Top 20 greatest offensive players + Top 20 greatest defensive players in NBA history

I wrote a post a while back about the greatest offensive scorers in NBA history using criteria as the # of seasons scoring over 25 points a game, number of scoring titles, best season scoring average, etc.

Now today, I want to go back and revise that and also give you the top defensive players in NBA history, using criteria as # of seasons with more than 3 blocks + steals a game (stocks), number of defensive player of the year awards, number of all defensive 1st team selections, etc. Of course I know this isn’t fair to old players who didn’t have blocks, steals or DPOY but I will rank them accordingly to what their contemporaries said about them.

Top 20 greatest offensive players of all time

1. Michael Jordan
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 12/15
Number of scoring titles: 10
Best season scoring average: 37.1 (1987)

Doesn’t get better than Jordan. 10 scoring titles, most ever. 37 points a game at his peak. He has the single game playoff record of 63 points. A whopping 80% of his career he scored over 25ppg. His 33 points per game in the playoffs is the best playoff scoring average all time. The GOAT.

2. Wilt Chamberlain
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 9/13
Number of scoring titles: 7
Best season scoring average: 50.4 (1962)

The Big Dipper. 70% of his career he scored over 25 ppg, but 7 scoring titles is second most all time. And a peak of a whopping 50 ppg is the highest scoring average in NBA history. He also holds the single game scoring record at 100 points.

3. Kobe Bryant
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 12/20
Number of scoring titles: 2
Best season scoring average: 35.4 (2006)

The Black Mamba. 60% of his career scored more than 25 ppg. 2 scoring titles, and a beastly 35 points a game at his peak, he was one of the most dominant scorers of all time. Also holds the second greatest scoring game at 81 points.

4. Jerry West
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 11/14
Number of scoring titles: 1
Best season scoring average: 31.3 (1966)

The Logo. A whopping 78% of his career he scored over 25 points a game while also dishing out 7 assists a game. He was truly one of the most versatile players ever. A peak scoring average of 31 points a game, and holds the playoff scoring record for a series at 44 points a game.

5. Allen Iverson
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 11/17
Number of scoring titles: 4
Best season scoring average: 33.0 (2006)

The Answer might have been the best small shooting guard ever, scoring over 25ppg, 65% of his career. He has 4 scoring titles, tied with Gervin and Durant for third most all time, and topped out at 33 points a game in 2006. He has the second highest playoff scoring average all time at 30 points a game.

6. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 10/20
Number of scoring titles: 2
Best season scoring average: 34.8 (1972)

The NBA’s all time leading scorer has 2 scoring titles, scored over 25ppg over 50% of his career, had the most unstoppable move in basketball, and topped out at a pretty impressive 35 points a game back in 72.

7. Karl Malone
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 12/19
Number of scoring titles: 0
Best season scoring average: 31.0 (1990)

The Mailman doesn’t have any scoring titles thanks to MJ, but he is the second all time leading scorer in NBA history, and 63% of his career averaged over 25ppg. He topped out at 31 ppg back in 1990.

8. Kevin Durant
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 9/10
Number of scoring titles: 4
Best season scoring average: 32.0 (2014)

Durant has the third most scoring titles of all time, tied with some other guys I mentioned earlier, and 88% of his career he scored over 25 ppg, topping out at 32ppg back in 2014.

9. Dominique Wilkins
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 11/16
Number of scoring titles: 1
Best season scoring average: 30.3 (1986)

In an era of lots of scoring SFs like Adrian Dantley, Alex English and Bernard King, Dominique Wilkins scored more than all of them. 69% of his career he scored over 25ppg, and his best season average is 30ppg back in 86.

10. George Gervin
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 8/15
Number of scoring titles: 4
Best season scoring average: 33.1 (1980)

Tied for third most scoring titles all time. 53% of his career scored over 25ppg, and his best ppg average coming at 33 points a game back in 1980.

11. Lebron James
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 13/14
Number of scoring titles: 1
Best season scoring average: 31.4 (2006)

People might not think of Lebron James as a scorer, but he’s scored over 25ppg over 92% of his career. There’s only one season where he averaged less than that. He does this while also being a great rebounder and assister as well. He won the scoring title once, and he topped out at 31ppg back in 2006.

12. Shaquille O’Neal
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 10/19
Number of scoring titles: 2
Best season scoring average: 29.7 (2000)

Shaq is the most dominant force since Wilt, and has muscled his way to the rim for arrays of dunks and layups, which leads him to be one of the greatest scorers ever.

13. Elgin Baylor
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 8/14
Number of scoring titles: 0
Best season scoring average: 38.3 (1962)

Elgin Baylor doesn’t have any scoring titles, but he does have the third highest career scoring average of all time at 27.4 points a game. And his peak is just ridiculous. 57% of his career he scored over 25ppg, his best season being a whopping 38 points a game back in 62. He scored over 71 points in a game before, and his 61 points in a Finals is still a record that stands today.

14. Oscar Robertson
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 9/14
Number of scoring titles: 0
Best season scoring average: 31.4 (1964)

The Big O could do everything, including score. 64% of his career he averaged over 25ppg, with his best coming in 1964 at 31 points a game. He was basically Lebron back in the 60s, able to score, rebound and assist as well as anyone.

15. Rick Barry
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 8/14
Number of scoring titles: 1
Best season scoring average: 35.6 (1967)

Rick Barry was one of the most lethal scorers back in the day. 57% of his career he scored over 25ppg, and in just his second season in the league he topped out at 36 points a game. He has one of the highest playoff scoring averages at 27 points per game.

16. Bob Pettit
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 7/12
Number of scoring titles: 2
Best season scoring average: 31.1 (1962)

Big Bob Pettit was one of the most lethal scoring and rebounding big men back in the day, along with Wilt. 58% of his career her averaged over 25ppg, and he never averaged under 20 points a game in his whole career. He has 2 scoring titles, and his best scoring average at 31 points a game back in 62.

17. Bob McAdoo
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 7/13
Number of scoring titles: 3
Best season scoring average: 34.5 (1975)

Bob McAdoo was the precursor to today’s shooting big man, being a PF that can shoot from nearly anywhere in the floor. This versatility made him one of the most dangerous scorers in NBA history.

18. Adrian Dantley
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 8/14
Number of scoring titles: 2
Best season scoring average: 30.7 (1981)

Adrian Dantley was not only a great scorer, he was highly efficient too, and led the league in scoring during a decade dominated by scoring forwards.

19. Alex English
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 8/14
Number of scoring titles: 1
Best season scoring average: 28.4 (1983)

Alex English might not have had the peak of someone like Rick Barry or Bob McAdoo, but he was consistent, outscoring all other players during the 1980s.

20. Carmelo Anthony
Number of scoring seasons of 25 points or greater: 9/13
Number of scoring titles: 1
Best season scoring average: 28.9 (2007)

If Durant is the modern day Dominique Wilkins, then Carmelo is the modern day Alex English. A reliable consistent scorer that doesn’t quite reach Durant’s peak or Lebron’s dominance but is nonetheless one of the greatest scorers of his generation.

Top 20 greatest defensive players of all time

1. Bill Russell
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: N/A
Number of DPOY titles: N/A
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 4
All defensive 1st team selections: 1

How could it not be? Russell is acknowledged by many as the greatest defensive presence ever, even if blocks and steals weren’t tracked back in the day. But you can see from available archive footage how great a defensive player he was. He blocks the ball to start fast breaks, and many times in the footage he would block over 10 shots a game. That’s just incredible. No one made a more defensive impact than Russell did.

2. Wilt Chamberlain
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: N/A
Number of DPOY titles: N/A
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 11
All defensive 1st team selections: 2

The NBA’s all time rebounding leader, and also the second greatest offensive player is also the second greatest defensive player, proving how great Wilt was on both ends of the floor. Like Russell, blocks and steals weren’t tracked back in his time, but from archival footage that exists, you can see how many games he blocked over 10 shots, and even one game he blocked over 20 shots! Possibly the greatest all around player not named Michael Jordan.

3. Hakeem Olajuwon
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 15
Number of DPOY titles: 2
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 5
All defensive 1st team selections: 5

The Dream was a defensive beast. He’s the NBA’s all time leader in blocked shots, he had over 3 steals + blocks 15 seasons in his career. He’s also a 2 time defensive player of the year. One of the greatest two way players ever along with Wilt and Jordan.

4. Dikembe Mutombo
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 11
Number of DPOY titles: 4
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 5
All defensive 1st team selections: 3

Tied for the most number of DPOY awards at 4, and 11 seasons in his career he had over 3 steals+blocks a game. He’s also second all time in blocked shots.

5. Nate Thurmond
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 2
Number of DPOY titles: 0
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 0
All defensive 1st team selections: 2

Nate Thurmond is considered one of the all time great defensive centers, with Wilt and Kareem considering him on par with Russell on defense.

6. Ben Wallace
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 9
Number of DPOY titles: 4
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 3
All defensive 1st team selections: 5

Ben Wallace coming up this high might be a surprise to some of you, but don’t be. He was a 4x DPOY, tied for most all time. 9 seasons he had over 3 steals+blocks a game. He’s the reason why the Pistons were a powerhouse in the mid 2000s.

7. David Robinson
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 11
Number of DPOY titles: 1
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 2
All defensive 1st team selections: 4

David Robinson is an all time great two way player, kind of like a lesser but still great version of Hakeem. He had 11 seasons with over 3 steals+blocks a game.

8. Kevin Garnett
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 6
Number of DPOY titles: 1
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 4
All defensive 1st team selections: 9

Kevin Garnett has a DPOY award unlike Duncan, and he was just a great a defender, but I put him below because he has just 6 seasons with over 3 steals/blocks compared to Duncan and unlike Duncan is not playing at a high level into his old age. But he is still one of the greatest defenders especially at the PF position.

9. Dennis Rodman
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 0
Number of DPOY titles: 2
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 7
All defensive 1st team selections: 7

I debated over whether Pippen or Rodman was a better defender but went with Rodman. He’s a 2x DPOY, and could defend any position. He’s one of the greatest rebounders of all time. He doesn’t have any seasons with over 3 steals and blocks, but he didn’t need to, he was one of those players that had defensive intangibles.

10. Scottie Pippen
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 6
Number of DPOY titles: 0
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 1
All defensive 1st team selections: 8

Even though Pippen didn’t have any DPOY awards, he had 6 seasons with over 6 steals+blocks and just like Rodman, could defend any position. His 8 time defensive 1st team selections is a testament to that.

11. Michael Jordan
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 9
Number of DPOY titles: 1
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 3
All defensive 1st team selections: 9

One of the greatest two way players in NBA history not only was Jordan the best offensive player of all time, he’s a top 10 defensive player all time as well. 9 time All-Defensive 1st team + 9 seasons with over 3 steals+blocks a game. He’s one of the best defensive guards of all time.

12. Dwight Howard
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 6
Number of DPOY titles: 3
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 7
All defensive 1st team selections: 4

Dwight Howard was a dominant defensive presence for most of the 2000s. He is a 3x DPOY, that’s second most all time, and one of the great rebounders in recent history. He has 6 seasons with over 6 steals+blocks.

13. Gary Payton
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 1
Number of DPOY titles: 1
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 1
All defensive 1st team selections: 9

Payton is considered one of the best defensive guards of all time and one of the only ones to win DPOY.

14. Sidney Moncrief
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 0
Number of DPOY titles: 2
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 0
All defensive 1st team selections: 4

Moncrief is considered one of the best defensive guards of all time and one of the only ones to win DPOY.

15. Tim Duncan
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 10
Number of DPOY titles: 0
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 0
All defensive 1st team selections: 8

Tim Duncan doesn’t need a DPOY award to prove how great defensively he was. He was an 8 time all defensive team selection, and is still blocking shots at a high level into his 40s. He has 10 seasons with over 3 steals+blocks, and 1 of those seasons came when he was 36 years old, which is crazy.

16. Walt Frazier
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 0
Number of DPOY titles: 0
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 0
All defensive 1st team selections: 7

That he only had 1 season of over 3 steals+blocks is misleading. Most of his career, blocks and steals weren’t tracked, and Frazier was one of the best defenders in the guard position in NBA history. He would have a lot more career steals if they had been tracked back in the day. His 7 time defensive 1st team selection proves that.

17. Kawhi Leonard
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 1
Number of DPOY titles: 2
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 1
All defensive 1st team selections: 3

Leonard is the best defender of his generation and along with Lebron among the best defensive forwards ever.

18. Bobby Jones
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 4
Number of DPOY titles: 0
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 0
All defensive 1st team selections: 8

Jones even though he didn’t win a DPOY award like his contemporaries Michael Cooper, Alvin Robertson and Sidney Moncrief, is still among the greatest wing defenders of all time.

19. Mark Eaton
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 7
Number of DPOY titles: 2
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 4
All defensive 1st team selections: 3

Mark Eaton averaged the most blocks in NBA history with 3.5 blocks a game. That’s every game of his career. 3.5 blocks.

20. Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Number of seasons with over 3 stocks a game: 10
Number of DPOY titles: 0
Number of rebound/blocks/steal titles: 5
All defensive 1st team selections: 5

Kareem was like Wilt, a great defensive player in addition to being a great offensive player. 10 times he had over 3 steals/blocks a game which is very impressive when you consider for the first 4 seasons of his career steals/blocks weren’t even tracked. Plus the 5 time all defensive 1st team, Kareem was a great all around player, though not to the same level Hakeem or Wilt was.