Wisconsin Basketball: Ranking the Badgers' All-Time Greatest NBA Players

Dave RadcliffeContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2013

Wisconsin Basketball: Ranking the Badgers' All-Time Greatest NBA Players

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    For those unfamiliar with the history of Wisconsin Badgers basketball, they haven't always had it this good.

    Wisconsin is currently in the midst of 14-straight NCAA tournament appearances under the tutelage of Dick Bennett and Bo Ryan, but it took decades of futility to build the program up to where it is today.

    Generations of mediocrity doesn't usually translate into many of your players having success in the NBA, let alone even reaching the most competitive level of basketball in the world. Even with the recent success of Badger basketball, the swing-style, grind-it-out, slow-it-down, team-oriented offense Ryan preaches rivals watching paint dry and pulling teeth at times and is an acquired taste, to say the least.

    Suffice it to say, a rather bland history combined with a bland style of basketball doesn't attract the most talented recruits, but hey—Wisconsin wins basketball games, and at the end of the day, that's all that really matters.

    Consider our rankings a building block for what is yet to come as Wisconsin basketball builds towards becoming an NBA pipeline. With that in mind, let's introduce the Badgers' all-time greatest NBA players. 

5. Greg Stiemsma

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    Greg Stiemsma has played in the NBA for multiple years as a role player, and that automatically earned him consideration for this list.

    He wasn't even the best player during his tenure at Wisconsin, but his 6'11" height and solid length makes him a threatening inside presence on defense. He earned his stripes with the Boston Celtics during the 2011-12 season blocking shots, and this season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Stiemsma has blocked the fourth-most shots in the NBA per-48 minutes.

    One of the many "polar bears" to come out of Madison as of late, Stiemsma only plays 12.4 minutes-per-game, but he makes an impact when he's in the game and has a solidified role on an NBA team, something very few former or current Badgers can say.

    If he can develop some tools on offense, who knows? Maybe Stiemsma strays from his one-dimensional self and makes a career of it. 

4. Brad Sellers

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    Did Brad Sellers play for the Badgers? Yes. Did he graduate from Wisconsin? No—that distinction belongs to the Ohio State Buckeyes.

    Moving on.

    Even though Sellers was somewhat of a bust in the NBA as a one-time ninth overall pick of the Chicago Bulls, he played six years in the NBA, and like Steimsma having a role, Sellers was one of the rare players who played for Wisconsin that had an extended playing career in the league.

    Overall, Sellers averaged 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds for four different teams throughout his career, and this is at least one list he can be proud of cracking—well, maybe. Sellers will always be known as a Buckeye by most, but for the sake of this countdown, he will always be a Badger in our hearts.

3. Wes Matthews

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    Finally, we've moved past obscurity and technicalities to reach the No. 3 greatest NBA player in Wisconsin history, Wes Matthews, an undersized guard who was selected with the 14th overall pick in the 1980 NBA Draft.

    Matthews deserves some credit for beginning to climb Wisconsin basketball out of such a massive hole, and in his first NBA season with both Washington and Atlanta, he averaged 12.4 points-per-game. When it was all said and done, Matthews had played eight full seasons in the NBA for six different teams, averaging 7.9 points and 4.2 assists. 

    As most of you are probably familiar with, Matthews has a son currently playing in the league that goes by the same name, and if he had chosen to stay in his hometown of Madison instead of attending Marquette, current Portland Trail Blazer Wesley Matthews would also be on this list.

    Just throwing it out there.

2. Devin Harris

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    Devin Harris, a Milwaukee native, is putting together a nice little NBA career for himself.

    A rare specimen as far as typical Badger basketball players go, Harris was a different breed who often created for himself out of Bo Ryan's swing offense. That's not something we're accustomed to seeing at Wisconsin, nor are we accustomed to seeing players from Wisconsin leave early for the NBA, which is exactly what Harris did.

    Harris is now in his ninth NBA season, which includes a finals appearance with the Dallas Mavericks, one of the four teams Harris has suited up for. He currently plays for the Atlanta Hawks in a backup role, but he has started at point guard for the majority of his NBA career.

    In the 2008-09 season with the New Jersey Nets, Harris averaged over 20 points a game and overall, he has averaged 12.9 points and 4.9 assists throughout his time in The Association. It's certainly a step up from where we were earlier on this list, and although Harris will go down as one of the Badgers' all-time greatest NBA players, there is one player who goes down as not only the best former-Badgers to play in the NBA, but as the greatest Wisconsin baller, period. 

1. Michael Finley

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    There's no arguing this No. 1—Michael Finley helped build Wisconsin up to the perennial NCAA tournament team that it is today, and then played 15 stellar seasons in the NBA to bout.

    Finley spent the majority of his career with the Dallas Mavericks, but he went on to win an NBA Championship with the San Antonio Spurs in the latter stages of his playing days. He also topped 20 points-per-game for a season five straight times, was a two-time All-Star selection and made the NBA All-Rookie Team.

    What made Finley so effective was his size for a 2-guard and therefore, his ability to rise up and shoot over smaller defenders. He was an excellent jump shooter and earned his paycheck on the offensive end of the floor, averaging 15.7 points-per-game for his career. 

    As talented as Finley was, he was always willing to do what was best for the team, and that may end up costing him a shot at the Hall of Fame. It will take a lot for a Badger to put together an NBA career that surpasses that of Finley's, but for the foreseeable future, Finley is the Badgers' greatest NBA player of all-time.