My "Mount Rushmore" of NBA Players:
1. Michael Jordan - 6 titles, 5 MVPs, 6 finals MVPs, simply the best player I ever saw, and the Bulls' rapid descent into suckiness without him and return to greatness with him shows how dominant he was. If you look at the advanced stats, he is #1. If you look at some of his just raw stats over the course of seasons, he or Wilt is #1. He was a frightening mismatch for his opponents on both ends of the court.
2. Wilt Chamberlain - averged 50-27 in a season, won 4 MVP's while playing in a legue featuring Russell, had 55 rebounds in a game playing against Russell, far superior overall player to Russell. His 1963-64 season is arguably the greatest ever played. He did not win a title that year, failing to get the most out of his second banana that year -- Tom Meschery.....I guess that means that Wilt sucked that year. If you go through Wilt's career best to worst years versus Kareem's, Wilt has better advanced stats in 12 years. Like Jordan, a frightening mismatch for opponents on both ends.
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- Durant put Kareem on his Mount Rushmore, and you really have to hand it to KD for that pick. Kareem has the most MVPs (6), and he was a dominant force in the NBA from 1969-83, then a key cog on championship level teams until 1989. Much as you may love Magic, the cold hard facts are that Kareem was the better and more dominant player. His stats are better for individual seasons. His stats are better for his career. He had better longevity. His 6 best years (the Milwaukee years) he was 30-15-4 with 4 steals plus blocks. These are AVERGES!! There has never been a great player given less of his due that Kareem. Wilt said he didn't rebound that well, others faulted his defense. Magic's tiles without Kareem - 0. Oscar's titles without Kareem - 0. Per Bill Russell, that makes both players shit and unworthy of consideration (recall that Bill, personally, won a lot of titles).
4. LeBron James -- Any fair review of LeBron's 11 years in the league establishes that he has been a better player than either Magic or Bird. He has been a far superior defender to either man. He has more overall career Win Shares, better WS/48, better PER, more MVP awards. And he is still playing at a high level.
Of guys who have at least 150 career Win Shares, LeBron has played over 100 fewer games than anyone on the list. Career WS/48 - 4th, career PER - 2nd behind Jordan. LeBron after this year will be 8X First team all-NBA, he is a 4X MVP and a 2X Finals MVP (I will give Durant the MVP this year, and I doubt the Heat even reach the Finals).
Cleveland the year pre-James: 17-65, during James 349-225, after James - 19-63.
Miami the year pre-James 47-35, during James 170-60 (2 titles, 3 finals appearances)
As a playoff performer, James' teams have never suffered a first round loss; never; and have reached the finals 4 times. It is conceivable that after this year LeBron will have the 3rd most playoff Win Shares for his career of any player in the history of the game. Even a poor 2.1 WS performance (he has averaged 5.5 the last two years) will move LeBron into 5th place all-time, ahead of Wilt and behind only Michael, Kareem, Duncan and Magic.
GUYS I FEEL BAD ABOUT SNUBBING
Bird and Magic -- These guys saved the league. They won 6 total MVPs and 8 total titles. But if you really, really stare hard at their numbers, they just are not top 4 numbers. Plus each guy suffered an affliction that ended his career early (Bird back, Magic HIV). So they also lose points for lack of longevity. I think that the legend of Bird and Magic outstrips the actual reality of Bird and Magic. Bird, in particular, has playoff stats that do not justify a top 4 placement. Magic was the better player, so I feel worse about him.
Karl Malone -- no player has ever been as consistently "well above average" for as long as Karl was. He had 12 seasons above 13 Win Shares (tied with Wilt). If you look at that list, the ranking is Wilt, Malone, Jordan, Jabbar, James. If you jack the number up to 17 (truly dominant season), Karl, sadly, disappears from the list altogether and you get Wilt, Jordan, Kareem, David Robinson, James, Mikan. At his absolute best, Karl just wasn't as great as the other guys. And the playoff deal, well.....
David Robinson and Charles Barkley - If you look hard at the advanced stats, as I often do, you see that these two guys are wildly underrated. David played with some REALLY shitty supporting casts, and Charles did as well. Both are ranked extremely high on PER and WS/48. Both were consistently great, and when teamed with great players, both reached the finals (David winning twice).
Tim Duncan -- Like Karl Malone, consistently really, really good. And, unlike Karl, his play actually improved in the playoffs. I have said, maybe the second best defender of all-time after Bill Russell. He has a career Defensive Rating (lower is better) of 95. Of the guys who started their career after 1979, there are three guys who have played 25,000 minutes and had a Defensive Rating under 97 -- Duncan, Robinson, and Ben Wallace. That is it. So, negatives? Seasons with greater than 15 WS -- 2. MVPs - 2.
George Mikan -- There have only been 6 guys who have ever logged 20 WS in a season, the 4 guys on my list, Oscar, and Mikan. Mikan did it 3 times. Plus he had 5 titles. But his career was really short, and he was playing basically in an all-white league. His three top seasons match up with anyone's, but I just cannot say that he clearly had a better career than my top 4 guys.
I do not believe that Bill Russell merits a top 4 placement. He was a one-end player, playing with multiple HOF teammates and largely against 6'7" white guys. Look at his career shooting percentages and free throw percentages. He also averaged 15 points a game in an era with a 131% pace of play compared to today's game. Oscar Robertson, as well, is really not a top 4 player. 1 time MVP, very little playoff success, much lower production after his 8th year. Guys like Jerry West and Elgin Baylor and Bob Petit probably deserve equal or more consideration than Oscar.
If you pushed me real, real hard, I would go:
Top 4 in order.
5 - Duncan
6 - Magic
7 - Mikan
8 - Bird