Some players only want to shoot threes. Some players just want to score. Others like to specialize in defense. Those players can find a home in the NBA, but the great players take care of business on both sides of the court. The players that can shine on the offensive and defensive courts go down stars because of their all-around game.
All-around players are hard to come by. That is because they can succeed at all elements of the game. Only a few can stand out from the rest. These 15 players are the best all-around players in NBA history.
Pippen is one of five players that have at least 10 appearances on the All-Defensive Team. His resume includes eight selections on the First Team. Pippen is one of the most versatile and talented players ever. He orchestrated the offense like a point guard, rebounded like a power forward, and scored like a shooting guard. He defended the perimeter as well as anyone else and was a vital part of the Bulls’ six NBA championships.
In 17 seasons, Pippen racked up the second-most playoff appearances ever, trailing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His all-around game was a major contributor to that. Some say that his game is what helped future small forwards in the next generation.
15. Kevin Garnett
Garnett recorded 12 All-Defensive First Team selections in his career, which included nine nods on the First Team. When it came to trash-talking, he was a pro, but his defense was even better. Garnett could go toe to toe with any post player in the league, which is why he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. During that season, many believe he should have won Finals MVP for his overall numbers in the Finals against the Lakers.
His accomplishments in Minnesota alone prove he was a great all-around player, which is why he won MVP in 2004. That year, the Timberwolves nearly made the NBA Finals. The team hasn’t been anywhere close to competing since he left.
14. Bob Cousy
In his first 11 seasons in the NBA, Cousy led the league in assists eight consecutive times. His skills introduced the league to a new brand of ball-handling and passing skills. These skills earned him the nickname “Houdini of the Hardwood” and “Mr. Basketball.” Cousy was the 60s version of Chris Paul, but could Cousy do the same in today’s league?
Rather than scale Cousy to the current era, it’s better to look at what he did as a player. He could see the whole court and could make any player better. If you put Cousy on any roster, that team would get better. Also, Cousy averaged 5.2 rebounds per game in his career, proving the 6-foot-1 player could do everything.
13. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Here is what we know about Giannis. He is a 6-foot-11 power forward that can run the floor and convert inside. Offensively, he is one of the best converting around the basket. His size and athleticism are incredibly difficult to guard. As for his playmaking abilities, he has a first step that is also terribly hard to difficult to guard because of his size. He can penetrate the basket almost exactly like a point guard.
Defensively, he is a former Defensive Player of the Year that is going to climb the ladder on the All-Defensive Team rankings. His rebounding is second to none, while he can also make spectacular shot-blocking plays. His passing is also impressive, where he averages 4.5 assists per game in his career.
12. Oscar Robertson
What didn’t Robertson do when he played in the game? His statistics are mind-blowing when you put everything together. For starters, Robertson averaged a triple-double with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists during the 1961-1962 season. When it comes to point guards in the league, that is the true definition of an all-around player, especially when the defense was taken a lot more seriously than in today’s league.
Robertson could score, rebound, and pass, which is evident by his career average of 25.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 9.5 assists. Only two players have ever averaged a triple-double in a season, Robertson and Russell Westbrook. The All-Defensive Team didn’t start until 1969. By then, Robertson had played eight seasons, which means he would have likely made it on the list during his prime.
11. Kevin Durant
Standing at 6-foot-10, Durant is not a typical forward. Durant is one of the most versatile players in the league. Opposing defenses have to find a way to stop both his passing and shooting abilities. With his height, he could be a deadly guard if he was ever moved, but Durant has played with great backcourts his entire career.
Durant is also an effective rebounder. His game is nearly flawless, which is why he has one of the most decorated resumes in NBA history. That includes three scoring titles. He is currently contending for another scoring title this season. With career averages of 27.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks, how can you go against that?
10. Bill Russell
Russell is one of the greatest winners in the history of the NBA. He won a league title in all but two of his 13 seasons in the NBA. At the time, the NBA consisted of just eight to 14 teams, but that doesn't disregard his importance to the team. The Celtics had played for 10 seasons before Russell joined the team. By his rookie season, he had changed the landscape of the team’s direction.
For starters, his ability to rebound was second to none. He averaged 22.5 rebounds per game. On top of that, he was a game-changer when it came to defense. He redefined the value of blocking shots. Had blocks been taken as a statistic, there is a widespread belief that he would own that record. While his 15.1 points per game career average may not be flashy, Russell’s overall stature changed how teams would guard him, which would open up opportunities for his teammates.
9. Wilt Chamberlain
Chamberlain played at a time when most players were significantly smaller and basketball players weren’t of the physical stature that we see today. Even so, Chamberlain was so dominant that he deserves to be considered as one of the best all-around players. For starters, he owns the record for most points in a game with 100. Even against smaller opponents, scoring 100 points is something to be said. Chamberlain also owns the rebounding mark with over 23,000. He has more than 2,000 career rebounds than the great Bill Russell.
Chamberlain was also a workhorse on the court. He averaged more minutes per game than anyone in history with 45.8. In terms of All-Defensive Teams, Chamberlain made two appearances on the list in four opportunities. Chamberlain had played from 1959 to 1968 before the award was given out. We can assume that he probably would have made that list most of the time for his presence inside the paint.
8. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
When you look at the simplistic view of offense and defense, Kareem meets this criterion. Kareem is a top-3 player of all time and would be perfectly fine in today’s league. The 80s were a weaker era than today’s game, but it shouldn’t be counted against him. Imagine him surrounded by four shooters. He averaged at least five assists in three seasons. Plus, only a handful of centers could guard him.
Is there a world where Kareem doesn’t average at least 30 points per game in this league? He wasn't back to the basket center either. He could shoot. The skyhook was unguardable. Defensively, he is third all-time with 12 appearances on the All-Defensive Team. He also ranks third in all-time blocks and missed four seasons of stats because blocks were counted.
7. Tim Duncan
Duncan was Mr. Fundamental when he played. Fundamentals go a long way even if you are crossing over into different eras. Duncan retired from the NBA in 2016, so he is not that far off from what would be called the modern era. In his era, he had the talent, skill-set, motivation, and understanding of the game that would translate to whatever era he played in.
To put Duncan into perspective, imagine the modern-day Rudy Gobert, who is the top defensive player of his era. Duncan had a more skilled offensive game that included mid-range jumpers. On the defensive side, his greatness came with rim protection. He has the most All-Defensive Team selections in the history of the NBA. His passing was sound as well, where he was able to find open shooters such as Steve Kerr back in the day.
6. Larry Bird
Don’t be fooled by the fact that he played at Indiana State in college or by his nickname of “Hick from French Lick.” Bird was one of the most fierce competitors that had so much of an edge he was also heralded as a phenomenal trash talker. Bird had an all-around game that was tough to match, which is why he is the last player to ever record three straight MVP Awards.
Bird had a quick release on his shot and he would often let whoever was defending him that the shot was going to go in. He earned three championships and 12 All-Star appearances in 13 seasons thanks to his ability to get tough baskets and play solid defense. He made three appearances on the All-Defensive Team as well. During an era where the Celtics and Lakers were at the height of their rivalry, Bird was able to match up against any player anywhere.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon
Olajuwon is the world’s greatest shot-blocker as he ranks first all-time in blocks. You can’t fault his ability to contest shots inside the paint. He was so dominant on the offensive and defensive side that he won a league MVP and led the Rockets to two championships. Olajuwon was also able to outplay most centers in a time where the position was really important.
If you were to put Olajuwon in today’s league, how would he fare? Joel Embiid and Olajuwon have similarities in their game, but Olajuwon was better offensively and defensively. Olajuwon changed the outcomes of games on both sides of the floor, which makes him the perfect example of a great all-around player.
4. Kobe Bryant
Bryant is tied with Kevin Garnett for the second-most All-Defensive Teams with 12, including nine appearances on the First Team. Bryant had a tenacity to him that he wanted to win at every aspect of the floor. He was nearly a replica of Michael Jordan when it came to playing the game of basketball.
Offensively, Bryant won a scoring title and is regarded as one of the most clutch players in NBA history. While Bryant was known for shooting, including 81 points in a game, he was also great at finding his teammates. Bryant was a perfect complement to players like Shaq and Pau Gasol. He found a way to change games at all parts of the floor.
3. Magic Johnson
Johnson was a popular player during the 1980s. He had a glowing personality and you realistically only hated him because he was on the other team. That’s not what made him so great with the Lakers. It was the fact that he could do just about anything. In 13 years with the franchise, the Lakers won five championships and he helped change the offensive landscape of the team to the “Showtime Lakers.”
The 6-foot-9 Johnson made him the tallest point guard in the league. Most players of this stature would be put as a forward, but Johnson worked on his passing so well to the point that he owns the league’s record for assists per game with 11.2. He once played center in place of the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a title-clinching Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Johnson could probably play in today’s league with positionless basketball had he been given the chance.
2. LeBron James
LeBron is the king of positionless basketball. For starters, his career averages are 27.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. That includes shooting 50.4% from the field. These numbers are borderline Oscar Robertson numbers. LeBron has never averaged a triple-double, let alone double-digit rebounds, but his ability to evolve his game over time makes him such a great all-around player.
It was just a few years ago that LeBron led the league in assists. After years of playing small or power forward, LeBron shifted to point guard and helped lead the Lakers to a championship. Now, we are watching LeBron play center and is helping the Lakers get back to winning games. LeBron has made six appearances on the All-Defensive Team, which people might forget about as well.
1. Michael Jordan
Jordan’s desire to be the best was contagious and borderline bullying when you look back. The common word that glues everything together was the respect that everyone had for him. When one gets six championships, five MVP awards, and an All-Star appearance in every full season he played, you can’t look away from that. There was also that time he averaged 32.2 points, 9.4 assists, and 8.3 rebounds in 41 regular-season games as a point guard. Jordan could have gone positionless, but they had players that could play the other positions on the team.
Jordan could do everything and the resume proves it. He averaged the NBA’s highest-scoring average at 30.1 points and made nine All-Defensive First Team appearances. That also included a Defensive Player of the Year Award. Gary Payton is regarded as one of the best defenders of all time and Jordan tied Payton for appearances on the First Team. That says a lot about his ability to guard an opposing player.