Perhaps more than any other team sport, basketball allows for excellent players to make themselves stand out from those who are merely good. A great basketball player can take over a game almost single-handedly. A truly special one can even lead a team to season-length greatness without needing a ton of help.
In its more than 70 years of existence, the NBA has seen countless star players dazzle fans, and plenty of them have even earned enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. But, of those NBA stars, who have been the greatest players of all? We searched through the many statistical leaderboards at Basketball-Reference.com and found the players who dominated the game and left very large basketball shoes for their successors to fill.
We used a mix of traditional stats (like per-game averages) and advanced stats (like value over replacement player) plus other marks of greatness (like championships and All-NBA honors) to put our list together. Current player stats were accurate as of January 2020.
Did your favorite baller make the cut?
#50 — Neil Johnston (1952-1959)
Killer Stat: 10,023 Points in Eight Seasons
The only knock against Neil Johnston’s Hall-of-Fame career is that it was far too short. He only spent eight seasons in the NBA before knee problems forced him to retire. In that span, he was a six-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA selection, three-time league scoring champion and led the Philadelphia Warriors to a championship in 1956.
Johnston was able to rack up more than 10,000 points and nearly 6,000 rebounds in his brief tenure, averaging 19.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. His player efficiency rating, an advanced metric used by Basketball Reference, is the 11th best in NBA history, ahead of legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.
#49 — Alex English (1977-1991)
Killer Stat: 25,613 Career Points
Hall of Famer Alex English never won a championship, but it wasn’t for lack of effort or skill. The eight-time All-Star was mostly remembered for his time with the Denver Nuggets, where he led the league in scoring for the 1982-83 season. He averaged 21.5 points per game for his 16 seasons in the NBA, which ranks him in the top 40 all time for scoring average. His career totals put him inside the all-time top 20 for both points scored and field goals made.
#48 — Nate Thurmond (1964-1977)
Killer Stat: 15 Rebounds Per Game
Before a guy named LeBron James hit the scene, Nate Thurmond was probably the most famous basketball player to come from Akron, Ohio. The nearly-7-foot giant became the first player in NBA history to record a quadruple double and is still one of just four guys to ever do it at that level. For his career, the seven-time All-Star averaged a symmetrical 15.0 points and 15.0 rebounds per game, the latter of which is the fifth-best mark ever.
#47 — Gary Payton (1991-2007)
Killer Stat: Nine All-NBA Selections
Gary Payton was one of the fiercest defenders in NBA history, earning him the nickname “The Glove” and a spot in the Hall of Fame. The star of the now-defunct Seattle SuperSonics, Payton was a nine-time member of both the All-Star team and the All-NBA squad. He averaged 16.3 points and 6.7 assists per game for his career and finally won that long-overdue championship near the end of his career in 2006 with the Miami Heat.
Payton’s value over replacement player, which measures his effectiveness over anyone who subbed in for him, is the 23rd-best mark in history, making him more irreplaceable than guys like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
#46 — Scottie Pippen (1988-2004)
Killer Stat: 10 All-Defensive Selections
Speaking of wicked defenders, Scottie Pippen is legendary for his skills on that side of the floor. The six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls was a member of the league’s vaunted All-Defensive squad an astonishing 10 times, which is the sixth most selections ever and one more than his fabled teammate, Michael Jordan. Also no slouch with the ball, Pippen averaged 16.1 points per game for his career to go with his stellar average of 1.96 steals per game, which is 14th in history.
#45 — George Gervin (1973-1986)
Killer Stat: 25.1 Points Per Game
An early Spurs icon, George Gervin was with the team for three seasons in the ABA before that league merged with the NBA in 1976. He was the team’s top weapon for more than a decade, averaging an insane 25.1 points per game for his career and making 12 All-Star teams. Gervin led the league in scoring four times and still ranks ninth in points per game despite having been out of the game for more than 30 years. About the only thing missing from his resume is a championship, but he did all he could to bring one to San Antonio.
#44 — Kyrie Irving (2012-Present)
Killer Stat: 87.6% Free-Throw Percentage
One point guard who’s been stamping a spot in the history books for a while is Kyrie Irving. The six-time All-Star proved a dynamic teammate for LeBron James, helping him lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016. On top of that, Irving has averaged 22.4 points and 5.7 assists per game for his career, the former of which ranks him inside the all-time top 30. He’s also proven to be deadly at the free-throw line, making more than 87% of his career shots there and ranking inside the all-time top 20 for free-throw percentage.
#43 — Damian Lillard (2013-Present)
Killer Stat: 23.7 Points Per Game
One of the game’s most exciting stars of the moment has been carving himself a spot in the Hall of Fame for more than seven seasons now. He’s made four All-Star teams and All-NBA squads thanks to his reliable production, which has seen him average an impressive 23.7 points per game for his career, which puts him in the top 25 all time.
On top of that, he’s contributing 6.4 assists per game, which puts him in the top 50 all time for that category. In a time where load management keeps many star players on the bench, Lillard has averaged 36.28 minutes per game for his career, which is only behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant among active players.
#42 — Clyde Drexler (1984-1998)
Killer Stat: 2.03 Steals Per Game
“The Glide” was a perennial All-Star during the late 1980s and through the ‘90s, making the squad 10 times in 16 seasons. Clyde Drexler was also a big part of the Houston Rockets second consecutive championship in 1995. He averaged an even 20 points to go along with 6.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists on a nightly basis for his Hall-of-Fame career. On top of all that, Drexler is one of only 11 players to average at least 2.0 steals per game for his NBA career.
#41 — Jason Kidd (1995-2013)
Killer Stat: 12,091 Assists
Few players offered as much inch-for-inch power to their teams as Jason Kidd, who stood at just 6 feet, 4 inches tall but played much bigger. He averaged 12.6 points and 8.7 assists per game, both of which are strong, but it’s his 6.3 rebounds per game that is the biggest indicator of his tenacity. The 10-time All-Star and nine-time All-Defensive selection is ranked second all time for assists and steals, fifth for minutes played and inside the top 30 for defensive rebounds.
#40 — Dan Issel (1971-1985)
Killer Stat: 27,482 Points
After a college career at Kentucky where he was an absolute beast, Dan Issel continued that dominance throughout his professional career, which spanned the ABA and NBA. In that former league, he ranks as the second all-time scorer, with his 27,482 points ranking him 11th in the history of both leagues combined. He averaged a stellar 22.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for his career, easily landing him in the Hall of Fame and on this list of the greatest NBA players ever.
#39 — Paul Arizin (1951-1962)
Killer Stat: 38.4 Minutes Per Game
Philadelphia Warriors legend Paul Arizin was a member of the first-ever NBA All-Star team in 1951, one of 10 times he was given that honor during his career. He led the Warriors to a championship in 1956 because of his prolific scoring and rebounding abilities. Arizin averaged 22.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, the former of which puts him in the top 30 all time. Even more impressively, Arizin hardly ever took a breather, averaging 38.4 minutes per game, which is the 12th highest average ever.
#38 — Bob McAdoo (1973-1986)
Killer Stat: 22.1 Points Per Game
Playing alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson with the “Showtime” Lakers, Bob McAdoo has a tendency to be overlooked in hindsight. He won two championships with the team in the 1980s, which came a few years after his peak in the mid-1970s, when he was named MVP and led the league in scoring three times. McAdoo’s numbers were phenomenal, as he averaged 22.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game on the low post. Somehow, he was only a five-time All-Star, but at least he landed in the Hall of Fame.
#37 — Patrick Ewing (1986-2002)
Killer Stat: 2.4 Blocks Per Game
When the Knicks were one of the league’s most fearsome teams in the 1990s, Patrick Ewing was a major reason. He was a monster around the rim, averaging 2.4 blocks and 9.8 rebounds to go with 21 points per game for his career. Ewing’s heroics made him a favorite of fans and experts on the game, landing him in 11 All-Star Games and seven All-NBA squads. He currently ranks seventh all time for total blocks and 11th for defensive rebounds.
#36 — Dominique Wilkins (1983-1999)
Killer Stat: 24.8 Points Per Game
You have to be one hell of a player to earn a nickname like “The Human Highlight Reel.” That’s exactly what Dominique Wilkins was, earning himself nine All-Star and seven all-NBA selections during his thrilling career. He led the league in scoring in 1986 and averaged a stellar 24.8 points per game for his entire tenure, which ranks him 14th in history. If you like advanced stats, his player efficiency rating his inside the all-time top 50 and is higher than fellow Hall of Famers like Allen Iverson and Patrick Ewing.
#35 — Billy Cunningham (1966-1976)
Killer Stat: Averaged Double Double
Former NBA and ABA star Billy Cunningham only played for 11 seasons across the two leagues, but he managed to amass more than 16,000 points and nearly 8,000 rebounds. His career averages were 21.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, ranking him inside the top 50 for both categories. He won an NBA title in 1967 with the Philadelphia 76ers and was named MVP of the ABA in 1973. His career was cut short by injuries before he became a highly successful head coach with his old team.
#34 — George Mikan (1949-1956)
Killer Stat: Five Championships
In just seven seasons in the NBA, George Mikan led the Minneapolis Lakers to a stunning five championships, cementing himself as the league’s first dominant star. Towering at 6 feet 10 inches, Mikan used his massive size and innovative moves to average 23.1 points and 13.4 rebounds per game, leading the league in scoring three times. Before injuries severely shortened his career, Mikan was a member of the first four NBA All-Star teams to ever exist.
#33 — Anthony Davis (2013-Present)
Killer Stat: 2.4 Blocks Per Game
Anthony Davis is like the modern-day Patrick Ewing, but he scores more and grabs even more rebounds. More than seven seasons into his NBA career, Davis has been historically brilliant on both ends of the floor so far. He’s averaging 24 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, as well as 2.4 blocks every time he takes the floor. The six-time All-Star and three-time All-Defensive selection has already led the league in blocks three times so far. Davis’ player efficiency rating is the third-best in NBA history, only behind LeBron James and Michael Jordan, making him a general manager’s dream.
#32 — Kevin Garnett (1996-2016)
Killer Stat: 15 All-Star Selections
“The Big Ticket” was a 15-time All-Star during his Hall-of-Fame career, which is tied for the third-most in NBA history. He earned that by being a fierce competitor who averaged a double double of 17.8 points and 10 rebounds per game for 20 years. The former champion with the Boston Celtics in 2008 has the fourth-highest value over replacement player ever, putting him above Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Tim Duncan.
#31 — Dirk Nowitzki (1999-2019)
Killer Stat: 12 All-NBA Selections
Germany’s greatest contribution to the game, Dirk Nowitzki was one of the most dynamic big men the NBA has ever seen. He averaged 20.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game over a span of 20 years and led the Dallas Mavericks franchise to its only championship, in 2011. The future Hall of Famer was a 14-time All-Star, and his 12 All-NBA selections tie him for the third-most ever.
#30 — Dwyane Wade (2004-2019)
Killer Stat: 1,620 Career Steals
On the heels of his recent retirement, Dwyane Wade sits in the all-time top 40 for many statistical categories, including steals, points, field goals and free throws made. In addition to all that, his career average of 22 points per game is 33rd in NBA history. Wade was a 13-time All-Star and eight-time All-NBA selection, in addition to three All-Defensive picks. But his three championship rings may be his best accomplishment, especially since one came without the aid of LeBron James, leaving no doubt to his leadership abilities.
#29 — John Havlicek (1963-1978)
Killer Stat: Eight Championships
Career Celtic John Havlicek won a mind-boggling eight championships in his 16 seasons in the NBA, which goes nicely with the NCAA championship he won at Ohio State. He wasn’t simply part of a great team, he was an undoubted leader on the court, averaging 20.8 points per game for his career. Here are some more insane figures about Havlicek’s NBA tenure: he was a 13-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA pick and eight-time All-Defensive pick, making him easily one of the most decorated players in history.
#28 — Elvin Hayes (1969-1984)
Killer Stat: 12.5 Rebounds Per Game
Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes was good for filling a box score, thanks to his career double-double average of 21 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He was a total workhorse, having spent 50,000 minutes on an NBA court, which is the sixth-highest total in history. He helped lead the Washington Bullets to a championship in 1978, which was one of his 12 consecutive All-Star seasons. Hayes ranks fourth in history for total rebounds and 10th in total points, more than 35 years after his career ended.
#27 — Allen Iverson (1997-2010)
Killer Stat: 26.7 Points Per Game
Despite his well-documented protest, Allen Iverson clearly spent a lot of time at practice. His career average of 26.7 points per game is ridiculous and ranks as the seventh-best mark in history. The Philadelphia 76ers fan favorite was an 11-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA pick, leading the league in scoring four times and in steals three times. Iverson’s notch of 2.17 steals per game is only behind Michael Jordan and John Stockton among all Hall of Famers.
#26 — Rick Barry (1966-1980)
Killer Stat: 25,279 Career Points
Way before Steph Curry was even born, Rick Barry was arguably the most legendary Golden State Warriors player in history. He led the team to a title in 1975, six years after he led the ABA’s Oakland Oaks to a championship. He averaged a stellar 24.8 points per game, which is the ABA’s all-time mark and is 15th among the two leagues combined. He was a 12-time All-Star and 10-time all-league selection over the course of his career, showing how truly outstanding he was.
#25 — Russell Westbrook (2009-Present)
Killer Stat: 144 Triple Doubles
In today’s NBA, nobody stuffs a stat line quite like Russell Westbrook. He actually places among the all-time greats in that area as well, ranking second in NBA history in career triple doubles recorded.
During the 2016-17 season, Westbrook made history by averaging a triple double, a feat which no player had achieved in 55 years and one that he repeated for the next two seasons. Westbrook also ranks 10th all-time in career box plus/minus, a stat that shows a player’s statistical contributions to his team against the league average. He loses some points for his relative lack of success in the playoffs so far, but that may change with his recent move to Houston.
#24 — John Stockton (1985-2003)
Killer Stat: 10.5 Assists Per Game
Arguably the best pure point guard in basketball history, Utah Jazz icon John Stockton’s scoring average of 13.1 points per game is one of the lowest on this list, but his average of 10.5 assists per game is second all time. In fact, he’s one of only two players to ever average more than 10 assists per game for his entire career. Stockton was also a ruthless defender, ranking in the top 10 for career steals per game.
You can get a sense of how irreplaceable Stockton was to the outstanding Jazz teams he led in the 1990s by the fact that he ranks 20th in NBA history in value over replacement player.
#23 — Stephen Curry (2010-Present)
Killer Stat: .435 Three-Point Shooting Percentage
Arguably the best shooter in history, Steph Curry has also proven himself to be one of the biggest winners ever in the NBA. He’s already won three championships as the leader of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, which dominated much of the 2010s.
Curry’s skill at shooting three pointers is nearly unmatched, with him ranking third all-time in three-pointers made and fourth in three-point shooting percentage. If you prefer advanced metrics, Curry ranks 20th all-time in win shares per 48 minutes, a figure which shows how much an individual player contributes to his team’s wins, ahead of players like Larry Bird and Karl Malone.
#22 — James Harden (2010-Present)
Killer Stat: 23 50-Point Games
It’s hard to believe that James Harden was coming off the bench as recently as 2012, when he played for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since joining the Houston Rockets that same year, Harden has revealed himself to be one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, averaging more than 29 points per game since the 2012-13 season.
Only three players have ever put together more 50-point games than Harden — and they are all on this list. “The Beard” also ranks in the top 10 for both career box plus/minus and win shares per 48 minutes.
#21 — Bill Russell (1957-1969)
Killer Stat: 11 Championships
Hands-down the most prolific winner in American sports history, Bill Russell helped lead the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA titles in his 13-season career. Let that sink in for a moment. Russell’s scoring average of 15.1 points per game is lower than most NBA greats, but his career average of 22.5 rebounds per game is the second-best mark in history.
Of course, Russell’s era — in which players that matched his stature of 6 feet 10 inches were far less common — makes his numbers a bit less impressive, but he was unquestionably dominant. Russell was also a 12-time NBA All-Star and 11-time All-NBA team selection.
#20 — Julius Erving (1972-1987)
Killer Stat: 16-Time All-Star in 16 Seasons Played
Selected as an All-Star in all 16 of his professional seasons, “Dr. J” was arguably the greatest star in ABA history before the merger. After that happened in 1976, he continued to amaze in the NBA as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
He averaged 24.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game for his career, and ranks 17th all-time in steals per game for his combined ABA/NBA career. You get a true sense of how special Erving was compared to the players of his era when you realize he was named to 12 All-League teams, which puts him in a third-place tie for the most such honors in history.
#19 — Oscar Robertson (1961-1974)
Killer Stat: 181 Triple Doubles
A guard who was truly ahead of his time when it came to doing it all for his team (he played for the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks), Oscar Robertson was the original prototype of a Russell Westbrook- or James Harden-type player. Robertson was the first player in NBA history to average a triple double for an entire season, and his 181 career triple doubles are 43 more than the player with the second-highest number.
“The Big O” ranks in the all-time top 10 for points per game (25.7) and assists per game (9.5), while his average of 7.5 rebounds per game is also nothing to take lightly.
#18 — Jerry West (1961-1974)
Killer Stat: 27.0 Points Per Game
Jerry West was so undeniably good that he was voted the MVP of the 1969 NBA Finals — despite being on the losing team! He’s the only player in history to accomplish that feat.
Somehow, he only won a single championship despite leading nine different Los Angeles Lakers teams to the NBA Finals. West’s career scoring average of 27.0 points per game is the fifth-best in history, and his 14 All-Star Game selections tie him with players like Michael Jordan and Karl Malone.
#17 — Kevin Durant (2009-Present)
Killer Stat: 27.0 Points Per Game
Love him or hate him, Kevin Durant makes a strong case as the best scorer of his generation, which includes guys like Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry. He’s averaged better than 27 points per game in his career thus far, making him one of only six guys to ever hit that mark. Toss in the fact that he’s also averaged 7.1 rebounds per game and you’ll understand why he’s 12th all time in win shares per 48 minutes.
Durant takes some flack for joining the already-great Golden State Warriors after he failed to beat them with his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, but he was an instrumental part of that team’s most recent two championships before splitting for Brooklyn.
#16 — David Robinson (1990-2003)
Killer Stat: 2.99 Blocks Per Game
Of all the stats on an NBA box score, blocks are probably the toughest to come by, unless you’re David Robinson. “The Admiral” had a career mark of 2.99 blocks per game, which is good enough for fourth-best in history. Couple that with his 21.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game and you’ll understand why the San Antonio Spurs great made the All-NBA team 10 times.
Robinson was also a beast in terms of advanced metrics, ranking in the top five for career box plus/minus. His mark in the measurement of win shares per 48 minutes is second all-time, just barely behind Michael Jordan.
#15 — Chris Paul (2006-Present)
Killer Stat: 9.5 Assists Per Game
The best point guard of his generation — and possibly the best ever — “CP3” has proven to be as good at providing scoring opportunities for his teammates as he is at taking them for himself. A massive part of every team he’s ever been on (the Hornets, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder), Chris Paul currently sits in the top 10 in career box plus/minus and win shares per 48 minutes.
For that latter stat, he sits at fourth in history, behind only Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Wilt Chamberlain. His career average of 9.53 assists per game is third all time, and his 2.21 steals per game ranks him sixth in NBA history. He’s a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer when his time comes.
#14 — Hakeem Olajuwon (1985-2002)
Killer Stat: 3.09 Blocks Per Game
“The Dream” was about as dominant as any big man has ever been, proving he could score, rebound and block shots with the best to ever play the game. He put together career averages of 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.09 blocks per game, the latter of which is the best mark among all Hall of Famers.
Hakeem Olajuwon ranks 14th all time in value over replacement and is 10th for that category when it comes to playoff games. It’s easy to see why he was selected for both the All-Star Game and the All-NBA squad a dozen times while with the Houston Rockets.
#13 — Tim Duncan (1998-2016)
Killer Stat: 15 All-NBA Selections
He might not have been the flashiest player of his day, but “The Big Fundamental” was a nearly unstoppable winner in the first part of the 2000s, leading the San Antonio Spurs to five championships.
He averaged a double double for his career, landing him a ridiculous 15 selections on the All-NBA squad, which ties him for the most in history. Tim Duncan also ranks sixth in value over replacement player and third when you’re just looking at playoff games, showing how paramount he was to those punishing Spurs teams.
#12 — Shaquille O’Neal (1993-2011)
Killer Stat: .5823 Field-Goal Percentage
One of the last truly dominant centers in an era of NBA play that’s since become dated, Shaquille O’Neal was a key part of four different championship teams during his career.
Sinking more than 58 percent of his career field goals attempted, O’Neal has the sixth-best shooting percentage in NBA history, and the second-best such mark among retired players. Another stat that might shock you is that O’Neal averaged more points per game than Steph Curry, contributing 23.7 points on any given night — virtually all of which came inside the paint.
#11 — Bob Pettit (1955-1965)
Killer Stat: 16.2 Rebounds Per Game
He had a relatively short NBA career with the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks, but Bob Pettit certainly made the most of it. He was named an All-Star and All-NBA selection in all 11 seasons of his career, including 10 first-team All-NBA selections, which is the same number Michael Jordan earned. Pettit’s career numbers are truly staggering, with him averaging 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds per game. This ranks him inside the top 10 all time in both categories. Pettit was also the first player to ever be named NBA MVP, an honor he would win twice.
#10 — Charles Barkley (1985-2000)
Killer Stat: 11.7 Rebounds Per Game
Averaging a career double double of 22.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game is the first thing that jumps out about Charles Barkley’s career in Philadelphia, Phoenix and Houston, but when you look at his ranking in advanced statistics, you really see how special he was.
Barkley sits at fifth in value over replacement player and when it comes to career box plus/minus, he ranks only behind Michael Jordan and LeBron James, revealing his overall dominance. The fact that he never got to win an NBA championship is one of the game’s true travesties.
#9 — Karl Malone (1986-2004)
Killer Stat: 25.0 Points Per Game
A defender’s nightmare in his NBA heyday, Karl Malone put up 25 points and 10.1 rebounds per game for his entire career, which lasted nearly 20 years and somehow never resulted in a championship.
There was a stretch from 1988-1993 with the Jazz in which “The Mailman” averaged nearly 29 points and more than 11 rebounds per game, but he wouldn’t earn his two NBA MVP awards until after that. Malone’s place in the advanced metric of value over replacement player is third all-time, sitting right behind Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
#8 — Elgin Baylor (1959-1972)
Killer Stat: 27.4 Points Per Game
One of the game’s first all-around stars, Elgin Baylor also might have had the worst luck in NBA history, never winning a championship despite helping lead the Lakers to eight NBA Finals appearances in his 14 seasons on the court. Baylor was a beast, averaging 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game for his career. That scoring average ranks him third all-time — ahead of even LeBron James — and his rebounding average is 11th best, ahead of even Dennis Rodman.
Baylor was named to the All-NBA squad 10 times, being a first-team selection every time. He also put up at least 50 points in 17 different games, which is fifth-most all time.
#7 — Kobe Bryant (1997-2016)
Killer Stat: 25 50-Point Games
A winner of five NBA championships with the Lakers, Kobe Bryant proved time and time again why he was one of the most feared competitors in basketball history.
“Black Mamba” is tied for first all time with 15 All-NBA selections and his 25 career 50-point games rank him third all time, behind only Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Speaking of that number, Bryant also averaged 25.0 points per game for his career, which puts him at 12th all time.
#6 — Larry Bird (1980-1992)
Killer Stat: 59 Triple Doubles
Larry Bird was about as deadly a shooter as there’s ever been, proving instrumental to the Boston Celtics teams that he led to three NBA championships — and five NBA Finals appearances — in the 1980s.
“Larry Legend” held down averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game in his career, figures which helped him put together 59 career triple-doubles. That’s the seventh-most of all time. Bird also sits in the top 10 for career box plus/minus in both the regular season and playoffs.
#5 — Magic Johnson (1980-1996)
Killer Stat: 11.2 Assists Per Game
Before LeBron James came around, there may never have been a better all-around player than Magic Johnson. The Lakers icon averaged nearly a triple double for his career, putting up 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists per night in a 16-year span. He’s the only player in NBA history to average more than 11 assists per game and his 138 career triple doubles rank him second all time, behind only Oscar Robertson.
Johnson’s spectacular play helped him lead the Lakers to five NBA championships in his career, and he ranks fourth all time in value over replacement player for playoff games, showing they couldn’t have done it without him.
#4 — Wilt Chamberlain (1960-1973)
Killer Stat: 22.9 Rebounds Per Game
As dominant as any single player has ever been in a team sport, Wilt Chamberlain was unstoppable in his day. Towering over most other players, the 7-foot 1-inch giant managed to rip down 22.9 rebounds per game, a number that will likely never be matched for the rest of time.
In addition to being the game’s best rebounder ever, his scoring average of 30.1 points per game is second only to Michael Jordan’s, showing he could be a one-man powerhouse for the four different NBA teams he led. In 14 seasons played, Chamberlain was voted an All-Star 13 times. The 118 different games in which he scored at least 50 points is by far the most ever — 87 more than Jordan, who takes second.
#3 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-1989)
Killer Stat: 38,387 Points
No player in NBA history has matched — or even come within 1,000 points of — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career total of 38,387 points.
He averaged 24.6 points and 11.2 rebounds in his career, which landed him a record-19 All-Star Game selections in 20 total seasons played. Abdul-Jabbar was a key part of six championship-winning teams for the Bucks and the Lakers. He ranks in the top 10 all-time in a host of other categories, including value over replacement player and win shares per 48 minutes. Throw in the fact that he’s arguably the best college basketball player in history and you’ve got probably the best full career any baller has ever had.
#2 — LeBron James (2004-Present)
Killer Stat: 27.1 Points Per Game
In a generation of prolific production, LeBron James stands apart as the best — and as one of the game’s all-time greats. You can stand in awe of his career stat line of 27.11 points (fourth all time), 7.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game, but James is one of those players whose advanced statistics are even more mind-boggling.
In terms of value over replacement player, for both the regular season and playoffs, as well as career box plus/minus, he’s the best in NBA history. His 12 first-team All-NBA selections are also the most ever. The fact that he led his Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat teams to eight consecutive NBA Finals, winning three championships, is also nearly unfathomable in an age where elite talent is spread across the league.
#1 — Michael Jordan (1985-2003)
Killer Stat: 30.1 Points Per Game
Michael Jordan and LeBron James are neck and neck at the top of many advanced stat measures in NBA history, but Jordan gets the nod because of his undefeated run in six NBA Finals appearances and his unmatched offensive production.
Jordan is the greatest scorer in NBA history, averaging 30.1 points per game, which is higher than even Wilt Chamberlain. He was also a monster on defense, averaging 2.35 steals per game, which is the best mark among all Hall of Famers and third in NBA history.
The Chicago Bulls teams he led in the 1990s featured some stellar rosters, but he was the unquestioned leader, as proven by the fact that he ranks first all-time in win shares per 48 minutes, in both the regular season and playoffs.