The Top 25 NBA Players of the Past 25 Years: 11-15
Here are the first two parts of this series where I ranked players 21-25 and 16-20 in case you missed it.
This list is very much up for debate and you can discuss it on BSL here.
15. Allen Iverson
Resume: 14 years, 11X All-Star, 1X MVP, 2X top 5 MVP, 4X top 10 MVP, 3X 1st Team All-NBA, 4x 2ND Team All-NBA, 1X 3rd Team All-NBA, 3X top 10 PER, 4X leader PPG, 4X top 5 PPG, 3X top 10 PPG, 1X top 5 APG, 3X top 10 APG
Allen Iverson is one of the most exciting one on one players to ever have played the game, he was a legendary athlete in high school (one of the best ever in Virginia high school football) which translated to amazing agility and quickness on the court, and he was one of the most popular athletes of his time, but he was also overrated.
Iverson led the league in scoring four times and averaged 26.7 points per game. That’s pretty damn good, but he only shot .425% from the field and took 21.8 shots and 8.9 free throws a game to get those points. He wasn’t a great team player due in large part to basically being a shooting guard in a small point guard’s body. If you want a small guard to play isolation basketball, he was about as good as it gets, but if the goal is to win championships, he was not a good choice to lead your franchise. Everyone remembers A.I. stepping over Tyronn Lue after a made basket while leading the Sixers over L.A. in game one of the 2001 Finals (they went onto lose that series to the superior Lakers), but how many remember him getting outplayed by both Ray Allen and Vince Carter in the subsequent two seven game battles? How many remember that the series against the Bucks ranks up there with the Lakers-Kings series in ref screw jobs? The point is Iverson was fortunate to make his lone Finals before even mentioning that the East was poor and they had no chance of winning once they got there. Conversely, many would argue that Iverson was not surrounded by a championship caliber roster, which is fair, but that Sixers team was built in a smart way to supplement his strengths and weaknesses. They were able to cover for him defensively and crash the offensive boards after all of those missed shots. Now if Iverson was paired with Shaq, yeah, he probably could have won a title, but beyond that, this was not a player that was ideally suited to fit in with other star players, so it was difficult to build a championship caliber roster with him at the helm.
Despite all that, The Answer was a great player with his iconic crossover, ferocious competiveness, quick hands on defense, and the aforementioned awesome athleticism and incredible ISO game. Not many players competed harder than Iverson or put on a show like he did. In that vein, he is similar to the man who preceded him on this countdown. He just wouldn’t be high on my list if I wanted to build a championship roster.
14. Ray Allen
Resume: 18 years, 10X All-Star, 1X top 10 MVP, 1X 2nd Team All-NBA, 1X 3rd Team All-NBA, 4X top 10 PPG, 3rd best player on one title team and 4th best player on another title team.
That resume is pretty light for this spot on the list, but let me polish it up a little with these two additions: second best shooter ever and arguably the greatest shot in NBA history. No one has made more threes than Allen, and he shot 40%, which is great for such a high volume shooter that teams are keying on. Then there’s the shot to save the Heat’s season in game 6 of the 2013 Finals against the Spurs. Not only were the stakes incredibly high, but so was the difficulty with him having to backpedal to the narrow corner three while the ball was in the air and then shoot over Parker. Bang as the great Mike Breen said. Tie game. The Heat of course went onto win the title with Allen’s 12-22 shooting from behind the arc being integral.
Allen should have led the Bucks to the Finals in 2001 for the privilege of getting destroyed by the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, if it was not for the aforementioned horrible refereeing against Iverson’s Sixers, but he was much better suited as the second or third piece on a title team. He was basically an evolutionary Reggie Miller, an even better shooter that was more athletic, could take guys off the dribble and finish with surprising hops, plus could play good defense. That is a great guy to have as the second best player on a roster. He didn’t get the opportunity to serve that role on a true title contender until the tail end of his prime as he was dealt to the Celtics where he would help them win a title besides Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. Then he would become a great role player while finishing his career out with the LeBron led Heat. Ray Allen could not have carried a team quite the same way Iverson did, but I would take Ray’s career if the objective was to win a title, and that is not simply because he has two rings to Iverson’s zero, it’s because it’s more plausible to win rings with him over the course of a career.
13. Tracy McGrady
Resume: 15 years, 7X All-Star, 2X top 5 MVP, 4X top 10 MVP, 2X 1st Team All-NBA, 3X 2nd Team All-NBA, 2X 3rd Team All-NBA, 1X leader PER, 3X top 3 PER, 2X leader PPG, 1X top 5 PPG, 3X top 10 PPG
How can Tracy McGrady be this high on the list? He never even won a playoff series! That may be what you are thinking, but situations and opportunities are key when discussing player’s postseason success or lack thereof. Could McGrady have won a playoff series or two during his career? Sure, but what situation was he in where he really had a legit opportunity to do anything meaningful in the postseason? It never really happened. A few of his teams were derailed by injuries to Grant Hill and Yao Ming, but overall, his teams just were not that great, especially once he was out West and had to deal with the superior conference. Therefore, I wouldn’t say McGrady’s lack of postseason success was due to a deficiency in his game or mentality; rather, it was due to a deficiency in surrounding talent and opportunity.
T-Mac had a nine year run as an All-Star caliber player, but the main reason he is ranked this high is his four year stretch as one of the best players in the NBA. Between the 2000 and 2004, there was a legitimate argument as to who was the best perimeter player in the league between Kobe and McGrady. Most felt Kobe was the best in part due to team success, but it was at least a conversation and rightly so. Tracy led the league in PER once and points per game twice during this period while grabbing about 7 boards and dishing over 5 assists a game. At 6’8, McGrady could handle and pass like a point guard, but had great athleticism that allowed him to drive and finish with explosiveness. He was also a good outside shooter as he was a high volume three point shooter that went about 36% from distance. He could just flat out score. To further illustrate what a tremendous offensive player he was, Kobe has said that T-Mac was the hardest player he has ever had to guard.
Unfortunately for McGrady, his prime did not last tremendously long as it was cut short by a knee injury that eventually resulted in micro-fracture surgery, which all but ended his time as an effective NBA player. Considering I value peak over longevity, I have no problem ranking McGrady this highly since he was an elite player, with an apex higher than any player below him on this list. Again, the lack of playoff success greatly diminishes him to many, but switch Kobe and McGrady, and I’m pretty confident that T-Mac would have been known as a winner while playing with Shaq.
12. Jason Kidd
Resume: 19 years, 10X All-Star, 2X top 5 MVP, 3X top 10 MVP, 5X 1st Team All-NBA, 1X 2ND Team All-NBA, 4X 1st Team All-Defense, 5X 2nd Team All-Defense, 1X Top 10 PER, 5X leader APG, 10X top 5 APG, 2X top 10 APG, 1 title as 4th or so best player
Jason Kidd is a difficult player to analyze. He is a mixed bag statistically as he is second all-time in assists as well as steals, plus one of the best rebounding point guards to ever play, but he was not much of a scorer as he only shot 40% for his career and ranked in the top 10 in PER just once. Additionally, Kidd had trouble with teammates early in his career and was sometimes plagued by off the court issues, and then there was that crazy blonde hair. However, for most of Kidd’s career, he was the type of player guys absolutely loved to play with, an unselfish point guard that made getting the ball to his teammates where they liked it a focus of his job. He would also play great defense and grab boards while racking up more triple doubles than anyone not named Oscar or Magic. He just couldn’t shoot, which is kind of important.
J-Kidd was still able to be an elite player despite shooting such an awful percentage in part because he didn’t make that a focal point of his game, only taking 11.2 shots per game for his career, around 13 during his prime. As mentioned, he did just about everything else really well to help make up for the lack of shooting and he clearly had a significant impact on winning. He helped make the Suns into a 50+ win team that fell off to 36 wins the first year without him, that same year he replaced Stephon Marbury and transformed a Nets team that had won 26 games the year before into a 52 win team that went to the Finals. They went back the next year. The Nets lost both Finals’ series, but like with Iverson against the Lakers, Kidd can hardly be blamed for losing to teams that were much better. He did get to hold the Larry O’Brien trophy almost a decade later when the Mavericks defeated the Heat. The 37 year old Kidd was no longer a great player, just a solid starter at the time who had actually become a respectable three point shooter, but he did something many former superstars struggle with in their late years, which was to seamlessly fit in, but of course that was nothing new for Kidd.
11. Stephen Curry
Resume: 7 years, 3X All-Star, 2X MVP, 1X top 10 MVP, 2X 1st Team All-NBA, 1X 2nd Team All-NBA, 1X leader PER, 1X top 3 PER, 1X top 10 PER, 1X leader PPG, 3X top 10 PPG, 1X top 5 APG, 2X top 10 APG, best player on one title team
Splash! No player has ever even come close to the sheer volume of putting the ball through the net from behind the arc as Stephen Curry. He has led the league each of the last four years in made threes (no one else has done that more than twice in a row), but even more impressive is he has broken the all-time record in each of the last three seasons, shattering his own record by 116 threes in the 2015-16 campaign. While shooting over 11 triples a game, many of which were highly contested since he was the focal point of opposing defenses, Steph was remarkably able to hit on over 45% of those attempts, good for second in the league. What makes Curry even more impressive in this regard is his ability to shoot from deep off the dribble, which is unparalleled, as is his range, which easily stretches to 35 feet. Curry is the best three point shooter the league has ever seen and it’s not that close.
There is a lot more to talk about with Steph than just his three point shooting, though. He has arguably the best handle in the league right now and uses that to free himself up for shots all over the court, especially behind the arc and at the bucket where almost a quarter of his shots last year came from, oh and he made just under 70% of those attempts despite being a skinny 6’3 guard without much in the way of hops. The Baby-Faced Assassin can also hurt defenses with his passing ability as he has been in the top ten in assists three times while leading an unselfish offense. On top of that, Steph is a 90% career free throw shooter and has improved his defense as evidenced by his league leading steals total last year. The only negatives of his game are that he is sometimes careless with the ball and his lack of size and great athleticism limits him, especially on defense when he is switched onto a bigger player. Durability has also been a concern, most notably concerning his ankles, but a knee injury may have cost him and the Warriors back to back titles last spring.
Speaking of last spring, something to keep an eye on going forward will be Steph’s ability to deal with the differences in physicality and game play in the postseason as he has not been nearly as dominant in these past two postseasons as he has been in the regular season. The 2015-2016 regular season though must go down as one of the best ever. Curry became the eighth player ever to join the 50-40-90 club (FG%, 3PT%, FT%), and the first to do so while leading the league in scoring. He had the eighth best Player Efficiency Rating (PER) ever, with only these names ahead of him: Wilt, MJ, and LeBron. All of this translated to tremendous team success as well with the Warriors going 73-9 on the season, breaking the record set by the ’96 Bulls. Curry may be done with historically great seasons though with Kevin Durant joining the Warriors which will take opportunities away from others, but this should help Steph become even more efficient, and clearly puts him in a great position to add some more rings.
Michael grew up in Owings Mills, MD, but also lived in Southern California for 12 years. He is a lifelong Orioles fan, a lover of travel, the outdoors, craft beer, and the NBA. Michael is a high school social studies teacher in Baltimore, where he also resides.