Building the All-Time Depth Chart for Every NBA Franchise
And you thought the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors were stacked.
Building the all-time depth charts for each of the NBA's 30 current franchises is no easy task. But with a few exceptions, they're all loaded with talent from top to bottom. The starting lineups typically feature at least one Hall of Fame talent, and organizational icons litter the benches.
But these aren't just the 13 biggest names who played for the squad in question. Michael Jordan won't be wearing a Washington Wizards uniform. Nor will Patrick Ewing suit up for the Orlando Magic.
Everything a player contributed on the floor for the relevant team matters. Nothing less. Nothing more. Longevity is important, though it can be trumped by soaring peaks that were more short-lived. It's for this reason that tremendously talented players such as Shaquille O'Neal can (spoiler alert!) earn featured spots for three different franchises but come off the bench for each.
We're also picking players in a vacuum. Fit within the lineup doesn't matter, and the number of contributors at a position is irrelevant (so long as it's greater than zero and fewer than five). The depth charts should be balanced, and we'll often try to find a backup at each position, but deviating to feature more legends at one position is acceptable. Essentially, we're picking the 13 best careers for the franchise in question and keeping those players to the positions they traditionally occupied.
Ultimately, this is a subjective exercise. No magic formula exists that tells which players were worth most to a team throughout their respective careers. My depth charts will likely look different than yours, and the ones featured in NBA 2K18 will probably be different still—especially if they cater more toward modern players and avoid featuring the old-school legends to whom, when deserved, I often give credit.
That's what makes this so fun.
PG: Mookie Blaylock, Doc Rivers, Lenny Wilkens
SG: Lou Hudson, Joe Johnson
SF: Dominique Wilkins, Cliff Hagan
PF: Bob Pettit, Kevin Willis, Josh Smith
C: Al Horford, Dikembe Mutombo, Tree Rollins
Head Coach: Mike Fratello
With a fascinating smorgasbord of players from different eras, the Atlanta Hawks are unquestionably led by Dominique Wilkins—easily the most famous contributor in the franchise's history. Even though Cliff Hagan now resides in the Hall of Fame, that wasn't a particularly difficult choice.
Quite frankly, few of them were.
Bob Pettit's name might not resonate with the younger crowd, but the legendary power forward was the Hawks' first truly great player and led his troops to the 1958 title, back when they still resided in St. Louis. Al Horford's lengthy tenure supersedes Dikembe Mutombo's 4.5-year stint, and Lou Hudson and Mookie Blaylock form a tremendous backcourt with shooting ability at the 2 and unabashed defensive excellence at the 1.
This lineup isn't glamorous. But it'd be pretty darn effective.
Toughest Battle: Lenny Wilkens vs. Doc Rivers
Had Doc Rivers come around a bit later, the world might have appreciated his playing days a bit more. Though he only made a single All-Star squad because of his limited scoring acumen, his playmaking skills allowed him to average 6.8 assists and only 2.3 turnovers during his eight seasons with the Hawks.
Lenny Wilkens ultimately beats him out behind five All-Star appearances in his own eight-year run, but it's far closer than some might expect. Sure, Wilkens is a Hall of Famer, renowned as a dangerous dual threat on the offensive end. But Rivers' defensive abilities made him underrated throughout his prime, and they push him closer to his positional rival in this competition.
Toughest Omission: Dan Roundfield
John Drew and Paul Millsap deserve some shoutouts for their contributions in different eras, but no omission was more painful than that of Dan Roundfield.
A defensive stalwart who thrived when he was left around the basket, the power forward just didn't spend enough time wearing the right jersey in the early '80s. Josh Smith's all-around play before he started fancying himself a three-point shooter narrowly edged him out, and six seasons with the Hawks—two of which were marred by injuries—aren't enough for Roundfield to displace a different backup and give this all-time squad a fourth man at the 4.
Your Time Will Come
Right now, it's tough to name anyone with confidence.
Perhaps John Collins will build upon his impressive summer-league showings and become a massive draft steal, ushering in a new era of playoff runs. But the best bet would have to be Dennis Schroder, unlikely as it may be for the developing point guard to displace some of these icons of the past.
Don't bet that any current Hawks will work their way onto the all-time depth chart. Those additions will probably come later in this new rebuild.
PG: Bob Cousy, Rajon Rondo
SG: Sam Jones, Bill Sharman, Frank Ramsey
SF: Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Paul Pierce
PF: Kevin McHale, Tom Heinsohn
C: Bill Russell, Robert Parish, Dave Cowens
Head Coach: Red Auerbach
This isn't the tough part.
The Boston Celtics have boasted plenty of legendary players throughout their lengthy existence, but they've been kind enough to allow one at each position to rise above all the rest.
Bill Russell and Sam Jones won 10 championships playing alongside each other (and Russell earned an additional ring before his star shooting guard joined the NBA), which lets them rather easily surpass the other Hall of Famers at their respective positions. Larry Bird is revered as the ultimate franchise icon, spending his entire career in Celtic green and establishing himself as one of the 10 best players in NBA history. And how could Bob Cousy and Kevin McHale possibly be topped?
Astoundingly, this five-man starting lineup boasts a combined 33 titles. It has one of the greatest all-around players (Bird), jump-shooters (Jones), distributors (Cousy), post-up threats (McHale) and defenders (Russell) in NBA history.
It's basically unstoppable.
Toughest Battle: Robert Parish vs. Dave Cowens
Dave Cowens most certainly had the higher peak, leading the charge for two of Boston's championships in the mid-70s and even earning MVP in 1972-73. An all-around contributor from the 5 who never hesitated to put his body on the line, he was the living embodiment of hustle while also flashing his skills in so many different areas.
But injuries prematurely robbed him of his elite offensive acumen, which is where Robert Parish starts to move ahead. The starting center of the 1980s, he played an additional 380 regular-season games for the Beantown franchise, won an extra ring alongside Bird and McHale, made nine All-Star squads (one more than Cowens) and thrived as the third member of the original Big Three.
So, do you value peak play or longevity? No correct answer exists that can be applied to any and all situations, but the latter is edging just ahead here.
Toughest Omission: Cedric Maxwell
Boston has retired the numbers of 20 different players, and that doesn't even include Rajon Rondo or Paul Pierce, who haven't either pulled the plug on their NBA careers or been gone long enough to earn that substantial honor.
Obviously, some players needed to be painfully excluded.
But of the list of retired jerseys who aren't featured here—Dennis Johnson, Jo Jo White, Tom Sanders, Don Nelson, Ed Macauley, K.C. Jones, Cedric Maxwell, Reggie Lewis and Jim Loscutoff—Maxwell deserves the most love.
Johnson, White and Jones were closest to actually making this all-time squad because point guard (excluding Cousy) is the position lacking the most top-level star power. They all fall just shy of Rondo, whose number should eventually hang from the rafters.
But Maxwell, tremendously underrated and largely overshadowed by the bigger names on the roster throughout the first half of the '80s, is the best of the bunch.
Your Time Will Come
Fun fact: After this offseason's Avery Bradley trade and Kelly Olynyk departure, Marcus Smart is now the Celtics' longest-tenured player. He's spent all three of his professional seasons in Boston.
Unless Isaiah Thomas sticks around forever or Jayson Tatum becomes a full-fledged superstar, no one on the current roster is anywhere close to displacing one of the aforementioned legends. Again, just look at all those excluded men who can't even serve as the toughest omission.
- Buck Williams, 62.8 win shares
- Jason Kidd, 56.6
- Richard Jefferson, 50.6
- Brook Lopez, 49.6
PG: Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, Kenny Anderson
SG: Vince Carter, Drazen Petrovic, Kerry Kittles
SF: Richard Jefferson, Kendall Gill
PF: Buck Williams, Keith Van Horn, Derrick Coleman
C: Brook Lopez, Mike Gminski
Head Coach: Kevin Loughery
Though win shares are by no means a perfect statistic, they help provide a baseline for context. Not only do they show relative levels of players, but they incorporate the success of a team such that men with higher scores were either that much more dominant than the rest or played on squads that won plenty of games.
Including the New Jersey Nets versions of this franchise, which dates back to 1976-77 when it migrated over from the ABA, four players stand out:
No one else is closer than five win shares from that quartet (at least a 10 percent difference), which makes including each in the starting five a no-brainer. And for added perspective, Julius Erving accumulated 51.8 win shares during his time with the ABA's New York Nets, though that doesn't matter for our purposes.
The only true battle here comes at shooting guard, where Vince Carter's shorter tenure reached such a meteoric height that he can't be on the bench for the opening tip.
Toughest Battle: Drazen Petrovic vs. Kerry Kittles
Truthfully, you can include Carter in this battle as well.
The three-man contingent at shooting guard makes it tough to find much separation. Carter reached the highest peak, Kerry Kittles spent all but one season of his nine-year career with the Nets and Drazen Petrovic had just achieved All-NBA status before he tragically died in a car accident.
Were this a purely objective exercise, Kittles would get the backup nod. But it's not, and Petrovic's legacy is more important to the organization. Plus, finding numbers that support his selection is by no means an impossible task.
Toughest Omission: Chris Morris
Despite this franchise's four decades of existence, it hasn't produced many Hall of Famers. The pickings were a bit slim toward the back end of the 13-man roster, and positional needs dictated the inclusions of non-stars such as Mike Gminski.
This time, it's not a superstar standing out as the toughest omission. Chris Morris didn't even make an All-Star squad during his 11-year NBA career—seven seasons of which came with this organization. In fact, his lone accolade came in 1988-89, when he joined Rex Chapman, Kevin Edwards, Brian Shaw and Rod Strickland on the All-Rookie Second Team.
Morris never made the most of his jaw-dropping athletic talents, and malcontent moods marred his time in New Jersey. Still, his production as a scorer outweighs his refusal to enter the game during the fourth quarter of a tight contest with the Indiana Pacers or writing "trade me" on his sneakers.
Your Time Will Come
D'Angelo Russell hasn't played a game for the Nets. Ditto for Jarrett Allen and Allen Crabbe. Meanwhile, the best incumbent options would be Jeremy Lin and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Let's move on before coming close to equating any of those names with the actual members of this all-time roster.
PG: Kemba Walker, Muggsy Bogues, Raymond Felton
SG: Dell Curry, David Wesley, Kendall Gill
SF: Gerald Wallace, Glen Rice
PF: Larry Johnson, Anthony Mason
C: Alonzo Mourning, Emeka Okafor, Elden Campbell
Head Coach: Dave Cowens
To be clear, the Charlotte Hornets' history is a bit convoluted, thanks to changing names and franchise identities. That's why Kemba Walker is the starting point guard instead of Chris Paul, even though the latter spent six years playing for the Hornets when they were located in New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
Per an official release from the NBA back in 2014:
"That means the Hornets will now own and have access to all of the historical elements from the recent Bobcats' era (2004-14) as well as the original Hornets teams that played in Charlotte - including stats from stars such as Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Muggsy Bogues.
"All of the Hornets records from their years in New Orleans will revert to the Pelicans' history, [president and CEO Fred] Whitfield said."
Yes, this makes for a strange history. But it's not our place to arbitrarily change the NBA's decisions, so we're left drawing from a disparate set of years. And in those years, only seven players from this franchise have made All-Star squads—the starters listed above not named Dell Curry, as well as Glen Rice, Baron Davis and Eddie Jones.
Rice falls behind Wallace because he spent only three years with Charlotte, even if he was named an All-Star in all three. Davis spent only the first three seasons of his career with the organization before it moved to New Orleans and he stopped receiving credit here through no fault of his own. Jones logged just 1.5 seasons and 102 games.
Toughest Battle: Kemba Walker vs. Muggsy Bogues
From a single-season standpoint, the point guard battle is between Kemba Walker and Davis. But we can't overlook the career of Muggsy Bogues, who overcame his lack of verticality (listed, perhaps generously, at 5'3") to average 8.8 points and 8.8 assists over 632 games.
He never earned any accolades. He was never the best player at his position—or even close to it.
But until the 27-year-old Walker has more than six seasons and 443 appearances under his belt, Bogues' longevity with this franchise—as well as the legacy to which his diminutive profile contributed—will give him a significant boost in this type of competition.
Toughest Omission: Boris Diaw
Davis is an especially tough player to leave out, but this honor goes to a versatile big man who started to make a name for himself with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Once Boris Diaw was traded away from the Phoenix Suns, he developed into a two-way asset who could impact a game with his passing out of the frontcourt. His value skyrocketed, even though he spent the majority of his time in Charlotte fruitlessly leading mediocre—or worse—collections of talent to lottery finishes before he was unceremoniously waived and picked up by the San Antonio Spurs.
Your Time Will Come
At this point, the prospect of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's developing enough of an offensive game to make some all-around noise is an unlikely proposition. But the Hornets still boast two players who could eventually work their way into all-time consideration—if only because the short history of this franchise allows for lesser players to receive nods.
Cody Zeller will have to be patient after the acquisition of Dwight Howard, but he's become one of the NBA's most underrated players with his willingness to do the little things such as setting tough screens and cleaning up the glass. As his skill set continues to evolve, he could have a lengthy career as a steady non-star, making future inclusion possible if he sticks with the same franchise.
Meanwhile, Nicolas Batum will have to stave off Father Time's advances, but the 28-year-old swingman has already done enough in his first two Charlotte-based seasons to earn fringe consideration at small forward. Don't be surprised if he displaces Raymond Felton or Elden Campbell a few years down the road.
PG: Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich
SG: Michael Jordan, Jimmy Butler, Jerry Sloan
SF: Scottie Pippen, Chet Walker, Luol Deng, Toni Kukoc
PF: Bob Love, Horace Grant
C: Artis Gilmore, Joakim Noah
Head Coach: Phil Jackson
I know this comes as a shock, but Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Derrick Rose are absolute locks.
The first two are the most obvious of the bunch.
Jordan spent his entire career with the Chicago Bulls* while establishing himself as arguably the greatest player of all time. Even if you're willing to concede that the G.O.A.T. conversation now also includes LeBron James, it didn't when Jordan's Chi-Town stint reached its conclusion. He was the best ever, all thanks to his work for the organization in question. And as for Pippen, he was more than just a sidekick before leaving for the Houston Rockets with future Hall of Fame status and six rings already secured.
Rose's lengthy injury history may prevent him from reaching Springfield. It may not, since every eligible prior MVP has earned induction. But he still stands so far ahead of the other point guards in franchise history that questioning his inclusion would be ridiculous.
It's the frontcourt that allows for legitimate debate.
Horace Grant was an integral part of Chicago's first three-peat effort, but he spent less time in the Windy City than Bob Love and reached a less lofty peak. Love dominated the early 1970s, even averaging 24.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists during a three-year stretch for the Bulls in which he always made the Eastern Conference's All-Star squad.
Toughest Battle: Artis Gilmore vs. Joakim Noah
Grant vs. Love isn't the toughest battle, though. That features the franchise's two greatest big men, one of who dominated after leaving the ABA, while the other was a fringe MVP candidate in a more recent time.
The former, Artis Gilmore, joined the Bulls in 1976 and immediately asserted himself as one of the Association's premier two-way players. A 7'2" behemoth, he basically refused to miss shots while averaging 20-10 seasons and swatting plenty of shots into oblivion. And yet, he might not have been the most well-rounded of the two.
Joakim Noah couldn't shoot during his Chicago tenure. Not with his side-winding jumper that induced cringes whenever he went to the charity stripe. But the long-haired big man is one of the best passing centers in NBA history, won Defensive Player of the Year and helped lead some of the most competitive Bulls squads of the post-Jordan era.
This is basically a coin toss, but Gilmore's numbers give him a razor-thin margin. If only Noah had been able to stay healthier before departing for the New York Knicks.
Toughest Omission: Norm Van Lier
The Bulls are one of those franchises for whom everything just comes together easily. Most decisions made here weren't particularly tough—aside from choosing who gets the starting nods in the frontcourt and whether Luol Deng or Toni Kukoc should be the third-string small forward.
If there's a glaring omission, and there might not be one, Norm Van Lier's name comes to mind.
The point guard was never a game-changing force during the portion of his career that came with Chicago, but he was more than adequate on each end in seven seasons. He also made the only three All-Star appearances of his career while wearing a Bulls uniform, thanks primarily to his non-scoring contributions.
He didn't have the longevity or shooting ability possessed by the underrated early-career Kirk Hinrich, but he moves just past Reggie Theus, Bob Boozer and B.J. Armstrong to earn the primary honorable mention.
Your Time Will Come
Right now, Rotoworld.com projects the Bulls' starting lineup for 2017-18 as Kris Dunn, Dwyane Wade, Paul Zipser, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez, with Jerian Grant, Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio forming the second unit.
If you're already convinced one of those players belongs in the conversation, please take off your red-tinted glasses.
Let's keep moving.
*No, this isn't technically true. But we're conveniently forgetting that dark period of NBA history in which he un-retired and played in a Washington Wizards uniform.
PG: Mark Price, Kyrie Irving, Terrell Brandon
SG: Austin Carr, Bingo Smith
SF: LeBron James, Campy Russell
PF: Larry Nance, Hot Rod Williams, Kevin Love
C: Brad Daugherty, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao
Head Coach: Lenny Wilkens
Four different Hall of Famers have suited up for the Cleveland Cavaliers throughout their history, and not a single one made this lineup. Why? Because Walt Frazier, Shaquille O'Neal, Nate Thurmond and Lenny Wilkens all spent inordinately short amounts of time with the franchise at the end of their respective careers.
LeBron James will change that as soon as he's eligible. He's a lock. And while the other four members of the starting lineup may never join him in Springfield, they're all on a tier just below.
Mark Price made four All-NBA squads in Cleveland, emerging as one of the best passers and free-throw shooters of his era. Austin Carr is literally known as "Mr. Cavalier" for his high-scoring habits during the franchise's infancy.
Larry Nance might have declined after leaving the Phoenix Suns, but he remained a distinct two-way asset on the fringe of All-NBA status. Brad Daugherty might've been a Hall of Fame lock if his back didn't betray him and force him into an early retirement after his age-28 season.
No disrespect meant to any of the backups on this all-time roster, but determining the five starters was a rather easy affair.
Toughest Battle: Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. Anderson Varejao
Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a steady scoring force who spent the first 12 seasons of his career with the Cavs before finishing up with James and the Miami Heat for a single go-around. Had foot injuries not taken away nearly three years of his prime and forced him to play at a slightly lesser level, he might even have challenged Daugherty as the starting center.
But we can't change the past, and that gave Anderson Varejao a distinct chance to earn the backup role.
The Brazilian big man was never a scoring threat. He instead flashed his passing skills to keep the ball moving (don't be fooled by his middling assist numbers) and thrived either setting screens or locking down defensively. According to both win shares and value over replacement player (VORP), he at least belongs in the same conversation as his Lithuanian counterpart.
Toughest Omission: Tristan Thompson
If only Cleveland's depth didn't come from its biggest positions.
Tristan Thompson has taken over as the important presence who doesn't necessarily thrive in traditional box score categories. His skill set is unique, forcing opponents to constantly devote extra bodies to keeping him off the offensive glass. Even though he might not be able to space the floor with his shooting, he can still pull defenders out of the paint through the sheer threat of creating second-chance opportunities if he's not always bodied up.
The big man is still only 26 years old, and he's already grown into a two-way asset. Perhaps he'll never become a star, but his contributions were vital to ending Northeast Ohio's longstanding championship drought with the 2016 title, and that has to count for quite a bit in this competition.
Your Time Will Come
If Thompson keeps trucking along, he'll eventually earn inclusion. He's too impactful to flounder away in obscurity, even if he's averaged just 9.4 points per game throughout his professional career.
But how will he get a spot? Displacing Varejao is the most likely outcome, unless Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving both exit the organization sometime in the near future. Either way, he's on pace to eventually get that much-deserved love.
PG: Steve Nash, Derek Harper, Jason Kidd, Brad Davis
SG: Rolando Blackman, Jason Terry
SF: Mark Aguirre, Michael Finley, Josh Howard
PF: Dirk Nowitzki, Sam Perkins
C: James Donaldson, Erick Dampier
Head Coach: Rick Carlisle
Don't be fooled by James Donaldson's lone All-Star appearance. He was the beneficiary of a weak set of Western Conference centers and served as an injury replacement for Steve Johnson during the 1987-88 campaign, in which he averaged just 7.0 points and 9.3 rebounds.
But don't be fooled by the lack of legitimate accolades for Donaldson, either.
The 7'2" big man was a hulking presence who rarely took ill-advised shots and thrived on the defensive end. He served as a positive presence on the court throughout his career, even if he often had to overcome his offensive limitations by keeping the opposition's score in check. He also spent 484 games with the Dallas Mavericks, which allowed him to take charge at the franchise's weakest historical position.
Erick Dampier and Tyson Chandler served as his biggest competition, but the former wasn't nearly as impactful, and the latter spent just two season with the Mavs.
Fortunately, the other four inclusions are more obvious.
The rationale for Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki should be abundantly clear. Mark Aguirre, who averaged 24.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists during his eight seasons with Dallas, should fall into the same category. And that leaves Rolando Blackman, who spent 11 campaigns with the franchise and represented it at the midseason festivities on four separate occasions.
Toughest Battle: Derek Harper vs. Jason Kidd
In a vacuum, Jason Kidd is quite clearly the superior player.
However, his time with the Mavericks came for 2.5 seasons at the very beginning of his career, back when he was still making the jump from California to the NBA, and then during 4.5 years at the tail end. Don't get me wrong. He was a fantastic point guard throughout both of those stretches; he just wasn't playing out his prime years.
The same can't be said about Derek Harper, who logged 872 games over the span of 12 years for this team. He may only have been on the fringes of All-Star consideration during his best seasons, but he still put up some fantastic campaigns—averaging 19.7 points and 7.1 assists in 1990-91, for example.
Longevity reigns supreme here.
Toughest Omission: Shawn Marion
The relatively short and nondescript history of the Mavericks already makes for some shakier inclusions at the back end. Dallas only gained an NBA franchise in 1980, and it's spent 17 of its 37 seasons finishing outside the Western Conference's playoff picture. That ratio would be worse if it weren't for the Nowitzki era, which makes the lack of recognizable names from earlier times even more understandable.
As such, it's another player from the 2011 title-winning team who gets featured here: Shawn Marion.
The do-everything small forward only spent four years wearing a Mavericks jersey and was most assuredly a role player. But he always maximized his time on the floor by doing the little things to the best of his abilities, and that allowed him to push Brad Davis, a point guard who represented Dallas for the first dozen years of the franchise's existence, for the final spot.
Your Time Will Come
Only the weakness of the frontcourt gives Harrison Barnes a shot here.
Though he scored plenty of points during his inaugural go-around away from the Golden State Warriors, the combo forward did not live up to his max-contract billing. The impact on the team's performance just wasn't there, partially because his gaudy point totals masked his lack of effect in other areas.
But Dampier and Sam Perkins don't make for hard-to-knock-off inclusions. They could easily be displaced if Barnes spends a few years growing into his role and continuing to post big box score figures.
PG: Fat Lever, Ty Lawson, Chauncey Billups
SG: David Thompson, Michael Adams
SF: Alex English, Carmelo Anthony, Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kiki Vandeweghe
C: Dan Issel, Dikembe Mutombo, Nene, Marcus Camby
Head Coach: Doug Moe
I can understand why having Chauncey Billups as not just a backup, but also the third-string point guard, might initially feel controversial. But despite the former Colorado Buffalo's having a strong connecting to the Denver Nuggets fanbase, he only spent three complete seasons in this uniform—none of which came during his true prime.
Fat Lever, despite the relative anonymity he now enjoys, was a simple choice at the 1. Modern-day analysis has only shown him to be more valuable, and not just because he racked up triple-doubles before they were popular. The point guard did everything well (aside from shooting the ball from the perimeter), and his impact wasn't limited to one end.
And yet, he may still be the most controversial selection.
David Thompson, Alex English and Dan Issel all have their jerseys hanging from the Pepsi Center's rafters. So does Dikembe Mutombo, but his five incredible seasons with the organization to open his career can't stack up against Issel's nine (10, if you factor in his ABA season, which we don't). And that leaves Kiki Vandeweghe, who might not enjoy that type of recognition but stands so far above the other power forwards in Denver history.
Toughest Battle: Nene vs. Marcus Camby
Mutombo vs. Issel may be a legitimate conversation, though it's still a fairly one-sided argument. Ditto for English vs. Carmelo Anthony, considering the former led the NBA in scoring during the '80s while spending the entire decade in the Mile High City.
But deeper in the center depth chart, the most legitimate debate begins.
The Nuggets have consistently boasted excellent players at the 5, to the point that I had to include four of them at the expense of a second power forward. And picking between Nene and Marcus Camby to fill the No. 3 spot is just about impossible.
Camby spent six years in Denver, shutting down one foe after another with his incredible, versatile defensive chops. He led the league in blocks per game for three consecutive years, and that's by no means where his impact ended.
But Nene gave the Nuggets 10 seasons of underrated, efficient play. Though his best years didn't rise to the same level as Camby's, his overall impact on the franchise and his role on the 50-win teams of the late-aughts gives him a marginal advantage.
Toughest Omission: Kenneth Faried
Shoutout to Andre Miller, who spent various portions of his lengthy career wearing powder blue, but it's Kenneth Faried who got screwed out of the final spot. Eliminating Nene or Camby from the squad just to give Denver a second power forward wasn't a sacrifice I was willing to make, and that decision came at the rebounding stud's expense.
The Morehead State product has spent each of his first six NBA seasons with the Nuggets, and he's been a beneficial presence in all of them. Maybe he hasn't developed into a star-caliber player, but his board-clearing chops and ability to finish plays around the hoop have provided plenty of value to Denver's efforts.
Eventually earning inclusion might be a tough proposition, though. Buoyed by the addition of Paul Millsap, the Nuggets now boast a plethora of power forwards, and it's unlikely that his role will do anything but decline. Plus, plenty of other players are pushing for future representation.
Your Time Will Come
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris deserve mentions here, but this is all about Nikola Jokic.
The young big man is only entering his third professional season, and he's already asserted himself as one of the NBA's 20 best players. He's an offensive mastermind capable of finishing efficiently from the restricted area, draining the occasional triple and showing off a passing acumen that helped spark the league's best offense once he re-entered the starting lineup on Dec. 15.
Jokic's eventual inclusion into the 13-man fold seems inevitable. It probably is inevitable. But at whose expense? Are we willing to cut Michael Adams to add a fifth center? Do we cheat and add Jokic at power forward? Can he displace Camby?
Fortunately, that's a problem we won't have to face until, let's say, two more years have passed.
PG: Isiah Thomas, Dave Bing, Chauncey Billups
SG: Joe Dumars, Richard Hamilton
SF: Grant Hill, Bailey Howell, George Yardley, Tayshaun Prince
PF: Dennis Rodman
C: Bob Lanier, Ben Wallace, Bill Laimbeer
Head Coach: Chuck Daly
Isiah Thomas? He led the Detroit Pistons to a pair of titles, spent his entire career with the team, made 12 All-Star teams and the Hall of Fame, emerged as one of the best point guards in NBA history and is arguably the best player in franchise history. Even with Dave Bing pushing him, he's a lock.
Joe Dumars? As another Hall of Famer who spent his entire professional career in the Motor City, he also serves as an unquestioned lock.
Grant Hill? Did you watch the beginning of his career before injuries knocked him off a potential G.O.A.T. trajectory?
Dennis Rodman? The rebounding stud and defensive menace is rather easily the best power forward in Detroit history. Rasheed Wallace, though he played quite a bit of center during his time with the Pistons, is the runner-up, and he didn't even make the roster.
And that leaves just one actual battle.
Toughest Battle: Bob Lanier vs. Ben Wallace
Do you prefer offense or defense?
Bob Lanier was no slouch on the preventing end, but it was his scoring prowess that established him as one of the Detroit-era Pistons' first true legends. During his 10 seasons with the team, he averaged 22.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 77.5 percent from the free-throw stripe. An eight-time All-Star, he's since been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, Ben Wallace isn't (yet?) in Springfield, but he's a four-time Defensive Player of the Year who'll go down in the annals as one of the greatest stoppers of all time. Though he didn't contribute nearly anything on offense, he was still the best player on a championship-winning team and a consistent All-NBA presence during his time in Detroit.
Picking between the two is a monumentally difficult task, but Lanier's two-way ability gives him the slight edge.
Toughest Omission: Rasheed Wallace
Bill Laimbeer, George Yardley, Richard Hamilton, Bailey Howell, Dave Bing and Chauncey Billups were all locks for the bench, which left Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince to duke it out for the final spot.
And as so often seems to be the case, longevity wins out when neither player reached an astronomical height during his peak years.
Wallace made two All-Star squads in Detroit but played only 399 games over six years. Prince, meanwhile, never represented the Eastern Conference but logged 792 appearances during his 12 years with the team.
Your Time Will Come
Andre Drummond is the only player on the Pistons roster with a distinct chance of eventually earning a spot on the all-time depth chart, but he'll fight an uphill battle. Unfortunately, his development has stagnated in recent years.
The big man remains a rebounding stud. But without a well-rounded offensive game or any semblance of post-up skill, he simply doesn't lead his team to enough wins. He's still only 24 years old and could break out at any point, but his current trajectory is somewhat lacking.
Golden State Warriors
PG: Stephen Curry, Tim Hardaway
SG: Klay Thompson, Jeff Mullins
SF: Paul Arizin, Rick Barry, Chris Mullin, Purvis Short
PF: Draymond Green, Joe Fulks
C: Wilt Chamberlain, Neil Johnston, Nate Thurmond
Head Coach: Steve Kerr
How's this for a mix of new and old?
The Golden State Warriors feature three representatives from the current squad in their starting five. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all belong after serving as central figures for today's dynastic force. They've broken numerous records, made the NBA into their personal plaything and established themselves as nearly peerless players at their positions.
Tim Hardaway, Jeff Mullins and Joe Fulks were all tremendous players, but the modern-day trio has shifted the style of play in the Association and submitted one of the greatest stretches in the history of this sport.
Naturally, they're joined by a duo of pre-merger standouts.
Though Neil Johnston deserves some love for his tremendous play in the NBA's early years, Wilt Chamberlain put up some of the most statistically superior seasons ever while the franchise was located in Philadelphia and San Francisco. It was with the Warriors that he averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game for an entire year. It was with the Warriors that he dropped a Benjamin in a single game.
Then there's Paul Arizin, who outpaces two other legends at small forward because his flat jumper and ahead-of-its time play allowed him to originally put the Warriors on the map. He's the only candidate I ranked within the top 50 players of all time a few years back, and he spent his entire career with the team—other than the two years he served his country with the U.S. Marine Corps between his sophomore and junior campaigns.
Toughest Battle: Rick Barry vs. Chris Mullin
Rick Barry was the better player. But that's not the question.
Was he the superior Warrior?
He still was, though the margin is far narrower. The eight seasons granted by the master of the underhand free-throw attempt remain some of the greatest offensive campaigns in franchise history, as he averaged 25.6 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 89.6 percent at the line.
It's just his time in the ABA and with the Houston Rockets at the end of his NBA career that levels the playing field and allows Chris Mullin, who spent 13 seasons with the Dubs, into the conversation.
Even Mullin's best years, though, would just be slightly above-average campaigns for Barry.
Toughest Omission: Jason Richardson
Given the number of legitimate superstars who have suited up for this historic franchise, glossing over players such as Jeff Mullins and Purvis Short is only natural. But let's not forget how good they were, topping out at 22.8 and 28.0 points per game, respectively.
Jason Richardson, though he was more than a bit entertaining with his high-flying dunk exhibitions, didn't quite reach the same lofty heights. He scored more points in a season than Mullins, sure, but we have to factor in the vastly different time periods in which they played.
Perhaps the story would've been different if Golden State had never traded Richardson to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Your Time Will Come
Andre Iguodala may work his way into the honorable mentions if he keeps thriving in his smaller role, but Kevin Durant is the most likely player on the current roster to eventually earn inclusion. Winning Finals MVP and the first ring of his career made for a great start to his time with the Dubs, and he still has plenty of peak years left in the tank.
His time with the Oklahoma City Thunder will likely prevent him from ever challenging Arizin, Barry or Mullin. But a few more MVP-caliber campaigns could push him past Short and allow him entry to this star-studded lineup.
PG: Calvin Murphy, Steve Francis
SG: James Harden, Mike Newlin, Clyde Drexler
SF: Tracy McGrady, Shane Battier
PF: Otis Thorpe, Rudy Tomjanovich, Charles Barkley
C: Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, Yao Ming
Head Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich
The idea of a Houston Rockets starting five without Hakeem Olajuwon, James Harden and Calvin Murphy is just nonsensical—and not only because they're the three career leaders in win shares for the franchise. They're just head and shoulders above all the rest of the candidates at their positions, if only because each of the challengers spent significant time with other organizations.
Moses Malone only logged six years with the Rockets. Steve Francis spent just five before leaving and eventually returning for a sixth. Clyde Drexler made his name with the Portland Trail Blazers, and ditto for Charles Barkley with the Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns.
That last part isn't relevant for the three true locks, but it does help explain why Otis Thorpe was in a battle with someone other than Barkley. And that leaves Tracy McGrady, who wasn't quite the same player he was for the Orlando Magic but still gave the organization three All-NBA seasons before beginning to decline sharply.
Shane Battier contributed plenty to the Houston cause, but his ceiling wasn't in the same building as McGrady's.
Toughest Battle: Otis Thorpe vs. Rudy Tomjanovich
If you only know Rudy Tomjanovich because he was on the receiving end of Kermit Washington's infamous punch, do yourself a favor and take some time to familiarize yourself with this power forward. His entire career came with the Rockets, both in Houston and San Diego, and he averaged 21.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists during the best six-year stretch of his professional years.
He also coached the team to a pair of championships in the '90s, allowing him to serve as a player-coach here.
Thorpe, despite the name recognition he enjoys, was statistically inferior during his Houston days, largely because he spent less time with the franchise. It's only the star power and playoff success that pushes him into the starting lineup.
Whereas Tomjanovic's Rockets never even made it to the NBA Finals until he was playing just 3.9 minutes per game in 1981, Thorpe was an integral part of the ring-winning bunch from 1994.
Toughest Omission: Kenny Smith
A two-time champion with the Rockets? One of the greatest sharpshooting threats of the '90s? A steady point guard who averaged 12.6 points and 5.3 assists during his six seasons in Houston?
Kenny Smith was a consistently good player. He just wasn't ever a truly great floor general during a time when so many were scattered throughout the NBA, and that makes it impossible for him to displace any of the big-time names populating the end of this all-time bench because of their shorter stints with the organization.
Your Time Will Come
Chris Paul is probably too old to eventually gain entry since he's only just now preparing to suit up in Rocket red. Then again, there's a chance he could continue playing at a remarkably high level for half a decade and move past Charles Barkley, who only spent the last four years of his Hall of Fame career in Houston.
Trevor Ariza is another possibility, though that may be even more unlikely given his complete dearth of All-Star-caliber campaigns.
PG: Vern Fleming, George Hill
SG: Reggie Miller
SF: Paul George, Danny Granger, Billy Knight, Jalen Rose
PF: Jermaine O'Neal, Dale Davis, Detlef Schrempf
C: Rik Smits, Roy Hibbert, Herb Williams
Head Coach: Slick Leonard
Most franchises seem to have at least three locks for the starting lineup, but not the Indiana Pacers.
Reggie Miller is obviously the leader of this bunch. Rik Smits isn't too far behind after spending his entire career in a single location and only needing to beat out Roy Hibbert and Herb Williams, neither of whom resonate on a historic level.
But that's it.
Vern Fleming went through his NBA career without earning a single accolade of significance, and his best season came in 1987-88 when he averaged 13.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists while shooting 52.3 percent from the field. George Hill enjoyed a loftier peak in Indiana, but he also spent less than half his time with the franchise.
Jermaine O'Neal made six consecutive All-Star squads for the Pacers and established himself as one of the best power forwards of his generation. But Dale Davis' lengthy tenure with the franchise and Detlef Schrempf's short-lived excellence prevent this position from becoming a runaway, either.
And that leaves one all-out battle.
Toughest Battle: Paul George vs. Danny Granger
Had Paul George not been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, he would've eventually earned lock status. On a per-season basis, he's one of the most effective players in franchise history. In fact, only nine qualified players have earned more win shares per 48 minutes.
Danny Granger is not one of them.
He was, however, one of the league's most potent scorers during his peak years. In 2008-09, he made the lone All-Star squad of his career by averaging 25.8 points on 44.7 percent shooting from the field, 40.4 percent from downtown and 87.8 percent at the line.
That wasn't sustainable, though. And even though he spent nearly 100 more games wearing the yellow uniforms, his lack of All-NBA credentials move him slightly behind in the pecking order.
Toughest Omission: Jeff Foster
Jeff Foster is the ultimate example of a player who gets credit for his longevity.
He never averaged double-digit points or rebounds. He never sniffed All-Star recognition. He never made much noise in the playoffs.
But he did spend his entire career with the Pacers—all 764 games over 13 seasons. And because of that, he ranks No. 9 in franchise history for total win shares, which makes him at least somewhat of a threat to displace Jalen Rose from the roster's final slot.
Your Time Will Come
Myles Turner has a great opportunity.
Even though the Pacers have been a solid franchise since leaving the ABA, they haven't produced 13 top-notch players who have spent significant periods of time with the organization. Schrempf and Rose are especially vulnerable, and the young big man now has a chance to capitalize as the unquestioned leader of the new rebuild.
He's already on an impressive trajectory, and the best should be yet to come.
Los Angeles Clippers
PG: Chris Paul
SG: Randy Smith, JJ Redick, Ron Harper
SF: Corey Maggette, Charles Smith
PF: Blake Griffin, Elton Brand, Danny Manning, Loy Vaught
C: Bob McAdoo, DeAndre Jordan, Swen Nater
Head Coach: Doc Rivers
To be clear, we're including the Buffalo Braves and the San Diego Clippers here. But this franchise still doesn't have the most sterling history, making the playoffs in only 13 of 47 possible seasons—six of which have come in the last six years.
Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that modern players reign supreme, even if only Blake Griffin and Chris Paul make the starting lineup.
DeAndre Jordan has the unfortunate task of competing with a Hall of Fame center in Bob McAdoo, who led the league in scoring three times while playing for Buffalo. That's not much of an argument. Ditto for JJ Redick, who isn't going to surpass McAdoo's old running mate. Randy Smith averaged an impressive 17.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists during his nine seasons in Buffalo and San Diego.
And that leaves the weakest position of all.
Corey Maggette earns the nod for his work as a go-to scorer when the Clippers were floundering away as a perennial lottery squad, but it's not like he has much to compete against. The closest candidacy comes courtesy of Charles Smith, who spent only four seasons with the franchise before moving to the New York Knicks.
Toughest Battle: Blake Griffin vs. Elton Brand
Griffin won games, whereas Elton Brand didn't. But that's not entirely the fault of our backup power forward, who served as the unquestioned leader of a Clippers generation nearly devoid of legitimate talent.
Lest we forget, the Duke product averaged 20.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.3 blocks while shooting 51.4 percent from the field during his seven years with Los Angeles. He served as one of the league's most underrated players, if only because no one on the roster could help him win games.
During that stint, Brand's team only made the playoffs once. Had that been different, he may have given Griffin a more significant run for his money—money that Griffin will put to good use now that he's signed a lengthy max extension to remain in Tinseltown and provide further separation between himself and the rest of the franchise's power forwards.
Toughest Omission: Bob Kauffman
Bob Kauffman simply didn't play long enough. An All-Star in three of his four seasons with Buffalo who played in a meager two postseason games, he doesn't have enough ink on his resume to compete with lesser players who represented the franchise for far lengthier periods.
Loy Vaught and Swen Nater were the closest to being displaced, and they combined to make zero All-Star squads. Nevertheless, they logged 906 games between the two of them, whereas Kauffman can only claim 306 appearances during a less competitive era.
Nater and Vaught's rebounding skills survive, though only barely.
Your Time Will Come
Griffin, Jordan and Redick are already on the roster. And that leaves...who exactly?
Austin Rivers, Wes Johnson and Brice Johnson are the only three current Clippers who have logged even a single minute for the franchise. And smart money says none of them will ever come close to touching Kauffman, much less the actual members of this 13-man collection.
Los Angeles Lakers
PG: Magic Johnson
SG: Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, Gail Goodrich
SF: Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, Jamaal Wilkes
PF: Vern Mikkelsen, Pau Gasol
C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, George Mikan, Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain
Head Coach: Phil Jackson
So this is hard.
Magic Johnson is the starting point guard. Write that in sharpie. Elgin Baylor joins him for the opening tip at small forward. Use the sharpie again. And now, we have the only two somewhat simple decisions out of the way.
Should Vern Mikkelsen's work in the 1950s supersede Pau Gasol's title-aiding efforts in the 2000s? I believe so, but only barely. The former won four rings of his own while the franchise was still located in Minneapolis, and he spent his entire career playing for the same team, logging 270 more games than his Spanish counterpart.
Deciding on the Los Angeles Lakers' starting center is similarly tough. Shaquille O'Neal and Wilt Chamberlain dominated during different eras, but they didn't spend anywhere close to their entire careers wearing the same uniform. George Mikan was the greatest player in NBA history when he retired, but he played so long ago that it's tough to know to what extent he was a product of lesser competition.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ultimately gets the nod for his 14 incredible seasons with the Lake Show, but know this: There's no wrong decision at center.
And the same is true at the 2.
Toughest Battle: Jerry West vs. Kobe Bryant
This decision only matters because of the artificial importance placed on starting lineups. Come closing time, these all-time Lakers would almost certainly use a semi-small quintet comprised of Johnson, Jerry West, Kobe Bryant, Baylor and Abdul-Jabbar. Maybe you substitute in James Worthy or one of the other legendary centers, but both West and Bryant would be on the floor.
I implore you, don't view this as a knock on Bryant's career. That plea will likely fall upon deaf ears, but this is more about propping up West than denigrating the Lakers' latest legend.
When I ranked the 100 greatest players in NBA history, Bryant showed up in an awe-inspiring spot: No. 11. He just happened to fall three slots below his backcourt predecessor. And frankly, I've come to believe that even No. 8 may be selling West short, as I explained for NBA Math.
These men are both unabashed legends. They both deserve to start.
Alas, only one can.
Toughest Omission: Jim Pollard
Jim Pollard and Slater Martin both had their numbers retired by the Lakers. Clyde Lovelette's number was raised into the rafters but not officially retired. And that's saying nothing of key contributors over the years such as Byron Scott, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry.
This is simply an impossible choice.
When push comes to shove, I tend to roll with the players who spent the most time in one place while playing at the highest possible level. And that would be Pollard, who never played for another franchise while using his athleticism to earn "The Kangaroo Kid" as his moniker, dominate on the glass and constantly attack the basket during the NBA's infancy.
Your Time Will Come
Right now, it's too soon to tell if any current Lakers will eventually challenge for one of these highly coveted spots. To even earn consideration, you have to be in the running for the Hall of Fame, and anyone who thinks Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball is guaranteed to get there is far too optimistic.
They could. But whether they will is an entirely different story.
PG: Mike Conley, Jason Williams
SG: Tony Allen, Mike Miller, O.J. Mayo
SF: Shane Battier, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Rudy Gay
PF: Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, Stromile Swift
C: Marc Gasol, Bryant Reeves
Head Coach: Dave Joerger
No, this lineup wouldn't be competitive against almost any other starting five listed. But it's hard to blame the Memphis Grizzlies for their struggles, since they've found plenty of talent throughout their existence, which only dates back to the inception of the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995.
Allen Iverson is the lone Hall of Famer to wear a Grizz uniform, though he only did so for three games in the final season of his career. And the list of All-Stars is similarly short: Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Unfortunately, only two of those three can earn starting nods, and Gasol's per-minute superiority gives him the advantage over his post-bound counterpart. Though this is only one of many metrics, the Spanish 7-footer's 0.153 win shares per 48 minutes edge out Randolph's 0.137.
And that leaves three more spots.
Mike Conley is a fairly easy choice, especially since he likely would've received multiple All-Star nods by now if the Western Conference had been a bit less stacked. And while Mike Miller's shooting was so important to older Memphis squads, he can't match the defensive impact boasted by Tony Allen, who helped give this franchise its grit-and-grind identity.
Then, there was one.
Toughest Battle: Shareef Abdur-Rahim vs. Shane Battier
Shane Battier opened his NBA career with the Memphis Grizzlies and spent five seasons providing across-the-board contributions. He'd return for 23 games five years later, but he averaged 10.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks during that initial half-decade on Beale Street.
And still, the numbers will always sell him short. The former Blue Devil thrived as a glue guy willing to assume any role his coaches could dream up. He thrived when allowed to set screens and buckle down on defense, contributing offensively through the occasional transition finish or spot-up triple.
Compare that to Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who spent the first five years of his NBA career in Vancouver, averaging 20.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks. He didn't shoot from the outside with much volume, but his penchant for drawing whistles and converting on those charity shots boosted his efficiency levels up to fairly impressive marks.
These players were polar oppositions, which makes selecting one rather difficult. Battier inches ahead because while Abdur-Rahim never escaped the lottery, the Duke product at least made it to the playoffs' opening round in three consecutive campaigns.
Toughest Omission: Lorenzen Wright
Look, we're already including relatively nondescript players (Stromile Swift and Bryant Reeves), as well as empty volume scorers (Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo). This roster is a rather threadbare one in the context of the rest of the hypothetical league, so finding a truly tough omission is a difficult proposition.
But we have to, and that leaves us with Lorenzen Wright.
The big man was far from a star, and he often scrambled to negate his less-than-stellar offense with his defensive chops. But he was a consistent double-double threat who spent five consecutive years with the Grizzlies, and that gets the job done here.
Your Time Will Come
Sorry, but there's no one worth mentioning.
Conley and Gasol are already on the roster, and no other mainstays remain in Memphis uniforms for the 2017-18 campaign. Sometimes, it really is that simple.
PG: Tim Hardaway, Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade, Eddie Jones, Steve Smith
SF: LeBron James, Glen Rice
PF: Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Grant Long
C: Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'Neal, Rony Seikaly
Head Coach: Erik Spoelstra
Let's start with the locks.
Tim Hardaway is obviously the best point guard in franchise history, given how few true stars the Miami Heat have ever employed at the 1. They haven't needed to, since so much of their history has featured primary ball-handlers coming from non-traditional spots.
Two of those would be Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. And if you didn't expect both of them in the starting five, I really can't help you.
Chris Bosh, despite the relative brevity of his South Beach tenure, was a game-changing member of the Big Three and helped the Heat win rings. Udonis Haslem remains a fan favorite who's spent his entire career wearing the same uniform—and his jersey should be retired when he calls it quits—but his impact doesn't come close to Bosh's, even after blood-clot issues cut short the latter's career.
At center, Shaquille O'Neal is the best overall player, but he spent just 3.5 seasons in Miami before he was traded to the Phoenix Suns. Alonzo Mourning logged a decade for the Heat, and that type of longevity is easily going to win out when accompanied by five All-Star appearances and two Defensive Player of the Year trophies.
Come to think of it, all five starters are locks.
Toughest Battle: Udonis Haslem vs. Grant Long
Haslem's toughest battle doesn't actually come with Bosh. He has to fight to be the backup power forward, and Grant Long is a worthy foe.
The long-tenured power forward's best season came as a sophomore, when he averaged 10.9 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the floor. Compare that to Long's premier go-around: He posted 14.8 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game in 1991-92 while shooting 49.4 percent.
Long is going to win from a one-season standpoint. That much shouldn't be up for debate, especially when factoring in his penchant for taking charges and buckling down on defense. But that's not what this competition is all about.
Haslem has spent twice as much time representing Miami, and he's done so with class, leadership and steady production whenever he earns minutes. That matters most.
Toughest Omission: Goran Dragic
Allow this to serve as a reminder of how underrated Mario Chalmers was while playing with the Heat.
Goran Dragic has served as a fringe All-Star for 1.5 of his 2.5 seasons in Miami, but that's not enough for him to work his way past the title-winning point guard. Not yet, at least. Good as he's been, his total production doesn't stack up against the body of work the Kansas product provided during his eight Miami-based seasons.
According to BPM, Chalmers was a positive on at least one end for all but one of his relevant campaigns, even if he faded into anonymity and was often the butt of jokes while playing alongside the Big Three.
Your Time Will Come
Dragic could eventually supplant Chalmers if he staves off Father Time. Hassan Whiteside could displace Rony Seikaly if he keeps improving and starts fitting in with the Heat's drive-and-kick strategems. Dion Waiters could even get some love if last season's small-sample breakout wasn't the least bit fluky.
None of these potential developments are guarantees.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1973-74: 662.24 TPA
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1974-75: 473.29 TPA
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, 2016-17: 425.68 TPA
- Sidney Moncrief, 1981-82: 341.44 TPA
- Ray Allen, 2000-01: 336.22 TPA
PG: Oscar Robertson, Sam Cassell
SG: Sidney Moncrief, Ray Allen, Jon McGlocklin, Michael Redd
SF: Bob Dandridge, Marques Johnson, Paul Pressey, Glenn Robinson
PF: Terry Cummings
C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jack Sikma
Head Coach: Don Nelson
Four of these are no-brainers.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the best player in franchise history, and he teamed up with Bob Dandridge and Oscar Robertson to earn the 1971 title. Jon McGlocklin was also on the roster; he just wasn't a superstar like the three men featured not only in the all-time depth chart, but also in the starting five.
Terry Cummings, though he didn't come around until the 1980s, is the fourth lock. He was a star in his own right, and he's enjoying the complete dearth of legitimate competition at power forward. To put that absence in perspective, his 42.7 win shares are light-years ahead of the next-best true 4: Ersan Ilyasova, with 29.3.
The fifth starter is trickier.
No matter what, he fits in with the vintage feel of this lineup, since Andrew Bogut is the only member of the 13-man squad not technically retired. But should the final starter be from the '80s or the period spanning Y2K?
Toughest Battle: Sidney Moncrief vs. Ray Allen
On one hand, we have Ray Allen, one of the greatest shooters in the history of the sport.
He began his career with the Bucks, allowing him to show off far more than his touch from beyond the arc. His athleticism also made him a terrific slashing threat, as well as a defensive stalwart who wasn't afraid to slap the floor and get after it on the preventing end.
On the other, we have Sidney Moncrief, who also thrived as a two-way star.
A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, he also showed no fear attacking the basket, earning parades to the charity stripe and emerging as an efficient volume scorer. He showed no interest in letting fly from well outside the painted area, but he didn't need to during an era that featured so much action on the interior.
Picking between these two is one of the more difficult tasks contained within this project, but Moncrief's lengthier commitment to the Bucks—and a peak that was every bit as good as Allen's—earns him the nod.
Toughest Omission: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Andrew Bogut, Junior Bridgeman, Ricky Pierce and Brian Winters all deserve credit here, but Michael Redd earned the roster's final spot. And he likely won't have it for long, because a developing legend is providing more value on a per-season basis than anyone representing this franchise has since Abdul-Jabbar.
That's not an exaggeration. Here are the top five scores for the Milwaukee organization in NBA Math's total points added (TPA) metric, which dates back to 1973:
Only a limited body of work is keeping Antetokounmpo from earning a spot.
And he'll do exactly that before too long.
Your Time Will Come
Antetokounmpo is nearly guaranteed to work his way onto the 13-man roster, but he might not be the only one capable of doing so.
Malcolm Brogdon is now coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign. Jabari Parker was trending toward Most Improved Player consideration before tearing his ACL. Khris Middleton has emerged, when healthy, as one of the league's deadliest two-way swingmen. Thon Maker has flashed lofty potential in short spurts, and the sky seems to be where his ceiling sits.
Someone is likely to emerge as an all-time candidate. Who that'll be, however, is a tougher question.
PG: Ricky Rubio, Terrell Brandon
SG: Doug West, Anthony Peeler
SF: Wally Szczerbiak, Sam Mitchell
PF: Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Tom Gugliotta, Gorgui Dieng
C: Karl-Anthony Towns, Christian Laettner, Nikola Pekovic
Head Coach: Flip Saunders
Unless Karl-Anthony Towns continues on his current path for a lot longer, Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love will remain the two best players in Minnesota Timberwolves history. That's a shame for Love, because while he would typically deserve a starting nod, he didn't have nearly the same impact as the early-career version of the Big Ticket, who consistently propelled shaky supporting casts into the playoff picture.
Even with Love pushing him, Garnett is a shoo-in for a starting spot.
Also worth noting: The 'Wolves only have five different All-Stars in their limited history. The two aforementioned 4s lead the list, and Tom Gugliotta joins them at the same position. Then we have Sam Cassell, who only spent two years in Minnesota, and Wally Szczerbiak, who's the third of three locks.
Terrell Brandon may have pushed Ricky Rubio harder if he'd spent some of his prime years in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but the starting role at the point belongs to the passing wizard who—until the 2017-18 campaign begins—has spent every minute of his NBA career with the 'Wolves. Rubio didn't lead them to much success or submit sterling scoring seasons, but his distributing and defense at least kept the team afloat during a lengthy rebuild.
Toughest Battle: Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Christian Laettner
The final starting spot is the toughest of all.
Minnesota has had a number of capable bigs line up at center, but none have excelled for sustained periods. Nikola Pekovic quickly faded thanks to the pesky injury imp (and a bloated contract), while Christian Laettner spent just 3.5 seasons with Minnesota before he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks.
Towns' first two professional go-arounds are better than anything the aforementioned centers have submitted, and he actually hasn't spent that much less time on the floor. This might be different if he'd suffered even a single injury during his rookie or sophomore years, but he's appeared in all 164 possible games.
He's already the proud owner of the best legacy in franchise history at the biggest position.
Toughest Omission: Joe Smith
Unfortunately for Joe Smith, this all-time frontcourt is rather crowded.
The former No. 1 overall pick spent four seasons (in two separate two-year stints) with Minnesota, where he asserted himself as a low-level double-double threat who could capably protect the basket. But that's about where the positives end, and they don't allow him to push past the other players who found even more success during their similarly brief stints.
Al Jefferson and Tyrone Corbin also deserve love, but Smith provided the biggest challenge to take the final slot away from Gorgui Dieng.
Your Time Will Come
If Andrew Wiggins makes good on his athletic gifts, he has a great chance to eventually earn inclusion. Some may already be swayed by his gaudy scoring figures, but the value simply isn't there while his efficiency levels remain at middling marks and he plays some of the league's least valuable defense. He has plenty of time to turn this around, though, and ruling him out would be foolish.
Jimmy Butler is also young enough (28 before the beginning of 2017-18) to merit a mention, and Jeff Teague could make a late push if he refuses to decline in his new home. But make no mistake: Wiggins has the best shot.
New Orleans Pelicans
PG: Chris Paul, Baron Davis, Jrue Holiday
SG: David Wesley
SF: Peja Stojakovic, Jamal Mashburn
PF: David West, Ryan Anderson, P.J. Brown
C: Anthony Davis, Jamaal Magloire, Tyson Chandler, Emeka Okafor
Head Coach: Byron Scott
Thanks to the agreement referenced earlier in this article, the New Orleans Pelicans have an extraordinarily limited history from which they can draw. Technically, this organization only has 15 completed seasons in its annals, dating back to the New Orleans Hornets' 2002-03 campaign.
And while that makes the roster far weaker than it might otherwise be, it also makes the selections obvious.
Chris Paul easily outpaces Baron Davis and Jrue Holiday after submitting one of the best seasons ever by a point guard in 2007-08 and somehow following it up with superior heroics in 2008-09. His primary running mates—Peja Stojakovic and David West—get some play as well, and there's little doubt David Wesley belongs as the top shooting guard in the abbreviated archives.
At center, Anthony Davis completes the quintet.
Toughest Battle: Tyson Chandler vs. Emeka Okafor
Sometimes, the big-time battles come for starting slots. Other times, they occur at the tail end of the depth chart. Every position is important, after all.
This one falls into the latter category, since both Emeka Okafor and Tyson Chandler have convincing arguments to hold down the coveted third-string center role. They're just...short arguments.
Okafor served as a strong defensive presence during his three years with the Hornets, but they came at the tail end of his career. He wasn't nearly as impactful on the offensive end and only logged more than 30 minutes per game in one year.
Chandler's tenure was even shorter, but it came during the middle of his career. His pick-and-roll game with Paul allowed him to remain a league-average offensive presence while he thrived on defense, and that makes just enough of a difference for him to back up Davis and Jamaal Magloire.
Toughest Omission: Rasual Butler
Rasual Butler didn't do much for the bayou-based franchise, but he could at least shoot the basketball. During his four seasons with New Orleans, he attempted 3.7 shots per game from long range and connected at a 37.4 percent clip.
Normally, that wouldn't be a primary skill worth bragging about. But with so few high-quality players sticking around on the Hornets/Pelicans for lengthy stretches, we have to make do with what we've got.
Your Time Will Come
If DeMarcus Cousins ends up re-signing on a long-term deal with the Pelicans, he'll almost certainly earn inclusion. He should be able to work his way all the way to the backup center role, though it's also possible he could push Davis to become a full-time 4 and they could work together in the historical starting five.
Other than that, we're dealing with slim pickings on a threadbare Pelicans roster.
New York Knicks
PG: Walt Frazier
SG: Richie Guerin, Earl Monroe, Allan Houston, John Starks
SF: Carmelo Anthony, Bernard King
PF: Harry Gallatin, Charles Oakley, Dave DeBusschere
C: Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, Bill Cartwright
Head Coach: Red Holzman
Walt Frazier and Patrick Ewing are the truly easy decisions, even if Willis Reed's dramatic exit out of the tunnel remains one of the most memorable—and important!—moments in the history of the New York Knicks. These two Hall of Famers are the best to put on this uniform, standing far ahead of their positional peers.
Unfortunately, nothing else is too simple.
Carmelo Anthony, no matter how or when his career with the Knicks may end, has provided plenty to his hometown franchise. He's led it through trials and tribulations, different management groups and seemingly endless rebuilds, refusing to stop scoring all the while. So while Bernard King's Christmas Day exploits and 1985 scoring title certainly matter, they don't quite stack up against Anthony's efforts. Not with only four Big Apple seasons on King's resume.
Harry Gallatin and Charles Oakley make for another interesting clash, if only because they employed fairly similar styles in entirely different eras. The rebounding savant from the 1950s is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, though, and he only spent the final year of his career outside New York.
Richie Guerin also gets throwback credit, using his physical, intense demeanor on the court to intimidate the opponents he'd soon dominate. Had Earl Monroe spent his entire career with the Knicks, he might have displaced the late-'50s/early-'60s legend, but he can't get the job done after spending so much time with the Baltimore Bullets after leaving Winston-Salem State University.
Toughest Battle: Charles Oakley vs. Dave DeBusschere
Oakley may be a beloved member of the New York fraternity—perhaps even more so after his recent feud with less-than-beloved owner James Dolan—but beating out Dave DeBusschere is a rather tough task. The latter power forward retired in 1974 after spending the last 5.5 seasons of his career playing in Madison Square Garden, and it's not like he was operating at some low level.
In fact, he made the All-Star team during each of his full campaigns there. He won two titles alongside some of the other legends populating this star-studded roster. He even continued to show off his defensive chops by making the All-Defensive First Team in every one of those five seasons.
And yet...Oakley might have had the superior career. Can you tell I've spent a significant amount of time waffling about this one?
Though the one-time All-Star never reached DeBusschere's level on a one-game or one-season scale, he doubled the length of his predecessor's stay. And, as is so often the case throughout this exercise, that matters quite a bit.
Toughest Omission: Carl Braun
Despite the recent struggles, this is truly a historic franchise that's produced plenty of premier players. A contributor of John Starks' caliber typically wouldn't be a 13th man. Ditto for Allan Houston and Bill Cartwright serving as end-of-bench players.
And yet, tough omissions still exist.
Kenny Sears, Dick Barnett, Bill Bradley, Anthony Mason, Mark Jackson, Dick McGuire, Walt Bellamy and others all deserve recognition, but none more so than Carl Braun. His name may not resonate with newer generations of NBA fans, but the combo guard spent 12 of his 13 seasons with the Knicks, dating all the way back to the 1947-48 campaign.
A five-time All-Star who likely would've posted even bigger numbers if he hadn't interrupted his career to serve in the U.S. Army, Braun was one of the franchise's first great scorers and its first true star. The game may have been significantly different back then—the shot clock wasn't even implemented until his career was nearly halfway through—but he deserves some love all the same.
Your Time Will Come
"Technically, at his height, he shouldn't be a patented offensive mismatch when playing the 4. But he remains a nightmare," Dan Favale recently wrote for Bleacher Report about Kristaps Porzingis. "He has the handle to put the ball on the floor, even if his drives can be uncoordinated, and the fluidity with which he rises and fires off the dribble defies his length."
If all goes according to plan, Porzingis' inclusion is more a matter of "when" than "if."
Oklahoma City Thunder
PG: Gary Payton, Russell Westbrook, Gus Williams, Nate McMillan
SG: Fred Brown, Dale Ellis
SF: Kevin Durant, Detlef Schrempf, Rashard Lewis
PF: Shawn Kemp, Serge Ibaka, Spencer Haywood
C: Jack Sikma
Head Coach: George Karl
Look, I don't like it either. The Seattle SuperSonics should still have their own history. Perhaps they will someday if the NBA decides to expand and gives them back the team they lost when it became the Oklahoma City Thunder.
But for now, league rules dictate that the Thunder's history and the Sonics' records are smooshed together into one entity. And we'll act accordingly.
Fortunately, it makes a lot of these decisions pretty darn simple
Kevin Durant? The former MVP and scoring champion is the best player in franchise history, even if many felt like he betrayed OKC by bolting to join the Golden State Warriors. Shawn Kemp? Sorry to Serge Ibaka, but he's simply not on the same level as the viciously dunking power forward who came before him.
Jack Sikma is the only truly great center this organization has claimed, and Fred Brown rather easily presides over the shooting guard throne by virtue of spending his entire 13-year career wearing the right colors, whereas Dale Ellis only did so for seven seasons.
And that leaves the point guards.
Toughest Battle: Gary Payton vs. Russell Westbrook
Gary Payton never had a season like the one Russell Westbrook completed in 2016-17. He never won MVP. He never averaged a triple-double. He never asserted himself as one of the NBA's five best players during any given season, though he might have been close some years.
But his entire career is behind him, and that's something Westbrook can't claim.
Payton is now a member of the Hall of Fame. Just from his time in Seattle, he was a nine-time All-Star, a nine-time All-NBA representative, a nine-time All-Defensive player and a Defensive Player of the Year. Westbrook, meanwhile, just finished his ninth season, and it took him a while to reach a dominant level as he transitioned away from the 2-guard role he filled at UCLA.
This competition is closer than it has ever been. Barring disaster, Westbrook should move past Payton during the 2017-18 season.
But for now, the Hall of Famer is still getting the nod.
Toughest Omission: Ray Allen
Brent Barry needs some recognition for the hot shooting he displayed throughout his five seasons in Seattle. Nick Collison deserves a shoutout, since he was drafted in 2003 and is still playing for the same franchise.
But Ray Allen came closer than anyone else to displacing Rashard Lewis or Nate McMillan to take over the final spot on the all-time roster. Had he spent just a little longer playing in the Pacific Northwest, he certainly would have done so.
The sharpshooting 2-guard averaged 24.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists for the Sonics while slashing 44.0/38.6/89.9. Had he either upped that three-point percentage to his career mark of an even 40 or spent more than four seasons and some change in Seattle, this story may be entirely different.
Your Time Will Come
Unless Seattle's history is unabsorbed, this is a pretty stacked lineup. An All-Star version of Allen couldn't even make the cut, which sounds ridiculous until you truly look at the roster from top to bottom. So for now, players such as Andre Roberson, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams don't figure to get even fringe consideration.
Again, that could change if this is an OKC-only team. But that's not the case now.
Still, there's one exception. Paul George hasn't yet suited up for the Thunder, but just imagine what might happen if he plays out his career alongside Westbrook rather than fleeing to the Los Angeles Lakers.
PG: Anfernee Hardaway, Jameer Nelson, Darrell Armstrong
SG: Tracy McGrady, Nick Anderson
SF: Dennis Scott, Hedo Turkoglu, Grant Hill
PF: Horace Grant, Rashard Lewis
C: Dwight Howard, Shaquille O'Neal, Nikola Vucevic
Head Coach: Stan Van Gundy
Before injuries struck and ruined what was once such a promising career, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway made the All-Star squad during four of his first five seasons. By the end of his sixth NBA campaign, he was averaging 19.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 76.6 percent at the stripe.
No offense meant to Jameer Nelson, but he simply wasn't on that same level. And the same is true of Nick Anderson, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis—all good players who couldn't quite match the exploits of the men who populate the leading spots on the depth chart.
Horace Grant thrived as a rebounder and defensive presence. Dennis Scott began his career with the Orlando Magic in high-scoring fashion, thanks largely to his consistent shooting stroke. Tracy McGrady was a bona fide superstar who led the NBA in scoring twice and made the world question whether he could supplant Kobe Bryant as the league's next great shooting guard.
But at center, there wasn't just a battle. The competition between Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal is more of a full-fledged war.
Toughest Battle: Dwight Howard vs. Shaquille O'Neal
O'Neal is one of the 15 greatest players in NBA history. On a per-year basis, he was unquestionably the vastly superior center. But he's hampered here by his nomadic ways; only the first four seasons of his career came with the Magic before he left for the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency.
Young O'Neal possessed every tool imaginable for a big man, aside from shooting touch outside the paint. He relentlessly overpowered opponents and danced around them with nimble post moves. He could dunk over foes or fool them on the blocks. And yet, he played just 295 games in a Magic uniform, whereas the next "Superman" logged 621.
That's a big deal, especially when those 621 games saw Howard emerge as a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, carry the Magic to the NBA Finals and establish him on a Hall of Fame trajectory. The eventual exit may have been acrimonious, but Howard was an absolute legend in his prime.
These days, that's easier than ever to forget. But jarring as it may seem to see Howard listed over O'Neal on a depth chart, he simply did more for the franchise.
Toughest Omission: Scott Skiles
On Dec. 30, 1990, Scott Skiles saw every passing lane with crystal-clear vision. In a 155-116 victory over the Denver Nuggets, he recorded an NBA-record 30 assists (and 22 points!) for the Magic, solidifying himself in the NBA archives.
Sure, this was a fluke. Skiles averaged "only" 8.4 dimes that season, and he topped out at 9.4 two years later.
But still. It goes to show just how talented a passer he was, and that skill alone nearly allowed him to topple Darrell Armstrong and Nikola Vucevic to earn coveted inclusion in this depth chart.
Your Time Will Come
Let's just say there's a reason the Magic fired former general manager Rob Hennigan and rebuilt their front office this summer.
PG: Allen Iverson, Maurice Cheeks
SG: Hal Greer, Hersey Hawkins
SF: Julius Erving, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker, Andre Iguodala
PF: Charles Barkley, Dolph Schayes, Bobby Jones
C: Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone
Head Coach: Billy Cunningham
This is one of the rare instances where an original franchise—the Philadelphia 76ers' history dates all the way back to 1949-50, when they were known as the Syracuse Nationals—is littered with tremendous talents, and the starting five is still fairly obvious.
Maurice Cheeks was a four-time All-Star and won a title with the Sixers. But he's not Allen Iverson, who remains one of the greatest pound-for-pound scorers to ever grace the NBA hardwood. Joining him in the Hall of Fame backcourt is Hal Greer, whose versatility and lengthy scoring excellence put him in a different tier than Hersey Hawkins.
Julius Erving? Did you really need to ask?
Dolph Schayes was one of the franchise's first legendary figures, but Charles Barkley thrived in a much more competitive era and reached an even higher ceiling. And though Schayes played all 996 games with the organization before retiring and eventually earning induction into Springfield, Barkley logged 610 appearances of his own before joining the Phoenix Suns.
Moses Malone thrived in his four-year stint with the Sixers (he'd return later for one random campaign). However, Wilt Chamberlain was, well, Wilt Chamberlain during his four years in Philadelphia playing not for the Warriors, but the 76ers.
Toughest Battle: Chet Walker vs. Andre Iguodala
Malone vs. Chamberlain is the most competitive clash for a starting spot, but it's not as tight as the battle between Andre Iguodala and Chet Walker to serve as the third-string small forward behind Erving and Billy Cunningham, whose coaching excellence in the late '70s and early '80s allows him to join Rudy Tomjanovich in the player-coach club.
Walker is already in the Hall of Fame, and Iguodala probably won't join him. But the man fondly referred to as "Chet the Jet" for his remarkable speed on the court earned inclusion among that exclusive group not just because of his work with the Nationals and 76ers; he was even better once he joined the Chicago Bulls for the second half of his career, upping his scoring average and efficiency levels while making four of his seven All-Star squads.
And lest we forget, Iguodala wasn't always the super-sub he's become for the Golden State Warriors. He spent eight seasons patrolling the City of Brotherly Love, during which time he asserted himself as a defensive menace who never hesitated to throw down those trademark Iguodunkas after ripping the ball away from the opposition and starting a fast-break opportunity.
Still, his peak wasn't quite as lofty as Walker's, and he didn't spend too much more time with the franchise. This is closer than their all-time standings (regardless of organizational affiliation) might suggest, but it's still Walker's competition to lose.
Toughest Omission: Red Kerr
Sometimes, we just have to honor the old-timers.
Red Kerr's name might not come up too frequently nowadays, but he was one of the team's first great players. Starting in 1954-55 as a rookie out of Illinois, he spent 11 seasons with the Nationals and Sixers, averaging 13.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 41.8 percent from the field—a better mark then that it would be now. And as his NBA.com profile suggests, those numbers aren't the ones that do him justice:
"Most remarkable, however, is the fact that Kerr played in 844 consecutive games from 1954 to 1965, setting an NBA record that would stand until Randy Smith broke it in 1983. Kerr prolonged the streak with his own brand of therapy: he packed his sprained ankles in freshly shoveled snow from his driveway. Playing the same position as Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Kerr was an All-Star in 1956, 1959, and 1963."
Your Time Will Come
Even though this roster is unbelievably loaded with talent from top to bottom, the last few spots could someday be taken over by one of the many celestial youngsters under Philadelphia's purview. Would you bet against Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz failing to have a better career with the Sixers than Iguodala?
Individually, you might. Simmons and Fultz have yet to play a single game in the NBA, while Embiid's injury concerns aren't just going to disappear.
But betting against all three of them simultaneously is a tougher ask.
- Alvan Adams, 73.5 win shares
- Mark West, 30.7
- Neal Walk, 27.2
- Channing Frye, 20.1
- Marcin Gortat, 16.1
- Walter Davis: 66.4 win shares and 19.2 VORP
- Dick Van Arsdale: 63.6 win shares, and VORP isn't relevant because his career stretched far outside the modern era (1973-present)
- Dan Majerle: 52.0 win shares and 24.3 VORP
- Paul Westphal: 51.5 win shares and 15.9 VORP
PG: Steve Nash, Kevin Johnson
SG: Walter Davis, Dick Van Arsdale, Dan Majerle, Paul Westphal
SF: Shawn Marion, Connie Hawkins
PF: Amar'e Stoudemire, Larry Nance, Charles Barkley, Tom Chambers
C: Alvan Adams
Head Coach: Mike D'Antoni
Let's focus solely on the frontcourt.
Though Shaquille O'Neal once made an All-Star team for the Phoenix Suns, he spent only 103 games in the desert, making it hard him to make the roster, much less earn the starting nod. And yet, he's still in the top 10 for win shares (9.5) among true Phoenix centers, because the position is just that weak. Here's the top five:
Now, it should be fairly obvious why Alvan Adams wins the starting gig and is the only center on the roster.
Joining him at the bigger positions are Amar'e Stoudemire (another easy choice) and Shawn Marion, who I maintain should be considered a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame, even if he'll probably never get in. Connie Hawkins did, but his four seasons with the Suns can't match what Marion did in twice the time.
None of these frontcourt spots are particularly difficult to determine. The same can't be said about the guards.
Toughest Battle: The entire backcourt
Good luck isolating one single battle.
Steve Nash won two MVPs in Phoenix and reached a level no one else at the position could match. But his eight seasons could only add so much value, whereas Kevin Johnson spent 11.5 of his 12 professional seasons suiting up in Arizona.
MVP trophies tend to carry quite a bit of weight, so Nash still gets the nod. But it's tougher than the names might initially indicate, and the order at shooting guard is tougher still.
Let's turn to some numbers—win shares and VORP:
As you can likely tell by the close proximity of these advanced-metric finishes, no member of this quartet earned much separation.
Toughest Omission: Jeff Hornacek
Jason Kidd certainly deserves recognition for the 4.5 years he spent in Phoenix, but the plethora of high-quality shooting guards kept an even better candidate from making the all-time roster. We simply couldn't stomach having a fifth 2-guard in Jeff Hornacek.
But Hornacek's resume with Phoenix would typically merit inclusion.
Using the same stats as before, he earned 43.8 win shares and 17.7 VORP during his 468 games with the squad. Those don't quite stack up against the aforementioned backcourt members, but they're impressive all the same.
Had he not been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers after making the first All-Star squad of his career, his inclusion likely would've been inevitable.
Your Time Will Come
Maybe Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson eventually work their way into the conversation. But right now, the leading guards are the primary candidates for future representation.
Eric Bledsoe, unless he's shipped off to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a Kyrie Irving deal, has plenty of elite seasons left in the tank. He's one of the league's most underrated floor generals, capable of thriving on both ends of the floor.
Meanwhile, Devin Booker is just bubbling over with potential. He's already scored 70 points in a single game as a sophomore; now he needs to become a more efficient sniper who's capable of contributing in other areas and leading his team to victory.
Portland Trail Blazers
PG: Terry Porter, Damian Lillard, Damon Stoudamire
SG: Clyde Drexler, Brandon Roy, Jim Paxson
SF: Jerome Kersey, Nicolas Batum
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, Rasheed Wallace, Maurice Lucas
C: Arvydas Sabonis, Mychal Thompson
Head Coach: Jack Ramsay
No disrespect meant to Damian Lillard. At this point, he seems like a lock to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers ad infinitum and eventually supplant Terry Porter as the all-time starter at the point. But he's only 27 years old and coming off his fifth professional season.
Porter, on the other hand, represented Rip City through his age-31 campaign, leaving for the Minnesota Timberwolves only after he'd given the franchise that drafted him at No. 24 overall a full decade of service. Lillard needs a while longer before he can match that, unless he somehow keeps improving.
The other starting slots are a bit easier.
Arvydas Sabonis, despite his delayed introduction to the Association, is a simple choice, given the lack of game-changing centers who have logged significant time in the Pacific Northwest. LaMarcus Aldridge may have been overrated while serving as Portland's leading man, but he still did more for the organization than Rasheed Wallace (and didn't play in the Jail Blazers era).
And the wing spots are the easiest of all.
Of course Clyde Drexler is starting, though there's no telling what Brandon Roy could've become if his knees worked. And while Nicolas Batum earned fringe All-Star consideration before leaving for the Charlotte Hornets, Jerome Kersey did the same for a longer period—and at a slightly higher level during his peak years, to boot.
Toughest Battle: Rasheed Wallace vs. Maurice Lucas
Maurice Lucas was an enforcer. A tough, physical big man who earned the respect and adoration of the Portland faithful, he thrived during each of his first three full seasons in Rip City, averaging 19.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks.
But, aside from 41 games before he was traded in 1979-80 and returning for the final year of his career in 1987-88, he didn't spend that long playing for this organization. Too much of his time was used either in the ABA or bouncing between different franchises, and that leaves him slightly behind Wallace.
The more modern big man may not have reached the same dizzying height as Lucas. But he did make two All-Star squads and played at a rather impressive level during his stint with the Blazers. That relative longevity gets the job done here.
Toughest Omission: Clifford Robinson
If only the forward positions didn't already contain so much talent...
During his eight seasons in Portland, Clifford Robinson averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks while shooting 44.6 percent from the field. Those numbers may not sound historically impressive, and they're not. But they are rather stellar for a player who specialized on the defensive end.
He's close to taking away a spot from either Batum or Lucas, but close doesn't cut it here.
Your Time Will Come
At this point, doubt shouldn't exist.
So long as CJ McCollum continues on his current trajectory and functions as one of the NBA's most versatile scoring threats and deadliest mid-range shooters, he'll be a virtual lock to make the all-time roster. Just give him time and hope he stays with the Blazers long enough to make it happen.
PG: Oscar Robertson, Tiny Archibald, Bob Davies, Mike Bibby
SG: Mitch Richmond, Bobby Wanzer
SF: Jack Twyman, Peja Stojakovic
PF: Jerry Lucas, Chris Webber
C: Sam Lacey, DeMarcus Cousins, Arnie Risen
Head Coach: Rick Adelman
Perhaps because the Sacramento Kings have struggled so immensely in recent seasons, their depth chart just falls into place. Not too many modern-era players can challenge the legends of the past, with DeMarcus Cousins serving as the lone exception.
Oscar Robertson is locked into the opening quintet for his tremendous work with the Cincinnati Royals. It was with that Sacramento predecessor that he averaged a triple-double for an entire season and made the All-Star roster during each of his first 10 go-rounds.
Bobby Wanzer was tremendous during the infancy of the NBA, back when the organization was known as the Rochester Royals, but he didn't thrive during the league's golden era—the 1990s. Mitch Richmond did. Older players can overcome the time in which they played if they're true legends, but Wanzer, even with his Hall of Fame credentials, doesn't fall into that category.
Need examples of true legends? How about Jack Twyman and Jerry Lucas?
The former spent his entire career with the Royals and emerged as one of the league's first great scorers, capable of putting the ball in the basket from any spot on the floor. The latter remains an all-time stud on the glass, averaging a staggering 19.1 rebounds during his seven Cincy seasons.
Toughest Battle: Sam Lacey vs. DeMarcus Cousins
Had DeMarcus Cousins stayed in Sacramento, he likely would've supplanted Sam Lacey to become the starting center on the all-time roster. But he didn't. And now, he can't.
Lacey wasn't one of the NBA's best centers while he was playing, as Cousins has been basically ever since he left behind the Kentucky Wildcats. But he did enjoy a prolonged stretch of solid play, boosted by his rebounding prowess and incredible defensive acumen. To this day, he enjoys each of the franchise's five best qualified seasons by defensive box plus/minus.
And maybe just as importantly, he won games.
Cousins never played a single postseason minute for the Kings. Lacey racked up 1,074 over the course of four different playoff runs, including one in 1981 in which his Kings overcame a sub-.500 season to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Toughest Omission: Scott Wedman
Had Scott Wedman come around a few decades later, he likely wouldn't be an omission.
The small forward thrived as a versatile player capable of contributing in so many different areas, and he eventually started displaying his proclivity for spotting up in the corners and knocking down baseline jumpers. Just imagine if he'd played after the three-point arc became more popular, since he would've settled in nicely below the break.
Alas, he made only 84 triples throughout his career, including just 32 for the Kings.
Your Time Will Come
At this juncture, it's too early for anyone.
Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, Justin Jackson, De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harry Giles and Georgios Papagiannis (listed in no particular order) all possess plenty of upside. But they're all young, and half of them have yet to log a single NBA minute.
San Antonio Spurs
PG: Tony Parker, Avery Johnson
SG: George Gervin, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Sean Elliott, Bruce Bowen, Mike Mitchell
PF: Tim Duncan, Larry Kenon
C: David Robinson, Artis Gilmore
Head Coach: Gregg Popovich
Playing style doesn't matter for these lineups, but can you imagine attempting to beat this starting five?
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have more star power in their lengthier histories. They have more Hall of Famers on their rosters. But they can't boast a cohesive unit quite like this. It just so happens that the best players in the San Antonio Spurs' record books all work together perfectly.
Imagine trying to score on Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and David Robinson. You probably wouldn't. Now imagine having to score enough points to keep up with a lineup that boasts offense from every position, from Robinson and Duncan's versatile play to Leonard's takeover instincts, from George Gervin's rim-attacking habits and devastating finger-rolls to Tony Parker's seamless knack for getting to his spots and capitalizing.
Four of these five men have no true competition.
Duncan and Robinson are among the best ever at their positions—the best ever in the former's case—and spent their entire careers with the Spurs. Leonard is already an MVP threat and a winner of multiple Defensive Player of the Year trophies. Parker is rather obviously the best point guard in franchise history.
And that leaves the shooting guards.
Toughest Battle: George Gervin vs. Manu Ginobili
How much credit should Ginobili get for remaining a lifelong Spur? That's the crux of the debate here, since few would try arguing that the Argentine 2-guard was the superior player at their respective peaks.
In Ginobili's best season with the Spurs (2007-08), he averaged 19.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 46.0 percent from the field, 40.1 percent from downtown and 86.0 percent at the stripe. In Gervin's (1977-78, thanks to more palatable defense), he posted a league-high 27.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists while hitting 53.6 percent of his field-goal attempts and 83 percent of his freebies.
That's just not a competition.
Ginobili's lengthy (and ongoing) tenure makes the overall battle much closer, but he'd have to stick around for a while longer without retiring to stand a serious chance.
Toughest Omission: Matt Bonner
Right now, it's Danny Green holding down the final spot, then there's a fairly wide gap between him and the other contenders. Nostalgia only matters so much, so Matt Bonner's immense popularity as the "Red Mamba" can't quite boost him into the conversation.
Still, let's not pretend Bonner was just some end-of-bench player popular solely because of his hair color.
The power forward spent 10 seasons with the Spurs, establishing himself as a feared shooter who wasn't afraid to take catch-and-shoot attempts in key situations. He hit 41.3 percent of his triple tries throughout his San Antonio tenure, and those came in sets of 2.5 per game.
Your Time Will Come
Patty Mills? Maybe?
In all reality, the current construction of the Spurs doesn't lend itself to any forthcoming inclusions. Dejounte Murray or one of the other unheralded youngsters could break out under head coach Gregg Popovich's tutelage, but they'll have a long climb to reach the levels of those populating the 13 roster spots.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Jose Calderon, Alvin Williams
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Doug Christie
SF: Vince Carter, Morris Peterson
PF: Chris Bosh, Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Antonio Davis, Andrea Bargnani
Head Coach: Dwane Casey
Ah, the perils of the expansion franchises.
The Toronto Raptors only have 22 seasons under their collective belts, and they've made the playoffs just nine times—including each of the last four years. Generating a stacked all-time roster is a tough ask when that's all you're working with.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan make for a fine backcourt, just like they do in real life. They're both absolute locks, even if Jose Calderon and Doug Christie were solid players during their times in Toronto. Vince Carter and Chris Bosh work nicely, as well, no matter how much backlash and lasting animosity the former's exit may have created. Morris Peterson and Amir Johnson simply aren't great challengers at their respective positions—not in this all-time context, at least.
But center is troubling.
Jonas Valanciunas might not be a true bust, but he also hasn't developed as expected. He's an average starting big man. And yet, he's still the best 5 in this franchise's abbreviated history, even if Antonio Davis managed to make a lone All-Star appearance during his short stay.
Toughest Battle: Amir Johnson vs. Patrick Patterson
Two relatively nondescript power forwards. Two underrated players beloved by all sorts of advanced metrics for their beyond-the-box-score contributions.
Johnson is the tough, physical presence who's constantly been able to clean the glass and finish plays on the interior. Patterson is the versatile power forward who can do everything in small doses, whether he's flashing switchability in half-court defensive sets or attempting to serve as a poor man's stretch 4.
Neither player is too exciting, and both meant more than their per-game numbers might indicate. But while Patterson was the marginally better player, he only spent three seasons north of the border, whereas Johnson spent six before departing for the Boston Celtics.
Toughest Omission: Tracy McGrady
Johnson and Patterson both made the roster. Andrea Bargnani is included. Alvin Wiliams, too.
How in the world did Tracy McGrady not rise above that low bar?
Well, he spent only three years in a Raptors uniform, and they weren't exactly peak years. He was fresh out of Mount Zion Christian Academy, attempting to make the prep-to-pro leap, and it wasn't until he left for the Orlando Magic that he blossomed into a scoring champion.
During those three go-rounds, McGrady only averaged 11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 44.8 percent from the field and 28.4 percent from downtown. That was enough to draw some consideration, given the weakened nature of this particular roster, but star power earned later in his career doesn't help him.
Your Time Will Come
Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas are already on the roster, and that leaves slim pickings from the current Raptors. Perhaps Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka or Lucas Nogueira will eventually earn inclusion.
Just don't count on it quite yet.
PG: John Stockton, Deron Williams
SG: Pete Maravich, Darrell Griffith, Jeff Hornacek
SF: Adrian Dantley, Andrei Kirilenko, Gordon Hayward
PF: Karl Malone, Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap
C: Mark Eaton, Mehmet Okur
Head Coach: Jerry Sloan
What kind of team would this be if John Stockton and Karl Malone weren't running pick-and-rolls ad nauseam?
As the two best players in franchise history (by a mile), the point guard-power forward duo is a remarkably obvious inclusion. Talented as Deron Williams, Paul Millsap and Carlos Boozer may have been, they fall short both in the longevity category and the loftiness of their peak years.
None of the other positional challenges are too tough, either.
Pete Maravich spent just more than five seasons with the New Orleans/Utah Jazz, but he was so damn talented that it almost doesn't matter. Jeff Hornacek and Darrell Griffith couldn't have led the league in scoring, as "Pistol Pete" did during the 1976-77 campaign by posting 31.1 points per contest.
Andrei Kirilenko was a defensive force, but his impact doesn't quite stack up against what Adrian Dantley did throughout his stay in Salt Lake City. Over the course of seven seasons, the lanky small forward averaged 29.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists with some of the most efficient shooting displays ever witnessed in the Association. He even won two scoring titles of his own.
And while Mehmet Okur certainly belongs on the team—for now, at least—Mark Eaton emerged as one of the best defenders in NBA history during the '80s. He's also the proud owner of a remarkably fun fact: According to NBA Math's TPA database, which dates back to 1973, he has the highest single-season score in defensive points saved (400.34 in 1984-85) and the lowest single-season score in offensive points added (minus-271 in 1984-85).
As you may have noticed, those took place during the same year and add up to give him a distinctly positive overall tally.
Toughest Battle: None
This isn't a cop-out.
The Utah depth chart just came together more easily than any other franchise's, with natural delineations occurring between the starters, backups and third-string rotation members at each of the five positions.
In fact, the biggest battle stems from the toughest omission and the current backup center.
Toughest Omission: Rudy Gobert
Rudy Gobert is coming off a year in which he earned legitimate Defensive Player of the Year consideration while simultaneously shoring up his offensive game. He's closer to being a top-10 player than falling out of the top 20 as we head into the 2017-18 campaign, and he might get even better with Ricky Rubio generating easy finishes around the hoop for him.
But while this wasn't his first go-round as a defensive ace, it was his first in a two-way role. The body of work just isn't enough to stack up against Okur's.
Okur spent the better part of six years serving as a high-quality scorer, and he even represented the Western Conference during the 2007 All-Star Game. While it's abundantly clear Gobert will soon surpass him—and likely move past Eaton, as well—one season isn't enough to turn the tides.
Your Time Will Come
Obviously, Gobert belongs in this category. Casual fans might not recognize just how talented he's become, but he, not Gordon Hayward, served as the Jazz's best player in 2016-17. Now, he's the unquestioned centerpiece and will only continue building up his legacy.
Maybe Derrick Favors will regain his health and explosiveness, then burst onto the scene. Perhaps Dante Exum could become a late-developing star. Donovan Mitchell looked pretty darn good in summer-league play.
But for now, Gobert is the only safe bet.
PG: John Wall, Gilbert Arenas
SG: Phil Chenier, Jeff Malone, Earl Monroe
SF: Greg Ballard, Jack Marin
PF: Elvin Hayes, Antawn Jamison, Chris Webber
C: Wes Unseld, Walt Bellamy, Jeff Ruland
Head Coach: Dick Motta
It's no secret that Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld weren't the best of friends. Too bad. We're making them play together once again, since they're rather obviously the two best big men in this franchise's storied history. Both are Hall of Famers who flat-out dominated during their peak years with the then-Bullets, even winning a title together in 1978.
But let's get some modern flair, as well.
Who better to give them set-up passes out of the pick-and-roll than John Wall? Just imagine what the speedy Washington Wizards point guard could do with Unseld's legendary outlet passes. He's a perfect fit, even though, again, that doesn't matter.
For the wings, we'll travel back in time.
Greg Ballard was also on that championship-winning team in '78, supplementing the frontcourt's efforts with his outside shooting and defensive instincts. He might not have been the fastest player, but he could ball(ard) enough to outdo Jack Marin's shorter-lived contributions when the franchise was located in Baltimore.
Phil Chenier provides the last bit of old-school flair, and it doesn't hurt that all but 32 of his career games came with either the Capital Bullets, Baltimore Bullets or Washington Bullets. A skilled scorer who could rise and fire over plenty of talented defenders, he averaged at least 19.7 points for five consecutive campaigns.
Toughest Battle: John Wall vs. Gilbert Arenas
Let's not forget how ridiculously potent Gilbert Arenas was on the offensive end before his career suddenly went downhill, thanks to injuries and ill-advised decisions. Oh, and those peak years all came with the Wizards.
From the start of 2004-05 through the end of 2006-07, he averaged a scorching 27.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists while shooting 43.2 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from deep and 82.6 percent at the line. It's one of the better offensive stretches in recent memory, but it can't quite push him past Wall.
The Kentucky product has already ascended to an All-NBA level and now boasts a lengthier peak with the Wizards. He's also a vastly superior defensive player, which allows him to overcome his slight inferiority to the flame-throwing Arenas on the scoring end.
The gap between Wall and Arenas is small right now. But it's only growing.
Toughest Omission: Caron Butler
Let's throw a shoutout in Gus Johnson's general direction, then pivot to Caron Butler.
The Wizards teams that featured Butler, Antawn Jamison and Arenas weren't too competitive, but they were quite entertaining. Offense could come from any direction, and Butler wasn't some slouch serving as a lesser member of the triumvirate. He was actually a two-time All-Star capable of posting 20 points on any given night.
But the length of his stay in the nation's capital didn't work in his favor. With only four-and-a-half seasons under his belt before the Wizards traded him to the Dallas Mavericks, he doesn't have the resume necessary to displace Jeff Ruland for that coveted final spot.
Your Time Will Come
Smart money is on Otto Porter Jr. or Bradley Beal...but only if, for some strange reason, you're forced to bet on a current Wizard making the all-time squad sometime down the road.
This roster is loaded with talent. Ruland, Earl Monroe and Chris Webber served as the final inclusions, but each featured on at least one All-Star team while wearing the franchise's uniform. Short stays were the only significant knocks against them.
Beal and Porter are tremendous talents climbing the current ladders at their respective positions. But the all-time ladder goes quite a few rungs higher.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.