NBA: 50 Greatest Low-Post Players of All Time

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2011

NBA: 50 Greatest Low-Post Players of All Time

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    In the NBA it's very hard to win a championship without an effective low-post scorer.  You may have a guy who stretches the defense because of his ability to score in the low post along with a good mid-range jumper like Dirk Nowitzki (more recently) or Pau Gasol, or just an all-out monster in the post like Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett.

    It's the three-point shooters that bring down the house and the high-flying dunkers who bring up the noise in the arena.

    Most recently, you saw the Memphis Grizzlies, who are stacked in the post with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, take down the No. 1-seeded San Antonio Spurs by playing stellar defense and pounding the ball down low.

    Low-post play is the meat and potatoes of an offense, while your long-range shooting is the gravy.  You can win without three-point shooters, but you would be hard-pressed to do the same without low-post guys.

    To me, they are the most important players in the NBA, so I've delved into the NBA history books and pulled out the best low-post players of all time for your viewing pleasure.

50. Al Jefferson

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    I've never really been a fan of Al Jefferson because of his lack of a defensive game, but I cannot argue that he is one of the best offensive big men in the game.

    Everything he lacks on defense he makes up for with his offense in the post.  He has finesse and footwork that can get him around even the best big men in the league and is able to feather in a pretty jump-hook shot from about 10 to 12 feet.

    If it weren't for a select few players, I would say that he is the most versatile low-post scorer in the NBA today.

49. Cedric Maxwell

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    Cedric Maxwell was a good player for a decent amount of time in the NBA, but he kind of gets lost in the mass of great Celtics from the 1980s, so he doesn't really get the recognition he deserves.

    Before Kevin McHale wrestled away the starting power forward role from Maxwell, Cornbread (as he was called) was one of the best low-post players in the game, winning the 1981 Finals MVP Award for his stellar play.

    His peak saw him lead the league in shooting percentage two years in a row and putting up some good rebounding numbers and was most deadly with a pump fake, constantly putting defenders in the air and going up and under them.

48. Spencer Haywood

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    One of the premier big men of the ABA in his one season in the league, Spencer Haywood transferred over nicely to the NBA, although he was never as great in the NBA as he was in his lone ABA year.

    Haywood wasn't an overly efficient scorer in his time in the NBA (but then again, nobody really was in the '70s), but he peaked at 29 points and 13 rebounds a game in his third year in the league.

47. Yao Ming

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    He could have put some meat on his frame and stayed in the NBA for about 15 years, but he just wasn't built for it.

    He was one of my favorite players of the past decade, and that robotic turnaround that was nearly automatic for him is my second-favorite move of the decade other than the Dirk Nowitzki flamingo fadeaway.

46. Magic Johson

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    There are very few players in the history of the league that could play every position effectively, but Magic Johnson could do it better than anyone else because of his versatility on the floor.

    He wasn't a great defender by any means, especially in the post, but on offense he could abuse you as well as any guard could.

    He always had a good low-post game, but it shined in the years after Kareem when he was officially the alpha-dog of the Lakers.

45. Arvydas Sabonis

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    I'm going to say this right now: We missed out on a potential top-five center all-time because of the insane work schedule of the USSR National Basketball Team and the injuries that came with it.

    A depleted, limping, slightly thicker-around-the-middle Sabonis finally debuted in Portland in 1995 (despite being drafted in 1986) and still averaged 14.5 points and eight rebounds a game.

    Even with Sabonis hampered by injuries and knees that should have belonged to a man twice his age, he was able to dismantle guys down low with his Larry Bird-like court vision, versatility and his rugged USSR-driven mentality.

44. Ben Wallace

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    Ben Wallace was never a scorer—that much we know—but he was such a hard worker that he ended up turning into the best defender of the 2000s.

    He was a vacuum cleaner on the boards, inhaling any basketball that caromed within 10 square miles of his afro and blocking any shot that a young hooligan dared put up in his grill.

43. Maurice Lucas

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    If I tell you that a guy's nickname was The Enforcer, I would say that you could manage to guess that he was a pretty good low-post player.

    When Maurice Lucas was in the post, he didn't try to do much of anything fancy; he just beat his opponent into submission. 

    If you want more proof about Lucas' toughness, just watch him square off with Darryl Dawkins at the center of the court in Game 2 of the 1977 Finals after Dawkins turned into Nelson Muntz and started bullying everyone in the vicinity.

42. Dennis Rodman

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    The guy that gave the edge to the second set of Bulls championship-winning teams did his work in the low post.

    Either other players were afraid that they would get a knee to the groin or they were so distracted by the color of his hair on that particular day that they couldn't get a rebound over they guy and couldn't get a shot off uncontested.

41. Bill Laimbeer

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    The guy that really rounded out the Bad Boy Pistons was Bill Laimbeer.  They may have individually been some pretty bad dudes, but Bill Laimbeer was the center of their toughness.

    In the post, Laimbeer was a pest, but was also a big man.  Imagine if mosquitoes were the size of small dogs; at the same time, you would be intimidated and start to lose your cool.  That's the way Laimbeer played, getting into his opponent's head and letting them melt down before he did.

40. Adrian Dantley

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    There aren't many players like Adrian Dantley in the league anymore.  Hell, there may be no players like Adrian Dantley in the league anymore.

    Dantley stood a short 6'5", but continually played in the post, throwing up any number of moves from a turnaround jumper, a spin into the paint or a spin along the baseline to the hole.

    He was an offensive threat from many places on the floor, but where he really drew admiration was his work in the post and the big-man moves that went with it despite his moderate size.

39. Pau Gasol

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    Despite his softness—which has been a concern less and less since he joined the Lakers—and his lack of defensive know-how—which has grown since he joined the Lakers—Pau Gasol could very well have been the best low-post player in the league this past season.

    An ambidextrous ambi-turner (he can turn left), Pau Gasol can go either direction and put a shot up with either hand.  If a defender decides to give him a little space, he can just pull up with a shot and never look back.

    His signature move—the face-up-pump-fake-spin along the baseline—is hard to stop, as he can pull up with the shot at any point during or dish it back out, as he is a very good passer down low.

38. Rasheed Wallace

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    To say Rasheed Wallace was a guy that stretched defenders is a bit insulting.  In reality, Rasheed Wallace was a guy that fooled defenders into being stretched.

    Wallace had some of the best post moves in the game, but he rarely unveiled them unless it was necessary.  I would wager that he learned to be a good long-range shooter just so he didn't have to give away his whole repertoire in the first few months of the season.

    In an interview with the Boston Herald, he hinted at this:

    "You know, I don't show my whole package during the beginning of the season. If you do, then that's what's going to be in the scouting report on me. So now, come money time, it'll say that I'm going to go to the turnaround. Yeah, I'm going to turn around, but I'm going to go by you left, by you right, come with the jump hook.

    I told my buddy to look at it like a kung fu teacher. I might teach you the lotus and I might teach you the tiger, but I'm not going to teach you the crane, because the crane can beat both of them."

    That's right, Rasheed Wallace likened himself to a kung fu teacher.  Nothing to see here, move along.

37. Shawn Kemp

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    LeBron James' (seemingly) ridiculously alleged baby-daddy was a monster in the low post in his prime.

    Shawn Kemp was one of the first NBA guys that you could legitimately refer to as a freak of nature.  Other than Hakeem Olajuwon, there had never been a guy of his size that was nearly as athletic as he was.

    Kemp could run the floor like a forward and was insanely explosive, and relied mostly on that in the post, but that was enough for Kemp for much of his career.

36. Dikembe Mutombo

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    Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Muukamba Jean-Jacques Wmautombo—or just Dikembe Mutombo if you don't want to spend six months saying his name—was one of the best defenders in the league from the moment he stepped into the NBA until he retired.

    He had an impeccable knowledge of what to do in the paint on defense and had basketball instincts that you don't normally see in a guy from Africa.

    He also gave me my favorite taunt after a blocked shot ever; the finger wag deserves to be inducted in the "In Yo' Face" Hall of Fame.

35. Willis Reed

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    The owner of the most famous four-point game in the history of the NBA was the best low-post presence for the championship Knicks of the 1970s.

    Reed unleashed a decade of terror in the low post along with an MVP Award, two Finals MVP Awards and seven All-Star team selections in just 10 seasons.

    If it weren't for injuries, Willis Reed would probably be famous for being one of the best big men of all time, and not just for those four points in Game 7 of the 1970 Finals.

34. Zach Randolph

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    He can't jump and he's not fast, but he is one of the most skilled big men in the league today.

    For years Randolph has been a big body in the post with the finesse moves down low that you would expect to see from a guy like Pau Gasol—not Z-Bo.  But he has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

    Since he has started to stay out of the headlines for getting in trouble, people have started to appreciate the work he has done over the years devastating his opponents down low.

33. Chris Webber

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    Chris Webber should have made people forget about Karl Malone and never think about Tim Duncan as the best power forward of all time, but unforeseen circumstances kept him down.

    Webber was a very efficient scorer for a guy on the shorter end of the power forward spectrum—plus he was an amazing rebounder, both when he had his athleticism and when he had lost it, topping out at 13 boards a game in 1999.

    Webber did a little bit of everything as a power forward, otherwise he could have been one of the top low-post guys ever, but he decided to be a revolutionary player—and who can blame him?

32. Gary Payton

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    Gary Payton was one of the best guards in the low post that I have ever seen play basketball.

    It wasn't uncommon to see Payton dish it out to a wing, get position down low, call for the ball and back down a smaller guard until he got what he wanted.

31. Elgin Baylor

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    Elgin Baylor as a small forward is a model of what LeBron James needs to learn to do.

    Baylor was a monster in the post, tearing up guys four inches taller than him, patenting his up-and-under move where he would get a defender up off his feet and just sneak right under, either getting an easy shot or getting the center to rotate over at which point he would bounce it over to his big man and let him drop it in—easy as pie.

    If LeBron developed a better face-up low-post game (his back-to-the-basket game is pretty good), then he would be completely unstoppable, plus he would last longer at a higher level, as he can't rely on freak athleticism forever.

30. Nate Thurmond

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    Nate Thurmond had a jump shot that he took way too often and was just a bit above average offensively in the post, but on defense he was a monster.

    On defense, Thurmond put up the stats of two men, averaging a double-double for a decade and in one insane season putting up a Wilt Chamberlain-esque 20-20 average.

29. Walt Bellamy

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    In a very impressive 1961 season, Walt Bellamy averaged 32 points and 19 rebounds as a rookie, which pretty much set the bar for the rest of his career far too high.

    His post game on offense was good, but his defense in the post was miraculous.  He rebounded as well as anybody in the league and adjusted as many shots as anyone else positioned in the paint.

28. Oscar Robertson

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    Oscar Robertson could basically do anything he wanted to on the court, and if he would have played with a three-point line, I'm convinced that he would have developed a long-distance shot as well.

    Robertson was an elite low-post guard in his day, which was bolstered by his terrific mid-range jumper.  Robertson was also a good defender when a guard tried to post him up and was a great rebounder.

27. Kobe Bryant

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    Looking to further his ability in the post (which at the time was good, but not as amazing as it is today), in 2009 Kobe took lessons from Hakeem Olajuwon.  I think it's safe to say he picked a good teacher.

    Since Hakeem taught him the finer points of playing down low, Kobe has been able to torch defenders in the post, both in face-up and back-down situations, which for me gives him a legitimate argument to be a top-10 player all-time (although I'm still not sure I want to put him in it).

26. Dave Cowens

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    Dave Cowens was a unique player in the post, which is part of what made him such an interesting player.

    What he lacked in basketball skill he made up for in ultra-competitiveness.  He battled with bigger centers constantly and won quite often because he wanted to do better than them more than they wanted to do better than him.

    Cowens was a lefty, an inefficient scorer and he carried himself like an insane man at times on the court, and it worked.

25. James Worthy

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    Big Game James had an assortment of offensive moves in the post, but his bread and butter was the baseline spin.  He could catch it on the low block and spin to the right with the ball in his left hand and either go straight up for a layup or pump fake and go up and under.

    He was excellent with his back to the basket, and was able to break down just about any defender with one of his many moves.

24. Alonzo Mourning

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    Alonzo Mourning is one of the few players that had his career ravished by injuries but continued to be an effective player beyond his injuries.

    The first seven years of his career were as good as most big men of the past 30 years, and if he were to have spent those years injury-free, he could have been even better.

    On offense he was an extremely efficient scorer and on defense he was one of the smartest shot-blockers since Bill Russell, creating more possessions for his team, rather than just sending a shot sailing out of bounds.

23. Bob Lanier

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    Bob Lanier was one of the best low-post players of the 1970s, amazingly efficient on offense and as good as you will find on defense.

    Lanier was like a rock for the Pistons down low, scoring whenever he got the ball with an array of low-post moves and absolutely abusing fellas on defense, pestering them into never wanting to come into his paint ever again.

22. Artis Gilmore

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    The world needs to show Artis Gilmore more love than they do.

    Sure, Gilmore was pretty much useless anywhere farther than 13 feet out on offense, but he was so good in the post that it completely made up for his lack of range.

    Gilmore shot over 60 percent for a ridiculous six straight seasons—eight if you count a 59.5 percent and 59.7 percent—leading the league four of those six times in all.  Counting seasons in the ABA, Gilmore led the league in field-goal percentage six times, yet it took him clear until this season to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Shame.

    Plus, he had just about the most fierce afro-sideburns-goatee combination the league has ever seen; that has to count for something.

21. Michael Jordan

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    The greatest player of all time winds up on just about every top 50 list you could ever imagine so long as it involves basketball ability, so it's no surprise that he winds up here.

    It seems like Michael Jordan added a low-post move to his game every year, especially later on when he was relying more on skill than on athleticism.

    Jordan could play face-up in the post or back down an opponent who dared try to keep his body in between the basket and Jordan.

20. Wes Unseld

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    Wes Unseld was half of a dominant frontcourt for the championship Washington Bullets team from 1978 that took down the far superior Seattle SuperSonics.

    Besides that championship season, Unseld is known for his crisp outlet passes and his maddening array of low-post moves.

    He wasn't much of a scorer past his fifth year in the league, but he was able to make the most of the shots he got, consistently shooting near the top of the league.

19. Elvin Hayes

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    The other half of the Bullets' frontcourt peaked as an offensive player in his first year in the league, but he would turn into a more efficient scorer and effective post player as the years went along.

    On offense he would use his power to make his way into the lane and put up a shot, doing the same on defense to keep his opponent out of the lane and put up some of the best rebounding numbers in the league.

18. Dwight Howard

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    It pains me to have a guy with skills as unrefined as Dwight Howard this high, but he is mainly a threat in the paint, plus I am confident that he will end up putting together a repertoire that will not only make me feel better about it, but all of you as well.

    Dwight often bulldozes through his opponents, which causes foul trouble and often gets him irked, causing needless technical fouls, but he is a force down low nonetheless on both ends.

    If he were to have developed a better post game in his first few years he would already be a top-15 or even top-10 player, but he still has a lot of work to do.

17. Patrick Ewing

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    Patrick Ewing was a great player in the time he spent in the NBA, but is probably a bit overrated because he did spend his time on the New York Knicks.

    He was a good scorer in the paint, but really only had one great move: his turnaround jumper.  Otherwise, he had average footwork and was more content driving to the lane and shooting jumpers.

    However, he was a great defender on the block which really cements his legacy as a great player to me.

16. Robert Parish

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    The Boston Celtics big men of the 1980s should run a training camp to teach the current big men how to play the post like they used to.

    Kevin McHale could be the coordinator of it all, Cedric Maxwell could teach the deadly pump fake, Robert Parish could teach the baseline spin move and the deadly fadeaway and Dave Cowens could teach everyone how to care about basketball and play like an insane person.

15. Bill Walton

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    Bill Walton is my favorite basketball-related person of all time, despite the fact that I have never seen him play and he was dismantled for most of his career.

    Walton is one of the smartest guys ever to play the game, one of my favorite color commentators of all time, he had a killer post game—plus he is a Dead-Head, so what's not to like.

    In the post, Walton had picture-perfect footwork, a magnificent jump hook and a deadly turnaround bank shot.

14. George Mikan

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    The first real superstar in the NBA was a magnificent low-post player—so much so that they had to widen the lane to scale down his absolute dominance.

    You know when rules of the game are changing because of you that you are a truly dominant player.

    He popularized a baby hook shot that was feathery soft and nearly impossible to block, plus he is one of the only true superstars that I can think of that wore glasses while playing.

13. Charles Barkley

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    Sir Charles did some amazing things for a guy his size, both vertically and horizontally.

    Chuck was only 6'6", but he was able to crash the boards like nobody in the league, using his incredibly rotund rear to bounce everybody around him out of the lane.  He led the league in rebounds once and averaged nearly five offensive rebounds a game for five years.

    For a guy that was 250 pounds or larger for most of his career, he was incredibly sneaky and swift in the post, swerving around defenders and spinning with the quickness of a guard. 

    There will be 20 more guys like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant before we see another guy built like Charles Barkley excel in the NBA.

12. David Robinson

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    David Robinson is probably the best guy that should have been a top-10 player that just missed out on the list in the history of the game.

    The way he played the game made you think that he was one of the greatest guys to grace a basketball court, and he was; he just never developed that cutthroat instinct that other players of his generation had, which kept him from winning a title until Tim Duncan came around.

    One thing he could do was work power and finesse into his post game, alternatively overpowering his defender and just silkily gliding by him with unexpected grace.

11. Bob Pettit

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    Bob Pettit is one of the earliest players to dismantle the league with a signature low-post move besides George Mikan.

    The bread and butter that Pettit constantly returned to was the high-post pump fake; he would draw a defender in, fooling him with his shooting ability, at which point he would go past the defender, dribble to the rim and lay it in or dunk it home.

    Pettit was considered the greatest power forward of all time until the mid-90s when Karl Malone started to take the title away (which was eventually ripped away by Tim Duncan).

10. Kevin Garnett

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    Kevin Garnett is one of the most interesting players of the past decade, as his game is one that is constantly in flux.

    He went from being a clean-cut basketball player with strength and finesse moves that were usually more clean-cut and skillful to being a slightly dirtier player who goads his defender into making mistakes, rather than exploiting his weakness.

    Garnett could be a killer in the post or he could be a sneaky player, and he could change what he was on any given night, although it has been more killer than sneaky player lately.

9. Karl Malone

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    For a short period of time, Karl Malone was considered the best power forward of all time, even though he was unable to bring home any jewelry at the end of the season.

    Malone's prowess in the post was a big reason he was able to be as good as he was, and he was historically good in the post.

    He was an excellent rebounder and had more 2,000-point seasons (12) than anyone else in NBA history—plus he became a better defender as the years went along.

8. Moses Malone

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    I would go as far as to say that Moses Malone is the best offensive rebounder of all time; he was amazing at wriggling his way into position based on where the shot was taken and outmuscling everyone around him for the ball.

    In his prime, when Moses was on the floor, Moses owned the paint, and there wasn't another player in the league who could take it away from him.

7. Tim Duncan

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    Your GOAT power forward has the reputation for being a "boring" superstar.  If you find his style of play boring, then I guess it's just your preference, but Tim Duncan has the best grasp of the game of basketball of any other player besides maybe Michael Jordan and Bill Russell.

    He has a post move that I haven't really seen perfected by anyone else in the league.  He has a swim move that makes him look like a tall, skinny defensive lineman.  Duncan will face up to his defender, fake one way to get an inch or two of space and then dip the opposite shoulder (which could also be a fake) and slip past his defender.  It's kind of like a face-up version of the Dream Shake mixed with a D-lineman swimming past a blocker.

6. Bill Russell

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    Bill Russell was the smartest basketball player ever to lace up some sneakers, and it showed in every aspect of his game.

    He was able to get position for a rebound at will, keep balls in play, whether they be blocked shots or loose balls, and he was able to set up his defender for whatever post move he was looking to unleash.

    Russell didn't have the array of post moves of some of the other guys on this list, but the ones he did have he knew how to use, and he used them effectively.

5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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    The Sky Hook is un-blockable.  You can't do it, I can't do it, Moses Malone and Robert Parish couldn't do it.

    In fact, the only players I have heard of blocking Kareem's sky hook were Wilt Chamberlain and Hakeem Olajuwon, both of whom are higher on this list.

    I'm not the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fan that the rest of the nation is.  I'm not infatuated by the fact that he scored more points than anybody in the history of the game, but I do recognize that he was a great player, and in that, he was a great low-post presence.

4. Shaquille O'Neal

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    Shaquille O'Neal was one of the first modern-day centers who relied more on strength than legitimate low-post moves.

    That's not to say that Shaq didn't have any low-post moves; he had a decent fat-man spin move and his quick shot-put shot from eight feet or so was the closest thing to a jumper that he ever had, but he wasn't nearly as refined as his historic counterparts.

    Shaq, however, was an amazing defender in the post and scored most of his points in the paint—so no matter if it was pretty or not, Shaq was one of the best post players of all time.

3. Kevin McHale

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    There ins't a player in the history of the league with the number of moves in the post that Kevin McHale had.

    He shot at or around 55 percent from the field for eight straight seasons, leading the league twice, and at his peak he was able to score on anyone in the league...anyone.

    McHale's up-and-under shot, his signature move, was the best of anyone in the history of the game; he didn't invent it, but he perfected it, and in reality he had about a dozen signature moves.

    McHale was able to score in the post like nobody before; he used legitimate basketball moves and wasn't helped by things like extreme length or athleticism to get easy points in the post.

    His footwork was unrivaled by anyone in the league at the time; it was so impressive that it seemed like he had more control over his feet than most people have over their hands.

2. Wilt Chamberlain

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    One of the best scorers of all time, Wilt Chamberlain was able to drop 30 points at any time on any opponent in the league—even Bill Russell (although Russell always had his number in the postseason, when it really mattered).

    His finger roll has been described as both breathtaking and elegant, which seems a bit over the top—but then again, what story about Chamberlain isn't over the top.?

    I've heard the arguments to put him at No. 1 on this list, but the truth is that his competition wasn't the same as some of the competition that existed in the mid-to-late '80s and early '90s, which is by and large considered the golden age of basketball.

    The pace of the game was much different in his day and age, plus he was competing for rebounds against guys who were always shorter than him and not nearly as long as he was.

1. Hakeem Olajuwon

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    As a seven-footer, Hakeem Olajuwon was the most impressive athlete I have ever seen play.  He was smooth and powerful at the same time; he could play slow or play fast; he was the most versatile center in the history of the game.

    Olajuwon's signature move, the Dream Shake, is probably the most well-known signature low-post move of all time, and has almost never been duplicated.

    His legs were so long, and he had such good control over his body that he was able to shake away even the best defenders in the league.

    Hakeem Olajuwon was one of the most unique players in the history of the league, and it may be another 50 to 100 years before we see a center with that unique combination of power, athleticism and grace that he showed.