NBA
November 22, 2021

The 50 Greatest NBA Players Ever, Ranked

The NBA recently announced the top 75 players in league history for the league's 75-year anniversary. While there were plenty of controversial selections and omissions — such as Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson and Lakers' Dwight Howard — but we're here to make some even tougher cuts as we've ranked the 50 best NBA players ever. 

Of course, everyone wants to know if LeBron James has surpassed Michael Jordan, but those aren't the only tough decisions we had to make. Is Lakers legend Kobe Bryant a top-10 player ever? Where do the current greats like Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant rank? 

Find out now. 

50. Luka Dončić

‘Luka Magic’ is more than just a catchphrase.

This guy runs the court like a magician, and we have no doubt that he will be much higher up this list by the time he retires. After all, he is just 22 years of age right now.

His career so far has been full of record-breaking performances.

For instance, he is now the youngest player in NBA history to hit a playoff buzzer-beater.

He is also the youngest player in the league to record a triple-double in a playoff game and he was the first teenager ever to hit a 30-point triple-double (35 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists). 

He was also the first player to hit 250+ points, 70+ rebounds, and 70+ assists through his first eight playoff games.

There is not another player in the league who has Luka’s potential for greatness.

49. Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman’s wild personal life sometimes outshines his outstanding playing career, but that shouldn’t be the case. He was one of the greatest defensive players to ever step foot on the court and he was an important element of two of the best sides ever in Detroit and Chicago.

He even has five NBA Championships and the respect of some of the greatest players ever to prove it. On an individual level, he also managed to win two Defensive Player of the Year awards and seven All-Defensive First-Team selections.

Rodman averaged 13.1 rebounds per game over a thirteen season NBA career, which is pretty impressive in itself. During the 1991/92 season, he averaged an amazing 18.7 rebounds for Detroit. Now, that is dominant defending. 

48. Clyde Drexler

‘Clyde the Glyde’, as he was affectionately known, was a seriously good baller. With unbelievable athleticism, Drexler currently sits in the top ten for assists and in the top 35 for both assists and scoring.

It’s hard to argue with those attacking figures. He also won an NBA Championship with Houston and was part of the 1992 ‘Dream Team’ that won an Olympic Gold Medal. It is hardly surprising that he is considered one of the greatest shooting guards of all-time.

His best scoring season came in 1988/89 when he averaged 27.2 points per game. 

47. Paul Pierce

Only three players have scored more than 20,000 career points for the Boston Celtics

Paul Pierce is one of them and the other two also feature on this list. In Boston’s 2008 Championship winning year, Pierce won the NBA Finals MVP.

He played for three other sides, but it was Boston that saw the best of Pierce. He holds a series of records for the franchise, including being the only Celtics player ever to lead the NBA in total points scored in a season.

That was when he scored 2,144 points in 2001–02.

46. Gary Payton

Gary Payton is quite simply one of the best defensive point guards ever. He has the fourth most steals in the history of the league and not only that, but he was also a good attacking player.

That is demonstrated by the fact that he is in the top 40 scorers of all time and 10th on the list of most assists in the NBA. All-in-all, Payton was quite simply a tremendous player. He was selected on the NBA All-Defensive First Team nine times. The only other three players to do that feature higher up this list.

He finished his career with 21,813 points. 

45. Reggie Miller

Reggie Miller was a three-pointer shooter, before the age of three-pointer shooters. He played at a time when there was much less emphasis on the lower percentage shot.

Somehow, he is still ranked third in the list of players with the most three-pointers made in the NBA ever. He was also a player for the big occasion, regularly nailing high-pressure shots to snap victory from the jaws of defeat.

He was one of those rare players who spent their entire career with one franchise. In doing so, he finished his time playing in the league with an average of 18.2 points per game. Over 18 years, that is incredible consistency. 

44. Anthony Davis

Lovingly known as the "Brow," thanks to his signature unibrow, Anthony Davis has been a dominant force since being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans

The Kentucky product has been a defensive force since Day 1, leading the league in blocks three times and making the All-NBA Defensive teams four times. But it's his offense that really rounds out his stellar game. 

Davis has always had phenomenal ball skills for his size, but he evolved from a lob finisher at the rim into a legitimate perimeter threat in his team in New Orleans and Los Angeles. 

Now that he's joined LeBron James on the Lakers, he's an NBA champion and a future Hall of Famer. 

43. Rick Barry

Barry is renowned for his performance in the 1975 Finals, where he won the MVP award. Perry’s career averaged 23.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 794 regular-season games.

As an all-around player, Barry is probably best remembered for his unorthodox underhand free-throwing style.

Although not the prettiest way to score a basket, it was effective.

Barry is viewed as a Golden State Warrior legend and will go down as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. At 6-7, he was more than capable of dribbling. 

In fact, his game had a little bit of everything.

42. George Gervin

Nicknamed ‘The Iceman’, George Gervin was a player with immense style. His trademark move was the finger roll, and nobody did it better than Gervin. He is a nine times NBA All-Star and made the All-NBA First Team five times.

He is thought of so highly in San Antonio, that they even retired his No. 44 jersey. He averaged 26.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 791 regular-season games in the NBA. 

41. Elvin Hayes

Elvin Hayes was built of much stronger stuff than most people. He was almost never injured in his NBA career, which lasted well beyond his 38th birthday.

He is celebrated for much more than just his longevity. Hayes was a beast, who was a regular All-Star and is just outside the top three in rebounds in the history of the league, with 16,279 for his NBA career. 

40. Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook’s key attribute is his energy. He can run for days and never gives up on anything.

He won the MVP award in 2017, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Throughout his career, Westbrook has been a model of consistency, securing nine All-Stars and pushing himself to No. 12 on the list of all-time assists.

He is still playing excellent basketball, averaging 19.3 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game and 8.7 assists per game this season. He would probably be higher on our list, only for the fact that he isn’t always reliable when shooting threes. 

In fact, Westbrook has the worst career three-point percentage when attempting 2,500+ three-pointers, at 30.5 percent.

39. Bob Cousy

Bob Cousy is yet another Boston Celtics legend to make the list. 

Known as the "The Houdini of the Hardwood", Cousy finished his career with six NBA titles and a reputation for being one of the best playmakers the game has ever seen. During the 50s, he averaged 18.4 points per regular-season game. 

Boston retired his No. 14 jersey and although he played in a different era, his name is still deeply respected by every Celtics fan today.

38. Bob Pettit

It would be a crime to leave the first-ever player to reach 20,000 career points out of our list. Pettit was a power forward who could do battle with the best of them, but he was also able to show guile and poise at the rim.

He was the NBA Finals MVP in 1958, notching up an amazing 50 points and 25 rebounds in the deciding game. When you are looking for big-game players, that is the sort of performance you want.

37. Patrick Ewing

Patrick Ewing’s blocking game was the stuff of legends. 

Overall, he was a defensive dream to play with and his stats back that up. For instance, he is seventh on the list of players with the most blocks made in the history of the NBA. He also ranks in the top 25 for rebounds.

He was pretty good offensively too, ranking inside the top 25 for points scored in the history of the league. These skills were rewarded with seven All-NBA selections and 11 All-Stars.

Ewing finished his career averaging 21.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 1,183 regular-season games.

36. John Havlicek

The Celtics legend is one of just four players to have won the NBA Championship eight times. He holds an amazing resume, holding those titles, as well as one Finals MVP, 11 All-NBA selections, 13 All-Stars, five All-Defensive 1st Team selections.

He is also one of just three players to hold an NBA Finals record of 8-0. 

Essentially, if Havlicek was on your team, you knew you had a much better chance of lifting that trophy. His performance in the 1965 Eastern Finals is the stuff of legend, with the ‘Havlicek stole the ball’ moment etched in the history of the sport.

35. George Mikan

George Mikan was one of the big men to take over a court during a game. He truly did rule the roost, winning five NBA titles and showing off sublime skill while doing so.

Those that saw him play said that his ability and skill truly defied his size and the fact that he made six All-NBA 1st Team selections and got four All-Stars shows what a great player he was. He averaged 23.1 points per game during the regular season at a time when 20+ games were rare for players. 

34. Jason Kidd

It is hard to believe that Jason Kidd won only one championship in his illustrious career. That being said, it is clear that he is one of the greatest players of all time by looking at some of the other numbers associated with his career.

For instance, the former Suns and Nets player ranks 2nd in assists in league history with 12,091, has 10 All-Stars’ appearances and nine appeared on nine All-Defensive selections. You could argue that while playing, Kidd’s basketball IQ was amongst the very best in the history of the league.

That was further demonstrated by his adaptability in his later career, becoming a top-notch outside shooter.

33. Isiah Thomas

Isiah Thomas is not one of Michael Jordan’s favorite people, but he is one of the best players ever. Making his name with Bad Boy Pistons, Thomas was a constant thorn in the side of NBA defenses.

At just over six feet, Thomas had to battle against the odds in the NBA. Thankfully, battling is what he does best. With that, he won two NBA titles, one Finals MVP, three All-NBA 1st Team selections, and 12 All-Stars.

The year he won the 1990 Finals MVP, he averaged an excellent 27.6 points, 7.0 assists, and 5.2 rebounds per game.

He also gained infamy in the recent "The Last Dance" documentary, but that’s a whole other story…

32. Steve Nash

The Canadian has two NBA MVP awards. Granted, not everyone agreed that he should have won those, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was an excellent player who could shoot with the best of them.

This is proven by the fact that he has the second-highest free throw percentage in the league, putting away 90.4 percent of them. 

As one of the best players of his era, Nash showed the way forward to future players with his innovative style and technique. There is little doubt in the fact that he is a legend of the game.

31.  James Harden

A recent return to form has reminded us of just how good this MVP winner is. If any of you are surprised, well you shouldn’t be. As well as his MVP, Harden has nine All-Stars and six All-NBA 1st team selections.

James Harden has also scored over 2,000 points in seven different NBA seasons. 

He also has a step-back three-pointer which is the envy of the league. With him, Durant and Irving, it is hard to look past the Nets for this year’s NBA Championship Title. 

30. John Stockton

John Stockton’s consistency is the reason he regularly makes lists like this. Many people reckon that he was never the best point guard in the league, but despite that claim, it’s hard to look past his stats.

He has both the most assists and steals in NBA history. Perhaps he should be higher up our list for this alone. However, we are rewarding the greatest players in the history of the league, and we think listing him at No. 25 is about right.

Considering how many players have played in the NBA, that is still an amazing achievement. Upon his retirement, the Utah Jazz retired Stockton’s No. 14 jersey.

29. Chris Paul

Chris Paul has carved out an amazing career, despite the fact that he is yet to win a championship ring. The Phoenix Suns’ point guard does have two Olympic Gold medals and the complete respect of his peers, though.

He has also been selected in eleven NBA All-Star teams, ten All-NBA teams, and nine NBA All-Defensive teams. Not bad for the player, who is still playing excellent basketball. He has averaged 18.3 ppg for his career so far. 

28. Allen Iverson

At just six feet, Iverson demonstrated an amazing basketball IQ throughout his career when battling with the NBA’s big men. He ranks in the top fifty for assists, steals and scoring. Oh yeah, his crossover is the stuff of legend.

He was one of the most difficult players to play against ever during the 2001 season, where he was justly awarded MVP for the season.

27. Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade owns almost every record Miami Heat franchise record. Don’t believe us? Here’s a quick list. Wade has the most points, games, assists, steals, shots made, and shots taken.

He is a legend in Florida, where he guided the Heat to four consecutive Finals from 2011 to 2014, where he won back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.

That title in 2013 was his third with the Heat. A career return that anyone would be proud of.

26. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most powerful players playing in the league and when he is at his best, he is impossible to stop. With an NBA Championship and two MVPs already, the sky really is the limit for "The Greek Freak"

Giannis won the Defensive Player of the Year award and looks like a player who will be dominating the court for years to come. 

In 2016–17 he became the first player in NBA history to finish a regular season in the top 20 in all five statistics of totals (points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks). If that doesn’t show all-around skills, then we don’t know what does. 

His athleticism is truly crazy, but what sets him apart is his work ethic. Incredible skill, along with a never say die attitude has helped him turn into the best player playing in the league at the moment.

25. Kawhi Leonard

With Kawhi Leonard on your team, you are more likely to win. That is simply a fact. As of the start of this season, he is the player with the best winning percentage in the history of the NBA’s regular season (minimum 250 games played).

Two NBA titles with two Finals MVPs made it impossible to leave Leonard off of this list. Along with two players (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James) who are much higher up this list, Leonard is one of only three players to win Finals MVP with more than one team.

24. David Robinson

David was an incredible physical specimen who dominated on both sides of the court. 

"The Admiral" picked up an MVP in 1995, but it wasn’t until the end of the decade that he won his first title. Nonetheless, there were few players to ever play the game that could deal with Robinson’s power and determination. 

His 10 All-NBA selections, 10 All-Stars, and one Defensive Player of the Year award proved that. He also averaged 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.5 assists in 987 regular-season games.

23. Elgin Baylor

Elgin Baylor wasn’t the biggest guy on the court, but he was still able to dominate games like he was. He never won a title, largely due to Boston’s dominance, but he still finished his career with 10 All-NBA 1st Team selections and 11 All-Stars.

We are sure that he would give up every single one, for just one championship ring, though. 

Baylor always played well in those crunch games, too, averaging 26.4 points and 13.5 rebounds in 44 games in the NBA Finals during his career. 

22. Charles Barkley

Charles Barkley is now known as one of the most entertaining sports pundits out there. But during the 90s, he was a phenom of a player, particularly around the glass.

"The Round Mound of Rebound" won an NBA MVP, but never managed to win a ring. He may be somewhat comforted by the fact that he is viewed as an all-time great, listing in the top 30 for rebounds (12,546) and scoring (23,757).

21. Scottie Pippen

One of the best defenders in NBA history, Scottie Pippen was the best sidekick in NBA history.

Pippen played second-fiddle to Michael Jordan with the dynastical Chicago Bulls and he was more important than many remember. His elite perimeter defense allowed Michael Jordan to, well, be Michael Jordan. 

Pippen had success beyond the Bulls, too. He won six NBA championships and was named to the All-NBA team seven times. 

20. Karl Malone

Karl Malone won two NBA MVP awards at a time when some of the greatest players in the history of the league were playing. He ranks second in all-time scoring, 7th in rebounds and 11th in steals overall for the league, which proves his consistency over his career.

Outside of his first and last season, Malone averaged over 20 points per game every season. Those are crazy numbers to maintain for 17 seasons. 

Some will point towards his playoff performances as a reason to drop him down the list, but those people are ignoring just how good Karl Malone was.

19. Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett was just brilliant around the glass. Not only does he have an NBA title, a league MVP,  nine All-NBA Teams, 15 All-Stars, one Defensive Player of the Year award, nine All-Defensive 1st Team selections, he also played a role he was born to play in Uncut Gems: himself

Of course, it is his on-court performances that led to him becoming one of the most fearsome players in the history of the NBA. He is the only NBA player ever to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for 9 consecutive seasons. 

18. Moses Malone

Generally speaking, Moses Malone doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He has the fifth-most rebounds in the history of the league (16,212) and lands inside the top ten for scores (27,409). Put some respect on this man’s name!

He is probably the best offensive rebounder of all-time and he did more than alright on the trophy front too, winning one title, getting a Finals MVP and three MVPs. We could go through his individual records, but that would take quite a while…

17. Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki is still loved in Dallas and rightly so. He helped them to an NBA Championship, and was even awarded Finals MVP. Not only that, but he also has one MVP, 12 All-NBA selections, 14 All-Stars on his resume.

The German is sixth in the scoring charts for the league (29,527) and helped change the view of Europeans in the NBA. The Mavericks were never the same after him, with Luka now taking up the role of European powerhouse for the Texan franchise.

16. Julius Erving

Dr. J, as he is known, won one MVP in 1981 in the NBA. Prior to that, he completely ruled the ABA, picking up two MVPs in that league. He won the NBA Championship in 1983 and was considered by many to be the best player in the league.

That is despite the fact that he was 26 before he ever played in the NBA. Those who saw him play compare his style and athleticism to Michael Jordan.

He finished his career with an average of 24.2 points per game in the NBA. 

15. Jerry West

Jerry West must really dislike Boston. He played the Celtics in six finals and lost all six, having to be content with his one NBA Championship title. Still, it’s hard to argue with the brilliance of his career, ranking highly in both the scoring and assists charts for the league.

Fourteen All-Stars tells its own story. West wasn’t just brilliant, he was also consistent. An amazing career, averaging 27 points per game. 

14. Kevin Durant

Who knows what the next chapter of Durant’s story will hold? Thus far, it’s been astounding brilliance, followed by more astounding brilliance.

He has two NBA titles and he has two Finals MVPs. He has three Olympic Gold Medals and 10 All-NBA 1st Team selections, 14 All-Stars and four All-Defensive 1st Team selections.

Durant also averages over 30 points per game in his NBA Finals appearances. 

13. Stephen Curry

Well, maybe Giannis is only the second-best player in the league. The three-time NBA Champion could arguably take the accolade of the league’s best player. He was the league’s MVP twice, but more impressively than that even, he has changed the game.

Curry is the best three-point shooter in the history of the game, but also knows when he should pass the ball. He is also the most successful free-throw player in the history of the league, averaging well above 90 percent for his side. 

He is still a top player, and at 33, hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.

12. Oscar Robertson

Oscar Robertson made triple-doubles cool, becoming the first player in the league to get one. 

He was a player who could do just about everything. He finished his career with 12 All-Stars, an MVP and a NBA Championship.

He is beloved in Milwaukee and rightly so. A seriously good player, who could do just about everything.

11. Hakeem Olajuwon

The No. 1 shot blocker ever in the league (3,830), Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon was more than just a big man at the net. He also falls inside the top 14 for points (26,946), rebounds (13,748) and steals (2,162).

He won two NBA titles and two Finals MVPs, which shows just how good of a big game player he was. He also has an MVP, six All-NBA 1st Team selections, 12 All-stars, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, five All-Defensive 1st Team selections on his resume.

When he first won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, in 1993-94, he was the first non-American to do so.

10. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O'Neal brought a dominance to the court that was hard to deal with. To put it plainly, he was simply massive; a ball playing giant, who knew how to play to his strengths.

His career brought both team (Four NBA titles) and individual accolades (three Finals MVPs, one MVP, eight All-NBA 1st Team selections, 15 All-Stars, three All-Defensive 2nd Team selections) and it is no surprise he is considered one of the best big men in the history of the sport.

When he was at his best, it was terrifying for opposition defences, who tried to create entire systems in their attempts to stop him. A legend with both the Magic and The Lakers, Shaq’s legacy will be a long one.

Shaq put up career averages of 23.7 points on .582 field goal accuracy, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.

9. Kobe Bryant

The late and great Kobe Bryant was amazing.

There is no other way to put it. He played 20 seasons in the NBA. In all but two of those, he played in the postseason, where he proved his ability on the biggest stage time after time.

He won five titles throughout his career. The memories of his most outstanding performances will live on forever, with Kobe gaining two Finals MVP, as well as being the fourth-highest scorer in the history of the NBA.

He took up the mantle as the biggest superstar in the game after MJ and he produced time after time, scoring an epic 5,640 points in the playoffs.

8. Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan, aka "The Big Fundamental," wasn't the sexiest player to watch, but he was one of the best and most efficient. 

Arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history, Duncan is one of just five players to tally more than 25,000 points and 15,000 rebounds. He also has five NBA championships and All-Defensive team selections to his name.

His contribution to the San Antonio Spurs over almost two decades was immense. There are very few players who have contributed more to a team over their NBA career.

7. Larry Bird

Larry Bird didn't look like your prototypical great NBA player with his unathletic build, but he was a relentless scorer with a killer mentality. 

Many people regard Larry Bird as the greatest player to ever don the Boston Celtics jersey. All you have to do is read through this list to realise how high of an accolade that is. And at his best, he was truly worthy of it.

Larry Legend's ongoing battle with Magic Johnson was the stuff of legend, with Bird coming out with three MVPs and two final MVPs before his career was all done. Bird retired with 21,791 points (24.3 ppg), 8,974 rebounds (10.0 RPG) and 5,695 assists (6.3 APG).

6. Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson wasn’t just an epic player; he was also an entertainer on the court. His Lakers side could do it all and he was the conductor to that beautiful orchestra.

He is the best point guard to ever play the game and the things he could do with a basketball were nothing short of legendary.

In 905 NBA games, Johnson scored 17,707 points and had 6,559 rebounds and 10,141 assists. Magic finished his career with five NBA Championships, three NBA MVP awards and three Finals MVP awards. He was simply that good.

5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

When talking about the greatest player in the history of the NBA, there are always two names put forward for GOAT discussion. Outside of that though, there is a clear third-placed finisher and that is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

He won six titles, as well as six MVPS. In fact, his list of honors is just ridiculous; it includes the most points in the history of the league (38,387), two Finals MVPs, third in the history of the NBA for rebounds (17,440) and 19 All-Stars.

Even more impressively, Kareem’s two Finals MVP Awards were won 14 years apart. How about that for longevity from the big man.

4. Wilt Chamberlain 

Here is the man who leads in rebounds for the history of the league. He finished his NBA career with 2,818 returns from the glass. 

However, he brought much more than that to the table, ranking seventh for overall scoring and also demonstrating excellent assist numbers throughout his career.

He only managed two NBA titles but was the MVP in one of them and he also won four regular MVP awards. Overall, he is considered the most dominant big man to ever play the game and reports of his playing days suggest that when he played well, nobody could keep pace with his game. His single-season scoring and rebound records attest to that.

3. Bill Russell

We are not sure anyone will ever top Russell’s 11 NBA titles. He ran the show for Boston for many seasons and during the 60s, there weren’t many that could compete with him, which is demonstrated by his five MVP awards.

He got 21,620 rebounds in his career, which is an astonishing number. Put simply, if you were going up against Russell in any kind of duel, you probably weren’t going to win. And that is especially true if it's around the glass.

2. LeBron James

There's no real surprise in our top two. However, LeBron James is still in No. 2. That is despite his absolutely crazy records. We could go on for days about all his accolades, but we will simply state this: he has won four NBA titles and in each one, he has won the Finals MVP.

King James is simply wonderful. He is third on the list of top scorers ever, but that doesn’t even come close to telling the story of the player. He turns up for his teams at the most important times and that is shown by him being number one on the list of scorers in the playoffs. James averages an epic 28.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists in 55 games in the NBA Finals.

His basketball IQ is off the charts and when you combine this with his physical capabilities, it makes for a player that is better than anything that has come before… well, almost anything.

1. Michael Jordan

For a time in the '90s, Michael Jordan was the biggest sports star on the planet.

Even today, his name is synonymous with basketball greatness, even in countries where the sport doesn’t have much of a following. He truly is a superstar.

Going to Chicago in the '80s, he turned into the team’s best player, then the league’s best player. Then, after finally getting by Detroit, he turned into a leader who got the best out of himself and those around him.

He finished his career with six titles, six NBA Finals MVPs, five NBA MVPs, All-NBA 1st Team selections, 14 All-Stars, one Defensive Player of the Year award and nine All-Defensive 1st Team selections

When you were down and you needed to score in a big game, you gave the ball to Michael and he did the rest. MJ has the NBA records for career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). He even ranks third in the league for steals, with a total of 2,514. 

He was as close to a perfect player as anyone ever thought was possible and it is hard to argue against him being listed as the greatest NBA player of all time. 

Photo: Getty Images / Lines.com Illustration