When speaking of greats in the NBA there are many names you can throw around.
Past NBA Finals winners, MVP’s, scoring champs, rebound leaders, ROY’s, comeback players and so forth. There were some great players in the 70’s, 80’s and before but the group that will be mentioned here might be the best to ever play the game.
I’m 40 and if your around my age, then in the early 70’s and 80’s you were outside until the street lights came on or until your mom was screaming from the 15th floor window telling you to get your a** in the house. There was no time for TV, there was girls outside playing double-dutch, guys on the corner thinking they were the next Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick or you were busy on the courts trying to be the players your older brother told you about during his generation.
As you got older and the girls got hip to your game and stopped jumping rope because you weren’t focused on their footwork any longer but something else, you sat down with your brother and began to focus on the sport he was always bragging about.
You had to know what all the fuss was about.
Julius Erving going behind the backboard for a layup. Magic Johnson dishing one of his no-look passes to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Larry Bird letting one go in a defenders face, then talking trash all the while trying not to choke on that famous mustache.
You were intrigued…
But you were also still young…
Then came Michael Jordan and that tongue, and it all changed.
But there was still that age gap. We remember Mike, the commercials, the sneaks and his out-of-this-world persona but there was that generation gap. He was still a part of your brother’s group of players.
As we got older and started to have kids the roles were reversed. We got to see Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and your brother’s players leave the game and were left wondering– who’s next.
By the time 1990 rolled around I was 15 and my eyes were fully on the NBA.
But with the careers of Jordan and them still in full swing I had to find my own player’s to root for and in 1990 my generation began.
The average NBA career will span around 8 season or so, but if your good, 15 or more. So we will begin with the 1990 season that changed it all for me all the way up to 2000. 10 years for my generation to try to surpass my brother’s.
There is no way I could name every player in those 10 season so I broke it down to at least the top 20 with a few honorable mentions.
Gary Payton (PG) 1991 (2nd Pick) 16 points/7 assist (9x All Star)
Not too many PG’s could control the game on both ends of the floor. Payton was special. Quick off the dribble and a great knack for getting to the rim, he was unstoppable when he wasn’t busy talking trash. His perimeter game was sub par but he made up for it in other areas. One of the best defensive-minded players the NBA has ever seen. Why you think they called him The Glove?
Steve Nash (PG) 1996 (15th pick)- 14 points, 9 assist (8x All Star)
I respect what Nash did during his career but what would he have been like if the Dallas Mavericks never gave up on him and he played his whole career with Dirk? He had a great run while with the Phoenix Suns, he came up short in the ring department, and stole a MVP away from Kobe but he will go down as one of the best PG’s in the game.
Allen Iverson (PG) 1996 (1st pick)- 27 points, 6 assist (11x All Star)
Iverson was not the first player from the inner city to play in the NBA but he was the first to bring the inner city attitude to the league. His no fear play was widely criticized by everyone but he played his game and left it all on the floor. He might go down as having the best handles in NBA history but his game was way more than crossover and bruises. He put a team on his back and led them to the Finals, even had the nerve to win a game. What LeBron James did last season was nothing compared to what Iverson done with that 76ers team. Can’t wait to hear his Hall Of Fame speech.
Ray Allen (SG) 1996 (5th Pick) 19 points, 3 assist (10x All Star)
Ray was more than a shooter during his career. Yes during the latter stages he came a marksman but during his Milwaukee and Seattle days he would blow past you for a layup or dunk. Allen was also know as an elite defender during his early years. He will forever be known as the guy that saved the Miami Heat from further embarrassment during their 2013 title run against the Spurs. If there is a clutch shot to be taken, I want him as one of my top 3 options.
Jason Kidd (PG) 1994 (2nd Pick) 13 points, 8 assist, 6 rebounds (10x All Star)
Kidd was the PG every team wanted and almost had. His career started with Gary Payton calling him Ason Kidd because he had no J, to him being one of the top leaders in 3 pointers made in NBA history (take that Gary). His court vision was second to only Magic’s and his toughness is what made him one of the best, or THE best in his generation.
Stephon Marbury (PG) 1996 (4th Pick) 19 points/8 assist (2x All Star)
This generation doesn’t know Steph. They have no idea that Marbury and KG could’ve been the next John Stockton and Karl Malone. Marbury brought his NY City attitude and handles to the NBA and put the league on notice. Here is how good Marbury was. His numbers were better than 90% of the competition at that position, Nash and Kidd included. He was picked to only two All Stars games as his demeanor was his downfall. He was one of the greats, would’ve been Hall worthy if he would’ve kept his head screwed on.
Vince Carter (SG/SF) 1998 (5th Pick) 19 points, 5 rebounds (8x All Star)
What do you remember about Vince Carter? The majority of this generation will say the dunks, especially the Frederic Weiss Olympic dunk and the arm in the rim dunk during the Dunk Contest. But Carter was much more than that. He literally carried a whole country on his back as a member of the Toronto Raptors. While in New Jersey he couldn’t do enough to push them over the top but he was still there to excite the crowd. Carter’s name will forever be linked to history for his dunks but pull up some old videos and stats and you will see how good Vince was in his prime.
Tracy McGrady (SG/SF) 1997 (9th Pick) 20 points, 6 rebounds (7x All Star)
Like his cousin Vince Carter they both got their start in Toronto, even played together but McGrady moved on to Orlando where he became a star on his own and almost wiggled himself into a Big 3 (him, Duncan and Hill). This was McGrady in his prime, at his best, when he was being mentioned with Kobe and Mike. He was just kicking off 7 straight seasons of All Star appearances, two straight years of leading the league in scoring, yes he was that good. His career saw high, lows and injuries took that explosiveness away from him but in his day he was something to watch.
Latrell Sprewell (SG/SF) 1992 (24th Pick) 18 points, 4 rebounds (4x All Star)
I had to put Spree on the main list. He played with an intensity that you don’t find in players today. There is one person that plays the way he used to now and that is Russell Westbrook. They both have a no-nonsense, talk all prisoners approach. Ironically that is the same mentally that almost cost him everything as he was suspended for choking his coach. In 13 seasons he never averaged under 13 points per game. He was a 4 time All Star and would’ve done more but he decided to repair his reputation instead of chasing the feature role.
Kobe Bryant (SG) 1996 (13th Pick) 25 points, 5 assist, 5 rebounds (17x All Star)
Who knew? The same with Jordan, who knew. Kobe will go down as one the best to ever play the game and rightfully so. The only player that anyone can REALLY compare to Jordan. Championships, scoring titles, MVP, 3rd leading scorer in history and the list can go on. Mamba was the most publicly hated superstar we probably ever had as I talked about in a previous article. But his dedication and will to succeed might not ever be matched again. He is top 5 in my book.
Steve Francis (PG) 1999 (2nd Pick) 18 points/6 assist/6 rebounds (3x All Star)
Francis was well on his way until injuries cut his time short in the league. Quick off the dribble, nice perimeter game and hops that would make Blake Griffin jealous. He was Westbrook before Westbrook.
Allan Houston (SG) 1993 (11th Pick) 17 points/3 rebounds (2x All Star)
A scorer. He didn’t bring much else to the table but man did he have one heck of a perimeter game. He tried to hard to carry the Knicks and in the long run it became too much.
Chauncey Billups (PG) 1997 (3rd Pick) 15 points/ 4 assist (5x All Star)
Not the greatest of numbers, average at best but if a hard-nosed, not afraid to take and make the big shot, defensive players is who you want leading your team then Billups was that guy. Without him the Kobe would have tied Jordan in rings.
Michael Finley (SG) 1995 (21st Pick) 16 points/4 rebounds (2x All Star)
His name is never mentioned when scoring guards are discussed but Finley more than held his own in the late 90’s.
Richard Hamilton (SG) 1999 (7th Pick) 17 points/4 assist (3x All Star)
Hamilton– the master of the screen. He wasn’t as deadly or clutch as Reggie Miller was but he got the job done when need be.
Honarable mention Backcourt
Anfernee Hardaway (PG) 1993 (3rd Pick) 15 points, 5 assist, 5 rebounds (4x All Star)
Dynamic player whose career was done due to injuries. Could’ve been so much more.
Terrell Brandon (PG) 1991 (11th Pick) 17 points, 7 assist (2x All Star)
One of the best play makers and floor generals of his generation.
Kenny Anderson (PG) 1991 (2nd Pick) 13 points/6 assist (1x All Star)
Crafty ball handler that wasted his talents on a few bad teams.
Andre Miller (PG) 1999 (8th Pick) 13 points/7 assist
Solid PG that was well liked no matter the team. Well traveled but well-respected for his on court leadership. One of the best at getting to the rim off the dribble.
Baron Davis (PG) 1999 (3rd Pick) 16 points/7 assist (2x All Star)
Think Stephen Curry before Curry and Davis was that guy. He put the Warriors in his back and back on the map. He played with style and flash and was one of the best PG’s at getting to the rim and finishing.
Jerry Stackhouse (SG) 1995 (3rd Pick) 17 points/3 assist (2x All Star)
In his prime Stack could score with the best of them but that championship team always avoided him. Great slasher.
Mike Bibby (PG) 1998 (2nd Pick) 15 points/6 assist
Want to be jealous of a player? Let it be Chris Webber as he got to play with two great guards. One is Bibby. His numbers don’t smack you in the face but the impact he had on the Sacramento Kings and the Lakers will go down in history.
Damon Stoudamire (PG) 1995 (7th Pick) 13 points/6 assist
A little guy in size but always played bigger. Early years he was a scoring machine but once he got with the Trail Blazers he focused more on defense and ball distribution.
Jim Jackson (SG) 1992 (4th Pick) 14 points/5 assist
I hated Jackson due to his matchups with the Fab 5 while attending Ohio State. Once in the NBA he still showed his knack for scoring and in the shortened season of 94-95 he lit the league up for 26 per.
Sam Cassell (PG) 1993 (24th Pick) 16 points/6 assist (1x All Star)
What about Cassell? His numbers should speak volumes but he’s another name that get forgotten in the debates. Don’t forget the 3 rings he has also. Ask Hakeem Olajuwon how important having Cassell was to those back-to-back titles.
Steve Smith (PG/SG) 1991 (5th Pick) 14 points/3 assist (1x All Star)
Maybe I am too hard on Smith but I believed he should’ve been a better pro. With his size, his shot and handles he would’ve taken over more games than he did in his career, but always played the background. Was a solid pro but I expected more.
Nick Van Exel (PG) 1993 (37th Pick) 14 points/7 assist (1x All Star)
Van Exel was a scorer, from anywhere on the court. What Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford is today is what Van Exel was to my generation– instant offense, but with a headache.
Eddie Jones (SG) 1994 (10th Pick) 15 points/4 rebounds (3x All Star)
Jones was smooth, quiet and deadly. I guess the Lakers took a risk with trading for a young brash kid when they already had an All Star at the position. I have noting but respect for Jones.
Jason Terry (PG) 1999 (10th Pick) 15 points/4 assist
You see the old guy at the end of the bench just watching today, but 11 years ago he was one of the fastest and toughest players to guard. Terry could score at will and when I say at will that is exactly what I mean.
Chris Webber (PF) 1993 (1st Pick) 20 points, 10 rebounds (5x All Star)
The younger generation may know Chris for his work as an analyst but before that he was one of the best PF’s in the NBA. Webber always played big for his size, sliding over to cover centers, taking chargers, leading the fast break off a rebound. But the one thing he did better than anyone probably beside Duncan at his position was protect the rim. He averaged a block per game but altered many shots in the process.
Alonzo Mourning (C) 1992 (2nd Pick) 17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks (7x All Star)
Zo played in an era where big men played defense and played their position. Nowadays they want to be on the perimeter, trying to take a defender off the dribble, or catch easy lob passes due to a lack of low post moves. Zo was great at what he did and that was score on the blocks, play with intensity, and defense with a purpose. Will forever be linked with Shaq due to their spots taken in the draft but managed to come together to win a ring with the Miami Heat in 2005.
Derrick Coleman (PF) 1990 (1st Pick) 17 points, 9 rebounds (1x All Star)
Coleman was a force in the league. The left-handed forward was unstoppable if/when his head was in the game. There were nights he would post 25/12, then follow that up with 5/8. Talent was never the problem. He made one All Star game in his career, ironically that was his highest games played season. Injuries took their toll on his body as he never played more that 77 games in one year.
Kevin Garnett (PF) 1995 (5th Pick) 18 points, 10 rebounds (15x All Star)
Muck like Kobe, you know he has to go but you can’t watch him leave. Garnett did for Minnesota what Jordan did for Chicago. He put a franchise on his back and brought them to prominence. His years there were full of ups and down but he did what he could until it was too much to carry. When remembering what Garnett did for this generation you just remember he was one of the first to come straight out of high school and was thrown into the fire. He took it in stride and will leave the game as one of the best PF’s to ever play. 22 season in and he is still getting minutes on the floor.
Jamal Mashburn (SF) 1993 (4th Pick) 19 points/4 assist/5 rebounds (1x All Star)
Why is the “Monster Mash” never mentioned when the topic od best is brought up? Look at his numbers. What else do you need? I get that he never led a team to a title but neither did half of the guys in the Hall of Fame now. His career was solid, enough so that his numbers rival that of Scottie Pippen, but still the love is not there. Injuries cost him better production but he did the best with the time he was given on the floor.
Glenn Robinson (SF) 1995 (1st Pick) 20 points/6 rebounds (2x All Star)
Robinson was another volume scorer that never gets mentioned. He should be mentioned in the same class as Pippen and Mashburn as they could all beat you on the perimeter or take you off the dribble. Yes his best seasons were with Ray Allen in Milwaukee but apart he was still able to do what he did best– score. For all the LeBron is king talk from the younger generation please pull up YouTube videos of Robinson in his prime and notice the similarities in their respective games.
Grant Hill (SF) 1994 (3rd Pick) 17 points/4 assist/6 rebounds (6x All Star)
Hill is the poster child for NBA ” what if’s”. If he would’ve stayed healthy at least 10 seasons of his career there is no doubt he would’ve led a team to a championship. While in Detroit in his early stages he was a triple-double just waiting to happen when he averaged 20/7/9. Great numbers, but imagine if he had a three-point shot to go with his arsenal. I’m not a big Duke fan but Hill was the real deal.
Rasheed Wallace (PF) 1995 (4th Pick) 14 points/8 rebounds (4x All Star)
I may be a bit biased in this selection since we grew up and went to high school together but friendship aside I always thought he would’ve done more in the NBA. His averages were average but his skill set was far from that. One of the true “stretch 4’s” of his generation before it became mandatory of this generation he played with a passion that is lacking in today’s game. Don’t believe me? Ask the 2003 Lakers.
Shaquille O’Neal (C) 1992 (1st Pick) 24 points/11 rebounds/ 2 blocks (15 x All Star)
The debate will go on forever if O’Neal was the best big man in history. His numbers are up there with the best but what separates him from the others (IMO) is that he changed the way the game is played and officiated. Shaq was a monster in every aspect of the game except free throws. Professional strife and early career immaturity tore apart two duos that would’ve placed him in rare company championship-wise. His combination of power and finesse at his size was something we have never and probably will never see again.
Tim Duncan (PF) 1997 (1st Pick) 19 points/11 rebounds/2 blocks (15 x All Star)
We knew Duncan was different when he decided to stay his 4 years and not declare early for the NBA Draft, Once he entered the league he changed the game. Besides Hakeem can you name a player with better post moves? No facial expressions, the slowest transition defensive player but always seem to get down the court before the opponents shot is hoisted. A pro’s pro by all accounts. Championships? How about 5 of them. Selfish? Ask Kawhi Leonard or LaMarcus Aldridge how selfish he is. He understands the game is about the team and does whatever it takes to make sure they are the last ones standing come June.
Antoine Walker (PF) 1996 (6th Pick) 18 points/8 rebounds/4 assist (3x All Star)
Walker was great. Ball handler, passer, scorer and defender. I felt bad that he and Pierce for all their hard work and loyalty to the Celtics could not get t done together but his career was worth watching.
Dirk Nowitzki (PF) 1998 (9th Pick) 22 points/8 rebounds (13x All Star)
The ultimate stretch 4. Dirk is in a league all by himself. He still has a little left in the tank but the career is winding down and what a career it was. One of the smoothest perimeter games we have seen in history.
Paul Pierce (SF) 1998 (10th Pick) 20 points/6 rebounds/4 assist (10x All Star)
He stayed true to the green and it paid off in the end. Many don’t realize how great a player Pierce was and probably never will until they are forced to watch his highlights as he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Dikembe Mutombo (C) 1991 (4th Pick) 10 points/10 rebounds/3 blocks (8x All Star)
If only Mutombo had a little offensive game or some mobility. In my opinion the best defensive player in NBA history.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim (PF) 1996 (3rd Pick) 18 points/8 rebounds (1x All Star)
Solid back to the basket player. My only knock on him was his lack of aggression on the boards and defensive end.
Antawn Jamison (PF) 1998 (4th Pick) 19 points/8 rebounds (2x All Star)
Be honest and tell me you knew how good Jamison was. The man without a position, a signature move or decent jump shot still managed to carve out what could be a Hall of Fame career.
Honarable Mentions Frontcourt
Jalen Rose (SF) 1994 (13th Pick) 14 points/4 assist/4 rebounds
Rose didn’t have a bad career but he was misused while in the NBA. A PG throughout college and in the NBA they changed his position which took him out his comfort zone. He still managed a good career but would it have been different?
Jermaine O’Neal (C) 1996 (17th Pick) 13 points/7 rebounds/2 blocks (6x All Star)
O’Neal started slow, real slow but kicked it into overdrive in his 6th season. One of the best young big men in the league he proved to be valuable in the Pacers title runs.
Vin Baker (PF) 1993 (8th Pick) 15 points/7 rebounds (4x All Star)
Baker was well on is way to being one of the best post men in the league but injuries and personal problem caused a setback. he still managed to have a solid pro career but questions will always loom.
Juwan Howard (PF) 1994 (5th Pick) 13 points/6 rebounds (1x All Star)
Howard is one of those players that stayed too long in the game. As he got older his numbers declined but as the ultimate professional he stayed because he loved the game. A good low post player with great back to the basket moves.
Toni Kukoc (SF) 1990 (29th Pick) 12 points/4 rebounds/4 assist
He had the talent but he was with the wrong team. The Bulls were great but I often wonder what could’ve been if he was given his own team to run in his prime. Kukoc was a do-it-all players with many skill sets.
Tom Gugliotta (PF) 1992 (6th Pick) 13 points/7 rebounds (1x All Star)
Another player from this generation who caught the injury bug. Gugliotta did his best work in a 3-4 year span where he averaged over 20 a game and 9 rebounds.
Shawn Marion (SF) 1999 (9th Pick) 15 points/9 rebounds (4x All Star)
Marion– the man with the ugly shot was everything to the Phoenix Suns in their heyday. Ultra quick on the break, great defender and not too shabby when it came to the perimeter game.
Lamar Odom (SF) 1999 (4th Pick) 13 points/4 assist/8 rebounds
Name a player in today’s game that has the skill set that Odom possessed? He was a special talent that never really reached his full potential for whatever reason.
Elton Brand (PF) 1999 (1st Pick) 16 points/9 rebounds/2 blocks (2x All Star)
Never mind the old guy you saw at the end of the Atlanta Hawks bench last season, instead focus on that average of 20/10 for almost 9 seasons straight. Yes the younger Brand was that good that at least three different teams wanted to build around him.
Marcus Camby (C) 1996 (2nd Pick) 10 points/10 rebounds/2 blocks
You want a defensive player on your team? Well you can’t go wrong with Camby.
Rashard Lewis (SF) 1998 (32nd Pick) 15 points/5 rebounds (2x All Star)
Lewis was another volume scorer that could and would launch from anywhere on the floor. He had the skills to put the ball on the floor at his size and get to the basket to create.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas (C) 1996 (20th Pick) 13 points/7 rebounds/2 blocks (2z All Star)
Big Z was holding down Cleveland long before LeBron came along. Injuries took his power away but he still went out every night and left it all out on the floor.
Metta World Peace (SF) 1999 (16th Pick) 14 points/5 rebounds (1x All Star)
Yes I have Metta, I mean Ron Artest up here. You see the funny hair and name but forget that he was at best an 18 point scorer for the majority of his career until he decided to go the team route.
Peja Stojakovic (SF) 1996 (14th Pick) 17 points/5 rebounds (3x All Star)
The shooter. The marksman. Stojakovic was a game changer with that shot of his.
I may have missed some. We are talking about a 10 year span here. Drop me a line if you wish to add some.
Next up the ’80’s.