Every NBA Franchise's All-Time Greatest Playoff Superstar
NBA legends are made in the playoffs.
Michael Jordan's career regular-season numbers leap off the screen, but his 6-0 record in the NBA Finals truly sets him apart.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are near the top of several career leaderboards, but their battles with team accomplishments on the line defined their rivalry.
With the 2020 postseason on the horizon, set to be played under unprecedented circumstances amid the coronavirus pandemic, another legend-making performance may be on the way.
Someone may suddenly have an argument to join the ranks of those listed below as the greatest playoff superstars for each of the league's 30 organizations.
Atlanta Hawks: Bob Pettit
Over 60 years ago when the organization was in St. Louis, the Atlanta Hawks won their one and only NBA championship.
The leader of that squad, which topped Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics in the 1958 Finals, was Bob Pettit.
In that series alone, Pettit averaged 29.3 points, 17.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists compared to Russell's 14.5 points and 19.3 rebounds. He was phenomenal in the series-clinching Game 6, which St. Louis won 110-109 behind Pettit's 50 points and 19 rebounds on 19-of-34 shooting. Even after the performance in which he scored 19 of the team's final 21 points, Pettit deferred praise in the locker room.
"It wasn't me—it was the team," he said, per Harold Flachsbart of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I'm so happy to be with this group."
For his career, the Hawks big man averaged 25.5 points and 14.8 rebounds in 88 playoff games. He's the organization's all-time leader in postseason win shares, points, rebounds and free throws.
Boston Celtics: Larry Bird
Two slides in and we're already getting controversial. How can the Boston Celtics not be represented by Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships?
Well, the size of the league during Russell's era has to be considered. Over his 13-year career, the NBA had an average of 9.3 teams per season. In Larry Bird's first championship season, there were 12 playoff teams. In each of his next two title runs, there were 16 teams in the postseason.
Simply put, there were significantly more teams and players to get through to win a championship in the '80s than there were when the league was in its infancy.
Is that enough to bridge the gap between three and 11 titles? If your answer is no, that's fine. Russell obviously has a strong case to be in this spot. Beyond the championships, he's also the organization's leader in career playoff win shares (again, it was much easier to make the playoffs in his era).
But Bird's playoff numbers are plenty impressive, too. Over 164 career postseason games, he put up 23.8 points, 10.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.9 blocks per contest.
He's 10th in career playoff box plus/minus (tracked since the 1973-74 campaign) and trails only LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant in career playoff wins over replacement player (the cumulative variant of BPM).
He's also Boston's career leader in playoff points, assists and steals.
Between Bird and Russell, there really isn't a wrong answer here. Few teams in the league have one option as good as the Celtics' top two.
Brooklyn Nets: Jason Kidd
From one of the league's most decorated teams to an organization whose only two titles came when it was in the ABA. The decision for the Brooklyn Nets was quite a bit easier.
Only 18 players in team history have 500-plus playoff minutes, and Jason Kidd leads that bunch in points, rebounds, assists, steals and threes. His win shares are about 50 percent higher than second-place Richard Jefferson's.
And in the early 2000s, he led the New Jersey Nets to a pair of NBA Finals appearances against the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.
Over the course of his 78 playoff games with the Nets, he averaged 16.8 points, 9.1 assists, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
He may not have been able to upend Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers or Tim Duncan, David Robinson and the Spurs, but Kidd brought the Nets as far as anyone has since the team joined the NBA.
Charlotte Hornets: Baron Davis
Organizational history gets a little funky with the Charlotte Hornets. To see exactly which teams factor into this discussion, check out their franchise index on Basketball Reference.
The SparkNotes version is that we're talking about the Charlotte Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats here. The New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets' history belongs to the New Orleans Pelicans.
So, even though Baron Davis played for the New Orleans Hornets, his numbers from his first three postseasons are the only ones considered here. And they were still enough to earn him this spot.
Davis has more than twice the number of playoff wins over replacement player of second-place Glen Rice and Kemba Walker. He's also the organization's all-time leader in postseason box plus/minus.
He never got further than the second round with Charlotte, but it's tough to blame him for that.
In the 855 playoff minutes considered, the Hornets were plus-4.6 points per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor and minus-10.8 with him off. During the 2001-02 postseason alone, his swing was an otherworldly plus-37.7 (plus-3.6 with him on and minus-34.1 with him off). Over those nine games, he averaged 22.6 points, 7.9 assists, 7.0 rebounds, 3.6 steals and 2.3 threes.
Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan
This one doesn't require much explanation, but it's always fun to be reminded of the utter dominance MJ brought to the NBA playoffs.
Not only is he the all-time leader in postseason points per game at 33.5, but the gap between him and second-place Allen Iverson is about the same as the gap between AI and ninth-place Hakeem Olajuwon.
And of course, Jordan did much more than score in the playoffs. He also averaged 6.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.9 blocks across his 179 postseason games.
The list of players he eliminated from the playoffs over the course of his career is a whopping 20 Hall of Famers long.
From 1991 through 1998, the Chicago Bulls winning playoff series felt inevitable (though the Orlando Magic upended them in 1995 when Jordan returned from his baseball venture).
Whether it was Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Gary Payton, John Stockton or Karl Malone, no one could top the GOAT in his six Finals appearances.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James
LeBron James has 54.5. Kyrie Irving is in second place with...8.4.
If you take LeBron's total just from Cleveland, it still ranks second all-time. If you add the Miami Heat years, he has the most in NBA history, but we're focusing on his time with the Cavs here.
In his first stint in Cleveland, he averaged 29.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks. The championship experience he picked up in Miami must've helped because his numbers in the second go-round with the Cavaliers were absurd.
Over his four post-Heat postseasons in Cleveland, LeBron went to four Finals and averaged 30.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks from ages 30-33. In those four Finals series alone, he went for 33.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
And of course, he brought the Cavs their only title in franchise history when he beat the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in 2016.
"That one right there made me the greatest player of all time," James said on ESPN's More Than An Athlete. "That's what I felt. I was super, super ecstatic to win one for Cleveland because of the 52-year drought. ... And then after I stopped [celebrating], I was like, that one right there made you the greatest player of all time."
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki
Our third straight no-brainer is the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki.
The gap between him and second place on Dallas' playoff wins over replacement player leaderboard isn't quite as drastic as the one between LeBron and Kyrie for Cleveland, but it's still massive. Dirk is at 31.9 while Jason Terry is at 8.9.
Each of Nowitzki's first 10 playoff runs ended in defeat. His loss to Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in the 2006 Finals was particularly painful. And because he came up as a big on the heels of the 1990s, his finesse style and those losses led to a "soft" label.
Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding explained that the labelers were simply behind the curve:
"To see the way he habitually adjusts the collar of his jersey like a nervous tic, settles for all those fadeaway jumpers and closes out on shooters as if he were dragging a concert piano, hefty opera singer or even a supermarket behind him...it still seems soft in a sense.
"Except we know there's a lot more to it.
"We better understand the more powerful impact of the three-point shot, no matter that it's so much 'softer' than a dunk. And we better understand Nowitzki's diligent training and competitive fire that happen to be teamed with a self-deprecating humor rather than self-aggrandizing personality."
In 2011, Nowitzki's 11th playoff appearance, he led a jump-shooting team all the way to a title over the vaunted Miami Heat team that featured Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. He shed the "soft" characterization once and for all with averages of 27.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 threes.
But that was just the exclamation point on a ridiculous postseason career. Elgin Baylor, Anthony Davis, Hakeem Olajuwon and Bob Pettit are the only players in league history who match or exceed Dirk's career averages for postseason points (25.3) and rebounds (10.0).
Denver Nuggets: Alex English
There was a real temptation to go with Nikola Jokic here. Despite only having one postseason appearance in his career, he's already second in Denver Nuggets history in playoff wins over replacement player. He could move into first place after four or five games in this year's first round.
Alex English, the player he'll likely pass in a few weeks, holds Jokic off for now.
English is Denver's all-time leader in postseason games, points and assists. Over his 59 playoff games with the Nuggets, he averaged 26.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists. That scoring average trailed only Michael Jordan, Bernard King, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dominique Wilkins during the years he was in Denver.
The 6'7" forward with a feathery touch and a Rasheed Wallace-like high release was one of the game's most prolific scorers during the 1980s. And though he never made it to the Finals, he did lead the 1984-85 Nuggets as far as the organization has ever been. That team is one of three conference finalists in franchise history, facing the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985's penultimate round.
An untimely thumb injury took English out of that series early. He'd averaged 31.0 points in Games 1-3 and had 28 in 26 minutes before leaving Game 4. Denver went on to lose that contest by four points, and the Lakers wrapped things up in Game 5.
Had that injury not struck English and the Nuggets at such a crucial moment, the selection here might've been much easier.
Detroit Pistons: Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas led an era of Detroit Pistons basketball that resulted in multiple series wins over Michael Jordan and back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990.
For his career, all with Detroit, Thomas averaged 20.4 points, 8.9 assists and 2.1 steals in the postseason. He's 16th in NBA history in career playoff wins over replacement player.
And all of those numbers, with the exception of the assist average, were better in the postseason than they were in the regular season. Thomas is one of those rare examples of an NBA star who consistently found a higher level once the playoffs started.
During the championship seasons, his play against MJ's Bulls was especially dynamic.
In Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals, he led his team in a 19-point beatdown with 21 points and 11 assists.
"Thomas, at 6 feet, is the only small man in the league who can make the game his," Michael Wilbon wrote for the Washington Post after that performance. "... Ever since throwing that errant pass to Larry Bird in Boston Garden three years ago, Isiah Thomas has been as clutch a player as there is in the league. Jordan included."
Dynasties before (the Lakers and Celtics) and after (the Bulls) Isiah's seem to garner more attention these days, but those Pistons deserve their due. They didn't sneak championships in. They held off all three of those organizations for two full years when they had plenty of talent.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry
This is another difficult call. How do you not go with Kevin Durant for the Golden State Warriors?
He tops Stephen Curry in playoff box plus/minus, true shooting percentage and points per game for the franchise. He has two Finals MVPs, and his Finals box plus/minus is the highest on record (yes, higher than Jordan's and LeBron's).
But this selection is a bit like English over Jokic for the Nuggets. One's peak is better, but the advantage in total contributions weighs heavily toward Curry. Steph leads Golden State in playoff wins over replacement player, points, threes and free throws. (Does Draymond Green leading the way in wins, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks mean even he has an argument?)
And Curry being the sun around which the Warriors dynasty has orbited doesn't hurt, either.
Over the course of those five seasons from 2014-15 to 2018-19, whenever Curry was on the floor, defenses had to be keenly aware of his whereabouts, whether he was at the rim or 35 feet away. That made life for every other Warrior in the lineup, including KD, exponentially easier.
He may not have a Finals MVP on his shelf (he and Robert Horry are the only players in history with at least 1,000 Finals minutes, a 5.0-plus Finals box plus/minus and no Finals MVPs), but those who witnessed this run know Curry's gravity was perhaps the most powerful force in the league for that half-decade.
Houston Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon
Like Thomas, Hakeem Olajuwon was a player who clearly got better when the lights and intensity of the playoffs kicked in.
In the regular season, he posted stellar averages of 22.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals for the Houston Rockets.
In his 140 playoff games with Houston, he put up 26.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals. The extra scoring and playmaking helped push him into the top 10 in NBA history in playoff box plus/minus and were keys to two championship runs.
In the lead-up to his first title, Donnie Walsh, then the president of the Indiana Pacers said, "It's a joke how good he is. He's the best player in the league, and there's nothing you can do with him."
From the Dream Shakes to the swats and everything in between, Olajuwon controlled games on both ends of the floor during multiple deep playoff runs, and he dominated a couple of high-profile individual matchups.
In the 1995 Western Conference Finals, he put up 35.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.2 blocks per game against David Robinson, who averaged 23.8, 11.3, 2.7 and 2.2 while shooting more than 10 percent worse than Hakeem from the field.
A year earlier, he dispatched Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks in the Finals, topping his opponent in points and assists per game while holding him to 36.3 percent shooting from the field.
Olajuwon had a legendary career, thanks in large part to those postseason travails.
Indiana Pacers: Reggie Miller
The Indiana Pacers' career playoff leaderboard is dominated by Reggie Miller.
His career playoff box plus/minus ranks 29th in league history.
Beyond the numbers, Miller had a knack for rising to big moments, particularly in the playoffs. Nothing showed that better than his legendary "eight points in nine seconds" moment against the Knicks in 1995.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Miller and the Pacers were down six with 18.7 seconds left.
Miller caught an inbounds pass while cutting toward the sideline, wheeled around and drilled a three in one fluid motion. He then stole an errant pass from Anthony Mason on the baseline, dribbled out to the three-point line, spun 180 degrees and launched again. He drilled it. After John Starks missed two free throws and Ewing missed a putback, Miller secured the ball, got fouled and sank the game-winning free throws.
The Pacers went on to win that series in seven games.
Though he never won a title, Miller was a consistent playoff presence throughout (and a little beyond) the MJ era. From 1989-90 to 2004-05 (Miller's entire postseason career), he trailed only Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen in playoff points.
Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul
From 2011-12 to 2016-17 (Paul's entire playoff career with the Clips), he averaged 21.2 points, 8.7 assists and 2.3 steals in the postseason.
And though many want to categorize him as some kind of playoff choker, those L.A. teams were plus-0.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-3.6 with him off.
It's fair to analyze his playoff legacy based on wins and losses, but it should be contextualized with some of his impact numbers.
His demand for perfection and complete control over possessions seemed to grate on teammates at times, and the era will likely be known most for the early flameouts, but it's the Clippers. There isn't a ton of playoff history to cull through here.
Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson
This is another slide that could go multiple ways.
Kobe Bryant won five championships and is the franchise leader in total playoff points. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won five titles and was the defensive foundation of the Showtime Lakers. Even Shaquille O'Neal, who is the team's all-time leader in playoff rebounds, may deserve some consideration for his dominance during the three-peat.
But the answer is Magic Johnson, L.A.'s all-time leader in postseason wins over replacement player, box plus/minus and assists (with more than double second-place Kobe's total despite 30 fewer games).
If Kareem was the foundation, Magic was the architect of Showtime. Or maybe he was the contractor with Pat Riley as the architect. Whatever.
Johnson's ability to see seemingly every inch of the floor, whether operating in transition or the half-court, made him a nearly unparalleled playmaker for most of his career. John Stockton was his only competition there, but Magic's significant size advantage made him a much more prolific scorer.
No one in league history is close to Magic's combination of scoring, playmaking and efficiency in the playoffs. And though Lakers lore is packed with postseason legends, Magic edges them all.
Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol
There isn't a ton of organizational history to look at with the Memphis Grizzlies, who had their inaugural season in Vancouver in 1995-96. The Grit-and-Grind era was undoubtedly the team's most successful, and the clear leaders during those years were Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
Over the course of his 59 playoff games with the Grizzlies, Gasol averaged 17.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.7 blocks.
Most importantly, he was the anchor of a defense that made Memphis a postseason staple for much of the 2010s. He was never the most fleet-of-foot rim protector, but he was seemingly always in the right spot, took up a ton of space and was willing to communicate and direct teammates from the back line.
The impact of those defensive abilities showed up in the numbers. In 2012-13, when he led his team to the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies were plus-5.1 points per 100 playoff possessions with Gasol on the floor and minus-17.9 with him off.
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade
The decision for the Miami Heat is another one based on peak vs. longevity.
LeBron is the organization's all-time leader in playoff box plus/minus. During his four postseasons in Miami, he won two Finals MVPs and averaged 26.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists.
And he secured an NBA title for the Heat long before LeBron ever showed up. With Shaquille O'Neal clearly moving into a less dominant phase of his career, Wade seized control of the 2006 Finals as a third-year player whose basketball wisdom belied his experience level.
"So what happened in the Finals?" ESPN's Bill Simmons asked in 2006. "What always happens when there's 'alpha dog' confusion on a good team—Miami stunk for the first two games because nobody was taking over. Facing a sweep in Game 3, Wade slipped on his Batman cape and singlehandedly turned the Finals around."
In Games 3 through 6, all Miami wins, Wade averaged 39.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks. His 11.4 box plus/minus over that whole series is the 12th-best mark for a single Finals in NBA history.
And oh, by the way, his 12.7 BPM in 2010-11, when LeBron disappeared against the Mavericks, is fifth all-time.
There is certainly an argument for LeBron in this slot, but it just isn't quite as strong as Wade's.
Milwaukee Bucks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the Milwaukee Bucks' all-time leader in playoff win shares (slightly less reliable than wins over replacement player, in my opinion, but those aren't available for most of Kareem's time in Milwaukee), points and rebounds.
He was also the Finals MVP in 1971 when the Bucks won the only title in team history. In that sweep over the Baltimore Bullets, Kareem put up 27.0 points, 18.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.
And those numbers actually look pretty tame in comparison to everything he did in the playoffs as a Buck.
Over the course of five postseasons with Milwaukee, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 29.7 points, 16.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists. He led the league in playoff scoring average three times and eclipsed 30 points per game twice.
He may not have been a member of the team for long, but it was more than enough for him to establish himself as its greatest postseason performer.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett for the Minnesota Timberwolves is another exceedingly easy call.
He totaled 11.1 playoff wins over replacement player for the T'Wolves, while second-place Latrell Sprewell went for 2.7. In other words, KG more than quadrupled No. 2. In fact, every other Timberwolf in franchise history has combined for 13.5.
Garnett was a pioneer. Nowitzki understandably gets much of the credit for the NBA's big-man revolution, but KG may have been equally influential.
He could guard all five positions. He brought the ball up the floor for Minnesota. He created for others. He shot jump shots as comfortably as he worked in the post. He was a "basketball player" more than a "big man," and that's exactly what most look for in centers and power forwards these days.
His absurd versatility led to playoff averages of 22.3 points, 13.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals for Minnesota. And though he didn't win a title until he got to Boston, he did take the Timberwolves farther than anyone else ever has.
In 2003-04, behind KG's 24.3 points, 14.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per contest, Minnesota made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Lakers in six games.
That postseason, the T'Wolves were plus-2.5 points per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor and minus-24.2 with him off. It may have been a perfect encapsulation of his time with the franchise.
New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul
Another team with a somewhat complicated organizational history, the New Orleans Pelicans claim the last seven seasons under the current moniker, as well as nine as the New Orleans Hornets and two with stints in Oklahoma City.
Regardless of the name, CP3 was the obvious choice. He nearly triples second-place Anthony Davis' total for playoff wins over replacement player. And over his 23 playoff games with the organization, he averaged a Magic-like 21.9 points, 11.1 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
In 2008, at 22 years old, he pushed the dynastic San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the second round. And again, it's tough to fault him for the exit.
That postseason, New Orleans was plus-5.9 points per 100 possessions with Paul on the floor and minus-5.8 with him off.
New York Knicks: Walt Frazier
Patrick Ewing had a heck of a run with the New York Knicks of the 1980s and '90s. Over the course of 13 postseasons, he averaged 20.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 2.0 assists. He made it all the way to the NBA Finals in 1994, where he was upended by Olajuwon.
But he falls shy of Walt Frazier's total for playoff win shares despite playing 42 more games. And though Willis Reed took home Finals MVP honors in each of the Knicks' two championship runs, there's an argument Frazier was better during that stretch.
From 1970 to 1973, the Knicks went to three Finals (winning two). Frazier averaged 18.9 points and 8.2 assists while shooting 53.8 percent from the field in those three series, and his championship-sealing performance in 1970's Game 7 is legendary.
With Reed hobbled by an injury, Frazier went for 36 points and 19 assists in a win over a team that included Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant was a dominant playoff performer long before he joined forces with Curry and the Warriors.
He's tops in Oklahoma City Thunder (and Seattle SuperSonics) history in playoff wins over replacement player, points and threes.
Over his 91 playoff games with OKC, he averaged 28.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals. He led the NBA in postseason scoring average four times with the Thunder.
Despite being just five years into his NBA career, it was clear KD would be a force for a while. And Bleacher Report's Howard Beck (then of the New York Times) prophesied at the time about his budding rivalry with LeBron James.
"In a league of trumped-up, often fleeting rivalries, James vs. Durant has the potential to become truly transcendent, like Magic vs. Bird and Russell vs. Chamberlain," Beck wrote. "This is a rare thing in the age of unfettered free agency and overexpansion."
LeBron took Round 1 of the rivalry, and KD wouldn't get him back until he was with a different team, but these playoff runs with OKC were when Durant established himself as a peer of one of the game's all-time greats.
Orlando Magic: Anfernee Hardaway
The Orlando Magic don't have the richest NBA history, but there are still multiple worthy candidates for this selection.
Dwight Howard averaged 19.9 points, 14.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks over 57 games. And he took the Magic to the Finals in 2009.
Shaquille O'Neal also has a Finals appearance with Orlando to his name as well as playoff averages of 25.3 points and 11.4 rebounds.
Tracy McGrady is the franchise leader in playoff box plus/minus and boasts lofty averages of 32.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks.
But T-Mac played about a third as many postseason minutes with the Magic as Anfernee Hardaway, the team's all-time leader in playoff wins over replacement player and the winner of this honor.
Over 45 postseason games with Orlando, Penny averaged 21.8 points, 6.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.8 threes while shooting 39.4 percent from deep.
He and Shaq came up short in the 1995 Finals, but it's tough to blame him. In that series, Hardaway averaged 25.5 points and 8.0 assists. He also went 11-of-24 (45.8 percent) from three.
Injuries robbed him of the chance to one day avenge that sweep, but he was healthy and dynamic for long enough to establish himself as the Magic's greatest playoff superstar.
Philadelphia 76ers: Julius Erving
Julius Erving, who won an NBA title alongside Moses Malone in 1983, is the Philadelphia 76ers' all-time leader in playoff wins over replacement player, points, rebounds and blocks.
Over 141 playoff games with Philly, Dr. J averaged 21.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals. Prior to the arrival of Malone, all those marks were higher, but part of his brilliance was his willingness to defer to the new big man as he aged out of his prime.
"Skeptics who believed the marriage of the two stars—Malone, the workhorse, and Erving, the artist—was destined for failure were soon silenced," Roy S. Johnson wrote for The New York Times. "The 76ers raced to a record of 50-7 by March. 'It was proof enough for me,' Erving said, 'that we were one helluva team. All the questions that I had were answered. I was convinced.'"
If anyone else wasn't convinced, surely the playoffs took care of that. Together, Malone and Erving cruised to a 12-1 record on the way to the championship in 1983.
It was the peak of a decade-plus run for Dr. J and the Sixers.
Phoenix Suns: Charles Barkley
This is another "peak vs. longevity" exercise, and though Charles Barkley played around half as many playoff minutes with the Phoenix Suns as Kevin Johnson, he gets the nod for how much better he was in those minutes.
That's not to say KJ wouldn't have been a worthy selection. He's the Suns' all-time leader in playoff wins over replacement player, with postseason averages of 19.3 points and 8.9 assists.
Steve Nash deserves some consideration, as well. He tops Johnson in box plus/minus and averaged 18.2 points and 9.7 assists with a 60.0 true shooting percentage in 75 playoff games with Phoenix.
Barkley tops both for a few reasons. He's first in franchise history in playoff box plus/minus, points per game and rebounds per game.
And he was the most important player on the 1992-93 team that made it to the NBA Finals before falling to Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
That postseason, Barkley averaged 26.6 points, 13.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks. In the six-game Finals alone, he went for 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists.
Over the course of his four postseasons with the Suns, Barkley's 7.3 box plus/minus trailed only MJ's 10.5.
Portland Trail Blazers: Clyde Drexler
After a few more years, Damian Lillard may well have an argument for this distinction, but it's pretty comfortably Clyde Drexler right now.
He's tied with Bill Walton for the Portland Trail Blazers' best career playoff box plus/minus, and he played over four times as many postseason minutes with the team.
He's first in team history in playoff wins over replacement player, points, rebounds, assists and steals. And he only trails Clifford Robinson by five blocks for the lead there too.
His averages are every bit as impressive: 21.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 0.8 blocks.
Like plenty others who drew consideration for this slideshow, though, Drexler just happened to hit his peak around the same time as Jordan.
He never won a championship, but he made two trips to the Finals. And no Blazer has been back since Drexler's loss to Jordan in 1992.
Sacramento Kings: Oscar Robertson
The Sacramento Kings are another team that has been through a few different iterations. In the 1960s, they were called the Cincinnati Royals and led by one of the most dominant guards in league history.
Oscar Robertson is the organization's all-time leader in playoff win shares, points and assists.
He didn't win a title until he joined Kareem on the Bucks, but he did push one of Russell's title-winning Celtics teams to seven games in 1963.
And his playoff averages over six years in Cincinnati were ridiculous. In 39 postseason games, Robertson put up 29.7 points, 9.4 assists and 9.3 rebounds.
The early 2000s Kings featured a few potential candidates for this selection, including Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, but none of them did quite enough to overcome a line like that.
San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan
The San Antonio Spurs' history is loaded with surefire Hall of Famers. David Robinson (second in team history in playoff box plus/minus) is already there. Kawhi Leonard (first in the same metric) will be. Ditto for Manu Ginobili.
All three fall well shy of Tim Duncan's totals for playoff wins over replacement player, points, rebounds and blocks with the Spurs, though.
Over the course of 18 playoff runs with San Antonio, Duncan was a remarkably steady presence. In total, he averaged 20.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 blocks.
When you break it down by year, the numbers may be even more impressive.
TD had 11 postseasons in which he played at least 100 minutes and averaged at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and one block. Hakeem Olajuwon (12) is the only player with more.
Duncan also won three Finals MVPs and five total championships. His first and final titles were 15 years apart.
Few players in league history were as good for as long as Duncan. And whether his supporting cast featured Robinson and Avery Johnson, or Ginobili and Tony Parker, he was always in the title hunt.
Toronto Raptors: Kawhi Leonard
Once again, peak play wins out over longevity, but this decision feels a bit more difficult than Charles Barkley for the Suns.
Kyle Lowry is first in Toronto Raptors history in playoff points, assists, steals and threes. He's averaged 17.0 points and 6.3 assists in the postseason with the Raptors.
He's also first in team history in playoff wins over replacement player, but his lead there is pretty narrow, and that is what's so impressive about Kawhi Leonard's lone postseason with Toronto.
In 73 games, Lowry has totaled 8.4 playoff wins over replacement player with the Raptors. In 24 games, Kawhi piled up 7.8. And his box plus/minus (the rate version of this number), is far and away the best in franchise history.
In 2018-19, Leonard led Toronto to its only title with playoff averages of 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.3 threes and 1.7 steals. It was one of the most dominant individual postseasons in NBA history.
ESPN's Tim Bontemps described it well:
"Leonard's entire postseason has been one for the ages. His buzzer-beater that hit nearly every part of the rim to win Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals was an iconic shot -- one that created even more iconic images before, during and after it happened. Leonard switching onto Giannis Antetokounmpo starting in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals helped swing that series in Toronto's favor, and propel the Raptors into the NBA Finals. His iconic performance in Game 4 moved the Raptors to the brink of their first title, and his 22 points in Game 6 helped deliver Toronto the title it so desperately longed for. He finished the postseason having scored 732 points, behind only Jordan (759 in 1992) and James (748 in 2018) on the all-time list."
The Raptors would not have been in the position they needed to be in to acquire Leonard in 2018 without Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, but the team needed a legend like Leonard to get over the top. And he only needed a year to get it there.
Utah Jazz: John Stockton
This is an impossible decision. John Stockton and Karl Malone will forever be linked in NBA history. The otherworldly production of each is inseparable from the other.
How many points would Malone have had without Stockton feeding him? How many assists would Stockton have had without Malone finishing?
There is simply no way to know. And by a similar token, there's really no wrong answer to who you might pick for this spot.
For our purposes, Stockton gets the nod for his fairly comfortable leads in playoff wins over replacement player, box plus/minus and true shooting percentage.
Together, Stockton and Malone made it to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. In almost any other era, that duo would've won at least one championship. But peaking in the '90s meant a showdown with Jordan, and the Jazz met the same fate as all of his Finals opponents.
That shouldn't take away from the impressive postseason accomplishments of Stockton, though.
Over 182 playoff games, he averaged 13.4 points, 10.1 assists and 1.9 steals. From 1988 to 1996, those numbers were 15.4, 12.3 and 2.1.
Washington Wizards: Elvin Hayes
There's an argument for Wes Unseld for this Washington Wizards spot, but it ultimately goes to Elvin Hayes.
Unseld averaged 14.9 rebounds, 10.6 points and 3.8 assists over 119 playoff games with the organization. He's also its leader in career playoff win shares and was the Finals MVP in 1978.
However (here comes that peak vs. longevity argument again), he averaged fewer win shares per 48 minutes in Bullets postseasons than Elvin Hayes, whose averages look a bit gaudier: 23.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals.
At the time, Unseld was seen more as the team-first player of the two, and a big Game 7 in the 1978 Finals put him over the top for that MVP. But that feels a bit like Andre Iguodala securing the award over Curry in 2015. And Hayes wasn't afraid to say so.
"Wes didn't even play in three of the games against Philadelphia [in the conference finals]," Hayes said. "Take away my points and where would we have been?"
In that NBA Finals, Hayes averaged 20.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.6 steals compared to Unseld's 9.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 0.1 blocks.
This was one of the great frontcourt combinations in league history. You can't really go wrong either way, but Hayes' production wins out.