The Roar
The Roar


Ranking the 20 best NBA players of all-time

Can't we just enjoy the greatness of today's players without pointing out that MJ was better? (Image: Flickr/Jason H Smith CC-BY-2.0)
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26th September, 2016
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There have been a myriad of world-class NBA players throughout the past decades, but here are 20 of the best.

20. Kevin Garnett
Probably the most passionate NBA player of all-time, Garnett has an MVP, DPOY, nine all-NBA selections and 12 all-defensive team showings to his name. KG was the heart and soul of the 2008 champion Celtics, and ranks top-20 all-time in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and box plus/minus rating.

Not many players could have played into their high-30s with the amount of physical toll on the body that KG had.

19. Dirk Nowitzki
Already sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, Nowitzki owns one of the most deadly mid-range jump shots we’ll ever see, and a lethal one-legged fade away.

Also ranking top-20 in playoff points and PER, Dirk has an MVP and a Finals MVP to his name. One of the last loyal superstars we may see, Dirk has carried Dallas on his back for his entire career. Also had a terrific international career with Germany.

18. Julius Erving
Dr. J, an MVP, two-time Finals MVP and 11 all-NBA first team member. Considered by many as the father of the modern NBA, and the flashiest dunker of his time. His up and under layup from behind the backboard while palming the ball remains one of the most recognisable plays of all-time.

If you add his ABA statistics, Erving is a top-6 scorer. Will forever be remembered as a cultural icon.

17. Bob Pettit
Two MVPs and was the best player at his position on eleven occasions, appearing in 11 all-NBA first teams. A championship ring, as well as eighth all-time in PPG, 17th in RPG, 12th in win shares/48 minutes and seventh in Player Efficiency Rating.


Pettit was a genuine superstar, who once averaged 31 points and close to 19 rebounds per game through a 78-game season.

16. Charles Barkley
Analytically, one of the best players of all-time. Ranks top ten in win shares/48, box plus/minus, offensive rating, wins above replacement and PER, as well as 25th on the all-time scoring list. Barkley is an MVP and 11-time all-NBA selection, and one of the best big men of all-time. His career will be forever tainted as one without a ring, however.

15. Jerry West
The silhouette of the NBA logo, West was a cultural icon. A Finals MVP, 14-time all-star, 10-time NBA first team selection and five-time all-defensive team member, West ranks 20th in points and sixth in points per game, as well as eighth in playoff points.

He was one of the great scorers the league has ever seen, and had tremendous passing ability. Ranks 30th all-time in assists, but would be higher if he played in today’s era, due to the more generous definition of an ‘assist.’

14. David Robinson
One of the great big men, Robinson has an MVP, DPOY, ten all-NBA selections and eight defensive team selections to his name. Robinson is behind only LeBron and Jordan in analytical stats, showing he helped his team to win more than most.

A two-time champion, Robinson passed the torch down to Tim Duncan, the first of many star players taking sacrifices in San Antonio.

13. Hakeem Olajuwon
The best rim defender the NBA has ever seen, ranking first in blocks, as well as eighth in steals and 13th in rebounds. Yet unlike many great defenders, Olajuwon was an amazing offensive talent, ranking 10th all-time in points scored. An MVP, two-time Finals MVP, two-time DPOY and 6-time all-NBA first team selection, Olajuwon had one of the greatest careers we’ve ever seen. Once averaged 4.6 blocks and 2.1 steals per game in a season.


12. Oscar Robertson
The triple double machine, the Big O averaged a triple double in his second NBA season, and got tantalisingly close on many other occasions. He averaged 30+ points on six separate occasions, and was a 9-time all-NBA first team player, as well as an MVP winner.

Oscar is the only player ranked top ten in points per game and assists, and ranks top 20 in PER. Also has a championship to his name.

11. Karl Malone
‘The Mailman’ ranks second in points, seventh in rebounds, 10th in steals and top 20 in a range of analytical stats. The winner of two MVP awards, and a 14-time all-NBA selection, including 11 first-team appearances.

One of the most consistent scorers the game has seen, failing to average 20+ points in just his first and final seasons, and reaching the 30+ mark just once. Unfortunately, he is another career which will always be known for being without a ring. Still one of the greatest, nonetheless.

10. Bill Russell
The greatest winner the NBA has ever seen, winning 11 championships in his 14-year career. A five-time MVP, 11-time all-NBA selection and defensive nightmare, Russell forced the league to introduce the Finals MVP award due to his dominance in the Finals.

The same can be said with the defensive player of the year award, something which Russell would undoubtedly have won more than once.

Statistically, he ranks second in rebounding, but is underwhelming in other areas – the reason he is not higher on the list. Still, Russell left a lasting legacy, and will probably hold the record of most championships for a long, long time.


9. Kobe Bryant
The Mamba, few players exhibited the work ethic which Kobe Bryant did to get to the top. A 5-time champion, MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time all-star, 11-time first team selection and 12-time defensive team player, Kobe has all bases covered.

Bryant is third in scoring and playoff scoring, as well as ninth in playoff assists.

Surprisingly Kobe only won one MVP award, but averaged 35+ points in 2005-06, and followed it up with 31.6 in the following season. Somehow he’s not even a top-three Laker…

8. Larry Bird
One of the best shooters and scorers you will ever see, Bird fares well in every statistical category. From points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, analytical statistics and other awards, Bird ranks among the best at his position.

A three-time MVP, 2-time Finals MVP and 9-time all-NBA first team selection, Bird pretty much did it all throughout his career. He will be remembered by many NBA fans as the best Celtic of all-time, and that is saying something.

7. Shaquille O’Neal
Probably the most physically imposing athlete the game has ever seen, O’Neal was famous for breaking backboards and posterising opponents. But beyond that, he was an MVP, three-time Finals MVP in L.A, and a 14-time all-NBA selection.

Seventh on the scoring list, 14th in rebounds, eighth in blocks, and third in PER, Shaq impacted the game like few others have. Played on a number of different teams, and won four championships.


One can only wonder how dominant he and Kobe would have been if they had remained teammates…

6. Magic Johnson
Undoubtedly the best point guard to play the game, Magic won three MVP’s, three Finals MVP’s and five championships. The highest average of assists per game, at 11.2, and fifth all time. Magic ranks highly in all analytical stats, further showcasing the value he brought.

His career was tragically cut short due to a HIV Aids infection, but he left a long-lasting legacy in spite of this. He definitely has a case for top-5 all-time, but narrowly misses out on this list.

5. Tim Duncan
One of the greatest to ever play the game, Tim Duncan never endured a losing season. Top-10 in rebounds, blocks, double-doubles and playoff points, as well as top-15 in a range of analytical statistics.

he very definition of a humble superstar, Duncan was a two-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP with an array of all-NBA honours, including 15 all-defensive team selections, the most of any player.

Duncan was a leader in all aspects of the game, whether it be sacrificing minutes and salary or performing at the highest level. There may never be another Tim Duncan.

4. Wilt Chamberlain
The greatest statistical input we have seen from a player, Wilt once averaged 50 points, 25 rebounds and 48.8 minutes per game in a season. He famously sat for just eight minutes of an entire season, and has a 100-point game to his credit.


A 4-time MVP, 10-time all-NBA selection and 1-time champion, Wilt is second all-time in points per game, first in rebounding, and ranks fourth and fifth in win shares and PER respectively.

The only issue with Wilt being his selfishness and ball-hog mentality, and his unwillingness to sacrifice for a greater success. Nevertheless, Wilt left a lasting legacy.

3. LeBron James
The greatest small forward the NBA has seen and a stunning combination of passing, court vision, scoring ability, defence and rebounding, toughness and basketball IQ.

LeBron has played in six consecutive NBA Finals, and seven overall, having already won three championships. Ranking first all-time in box plus/minus, as well as second in PER, LeBron already has the fourth most playoff points, and third most playoff assists.

Along with four MVP’s and a plethora of accolades and honours, LeBron looks poised to remain at the top for many years to come, and may be a genuine threat to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring record.

2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
A six-time MVP, 2-time Finals MVP, with ten all-NBA first team selections and 11 defensive team appearances, Kareem is the owner of the famous sky hook.

A six-time champion, Kareem is the all-time scoring leader and ranks third in rebounds and blocks, and also ranks second in playoff points.


He possessed the most unguardable shot in NBA history, the source of the majority of his points. There is no area of his career which was left blank, whether it is championships, statistics and accolades, be it defensive or offensive.

Kareem truly is the best centre the league has ever had.

1. Michael Jordan
The undisputed GOAT, it doesn’t get any better than the career of Michael Jordan. Six for six in NAB Finals campaigns, six Finals MVP’s, ten first-team appearances and nine defensive first team appearances, Jordan left no stone unturned in his preparation and work ethic. The all-time leader in points per game, and fourth overall in points, as well as top two in most analytical stats, and first in playoff points, Jordan was truly phenomenal.

The definition of heart and the owner of clutch shot after clutch shot. The stepping stone to the career of Kobe Bryant, and the announcement of the NBA on a global stage at a time of some of the greatest to ever do it, Jordan is the best global ambassador the NBA has ever had.

The owner of countless historic NBA moments, whether it be ‘the shrug,’ ‘the shot,’ ‘that dunk’ or a range of others, we may never see an athlete of any code reach the heights that MJ did.