NBA: Comparing the League's Stars Throughout the Years
Every generation of professional basketball has provided a unique set of stars who dominate the game in a way that few can. Basketball enthusiasts will often use phrases like “The greatest ever,” or “there will never be another.” Generally, these remarks are made in the heat of the moment and if you look closely, you can find comparable stars from every era.
Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West are three of the greatest to ever play the game. All were dynamic, unique and set the standard by which future players at their position would be judged.
Nevertheless there is a short list of active and retired players whose games are quite similar and remind us of those great players of the past.
Here is a list of some of the NBA’s great carbon copies.
Point Guards: Oscar Robertson
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The “Big O” dominated opponents every way you could. He led his team in scoring, assists and even rebounding. In the 61-62 season, Robertson averaged a triple-double, he posted 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg and 11.4 apg. He is the only player in league history to accomplish such a feat. For the record, he averaged a triple-double for the first five years of his career. From 1960-65, Robertson averaged 30.3 ppg, 10.6 apg and 10.4 rpg.
After ten seasons with the Cincinnati Royals, he went to play for the Milwaukee Bucks and in 1971 alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar he helped the Milwaukee Bucks win their only NBA title.
Robertson finished his career with averages of 25.7 ppg, 9.5 apg and 7.5 rpg and a ridiculous 181 regular season triple-doubles, which is good enough for first all-time in that category. The “Big O” might be the greatest point guard to ever play the game.
From Oscar Robertson we got…
Earvin "Magic" Johnson
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The best Laker of them all, he was the engine that made the “Showtime Lakers” go. Blessed with arguably the greatest court vision ever, he made no look passes and precisely placed ally oops seem as simple as tying your shoe. His clutch shooting and sheer will propelled the Lakers to nine NBA title appearances in twelve years; the Lakers would win five of them.
At 6 ft 9 in, “Magic” possessed the rare talents to play all five positions and he played them well. Like Oscar Robertson, he dominated games by passing, scoring and rebounding. Johnson is 2nd all-time with 138 regular season triple-doubles and his 11 in the playoffs are more than any other player. He won three MVP’s; equaled by three Finals MVP’s and his 11.2 apg rank him 1st all-time in that category.
“Magic” was a winner who did whatever it took to guarantee his team victory. In 1980, as a rookie in game 6 of the NBA Finals, he stepped in at center for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and put up 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals to give the Lakers the win and the 1980 NBA Finals.
From Magic we move to…
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Jason Kidd’s career is a classic example of how you don’t have to score the most points to be considered your team’s best player. Throughout his career Kidd has relied on his precision passing, rebounding, strong defense and high basketball I.Q. to will his teams. In recent years, he’s added a lethal 3pt shot to his arsenal in order to keep defenders honest.
In 2002 and 2003, he led the New Jersey Nets to their only NBA Finals appearances. The team would come up empty in consecutive attempts and Kidd would have to wait another eight years to get a shot at redemption. Finally after 17 seasons, Kidd won his 1st NBA title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
With 107 regular season triple-doubles and counting, Kidd ranks 3rd all-time trailing only Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. He is the only player in NBA history to record 15,000 points, 10,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds.
J-Kidd may not be as flashy as “Magic” or the scoring threat that Robertson was but his all-around game puts him in the same class.
After Kidd came…
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It’s still too early to tell but “CP3” is fast on his way to establishing himself as one of the best point guards ever. His blazing speed and effectiveness in the pick-and-roll leaves opposing defenders twisted and tangled.
At 6 ft. tall he embodies the toughness of Isaiah Thomas and the relentlessness of Allen Iverson.
In six seasons, he’s captured the Rookie of the year award, appeared in four all-star games and led the NBA in steals a record three times. In 2007-2009, he became the only player in league history to lead the league in both steals and assists in consecutive seasons.
Since being drafted in 2005, Paul has put the Hornets franchise on his back leading them to three playoff appearances. While his regular season numbers are excellent: 18.7 ppg, 9.9 apg, 2.4 spg and 4.6 rpg. His overall level of play is even better in the playoffs. Paul averages 21.9 ppg, 11.1 apg, 2 spg and 5.3 rpg.
He can score, pass, play defense and he’s an excellent rebounder. He still has a long way to go but he possesses all the skills of those mentioned before him.
Shooting Guards: Jerry West
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You know you’re truly a legend when a franchise that’s won 17 titles places a statue of you in front of the arena. How else do you know you’re a legend? How about after your team loses the 1969 NBA Finals and you are awarded the Most Valuable Player of the series or when the league decides to make the logo in your likeness.
Jerry should have swapped the “W” in his name with a “B” because he is truly one of the best. He could do whatever he wanted on the court. He led the Lakers to nine NBA Finals and was an All-Star every year he played. His career average of 27 ppg is 4th best all-time and in the playoffs, West was even better. He averaged 29 ppg in 153 playoff games and had one of the best jump shots ever.
Nicknamed Mr. Clutch, he lived up to the name every chance he got. His 46.3 ppg are still a record for a playoff series and his 63-foot shot in game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals, is arguably the best shot in post-season history.
After Jerry Came…
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As cool as ice, George Gervin was one of the game’s best scorers ever. He won four NBA/ABA scoring titles, averaged over 30 ppg in two different seasons and scored an NBA record 33 points in one quarter.
Gervin could beat you any number of ways; he could shoot over you from long range, pull up and sink a mid range jumper or go around you and attack the basket with his signature finger roll.
In 13 seasons, he never won a title but retired as San Antonio’s all-time leader in points, and held the NBA record for most blocked shots by a guard.
How cold was the “Iceman?” In the last game of the 1978 season, he scored 63 points despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter.
Gervin paved the way for…
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Why do we consider him the greatest? Maybe it’s the six titles and six Finals MVP’s to match. Maybe it’s the 30 ppg for his career (1st all-time) or the 33.45 ppg in the playoffs (also 1st all-time) or the five regular season MVP’s. Maybe it’s because he was a great defender, who won a Defensive Player of the Year award and is 2nd all time in career steals; or perhaps it’s the ten scoring titles, three steals titles and ten All-NBA First Team selections.
Maybe Michael is the greatest for what he wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t let NBA greats such as; Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Karl Malone or Gary Payton win an NBA title. He never let his team get complacent despite winning six titles in eight years. Oh and he never let anyone forget how truly great he was. MJ’s on court trash talk is almost as legendary as his game.
He modified his own game which primarily consisted of jumping out of the arena and scoring a ton of points and transformed into one of the most complete all-around players ever. He learned to post up, shoot from distance and his fade away jumper became his most reliable weapon late in his career.
Magic Johnson said it best, “there is Michael Jordan and then there is the rest of us.”
From Michael Came…
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He can never be Michael Jordan but frankly who can? Kobe has never worried about comparisons with Jordan and why should he? His own resume is one to be both revered and envied.
We can talk about winning three titles by age 23 making him the youngest player to do that. There was the 81 point game against Toronto (2nd most all-time). There was the game in 2006, when he outscored the entire Dallas Mavericks team after three quarters (62-61). There was the MVP award in 2008 and back to back titles in 2009 and 2010, along with two NBA Finals MVP awards.
Let’s not forget that Kobe is one of the most prolific scorers ever. He hits jumpers like Jordan, sinks buzzer beaters like his last name is West and has an array of post moves that remind you of Olajuwon.
In addition, Bryant can lay claim to nine All-Defensive First Team selections, 13 All-Star appearances and in his own words, “one more title than Shaq.”
He may not be Jordan but he’s definitely cut from the same cloth.
Defensive Centers: Bill Russell
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Bill Russell is the greatest winner of all-time, period. Eleven titles, 5 MVP’s, 12 All-Star appearances, averaged over four assists per game and collected the 2nd most rebounds in the history of the NBA with 21, 620 good for just under 25 rpg. He intimidated foes by blocking everything that came his way and never averaged below 20 rpg in his career.
He was never the Celtics top scoring option but still managed to score 14,522 points. Had there been an All NBA Defense selection during much of his playing days, he would have made the First Team every year. As it stands he has only one selection in 1969 (when the award was invented).
Russell is still considered to be the best defensive center of all-time. "He brought a new sound to basketball," Red Auerbach once said, "the sound of his footsteps."
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He is the all-time leader in blocked shots (with respect to Bill Russell; the stat wasn’t recorded when he played.) He won back to back titles, Finals MVP’s and Defensive Player of the year awards.
“The Dream” retired ranked in the top ten all-time in points, rebounding, blocks and steals. He is the only player to do that. He was a 12 time All-Star and nine time All NBA Defense. There really wasn’t anything that Olajuwon couldn’t do well. His "Dream Shake" was one of the best post moves ever used by a big man.
In many ways, Olajuwon was a bigger, stronger, faster and better offensive version of Bill Russell. in 1994, he had one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history. Olajuwon won the regular season MVP, was named Defensive Player of the Year, won his first title and the NBA Finals MVP.
Not long after Olajuwon…
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“The Admiral” was the force that kept San Antonio relevant for over a decade. He was a long, agile and extremely skilled on both ends of the court. Robinson could score with the best of them, rebound, block and defend.
Robinson began his career by winning the Rookie of The Year in 1990. As a rookie he averaged 24 ppg, 12 rpg and 4 bpg. He was a ten time All-Star and one of four players to ever record a quadruple-double.
Robinson was a 90’s version of Bill Russell. He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 and All NBA Defense eight times in his career.
Thanks to Tim Duncan and his own selflessness, he was a two time champion as well.
Robinson cleared the way for…
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Dwight Howard jumped from Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy to the NBA and hasn’t looked back. In his rookie season he became the youngest player to average a double-double with 12 ppg and 10 rpg.
In seven seasons, Howard is all ready a five time All-Star, four time All NBA First Team and a Four time All NBA First Team Defensive selection. He’s led the league in both rebounds and blocks numerous times and in 2010 he became the first player to ever lead the league in total rebounds for five consecutive seasons.
Dwight Howard also gets it done in the playoffs. His regular season averages of 18.2 ppg and 12.9 rpg shoot up to 19.9 ppg and 14.4 rpg. Add that to the fact he all ready has three Defensive Player of the Year awards under his belt. At this point the only thing missing from “Superman’s” resume is an NBA title.
Game Changers: George Mikan
He was Shaq before there ever was a Shaq. A big man who used his size to crush his foes and put fear in the heart of any and everyone armed with the task of stopping him. He often befuddled defenses with his ability to make his trademark hook shot with either hand.
Mikan was unstoppable during his 10 year career in which he posted career averages of 22.6 ppg and 13.4 rpg. He added three scoring titles and four All-Star appearances and was the first truly dominant player in professional basketball. He led the Lakers to their first five championships and won a total of seven titles.
Mikan was so dominant in the low post that the league widened the lane. He sent so many balls into the stands that the league disallowed blocked shots.
George Mikan was voted the “Greatest Player” of the first half of the 20th century and paved the way for the league’s future giants.
Mikan was followed by…
The man averaged 40 and 50 points in two different seasons, the highest two averages all-time. He scored 100 points in a game (still an NBA record), he pulled down 55 boards in one game (still an NBA record) and once even managed to lead the league in assists.
Wilt’s love for numbers was clearly evident. Four MVP’s, Two NBA titles, 13 All-Star appearances, eleven rebounding titles, nine times leading the league in field goal pct. Chamberlain’s 72’ Lakers won a ridiculous 33 straight games and he went on to win his second NBA Finals MVP.
Like they did for George Mikan before him, the league widened the lane to try and slow Chamberlain down. It didn’t help. Chamberlain dominated the league until his last game in the 1973 NBA Finals. In game five of the series, Wilt scored 23 points and pulled down 21 rebounds, the Lakers lost the game and the Finals.
Unfortunately, Wilt will probably always be best remembered for two things: Scoring more points than anyone else and losing to Bill Russell.
After Wilt came…
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If Wilt Chamberlain loved numbers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was obsessed with them. Consider the fact that he won six NBA titles and a record six NBA regular season MVP’s. He scored 38,387 points (the most all-time), won two NBA Finals MVP’s, made 19 All-Star appearances, was All-NBA Defense 11 times and retired as the all-time leader in points scored, games played, minutes played, field goals made, field goal attempts, blocked shots, defensive rebounds, and personal fouls.
Abdul-Jabbar was the ultimate team player and a solid defender who helped lead his teams in Milwaukee and Los Angeles to 10 Finals appearances. It was his unselfish and team centric attitude that allowed him to achieve so much success during his career. “A team will always appreciate a great individual if he's willing to sacrifice for the group,” Jabbar once said.
Abdul-Jabbar also developed one of the all-time great shots in NBA history, the sky hook. The shot was more or less unstoppable when the seven foot Jabbar elevated and hurled the ball over the heads of his defenders. Bill Russell once said of the sky hook, “one of the greatest innovations in the history of sports,” high praise from one legend to another.
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The biggest and toughest of them all, he audaciously proclaimed himself MDE (Most Dominant Ever) and it’s hard to disagree with him.
Shaq may be a class clown but there is nothing funny about his accomplishments in the league. He was named to 15 All-Star teams, won an MVP, and was a four-time champion, who captured three Finals MVPs.
For a number of years he was the most unstoppable force in the NBA. He led the league in field goal percentage a record 10 times and his 58.1 percent field goal percentage is second best all-time.
He was arguably the most dominant low post player ever. Shaq used an array of spins and drop steps to power past opponents and throw down monster dunks. Shaq was so powerful that he ripped backboards down on more than one occasion.
He gave opposing coaches nightmares as they failed to devise any successful strategy to defend him. Double teams, zones, traps and even Hack-a-Shaq couldn’t slow down the Diesel.
If Shaq’s retirement stands, he finishes his career fifth all-time in points scored, fifth in field goals, 12th in rebounds, and seventh in blocks.
He may be the last of a dying breed of dominant big men.