5 thoughts on “ESPN’s All-Time NBA Players

  1. Here’s the top 10:

    1. Michael Jordan
    2. LeBron James
    3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    4. Bill Russell
    5. Magic Johnson
    6. Wilt Chamberlain
    7. Larry Bird
    8. Tim Duncan
    9. Kobe Bryant
    10. Shaquille O’Neal

    Before I respond, I feel like Tim Duncan is the one that doesn’t seem to belong. I’d put Dream in there instead of him. I know this will probably get me in trouble, but LeBron might not make my top 10 either. If I had to start a team, I think I’d prefer Duncan over LeBron. (A young Tim Duncan playing in today’s era would be like having an all-time great center.)

    Centers vs. Perimeter Players

    Now, putting that aside, when I look do lists like this, I have trouble because great centers and greater perimeter players seem so different. It might be better to create two separate lists. The great perimeter players may seem better because a) they are generally more skilled and versatile, and b) they tend to be more athletic and/or flashier. Great centers are often boring in comparison. But these reasons do not make the perimeter players superior to the centers; this would be a superficial justification in my opinion. While they may as skilled or flashy, the all-time great centers may actually be more valuable than the great perimeter players. If you were starting a team, is choosing Jordan a slam dunk (no pun intended) over Kareem, Wilt, Shaq, Hakeem, or Russell? I don’t think so, and I think you could make a case that you should choose anyone of them over Jordan when building a team. I think people underestimate the value and importance of a great center. Reliable scoring in the paint is one of the most valuable assets in basketball. You can count on it during pressure situations and in the playoffs. You can’t say the same about a reliable jump shot in my view. That is, given a choice between a great post player and a great jump shooter, I’m going with the great post player. Additionally, I think you can create a really good offense off of a great post player, even with a limited supporting cast. Houston did it twice with Moses Malone and with Dream and Ralph Sampson. Great rebounding is also critical. Coach Summit was the first coach that I heard say, “Rebounds equals rings.” I agree. A great center can allow your team to control the boards, generally more than from the forward positions. And if the great center is also a great defender. They can protect the basket in a way that few other positions can (and this true even if you have a forward that is a really good shot-blocker).

    I’ll say more later.

    1. One way making the list would be easier would be to start by creating two separate lists–one for perimeter players and one for post players, although for post players, I’m not qualified to judge Wilt and Russell, as I never got to see them play live. I’m not sure how I’d rank them. But let me try.


      1. Kareem
      2. Wilt
      3. Dream
      4. Shaq
      5. Moses
      6. Russell
      7. Duncan
      8. McHale
      9. Barkley


      1. Michael Jordan
      2a. Larry Bird
      2b. Magic Johnson

      Next tier
      3. Kobe
      4. Oscar Robertson (just a guess)
      5. D-Wade
      6. LeBron
      7. Isiah

  2. Oh, here’s #11-24

    11. Oscar Robertson
    12. Hakeem Olajuwon
    13. Stephen Curry
    14. Kevin Durant
    15. Julius Erving
    16. Jerry West
    17. Karl Malone
    18. Moses Malone
    19. Dirk Nowitski
    20. Kevin Garnett
    21. Scottie Pippen
    22. Elgin Baylor
    23. Charles Barkley
    24. David Robinson

    Off the top of my head, I would move Moses and Barkley right after Hakeem–somewhere around there. Also, I think I prefer D-Wade over a lot of those on the list as well. Also, Chris Paul is at #40. I haven’t followed his career closely, but he seems pretty great to me. How would you guys compare him to Isiah, Stockton, AI, or Nash–all of who were ranked higher? Paul strikes me as a true 1, but also someone who could score, similar to Isiah. I feel like he would do well in any era as well.

  3. I think that “unstopableness” should weigh a little more when “grading” a player. Guys like Kareem, Dream, Shaq, Durant, Harden, and even Dirk needs so much attention from the defense when on they on the floor, that there mere presence on offense makes their team better. And yes every player on the list has that, but there are players that just have a lot more of it.

    Here is some of my “out there” views. I cannot believe Wilt was better than Shaq if they played in the same era. I think Wilt was the better athlete, like he could jump high for a tall guy and he was super strong. But I cannot believe he had Shaq’s talents. That would be awesome if they played in the same era though. I think I would put Dirk above Karl Malone and Barkley (although on this list he is higher than Barkley). As I stated I put a lot of value on “unstopableness”.


    Where is Durant on your list of players? He developed into a pretty good defender especially on the help side. As a on-ball defender he seemed much better as a Warrior than he did a Thunder. As a Warrior he was a decent rebounder too. But he isn’t a facilitator, which you like. I’ll add he is far from being a “chucker”, and he’s definitely not like Harden in that respect.

  4. I think that “unstopableness” should weigh a little more when “grading” a player.

    I totally agree. This is why I put Kobe ahead of LeBron. Relatedly, I think “unstoppableness” is linked to the “killer instinct.” Was Ray Allen unstoppable? I don’t get that sense–but he should have been in my view. My guess is that he wasn’t because he didn’t have that killer instinct. I think this applies somewhat to Pippen as well, although I don’t think Pippen had great one-on-one moves. And all this basically describes LeBron to me. He’s basically a bigger stronger version of Pippen.

    By the way, did you guys see the interview with Rodman where they asked him if he could “lockdown” LeBron. He may not have been totally serious when he answered, but I agree with everything he said (Note: He gives a fuller answer at the 6:00 minute mark):

    Rodman is asked about defending KD as well. I’m less certain about his comments, there. And this brings me to your question about KD. (Shoot, I knew I’d forget someone.) Honestly, I feel a little uncomfortable evaluating KD–I feel like I need to watch him more. I’m not sure where I’d put him. Let me think on this a bit more.

    As for Harden, in the best NFL players of the decade thread, we talked about the importance of system. I feel like Harden’s productivity has a lot to do with system–and the era we’re in. I feel similar about Russell Westbrook or even Steve Nash. If players like Stevie Francis, Clyde Drexler, or even maybe Stephon Marbury, played in that top of the key, clear out offense–without any good 5s–I think they could put up huge numbers. Put any of these guys in a more traditional offense during the 80s or 90s, and I don’t think they play as well.

    Now, KD is someone that I think could have thrived in any era because his game and skillset can thrive. I still don’t know where I’d put him, though–but not in the top 10 for sure.

    Oh, and Dirk. He could shoot, and he had that awkward, unstoppable fadeaway. But I feel like he couldn’t do much else. He was a disappointing rebounder, too. I’m not a big fan of Malone, but I think prefer Malone over him. I’d definitely prefer Barkley over Dirk. I think very highly of Barkley. If he’s in the post player category though, there’s a handful of guys I just can’t put him above. In a way, he’s even a tweener on this list.

    Here is some of my “out there” views. I cannot believe Wilt was better than Shaq if they played in the same era. I think Wilt was the better athlete, like he could jump high for a tall guy and he was super strong. But I cannot believe he had Shaq’s talents.

    Basically, Wilt looked awkward. If so, I agree–I don’t know if that means indicates a lack of skill, though.

    On a side note, two things hurt Shaq in terms of all time greats for me: 1) He’s free throw shooting; 2) given his power, athleticism, and skill, I feel like he should have be even more dominant. I wonder if he had enough of the killer instinct, not to say that he was passive, but it just seemed like he did less than he could have. Like if Moses Malone had all of Shaq’s attributes, I would expecting 35+ points per game, 18 rebounds.

    As a Warrior he was a decent rebounder too. But he isn’t a facilitator, which you like.

    How important is facilitation to you? “Unstoppableness” is huge, but now if you have someone like that, plus they’re great facilitator (passer)–any player like that has to be clearly above just an unstoppable player, at least to me. That’s why Bird and Magic, and to a little lesser degree, Jordan, are clearly above Kobe for me. This also a reason Barkley is up there, as I think he was a very good facilitator (not as good as Bird and Magic). Barkley was also a great rebounder. Isiah deserves as a mention for this reason as well in my view.

    And I just want to make a distinction between Bird and Magic. Magic was a true 1–he had that mentality. So the passing thing is part of his game. That he could score was impressive, but he’s not a great scorer–not like Jordan, Bird, or Kobe. But Bird was 3–he had the scorer’s mentality, but he almost had that point guard mentality, too–definitely the skillset. To have both cognitive frameworks in one player is super remarkable to me. The scorer’s mentality and the passer’s (point guard) mentality–that’s diametrically opposed cognitive frameworks.

    And then Bird could post, he could move without the ball, he could rebound. (Could we argue that he’s the best rebounding 3? I think I could make that argument.) His defense was way better than people think, especially team defense.

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