Who are the best 12 NBA players of all time, based upon the Hoops Maven's review of the stats, historical record, personal observations and personal preferences? Well, we already know that in alphabetical order they are:
Bill Russell, and
Interestingly, in 1980, the NBA announced its 35th Anniversary Team: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NBA_35th_Anniversary_Team This is the most exclusive team ever announced, as it includes only 11 players!!
6 of those players still made my top 12 (Kareem, Wilt, Mikan, Oscar, Russell, West). For guys who starred mainly between 1981 and 2003, I have added 4 guys (Magic, Michael, Karl, Shaq) and for guys who are still current players I have Duncan and LeBron.
So let's get to work;:
12. Oscar Robertson -- a one-time MVP who only won a title while on his last legs with Milwaukee (riding Kareem to the title - watch those game films, you will wonder how Oscar was ever considered such a great player). His teams were not always good, and of the top 12 he had some of the least playoff success (Oscar's college team also never won the title while he was there, but they won the year after he left!). So why is he on the top 12 versus, say, Bird. Oscar was regarded by his peers as a top 5 player. 9X first-team all-NBA, 9X top 5 in MVP balloting, won an MVP in a league that featured both Wilt AND Russell AND Bob Petit. I also give some credit for the fact that people who saw Magic and Oscar play routinely stated that Oscar was, by far, the better all-around player. Now, some of that is old guys being old guys, but if you look at Oscar's career Win Shares overall and per season, there is only one guy who is regularly superior -- Michael Jordan. And it is hard to dismiss a 30-10-10 season. It just is.
11. Jerry West -- never won an MVP, so there is an argument that he doesn't belong on this top 12 list with the other guys. But let me defend my selection -- he was top 2 in the MVP balloting 4 years and top 6 nine times. First-team all-NBA 9 times. He was the Finals MVP in a year that his team LOST!! Does own a title in 1972 when he was still first-team all-NBA. If you review his WS/48 (top 10) and then review his playoff stats (only Jordan and Magic have better stats for guards in the history of the game), you have to conclude that he is top 12.
10. George Mikan -- it pains me to put him so low, especially since it appears that I am favoring the guys I have actually watched play and trashing all of the older guys at the bottom. But.....Mikan only played 7 years. He was so ridiculously dominant during those years that he won 5 titles and put up numbers and advanced numbers that are just silly they are so good. His career playoff PER is 28.5!!!!!!!!!! And, he changed the game. He was so good at basketball that they made the lane wider so he wouldn't score so much. Teams held the ball against his team, leading to a cry for more action and the 24 second clock. Goaltending used to be legal, but, again, Mikan was so good in college that they changed that rule. I cannot take him out of the top 12, but his short career and the fact that he had only 3 super great seasons will leave him stuck at 10.
9. Shaquille O'Neal -- From 1992 through 2004, he was virtually unguardable when healthy. The 3 time Finals MVP during a three-peat (ala Jordan). 14 times all-NBA (8X first-team), which, for a center competing with Hakeem and David Robinson all those years, means he was damned good. One wonders where Shaq would come in on the list if he cared seriously about getting in shape for the regular season. But, that said, part of greatness is picking up your game when the playoffs come around. How great was Shaq in the playoffs? BANG! Even when he was sometimes fat and sometimes hurt, he would draw doubles and triples in the post. Took Orlando to the Finals, took the Lakers to the Finals, was a good starter when Miami won the Finals. I believe that he is a victim of his own potential. When a guy is 14X all-NBA and an MVP and has 4 titles and owns 3 finals MVPs, and he basically cannot be stopped on the offensive end for 13 years, he is a top 10 player in my book.
8. Bill Russell -- I know, he won all of those titles, and he was way ahead of his time as a defensive player (watch old NBA footage - he is the only guy with any concept of the word "help" on defense. Everyone else stays glued to their guy as if they were subject to removal from the league if they strayed an arm's length away). He always won -- San Francisco won two titles, the Celts won almost every year. Yet I just cannot get over his extremely mediocre offensive stats. He shot 44% from the field and 56% from the line. His career PER is under 20. He did not reach 30 Career Offensive Win Shares (he had an NBA record 133 Defensive Win Shares). His playoff numbers are not any better.
I just have to conclude that a top 5 player needs to contribute significantly on both ends of the floor. Sorry, Bill.
7. Karl Malone -- statistically, Karl Malone has an argument to be a top 4 player. Who contributed more, as a star, to his team during the regular season? Only Wilt and Jordan, if you believe this stat. The guy was truly great for a LONG LONG LONG time. He was MVP of the league twice. 11X First-team all-NBA!! 11X!! He is 3rd for total Win Shares, 2nd (behind only Jordan) for Value Over Replacement Player. Despite playing a ridiculous number of years, he STILL is top 20 all-time in WS/48 (a stat that will get worse as you get older -- ask LeBron). Statistically, Malone is arguably a top 4 player. The fly in the ointment, of course, is his playoff performance. It is poor. Everything plummets. There is not one year that you can point to and say, "That is the year he showed he was a top 5 all-time player." What else can you say? I mean, "if you are so great, why can't you win a title and why do you get eliminated early A LOT!?!?" That said, he did reach the Finals twice, and he WAS the best guy on those teams. So you cannot say he was McGrady-esque or Garnett-ish. I will put him at #7 and let everyone take shots at me, both pro and con
Next up -- guys 6-1.