North Carolina Basketball: Ranking the Tar Heels' All-Time Best NBA Players

Rollin YeattsFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2012

North Carolina Basketball: Ranking the Tar Heels' All-Time Best NBA Players

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    Tar Heel blood runs deep in the NBA.

    The University of North Carolina has produced a whopping total of 103 NBA players during the storied history of its program. Not all those players became legends at the next level, but many of the names will never be forgotten.

    Fourteen former UNC Tar Heels have split 29 NBA titles. In 1996, three of them were voted into the "50 Greatest Players in NBA History." One holds the undisputed title of the "Greatest Player Ever."

    I have narrowed UNC's all-time best NBA players to 15. It doesn't take a rocket scientist—or even a Tar Heel fan—to know who is ranked at the top. But with 102 other players battling for position, there is a lot of wiggle room for the other 14.

    Only players with at least five years of NBA experience made this list, as the younger Tar Heels have yet to write their NBA history. Attitude, longevity and skill all played a part in my rankings.

15. Kenny Smith

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    Stats: 12.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.0 SPG, 48.0 FG%, 39.9 3PT%


    Kenny "The Jet" Smith wasn't as skilled and deadly as Phil Ford, but his career and significance at the NBA level lasted much longer.

    Smith was the sixth overall pick of the Sacramento Kings in 1987 and would later be named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. He averaged 13.8 points, 7.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game in his first season.

    His career with the Kings was short-lived, eventually ending up in Houston in his fourth NBA season. There, he played with one of the all-time greats, Hakeem Olajuwon, and earned back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.

    Kenny Smith's best statistical season was in his first season with the Rockets, where he averaged 17.7 points, 7.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

14. Raymond Felton

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    Stats: 13.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 6.7 AST, 1.4 SPG, 41.2 FG%, 33.4 3PT%


    Raymond Felton has had some tough luck in the NBA—starting with being drafted fifth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Despite playing with the league's worst, Felton managed respectable numbers during his extended career in the state of North Carolina. In his second and third season, he averaged over seven assists and 14 points.

    When he finally got a shot in the Big Apple, he stepped up his game a little more with 17.1 points, nine assists and 1.8 steals per game. After 54 games with the Knicks, they moved him to Denver in a package deal for Carmelo Anthony.

    Felton was sent to Portland the following season.

    The Knicks picked him up again this offseason, and he is shining once again. Through 20 games, Felton is averaging 16.2 points, 6.8 assists, 1.3 steals and is shooting 40.7 percent behind the arc.

    I can only hope Raymond Felton has already used up all of his bad luck.

13. Bobby Jones

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    Stats: 11.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 55.0 FG%

    Bobby Jones may not have been as blessed with the talent of some of the other Tar Heels on this list, but few played the game harder.

    Jones was a menace on defense. He was a master at steals and blocks without even getting physical. He was simply a hustler, and if there was someone diving to the floor for a loose ball, it was likely Bobby Jones.

    Jones was selected to the NBA All-Defensive First Team eight times during his 10-year NBA career. He was also the first player to earn the NBA Sixth Man Award. Some would even say it was created because of him.

    He also tallied four NBA All-Star appearances and won a title with Philadelphia in 1983.

    Bobby Jones' best statistical season was in 1976-77 with Denver, when he averaged 15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.3 steals, 2.0 blocks and a field-goal percentage of 57.0.

    That's getting it done.

12. Sam Perkins

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    Stats: 11.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 45.9 FG%, 36.2 3PT%


    Sam "Big Smooth" Perkins was the fourth overall pick by the Dallas Mavericks in 1984, right after the Bulls had selected Michael Jordan. That ended up being the story of Perkins' career—Jordan was always one step ahead.

    After an impressive rookie campaign, Perkins earned a selection to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Two years later, he would post the only 30-20 game in Mavericks history, with 31 points and 20 rebounds.

    It wouldn't be long before the long-armed menace of the interior would extend his play beyond the arc.

    Perkins nailed over 100 three-pointers in three consecutive seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics. He also tied an NBA record in 1997, hitting eight consecutive threes without a miss.

    Over 19 seasons, Perkins appeared in 15 playoffs. The title eluded him, however, and a former Tar Heel teammate had a little to do with that. He played in the finals with the Lakers in 1991 and with the SuperSonics in 1996—both times losing to Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls.

    Sam Perkins' best statistical season came in 1991-92 with the Lakers, when he averaged 16.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, one steal and one block per game.

11. Rasheed Wallace

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    Stats: 14.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.3 BPG, 46.7 FG%, 33.6 3PT%


    Rasheed Wallace wasn't exactly the most beloved Tar Heel of all-time, but that mostly had to do with his attitude on the court. The man could ball, though.

    Wallace was the fourth overall selection by the Washington Bullets in 1995, where he was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. His stint in the nation's capital only lasted one season, as he was traded to Portland the following year.

    That's where 'Sheed would put up some of his best numbers. In 2001-02, Wallace averaged 19.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.

    His most rewarding season came in 2004 with the Larry Brown-coached Detroit Pistons. Making an improbable run through the playoffs, Wallace and the Pistons took out a Lakers team in the finals that was led by the duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

    Rasheed Wallace took a page out of Big Smooth's book, extending his play beyond the arc. Wallace is the only player in NBA history to record multiple seasons with 100 blocks and 100 three-pointers—something he did four times during his career.

10. Charlie Scott

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    Stats: 17.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 44.4 FG%, 18.2 3 PT%


    Charlie Scott started his professional career lighting up the ABA. He earned the ABA Rookie of the Year honors in 1971. Over two seasons in the league, Scott averaged 30.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.

    He wouldn't match those numbers in the NBA, but he still managed some great years. His best statistical season came in 1973-74 with the Phoenix Suns. That year, Scott averaged 25.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.9 steals per game.

    Scott was a three-time NBA All-Star, and he won his only championship with the Boston Celtics in 1976.

    Charlie Scott was the first African-American to earn a scholarship at UNC. While that may not have to do with his NBA career, Scott and Dean Smith should never be forgotten for the progress they made in the south.

9. Brad Daugherty

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    Stats: 19.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 53.2 FG%


    Brad Daugherty was the first overall selection by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1986 and would earn NBA All-Rookie First Team honors.

    Daugherty stayed in Cleveland his entire career, becoming the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer and rebounder. Unfortunately, both records were surpassed in 2008 by LeBron James (points) and Žydrūnas Ilgauskas (rebounds).

    Daugherty appeared in five playoffs with the Cavaliers, but never was able to get that elusive title. Can you guess who stopped them in three of those seasons?

    Yes, it was Michael Jordan striking again.

    Brad Daugherty was a special player and would probably rank much higher on this list if his career had lasted a little longer—and he'd probably still own Cleveland's record for points and rebounds. He only played eight seasons before calling it quits due to back problems.

    His best statistical season came in 1990-91, when he averaged 21.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists and one steal per game.

8. Billy Cunningham

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    Stats: 20.8 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 44.6 FG%


    The freckle-faced, pigeon-toed Billy Cunningham might not have looked like the prototypical basketball star, but the man could ball. His stunning hops earned him the nickname "Kangaroo Kid."

    Cunningham was the fourth overall selection by the Philadelphia 76ers, where he would become yet another Tar Heel to earn NBA All-Rookie First Team honors.

    In 1966-67, Cunningham helped lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 68-13 regular season and his only NBA title. The team was so stacked that year, he was actually having to come off the bench.

    Billy Cunningham's best statistical season came in 1969-70, when he averaged 26.1 points, 13.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists. That year, he would make his first of four NBA All-Star appearances.

    Billy did it all. That earned him a spot on the "50 Greatest Players in NBA History."

7. Jerry Stackhouse

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    Stats: 17.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 40.9 FG%, 31.0 3PT%


    Jerry Stackhouse was picked right before Rasheed Wallace as the third overall selection in 1995. With the Philadelphia 76ers, he earned a selection to the NBA All-Rookie First Team, averaging 19.2 points per game.

    Halfway through his third season, Stackhouse was traded to the Detroit Pistons, where he would put up the best numbers of his career.

    In 2000-01, he led the NBA in total points and finished second with an average of 29.8 points per game. Stackhouse scored a career-high 57 points against the Bulls that season. He also added 5.1 assists per game, 1.2 steals and shot 35.1 percent behind the arc.

    Jerry Stackhouse is currently in his 18th NBA season and is still getting 18 minutes per game with the Brooklyn Nets.

6. Walter Davis

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    Stats: 18.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 51.1 FG%, 27.2 3PT%


    Walter Davis was the fifth overall selection by the Phoenix Suns in 1977. That year, he averaged 24.2 points per game, running away with the title of Rookie of the Year.

    He followed that up with another stellar season, averaging 23.6 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.9 steals and a stunning field-goal percentage of 56.1.

    Davis spent most of his career with the Suns and still owns the franchise record for career points. His stint in Phoenix earned him a plethora of nicknames, such as "The Greyhound," "Sweet D," "The Candyman" and my personal favorite, "The Man with the Velvet Touch."

    It's no wonder Michael Jordan looked up to Walter Davis.

    Despite recurring back problems, Davis still put in 15 seasons at the NBA level, managing impressive numbers through most of them.

    Walter Davis is the uncle of UNC's current assistant coach, former Tar Heel and NBA shooting legend Hubert Davis.

5. Bob McAdoo

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    Stats: 22.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 50.3 FG%


    Bob McAdoo was chosen second overall in 1972 by the Buffalo Braves. In his first season, McAdoo won Rookie of the Year honors. He followed that up with three consecutive scoring titles and an NBA MVP.

    The best of those seasons was in 1974-75, when he averaged 34.5 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks per game.

    Despite his ridiculous numbers, McAdoo was pigeonholed as a great player with a poor attitude. Because of that, he played for seven different teams during his 14 years in the NBA.

    Bouncing from losing team to losing team throughout his career, he finally landed on the Lakers in 1981. There, he flourished once again—this time coming off the bench. In just four seasons with the Lakers, McAdoo was able to help the team to two NBA titles.

    He eventually left the NBA to play six more seasons in Italy.

    Bob McAdoo is the second cousin to James Michael McAdoo's father.

4. Antawn Jamison

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    Stats: 19.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 45.1 FG%, 34.6 3PT%


    Antawn Jamison was picked fourth overall by the Toronto Raptors, but would immediately be traded to the Golden State Warriors for the rights to fellow Tar Heel Vince Carter. Jamison earned NBA All-Rookie Second Team honors that season.

    In 2000-01, Jamison played his first full season. He started in all 82 games and averaged a career-high 24.9 points per game. He also averaged 8.7 rebounds, two assists and 1.4 steals per contest.

    During that season, Jamison became the first player to score 50 or more points in back-to-back games since Michael Jordan in 1986-87.

    Antawn Jamison is a two-time NBA All-Star, but the NBA title has eluded him thus far. He is currently in his 15th season, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Jamison is one of only five active players with 16,000 points and 6,000 rebounds.

3. Vince Carter

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    Stats: 21.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 44.3 FG%, 37.4 3PT%


    As I mentioned in the last slide, Vince Carter was traded to the Toronto Raptors for Antawn Jamison during the 1998 NBA draft. That season, he proved the Raptors made the right choice, earning NBA Rookie of the Year with 95.8 percent of the votes.

    Few players have displayed the leaping ability of Vince Carter, which sometimes casts a shadow over his other abilities on the court. In his prime, Carter was also a great shooter and a pesky defender.

    His best statistical season came in 2000-01 with the Toronto Raptors, averaging 27.6 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.1 blocks and nailing down 40.8 percent of his three-pointers.

    During his 15-year career, Carter was named to eight NBA All-Star teams and was the leading vote-getter in three of those. As a sign of respect, Carter deferred his starting role to the retiring Michael Jordan in the 2002-03 All-Star Game.

    Vince Carter's career highs for a single game include two 51-point performances, 16 rebounds, 14 assists and nine treys.

    Carter is currently averaging 12.7 points in 23.4 minutes per game with the Dallas Mavericks.

2. James Worthy

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    Stats: 17.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 52.1 FG%


    James Worthy was the first overall pick of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982 and was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team that season.

    Despite his first overall selection and accolades as a rookie, Worthy had to sit behind the great Jamaal Wilkes for the next two years. In 1984-85, he finally got his calling as the starter and never looked back.

    His best statistical season came in 1989-90, when he averaged 21.1 points per game, six rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals and a field-goal percentage of 54.8.

    While his regular season numbers are nothing to gloss over, he did his best work in the playoffs. That earned him the moniker of "Big Game James." He is the only player on this list other than Michael Jordan to earn Finals MVP.

    Worthy averaged 21.1 points per game during his career in the NBA playoffs.

    James Worthy is a seven-time NBA All-Star, a three-time NBA champion and was one of the three Tar Heels named to the "50 Greatest Players in NBA History."

1. Michael Jordan

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    Stats: 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 49.7 FG%, 32.7 3PT%

    Michael Jordan was the third overall selection by the Chicago Bulls in 1984. His Airness dominated the league from the jump, averaging 28.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game.

    Obviously, Jordan took home the NBA Rookie of the Year award.

    Due to his high flying and high scoring, people often forget how good a defender and teammate he was. Not only does he rank third all-time for steals, he also averaged 5.3 assists to go with his 30.1 points per game.

    Through his illustrious NBA career, Jordan won six NBA titles and a Finals MVP for each. That was done with two "three-peats," separated only by his one-and-a-half years playing baseball after his father's murder in 1993.

    I don't think it's out of the realm of possibilities that Jordan and the Bulls would have won all eight in a row. Jordan averaged 33.4 points per game during his career in the playoffs.

    Michael Jordan is not only the greatest Tar Heel to play in the NBA, but he is the greatest basketball player in the history of the game. Don't tell him that, though.

    This is what Jordan wrote in his book, For the Love of the Game: My Story:

    There is no such thing as a perfect basketball player, and I don't believe there is only one greatest player either. Everyone plays in different eras. I built my talents on the shoulders of someone else's talent. I believe greatness is an evolutionary process that changes and evolves era to era. Without Julius Erving, David Thompson, Walter Davis, and Elgin Baylor there would never have been a Michael Jordan. I evolved from them.

    A little bit of humility from a guy that wasn't known for being humble.

    While I gave you the other players' best statistical seasons, that was pretty hard to do for Michael Jordan. There are just too many insane numbers to pick the best, so I decided to list his highest averages for each category.

    Career-High Season Averages

    1986-87: 37.1 PPG

    1988-89: 7.2 RPG

    1988-89: 8.0 APG

    1987-88: 3.2 SPG

    1985-86: 1.7 BPG

    1990-91: 53.9 FG%

    1995-96: 42.7 3PT%


    Career Achievements

    Six-time NBA champion: 1991-93, 1996-98

    Six-time NBA Finals MVP: 1991-93, 1996-98

    Five-time NBA Most Valuable Player: 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998

    10-time scoring champion: 1987-93, 1996–98

    Three-time steals leader: 1988, 1990, 1993

    Three-time minutes leader: 1987-89

    14-time NBA All-Star: 1985-93, 1996–98, 2002-03

    Three-time NBA All-Star Game MVP: 1988, 1996, 1998

    One-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year: 1987-88

    11-time All-NBA selection: 1985, 1987-93, 1996-98

    Nine-time All-Defensive selection: 1988-93, 1996-98

    NBA All-Rookie selection: 1985

    NBA Rookie of the Year: 1985

    Two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion: 1987, 1988