The best NBA players of all time

ASSOCIATED PRESS Tim Duncan could be on his way to his fifth NBA title.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Tim Duncan could be on his way to his fifth NBA title.
Posted: June 17, 2013

MOST PEOPLE love sports. They love to participate in sports, they love to watch sports and perhaps most of all, they love to talk about sports. We talk about sports at bars, at the water cooler at work and at the gym. I don't go to bars often or spend much time by the water cooler, but I do talk about sports all the time at my gym, the Sporting Club at the Bellevue.

One day last week, I was in the sauna and my good friend Hal, a sports nut like me, said, "I think Tim Duncan is the best power forward of all time." My initial gut reaction was "no way," but as Hal laid out his case, I became more and more convinced, and I started thinking about who my all-time NBA team would be. Though most media outlets have conducted this exercise, I believe that in many ways I am extremely qualified to make this evaluation as I am old enough to have lived during the three golden eras of the NBA: the Bill Russell/Wilt Chamberlain/Bob Cousy era, the Michael Jordan/Julius Erving/Magic Johnson/Larry Bird era, and the Shaquille O'Neal/Kobe Bryant/LeBron James era. In fact, of the NBA's own Top 50 Players list, there are only two I didn't see play - George Mikan and Philadelphia's own Paul Arizin.

When I sat down and complied this list I encountred three problems. First, I had to compare statistics from different eras.

The second problem was my attempt to put players into specific positions. For example, was Jordan a shooting guard or a point guard? Was Moses Malone a power forward or a center and, perhaps the best example of all, where would you put James - power forward, small forward or point guard?

The last problem was perhaps the thorniest - what counts more, individual statistics or team success?

Notwithstanding these obstacles, I decided to give it a shot, so here it goes:

Center: The competition boiled down to Chamberlain, Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and O'Neal. It was awfully hard to choose. You could make a case for all four of them. Jabbar had a great field goal percentage at 56 percent, shot well from the line, scored almost 25 points per game and won six championships. O'Neal was a dominant defender and a points/rebounds machine. He shot an even better 58 predent from the field. But in the end, the choice came down to Russell vs. Chamberlain. Russell averaged 15 points per game, whereas Wilt averaged an incredible 30.1 points per game. Both claimed more than 22 rebounds a game. The advantage shifts to Russell when you consider he led his team to 11 championships, while Wilt won only two. But in the end, Wilt wins my vote because he was a very good defender and perhaps the most incredible offensive force ever to play the game. Just for example take the 1961-1962 season when Wilt averaged 50.4 points per game - no one has ever come close to those figures.

Power forward: I considered four players in making my selection here - Elvin Hayes, Karl Malone, Moses Malone and Tim Duncan. Again, all had great numbers and were pretty equal in rebounds and assists, but in the end, it was a pretty easy choice to go along with my friend Hal and select Tim Duncan. He won the statistical war by virtue of having already blocked 2,652 shots, which is almost 900 more than any of the other three. But even more important, his teams have won four championships. Some he won with the help of another great big man, David Robinson, and some he won without any dominant center, and we may well be watching him win his fifth.

Small forward: This was the cast that had the most great players. Players such as George Gervin, Billy Cunningham, John Havlicek and Rick Barry didn't even make the final group. There were four contenders, our very own Charles Barkley and Erving, Bird and James. Doctor J was the first NBA player to play above the rim, and he changed the game forever. Bird was the consummate team player who did everything well. Charles was a fine scorer and an incredible rebounder considering his 6-4 height. But LeBron was the clear choice here. Not only has he scored more points by far than any of the other three, but no one can compete with his rebound and assist total, which he has accomplished in only 10 seasons! But the thing that distinguishes him the most from anyone else is his defense. LeBron is without a doubt the most dominant non-center defensive player in NBA history.

Shooting guard: There are only three contenders for this category- the great Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West. Surprisingly, West stacked up fairly well statically. He averaged 27 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists. Kobe was 25.5, 5.3 and 4.8, respectively. And although Michael scored more points, 30.1 points per game, West was close in rebounds and surprisingly had more assists. When you realize that West scored his points without the benefit of the three-point shot (at which he would have been unbelievable) his stats are even more impressive. But he won only one championship as opposed to Jordan's six and Kobe's five. And wasn't anywhere close to Kobe and Michael as a defender. Statistically, Kobe and Michael are very close and in some ways it's hard to distinguish, but Michael may have been the best defending guard in the history of the NBA, andthe best clutch performer so he wins.

Point guard: In the end, there were four candidates - John Stockton, Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson. All were great distributors, and Stockton, surprisingly, was the best long-range shooter in the lot, shooting 38 percent from three-point range, (though, to be fair, Oscar did not play in the three-point era). I had to eliminate Cousy because he shot only shot 37.5 percent from the field and the championships he won were in part attributable to an incredible supporting cast. Stockton did not score anywhere close to the remaining two. So it was Oscar vs. Magic. Oscar scored six points per game more (without the benefit of three-point line), but was similar to Magic in rebounds and slightly behind in assists. The deciding factors were, again, defense and championships. Oscar won only one title while Magic won five. Oscar was named league MVP once, and Magic earned the award three times. And though Oscar was a good defender, Magic was a great one. Magic's versatility was also key. He could play all five positions on the court (Sixers fans will remember when Jabbar got hurt and he played center and killed us). So in a very close one, Magic is my pick.

So there it my team: Wilt at center, Tim Duncan and LeBron James at forward, and Michael and Magic Johnson at guard.


Email: asktheguv@gmail.com

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