Updated: Jun 28, 2022
Part I of my NBA Top 50 Players of All Time series was headlined by Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic and mythical legends like “Dr J.” Julius Erving and “The Iceman” George Gervin. Now we pass the baton to some of the greatest to ever lace 'em up, my top 30 NBA players of all time...
30. Scottie Pippen, SF
Resume: 6 championship rings, 7th all-time in steals, 7-time All-Star, 10-time All-Defense
Like I said about Charles Barkley in my last installment of this list, Scottie was also ahead of his time in terms of all-around impact on the game. In most major athletics, the "old school way" meant specialization of positions and skillsets. But Barkley was a "Power Forward" who could handle the ball, push the rock and unselfishly set up teammates with some pretty dimes. Scottie, to an even greater degree, was a do-it-all Swiss army knife. One of the greatest and most versatile defenders in the history of the game. A "Small Forward" who played a lot of point guard for both Chicago and Portland. A right-hand man who could also be a Leading Man anytime you asked or needed him to. A fantastic two-way player who always contributed to a winning culture.
29. Kevin Garnett, PF
Resume: 9th all-time in rebounds, 18th in points, 1 championship ring, 15-time All-Star, 12-time All-Defense
You'll notice a trend as we work our way through "the best of the best" (as now-disgraced Will Smith said many times in Men In Black) - many of these superstars could control the game on both ends of the floor. I'm sure you already noticed that I left Steve Nash off my list, altogether. In my last installment, great defenders like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd were at the top of the list. And here we are now, with "KG" one of the most fearsome and athletic paint defenders in the history of the game. Garnett was passionate, multi-talented and he certainly wasn't afraid to talk trash. All of it added up to create a legendary figure, a superb two-way player who could talk shit and back it up with the best of 'em.
28. John Stockton, PG
Resume: 1st all-time in assists, 1st in steals, 10-time All-Star
Check him out in more detail in my controversial Top 10 Point Guards of All Time article. I mean, don't those numbers really speak for themselves, anyway? FIRST all-time in both assists AND steals? John Stockton was just an absolute two-way monster. Consummate professional and teammate who only fell short of titles because of MJ and Scottie.
27. Elgin Baylor, SF
Resume: 3rd all-time in PPG; 33rd in total points; 11-time All-Star
Often considered the greatest player without an NBA championship ring. Elgin was the "OG" of pure scoring, averaging more points per game for his career than LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, believe it or not. Get him some rings? Then he's probably top 20.
26. Paul Pierce, SG/SF
Resume: 9th all-time in threes; 10th in FT made; 16th in points; 1 championship ring; 10-time All-Star
I think you get the idea in terms of "my" kinda guys now, huh? I like cocky players who can back it up. I like guys who attack under pressure, instead of sitting back and waiting for things to happen. I like players who put pressure on the opposing team, as opposed to feeling the pressure on their own shoulders - and that's Paul Pierce in a nutshell. An aggressive, attack player. Big-shot taker and maker. Has the counting stats and attitude I am looking for on this all-time list.
25. Isiah Thomas, PG
Resume: 9th all-time in assists; 2 championship rings; 12-time All-Star (consecutively)
Once again... head on over to my Top 10 Point Guards of All Time list! Isiah was the bad boy of "The Bad Boys". Sure, there were meaner and tougher out there - Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman, to name a couple - but Isiah was the tone setter with his IDGAF attitude. He was clutch in the assist department, but even more so, scoring the rock when his team needed it the most. Check him out as NBA Finals MVP, right here. A lot of millennials and Gen-Z NBA fans simply don't realize how incredible Isiah Thomas was. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson got all the hype before "his" time. Michael Jordan got all the hype after. I think Isiah's (somewhat) negative reputation hinders the way he is perceived as a player by the public at large. He's one of the greatest point guards and floor generals of all time, hands down.
24. Dirk Nowitzki, PF
Resume: 6th all-time in points, 7th in FT made, 1 championship ring, 14-time All-Star
See, if Dirk could or would defend, he would have made my top 20 players of all time. But I have to be totally fair and consistent, here. Sixth all-time in scoring is certainly nothing to roll your eyes at. Dirk was a virtually flawless all-around scoring machine, using his endless array of pump and ball fakes to keep defenders on skates, and himself at the charity stripe. He was a master manipulator who played at his own pace - and that's really a compliment in itself. It's incredibly difficult to dictate the pace of an NBA basketball game entirely on your own; Dirk's offensive skillset was so good that he could always do exactly that.
23. Dwyane Wade, G
Resume: 3 championship rings; 32nd in points; 13-time All-Star, 8-time All-NBA
How can you think about Dwyane Wade without immediately thinking of the word "cool"? Everything he did out there was cool, smooth. He never seemed to be in too much of a hurry with the rock, but then he'd just explode and hammer one down on your head. He was the total package - driving, dishing, finishing, defending, swiping - with the only exception being perhaps his three-point shooting. Even that... he shot a career best 33% in his final season on the way out the door. "The Flash" was constantly working on his game, always evolving and improving and striving to dominate on both ends of the floor.
22. Elvin Hayes, PF
Resume: 4th all-time in rebounds; 11th in points; 1 championship ring; 12-time All-Star (consecutively)
Is Elvin Hayes possibly the most underrated player in the history of basketball? Fourth all-time in rebounds and 11th in points? How many players can say they have a combination like that (top 11 in both points and rebounds)? I have the answer for you, only four: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl and Moses Malone. Those guys are pretty good.
Hayes wasn't overly flashy or brash, so maybe that explains his status under the radar. Still, now, we simply can't ignore those stats and accolades. This is a man who could probably make a case as a top-15 player of all time. Everything is pretty subjective from roughly 35 down to 15.
21. Jerry West, G
Resume: 6th all-time in PPG; 8th in FT made; 23rd in total points; 1 championship ring; 14-time All-Star (all 14 seasons of his NBA career)
I mean... this guy IS the NBA's logo! That says an awful lot about his style of play, and the overall impact he had on a league that - at the time - was really quite impressionable. "The Logo" was a purely dominant offensive player, and he definitely would have cracked my top 20 had he not lost six consecutive NBA Finals to those bulletproof Boston Celtics. When you lose that many times in a row, at some point, you have to look inward!
20. John Havlicek, SG/SF
Resume: 8 championship rings; 17th all-time in points; 13-time All-Star
"Havlicek stole the ball! Havlicek stole the ball!" One of the NBA's truly iconic moments. Click on that link and watch that video; it'll give you the chills. In terms of resume, well... eight championship rings ain't bad, huh? To give it more contemporary context, perhaps we can think of Havlicek as Kobe to Bill Russell's Shaq. Russell was the undisputed GOAT at the time, but he couldn't have won time and time again without Havlicek's shooting, passing, quick defensive hands and overall on-court leadership.
19. David Robinson, C
Resume: 6th all-time in blocks; 6th in Efficiency; 2 championship rings; 42nd in points; 10-time All-Star; MVP and Defensive Player of the Year
"The Admiral" has quite an admirable resume. The one that really jumps out at me there is the Efficiency, believe it or not. Maybe it's just me, but I think of Efficiency as part of "the young man's game" so to speak. Owners have gotten smarter. Executives and coaches get sharper, year after year. So today's players are taught Efficiency and talked to about it. Don't just play basketball; play smart, don't turn the ball over, take high-percentage shots and contribute on both ends of the floor. And David was doing all of those things and more, well ahead of his time.
And perhaps most importantly, he began building that championship culture alongside Gregg Popovich. And what about the trickle-down effect, helping Tim Duncan down the path to becoming one of the greatest two-way basketball players of all time?
18. Bob Pettit, PF
Resume: 8th all-time in PPG; 8th in Efficiency; 2 MVPs; 1 championship ring, 41st in total points, 11-time All-Star (every single season of his career)
Upon making this list and intensely studying statistics, five players immediately struck me as underrated for their careers:
Gary Payton, Elvin Hayes, David Robinson, Moses Malone and this man, Mr. Bob (Stat Machine) Pettit.
That resume above speaks for itself. Had Pettit played longer - his 11 seasons compared to say Wilt Chamberlain (16 seasons), Tim Duncan (19 seasons) or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20 whopping seasons) - he would have been a legend in every single counting stat for the power forward position. Still, nothing is missing from this man's career achievements. He has it all, and he deserves to be considered with more respect by today's younger generation of basketball fans.
17. Karl Malone, PF
Resume: 3rd all-time in points; 1st in FT made; 7th in rebounds; 2 MVPs; 14-time All-Star
"The Mailman" was one of The Unfortunate - as I like to call them - including of course John Stockton, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Dominque Wilkins; these guys didn't get rings because Michael Jordan's prime was unlike the prime of any other. And I think Karl was at the very top of that list (yes, others might say Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor or maybe even Chris Paul? )... I view "The Mailman" as THE greatest player to never win an NBA title. A dubious distinction? Sure. But Malone was the master in the pick-and-pop, and what I remember most is that he was automatic in the midrange. Quick release... and do not leave this man open for a millisecond!
16. Kevin Durant, SF
Resume: 4th all-time in PPG; 2 championship rings; 9th in Efficiency; 21st in total points; 12-time All-Star
After that second Warriors' title, I think - fairly often - I was ranking "KD" as the fifth or sixth greatest player in the history of the NBA. But hey, this list is an ever-changing tapestry! These were particularly rough playoffs for both Durant and Chris Paul; legacies take hits during collapses like these. Durant got physically dominated by Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and their Celtics, but don't let that distract from the reality that KD is 4th all-time in points per game. Long, quick, shifty and smooth, Durant's ceiling-high release has made him (mostly) unguardable throughout his impressive professional career.
Don't forget to tune in next time for the dramatic conclusion of my (self-proclaimed) epic list!
John Frascella is a published sports author who has been covering the NBA, NFL and MLB for more than half his life. Follow him on Twitter @LegendSports7 for all things basketball, football and baseball!
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