Discover more from Basketball Poetry
The 40 Players Most Likely To Be Added To The NBA’s Top 75 Players List
The NBA is about to hurt some feelings
The NBA’s “Top 50 at 50” list of its greatest players was iconic, stylish — and controversial. 24-year-old Shaq made this list while beloved superstars like Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins missed out, creating high drama.
Naturally, the league and (most of) its players loved the attention, so at the ripe age of 75 the Association has decided to renew its list. And interestingly, it’s not just going to tack on 25 more players, but it’s going to redo the entire list (bad news for Bill Sharman fans). More details and the original list can be found here. It’s no fun to talk about the guys who are likely to be removed, it’s basically just a list of all of Bill Russell’s teammates (Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, Sharman…I’m barely joking). So let’s focus on who might be added! Below I’ve listed my picks in rough order for guys I think deserve to be added. All stats via basketball-reference.com.
1. Lebron James– I’m not wasting your time or mine explaining why Lebron and the next few players will be on this list.
2. Kobe Bryant – Duh.
3. Tim Duncan – Duh.
4. Steph Curry – Duh.
5. Kevin Durant – Duh
6. Dirk Nowitzki – Redefined what power forwards could do on a court, and almost singlehandedly erased the stigma of Europeans being soft. MVP, 12x All-NBA, 6th all-time in scoring. Shot way fewer 3s than you would think (never even took five attempts per game in any season), but was at the vanguard of the stretch big man. His one-legged fadeaway is one of the most recognizable and iconic shots of all time and allowed him to be an offensive weapon into his late 30’s.
7. Kevin Garnett – 15x All-Star, 9x All-NBA, 9x All-Defensive, MVP, DPOY, a million bizarre anecdotes, and a champion. Lock it in.
8. Steve Nash – If you’re a 2x MVP, you’re getting in. A recurring member of the 50/40/90 club (50% from field, 40% from three, and 90% from the FT line) with five assist titles (3rd in assists all-time) and the orchestrator of the famed “Seven Seconds Or Less” Suns offense of the 2000s. Almost singlehandedly made passing cool again.
9. Dwyane Wade – If you’re a top-4 shooting guard of all time, you’re on the list. Also the best shot-blocking guard ever.
Wade’s athleticism was always great, but it wasn’t sheer verticality that helped him or Shannon Brown would be here instead. It was how FAST he could pop off the ground. And don’t forget, he was one of People Magazine’s most beautiful, uh, people. I don’t know why, but that seems relevant.
10. Allen Iverson: A lock if just for the swag and impact on fans. Terrified David Stern into instituting a dress code for the league (the Malice at the Palace didn’t help). Advanced analytics aren’t always kind to AI, and his efficiency was controversial before basketball talking heads even knew what efficiency meant, but there’s no doubt that seeing this Lilliputian man humiliate giants was satisfying.
He’s a 4x scoring champ and an MVP. Career average of 26.7 PPG is 7th all-time, and he’s 8th in SPG, but the numbers with AI are almost beside the point (or maybe they are the entire point; it’s hard to tell sometimes).
11. James Harden – After Lebron, the most hated superstar of this generation. He’ll get a lot more appreciation when people can distance themselves from the flopping, whining, and off-court antics that turn so many people off, and they can instead remember him as essentially inventing, or at least, legitimizing, several offensive moves (although sadly the one-legged sidestep hasn’t caught on yet).
12. Jason Kidd: Sort of the dark reflection of Steve Nash, in many ways. The passing flair was there, but instead of being a deadeye shooter, Kidd made his name on defense and crashing the boards. Russell Westbrook has sort of ruined the mystique of triple-doubles, but Kidd led the league in trip-dubs ELEVEN TIMES and is 4th all-time. 10x All-Star, 6x All-NBA, 9x All-Defensive, and two top-5 MVP finishes, plus a championship and a bevy of absurd highlights:
13. Chris Paul – The antics are incredibly distracting, and there isn’t a player with a bigger Q-score gap between casual and die-hard fans. Your mom has definitely described him as “the nice guy from the commercials.” But the results (at least in the regular season) are tough to argue with. The sheer competence he brings makes him the ultimate floor-raiser for a team. 10x All-NBA, 9x All-Defensive, a perennial top-5 MVP finisher.
That said, he definitely maximized his impact against lesser opponents and struggled against the elite athletes at his position, as noted in this excellent article from The Ringer a few years ago. But then again, “lesser” was (and is) nearly every other point guard in the league.
14. Dwight Howard – Adding a championship to a 3x DPOY, 8x All-Star, 8x All-NBA creates an unimpeachable resume. The post game may not have been pretty, but its effectiveness was highly underrated during his prime, as he shot 59.0% between the ’06-’07 and ’14-’15 seasons (and they weren’t all just dunks off lobs, I promise). His defensive dominance and dominant rim-running allowed the Orlando Magic to be the true leaders of the three-point bombing style that people mostly associate with the Rockets.
15. Russ Westbrook – Look, you know how you feel about Russ. You either think he’s an empty-calories, stat-stuffing, rebound-hogging, cranky-pants diva whose raw production never translates to true winning thanks to his horrendous shot-selection and unwillingness to permanently change his ways. Or you believe he’s a primal force of nature, a tsunami of speed, an underrated passer whose relentless pressure on the rim bends defenses through sheer force of will.
There are strong arguments on both sides of this debate. But at the end of the day, you’re not putting a list of the top 75 greatest players together without including the guy who has done the season-average triple-double FOUR FREAKING TIMES when it had only been done once before; you’re just not.
16. Kawhi Leonard – Kawhi Leonard is a 2x Finals MVP, 2x DPOY who has more career steals than fouls. Read that last part again, and think about what that means in the context of guarding some of the greatest players of his or any era. Yeah, he should be here.
17. Anthony Davis – It’s crazy to think AD is only 28. This is more of a projection than based just on what he’s done to this point, but AD has been a top-5 ish player in the NBA for years, and might be the most versatile and well-rounded big man in the game today.
He’s already an 8-time All-Star and 4x All-NBA/All-Defensive (injuries robbed him of a few more). I will never forget watching him defensively DESTROY the Miami Heat in the 2020 Finals to the point where they had guys passing up wide-open layups because they were so scared of weak-side help coming from AD.
18. Gary Payton – I’ll admit, his case was stronger on paper than I remembered. 9x All-Star, 9x All-NBA, 9x All-Defensive, led the league in assists and steals once each, added a late championship, and even came in 3rd in the MVP race once. 10th all-time in assists, 35th all-time in points, and 3rd all-time in steals, “The Glove” has enough accolades to ensure he makes the cut here.
19. Carmelo Anthony – He’s a bit of a laughingstock now, but people are forgetting how good peak Carmelo used to be. Everyone thinks of the jab steps, but Carmelo loved being physical, backing down weaker players for that turnaround jumper on the baseline or at the elbow.
6-time All-NBA/10-time All-Star means he’s got the credentials to be on this list, and he really resonated with a lot of fans early in his career. His peers always spoke of him with reverence, and 10th on the all-time scoring list is tough to dismiss.
IF SHAQ WAS 24 AND MADE IT…
20. Giannis – 2x MVP, DPOY, 1 Finals MVP, and an insane development curve make Giannis as sure a bet as any under-27 player to make this list. His epic Finals performance in 2021 (50 points in series clincher - “not 51, not 49”) ensures that he’d probably make this list even if he never played another minute.
21. Nikola Jokic – The newly-minted MVP is a top-5 passer of all-time at ANY position with shooting splits that look more like Kevin Durant than a traditional center.
Not sure if his overall body of work is quite long enough yet, but the projections sure are rosy.
22. Luka Doncic – Likely too young still, but if we’re being realistic, he’ll be on the 100 at 100 list in twenty-five years. The real question is: how high can he rise? If I put the over/under at 2.5 for combined MVPs and championships, where would you go? But unfortunately, it might be a liiiittttle too early to crown him one of the 75 best players of all time.
23. Paul Pierce – Ugh, let’s get this over with. You can already see it:
Paul Pierce catches at the three-point line, goes right, in-and-out dribble, step-back, game-winner from the right elbow. Slick, but disgusting at the same time, like a smoothie made with rotten bananas.
10x All-Star, 16th on the career list in scoring, champion… he never reached the individual heights that some of the people on this list did, but a clutch reputation and sustained excellence could be enough. The Finals MVP is what separates him from other really-good-but-maybe-not-great players listed below. Here’s hoping he gets bumped at the 100-year anniversary list.
24. Damian Lillard – More than anyone besides Curry, Lillard is pushing the envelope of what’s possible to do shooting the ball. “Logo Lillard” is known for his clutch play (two walk-off series-clinching jumpers) and incredible range.
He’s already 6x All-NBA despite the fiercest competition for guard slots in league history, and he’s going to quite possibly add to that total before he’s done. Despite his playoff heroics, however, the Blazers have never really made much of a playoff dent, one fluky Western Conference Finals appearance to the contrary, and that could hold him back.
25. Dominique Wilkins – The biggest snub from the original 50 at 50 list, “The Human Highlight Reel” was an unstoppable scoring machine who averaged 28 PPG over a nine-year stretch from the mid-80’s to mid-90’s. Seven All-NBA selections and a second-place MVP finish speak to his limitless talent. Even a torn ACL, a death knell for literally EVERY OTHER PLAYER who suffered one pre-Durant, couldn’t slow him down. An Atlanta icon with Mr. Fantastic arms, a surprising passing eye, and a better three-point stroke than you realized (37% for his career), I believe the committee will rectify their mistake and include him this year.
26. Bob McAdoo – The other biggest snub from the top 50 list, our man Bob was a 3x scoring champion (34.5 PPG in 1974-1975!) and won MVP with two runner-up finishes in that weird time in the mid-’70s when offenses were slowly coming down from the scoring explosions of the late ‘60s. He even added two championships in his later years. Injuries robbed him of the longevity that might be necessary to make this list and limited him to just 5x All-Star games and 2x All-NBA appearances, but no other player we haven’t mentioned yet has the apex player bonafides of McAdoo (except maybe Derrick Rose? We’ll talk about him more later). So if you’re someone who believes in rewarding peak play more than durability, McAdoo needs to be in.
27. Ray Allen – Everyone knows Ray as the best three-point shooter of all-time (until Steph popped up, anyway) but younger fans may not remember that prime Ray Allen was very, very willing to boof it on your head and was an underrated defender in his early career. 10x All-Star (although only 2x All-NBA), 2x champ, and one of the most famous shots in NBA history:
28. Dennis Rodman – I believe that if you’re the best ever to do something, you probably deserve to be on this list. Is that enough to sway voters? We’ll find out. The belated Hall of Fame induction helps, and Rodman’s rebounding and defensive skills have been in the limelight since the Last Dance reminded everyone how freaking good those Jordan teams were. But then again, Rodman’s offensive deficiencies were no joke, his off-court behavior may be distasteful to some voters, and he was only ever the third-best player on any given team.
29. Vince Carter – The most famous play in basketball history is the Jordan game-winner where he pushed off of Bryon Russell to hit the Finals-clinching shot against Utah. But the second-most famous play is possibly the dunk Carter had in the Olympics where he literally leapt OVER a 7-foot opponent:
I know you’ve all seen this clip before, but please watch it again. This man performed a perfect-50 dunk IN A REAL GAME.
The dunk contests themselves are part of the appeal, too, and Carter’s impact among fans shouldn’t be understated. 8x All-Star and 2x All-NBA aren’t that impressive on this list of luminaries, but his popularity and career longevity (Top-20 in points and minutes played in league history, and sixth all-time in threes) give him a significant boost.
30. Tracy McGrady – Vince’s old teammate didn’t age nearly as well, but had a more impressive peak. 7x All-NBA is no joke. McGrady finished 4th in MVP voting twice and led the league in scoring twice. A whirling dervish of long limbs, high crossovers, surprising leaping ability, slick passes, and a silky-smooth mid-range, he was basically a one-man offense for most of the 2000s. He more or less fell off of a cliff due to injuries in 2008, but it’s tough to have watched prime McGrady and not believe that he is one of the greatest players in NBA history. Let’s watch some quick hits: one of the most famous stretches in basketball history, 13 points in 35 seconds (against professional octopus Bruce Bowen, no less!):
Detonating on poor Shawn Bradley in a playoff game:
Going off the glass in the All-Star game before that was a thing all the cool kids did:
McGrady’s individual highlights are up there with anyone who’s ever played, and for a league that more than any other is built on spectacle, that should count for something.
SOMEONE IN HERE IS MAKING IT, BUT I WOULDN’T BET ON WHO
31. Chris Bosh – I have spent a loooong time trying to figure out how to put Bosh on this list definitively. His career cut short at the tail end of his prime, and his statistics sacrificed to join when he joined with Lebron and Wade, Bosh was still an 11x All-Star but only made 1 All-NBA team. One of the most underrated defenders in a league that hadn’t quite realized how important big men who could defend guards were, Bosh was the league’s absolute best at switching out to the perimeter and using his Groot-like arms to keep opposing point guards in check. He would’ve been a lock for All-Defensive in today’s game. But the career-ending blood clots and the perhaps unfair sense that he was always really, really good without being great will likely conspire to keep him off this list.
32. Paul George – I hear you snickering, you’re not being that subtle, and I ask you to please stop before you hurt Paul’s feelings. His propensity for bad plays at bad times and reoccurring cases of foot-in-mouth disease make him very, very hard to love. But I maintain that late 2010’s Paul George was the single best perimeter defensive player in the league (sorry, Kawhi), with a slippery, polished offensive game and no real weaknesses to boot. 7x All-Star, 6x All-NBA, 4x All-Defensive, and a third-place MVP finish (in 2019) is a pretty impressive resume at 31 years old, and some of those numbers seem likely to grow as he enters a new season without Kawhi. I don’t know if he has what it takes to make it onto this list this year, but if he can stay healthy and productive, it’s as likely as not that he’ll sneak into the 100 at 100 list when I make this blog again in 25 years.
33. Reggie Miller – The opposite of Gary Payton, Reggie’s on-paper resume is not nearly as strong as I remembered. Only 5x All-Star and 3x All-NBA (all third teams), never made a Top-10 MVP finish. Longevity helps, as he is 3rd in 3PM and 24th in career points (13th in games played – dude was an ironman). He’s a player known for big moments, but he only made one finals appearance. Even though his reputation is bigger than his numbers, his peers feared and respected him, which could be enough to squeak him onto this list.
34. Dikembe Mutombo – 4x DPOY who sneakily had 8 All-Star game appearances and 3 All-NBA teams to his name. 13th in career rebounds and 2nd in career blocks. Starred in a fantastic GEICO commercial. Plus, the man is literally out here building hospitals, so let’s put him on here.
35. Ben Wallace – Deserves it for wearing headbands on his biceps. He has basically the same case as Mutombo. As an undersized center, he was a 4x DPOY, ferocious competitor, superb rebounder (led the league in rebounding twice), and pulled off the rare feat of making more All-NBA teams (5) than All-Star games (4). I believe the league should use this list to highlight defensive legends and put Big Ben on it… but history would suggest it’s unlikely.
PROBABLY NOT, BUT MIRACLES CAN HAPPEN
36. Blake Griffin – I haven’t seen too much buzz for Blake Griffin, and I get it. But voters will at least need to spare a glance at his resume – 6x All-Star, 5x All-NBA, a third-place MVP finish, and some of the greatest in-game dunks I’ve ever seen. His first year was one of the most exciting times for basketball that I can remember, and it felt like every Clippers game was must-watch in case he did a somersault tomahawk dunk and split Timofey Mozgov’s skull into their composite atoms:
Injuries unfortunately robbed him of much of what made him special (although he adapted well and never gets enough credit for his ability to change his game), but young Blake’s fearlessness was something that made me love basketball just a little bit more.
38. Pau Gasol – 6x All-Star, 4x All-NBA, 2x champion, good passer, decent rim protector… Pau’s game was rock-solid, and his name was extremely fun to scream out at a bar. But his peak just wasn’t peak-y enough to merit serious consideration (he was 18/10 with solid blocks basically every year for 16 straight years, never cracking more than 20.7 PPG or hitting an MVP ballot). HOF? Yes, but Top 75? No.
39. Tony Parker – Hell nah. Prior to Kyrie Irving, Parker was the absolute best below-the-rim finisher I’d ever seen, but he was basically a scoring point guard who was only ever the second- or third-best scorer on his own team. I’d lump Draymond Green and Klay Thompson in here, in the sense that these guys get a boost from their championships, but are penalized a bit by being in the shadow of incandescent teammates.
40. Derrick Rose – Man, this is a tough one. His story is somewhat similar to Bob McAdoo’s above, but he really only had one true best-in-league type year. His post-ACL-injury numbers aren’t as bad as the narrative around him would suggest (17 PPG at a reasonable 45% clip from 2014-2021), but they aren’t enough to sniff an All-Star game, much less a list like this. MVP’s at least need to be mentioned, so here we go.
Whew! If you made it this far, good for you! I appreciate you taking time out of your day to read 3,500 words about the NBA. Anyway, we’ll find out how right or miserably wrong I was when the NBA announces its list in late October. Feel free to come back and yell at me in the comments! Please like, subscribe, and share. Thanks!