How to Judge the Best Players in the NBA

j leonContributor IMarch 28, 2010

Too often, people like to judge the best players based on championships and career achievements.  There is a time and strategy to this type of judgment, and I will get to that. 


However in present time decisions on who is the best, its a what have you done for me lately.


Kevin Durant has come into his own and clearly has distinguished himself as a top player.  However, some would say that he has to win titles and be an All-Star for years to come before he can be mentioned in the same breath as a Kobe or even a Tim Duncan. 


The problem with that argument is that when deciding the current best player; past accomplishment should only enter the conversation if the player is still the same guy who earned the reputation that made them a consensus choice as a top player.


Tim Duncan is a better player then Kevin Durant at this point if you are describing their careers.  Kevin Durant is better right now.  So is Dirk, B. Roy, D Williams, Nash, D Howard and I could go on and on. 


When recently the Rolling Stone magazine had an article stating Durant is better then Kobe it wasn’t that crazy...I disagree!, but its not a crazy thought.  He could be better at this moment and have not had the career that Kobe has had. 


In my opinion, LeBron is by far the most talented player in the NBA.  However on a good team I would take Wade and Kobe because in the end playoff games usually go down to crunch time in the fourth quarter and I think those guys have more of a killer instinct than LeBron. 


That makes it hard to say who is the best.  LeBron, who is the best talent, Wade who can carry an average team to the title and this season can take a last-place team to a 5 or 6 seed.  Or Kobe who is the most feared player when the game is close down the stretch. 


I'm not sure there is a factual answer, but I believe you have to be good or great in the clutch to be the best.  At this moment, I would call Kobe the best.


My next statement has to do with a guy in pressure situations.  In football Joe Montana and Tom Brady made their reputations on clutch play.  And rightfully so, they among some other greats that are considered to be the best of all time. 


Guys like Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Fran Tarkenton, and many others who were great quarterbacks and never won a championship. Most would disqualify these players in the argument as the absolute best. I do not. 


I watched Dan Marino and Joe Montana in the 80's.  Dan Marino was better.  He was the best I have ever seen because he was not only the most talented, but he was clutch.  His not winning had nothing to do with him being a choker, but instead was just the opposite. 


I feel that he had the same focus that Joe had and Tom has under pressure but could never show it on the biggest of stage due to the lack of talent of the players around him.


If anyone watched the games of this era they would know that Dan was at his best when he had to be.  So despite his lack of titles, he should not be disqualified from being considered the best who ever played at his position. 


You need to judge on a case-by-case basis.  Peyton Manning has a championship and has better career stats then Tom Brady, but in my opinion is not a great player when pressure gets high. 


His championship was won more because of Defense and his running game than him being clutch.  Instead, I believe he becomes less of a threat in big game pressure situations.  This is where it gets complicated. 


Unfortunately, deciding who is the best is not as easy as in golf or tennis.  Basketball, like football, is a team sport and cannot be looked at in a black and white way.  So it takes people to critically think when making an opinion on the best in the world. 


Peyton, like Dan, is more accomplished than Tom in the same way Dan was more accomplished then Joe, however I feel there is a bigger difference between Peyton and Tom when it comes to clutch play than there was between Dan and Joe. 


That is why although Joe and Dan were both great, I think Dan was better.


Championships have become way too important!  This is where the hyperbole opinions have poisoned sports.  According to popular opinion, which has been influenced by media talking heads, you cannot be the best if you have not won a title. 


Circumstances are not discussed; it is has become the paradigm in sports opinion.  In the 1960's most people thought of Wilt Chamberlain as the best big man in the game. 


However in recent years with the paradigm shift Bill Russell became known as the best of the era.  It had more to do with championships then on court accomplishment. 


I am too young to have seen Wilt play.  His rep is that he did not like pressure and played bad in big games. 


I cannot give an educated opinion on that matter.  If that is true, then in this circumstance Russell deserves to be the prominent center of his era. 


Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not saying championships are not important or that is should not be weighed.  All I'm saying is that when discussing championship winners you need to look at the team and what the player did to win the championships. 


Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan did not only win championships but they were great for their teams.  That’s obvious. 


However, people need to also consider other great players who were great under pressure and were good enough to be considered the best and just did not have players around them to win a title.  


There are more modern examples that I personally witnessed that can drive home my opinion better.  When talking about the best power forward of the mid 80's early 90's it is a two person race. 


Most people including me would say Karl Malone and Charles Barkley were the best.  Who was better? Neither won a championship and both were basically unguardable on offense and neither was all that special defensively.


Karl had better stats and played at a higher level for a longer period of time.  In the 80's Barkley was more often thought of as the prominent power forward and in the 90's Malone probably had that title. 


To me, Barkley was better.  Why?  He was better down the stretch of games and to me his not winning a title had more to do with the lack of talent on his team then his lack of ability to carry his team when the game was on the line.


In my opinion, Karl folded whenever pressure got high.  Karl was unstoppable during the game and had help from officials who appreciated his style of play and could dominate a game from his drawn fouls alone. 


However, he panicked in crunch time and could not perform well when his team needed him.  So to me it’s not about the fact that he didn't win a championship, but how he handled or didn't handle pressure.  


In my wrap up I just ask that people have an open mind when discussing the best players.  There is not always a black and white answer. 


Some years, guys are better at that time then guys who are Hall of Famers and the consensus choices.  Shawn Kemp had years that he may have been the LeBron of Power Forwards. 


Where you had to decide if he was better then Karl and Charles because of his talent..... 


There was also a time when people used to ask who was a better center between Hakeem and Ewing.  I thought Hakeem was better before the titles because of not only his talent, but because I felt that Patrick was not good down the stretch. 


If the Knicks had won two titles and not the Rockets, I perhaps would have still believed Hakeem was better, depending on how the Knicks won it and whether the Rockets suffered from Hakeem not playing well or because he simply was not on a team that was good enough to expect him to win.


Don't let the media give you the criteria on who is the best.  Just watch all the players and decide for yourself on your own scale.  Although how a team does should be weighed, it’s not the end-all.  The question is which PLAYER is better, not which TEAM.




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