The Greatest Player in Every NBA Team's History
The game of basketball has been reshaped every generation since it was first invented by James Naismith. Every once in a while, a player comes along who changes the game, and brings fame and glory upon their franchise.
Every franchise has a rich history, with long lists of players who provided them with success—that is, unless you are the Bobcats.
These players are largely credited for making their team's who and what they are today, as they are the superstars of the NBA.
Here's a look at the 30 players who shaped their team's history, and made the NBA what it is today.
To be eligible, the player must have played with their franchise's NBA affiliate for at least three seasons.
Atlanta Hawks: Bob Pettit (1954-1965)
*Career Highlights: 1x Champion, 2x MVP, 11x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Fame
Choosing between Dominique Wilkins and Bob Pettit was tough, as both had tremendous careers with the Hawks.
However, while Dominique's franchise-leading points and games are certainly enticing, he never achieved the ultimate goal—winning a championship.
Pettit, on the other hand, backed up his incredible stats taking the St. Louis Hawks to the Finals in back-to-back years, finally winning after their second try.
Pettit's 50-point contest helped his Hawks bring home a title, and had there been an MVP, Pettit would have been the unanimous vote.
He was the league's scoring leader twice, and also won the Most Valuable Player award twice.
While he wasn't the only deserving candidate, Pettit's statistics, loyalty to the team and his title, ultimately rank him above other competitors.
All career highlights are based off of the seasons in which the player played for their respective team.
Boston Celtics: Bill Russell (1956-1969)
Career Highlights: 11x NBA Champion, 5x MVP, 12x All-Star, 11 All-NBA Selection, Hall of Fame
The Boston Celtics have been gifted with stars from start to finish, so a list of Celtics greats is seemingly endless.
With big names like Larry Bird, Jon Havlicek and Bill Russell leading the list, it was extremely difficult to pick one name out of the bunch.
Ultimately, I decided to go with Russell. While Bird may appear superior statistically, no player has brought more titles to his city than Bill Russell.
Over the span of his 13-season career, Russell led his squad to 11 titles, a personal record that is still unbroken today. The Celtics are famous for their league-leading 17 franchise titles, and if they have anybody to thank for giving them that honor, it would be Russell.
While he was far from being the team's most offensively-gifted player, but on the defensive end, Russell is among the league's greatest—if not the best ever. Though blocks were not recorded during his playing career, his average would likely hover around six per game—a feat that would make him the greatest shot-blocker to ever step foot on the hardwood.
His career may not have presented him as the greatest scorer ever, but from a winning standpoint, no Celtic could compete with Russell.
Brooklyn Nets: Jason Kidd (2001-2008)
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Career Highlights: 5x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection, 6x All-Defensive Team Selection
While Jason Kidd's illustrious career has brought fame upon multiple franchises, it is clear that his talent was valued most during his years in New Jersey.
There, he reached his prime, just as the Nets reached the pinnacle of their franchise's history. He led the team to their only two Finals appearances, and was the unquestioned leader of those teams.
He holds both the records for assists and steals for the franchise, along with the most three-pointers made and attempted.
Since his departure, the team has been stuck in an abyss, with their latest solution being their transition to Brooklyn, where the team now stands on the shoulders of Deron Williams.
However, they are yet to prove to be an elite squad, as Kidd's teams did during the peak of his career. His overall contributions to the team, along with the leadership and talent, make him the unquestioned greatest ever in the Nets' NBA history.
Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Wallace (2004-2011)
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Career Highlights: 1x All-Star, 1x All-Defensive Team Selection
The Charlotte Bobcats, being the newest franchise in the league, gave me a very small pool of players to pick from.
The fact that they are also one the worst teams in the league made the choice that much more difficult. However, in the end one player ranks superior—or at least as superior as a Charlotte Bobcat will ever rank.
Gerald Wallace spent a solid seven seasons in Charlotte, after being added to the roster following the expansion draft of 2005.
Wallace holds franchise records in multiple categories, including steals and points. He also led the team to their lone playoff appearance in 2010.
In addition to the records he holds, Wallace also is the only player in team history to make an All-Star team, a statistic that further solidifies his case as the best Bobcat in team history.
Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan (1984-1993, 1995-1998)
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Career Highlights: 6x Champion, 6x Finals MVP, 5x MVP, 10x Scoring Champion, 12x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Selection, Defensive Player of the Year, Hall of Fame
Little case needs to be made to explain this choice. Michael Jordan is undoubtedly the greatest player to ever play the game.
While Scottie Pippen was talented in his own right, everything he did was overshadowed by Jordan. With the Bulls, Jordan contributed six titles, and might have even won more had it not been for his two-year hiatus from basketball.
He is the All-Time Bulls leader in just about every relevant category including points, rebounds, steals and assists.
Jordan revolutionized the sport, and rightfully earned the title of not just the greatest Bull of all time, but the greatest player of all time.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James (2003-2010)
Career Highlights: 6x All-Star, 2x MVP, 1x Scoring Champion, 6x All-NBA Selection, 2x All-Defensive Team Selection
LeBron James may be the most hated man in Cleveland, but that doesn't mean he isn't the best player to ever wear a Cavaliers uniform.
Over the span of his Cleveland career, James led the team to five playoff appearances including their only NBA Finals appearance.
Following his departure, the team immediately became one of the worst in the NBA, which says a lot for James. He is the all-time leader in field goals (made & attempted), three-pointers attempted, free throws (made & attempted), steals and points, with his only flaw being the infamous way he betrayed his city.
James will likely go down as one of the all-time greats, and Cleveland—though they may hate him—has him to thank for the success they basked in throughout his time there.
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki (1998-Present)
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Career Highlights: 1x Champion, 1x Finals MVP, 1x MVP, 11x All-Star, 12x All-NBA Selection
While Dallas has seen its fair share of stars throughout their history, no player can quite compare to Dirk Nowitzki.
Statistically, the German big man blows away the competition, and holds team records in three pointers, points and rebounds.
However, his dominance expands further than just his stats. He led his team to a title in 2011, picking up the Finals MVP award in the process. He also was the winner of the Most Valuable Player award in 2007.
The future Hall of Fame inductee has played the entirety of his long career in Dallas, constantly making them one of the league's best teams.
Dirk's career is far from over, and the fact that he has already established himself as the franchise's best player truly says something about his ability.
Denver Nuggets: Alex English (1980-1990)
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Career Highlights: 8x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection, 1x Scoring Champion, Hall of Fame
Alex English was one of the easiest selections on this list, as the Hall of Fame forward holds the franchise record in points, assists and offensive rebounds.
English was known for his flawless scoring ability, and he won the scoring title in 1983. He never managed to win a championship, but kept the Nuggets successful nonetheless.
He was the first player ever to string together eight straight 2,000-point seasons, and during his decade in Denver, English's scoring averages amazed fans year after year.
Denver valued his success, as they retired his number just one year after his retirement in 1991.
Detroit Pistons: Isiah Thomas (1981-1994)
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Career Highlights: 2x Champion, 1x Finals MVP, 12x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Fame
Isiah Thomas, the unquestioned leader of the Bad Boy Pistons, will go down as one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game.
He will also go down as the greatest Piston ever.
While Joe Dumars and Ben Wallace certainly deserve mentioning, neither compare to Thomas, who is the franchise's leader in assists, steals and points.
The Hall of Famer led his team to two back-to-back titles in 1989-1990, as well as an appearance in 1988—though the team would walk away empty-handed.
While he may be known as Michael Jordan's rival to the rest of the league, to the city of Detroit, Isiah Thomas is known for the talent and success he brought to his team.
Golden State Warriors: Wilt Chamberlain (1959-1965)
Career Highlights: 1x MVP, 6x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Selection, 6x Scoring Champion, Hall of Fame
Wilt Chamberlain always focused more on stats than on winning. However, despite this selfish attitude, his statistics are so outrageous, he still ranks No. 1 in Warriors' history.
With the team, Chamberlain reached the climax of his statistical success, with two of his career highlights occurring during his tenure with the team.
The first of which was his famous 50-25 season and the second being his famed 100-point game.
He won the scoring award in each of his six years with the team, and despite never winning a title, continued to bring the team success.
While he may not have been your ideal "winner," Chamberlain was still a fantastic player, and very deserving of this ranking.
Houston Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon (1984-2001)
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Career Highlights: 2x Champion, 2x Finals MVP, 1x MVP, 12x All-Star, 12x All-NBA Selection, 9x All-Defensive Team Selection, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, Hall of Fame
There were definitely a long list of NBA greats to wear a Houston uniform, but none did as much for the team as Hakeem Olajuwon.
Over the span of his lengthy career, "The Dream" racked up enough boards, points, blocks and steals to lead his franchise in each of the four categories. He was also named the league's Most Valuable Player in 1994.
At the height of his career, Olajuwon led the Rockets to back-to-back titles, winning the Finals MVP both times. Had it not been for Michael Jordan, the Rockets may have won more than just those two, but the feat is impressive nonetheless.
He was about as dominant a player as the league ever saw, absolutely annihilating opponents, or anyone who stood in between him and the basket.
The Rockets reached the peak of their success during Olajuwon's time with the team, and he was definitely the best player in team history.
Indiana Pacers: Reggie Miller (1987-2005)
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Career Highlights: 5x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Fame*
Reggie Miller is known for many negative things—his rivalry with the New York Knicks, his notorious "choke" gesture towards Spike Lee, his infamous trash-talking; however, none of these things take away from the pure talent that he brought to the city of Indiana.
Miller is one of the most flawless shooters of all time, whose talent has earned him a spot in the 2012 Hall of Fame class.
He played the entirety of his career with the Pacers, and while he never brought the city a title, he certainly accomplished a lot.
He led the team to their only Conference Championship, and is the franchise leader in points, steals and assists.
His loyalty to the team as well as his overall success have earned him the rights to the title, Greatest Pacer ever.
*Miller will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.
Los Angeles Clippers: Bob McAdoo (1972-1976)
Career Highlights: 1x MVP, 4x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, 3x Scoring Champion, Hall of Fame
Bob McAdoo only played a short stint with the Buffalo Braves—who later became the Clippers—but during those four years, he was incredible.
He won the Rookie of the Year award during his first season, and was the league's leading scorer during the next three. He also was named MVP once.
During his time with the team, the franchise experienced its golden age, and following his departure, the team went on a 14-year long playoff drought.
However, with him there, the team made the playoff for three years—the franchise's first playoff appearances.
As one of the most electrifying big-man scorers of all time, this selection was a no-brainer, especially for such a weak franchise.
Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson (1979-1991, 1996)
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Career Highlights: 5x Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 3x MVP, 12x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Fame
Picking the best Los Angeles Laker of all-time was difficult, as the franchise has hosted numerous stars. From Wilt to Kareem, they have never been short on big men. Even Kobe makes an argument as the best Laker ever.
However, one player stands out from the rest, even if it only is by a small amount. Magic Johnson spent the entirety of his 13-season career with the Lakers, and while doing so became one of the most popular players in history.
He led his squad to five championships, winning the Finals MVP three times. He also had his regular season dominance honored with three MVP awards.
Johnson was—and still is—the best point guard to ever play and is the Lakers' leader in total assists.
While his career was cut short due to the HIV virus, Johnson still left a lasting impact on both the Lakers and the game of basketball itself.
Memphis Grizzlies: Pau Gasol (2001-2008)
Career Highlights: 1x NBA All-Star
Pau Gasol may be having more team success with the Lakers, but his accomplishments with the Grizzlies are far from small.
He won the Rookie of the Year award, marking the beginning of his renowned career in Memphis. He also was elected to the All-Star team in 2006, being one of only three Grizzlies to ever be selected for the honor.
During his seven years in Memphis, Gasol scored 8,872 points making him the franchise's leader in points scored. He also is the leader in blocked shots and rebounds.
The Grizzlies are one of the newer franchises, and Rudy Gay may one day top the list, but as of now Gasol is the clear choice for No. 1.
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade (2003-Present)
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Career Highlights: 2x Champion, 1x Finals MVP, 8x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Selections, 3x All-Defensive Team Selections, 1x Scoring Champion
While LeBron James will certainly make a case for the title at some point in the future, as of now, the honor belongs strictly to Dwyane Wade.
Wade has been a part of both of Miami's championships, and while he shared the leadership role with James this past season, Wade was the unquestioned leader of their first title run.
He has shown loyalty to the franchise that drafted him, and from the looks of it, will remain in Miami for the years to come.
He is the Heat's all-time leading scorer, and in 2009, was the league's scoring champion.
While other players will be in contention for the title as the future unfolds, as of now, Wade is undoubtedly the best player in Heat history.
Milwaukee Bucks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969-1975)
Career Highlights: 1x Champion, 1x Finals MVP, 3x MVP, 6x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Selection, 4x All-Defensive Team Selection, 3x Scoring Champion, Hall of Fame
Originally known as Lew Alcindor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar began his NBA career in Milwaukee. In Milwaukee, he was twice the scoring champion and named Most Valuable Player three times.
He also was the leader of the team's championship in 1971, in which his 27 points per game and 18.5 rebounds helped his team sweep the Baltimore Bullets. He was also named the Finals MVP for his performance.
He was also an All-Star every year that he spent with the team, and won the MVP once.
His multiple 30-15 seasons helped to rank him first in career points and rebounds, in Milwaukee's franchise history, as well as first in league history in points.
While he may be remembered better for his years in Los Angeles, no one can forget the remarkable things that he did with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Garnett (1995-2007)
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Career Highlights: 1x MVP, 10x All-Star, 8x All-NBA Selection, 8x All-Defensive Team Selection
Did you expect to see anyone else here?
Kevin Garnett is the franchise's leader in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals—and has more than doubled the second-place finisher in each of those categories.
During the twelve years he spent with the Timberwolves, Garnett was widely considered to be the best player, or one of the best players, in the NBA.
Garnett was the league's MVP in 2004, during the Wolves only franchise division title.
The Wolves success came and went with Garnett, as the team has failed to make the postseason every season before and after his tenure there.
As a beast on both offense and defense, Garnett is a future Hall-of-Famer, and one of the best power forwards to ever play the game.
New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul (2005-2011)
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Career Highlights: 4x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection
Chris Paul may not be remembered for his time with New Orleans, but New Orleans will never forget the impact that Chris Paul left on the franchise.
While he may have left for "better things" in Los Angeles, Paul certainly made his fair share of contributions to the Hornets.
Over the span of his six-year tenure, Paul led the team to three post-seasons, including their only division title in franchise history.
During his time with the team, he was the best point guard in the NBA, winning the assist title twice—in 2008 and 2009.
Following the trade that sent him to the Clippers, the Hornets immediately dropped off of the radar, further solidifying Paul's case as the franchise's best player .
New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing (1985-2000)
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Career Highlights: 11x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Selection, 3x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall of Fame
The Knicks are also one of the big-market franchises to feature multiple stars, so this choice was difficult. Both Willis Reed and Walt Frazier contributed championships to the team, however, Patrick Ewing—despite finishing his career without a title—is the greatest Knickerbocker of all time.
During his 15 year tenure with the team, he led them to 13 playoffs, and two Finals appearances. While he may not have ever accomplished the ultimate feat, Ewing was the true centerpiece for his squad—the undeniable leader.
Had he not crossed paths with Michael Jordan so many times, then Ewing's title quest may have been more fruitful, but even without the hardware, his contributions to the team are incredible.
Ewing is New York's leader in multiple categories, including points, blocks, steals and rebounds. He also has played the most minutes in a Knicks uniform, something very clear considering the longevity of his New York career.
His Hall of Fame induction further solidified his legitimacy as one of the greatest centers of all time, as well as being the greatest player in his team's history.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Gary Payton (1990-2003)
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Career Highlights: 9x All-Star, 9x All-NBA Selection, 9x All-Defensive Team Selection, 1x Defensive Player of the Year
When Kevin Durant retires, he will give Payton a run for his money, but its still too early to give him that honor.
Back when the franchise was still in Seattle, Payton led the attack for a lengthy 13 years. Over those 13 years, he led them to multiple playoff appearances and one trip to the NBA Finals.
He also won multiple individual awards, including the Defensive Player of the Year honor in 1996, being the only point guard to ever win the award.
Payton holds franchise records in multiple categories, including points, assists and steals.
He is widely regarded as the best defensive point guard ever, as well as one of the greatest overall point guards to ever play the game.
The owner of the title may shift in the next few years, but as of now, Gary Payton can rightfully call himself the greatest player in his franchise's history.
Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard (2004-2012)
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Career Highlights: 6x All-Star, 6x All-NBA Selection, 5x All-Defensive Team Selection, 3x Defensive Player of the Year
Orlando may not forgive Dwight Howard after the "Dwightmare," but no one can deny the magnitude of his contributions to the team.
Over the span of his eight-year career with the Magic, Howard led the team to six postseason appearances, including three conference championship appearances and one trip to the NBA Finals.
Beyond his leadership, Howard racked up the statistics to make him the franchise's leader in points, rebounds and blocks.
While he never brought the city a title, he achieved a lot during his time with the Magic both as an individual and as a team.
His success in Orlando may one day be cast in his the shadow of his stint with the Lakers, but no one will ever forget the city in which the All-Star center got his famed start.
Philadelphia 76ers: Julius Erving (1976-1987)
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Career Highlights: 11x All-Star, 1x MVP, 7x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Fame
Julius Erving may not have been the leader of the Sixers' 1983 title quest—that would be Moses Malone. However, Erving spent 11 years with the team, performing outstandingly year after year.
Despite not being the leader, he still was a member of the '83 title team, and helped to make the team a top team throughout his time in Philly.
He was elected the league MVP in 1981, and an All-Star 11 times.
Erving spent the entirety of his NBA career with the Sixers, and his loyalty to the team, as well as his statistical contributions help to make him one of the greatest players of all time.
Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash (1996-1998, 2004-2012)
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Career Highlights: 2x MVP, 6x All-Star, 5x All-NBA Team Selection
Steve Nash may be ending his career with the Lakers, but he will always be remembered for the time he spent with the Phoenix Suns.
Nash played two stints for the Suns, totaling for ten years spent with the franchise. Over those ten years, Nash dedicated his heart and soul to the team in his route to becoming one of the best point guards in league history.
His two MVP's both came during his career in Phoenix, and he was the sole reason for their continued success, especially late in his career.
As the Suns leader in assists as well as three-pointers made, Nash certainly deserves this honor, as his contributions to the team go unmatched by any other player in Phoenix's history.
Portland Trail Blazers: Bill Walton (1974-1978)
Career Highlights: 1x Champion, 1x Finals MVP, 1x MVP, 2x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection, 2x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall of Fame
Bill Walton only played four seasons with the Blazers, so players like Clyde Drexler may seem better suited for this title, right?
In Portland Trail Blazers history, only one championship has been one. In the one championship, Bill Walton put together one of the single greatest playoff runs in league history, ultimately winning the Finals MVP for his services.
His statistics were incredible, while his Portland career was short lived, the contributions he made to the franchise go unmatched by any other Blazer.
A strong case can be made for Drexler, but he never did what Walton did—bring home a title.
Sacramento Kings: Oscar Robertson (1960-1970)
Career Highlights: 1x MVP, 10x All-Star, 10x All-NBA Selection, 1x Scoring Champion
Oscar Robertson spent the first decade of his famed career with the Cincinnati Royals—who later became the Sacramento Kings.
During that time, Robertson exemplified true dominance, as he found himself an All-Star and on an All-NBA team in each of those ten seasons.
His acclaimed triple-double season, in which he finished the season with averages of 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 points, occurred with the Royals.
Chris Webber was certainly talented, but no King has ever demonstrated anything that could compare to Robertson's success.
San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan (1997-Present)
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Career Highlights: 4x Champion, 3x Finals MVP, 2x MVP, 13x All-Star, 13x All-NBA Selection, 13x All-Defensive Team Selection
While the Spurs' franchise has featured the likes of multiple talents, including Hall of Famers, George Gervin and David Robinson, neither can compare to the "Big Fundamental" himself, Tim Duncan.
Duncan has been a part of each of the franchise's four titles, winning the Finals MVP three times. He was also the league MVP twice, winning the award in 2002 and 2003.
Since his arrival in 1997, the Spurs have always been a relevant team, not once failing to make the playoffs.
With so many honors under his belt, Duncan will likely go down as the greatest power forward to ever play the game. He will also go down as the greatest player to ever wear a Spurs uniform.
Toronto Raptors: Vince Carter (1999-2004)
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Career Highlights: 5x All-Star, 2x All-NBA Selection
The Toronto Raptors have been blessed with little glory throughout their history, but there is no doubt that the apex of their team's success were in correlation with Vince Carter's presence in Toronto.
With Carter, the team experienced its Golden Age, with three playoff appearances including their only first round win.
Carter was an All-Star throughout those years, and the team's success took a steep decline following the trade that sent him to New Jersey.
Aside from their few seasons of success, Carter also brought interest to the foreign team, as he was every bit exciting as he was talented.
While Chris Bosh may be the franchise's leader in multiple categories, no other Raptor has brought glory onto the organization, like Vince Carter.
Utah Jazz: Karl Malone (1985-2003)
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Career Highlights: 2x MVP, 14x All-Star, 14x All-NBA Selection, 4x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall of Fame
Karl Malone is possibly the greatest player to never win a championship, as his attempts remained fruitless after 18 seasons with the team. However, in those 18 years, he—along with John Stockton—made the Jazz relevant year after year.
Malone is the franchise's leader in points—with 36,374—as well as total rebounds.
While his partner in crime, Stockton also puts up a good case for this title, there is no denying that Malone was the better half of the duo.
He was the MVP twice, and Stockton never was. While it is true that his success would not be as great without his point guard to feed him the ball, the same could be said vice versa, making it clear that Malone is the best player in Utah history.
Washington Wizards: Wes Unseld (1968-1981)
Career Highlights: 1x Champion, 1x Finals MVP, 1x MVP, 5x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Selection, Hall of Fame
Elvin Hayes may be the better choice statistically, but when it comes down to winning, Wes Unseld is your guy.
Washington can thank Unseld for their only title, in which Unseld won the Finals MVP for his outstanding play.
He is the franchise leader in assists and blocks, and his ability to set screen may be the best ever in the NBA.
He was a rebounding machine as well, and on the defensive end, he provided the team with the stops needed to get the offense going.
Perhaps one of the most under appreciated players of all-time, Unseld's talent and ability to win make him the best player in franchise history.