is: how long will he hold on?