The top 75 greatest NBA/ABA players based on awards/stats only!

The NBA recently released a list of the top 75 greatest players in their history, voted on by former players, media and coaches. And just like every other list out there, it’s subjective. Even when the NBA released their original 50 greatest players list in 1996, there was a lot of debate about who was missing from that list, and who arguably should not be on the list. For the 75 list, the NBA mostly kept all the players from the original 50 list, and added 26 more, for a total of 76 players. 

I of course like most people, disagreed with some selections on the list. The list overall I felt was a bit biased towards older players, partly out of respect for the original 50 list, and not enough modern players got their due. In addition, just like every other list out there, the list does not contain ABA players, who I always felt got disrespected. 

There are a few other lists out there floating around by various popular Youtubers. Johnny Arnett posted his top 75 list, that was decided by voters on his discord channel. But just like every list that is determined by voting, this ends up being a popularity contest, and most modern fans tend to be more biased towards modern players, swinging the other way. 

Jimmy HighRoller posted a video on his list of the top 75 players, that is supposedly based on numbers, but adds in two very subjective categories, one based on ‘shot making’ that is not related to shooting and doesn’t seem to be based on anything except his own opinion, and one based on influence and impact, which also seems to be based purely on his own opinion. For example, why is Tmac 10 spots above Michael Jordan on the shot making list? And having Kobe #1 on shot making is kind of ironic given that he’s the all time leader in missed shots isn’t it? So how is that determined? Why isn’t George Mikan or Bob Cousy, two of the most influential pioneers of basketball history, not on the influence and impact list? What about Yao Ming, a player that almost single handedly made basketball popular in China and brought the NBA a billion fans? Also, he’s missing Rick Barry from the Finals MVP list, so there’s a few mistakes on that list.

I want to make my own top 75 list, except I want to remove all the subjectivity from it. That means every category and criteria of my list has to be based on something that can be found on basketball reference, the popular basketball statistic website. 

The idea is very similar to Jimmy HighRollers, except I won’t be using any subjective categories. I will instead by assigning every award points, and combining a player’s awards with their regular season and playoff average stats and career totals, as well as advanced metrics to combine them all together for a composite score and ranking based on that. 

There’s also various sports media publications doing their own top 75 list, all of which are based on a combination of subjective and objective criteria. None of them are entirely fair lists, because they are leaving out awards for older players and excluding ABA players from the rankings. 

Ultimately I want to be as fair and objective as possible on this list, so that’s why there’s 2 things I will be doing on this list that every other list has failed to do: the first thing is to retroactively assign older players awards that didn’t exist in their era. MVP didn’t exist until 1956. For players prior to 1956, I will assign them MVPs based on which player led the league in total win shares. While not perfect, it’s reasonable to assume that whichever player gave their team the most wins should get the award. Finals MVPs didn’t exist until 1969. For players prior to 1969, I will look up their stats in the Finals to determine who should get the award. All Defensive didn’t exist until 1969. For players prior to 1969, I will be using defensive win shares to calculate this award. DPOY didn’t exist until 1983. For players prior to 1983, I will be basing it on which player led the league in defensive win shares. This way older players have the same awards that modern players have, which is more fair. You can see how this can affect the rankings of players like Bill Russell and George Mikan now that we give them the modern awards that they rightfully deserve. 

The second thing I will be doing is including ABA awards and stats in the total. I feel very strongly about the ABA being a part of NBA history. The NBA merged with the ABA, took 4 of their teams (Pacers, Nets, Nuggets, Spurs) and took the 3 point shot and dunk contest from the ABA. Although the NBA does not officially count ABA awards and stats, I have always thought that was very unfair to ABA players, and thus to be fair to ABA players, I will be including them in this list. Fortunately, basketball reference does count ABA awards and stats and lists them as part of a player’s career. This will help bring to light a lot of forgotten great players who played only in the ABA such as Roger Brown and Mel Daniels, as well as enhance a lot of NBA player’s resumes who had the majority of their achievements in the ABA, such as Artis Gilmore, Connie Hawkins, Dan Issel and George McGinnis. Also may I add the fact that sometimes media publications treat the ABA very inconsistently. For the most part it seems they acknowledge some of Dr J’s ABA career, but virtually no other ABA player’s career gets recognized. How many times have you see this greatest players of each franchise graphic, see Dr J there as a Net, which means his ABA career counts, but inexplicably Reggie Miller is left on the Pacers as if Roger Brown, Mel Daniels and George McGinnis’s ABA careers didn’t exist?That’s being inconsistent. 

So here are the categories:

MVP is the category that I give the most points to. 15 points per MVP. This is the most prestigious individual award a player can have, so it makes sense for this category to get the most points.

Finals MVP I feel is equally as valuable as MVP is. Thus I also give Finals MVP 15 points as well.

Championships I split into two categories: Championships as a top 3 player on the team and championships as a role player (which means u were not a top 3 player on the team). Clearly a ring won by Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen is not the same as a ring won by Steve Kerr or John Paxson. Championships as a top 3 player on the team are worth 12 points, and championships as a role player are worth half that, 6 points.

First team All-NBA, First team All-Def, DPOY, scoring titles, rebounding titles, All star MVPs and assist titles are all worth 6 points each. They are great individual awards but players can win many of them. ROTY is also worth 6 points.

Second team All-NBA, Second team All-Def are worth 3 points each. They definitely not as valuable as first team selections or leading the league in a category.

Finally, All Star appearances are only worth 1 point each as they are the easiest award for any all time player to obtain

Note that Third Team All-NBA is not counted, because this award started in 1989, which is far later than most of the older players. It’s also nearly impossible to retroactively determine who would have been third team All-NBA prior to 1989, so I will just exclude any All-NBA third teams.

Then I add on a players career PPG, RPG, APG, playoff PPG, RPG and APG, TS% (instead of FG% because TS% adds in a player’s FT% as well which is more comprehensive), PER, and WS/48. to determine a players statistical resume.

I also feel that longevity does matter, but not too much, so I add on a player’s career points, rebounds, assists, and win shares but make them weigh less than the average stats in the ranking total so as to not totally favor the players who have played longer. 

Note that I don’t count steals and blocks because those stats weren’t tracked until 1974, and it’s another category thats near impossible to measure and count retroactively, so I will ignore those stats in this ranking.

Then I add together the combination of award totals, average stats and career totals to determine a player’s ranking. This I feel is the most comprehensive ranking of all NBA players yet. There are over 300 players that have been ranked, from Jumping Joe Fulks to Zion Williamson. The spreadsheet can be viewed in the description below the video if you are curious.

So this is the NBA’s official top 75 list (which actually has 76 players in it due to a tie in voting). My list differs by 17 players. Now keep in mind, this is all according to each player’s resume – their stats and awards, so I don’t necessarily agree with my own list, and I know a lot of people will have issues with these removals, but these are the players that would be removed according to my algorithm:

  1. James Worthy. Worthy is just outside my top 75. The main reason why Worthy isn’t higher is his lack of All-NBA selections (keep in mind I don’t count All-NBA 3rd team), didn’t lead the league in any category, and no All-Def also hurts him.
  2. Billy Cunningham. Kangaroo Kid is also just my top 75. His only championship he was a sixth man and wasn’t a top 3 option on the team, which hurts him. And no All-Def or leading the league in any category as well. These kind of things do matter when ur sitting right at the fringe of the top 75.
  3. Jerry Lucas. Lucas sits just outside the top 75 as well. The main reason is Lucas’s playoff numbers fall behind his great regular season numbers by quite a bit, no All-Def and his only championship was when he was coming off the bench and it’s enough to take him off the top 75
  4. Dominique Wilkins. Yes Nique was a great player, but his lack of championships or MVPs or All-Def hurts him a lot, and only 3 All NBA selections and a lot of all star appearances unfortunately isn’t enough to get on the list.
  5. Bill Walton. It should be obvious why Walton doesn’t make my list. All his awards come from only 2 really good seasons and his career totals is severely lacking.
  6. Damian Lillard. Dame’s career isn’t long enough, he doesn’t have enough All-NBA 1st team, or a championship or All-Def or MVPs to make the list.
  7. Bill Sharman. Sharman had 4 rings but he wasn’t a top 3 player for any of them if you look up his stats in the Finals, so that reduces the value of his championships alot.
  8. Ray Allen. Allen has a lot of all star appearances but only has 1 All-NBA 2nd team selection, 1 ring as a top 3 player on the team and 1 ring as a role player. That’s not enough to get on the list.
  9. Carmelo Anthony. Like Allen he has a lot of all star appearances, but only 2 All-NBA 2nd team selections, and no rings. Not enough for top 75.
  10. Hal Greer. The top 75 list is a very difficult list to make as even a bunch of all star, all nba selections and being a top 3 player on a championship team wasn’t enough for Greer to make it. Greer needs more All-NBA 1st team selections, or leading the league in a category, or an MVP/Finals MVP to make the list..
  11. Reggie Miller. It’s quite obvious why Miller isn’t on the list – he only has all star appearances. No All NBA 1st or 2nd team, no MVPs, no All-Def and no championships.
  12. Tiny Archibald. Tiny’s problem is the only ring he has was when he was a role player on the team, and his averages drop noticeably in the playoffs, hence his low ranking here.
  13. Dave Bing. What’s there to say? He was only 3x all nba, no championships or mvps or all-def and his numbers drop in the playoffs.
  14. Nate Thurmond. The main things that hurt Nate the Great is his lack of All-NBA selections. Yes I know it’s unfair because he played with Wilt, Russell and Kareem his whole career. But, I’m just going by his resume. He also has no championship and his playoff numbers drop significantly.
  15. Lenny Wilkens. No All-NBA selections, no All-Def, no MVPs, didn’t lead the league in any category, no championships. Obviously not on the list.
  16. Pete Maravich. No championships, No All-Def, low win shares and a huge drop in playoff numbers hurts him a lot here. While Pistol Pete’s raw numbers look good, advanced analytics are not very kind to him.
  17. Earl Monroe. The Pearl has only 1x All-NBA, his only championship was not as a top 3 player on the team, No All-Def or MVPs, didn’t lead the league in any category, and his numbers are nothing to write home about.

And here are the 17 players that are added in their place according to my algorithm:

  1. Artis Gilmore. Remember, I am counting ABA achievements on my list. Counting ABA achievements, Artis Gilmore is easily the biggest snub from the original top 75 list. He’s an 11x All-Star, 5x All-ABA 1st team, 4x All-Def 1st team, led the league in rebounding 4 times, led the league in defensive win shares 4 times, has a league MVP, and won a Finals MVP as a top 2 player on a championship team. He averages 18/13 a game, scored 25k points and grabbed 16k rebounds. Gilmore should have easily made the list if ABA stats and awards were included. 
  2. Dwight Howard. Dwight’s place on this list should be secure and if we don’t count ABA achievements, then he replaces Artis Gilmore as the biggest snub from the original list, and many people online have already commented on this already. The main reason he gets on this list is 8x All Star, 3x DPOY, 5x All-NBA 1st team, 5x All-Def 1st team, leading the league in rebounding 5 times, averages a career double double and grabbed 14k rebounds. That’s a staggering list of achievements for any player and should have guaranteed him a place on this list.
  3. Mel Daniels. Now remember, I am counting ABA players on my list. Daniels was one of the greatest ABA players ever as he was a 7x All Star, 4 time All-ABA first teamer, led the league in rebounding 3 times (in fact he is the ABA’s all time leading rebounder), won MVP twice, led the league in defensive win shares once, was a top 3 player on 2 championship teams and a role player for another one, and averages 18/15 for his career. That resume guarantees him a spot on this list.
  4. Neil Johnston. This is a player that most modern fans have never heard of. Johnston was the best center in the league in between George Mikan and Bill Russell. He was a 6x All Star, 4x All-NBA 1st teamer, led the league in scoring 3 times, led the league in win shares 4 times, led the league in rebounding once, and won a championship as a top 2 player on the team. He deserves to make this list.
  5. George McGinnis. McGinnis makes this list due to his ABA achievements. Combined with his NBA achievements, he’s a 6x All Star, 5x All-NBA/ABA, led the league in scoring once, has 2 championships as a top 3 player, a league MVP, a Finals MVP, and averaged 20/11/4 for his career. That’s enough to make this list.
  6. Dan Issel. Issel also makes this list due to his ABA achievements. He was a 6x All Star, 5x All-ABA, led the league in scoring once, won a championship as a top 2 player, averaged 23/9 for his career, and scored over 27k points in his career. That’s enough to put him on the list.
  7. Dennis Johnson. DJ makes this list because he’s a 5x All Star, 9x All-Def player, was a top 3 player on all 3 of his championship teams, has a Finals MVP, and ups his numbers in the playoffs. DJ deserves to be on.
  8. Conne Hawkins. His overall career was brief but he did enough in both in the NBA and ABA to make the list. The Hawk averaged 18/8/4 for his career, was a 5x All Star, made 3 All NBA/ABA first teams, led the league in scoring once, and had one of the best rookie seasons of all time when he won MVP, a championship and a Finals MVP all in his first year in the ABA.
  9. Tom Heinsohn. Heinsohn makes this list based on being a key offensive player of the Russell Celtics dynasty. He was a 6x All Star, 4x All-NBA and was the first or second leading scorer on 6 of his 8 championships. His playoff averages are even higher, a mark of truly great players. That’s why he makes this list.
  10. Spencer Haywood. Haywood had a case for the top 75 even excluding his ABA achievements, but overall he is a 5x All Star, 5x All NBA/ABA, and makes this list because of his tremendous rookie season in the ABA where he led the league in scoring AND rebounding and won MVP and rookie of the year all in his first season in that league. In addition, he won a championship as a role player in the NBA.
  11. Tony Parker. Parker should have made the original list. He was a 6x All Star, 3x All-NBA, top 3 player on all 4 championships that he won, a Finals MVP and ups his game in the playoffs. Parker definitely makes this list. 
  12. Nikola Jokic. Jokic might be a bit early to put on this list, but his 3x All Star, 3x All NBA, MVP season, and great all around career averages, even better playoff averages, and advanced analytics love him, since he has a great PER, WS/48 and TS% all combine together to put him on this list.
  13. Pau Gasol. 6x All Star, 2x All-NBA, top 2 player on 2 championship teams, scored over 20k points, grabbed 11k rebounds, and a lot win shares puts him on this list.
  14. Bobby Jones. He was a 5x All-Star and won a championship as a sixth man, but the main reason he makes this list is because of his staggering 11x All-Def selections including 10 first team selections. 
  15. Adrian Dantley. Dantley makes this list based on his 6 all star appearances, 2 all nba selections, 2 scoring titles, averaging 24/6/3 for his career, scoring over 23k points, and just being a remarkably efficient player with a 61% TS%
  16. Dikembe Mutombo. Although he wasn’t a scorer, 8x All Star, 6x All-Def, 2x Rebounding leader, 4x DPOY and grabbing over 12k rebounds is why he still makes this list. 
  17. Rudy Gobert is the last player to make this list. I know this may be shocking to a lot of viewers. The reason why he makes the list is because of his 5x All-Def 1st team selections, 3x DPOY, rebounding title, higher averages in the playoffs, his great PER of 22 and his insane TS% of 66% which is the highest in NBA history. Now keep in mind, I am not tracking blocks, or giving any points for leading the league in blocks or All-NBA 3rd teams, and TS% should be more favourable to guards than big men because it counts for FT% which guards are usually better at, and even with all those disadvantages, Rudy still makes this list, but barely. I know, it’s shocking to me as well.  

So this is the NBA’s original top 75 list. And here’s my new updated list with the replacement players colored in black. So guys keep in mind that this isn’t my subjective list at all, but a list generated from my algorithm combining a player’s awards, career stats and career totals together. I’m sure alot of people will disagree with this list, but it’s interesting to see from a perspective just how big the differences are between this one and the NBA’s official one. Although I don’t want to list the exact rankings on this screen and cause unnecessary heated debate, I do want to note that my algorithm ranked Earl Monroe, who was on the NBA’s list, all the way down at #171 all time, while on my list, Artis Gilmore is as high as #20 and Dwight Howard is as high as #32, and didn’t make the NBA’s list. Again, my spreadsheet is down below in the description if you want to check the exact numbers and rankings out.

Stat sheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/12wrk457aLw7nYvywi8zND3thS8tPV6N3/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=110785947336358858261&rtpof=true&sd=true