The NBA has changed so much as each era comes to a close and a new one starts. Since the beginning of the NBA, centers have altered the games to include deep range shooting while point guards have shifted from being playmakers to the top scorers of the league. Even today, the very best forwards in the game are often the players winning rings.
But one thing has remained intact, the best players in every era have incredible skill sets that make them invaluable to their teams. Specifically, some of the best players in NBA history have dominated the most important categories relating to basketball. It is time to rank the best player in NBA history per category, starting with scoring.
Scoring: Michael Jordan
In terms of putting the ball in the basket, Michael Jordan is the best ever and this shouldn’t be questioned. He can score at will around the paint, using his speed and vertical to finish his drives and flush it over his helpless defenders.
MJ also had a perfect mid-range game and used this shot to win games in clutch moments countless times.
Michael Jordan is simply the most dominant scorer ever, and his 10 scoring titles should put this to rest forever.
Rebounding: Wilt Chamberlain
There are clearly many great rebounders that have played professional basketball. Bill Russell has a very strong argument, thanks to his ability to snatch down 20 rebounds in a game with ease. Even Dennis Rodman can put up monster rebound numbers and might be the flashiest rebounder ever.
All things considered, Wilt Chamberlain is the best rebounder of all time. Nobody as tall as Wilt could leap as he could, and he just dominated the league with his extraordinary rebounding.
Wilt once put up a whopping 50 rebounds in a single game, and that record will probably never be broken. Wilt owns the rebounding records and is the best rebounder ever.
Playmaking: Magic Johnson
Many great playmakers have arguments for this one since many players average a ton of assists and create countless opportunities for teammates to score. But Magic Johnson is the most gifted playmaker ever.
He can read the floor better than any point guard in history and can set up plays thanks to his leadership and basketball I.Q. Magic had broad shoulders and could guard the ball very well, flicking the ball to anyone making cuts to the basket.
Perhaps most importantly, Magic had the most success out of any player in using his playmaking to lead a team to NBA titles. Magic was the best superstar playmaker that won 5 NBA titles.
Shooting: Stephen Curry
This one is not very close. Stephen Curry is the most dominant perimeter scorer in NBA history. He is a long-range sniper who will end his career with the most 3-point field goals made in history.
Curry can literally drain shots from half court and has to be defended extremely tightly as soon as he touches the ball.
Reggie Miller and Ray Allen were recognized as the best shooters ever, but the rise of Stephen Curry has surpassed these two shooters and ultimately changed the NBA game forever.
Defending: Hakeem Olajuwon
Many great players in the NBA have a case for claiming to be the best defensive player of all time.
Bill Russell is probably the most widely acknowledged defender, but unfortunately for him, Defensive Player of the Year Awards was not recognized during his time. Not to mention, he had a much better team than anyone around him at that time.
As such, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, a two-time defensive player of the year, takes this one. His defensive dominance led the Rockets throughout his whole career and even won two straight NBA titles. Hakeem takes this category ahead of the likes of Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, Ben Wallace, and Dikembe Mutombo because Hakeem did not have a weakness defensively.
Jordan clearly could not defend centers, while the three other bigs struggled with quicker players. Rodman was versatile, but Hakeem could shut down bigs, keep up with guards, and always be in the right position to challenge shots. He was also a very powerful man and one of the best two-way players ever.
Clutch: Michael Jordan
When it comes to clutch, two players can only truly be mentioned. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.
They have built legacies off of clutch shooting, and there hasn’t been a player with more game-winners in NBA history than Kobe Bryant. He always takes the final shot, no matter how difficult the circumstances are, and has the utmost faith that he can make them every time.
MJ was a perfect scorer, and also had the same killer mentality than Kobe had. But MJ edges Kobe here because he knew how to be a bit more efficient. Kobe could take some wild shots in his day, while MJ seemed always in control of what was happening and could get a good shot off whenever he wanted.
His track record and unbelievable clutch play in the postseason give MJ the title of the most clutch player ever.
Efficiency: LeBron James
LeBron James is the most efficient superstar at any position since he has all the tools to be effective without having to shoot the ball too much or overdribble. LeBron, mainly thanks to his incredible physicality and basketball I.Q., can literally do everything on the floor without doing much of anything wrong.
He also shoots a very high percentage from the field since he can take the most of his shots close to the basket, and still managed to average over 27 points per game doing so. LeBron is also a sensational playmaker, rebounder, and defensive player when motivated, and his numbers scream efficiency.
Leadership: Michael Jordan
There are quite a few players in NBA history who are considered exceptional leaders. Magic Johnson had the special ability to be the best player on a championship team, and make everyone around him better at the same time.
LeBron James has the same qualities that Magic does, albeit with a stronger frame. Even point guard legends like Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, and John Stockton can feel like they have floor leadership abilities.
But Michael Jordan is once again the best player of all time for a specific category. He expects the same effort and dedication from every one of his teammates as he puts forward and that is why he is a 6-time champion with a flawless Finals record.
Athleticism: LeBron James
In terms of pure athletic ability, LeBron James is a different breed. He is powerful, quick, and has the incredible ability to dominate a game through his athleticism.
There isn’t a player in history with the build of LeBron James that can move and jump like him. Giannis Antetokounmpo comes close, but he doesn’t have LeBron’s power and brute force to do whatever he wants to do.
Wilt Chamberlain also comes close thanks to his inhumane leaping ability, but James can literally play any professional sport and he takes this one.
Ball Handling: Kyrie Irving
We have seen so many tremendous ball handlers in NBA history, so this is a very difficult category to rank.
Jamal Crawford had one of the best crossovers ever, while Stockton and Nash had the ability to keep possession of the ball under pressure to find open players all game long. Even James Harden and Kobe Bryant knew how to beat their man off the dribble and score every time down the court.
But no player in history can pull out magic tricks with the ball like Kyrie Irving. He simply has the ball on a swivel all the time and can create space whenever he wants. The closest we have seen to him is Allen Iverson, but Kyrie edges him with his ability to spin and turn even when defended in tight spaces.
Kyrie is the flashiest dribbler, and the best ever.
Basketball I.Q.: Michael Jordan
A couple of names can be mentioned in this category. Magic Johnson is the best playmaker ever and always made everyone around him better, while LeBron James has a pure overall game and can carry any NBA team on his back to the Finals.
Still, nobody possessed the purity of the game like Michael Jordan. He had a complete skill set and was fundamentally perfect. He always had the right hand in the passing lane, always knew how to score against any defense, and could be the best defender in the league when he put his mind to it.
MJ has the highest basketball I.Q. beating out LeBron James and Magic Johnson.
Overall: Michael Jordan
All factors considered, Michael Jordan is the best overall player in NBA history and there shouldn’t be a debate about that. He has the most individual success out of any player and has the most impressive Finals record barring Bill Russell.
Jordan has his name on some of the most important categories, including scoring and leadership, and his ability to influence both ends of the floor every night sets him apart from the rest. When it comes to being as close to perfect as a basketball player can possibly get, it’s Michael Jordan.