Biggest Snubs from NBA's Official 75 Greatest Players of All Time
The NBA revealed the final 26 names for its NBA 75th Anniversary Team on Thursday, rounding out the top 76 chosen by a panel of voters that included current and former players, coaches, executives and media members.
The list itself didn't feature a ton of surprises. Every player named to the top 50 ahead of the league's 50th anniversary reprised a spot. The remaining 26 was made up of a few retired players who didn't crack that late-90s squad and a number of notable active players.
All 76 names can be found here.
All of the players who were voted in will receive plenty of well-deserved praise, so they're not the focus of this piece. Instead, we'll zero in on what is surely the biggest conversation in the wake of this reveal.
Who are the biggest snubs?
With the amount of talent that has made it to basketball's highest level, this list could probably stretch to 76 names too. There are statistical, cultural and other arguments for dozens whose names weren't called.
The following 12 (presented in alphabetical order by last name) have some of the strongest such arguments.
One of the best big men of his era, Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy is top 50 in NBA history in career points, rebounds, field goals, free throws, minutes and win shares.
He never won a title and only made four All-Star teams, but his production over the first five years of his career was absurd.
As a member of the Chicago Packers, Chicago Zephyrs, Baltimore Bullets and New York Knicks in that time, Bellamy averaged 26.8 points, 16.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. His true shooting percentage over that stretch was 7.3 points better than the league average.
"He was probably more difficult to guard (than the traditional post-up centers)," former teammate Jim Washington told NBA.com's Kevin Chouinard. "Walt and Nate Thurmond were much like the centers of today, where they could shoot the outside shot and take the ball to the basket. It was much more difficult to guard a guy like that."
Bellamy's highlight dunks gave him attention at the time he played, but it was that well-rounded game that led to top-75-worthy production.
Younger NBA fans might think Vince Carter's strongest argument for top-75 consideration is his longevity. And with 22 NBA campaigns to his name, they might be right. His peak is every bit as impressive, though.
From 1999-00 to 2008-09, Carter averaged 23.9 points (and never fell below 20 for a season), 5.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.6 threes. Of the eight players who had more wins over replacement player than Carter over that stretch, only Tracy McGrady failed to make the 75th Anniversary Team (more on him later).
On top of the numbers, Carter left a cultural imprint on basketball that few across history can match. His performance in the 2000 Dunk Contest is regarded by many as the best ever. His in-game finishing wasn't far behind what he did on that either.
A messy exit from the Toronto Raptors cast a bit of a shadow over portions of Carter's career, but his shift from superstar to veteran role player more than made up for that.
In fact, he could be considered the model for such a transformation. Over the last 10 seasons of his career, Carter's raw numbers understandably tailed off, but his teams were still better with his veteran presence on the floor. During that closing decade, Carter's squads were plus-1.2 points per 100 possessions when he played and minus-2.7 when he didn't.
Today, Carter is 19th in career points, sixth in threes and third in games. He's 69th in career box plus/minus (BPM is a "basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court," according to Basketball Reference), and that includes over a decade of post-peak years to pull that mark down.
Adrian Dantley is one of the most prolific and efficient scorers of all time. He won two scoring titles, averaged over 30 in each of four straight seasons from 1980-81 to 1983-84 and his 24.3 points per game for his career ranks 18th in NBA history.
Over a 10-year peak that lasted from 1979-80 to 1988-89, Dantley averaged 25.7 points per 75 possessions with a blistering 62.5 true shooting percentage. The league average true shooting percentage over those 10 seasons was 53.8.
For context's sake, that plus-8.7 relative true shooting percentage (the player's mark minus the average) tops Stephen Curry's career mark of 7.9.
What makes those numbers even more impressive is the fact that Dantley stands 6'5" and did the overwhelming majority of his damage inside the three-point line. Despite often giving up several inches to his defenders, he always found his way to the rim.
"He always seems to know where that crack in the wall is," former Celtics coach K.C. Jones said, per Thomas Bonk of the Los Angeles Times. "If I put Kevin McHale or Bill Walton on him, he just yawns and says 'Oh, well, another little guy on me.'"
Dantley may not have had the same kind of wide-ranging statistical contributions as some of those who made the top 75, but the majority of them can't match Dantley's resume as a scorer. And ultimately, putting the ball in the basket is what the game is all about.
Pau Gasol's game was never as flashy as those of some of the legends who were named to the top 75. He only cleared 20 points per game in two of his 18 NBA campaigns, but having two decades of steady contributions adds up.
He's top 50 all-time in career points, rebounds, blocks and wins over replacement player. He's also 46th in career BPM and helped introduce point centers to the NBA.
His assist numbers look pretty tame in comparison to today's big playmakers like Nikola Jokic and Bam Adebayo, but Gasol's career assist percentage ranks third among players 7'0" and taller.
His well-rounded, two-way game led to plenty of wins too. Gasol was a critical component of Kobe Bryant's last two title runs. Bryant himself acknowledged that.
"The reality is, I wouldn’t win those two championships without Pau," Kobe said at the Oscars in 2018. "L.A. wouldn’t have those two championships without Pau Gasol. We know that. Everybody knows that."
Arguably the greatest sixth man in NBA history, Manu Ginobili ranks 23rd in NBA history in career BPM. Whether he was facing starters or reserves, his slashing, passing, three-point shooting and opportunistic defense made him one of the most impactful players of his era.
During the 14 seasons he played with Tim Duncan, the dynastic San Antonio Spurs were plus-12.2 points per 100 possessions when both were on the floor (compared to plus-7.5 when Duncan played without Manu).
Ginobili was sort of the Will to Duncan and Gregg Popovich's Carlton and Philip Banks. The latter two were all about fundamentals and structure. Ginobili introduced some necessary chaos into the mix.
"From the beginning of his tenure with the Spurs, Ginobili was different," Vinson Cunningham wrote for the New Yorker. "He never seemed to step onto the court with a fully fleshed-out plan, or to have decided on a move—whether to shoot, to dribble, or to zing some oddball pass, fishy with English—until he was already partway through the motion that made it possible."
The unpredictability of Ginobili was exactly the change of pace San Antonio needed in most games and helped secure four NBA titles.
If injuries hadn't wiped out most of six prime years for Grant Hill, it's hard to imagine him missing out on the honor of being named to this 75th Anniversary Team. Even with the unfortunate absences, he has a heck of a case.
Hill is 68th in career BPM, and there are only five players in NBA history who match or exceed all of his career marks in assist percentage, rebounding percentage, steal percentage and true shooting percentage: Larry Bird, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Nikola Jokic and Ben Simmons.
As impressive as that company is, it still doesn't quite capture just how good Hill's statistical peak was. Those numbers (with the exception of true shooting percentage) were all pulled down by his injury-plagued and post-prime years.
Before those difficulties arrived, Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists. In a much slower-paced era, Hill was sort of the precursor to LeBron; a point forward who could finish above the rim, score from the mid-range, find open teammates and defend multiple positions.
He also drew comparisons to Michael Jordan. In fact, he was one of the few tabbed as the "next" MJ. And though it would've been almost impossible to live up to that billing, a healthy prime would've put him much closer.
Like Carter, the latter portion of Dwight Howard's career may be doing a bit to hide a superstar prime.
Howard is on track for a third straight season with single-digit averages in points and rebounds, but he had a five-year peak in which he was one of the most physically dominant players the game has ever seen.
From 2007-08 to 2011-12, Howard averaged 20.6 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. In the same stretch, he won three Defensive Player of the Year Awards (only Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo have more) and had a plus-8.6 net-rating swing (the Orlando Magic were plus-8.4 points per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor and minus-0.2 with him off).
Longevity (or lack thereof) is the only possible explanation for Nikola Jokic's omission from the 75th Anniversary Team, but even that gets pretty flimsy when you consider that Shaquille O'Neal had only played four seasons when he was named to the top 50 in 1996.
Take that away, and it's pretty difficult to justify the reigning MVP's absence.
Larry Bird is the only player in league history who matches or exceeds all of Jokic's career regular-season marks of 18.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.1 steals. No one matches or exceeds Jokic's playoff marks in all of the above (25.9, 11.3, 6.4 and 1.0).
And perhaps most importantly, Jokic is already top 40 in a telling cumulative stat (think total points, as opposed to points per game), as he has 1.199 career MVP shares, according to Basketball Reference.
Some of the players named to the 75th Anniversary Team who trail Jokic on that list include Kawhi Leonard, Willis Reed, Jason Kidd, George Gervin, Bob Cousy and more. In fact, over half of the top 75 are behind Jokic in MVP shares.
Prior to the rise of the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s, Bob Lanier was a bruising big man who dominated in the Motor City.
From 1971-72 to 1978-79, Lanier averaged 23.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals. He was named an All-Star in seven of those eight campaigns.
Even with over 30 years of NBA history in the books since his retirement, Lanier is still top 75 in career points and rebounds. He's 78th in blocks and 32nd in BPM.
And, like Bellamy, he was able to dominate with more than just his size. Lanier had soft touch on his jumper and hook shot, and even provided some playmaking from the frontcourt.
Like Hill, Tracy McGrady's career and top-75 resume were thoroughly affected by injuries. His peak, though, particularly on offense, can go toe-to-toe with just about any other.
Over eight seasons from 2000-01 to 2007-08, McGrady averaged 26.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.7 threes and 1.4 steals. In the same stretch, his teams were plus-3.4 points per 100 possessions with T-Mac on the floor and minus-3.9 with him off.
For his entire career, the Hall of Famer made seven All-Star teams and seven All-NBA teams. He won two scoring titles, including one in 2002-03 when he had one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time.
McGrady's 9.8 offensive BPM that season, when he averaged 32.1 points, 5.5 assists and 2.3 threes, is the second-highest single-season mark on record. Only Stephen Curry's 10.4 in 2015-16 was higher.
After the aforementioned eight-year run, a string of injuries drove McGrady out of the league after his age-32 season. Had he played longer, his case obviously would've been stronger.
As the NBA on TNT crew sent the production to a commercial break right after the final name (Russell Westbrook) was revealed, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith yelled, "Shout out to Chris Mullin!"
Both legends felt Mullin should have made the list, and it's not hard to see why. There were basically two notable phases of Mullin's career.
Over six seasons from 1987-88 to 1992-93, Mullin averaged 25.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists. He was a ball-dominant point forward who did most of his damage inside the arc.
From that point to the end of his career, Mullin earned his reputation as one of NBA history's best shooters. For his remaining eight seasons, Mullin averaged 12.3 points and 1.2 threes while shooting 41.7 percent from three. Steve Kerr, Hubert Davis and Dell Curry were the only players who matched or exceeded both of his marks for total threes and three-point percentage over that stretch.
In the game of basketball, defense will never be as glamorous as offense. Points per game grabs much more attention than numbers like rebounds, blocks, steals and defensive-rating swing. What's more, much of what happens on defense isn't specifically measured anywhere.
For example, the deterrence that a rim protector like Dikembe Mutombo generates by merely being on the floor doesn't show up in the box score (at least not explicitly). And throughout his career, Mutombo was one of the most impactful presences in the game, despite averaging just 9.8 points.
As previously mentioned, Mutombo is tied with Ben Wallace for the most Defensive Player of the Year nods in NBA history with four. He's 20th in career rebounds, second in career blocks and 44th in career games.
Over the first 11 seasons of his career, Mutombo averaged 12.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. He made eight All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams.