NBA Power Rankings: The Best Player in the History of Every NBA Team
More so than in any other professional sports league, the greatness of the NBA relies heavily on the greatness of its players.
A great player can make or break a franchise (see LeBron James), and when a team finds a superstar who sticks around for a while, their impact can change the tone of a franchise for a long time (see Michael Jordan).
Franchises like the Celtics and Lakers have been fortunate enough to have several of these kinds of players grace their organizations and have seen a lot of success as a result (number one and two in all-time championships).
However, the Lakers and Celtics aren't the only teams to have had great players impact their franchises.
Here are the best players in the history of each team.
Atlanta Hawks: Bob Pettit
(Honorable Mention: Dominique Wilkins)
Bob Pettit is one of the greatest players to ever play the game, let alone to play for the Hawks.
As a member of the Saint Louis Hawks, Pettit was a two-time MVP in 1956 and 1959 and made the First Team All-NBA list ten years in a row between 1955 and 1964.
Pettit, touted for his hard work, never finished lower than seventh in the NBA season scoring race and became the youngest player at the time to reach the 20,000 point milestone.
Not only was Pettit a prolific scorer in his day, but he was also a winner, which we know is crucial in measuring the greatness of players. In the 1957-58 NBA Championship, Pettit lead the Hawks to a game six series victory, scoring an astounding 50 points.
The one knock against Pettit's career will be that he played in an era that only featured eight NBA teams, but whether you are playing against eight teams or 30, Pettit's accomplishments are still impressive.
Boston Celtics: Larry Bird
(Honorable Mention: Bill Russell)
No doubt one of the most controversial selections on this list.
Bill Russell is considered one of the best NBA players ever, but like Bob Pettit, he played in an era that featured only eight teams.
Not only that, he played in an era in which height was a game-changer, and at 6'9" Russell was one of the tallest players in the league and was able to dominate the glass every game.
Larry Bird played in one of the most competitive and talented era's in NBA history, and he was still dominant. Bird is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer who received almost every award and honor a player can receive during his 13 year career in Boston.
He was a three-time League MVP (1984, 1985, 1986), two-time NBA Finals MVP (1984, 1986), three-time NBA Champion (1981, 1984, 1986), an NBA First-Team selection nine years in a row (1980-1988), and an Olympic Gold Medalist.
Bird accomplished all this competing against Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a young Michael Jordan among others, which is why he is the greatest Celtic to ever play the game.
Charlotte Bobcats: Gerald Wallace
(Honorable Mention: Emeka Okafor)
In the short existence of the Charlotte Bobcat franchise, there haven't been too many significant players on the roster.
However, if there is one player who left his mark on the team, it is Gerald Wallace. In his seven and a half seasons with the Bobcats, Wallace averaged just over 16 points and seven and a half rebounds.
The most visible and significant impact Wallace had on the Bobcats, though, was through his defense. In 2006 and 2007, Wallace ranked in the top 10 in the league in steals, and he was named to the First Team All Defensive team in 2009.
Although Gerald Wallace was an important player to the Bobcats, Charlotte is sure to see better players pass through their roster in the future.
As of now, the best player associated with the Bobcats is Michael Jordan.
Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan
(Honorable Mention: Scottie Pippen)
There is no argument. Michael Jordan is the best player to play in the league, so of course he is considered the best to play for the Chicago Bulls.
Jordan is a six-time NBA Champion, five-time NBA MVP, six-time NBA Finals MVP, ten-time All NBA First-Team selection, nine-time All NBA First-Team Defense selection, 14-time All-Star, defensive player of the year, and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
And if that wasn't enough, Jordan retired for two years in his prime.
The NBA had never seen a player like Michael Jordan and the NBA hasn't seen a player as great since.
Championship totals for the Chicago Bulls:
Before Michael Jordan - 0
With Michael Jordan - 6
Since Michael Jordan - 0
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James
(Honorable Mention: Zydrunas Ilgauskas)
LeBron James is a once in a generation player.
A native of Ohio, James was the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. After seven seasons in Cleveland, James had already won two NBA MVP awards, been selected to four All-NBA First-Team's and been a six-time All-Star.
However, unfortunately for Cleveland, James' legacy with the Cavaliers will be one of abandonment.
Before the start of the 2010-2011 NBA season, James decided to sign with the Miami Heat unbeknownst to the Cleveland Cavaliers organization. Then this happened...
LeBron James is the best player to have ever played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but Cleveland had to learn about the power a superstar has to cripple a franchise the hard way.
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki
(Honorable Mention: Don Nelson? (coach))
Most franchises can lay claim to a couple greats who have played for their team, but the Mavericks have only one: Dirk Nowitzki.
When Nowitzki's career is all said and done, he will be considered one of the best power forwards to have ever played the game.
A 7'0" outside shooter had never been seen in the NBA (outside of maybe Rasheed Wallace?) before Nowitzki came along.
Add NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP to Nowitzki's list of accolades (MVP, All-NBA, All-Star etc.), as he lead the 2011 Mavericks to the franchise's first NBA Championship victory.
Mavericks fans need to enjoy watching Nowitzki for the few remaining years he has because he is the best player to have ever played for the franchise.
Denver Nuggets: Alex English
(Honorable Mention: Carmelo Anthony)
Alex English was the most prolific scorer in the NBA during his time with the Denver Nuggets.
When he retired, he ranked seventh on the all-time scoring list with 25,613 points in his career, doing it all against top-defenders like Sidney Moncrief, Michael Cooper, and Dennis Rodman.
Despite never taking the Nuggets to an NBA Championship, English always raised his game in the playoffs, averaging almost three points per game more than his career average in the regular season.
The Nuggets have had the opportunity to enjoy some of the best scorers the league has had to offer, and Alex English is the best of them all.
Detroit Pistons: Isiah Thomas
(Honorable Mention: Bill Laimbeer)
As good as Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman were at cleaning up the glass, no one was or has been more important to the Detroit Piston franchise than Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas, who was maybe six feet tall, is a living testimony to the impact a superstar can have on a franchise.
When Thomas became a Detroit Piston, they were one of the worst teams in the NBA. After a couple years, Thomas helped the Pistons win back-to-back NBA championships over the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers.
Thomas was named the Finals MVP in the 1990 NBA Finals and was the most important player on both of the championship teams.
Golden State Warriors: Wilt Chamberlain
(Honorable Mention: Rick Barry)
100 points. Need I say more?
Wilt Chamberlain is one of the most impressive statistical players in NBA history. As a member of the Philadelphia Warriors, Chamberlain set an NBA record that still stands 50 years later when he scored 100 points in one game.
During his time with the Warriors, Chamberlain would establish himself as the best scorer in the league.
He put together the most dominant six year stretch the NBA has ever seen. From 1959-1964 Chamberlain averaged 37.6, 38.4, 50.4, 44.8, 36.9, and 34.7 points per game. If scoring weren't enough, Chamberlain added over 22 rebounds each year during that stretch.
Had Wilt Chamberlain not played with the Warriors during the Celtics' dynasty, he would have probably added a championship to that list too, but even without a ring, he is the best player the Warriors franchise has ever seen.
Houston Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon
(Honorable Mention: Moses Malone)
Hakeem Olajuwon was one of the most well-rounded basketball players to ever play.
As the center for the Houston Rockets, Olajuwon was able to dominant on both sides of the ball. He combined two MVP's and six All-NBA First-Teams with two defensive player of the year awards and five All-NBA Defensive First Teams.
Like so many others on this exclusive list, Olajuwon seized opportunity when it came.
When Michael Jordan retired in 1994, Olajuwon lead his Rockets to two NBA Championships in a row, both of which he was the NBA Finals MVP.
Moses Malone is a Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest of all-time, but when you think of the Rockets, you think of Hakeem Olajuwon.
Indiana Pacers: Reggie Miller
(Honorable Mention: Jermaine O'Neal)
Not many players in NBA history could have or can score 8 points in under 15 seconds.
Reggie Miller is one of the greatest shooters ever, and if not for Ray Allen, he would be the all-time three point leader in NBA history.
Much like some of the other players on this list, Miller will be known as one of the best players without an NBA Championship. However, much like Isaiah Thomas, he will also be known for resurrecting a bad NBA franchise.
Los Angeles Clippers: Bob McAdoo
(Honorable Mention: Elton Brand)
Bob McAdoo is one of the few bright lights in a historically bad franchise.
He is the Braves' (now Clippers) only League MVP and the only player to ever be selected to the All-NBA First-Team. Oh yeah, and he did all of this in his first four years in the NBA.
Just like anything good that ever happens to the Clippers, McAdoo would soon leave the team and go on to play with the Knicks, Celtics and Lakers among others.
However, the 6'9" center would never play as well as he did with the Braves.
Maybe one day Blake Griffin will be considered the greatest Clipper of all-time.
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant
(Honorable Mention: Magic Johnson)
By far the toughest call out of any of the teams on this list.
The Lakers have had so many great players: Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, and of course Magic Johnson. You could make a pretty good case for each one being the greatest Lakers player of all-time, but let me present my case as to why Kobe Bryant is the greatest.
First of all, I'm going to give Kobe a little bit of an edge because he is still playing. He probably has a good three to four years left in the tank before he stops being effective.
Bryant has nearly every accolade a player can have and more. He's got the MVP (and probably should have more), the scoring titles, the all-star games, the All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team selections, and of course he has the five championship rings (which ties him with Magic for most all-time as a Laker).
However, along with those incredible accomplishments, Bryant has added four All-Star game MVP's, an 81 point game, and when it's all said and done there's a chance he could be the NBA's all-time leading scorer.
Right now, it's a toss up, but Bryant has a chance to widen the gap before he hangs 'em up.
Memphis Grizzlies: Pau Gasol
(Honorable Mention: Zach Randolph)
Although his best years came after he left the Grizzlies for Los Angeles, Pau Gasol can safely be considered the best player the franchise has ever seen.
He was named Rookie of the Year in 2002 and was the leading scorer for the Grizzlies for six straight years between 2002 and 2007 while also leading the team in rebounds four of those six years.
The Grizzlies moved from being a 28 win team in 2004 to a 50 win team the following year on the back of Pau Gasol, and it was with him that a culture of winning was developed in Memphis that carries on now after he left.
The Memphis/Vancouver franchise is very young (started in 1996) and a few years from now, Zach Randolph or Rudy Gay could end up being considered the best in franchise history. For now though, Pau Gasol can rest easy as the best Grizzly of all-time.
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade
(Honorable Mention: Alonzo Mourning)
Dwyane Wade is quickly establishing himself as one of the greats of all-time, let alone one of the best in Miami Heat history.
He is the franchise's only All-Star MVP and their only Finals MVP. He's been on the All-NBA First-Team twice, the All-NBA Second-Team three times and on the All-NBA Third-Team once.
Most importantly though, Wade lead the Heat to their first and only NBA Championship in 2006 and nearly duplicated that effort in 2011.
Alonzo Mourning is considered a better defender than Wade, although Wade is probably the most underrated perimeter defender in the NBA (never receiving an All-NBA First Team Defense selection).
Dwyane Wade already has the credentials of some of the other players on this list, but he's still playing and is in his prime no less.
He will go down as one of the best shooting guards to ever play the game and the best Miami Heat player to ever play the game as well.
Milwaukee Bucks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
(Honorable Mention: Sidney Moncrief)
For those of you who are still infuriated about Kobe Bryant being the best Lakers' player of all-time, maybe this will calm you down.
As impressive as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was in Los Angeles, his best statistical years came in Milwaukee before he made it out to L.A..
While playing for the Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar received basically every honor or award you can get as a player in the NBA: He was a three-time MVP (1971, 1972, 1974), NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP (1971), All-NBA (1971-74), All-Defense (1974-75) and Rookie of the Year in 1970.
In his six year career in Milwaukee, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 30.4 points per game and over 15 rebounds. The NBA only began keeping track of blocked shots in 1974, but over two years in Milwaukee, he averaged three and a half blocks per game.
Beyond the statistics though, Abdul-Jabbar's impact on the Milwaukee franchise was incredible. In just the third year of the franchise's existence, he lead the Bucks to an NBA Championship, something they haven't come close to doing since.
When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left the team in 1975, he left behind a sky-hooked legacy that has never been matched.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Garnett
(Honorable Mention: Kevin Love)
Few players have given more to a franchise than Kevin Garnett gave to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Through blood, sweat, and tears, Garnett worked tirelessly to bring an NBA Championship to the Timberwolves' franchise, but to no avail.
However, along the way Garnett became the best player to ever wear a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey.
An MVP winner in 2004, ten-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA selection and six time All-Defense selection, Garnett overshadows any other player to have ever played for the Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves still haven't recovered from his departure in 2007, which is a testament to the impact he had on that team and the entire Timberwolves franchise.
New Jersey Nets: Jason Kidd
(Honorable Mention: Derrick Coleman)
The New Jersey Nets franchise is one of the worst in the history of the NBA. In the Nets 34 year history, they have managed only 11 winning seasons.
In the six and a half seasons Jason Kidd was on the team, the Nets had five of those winning seasons and made the playoffs every year he was there.
Kidd made the Nets relevant in the time he was there, leading them to back to back NBA Finals appearances. If not for running into the dynasties that are the Lakers and Spurs, Kidd could have come away with two rings, and New Jersey could have had a dynasty of its own.
Statistically, Kidd was good for 40 plus double-doubles a season and almost ten triple-doubles. He averaged 15 points, nine assists and over seven rebounds from 2002-2007 in New Jersey.
As a point guard, it's not surprising that Kidd lead the team in assists all six years he was on the Nets, but what is surprising is that he also lead the team in rebounding for four of those years!
After Jason Kidd was traded to the Dallas Mavericks the Nets season records were as follows: 34-48, 24-48, 12-70, and 24-58.
Kidd made a bad franchise look good for the brief period of time he was there.
New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul
(Honorable Mention: Larry Johnson)
An indicator of a bad franchise is one that can't seem to find a home. The Hornets franchise started in Charlotte, North Carolina and currently plays in New Orleans, although there are always rumors that the Hornets will move.
Chris Paul is one of the only reasons the franchise is staying afloat. Drafted in 2005, Paul hasn't been in the league or with the team for that long, but he has already established himself as the Best Hornet player of all-time.
He is the only player in Hornets history to make the All-NBA First-Team or the All-NBA Defensive First Team. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2005-06 and has been selected to four All-Star games already in his short career.
In 2008, Chris Paul lead the Hornets to their fifth playoff series win and their first best-of-seven playoff victory.
There are rumors that Chris Paul will be leaving the Hornets when he becomes a free agent. Should he leave, the Hornet franchise would be crippled- that's how important he is to them.
New York Knicks: Willis Reed
(Honorable Mention: Patrick Ewing/Walt Frazier)
This was another tough call. Between Patrick Ewing, Walt Frazier and Willis Reed, you really can't go wrong. However, a choice had to be made, and Reed was picked by process of elimination.
Patrick Ewing never won a championship (the one knock on his career), so it's a tough argument for him over Reed or Frazier. Frazier won a title, but played second fiddle to Reed while playing in New York.
That's how I reached a decision, but by no means is Willis Reed the best Knick by default.
We've all seen or heard about game seven of the 1970 NBA Finals, when Willis Reed came limping out of the tunnel to give the Knicks the spark they needed to beat the Lakers and win the championship. However, Reed's impact on the Knicks franchise extends far beyond that infamous moment.
He is the franchise's only MVP, winning the award in that 1970 NBA season. He's also the Knicks' only Finals MVP, winning it twice in 1970 and 1973, and he was the Knicks' first Rookie of the Year.
Reed's career was short lived, playing only ten seasons in the NBA, but his legacy is still remembered and revered by Knicks fans.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Gary Payton
(Honorable Mention: Dennis Johnson)
Gary Payton is one of the greatest defensive guards of all-time and is the greatest Oklahoma City Thunder/Seattle Supersonics player of all-time.
As a defender, Payton has received nearly every accolade available to a player. From 1994 to 2002, he made every All-NBA Defensive First-Team and added Defensive Player of the Year in the 1996 season.
Still, Payton was one of the most underrated players of his generation. In his prime years in Seattle (1994-2002), he was one of the best point guards in the league, averaging 22 points, eight assists, five rebounds and over two steals a game.
If not for players like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone, Payton likely would have won an MVP award during his time in Seattle.
In 1995, he nearly lead the Sonics to their second NBA Championship, but unfortunately met Michael Jordan in the finals.
Ten years from now, Kevin Durant could be considered the best player in this franchise's history, but for now Gary Payton holds the title.
Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard
(Honorable Mention: Shaquille O'Neal)
As good as Shaquille O'Neal was in his career, his career with the Orlando Magic doesn't compare with Dwight Howard's.
The three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year has been the face of the Magic franchise since he entered the NBA straight from high school. In the last four years, Howard has made the All-NBA First-Team and All-NBA Defensive First-Team every year.
Howard is a five time All-Star, and he can also boast a slam dunk contest victory.
The Magic may be losing their franchise player soon, so Magic fans better appreciate their organization's best player for as long they can.
Philadelphia 76ers: Wilt Chamberlain
(Honorable Mention: Julius Erving)
Although Wilt Chamberlain will never be as closely identified with the Philadelphia 76ers' franchise as Julius Erving, it's tough to argue that Erving was a better player than Chamberlain with the team.
In the three short years Chamberlain had with the 76ers, he made a very big impact.
He won the NBA MVP award every year he was with the Sixers and was a member of the All-NBA First-Team.
In 1966, his second year with the team, he lead Philadelphia to an NBA Championship. Chamberlain averaged 22 points, 29 rebounds and nine assists in those playoffs, and had there been an NBA Finals MVP award, he definitely would have won it.
Chamberlain is one of the best players in NBA history and the only player to make this list twice.
Phoenix Suns: Charles Barkley
(Honorable Mention: Steve Nash)
The best player in the Phoenix Suns' history is a toss up between Steve Nash and Charles Barkley.
Both have won MVP awards with the Suns. Steve Nash won two in a row in 2005 and 2006, while Barkley won his only MVP in 1993.
They way they won the award was similar too. Barkley won the award over Michael Jordan in a season when Jordan had one of his best statistical seasons (averaging over 32 points). Nash won his MVP's when Kobe Bryant had two great seasons (27 points per game, and 35 points per game).
Neither won an NBA Finals, although Barkley did play for a championship in his MVP season, and both made All-NBA teams multiple times.
In the end though, the edge goes to the "round mound of rebound." There haven't been many players like Barkley (if any) in the history of the NBA. At 6'6", he was one of the shortest power forwards in the NBA, but was one of the best rebounders year after year.
Not to mention he is a great TV personality and has one of one the ugliest golf swings ever. See both in action here.
Portland Trail Blazers: Clyde Drexler
(Honorable Mention: Bill Walton)
Clyde "the glide" Drexler was never an NBA MVP, only made the the All-NBA First-Team once, and never won an NBA Championship with the Portland Trail Blazers, yet his impact on the franchise is undeniable.
He was one of the most consistent players to ever play for the Blazers, and he was consistently good.
One of the best guards in the NBA, Drexler averaged over two and a half steals and eight assists in just his third year with the Blazers.
By the end of his time with Portland, he was averaging over 21 points, six rebounds and six assists a game - a feat that only Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had accomplished in his era.
Drexler lead the Blazers to two NBA Finals in his career, losing to Isaiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons and Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls in 1990 and 1992.
In 1992, Drexler added Olympic Gold Medalist to his list of accomplishments playing with the "Dream Team" alongside Magic, Jordan, and Bird.
Sacramento Kings: Oscar Robertson
(Honorable Mention: Nate Archibald)
We know that statistics can never completely explain a player's career, but for Oscar Robertson's time with the Kings, they come close.
In the 1961-62 season, Oscar Robertson averaged 31 points, 11.5 assists and 12.5 rebounds - a triple double - something no other player before him or after him had/has ever done. Neither Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, nor LeBron James have come close to matching these numbers.
In three other seasons, Robertson nearly accomplished this milestone, coming up short no more than a half of a rebound or half of an assist short per game.
Needless to say, Robertson became the standard for "all-around" player: a standard to which no one has met since.
San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan
(Honorable Mention: David Robinson)
Tim Duncan is probably one of the most underrated players of all-time.
His legacy with the Spurs speaks for itself:
Four time NBA Champion, three time Finals MVP, two time regular season MVP, 13 time All-Star, nine time selection of All-NBA First-Team, and eight time selection of First-Team All-Defense.
Duncan has every possible award and honor a player can win, and multiple of them.
Despite all this, he has remained one of the least talked about and most overlooked players of his generation.
Duncan has never been a flashy player, but has instead silently become one of the best of all-time.
Toronto Raptors: Vince Carter
(Honorable Mention: Chris Bosh)
The Toronto Raptors have one of the worst franchises in NBA.
Not many great players have played in the organization, and the good ones who have rarely stay long.
However, in the 16 years of the Franchise's history, Vince Carter had the best stay with the Raptors.
In Carter's six years with Toronto, he averaged over 23 points per game, including a season in which he averaged over 27 points per game.
Carter also lead the Raptors to their first playoff series victory in 2001, losing to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers in seven games.
Utah Jazz: Karl Malone
(Honorable Mention: John Stockton)
Few players in NBA history have spent more time with one franchise and had more of an impact on a franchise than Karl Malone had with the Utah Jazz.
In his eighteen seasons with the Jazz, "the mail man" established himself as one of the greatest scorers of all-time, and by the end of his time with Utah, he was second on the all-time scoring list.
With two MVP awards, 11 All-NBA First-Team selections and three All-NBA Defensive Team selections, Malone accumulated plenty of trophies over his career, but he would trade all of them for a championship ring.
Malone lead the Jazz to playoff appearances every year he was with the team, including two NBA Finals appearances. Unfortunately for Malone and the Jazz, Michael Jordan was in the midst of his second three-peat run.
Regarded as one of the best power forwards to ever play the game, the Jazz have never had a better player come through their franchise.
Washington Wizards: Elvin Hayes
(Honorable Mention: Wes Unseld)
The Wizards franchise has featured two of the best players in the history of the NBA in Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
However, Elvin Hayes' impact, in my opinion was slightly greater.
One of the most durable players in NBA history, Hayes missed only seven games in his nine seasons with the Wizard franchise and finished his career fifth all-time in games played (1,303) and third in minutes (50,000).
Hayes' durability, combined with his impressive scoring, helped lead Washington to three NBA Finals appearances, including an NBA Championship in 1978 over the Seattle Supersonics,the franchise's only championship in history.
He retired reaching the All-Star game every year he played. He finished sixth all-time in scoring (27,313) and fourth all-time in rebounding (16,279).
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