Written By: Austin Philippi
An in depth personal analysis on who has had the greatest careers in NBA history, some NBA players have been raised higher on this list because I’m going to project the rest of their individual careers and place in history. I used several key factors in deciding who was the better player including, Hardware, Dominance, Size, and overall basketball skill.
Honorable Mention: Russel Westbrook
Hardware: 2016-17 MVP, 2015 and 2016 All Star Game MVP, 7X NBA All-Star, 1 WCF Championship
Dominance: Russel Westbrook has cracked my top 20 all time NBA players for averaging a triple double for the second straight season. I’d have him higher on this list if I thought he averaged those triple doubles without help. None the less the pure effort and dominance he tries to exert night in and night out on his opponent is one of the greatest things I’ve witnessed in league history. Regardless if 2 separate superstars will end up leaving him in free agency. His numbers pretty much got better every season, while some of that may have been at the extent of his team since KD was the far better player.
Size: He is in amazing shape, and while he isn’t the tallest point guard he is strong and can really leave a mark on the game with his physical presence alone. Which he brings every single game because he has one of the biggest motors and chips on his shoulder I’ve seen in the NBA.
Skill: I’m going to knock his overall skill here. I know, I know “he averages a triple double that is all around skill.” Then why as athletic and great as he is with as much talent as he has gotten to play with in his career has he only had 2 seasons shooting above 45% from the field. He is not a very good 3-PT shooter and he continues to try and shoot them, and quite a few during games and late in games at the expense of his team.
20. Oscar Robertson
Hardware: 1964 MVP, 1961, 1964, and 1969 All Star Game MVPs, 1x NBA Champ 1970-71, 11X NBA All-Star.
Dominance: He came into the NBA averaging over 30 points a game and was the first player in NBA history to average a triple double. This was also when the game was much slower paced, and not as many shots per game were taken. Making his Triple double season more impressive than Westbrooks two T-D seasons and Oscar has him beat in championships and All-star appearances.
Size: At 6’5 220 Oscar Robertson is also bigger than Westbrook and was still able to exert his will game in and game out at the same level as Russel.
Skill: He had to realize his game was better passing more and shooting less while taking smarter shots. He knew from the moment he came into he NBA he could score 30 every game and no one could stop him. When he finally won a ring though was when his usage rate dropped, and his points and assists dropped but he still put up good numbers over 19-8-5 per game. Theses reasons along with his overall hardware is why he gets the nod over Westbrook for now and the rest of Westbrooks career, as I don’t believe Westbrook wins a title unless he does what Oscar did.
19. Jerry West
Hardware: 1969 Finals MVP (In A loss only person ever), 1972 All- Star Game MVP, 14X NBA All-Star,
1 x NBA Champion 1972, 9 Finals Appearances.
Dominance: He became the NBA logo and NBA players still call him “logo” to this day for a reason. He’s an amazing basketball player that could have been much better if there was a 3-Pt line around during his time. He also went to more NBA finals while losing most of them to Bill Russel’s Celtics, but he was also the only player in NBA history to win a Finals MVP in a loss because everyone knew even in that final game no one could guard Jerry West. However, all that dominance loses a ton of it’s luster due to the quality of the league at the time and the fact he lost so many times in the finals.
Size: 6’2 170, Jerry West was a normal sized guard but where he stood out was his wingspan at nearly 7’0 it gave West the ability to shoot over his defenders.
Skill: He was one of the best shooters of all time before we had all the proper metrics to understand how good of a shooter he may or may not have been. However, since his time in the league there have been several better shooters than him come into the league but none with the resume of him except for 2 young greats yet to be named and yet to finish their careers.
18. Klay Thompson
Hardware: 3X NBA Champion, 3-Pt contest champion, 4X NBA All-Star
Dominance: Was a member of a 73-win warriors team that broke the 95-96 Bulls record for most wins in the season. Was a founding member of the “Splash Brothers” and is still finding a way to score 20 a game as a 3rd option on a team loaded with talent. He is an absolute knockdown shooting the basketball with his feet set. Add in the fact he’s bigger stronger and faster than Jerry West and on a time primed to win for years to come he is already inching himself into the top 20 and I expect him to finish his career above Jerry West all time.
Size: 6’7 215, makes the argument even more sound as Klay would dominate West given the chance.
Skill: One of the two or three best 3-Pt shooters in NBA history and one of the best players in todays game that is lucky enough to play with even better players making his game all that more impressive. Every time the warriors have needed a big game out of someone Klay seems to step up, even had a playoff game where he scored over 30 points in a single quarter.
17. Scottie Pippen
Hardware: 6X NBA Champion, 7X NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP 1994, 8X All-Defensive First Team
Dominance: He paired up alongside Jordan to go on and win 6 championships and terrorize the league in route to a 72-10 season. Is one of the best defenders to ever play the game and he truly was the best second fiddle a star player could ask for. There wasn’t anything he didn’t do well and while you can argue Klay could be above him I don’t see Klay ever getting to 6 rings even with this Warriors team. I also have already seen what Pippen can do without Jordan, Klay is unproven in that aspect.
Size: 6’7 230, at his point in time he was one of the most physically dominant forwards in the league and would still be a great athlete in today’s NBA as well.
Skill: Great Defender, Great Passer, Great Teammate, Great Vision, Great Athletic Ability, on one of the best teams of all time there is no way you can put him anywhere else on this list.
16. Kevin Garnett
Hardware: 1X NBA Champion, 2008 DPOY, 2003 All-Star Game MVP, 15X NBA All-Star
Dominance: Garett is one of the best Power Forwards of all time on a list loaded with big men he barley cracks the top 15. In Minnesota he never seemed to be able to win even though he was doing more than his share in trying to win. Once he got to the Celtics he was finally able to win with talent around him that turned into one of the best teams in the modern era. He also got to beat Kobe Bryant in the finals which stopped Kobe in hindsight from the start of a second three peat and tying Jordan in championships. He slides above Scottie on this list slightly due to his size and overall stat accumlaition and All-Star appearances.
Size: 6’11 240, The Big Ticket is exactly that. Big, and he was able to move and put the ball on the floor while being able to pull up from anywhere on the court as a big man.
Skill: One of the best shooters taller than 6’10 in NBA History. He is also a great defender and has amazing basketball instincts, IQ, and played a relatively healthy career.
15. Dirk Nowitzki
Hardware: 1X NBA Champion, 1X NBA Finals MVP 2011, 2007 NBA MVP, 13X NBA All-Star
Dominance: He edges out Kevin Garnett on this list because of the fact he’s not only won a Regular Season MVP but a Finals MVP. He was the focal of his one and only franchise for 20 seasons, beating Lebron James in the 2011 NBA Finals and getting the ring he needed to cement his legacy. The dominate performance during that playoffs puts him ahead of the other players on this list, as they haven’t dominated a team the way Dirk did the 2011 NBA playoffs and Finals.
Size: 7’0 245, one of the most skilled 7’0 tall players this league has ever seen.
Skill: He can shoot lights out from 3-Pt range, he has a fade away that young kids and NBA players have copied because its ungradable. He can pass, has stayed healthy for most of his career and was a solid rebounder while being one of the All-Time greatest scorers of the basketball in NBA history from just about anywhere on the court.
14. Dwayne Wade
Hardware: 3X NBA Champion, 2006 NBA Finals MVP, 12X NBA All-Star, 2010 All-Star Game MVP
Dominance: During his playoff run in 06’ he had one of the all time great performances for the Mavs down the stretch of that 6-game series. He then convinced the best player on the planet to further join his then struggling playoff team to what would be 4 straight NBA finals and 2 NBA championships. Wade suffered a plethora of injuries towards the end of his career that limited him and turned him into a solid role player and 6th man.
Size: 6’4 220, He was an oversized Point Guard coming into the league but soon transitioned to Shooting guard based off his size, scoring, and defensive ability.
Skill: He has good play making instincts as he grew playing a ton of point guard, one of the best mid-range shooters and at drawing fouls in the mid-range. He was also Lighting quick as his nickname flash suggests back in his prime.
13. Wilt Chamberlain
Hardware: 4X NBA MVP, 2X NBA Champion, 1972 Finals MVP, 13X NBA All-Star, 1960 All-Star Game MVP
Dominance: No one dominated their competition during the regular seasons from a statistic stand point than Wilt Chamberlain. He scored 100 Points in a game, averaged over 50 points for a season (not a typo), averaged over 20 rebounds a game for his career, he also had an NBA season in which he averaged 48.5 minutes a game (meaning he played every minute of every game and overtime on the season). His best all around statistical season he averaged 24.1 Points – 24.2 Rebounds – 7.8 Assists on 68% shooting from the field.
Size: 7’1 275, He is huge for this time let alone the era he got to play and dominate. His statistics are overlooked and because he found himself getting dominated in the NBA Finals, and even the playoffs. He played with another top 20 all-time players towards end of his career and still couldn’t get it done. I’d have to say he falls out of the top 10 all time even though no one will ever be as dominant statically as Wilt.
Skill: Not only was this man able to do anything on the basketball court, he was great at staying on the court as well. Only having missed time in one NBA season after hurting himself upon joining the Lakers.
12. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hardware: 1994 NBA MVP, 2X NBA Champion, 1994 and 1995 Finals MVP, 12X NBA All-Star, 1993 and 1994 DPOY, 7X NBA All-Defensive Team
Dominance: He gets the nod over Wilt for being a 2X Finals MVP and having played in a way more relevant era. One of the best rim protectors of all time, a great scorer, and good rebounder with a long pro career and was one of only a handful of rookies to come into the NBA averaging over 20 a game and keep that pace for the next 11 seasons.
Size: 7’0 255, He used his size and athletic ability to wreak havoc and block shots left and right.
Skill: A huge shot blocking Center that dominated for a large stretch of time in the NBA, while winning two NBA championships and 2 back to back Finals MVP’s something only done by a handful of players all of which whom are above him on this list.
11. Bill Russell
Hardware: 11X NBA Champion, 2X NBA Finals MVP, 5X NBA MVP, 12X NBA All-Star, 1963 All-Star Game MVP, 1X All NBA Defense
Dominance: Winning that many titles and MVP awards is proof enough to be the best player of all time, if it wasn’t or the level of competition he played. Even suiting up against Bill Russell he had the far better team and was just as dominate as Wilt but played a slightly different game. Russell always defended wilt well and was consistently beating him in their matchups. When you dominate the greatest statistical player of all time you must be a top ten player.
Size: 6’10 220, Russel wasn’t a huge guy he was more of the lanky near 7’0 tall players we see in today’s NBA. With that frame he used his athletic ability to disrupt, score, and rebound his way to 11 rings.
Skill: Winning Championships is his greatest skill having won in 11/13 NBA seasons, He also was one of the two players in NBA history to average 20 rebounds a game. While he didn’t score quite as much as Wilt or Hakeem did his defense and rebounding was a huge factor in the Celtics winning year after year.
- Steph Curry –
Hardware: 3X NBA Champion, 2X NBA MVP, 5X NBA All-Star, 2X All NBA 1st Team, 1 3-Pt Contest Win
Dominance: He doesn’t have the full hardware to warrant being 9 on this list yet, but I’m assuming he adds at least 1-2 more titles and a ton of points and 3-pointers along the way. I don’t think he’ll ever win an NBA Finals MVP however meaning he really can’t get put higher on this list. If curry wins 5 rings in 7-9 Finals appearances the majority or all against Lebron James you’d have to give him credit where it’s due. He also shattered his own NBA 3-Point record by making 402 3-Pointers.
Size: He is undersized but when he makes a shot from 30+ feet that’s basically how tall he feels, like playing a tiny giant.
Skill: The best 3-Point shooter in NBA history and it isn’t even close. He also has an insane handle, ability to drive and finish off the glass in many ways. There aren’t ten players in NBA history I’d rather have on my team than Steph Curry.
- Larry Bid –
Hardware: 3X NBA Champion, 3X NBA MVP, 2X NBA Finals MVP, 1982 NBA All-Star Game MVP, 12X NBA All-Star
Dominance: His dominance was overshadowed by Magic and Jordan towards the end of his career, but he still found a way to sneak in multiple titles and finals MVPs. Doing so while playing some of the all-time greatest to ever do it in the primes of their careers. Larry Legend is exactly that, he is one of the best all around players of all time, and one of the few SF’s in NBA history to be able to score, pass, and shoot at that level. He also basically invented the 50-40-90 club.
Size: 6’9 220, at this height and weight and being able to most of the things Steph Curry can do, I’d have to give the edge to Larry in size and because he has 2 Finals MVPs.
Skill: Until Lebron James and Kevin Durant, the NBA had never seen a Small Forward with this type of Passing, Vision, Shooting, and Scoring ability. He is one of the best passers from that position outside of Lebron James. He is also one of 5 best shooters in NBA history, and was a clutch reliable shooter and leader.
- Tim Duncan –
Hardware: 5X NBA Champion, 3X NBA Finals MVP, 1998 ROY, 2000 All-Star Game MVP, 15X NBA All-Star, 2X NBA MVP
Dominance: No NBA Player has won titles farther apart in time than Duncan (15). He seemed to be just as dominate towards the end of his career at beginning. Mr. Fundamental got his name for a reason after all, his game aged well as he did everything well and didn’t rely on athletic ability to dominate but IQ, skill, and size. Beating several All-Time greats along the way including Kobe, Shaq, and Lebron who edged him out on this list despite his dominance. I’ll give him the edge over Larry bird because he has more hardware and arguably the same or more skill in a bigger body.
Size: 6’11 255, Duncan has superior size to a ton of athletes on this list while possessing more overall skill in that huge frame.
Skill: He is a good midrange shooter, has a soft touch off the glass, is a great rebounder and defender throughout his career. He was also consistently good even as he aged and did less his effect on winning for the spurs was still drastic.
- Kobe Bryant –
Hardware: 5X NBA Champion, 2X NBA Finals MVP, 2008 NBA MVP, 18X NBA All-Star, 4X All-Star Game MVP
Dominance: He did his absolute best Michael Jordan impersonation, but he fell short in trying to be like mike. However, that didn’t stop him from dominating the NBA along the way and putting on scoring efforts and performances we haven’t seen in decades. He won 3 titles early in his career with the help and dominance of Shaq before he went on to be the league leading scorer for multiple seasons until he finally won another 2 rings cementing his legacy as on of the games All-Time greats. Just not great enough to end up on NBA Mount Rushmore.
Size: 6’6 213, he even had Jordan’s exact body type and attributes. Still a dominating force but not quite what Jordan was against inferior competition.
Skill: There really wasn’t anything Kobe couldn’t do on the basketball court. He was a great shooter, had a good midrange game, post up game, was a superb defender, and when he was in his zone absolutely he cannot be guarded. His only knock a lot of is career was he didn’t pass the ball enough. He beats out Duncan just because at his peak I believe his skill set and dominance was greater, although Duncan won more often and had a better team.
- Kevin Durant –
Hardware: 2X NBA Champion, 2X NBA Finals MVP, 2014 NBA MVP, 2008 NBA ROY, 2012 All-Star Game MVP, 9X All-Star, 4X NBA Scoring Champ
Dominance: Kevin Durant is the best shooter in NBA history over 6’8. He is also one of the few members of the 50-40-90 club, that did so while putting up gawdy all around numbers. Kevin Durant is one of the most efficient all-around talents the NBA has ever seen. Once he made the decision to go to Golden State he has now reached a level of dominance on the league that just doesn’t seem fair. Barring major changes in the off season and LeBron making his own super team, KD is on route to win another 2-4 NBA championships.
Size: 7’0 240, No one at this height has ever been able to shoot the ball as well as KD. His shot is basically not able to be affected do to his height. He makes, or misses based on his own ability not the defense you play.
Skill: The best pure scorer in NBA history from all levels of the court. Already has the same number of finals MVPs as Kobe and I suspect he will add enough rings and appearances to his legacy that he will surpass Kobe by careers end. If I had to choose one player to have between the two I don’t think its close.
- Karrem Abdul-Jabbar
Hardware: 6X NBA MVP, 6X NBA Champion, 2X Finals MVP, 1970 ROY, 19X All-Star, Leading Scorer In NBA History
Dominance: The sky hook was literally untouchable, and he perfected in a way that set him apart from his peers and helped him play at a high level deep into his career. Having played in 20 NBA seasons he amassed enough points and rebound to be #1 all time in scoring and top 3 in rebounds behind Wilt and Russell. His longevity and career dominance to go with the most MVPs in league history he is on the NBA’s Mount Rushmore (assuming you let the NBA mount Rushmore be 5 and not 4).
Size: 7’2 250, He used his size and length to create a shot that was unlike any other and literally didn’t have a defense because of the way he released the shot high and above other players.
Skill: One of the most skilled Centers in NBA history, wasn’t a whole lot this man couldn’t do. While he stayed closer to the basket he did have a nice touch for his generation. He played a long period of time in the NBA by being able to perfect his craft and stay healthy.
- Magic Johnson –
Hardware: 5X NBA Champion, 3X NBA Finals MVP, 3X NBA MVP, 2X NBA All-Star Game MVP, 12X NBA All-Star, 9 Finals Appearances (5-4)
Dominance: He came into the NBA as a rookie and not only set the league on fire but went to the NBA finals as a rookie only for his star player Kareem to go out for the series. Magic responded with “don’t fear number 32 is here” Switch from PG to Center and posted 42 Points and 15 Rebounds in a close out game 6 to win it all. He went on to win another 4 championships in his career going to the Finals 9 total times in NBA history. His career was cut short do to contracting HIV or else he’d probably have a shot to be number one or two all time one this list. He beats out Kareem because he not only had more finals MVP’s between the two when Kareem went out injured it was this man a rookie who stepped up and won them a championship.
Size: 6’9 230 is absolutely huge for a point guard, Magic set the tone for that team once he was drafted with his ability to pass, defend, and score the basketball. He also was able to switch and guard nearly every position on the basketball court.
Skill: There is not a better and flashier passer of the basketball then one Magic Johnson. At that size, seeing him being able to move and control the basketball with such grace, flash, and vision something we haven’t seen in the NBA until Lebron James, and now Ben Simmons and possibly Lonzo Ball.
- Shaquille O’Neal –
Hardware: 4X NBA Champion, 3X NBA Finals MVP, 2000 NBA MVP, 3X NBA All-Star Game MVP, 1993 ROY, 15X NBA All-Star
Dominance: His most dominate stretch is when he found himself on a stacked Lakers squad with a young Kobe Bryant and some old Hall of Famers at the end of their career. Shaq was relatively unstoppable, as Kobe progressed though tension rose between the two and the team got beat in 5 by the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals. This is the nock against both players as they let their ego get in the ay of their success and get in the way of a career of dominance together. Shaw went on to win another title in 2006 with Wade once he was no longer the best player on the planet.
Size: 7’1 325, The biggest most physically dominate NBA player of All-Time. Shaq cannot be guarded by relatively anyone in NBA history and the NBA created “Hack-A-Shaq” because thankfully he was an all-time worse free throw shooter.
Skill: He didn’t have a ton of basketball skill outside of superior size, athletic ability, and defense. Shaq was able to do a lot of things on the basketball court at an all-time level, but his pure basketball skill is not a reason he made it this high up the list. The most impressive part about Shaq was his athletic ability and that size.
- Michael Jordan –
Hardware: 6X NBA Champion, 6X Finals MVP, 5X NBA MVP, 10X Scoring Champ, 9X All Defensive First Team, 14X NBA All-Star, 3X NBA All-Star Game MVP, 1985 ROY
Dominance: Jordan had the potential to make this a non-discussion if he had won 8 straight finals and stopped Hakeem twice along the way. This conversation would be over in Jordan’s favor. However, that isn’t the case and while his 6-0 Finals record and 6 MVPS is the most dominant display and peak we’ve seen in the NBA his peak didn’t last as long and he didn’t keep the level of basketball enthusiasm as some other NBA greats. Coming into the NBA averaging 28 points per game he was absolutely dominate and there wasn’t anyone who could guard or stop this man from day one. He was stronger, faster, and more athletic than the players he played and matched up against. While his dominance is clear, and even in a more physical era Jordan benefited from the added physicality as he was able to also be more aggressive on the offensive end while man handling inferior opponents on the defensive end.
Size: 6’6 216, his size and athletic ability were much greater than anyone else in the NBA at the time if he got to play against Scottie Pippen in their primes that may have actually given him some issues.
Skill: He does have a great skill set, he is one the best to ever play the game. He was the most unstoppable scorer of his time, but much like Wilt Jordan did have some advantages leaning his direction. Great passer, scorer, mid-range jump shot, and his fadeaway is legendary and copied around the NBA.
- Lebron James –
Hardware: 3X NBA Champion, 3X NBA Finals MVP, 4X NBA MVP, 2004 ROY, 3X NBA All-Star Game MVP, 14X NBA All-Star, 9 Finals Appearances (8 straight and counting)
Dominance: One of 3 players in NBA history to come into the NBA averaging 20-5-5, he didn’t let up from there. Going into his first finals after just 4 NBA seasons, where he was swept by a far superior team. Lebron then goes on to win 60+ games for years in a row with the Cavaliers until he takes his talent to south beach to start what is currently 8 straight NBA finals appearances and counting (He’ll finish at 13+ straight appearances if he goes to Boston/Philly). He is 3-time NBA champion and instead of talking about retiring like Jordan did several times he has exclaimed playing with his son would be his greatest accomplishment. Lebron has another 7+ seasons in the NBA in which he will be the best player for all or most of that time, Father time will have one athlete he will fail to catch. Lebron will hang up his sneakers on his terms on top of the basketball world one way or another. He will also finish as the all time leading scorer in NBA history and will be top 5 in Assists all time being the only player to make the top 10 in both categories let alone the top 5.
Size: 6’9 260, His weight has fluctuated from 250-270 since he entered the league. Lebron moves unlike any player we’ve seen before at this size. He has 20+ pounds on that of Magic Johnson and superior athletic ability, shooting, and scoring ability.
Skill: The best all-around basketball player in NBA history given his size, height, athletic ability, IQ, Vision, Speed, shooting and scoring ability. There hasn’t been a player quite like Lebron James in the NBA and for that he is the best basketball player to ever play. Between his overall skill being greater, his athletic ability being greater, and his career being longer and not finished I must give the nod to LeBron to surpass Jordan.