This is a highly controversial topic, and I have very strong, unpopular opinions in this regard. The title speaks for itself. Before we begin, I want to go over the criteria for my list. While not the most popular, I want my lists to be consistent.
The criteria: Overall offensive and defensive ability, leadership and impact, longevity, playoff ability.
Most would think, “What about accolades?” I believe accolades can be very subjective, as competition for awards varies year to year. However, I will take them into account for my list, just not nearly as much as the others.
With no delay, let’s begin the road to greatness:
15. Kevin Durant
KD is the definition of a natural scorer. While most would view him as an all-time great offensive player, he’s a great defender too. Though he didn’t lead a team to a championship as the clear cut best player, he is still a playoff monster. As his career continues, he will continue to rise on my list.
14. Oscar Robertson
Oscar Robertson was the first great all-around Point Guard. He was an premier level playmaker who was also a gifted scorer and solid defensive player. While he wasn’t very successful playoffs wise in his prime, he does have a championship ring under hid belt.
13. Wilt Chamberlain
The first real surprise on this list comes Wilt Chamberlain at 13. Wilt was a SEVERE playoff underperformer. His career PPG is 30.1, good for second all-time, while his playoff PPG is just 22.5… 40th all-time. Players above him include Bradley Beal, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and Isaiah Thomas. Wilt’s legendary regular season stats just did not translate at all into the playoffs. Wilt is a two-time champion, but that second ring was when he was old and against a Knicks team without HOF center Willis Reed, who held Wilt to 11 PPG in the finals the following year and won the ring.
12. Kevin Garnett
In my opinion, the clear-cut, second best Power Forward ever is Kevin Garnett. KG is one of the most impactful players in NBA history. One of the greatest defenders ever, Garnett is an MVP, DPOY and NBA Champion. While many like to drop him due to his lack of success in Minnesota — I praise that he was able to accomplish what he did with such a putrid team. Garnett also had pretty good longevity and was an incredible postseason performer.
11. Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry, in my opinion, is one of the more misunderstood players ever. The average fan knows him as the best three point shooter ever, but he is so much more than that. Curry is a top-five scorer ever, and one of if not the most efficient player in league history. Playmaking is another very misunderstood category that is much more than assists per game (I might cover in a future article). On top of this — he is an all time great postseason performer, and a top-five most impactful player ever. Once he adds some longevity he will be in my top 10.
10. Magic Johnson
Another surprise, but I have Magic Johnson all the way at number 10. Magic, in my opinion, is the best playmaker ever, and was an incredible impact. He was also a great postseason performer, winning five rings and three finals MVPs. However, Magic has two huge knocks on him that cause him to fall to 10. First, he was an average to below average defensive player. Magic was NOT a good defender, but he had elite defensive help that hid this flaw in his game. Secondly, He has pretty bad longevity, only playing 12 seasons. While that isn’t entirely in his control, I still have to take some points away for that.
9. Shaquille O’Neal
I really wanted to put Shaq at eight — but for now I will leave him at 9. Shaq is the definition of a monster. The guy is 7-foot-1, 300 lbs and was incredibly athletic. Easily the most physically dominant player in NBA history, Shaq is also a four-time NBA champion and three-time NBA Finals MVP. Unlike what you will normally hear from the average fan, Shaq was by far the best player and leader of the early 2000’s Lakers, not Kobe. For instance, in 2001 Shaq averaged 31 points, 15 rebounds and 2.5 blocks on the way to his first ring.
8. Kobe Bryant
Now this is where things get really controversial. At number eight, I have Kobe Bryant. In my opinion, Kobe is one of the most overrated players ever, second to Wilt. I am a huge Kobe fan, I primarily believe he is overrated by fans and media. For instance, Kobe was never “robbed” of an MVP, Nash deserved both, and I believe Chris Paul deserved the 2008 MVP over Kobe, but that’s a topic for another day. Kobe has incredible longevity and was an elite offensive and defensive player. However, Kobe’s impact statistics aren’t very great for what you would expect from someone of his caliber, and he did absolutely NOTHING without an all-star teammate in his career. While players like MJ, Duncan, LeBron, Kareem and Hakeem have all made finals runs and even won rings without the help of an all-star or all-NBA teammate, Kobe never made it out of the first round without one.
7. Larry Bird
Larry Bird in my opinion is easily the superior to Magic Johnson. Larry Legend is one of the more complete players ever. A great scorer, playmaker and a great defender in his prime, Larry was also a great rebounder. He is a three-time champion and three-time MVP, and is one of the best postseason players ever. While he also has a lack of longevity, Larry Bird has great defense to help his all time status, unlike Magic Johnson.
6. Bill Russell
Bill Russell is FAR greater than Wilt Chamberlain and I don’t think it is relatively close. Bill Russell is also a very misunderstood player. I mean let’s start with the elephant in the room, he is an 11 time champion. He is the greatest defensive player ever and was the ultimate teammate. What is misunderstood about him is the false narrative that he had an overly stacked team for his whole career. Everyone has heard the “12 hall of fame teammates” argument which is extremely lousy and taken out of context. Bill Russell only played with five or six guys who realistically played at an all-star to Hall-of-Fame level with Bill Russell. The other six or seven were either average role players who got like eight rings or guys who were already elite players in their prime, joined the Celtics when they were old, and got some rings and made the hall of fame. Those players should NOT be used to hurt Bill’s legacy.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
I think the NBA community is beginning to wake up on Hakeem, but maybe not quite to the extent that they should. Hakeem Olajuwon was the definition of a leader. Olajuwon is a 2 time champion, and both rings were among the greatest playoff runs ever. Outside of his legendary playoff performances, Hakeem is the second greatest defender ever and was an elite scorer. Hakeem also had an incredible impact and great longevity, which lands him at 5 on my list.
4. Tim Duncan
The single most underrated player ever, we have Tim Duncan. I see the majority of people have him 10-11 on their lists, which is completely laughable. He is easily the best player of the 2000’s era, not Kobe Bryant. Here’s why: Tim Duncan is a top-five defender of all-time, and was a high level defender for his entire 20 year career. He never won DPOY, but has the most All-Defensive selections of all time. Duncan is also one of the most impactful leaders ever. Duncan won his first ring in just his second year, after making first team All-NBA his rookie year. However, Duncan has also done it without all star help. For instance, in 2003, he took a team with no stars or even any very great players to a ring. 14 PPG Tony Parker, 9 PPG Manu (both of which shot below 40%) and 8 PPG David Robinson, and beat Kobe and Shaq in the playoffs. Duncan also had incredible longevity and is one of the best teammates ever.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem is one of the most complete players ever. Kareem is a top 10 scorer of all time, top 10 rebounder, and top 20 defender ever. Kareem is a six-time MVP and six-time champion. The biggest boost to Kareem’s legacy is his other worldly longevity. The man was a top tier player in the NBA until he was 40 and a 20+ PPG scorer until he was 38. On top of this, Kareem was a great postseason performer and a two-time Finals MVP. Kareem is an incredible impact player and lands at three on my list.
2. LeBron James
This spot is not a shocker, and while I don’t think LeBron has that much of a case to be number one, he is easily second all-time. LeBron James has the best offensive longevity of all time. LeBron is an all time great playmaker, a great scorer, postseason performer, and is still going strong at age 35. LeBron’s one big knock is his lack of defensive longevity, he fell off pretty hard defensively after he left Miami, and fell off another cliff when he came to LA. That keeps him as a lock at second and not in the running for first. One lousy argument LeBron fans make is “MJ needed an elite team to win!”
Well, MJ had a teammate make the all-star game five times in his career. That was five times for Pippen. The rest of his team was very over glorified, with Rodman being a liability on offense and guys like Steve Kerr being a mere 6.0 PPG role player. LeBron, however, has had a teammate make an All Star appearance a whopping 15 times, Dwyane Wade (4), Chris Bosh (4), Kyrie Irving (2), Kevin Love (2), Mo Williams (1), and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (1). While this is not at all a knock on LeBron, this just disproves a lousy argument.
1. Michael Jordan
And of course, at number one, I have Michael Jordan. MJ is the greatest scorer of all time, a top 10 defender, and one of the best postseason performers ever. Jordan only played 15 seasons, but was elite all 15 of them, and proved and accomplished more in those 15 than anybody else ever. Jordan was obviously a very impactful player and great playmaker, and had little weaknesses. For those reasons, he is my GOAT.
Photo: Sport / Getty