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20 best NBA players of all time: Nikola Jokic debuts among all-time greats

Check out the list of the 20 best NBA players in the sport's history! The debate between Michael Jordan and LeBron James has been settled.

The best NBA players in history are often the ones who have changed the league’s history or the trajectory of franchises. Some are known for their championship success while others had pure talent take them to new levels.

Below, we check out the 20 best NBA players of all time and finally put the debate of who is the greatest basketball player of all time to rest.

Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, here are the 20 best NBA players in history.

20. Karl Malone

Karl Malone is one of the best NBA players to never win a championship in his career; however, his talent alone makes him among the best NBA players of all time too. Malone, known as “The Mailman,” averaged 25.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists during his 19-year career. The power forward is one of the best to ever play his position.

Malone won two MVP awards while finding himself on the All-NBA First Team an outstanding 11 times. The 14-time NBA All-Star is one of the best statistical players in the league’s history and formed a powerful duo with guard John Stockton. Malone will forever leave his mark in NBA history due to his talent alone.

19. Nikola Jokic

NBA: Finals-Miami Heat at Denver Nuggets
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Calling Nikola Jokic one of the best NBA players of all time might seem premature for a 28-year-old center. Among active NBA players, Giannis Antetokounmpo is more commonly viewed as the more deserving choice. Fresh off carrying the Denver Nuggets to a championship, though, here’s why Jokic gets the nod.

Of the 20 best single-season performances in NBA history, Jokic is right up there with the all-time greats. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (three), LeBron James (four) and Michael Jordan (three) each earned multiple spots among the 15 highest Win Shares per 48 minutes in a single season. Jokic has the 10th-highest WS/48 (.3085, 2022-’23), the 12th-highest mark (.3014, 2020-’21) and the 1hth-highest mark (.2955, 2021-’22). He also ranks fourth in NBA history for career WS/48 (.2474). If that isn’t enough, Jokic is the best passing big man in NBA history and he already has the third-most triple-doubles (16) in NBA playoff history.

18. Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki is on the list of the 20 best NBA players of all time and it is not surprising. Nowitzki is clearly the greatest player in the Dallas Mavericks’ history as he averaged 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.4 assists across 21 seasons. The power forward also happens to be a 14-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA First Team member.

Nowitzki won a championship during the 2011 season, along with an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. The 2007 MVP award winner joined the prestigious club of achieving all three major accolades after beating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals over the “Big 3.”

Related: NBA schedule for the 2023 offseason

17. Julius Erving

Julius Erving is best known as one of the players who helped legitimize the NBA when the merger with the ABA occurred after the 1976 season. Erving was an electric athlete who averaged 24.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists while shooting 50.6% from the field across his 16-year career with 11 seasons coming in the NBA.

Erving is a three-time champion and the only player in history to achieve MVP awards in both the ABA and NBA. The electric forward is known as one of the best dunkers of all time but his impact on the NBA when the merger happened might be one of the greatest honors in his career.

16. Jerry West

Any best NBA players list will feel incomplete without Jerry West for numerous reasons. West is most famously known as the white silhouette behind the NBA logo which might be his greatest honor. The shooting guard averaged 27.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.7 assists while shooting 47.5% from the field during his 14-year career.

West won the 1972 championship and also happens to be the only NBA Finals MVP to win the honor despite being on the losing team. The player known as “Mr. Clutch” is one of the most important people in the NBA’s history due to these notable facts listed above.

Related: NBA playoff predictions – Bracket picks & 2024 Finals champion

15. Moses Malone

Moses Malone was one of the NBA’s most underrated superstars of all time despite being teamed up alongside Erving on the Philadelphia 76ers. Malone might not be talked about much but his statistics prove he was incredible. The 6-foot-10 center averaged 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in his 22-year career with 19 seasons coming in the NBA.

Malone won one championship, three MVP awards, and one NBA Finals MVP throughout his career. He was one of the NBA’s greatest rebounders, especially on the offensive boards. Many might not know Malone’s impact like the others but his place in history is cemented forever.

14. Kevin Durant

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns
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Kevin Durant is one of the best NBA players of the current generation and he keeps climbing this list with his success. Durant, known as the “Slim Reaper” has a career stat line of 27.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists while shooting 49.9% from the field during his career. The forward is only getting better as he is chasing another title with the Phoenix Suns.

Durant has won two championships, one MVP award, and two NBA Finals MVP awards. The 12-time NBA All-Star can certainly climb this list as he is currently getting ready for his 17th season. Durant is still one of the best NBA players in the league today and has time to reach his potential as one of the greatest.

Related: NBA Power Rankings for the 2023-’24 season

13. Oscar Roberston

Oscar Roberston’s place in NBA history will forever be intact due to his statistical performances and off-the-court stances throughout his career. Robertson, known as the “Big O,” averaged 25.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 9.5 assists during his 14 years in the NBA. The point guard was also an important part of the league’s reformed rules for free agency and the draft.

Roberston won the 1971 championship and one MVP award during the 1964 season. The 12-time NBA All-Star is most notably the first player to ever average a triple-double in a single season. Robertson is a statistical giant and a major reason for how the league operates today.

12. Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the best centers in the history of the game with his career lining up with many other notable players from the 1984 NBA Draft. Olajuwon was nicknamed “The Dream” due to his dunking abilities in college. The center averaged 21.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 3.1 blocks during his 18-year career.

Olajuwon won two championships, one MVP award, and two NBA Finals MVP awards. The 12-time NBA All-Star became the first player in the league’s history to win the MVP award, Defensive Player of the Year award, and NBA Finals MVP award in the same season in 1994.

11. Kobe Bryant

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Kobe Bryant was one of the best NBA players of all time and there is no doubting his place in history. Bryant was known as the “Black Mamba” which is a nickname he gave himself that fit so well. The Hall-of-Famer averaged 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists while shooting 44.7% from the field during his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bryant won five championships, one MVP award, two NBA Finals MVP awards, and much more throughout his career. The 18-time NBA All-Star would become the name on the NBA All-Star MVP award after winning it four times following his tragic death in January 2020. Bryant was one of the NBA’s fiercest competitors ever.

Related: NBA world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

10. Stephen Curry

Best NBA players
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Stephen Curry is not only one of the best NBA players to touch a basketball court, but he is also undoubtedly the best shooter of all time. Curry holds the record for most made three-point shots of any player in a single career while his 42.6% three-point shooting percentage ranks 11th of all all-time between the NBA and ABA.

Curry holds even more accolades such as four championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, and one NBA Finals MVP which was finally achieved in 2022. The Hall-of-Fame bound point guard has changed the game in ways that will be seen through several generations of basketball talent. Ultimately, what places Curry among the 10 best NBA players ever is his almost single-handedly winning the NBA Finals in 2022, his impact on the future of basketball and his elite play into his mid-30s. However, it will take a fifth championship to climb higher.

Related: Full 2-round 2023 NBA mock draft

9. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal is one of the most dominant NBA players that have ever stepped foot on a basketball floor due to his incredible size and play. O’Neal averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.3 blocks during his 20-year career. The center is most notably known for his role on the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996-2004.

O’Neal won four championships, one MVP award, and three NBA Finals MVP awards throughout his career. The 15-time NBA All-Star is one of three players to win the MVP award, the NBA All-Star MVP award, and the NBA Finals MVP award in the same season. O’Neal is truly one of the greatest centers in the league’s history.

8. Tim Duncan

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs
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Tim Duncan is one of the best NBA players that never expected to reach this level of basketball. Duncan started basketball in the ninth grade after his swimming dreams were crushed by a hurricane that hit his island. The player known as “The Big Fundamental” averaged 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.2 blocks during his 19-year career.

Duncan won five championships, two MVP awards, and three NBA Finals MVP awards. The 15-time NBA All-Star is the only player to ever be selected to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams for 13 straight seasons. Duncan is arguably the best power forward the league has ever seen.

7. Larry Bird

Larry Bird is arguably one of the best shooting forwards of all time and his place in history is firmly cemented. Bird averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists while shooting 49.5% from the field. Known as “Larry Legend,” the small forward saw success in his 13 years as an NBA player for the Boston Celtics.

Bird won three championships, three MVP awards, and two NBA Finals MVP awards. The best three-point shooter of his generation is most famously known for his role in the Boston v. Los Angeles rivalry during the 1980s against a player who will be seen later in this list.

6. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain was undoubtedly one of the best NBA players ever as several records of his will never be matched by another player. Chamberlain’s statistical performances are simply incredible. The player known as “Wilt the Stilt” averaged 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists during his 15 years in the league.

Chamberlain won two championships, four MVP awards, and one NBA Finals MVP award. However, the center holds countless records including the highest-scoring effort in a single game at 100 points and the only player to average more than 40 and 50 points in a single season. Chamberlain was a statistical legend the NBA will always have in its history.

5. Bill Russell

  • Bill Russell stats (career): 14,522 points, 21,620 rebounds, 4,100 assists, 17 triple-doubles

Bill Russell’s mark of 11 championships will likely never be touched by another individual in this era of basketball and that alone makes him one of the best NBA players in history. Russell dueled with Chamberlain throughout his career and finished it with 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists while shooting 44% from the field in 14 seasons.

Russell, as stated above, claimed 11 championships, and five MVP awards. The Hall-of-Famer was a civil rights pioneer and had a tremendous impact off the court. The NBA retired the No. 6 jersey league-wide after Russell’s death in 2022 which makes him the only player to ever have this honor in the league’s storied history.

4. Magic Johnson

  • Magic Johnson career stats: 17,707 points, 10,141 assists, 6,559 rebounds, 1,724 steals

Magic Johnson is the best point guard of all time and it is not a surprise to see him sit in the top five of best NBA players in history. Johnson averaged 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 11.2 assists, and 1.9 steals across 13 years of action. The point guard had an incredible eight seasons of averaging at least 11 assists per game in his career.

Johnson won five championships, three MVP awards, and three NBA Finals MVP awards. He remains one of the most notable players from the 1980s with his battles against Bird. The Boston v. Los Angeles rivalry lives on as it peaked with Johnson during the Golden Age of the NBA. Johnson is now a part-owner of the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stats (career): 38,387 points, 17,440 rebounds, 5,660 assists, 3,189 blocks

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the proud owner of multiple NBA records and his impact is still being felt throughout the league today. Abdul-Jabbar is the current record-holder of most field goals made in a career and career wins. He also sits third in most career rebounds and blocks. There is no other center that put up as much success as him.

Abdul-Jabbar averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game over his 20-year career. In those 20 years, he claimed six championships, six MVP awards, and two NBA Finals MVP awards. Abdul-Jabbar is not only one of the best NBA players but also arguably the best center ever.

2. LeBron James

Best NBA players
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  • LeBron James career stats: 38,562 points, 10,667 rebounds, 10,420 assists, 2,186 steals, 1,073 blocks

LeBron James is one of the best NBA players that has ever graced the floor and there is no doubt about that fact. James has a career stat line of 27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists while shooting 50.5% from the field across 20 years of action. There is no other player in NBA history that has dominated the game as consistently as he does every single year.

James has won four championships, four MVP awards, four NBA Finals MVP awards, and plenty more in one of the most successful careers in the league’s history. In his 20th NBA season, James was still as good as ever and officially took the crown for the most career points over Abdul-Jabbar.

Without further ado, here is the No. 1 individual on the list of best NBA players in history.

1. Michael Jordan

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  • Michael Jordan stats (career): 32,292 points, 6,672 rebounds, 5,633 assists, 2,514 steals, 893 blocks

Michael Jordan is undoubtedly the best NBA player of all time and there is no debate. Jordan set the standards for every player coming after him and changed the game both on the floor and off the floor. Throughout his career, the greatest player of all time averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.3 steals while shooting 49.7% from the field across 15 seasons.

Jordan claimed six championships in six appearances, five MVP awards, six NBA Finals MVP awards, and more as he had one of the most successful careers anyone could have in 15 years. So, who is the better player – Michael Jordan or LeBron James? The answer is Jordan and he won’t be touched for years to come by the other active best NBA players.

Best NBA players FAQ

Who is the best basketball player in NBA history?

Michael Jordan is the best basketball player in NBA history. The Chicago Bulls legend won six NBA championships, six NBA Finals MVPs, made the All-NBA First Team 10 games, was a five-time NBA MVP and a 14-time All-Star selection.

Who is better MJ or LeBron?

Michael Jordan is by far the more accomplished player over LeBron James. Jordan went six-for-six in the NBA Finals, winning Finals MVP all six times. While LeBron James has been to the NBA Finals 10 times, he’s only won four championships.

Who is better LeBron or Curry?

LeBron James is better than Stephen Curry when comparing the best NBA players ever. While Curry is the better scorer, LeBron’s all-around skills and collective resume puts him ahead of Curry among the all-time greats in NBA history.