The NBA is a star-driven league. Since the beginning, fans have been talking about who's the greatest player? From George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Michael Jordan to now LeBron James, the question of the 'best to ever do it' never ends.
To try to judge who's the best player of all time is a very subjective thing to do. For example, players who are centers will be better rebounders than players who are point guards. This also can go the other way as well. Point guards will be better passers and average higher assists per game than a center. Rather than try to pick the best player of all time, it's better to pick the best player at their position.
The NBA has had so many great players, you really can't be wrong on picking a few different players at each position. That's what we're going to do, pick the four best players for each position to create multiple Mount Rushmores.
Point Guard - Mount Rushmore
4. Oscar Robertson
Players Stats: 25.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 9.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Honors: 1963-64 MVP, 12x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Selection, 1960-61 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
”The Big O”, Oscar Robertson, was the original “Mr. Triple Double”. Before Russell Westbrook's assault on the record book, Robertson was the only NBA player to average a triple-double for an entire season. He did this in the 1961-62 NBA season. During that season, Robertson averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists. By the time he was finished with his career, Robertson owned the record for career triple-doubles, which has since been broken by Russell Westbrook.
Robertson was one of the most exciting players to watch in NBA history. He played 14 years in the league for two teams; the Cincinnati Royals and the Milwaukee Bucks. Robertson became the top-scoring guard of all time (at the time of his retirement), scoring an incredible 26,710 points. When it comes to all-time greats at point guard, you can’t exclude the triple-double king.
3. Isiah Thomas
Players Stats: 19.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 9.3 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Honors: 1989-90 Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, Hall Of Fame
There was no tougher team in NBA history than the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons of the late 80s and early 90s. Possibly, the toughest player was their smiling point guard, Isiah Thomas. He helped lead the Pistons to three consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals. Even though the Pistons would lose the 1988 NBA Finals, they'd come back and win the title in the next two years, cementing Thomas' place as one of the greatest point guards of all time.
Many opposing players hated playing against Thomas. Because of his personality, he gave off a tough demeanor. That ruffled some feathers, which led to his famous place in history being left off the Dream Team roster. While that is a controversial topic itself, the idea of Thomas being one of the greatest point guards in history is not.
2. Stephen Curry
Players Stats: 24.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Honors: 2x MVP, 7x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Selection, 2x Scoring Champion
The greatest three-point shooter of all time is Steph Curry. He's also one of the greatest point guards to ever lace 'em up. Curry may not play like the “traditional” point guard, but not many players do today. It’s a different era with the three-point line and Curry is the king. It’s even led to his nickname “Chef Curry,” as he is one of the most influential players ever.
Curry owns the record for most three-pointers in a season with 402 in the 2015-16 NBA season. Curry also holds five of the top ten seasons for three-pointers made in NBA history. Curry has won three titles, and he's played in many incredible games, especially against LeBron James. Though Curry has never won the Finals MVP, if it wasn't for his play, the Warriors would've never been in the position to win those three chips. Curry is also the first player to ever win regular-season MVP unanimously when the Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games in 2015-2016.
1. Magic Johnson
Players Stats: 19.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Honors: 3x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, Hall Of Fame
Magic Johnson, once finished a high school game with 38 points, 20 rebounds, and 19 assists, in a 30 point victory. It led to his nickname, who eventually became a star at Michigan State where he won an NCAA championship. Johnson would carry his winning ways into the NBA by winning the title in his rookie season. He'd also win the Finals MVP award after delivering one of the greatest Finals performances we've ever seen.
Magic's career includes five career championships, three Finals MVP, three MVP Awards, and the highest assist per game average in NBA history (11.2). There’s no question Earvin “Magic” Johnson is the G.O.A.T. point guard in NBA history. Without Johnson, do the Showtime Lakers exist? Sure, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest scorer of all time, but every brand needs a maestro. Johnson was the maestro, general, and dictator of where the ball went. Without him, the Lakers aren’t even close to being showtime.
Shooting Guard - Mount Rushmore
4. Jerry West
Players Stats: 27.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Honors: 1968-69 Finals MVP, 14x All-Star, 12x All-NBA Selection, 5x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1969-70 Scoring Champion, 1971-72 Assist Champion, Hall Of Fame
The “NBA Logo”, Jerry West, is more than just a great NBA Executive, he's also one of the greatest players to play this game. Known as “Mr. Clutch”, you could always count on West to hit the big shot.
It was the first-ever NBA Finals game played in Los Angeles, where Jerry West first showed signs of his “clutch gene”.
In Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the New York Knicks, West hit an iconic 60-foot desperation shot to beat the buzzer and send the game into overtime. This shot helped him earn the “Mr. Clutch” nickname. Even though West's NBA Finals record is a stain on his career (1-9), “The Logo” became the first and only player in NBA history to win the finals MVP while being on the losing team. This happened in the 1969 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. There's no doubt West's shooting, scoring, and playmaking ability puts him up there as one of the NBA's shooting guards G.O.A.T.S.
3. Dwyane Wade
Players Stats: 22.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 2005-06 Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 8x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection, 2008-09 Scoring Champion
Dwyane Wade aka “D Wade” was one of the worst men on the planet. Before his team up with LeBron James, Wade was tearing up the league as one of the best shooting guards in the game. His offense and defense abilities are only matched by a few other greats in NBA history. Wade led the league in scoring in 2008-09 with 30.2 points per game. Wade retired as the all-time blocks leader for a guard in NBA history (1060), counting the regular season and playoffs. He passed Michael Jordan to achieve this mark.
On top of these incredible achievements, Wade's 2006 NBA Finals performance is regarded as one of the best in league history. After falling into a 0-2 hole against the Mavericks, Wade put up games of 42, 36, 43, and 36 respectively over the last four games to close out the Finals. When LeBron came to town, Wade took a backseat as the face of the franchise but helped the team make four straight appearances in the NBA Finals from 2011-2014 with two championships.
2. Kobe Bryant
Players Stats: 25.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Honors: 2x Finals MVP, 2007-08 MVP, 18x All-Star, 15x All-NBA Selection, 12x All-Defensive, 2x Scoring Champion, Hall Of Fame
What's there to say about Kobe Bryant that's not already known? Bryant was cold-blooded on the court and at any moment he was ready to attack. No moment was too great for him, as evidenced by owning the most game-winning shots in NBA history with 26. This mentality, known as “The Mamba Mentality”, helped Kobe win three straight titles alongside Shaquille O'Neal, and later two more as the alpha dog on the Lakers.
In 2009 against the Orlando Magic, Kobe proved he could lead a team as the Lakers won the series 4-1.
The very next year was the real test for Kobe. His Lakers took on the superteam Boston Celtics, in what would be an epic seven-game series. The Lakers would pull out a messy 4-3 series win, that would go down as one of the most memorable NBA Finals to date. If there was any doubt of Kobe's greatness (there wasn't), he showed us one last time in his final NBA game, why he deserves to be on the NBA Mount Rushmore of shooting guards.
1. Michael Jordan
Players Stats: 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 6x Finals MVP, 5x MVP, 14x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Selection, 9x All-Defensive, 1987-88 Defensive Player of the Year, 10x Scoring Champion, 3x Steals Champion, 1984-85 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
The NBA has never seen a more popular star and during his peak years of 1988-93, it's debatable that we've never seen a more dominant stretch by an NBA player. Michael Jordan appeared to do no wrong out on the court. He was regarded as not just the best offensive player in the league, but also the league's best defensive player. Jordan backed that claim in 1988 as he won the scoring title, Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP with a slash line of 35.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 3.2 steals, and 1.6 blocks.
Jordan wasn't a “one-season wonder”. Jordan performed at a level that's barely been matched every year of his career. A statistical analysis of the best seasons by guards was conducted last year, and they found 13 of Jordan's 15 seasons rank among the top 20 seasons ever. Jordan has accomplished plenty of other incredible feats, including scoring 63, the most points in a playoff game against the mighty Boston Celtics in 1986. Jordan also has the highest scoring average in an NBA Finals series, with 41.0 a game against the Phoenix Suns in 1993. With an undefeated NBA Finals record at 6-0 with 6 Finals MVPs, there's no wonder why many people have “MJ” not just as their G.O.A.T. shooting guard but also as the G.O.A.T. in any position.
Small Forward - Mount Rushmore
4. Elgin Baylor
Players Stats: 27.4 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Honors: 11x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, 1958-59 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
It might be surprising to find a player who never won an NBA championship is in the top four for greatest small forwards, but if you've watched Elgin Baylor play, then you know he was the real deal. Baylor and West are two of the greatest duos to never win an NBA championship. Individually, Baylor was the real deal.
In 1960, Baylor scored the most points in an NBA game with 71. This would be broken two years later when future teammate, Wilt Chamberlain, scored 100. In the 1961–62 season, Baylor averaged 38.2 points per game. What made this even more impressive is the fact Baylor played only on weekends and did not practice with the Lakers that season. This was because of Baylor being in the U.S. Army Reserves. Even though Baylor went 0-8 in the NBA Finals, he still holds the record for most points in a finals game with 61 in game 5 of the 1962 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
3. Kevin Durant
Players Stats: 27.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG
Honors: 2013-14 MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 10x All-Star, 9x All-NBA Selection, 2007-08 Rookie of the Year, 4x Scoring Champion
Kevin Durant is one of the most unique players the game has ever seen. At 6′ 10″, he has the height of a big man, but his shooting and agility appear to look like that of a guard. In 2009-10, a then 21-year-old Durant became the youngest player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring. He averaged 30.1 points per game. Durant's game would continue to get better. In the 2013-14 season, Durant would break an impressive Michael Jordan record by scoring 25 points or more in 41 straight games. Durant won the MVP this season when he averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assists.
Durant nearly led the Thunder over the 73-win Warriors in 2016, but the team blew a 3-1 lead in the Conference Finals. After that, many fans and analysts disagreed with Kevin Durant's decision to join the Golden State Warriors in the 2016-17 NBA season. Durant brought the franchise two more titles while winning the Finals MVP in both seasons. Durant has a chance to move up the ladder in these rankings. With Brooklyn as a favorite to win the title, Durant could win his third title and Finals MVP this year.
2. Larry Bird
Players Stats: 24.3 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 3x MVP, 2x Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1979-80 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
In NBA history, only three players have ever won the NBA MVP award in three consecutive seasons. That list is Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Larry Bird. “Larry Legend” was just that, a legend. While Bird may not have been the most gifted player athletically, he made up in areas of competitiveness.
Bird wasn't afraid to take the last shot in any game, and it showed.
Bird has hit game-winners over Magic Johnson in the NBA Finals. He once told Xavier McDaniel of the SuperSonics that he would tie the game and did. Bird carved pressure and with him on the team, anything was possible for the Celtics during the 1980s. If you needed a last-second shot, then Bird was the man you wanted taking it.
1. LeBron James
Players Stats: 27.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 4x MVP, 4x Finals MVP, 17x All-Star, 16x All-NBA Selection, 6x All-Defensive Team Selection, 2003-04 Rookie of the Year, 2007-08 Scoring Champion, 2019-20 Assist Champion
Yes, the greatest small forward and arguably the greatest of all time is LeBron James. “King James” has been one of the most durable players the league's ever seen. There's no doubt LeBron has had the longest “peak” in NBA history that's still intact in his 19th season. While many are quick to point to his 4-6 record in the NBA Finals, his longevity in carrying teams to the grand stage is one that should be admired.
At the age of 22, LeBron shocked the world by leading the Cleveland Cavaliers, filled with a bunch of no-name players, to the NBA Finals, his first of ten, which featured a streak of eight consecutive trips from 2011-2018. LeBron became the first player to average a triple-double in an NBA Finals series, he achieved this in the 2017 NBA Finals. As the all-time points leader already in NBA playoff history, LeBron has a chance to soon become the regular season all-time points leader if he stays healthy. An incredible player, who continues to battle father time, and his battling has earned him the top spot in the small forward category.
Power Forward - Mount Rushmore
4. Kevin Garnett
Players Stats: 17.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.4 BPG
Honors: 2003-04 MVP, 15x All-Star, 9x All-NBA Selection, 12x All-Defense Team Selection, 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Not many NBA players skipped college and became a star in the league. There are exceptions like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Another player who skipped the collegiate level and had massive success is one of the greatest defenders the league has seen. “KG” was a man-child when he entered the league and played for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Garnett played the game with an intensity that's matched by only a select few. This intensity helped Garnett achieve some pretty interesting feats. Kevin Garnett has nine All-Defense selections. That ties him with Michael Jordan, Gary Payton, and Kobe Bryant for the most ever. Garnett is one of just three players with at least 12 All-Defensive selections. He also is only one of five players in the history of the NBA to win both a defensive player of the year award and an MVP. If you don’t believe that he is one of the greatest, look at how the Timberwolves have fallen since his exit.
3. Dirk Nowitzki
Players Stats: 20.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 1x MVP, 1x Finals MVP, 14x All-Star, 12x All-NBA Selection
Dirk Nowitzki is probably the greatest European player in NBA history, but also the third-greatest power forward the game has seen. In the 2006–07 season, Nowitzki became only the fifth member of the NBA's 50–40–90 Club at the time. This wasn't all Nowitzki achieved in the 2006-2007 NBA season. He led the Mavericks to a 67-15 record, and he won the MVP.
Nowitzki is known for one of the most unstoppable moves in NBA history; the one-legged fade away. This move helped prevent the new-look Miami Heat with LeBron James from winning a title in their first season. With his 31,560 career points, Nowitzki has scored more points than any foreign-born player. There's a reason why he's on this list. Pure greatness.
2. Karl Malone
Players Stats: 25.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.8 BPG
Honors: 2x MVP, 14x All-Star, 14x All-NBA Selection, 4x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
The player with the second-most scored points in NBA history is also the second-greatest power forward to play in the NBA. This is “The Mailman” himself, Karl Malone. Malone was the ultimate workhorse. From battling Dennis Rodman to Shaquille O'Neal, Malone didn't back down from anyone. Standing at 6′ 9″, Malone often played bigger than he was. Malone became only the fifth player in NBA history to score over 25,000 points and grab over 10,000 rebounds.
Malone wasn't just a scorer or rebounder. He was a very good passer out of the post. Malone is one of the rare power forwards in NBA history to have over 5,000 career assists. Malone is fourth all-time in win shares, which is partly because of his great play and for his consistency to be on the floor for his team. As a member of the Utah Jazz, Karl Malone played in an incredible 99.3% of the Jazz possible games during his 18-year career in Utah. In the late 90s, Malone was in the MVP conversation every year, including winning it twice. If it wasn't for a certain G.O.A.T. in Chicago, Malone would have won multiple titles; thus, becoming the greatest power forward in league history.
1. Tim Duncan
Players Stats: 19.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.7, 2.2 BPG
Honors: 2x MVP, 3x Finals MVP, 15x All-Star, 15x All-NBA Selection, 15x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1997-98 Rookie of the Year
The quietest player on the court was often the deadliest. Tim Duncan would play his game, no matter what the situation was, you could count on “The Big Fundamental” to stay calm and collective. This wasn't the only thing you could count on with Duncan, you could also count on that signature bank shot. Duncan's shot helped lead the Spurs to five titles. On top of that, he is one of the greatest defenders of all time.
With 106.34 defensive win shares for his career, Duncan ranks second only behind Bill Russell. Duncan was outstanding in the regular season and on the biggest stage of them all. In the NBA Finals, he once totaled eight blocks in a game. All around, he was versatile in the post. Duncan is one of two players in NBA history to record at least 26,000 points, 15,000 rebounds, and 3,000 blocks in his career. Duncan is also the only player in NBA history to be selected to both All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams during each of his first 13 seasons. Duncan is the greatest power forward to play in the NBA, and you know what? It's not even close.
Center - Mount Rushmore
4. Wilt Chamberlain
Players Stats: 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Honors: 4x MVP, 1971-72 Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 2x All-Defense Selection, 10x All-NBA Team Selection, 7x Scoring Champion, 1959-60 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
There will never be another Wilt Chamberlain. “The Big Dipper” stamped his name all over the record books in his 14-year career. Chamberlain won numerous accolades in his career, but it could've been a lot more. The NBA didn't start counting steals and blocks until the 1973-74 NBA season. The NBA didn't add the all-defensive team until the 1968-69 season. So, Chamberlain would've made more than two all-defensive teams too
Chamberlain's incredible feats include scoring 100 points against the New York Knicks in 1962, recording 55 rebounds in a game against the Boston Celtics in 1960. Chamberlain's stats dropped in the playoffs, and he only won two titles while his arch-rival, Bill Russell, won 11, which pushes him down the list to the 4th greatest center in NBA history. Regardless, Chamberlain has multiple unbreakable records such as most rebounds in a playoff game (41), most career 50-point games (118), 60-point games (32), 70-point games (6), and highest scoring average in a season (50.4). The NBA should make a separate record book just for Chamberlain because when it comes to stats, there's Chamberlain and then there's everyone else.
3. Bill Russell
Players Stats: 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 0.0 SPG, 0.0 BPG
Honors: 5x MVP, 12x All-Star, 1x All-Defense Selection, 11x All-NBA Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Bill Russell's offensive stats aren't that impressive, especially when you compare him to his rival, Wilt Chamberlain, but Russell was a winner and that’s all that mattered. The old saying is that defense wins championships and there’s no better breed than Russell. His one selection to the all-defensive team is misleading because, like Chamberlain, they didn't keep track of the defensive teams until Russell's last season.
The NBA didn't give out the defensive player of the year award until the 1982–83 season. If the award was given out during Russell's playing days, he would have won it every single year. If you look at the leaders of defensive win shares in NBA history, Russell is number one with 133.64. That defense helped Russell win more than any player in NBA history. His 11 titles in only 13 seasons will never be matched.
Russell never lost in a winner-take-all game in the playoffs either. Russell's teams are 10-0 in game 7's and 1-0 in a first-round game 5 series. Talk about dominance.
2. Shaquille O'Neal
Honors: 3x Finals MVP, 1999-00 MVP, 15x All-Star, 14x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive, 2x Scoring Champion, 1992–93 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Shaquille O'Neal goes by many names, but for this list, he'll go by “The second-greatest big man of all time”. That's right, O'Neal only trails one center as the G.O.A.T. big man, but that's nothing to scoff at. Shaq earned his way on this list because of his dominant play. In his prime, there was only one thing you could do to stop him, and that was fouling him. Alongside his running mate, the late great Kobe Bryant, O'Neal brought “Showtime” back to LA as he led the Lakers to three consecutive titles.
In those three consecutive titles, Shaq was truly unstoppable. His 2000 Finals performance in particular may be the most dominant performance we've ever seen in the Finals. In the Finals, he averaged 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. He followed that with 33.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in 2001. To cap the repeat, he averaged 36.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. It’s one of the greatest three-year stretches in the NBA Finals we have ever seen. Then, he left for Miami where he helped the Heat win their first franchise in team history.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Honors: 2x Finals MVP, 6x MVP, 19x All-Star, 15x All-NBA Selection, 11x All-Defensive, 2x Scoring Champion, 4x Blocks Champion, 1969-70 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Abdul-Jabbar owned the most unstoppable move during his time. The skyhook was a move that was purely untouchable by team defenses, which led to him holding the career scoring record. Combine that with his calm, cool demeanor and you have the G.O.A.T of all centers. Abdul-Jabbar holds the record for most MVP awards won with 6, and with his 6 titles, he should be mentioned more in the G.O.A.T. debate outside of the position. In his first 17 seasons, Abdul-Jabbar averaged at least 21 points, which shows his remarkable durability.
On top of that, Abdul-Jabbar also averaged at least 12 rebounds in his first 10 seasons, and he shot 50% or more from the field every year but his last. Abdul-Jabbar was one of the top defenders in the league as well. He's third on the all-time blocked shots list with 3,189. One remarkable stat in Abdul-Jabbar's career is his two Finals MVP awards. He won the first one in 1971 at age 24. Then, he won it in 1985 at age 38. Abdul-Jabbar is a frequent flier among regular NBA Mount Rushmore talk, so it should come as no surprise that he is the king of the crop at this position.