Wednesday, December 8 2021

A little more than 4,500 players have appeared in at least one NBA game. So imagine the task of trying to whittle that list down to the 75 best. That’s what we’re doing.

With the NBA celebrating its 75th anniversary this season, USA TODAY assembled a panel of NBA experts to rank the greatest 75 NBA players of all time. The panel consisted of Jeff Zillgitt and Mark Medina, Nancy Armour, Dan Wolken, Matt Eppers, Larry Starks and Larry Berger of USA TODAY; Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic; Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal; Berry Tramel of the Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman; Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal; Omari Sankofa of the Detroit Free Press; and former USA TODAY NBA writers J Michael and Greg Boeck.

NOT AN EASY TASK: Picking the NBA’s 75 greatest players was not easy

75

Alex English

Alex EnglishAlex English

Alex English

English was drafted in the second round of the 1976 NBA draft by the Bucks and went on to play with the Pacers, but he spent 10½ of his 15-year career with the Nuggets. Known for his smooth shooting and low-key demeanor, English became the most explosive member of a run-and-gun Nuggets team that consistently ranked among the league’s top-scoring clubs. Named to eight consecutive NBA All-Star teams, English was the league’s seventh-leading scorer (25,613) when he left the NBA in 1991. He set 31 Nuggets’ records in 10 seasons, including all-time leading scorer (25,613), assists leader (3,679), games played (837), minutes played (29,839), most points and highest scoring average in a season (2,414 points, 29.8 ppg in 1985-86). English, an eight-time All-Star, also was the first player in NBA history to score 2,000 points in eight straight seasons and was the NBA scoring champion in 1982-83.

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74

Dave DeBusschere

Dave DeBusschereDave DeBusschere

Dave DeBusschere

Drafted No. 4 overall by Detroit in 1962, DeBusschere spent six seasons with the Pistons before being traded to the Knicks in 1968 in a deal that included Walt Bellamy. The trade marked the beginning of the Knicks’ rise from mediocrity. In New York, DeBusschere proved to be the missing piece and teamed with fellow Hall of Famers Reed, Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Earl Monroe and Jerry Lucas. A year after acquiring DeBusschere – a tenacious rebounding forward and overwhelming defender – the Knicks won their first NBA title in 1970, defeating the Lakers. DeBusschere was selected to the league’s All-Defensive team six straight years.

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73

Nate “Tiny” Archibald

Nate ArchibaldNate Archibald

Nate Archibald

Before Isiah Thomas and long before Isaiah Thomas, there was Archibald: quick, clever, fearless and smooth. He was a scoring point guard who also delivered assists. In 1972-73, he averaged a league best in points (34 per game) and assists (11.4 per game). Archibald was creative at the rim with finger rolls, scoops, up-and-unders and use of the backboard. He had a fine left-handed jumper, and whether on fast breaks or when he drew two defenders, he knew how to find the open man. He made six All-Star teams, five All-NBA teams and won a title in 1981 with Boston where Larry Bird liked to throw long outlet passes to a sprinting Archibald.

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72

Bernard King

Bernard KingBernard King

Bernard King

In King’s day, the word wasn’t used the way it is today, but he was a bucket. Get King the ball along the baseline in the low post and there was a good chance he would score. King shot 51.8% from the field in 14 seasons and averaged a league-best 32.9 points per game (on 53% shooting) in 1984-85. King dropped 60 points in a regular-season game and had 40-plus points in four consecutive playoff games against Detroit in 1984. King also returned from a torn ACL – at a time before surgical advances and when an ACL injury ended some careers – and returned to a 20-point per game scorer.

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71

Manu Ginobili

A late arrival to the NBA after a distinguished career in Europe, Ginobili etched his place in league history as part of the Big 3 of the San Antonio Spurs dynasty and one of the best sixth men ever. Ginobili was the Sixth Man of the Year in 2008, a two-time All-Star and a two-time All-NBA third team selection in 16 years with the Spurs. Alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, Ginobili helped the Spurs win four of their five championships, endearing himself to teammates and fans alike with his clutch scoring, creative passing and willingness to embellish contact to draw a foul call.

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69 (tie)

Vince Carter

Vince CarterVince Carter

Vince Carter

Carter made the highlight reels because of his acrobatic dunks that included winning the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest. Carter lasted a record 22 NBA seasons because of his durability and willingness to adjust his role. Carter entered the NBA as a high-flying dunker with the Toronto Raptors (1998-2004), New Jersey Nets (2004-09), Orlando Magic (2009-10) and Phoenix Suns (2010-11). But Carter then evolved as an effective 3-point shooter with the Dallas Mavericks (2011-2014) and as a mentor with the Memphis Grizzlies (2014-17), Sacramento Kings (2017-18) and Atlanta Hawks (2018-20).

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69 (tie)

Robert Parish

Robert ParishRobert Parish

Robert Parish

Parish enjoyed one of the longest careers in NBA history, playing in a record 1,611 games. He spent 14 years in Boston, teaming with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale to form a dominant frontcourt that led the great Celtics teams of the 1980s to five NBA Finals appearances and three championships. With speed, agility and versatility uncommon for a 7-foot–1 center, Parish made nine All-Star appearances and two All-NBA teams. He won a fourth title with the Bulls in 1997 and remains one of eight players in league history with 23,000 points and 14,000 rebounds.

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68

Tony Parker

Tony Parker (9)Tony Parker (9)

Tony Parker (9)

Though Parker was a relatively unknown prospect in France, the San Antonio Spurs selected him with the No. 28 pick in the 2003 draft. Though the Spurs had attempted to deal Parker to the former New Jersey Nets for Jason Kidd, the Spurs soon discovered they were better off with roster continuity and ensuring Parker’s growth as a playmaker, defender and leader. Parker played his final two NBA seasons in Charlotte, but he teamed with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to collect four NBA titles, a Finals MVP and six All-Star Game appearances.

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67

Dwight Howard

Drafted out of high school in 2004 by the Orlando Magic, Howard spent eight seasons there, taking Orlando to the 2009 NBA Finals, in which it lost to the Lakers. In Orlando, he became the only player to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award three straight seasons, and he also is an eight-time All-Star and five-time All-Defensive team member. He averaged a double-double in points and rebounds in each of his first 14 seasons. Howard remains the Orlando franchise leader in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots and almost singlehandedly led the franchise to its Finals appearance.

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66

Tracy McGrady

Not long after he joined Toronto out of high school as the No. 9 overall pick in the 1997 draft, former Raptors coach Darrell Walker told him his work ethic was poor and he could be out of the league in three years. Instead, McGrady was a seven-time All-Star who played 15 years in the league. He had his best years with the Magic and Rockets before injuries limited his effectiveness. In the seven-year prime for McGrady from 2001-07, where he made seven straight All-Star appearances and seven All-NBA teams including two first teams, he averaged 26.9 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game and 5.4 assists per game. He finished in the top four in MVP voting twice, won the league’s scoring title twice and averaged at least 24 points for seven consecutive seasons.

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65

Paul Arizin

Paul ArizinPaul Arizin

Paul Arizin

Arizin was one of pro basketball’s first jump-shot specialists. He led the NBA in scoring and was the MVP of the 1952 NBA All-Star Game before missing the next two seasons serving with the Marines during the Korean War. Playing for the Philadelphia Warriors from 1951-62, he was a 10-time All-Star and also led the league in scoring in 1956-57. In 1956, Arizin led the Warriors to the NBA title. In the 1957-58 season, Arizin reached the 10,000-point mark faster than any other player in history to that point. In 713 career games, he finished with 16,266 points, despite losing two years in his prime to the war. But it was his jump shot that became his calling card. When Arizin joined the league in 1950, most players used the set shot. But Arizin quickly added some spice to the NBA, adding a jump shot that was nearly unstoppable.

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64

Dave Cowens

Dave CowensDave Cowens

Dave Cowens

Cowens was a two-way force: a scorer, passer, rebounder and defender. A tad undersized for a center at 6-9, Cowens was an eight-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, three-time All-Defensive selection, MVP in 1973 and two-time champion with the Celtics. In Game 1 of the 1976 Finals, Cowens had 25 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. Cowens had a solid mid-range game, strong low-post game, including a baby hook shot, and was active on the offensive glass.

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62 (tie)

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo AnthonyCarmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony

Throughout his career, Anthony – another star of the 2003 draft class – was a bucket-getter. He led the league in scoring in 2012-13 at 28.7 points per game and averaged at least 20 points in his first 14 seasons. For his career, he shot 44.7% from the field, including 47.1% on 2-pointers. A 10-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA selection, Anthony is No. 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He will move up to No. 9 this season and could pass Shaquille O’Neal for eighth place if he plays a couple of more seasons.

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62 (tie)

Earl Monroe

Earl MonroeEarl Monroe

Earl Monroe

Monroe earned the nicknames “Black Jesus” and “Earl the Pearl” for his dazzling ballhandling and flashy one-on-one game full of spins, fakes and hesitations that helped usher in a more exciting brand of basketball in the late 1960s and early ’70s. He was the 1968 Rookie of the Year with the Baltimore Bullets and an All-NBA first-team pick the next year. After being traded to New York, Monroe formed a potent backcourt duo with Walt Frazier that led the Knicks to two NBA Finals appearances and the 1973 championship. Monroe was a four-time All-Star.

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61

Sam Jones

Sam JonesSam Jones

Sam Jones

Jones struggled with playing time early in his career but later became an essential member of the Celtics dynasty. Beginning in the 1964-65 season, he had four straight seasons in which he averaged more than 20 per game, with a career high of 25.9 in the 1964-65 season. In seven straight postseasons (1962 through 1968), Jones, who had earned the nickname of “Mr. Clutch,” averaged over 20 points per game and averaged 18.9 points per game in his playoff career. His 10 titles with the Celtics are the second most in NBA history behind only Bill Russell. And Jones, Russell and K.C. Jones are the only Celtics players to be a part of Boston’s eight straight titles (1959-66). Jones also brought the bank shot into the NBA. Jones once said he developed the shot while in high school because he couldn’t make a layup.

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60

Bob McAdoo

Bob McAdooBob McAdoo

Bob McAdoo

McAdoo cemented a Hall of Fame career by having an old-school mentality with his work ethic and a modern-day approach toward playing the game. Well before NBA teams asked big men to take outside shots and space the floor, McAdoo perfected those qualities in a previous era. He became one of the best shooting big men of all time while collecting three league scoring titles and a regular-season MVP award during his first four years with the former Buffalo Braves (1972-76). Following short stints in New York (1976-79), Boston (1979), Detroit (1979-81) and New Jersey (1981), McAdoo became a key role player for the Showtime Lakers. After losing key reserve Mitch Kupchak to a season-ending knee injury, the Lakers signed McAdoo and he helped the Lakers win two NBA titles in the next four years.

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59

Paul Pierce

Paul PiercePaul Pierce

Paul Pierce

Pierce entered the NBA as a scorer and for 17 of his 19 seasons, that’s what he did. The longtime Celtics small forward averaged 19.7 points and he averaged at least 20 points in eight seasons, including a career-high 26.8 points per game in 2005-06. He delivered with a sweet stroke – both mid-range and from 3-point range. He is a 10-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA selection, 2008 champion and Finals MVP (21.8 points per game against the Lakers), is No. 16 on the all-time scoring list (26,397 points) and is No. 9 all time in made 3-pointers (2,143). He also had a knack for drawing contact and earned more points as an 80% free-throw shooter (ninth all time in free throws made).

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58

Dolph Schayes

Dolph SchayesDolph Schayes

Dolph Schayes

During the height of his career with the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers), Schayes was considered one of the most influential players in the NBA. Best known for his two-handed set shots at a time when jump shooting came into vogue, the 6-foot-8 Schayes was a forerunner of the power forward of today’s game. Schayes played 16 NBA seasons, was often among the NBA’s scoring leaders as well as top rebounders and was a 12-time All-Star. After winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 1949, he led Syracuse in scoring for 12 straight seasons and helped lead it to its lone NBA title in 1955, becoming the first player in NBA history to score 15,000 points. Longtime basketball coach Larry Brown once said of Schayes, “He was a poor man’s Larry Bird.”

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57

Anthony Davis

Anthony DavisAnthony Davis

Anthony Davis

Davis has established himself as one of the NBA’s best big men because of his versatility at power forward and occasionally at center. Davis can do almost everything with his post presence, rim protection and passing. After spending his first seven years with the New Orleans Pelicans failing to advance past the second round in two playoff appearances (2015, 2018), Davis demanded a trade. He received his wish to play with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers two summers ago, and he awarded them with an NBA title. Davis has struggled to stay healthy throughout his nine-year NBA career but has mostly excelled anytime he’s on the floor.

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56

Pete Maravich

Pete MaravichPete Maravich

Pete Maravich

No doubt, Maravich had flair. But the showman also had substance. He wouldn’t have been able to mesmerize with his passing and ballhandling without solid fundamentals. But he was more than a dazzler with the ball. Maravich was an outstanding shooter, shotmaker and scorer. Maravich packed a lot into a 10-year career. He liked to shoot, too. He took 21.3 shots per game, including 28 attempts per game in 1976-77 – the same season he led the league in scoring at 31.1 points per game. The son of a coach, Maravich was a five-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA pick.

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55

Dennis Rodman

Dennis RodmanDennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman

When the Pistons drafted him in the second round in 1986, Dick Motta said on a Pistons training camp broadcast that Detroit had just acquired the second-greatest rebounder he had seen – after Celtics legend Bill Russell. Rodman’s career scoring average was unremarkable, but at 6-foot-8 he was one of the great rebounders in league history with an NBA-record seven consecutive rebounding titles. With the Pistons from 1986-92, he won two NBA titles and was twice named NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1990-91). He won three more championships with the Bulls from 1996-98.

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54

Wes Unseld

Wes UnseldWes Unseld

Wes Unseld

Unseld cemented himself as one of the league’s best defenders, rebounders and passers during his 13-year NBA career with the former Baltimore/Washington Bullets. He stopped opponents with his imposing 6-foot-7, 245-pound frame. He was seventh on the NBA’s all-time rebounding list (13,769) when he retired. And he threw precise outlet passes. Unseld became hobbled with knee injuries throughout his career. But Unseld still fought through them – at least well enough to have an extensive Hall of Fame resume. Unseld collected a regular-season MVP and rookie of the year award (1969), an NBA title and Finals MVP (1978) as well as five All-Star appearances (1969, 1971-73, 1975).

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53

Bill Walton

Bill WaltonBill Walton

Bill Walton

Put aside Walton’s injuries for a moment. The big man influenced both ends with his scoring, passing, defense and shot blocking. Walton is another player who packed a lot into a short career. He averaged 13.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 blocks and shot 52.1% from the field – putting together 18.6-14.4-3.8-3.2 and 18.9-13.2-5-2.5 in back-to-back seasons. Walton made the All-Star and All-NBA teams twice, was the 1977 Finals MVP and 1977-78 regular-season MVP. His stats in the ’77 Finals: 18.5 points, 19 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 3.7 blocks per game. However, he missed three prime seasons due to foot injuries in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But he still came back to win Sixth Man of the Year in 1985-86 before another foot injury ended his career in 1988.

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52

Willis Reed

Willis ReedWillis Reed

Willis Reed

Reed will forever be remembered for walking onto the court for Game 7 of the 1970 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden with a thigh injury and inspiring the Knicks to the title. But there is much more to Reed’s game. The left-handed forward-center had a deft touch in the mid-range and finesse, power and smooth footwork near the rim. Blocks weren’t recorded for all but one of Reed’s season, but he was an outstanding shot blocker and rim protector. He won two championships with the Knicks (Finals MVP both times), earned regular-season MVP in 1970, was a five-time All-NBA selection and seven-time All-Star.

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51

James Worthy

James WorthyJames Worthy

James Worthy

He became known as “Big Game James” by excelling when the Lakers needed him the most. Worthy won Finals MVP after posting 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a Game 7 win over the Detroit Pistons in the 1998 Finals. During his 12-year NBA career, Worthy performed better in the playoffs (21.1 points, 3.2 assists) than he did during the regular season (17.6 points, 1.9 assists). Worthy still had hiccups, including a season-ending left leg injury in his rookie season and a costly crosscourt pass in Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals against Boston. But Worthy made up for that with otherwise consistent play.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best NBA players of all time: Ranking the Top 75 – Nos. 75-51

Source: Yahoo Sports

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