NBA at 70: The NBA’s Greatest Players
When I was in High School, the NBA celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary by selecting the NBA’s Greatest Players. I was fascinated with this team. My parents got me a beautiful NBA at 50 book that I poured over and learned about all the NBA greats. After this season, the NBA will be celebrating it’s 70th Anniversary. I thought to myself, “Self, what 20 players have added themselves to that list of all-time greats?” Here is my list of 20 players who would make my NBA at 70 team as the NBA’s greatest players.
It’s important to explain some ground rules and disclaimers.
1)This is not revisionist history. I will not attempt to go back and correct the NBA at 50 team. If a player wasn’t good enough to make the team then, then he’s still not good enough to make the team now (apologies to Bernard King and Joe Dumars).
2)The exception to Rule #1 are those players who made significant contributions to his case after the NBA at 50 team was named (during the 1996-97 season).
3)There are certain standards of greatness, which merit an automatic selection to this team, which I will point out below.
4)This is a very, very difficult exercise and is almost completely subjective. If you disagree, feel free to make your argument, that’s what makes this fun.
So, here goes…
First rule, players who rank in the top 5 all-time in a major statistical category are automatically on the team. This rule qualifies Kobe Bryant (1) the number three all-time scorer, Jason Kidd (2) the number two assist man, and Steve Nash (3) the number three assist man as automatic selections for the team.
Second rule, multiple MVP winners are on the team automatically. Nash qualified by Rule #1, but would also qualify under this rule. Lebron James (4) with his 4 MVPs, and Tim Duncan (5) with his 2 MVPs, secure spots under this rule.
Third rule, 25,000 point scorers gain an automatic spot. Dirk Nowitzki (6) #9 All-Time with his 28,119 points, Paul Pierce (7) with his 25,899 points and Reggie Miller (8) with his 25,279 points all secure their spots with this rule.
So here are the shoo-ins:
|Basis for Auto-Selection|
|Kobe Bryant||#3 Scoring List|
|Jason Kidd||#2 Assist List|
|Steve Nash||#3 Assist List|
|Lebron James||4 MVPs|
|Tim Duncan||2 MVPs|
|Dirk Nowitzki||28,119 Points|
|Paul Pierce||25,899 Points|
|Reggie Miller||25,279 Points|
Who else is deserving?
MVPs should be given strong preferential treatment, seeing how every single MVP award winner of that time period made the NBA at 50 team. If we followed that standard, this would add Kevin Durant, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, Derrick Rose, and Steph Curry to the list. I feel comfortable with most of those names. Derrick Rose, the league’s youngest ever MVP at age 22, shouldn’t make the team. Rose is difficult because after his early MVP, he has spent the better part of the next 3 seasons on the bench with injuries. His peak was too short and his body of work is seriously lacking to edge out some of the others on this list. I leave D-Rose off my list.
It also may be a bit premature to add Steph Curry to the list as well. He has played only 6 seasons and his body of work, while impressive makes it difficult to select him at this point. Remember 1996-97 when the NBA at 50 voters were criticized for selecting Shaquille O’Neal to the team after playing in only 5 NBA seasons? Shaq by that point had already been to 5 All-Star Games, won Rookie of the Year, bagged a scoring title, and been named to 4 All-NBA teams. Curry’s resume doesn’t quite stack up to Shaq’s at that time, Curry stays off the list for now. So I add Durant (9) with his MVP and 4 scoring titles, Iverson (10) with his MVP and 4 scoring titles, Garnett (11) #10 All-Time Rebounder and MVP to the list.
Now I consider those players who are standouts, but have not automatically qualified under one of these other rules.
Gary Payton (12) was one of the all-time great defenders and a perennial All-Star. Payton’s 9 All-Star teams, 9 All-NBA nods, Defensive Player of the Year award, 21,813 points, and 2,445 steals (#4 All-Time) snag him a spot.
Ray Allen (13) and his 24,505 points almost secured an automatic spot, but he fell just short. Finishing as the all-time leader in three-pointers made, two championships, and 10 All-Star Games appearances earn him a spot.
Chris Paul (14) makes the team as the best point guard of his generation. He has won 5 Steals and 3 Assist crowns, is an 8 time All-Star, and 7 times both All-NBA and All-Defensive Team.
Dwyane Wade (15) has proven himself as one of the best players in his generation by winning 3 titles, 1 Finals MVP, a scoring title, and a averaging a career 24.1 PPG (#21 All-Time). He’s also an 11-time All-Star and made All-NBA 8 times and All-Defensive team 3 times.
Dwight Howard (16) gets himself on the team as the best Center since Shaquille O’Neal. His 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 5 rebounding titles, and 2 block crowns go nicely with his 8 All-Star Games, 8 All-NBA selections, and 5 All-Defensive teams.
Tony Parker (17) breaks the mold here a little bit because his numbers are not overwhelming. He does not have gaudy rankings in all-time lists (#35 on the All-Time assist list), has zero assist or steals crowns, has made only 6 All-Star Teams and 4 All-NBA teams, but he was also a key cog on 4 Spurs Championship teams. Anyone who has seen Parker play sees a player who can run an offense as good as anyone and puts winning above individual stats and accolades.
Chris Bosh (18) makes the team because of a combination of winning and achievement. He’s made 10 All-Star Teams with career averages of 19.3 PPG and 8.6 RPG. He was also a key to a Miami Heat team that made 4 straight Finals, winning two championships.
Two spots remaining and so many players left to consider. In the category of great-scorer-that-offered-little-else-on-teams-that-never-won-anything: Carmelo Anthony, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Mitch Richmond. In the category of a-few-great-seasons-but-then-fell-off-a-cliff: Chris Webber, A’mare Stoudamire, and Alonzo Mourning. In the category of great-careers-with-underwhelming-numbers-and-awards: Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill, Chris Mullin, Pau Gasol, and Manu Ginobili. And finally in the category of too-small-a-sample-size: Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Rose, and LeMarcus Aldridge. Then there is Dikembe Mutombo who was a specialist on only one side of the ball. So, who snags the last two spots?
Carmelo Anthony could make this team because of his staggering offensive numbers. Everyone knows that Melo can’t guard, but nobody can stop the man either. His 25.21 PPG career scoring average ranks him 11th All-Time. He may be the best isolation wing scorer in the game today. I struggle with this selection because Carmelo has never lead his team to be a winner. I think he is a poor teammate (read “cancer”) and a selfish player, but how do you overlook these numbers? He’s made 8 All-Star Teams and 6 All-NBA Teams. I think I just talked myself out of Carmelo, after all this is my list. Melo is out.
Chris Mullin (19) sneaks in here as one of the greatest shooters ever. He made 5 All-Star Teams, had 6 20+PPG seasons, and was a member of the 1992 Dream Team. He shot 38.4% from 3 for his career and shot 86.5% from the free throw line.
Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter almost make this team for the same reasons as Carmelo, but I am going with Grant Hill (20) here to round out my 20. Hill’s career is one of the saddest stories ever. After 6 dominant seasons in Detroit, Hill’s ankles gave out on him the way Walton’s knees and feet gave up on him. Hill’s second season he averaged 20.2 PPG, 6.9 APG, and 9.8 RPG! Those are unreal numbers and he did that as a 23 year old. His injuries changed his game and derailed what might have been, but he still made six All-Star teams, five All-NBA teams, and a Rookie of the Year award.
Such a difficult task, but kind of a fun exercise. I would have loved to add Mitch Richmond (one of my all-time favorites) to the list, but he just missed. If I am being realistic on the last two spots, the likely two most deserving are Melo and McGrady because of their pure scoring ability and McGrady’s two scoring titles, but if I had a ballot for this vote, here’s how I’d cast my ballot. Let me know if you feel like I missed anyone or if you disagree.