The 25 Best Offensive Players in NBA History

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2011

The 25 Best Offensive Players in NBA History

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    Right from the start, let me clarify. I mean offensive players, as in producing offense, not offensive as in offending. I want to specify that from the outset to avoid any possible confusion. 

    So what is an "offensive player?" Well, I imagine that one could determine it any number of ways. I chose a pretty simple way—players that produce points. 

    I looked at NBA history and found the players who, either through scoring or passing, produced the most points per game, i.e. (2*AST+PTS). It's a pretty simple formula. 

    Yes, there are more components of the game. I'm not trying to evaluate the best overall players, though. I was just curious to see what kind of results this would bring. Some of the results are expected, some not so. In fact, a few are downright surprising. 

    The number attached to each player's slide is how many points he produced per game. 

25. Norm Nixon, 32.3

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    Points: 15.7

    Assists: 8.3

    There was a time when Norm Nixon was the greatest point guard in NBA history. Now, he's the forgotten man.

    Nixon's years with the Lakers were highlighted by two championships, in 1980 and 1982. 

    It may come as a surprise to some people that his 8.3 assists per game is the 10th best in the history of the NBA. 

24. Dave Bing, 32.3

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    Points: 20.3

    Assists: 6.0

    Dave Bing, the current mayor of Detroit, was a seven time All-Star with the Detroit Pistons. He was the 1976 All-Star Game MVP. 

    Bing has been one of the best off-court stories in the game too. His company, Bing Steel, is one he started and turned into a multi-million dollar business. He did this before athletes were getting multi-million dollar contracts. His first was only $15,000.

    He received the Minority Businessman of the Year Award from Ronald Reagan for Bing Steel.  

23. Bob Petit, 32.4

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    Points: 26.4

    Assists: 3.0

    Bob Petit was, and will always be, the first MVP award winner, winning the first in 1956. He won a second in 1959. Petit was the only player other than Michael Jordan to score at least 20 points per game in every year of his career.

    As an aside, people who are 6'9" should not be named "Pettit(e)"

22. Rick Barry, 33.4

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    Points: 23.2

    Assists: 5.1

    Rick Barry was both an ABA Champion and an NBA Champion. He was the Finals MVP for the Golden State Warriors when the team ousted the Washington Bullets in four games in the 1975 Finals. 

    Barry was also famous for "Granny-Shots" from the free throw line. In a classic case of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", no one ever tried to change it. Barry shot .893 from the stripe for his career.

21. Bob Cousy, 33.4

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    Points: 18.4


    Bob Cousy, the "Cooz", was the first modern point guard who combined amazing ball handling, passing and scoring all in one package. Cousy obliterated the assist records his first few years in the league. He broke the single season record his third season. 

    When he was a rookie, the season record for assists was just 386. Andy Phillips broke the record that year, and then his own record Cousy's third year. Then, Cousy broke it with 547 in 1953. Cousy broke his own record three more times and had 715 in 1960.

    Then, Oscar Robertson came along and broke Cousy's record, but Cousy was the first player to really be a facilitator, and that was a big reason that the Celtics won six championships. 

20. Tiny Archibald, 33.6

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    Points: 17.7

    Assists: 8.2

    Tiny Archibald was one of the great duel threats in the history of the game. He, along with Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and most recently, Derrick Rose, are the only players to ever score 2,000 points and pass for 600 assists in a game. 

    In fact, his blazing speed, passing ability and scoring ability might make him the most apt comparison to the reigning MVP. 

19. Tim Hardaway, 34.1

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    Points: 17.7

    Assists: 8.2

    Tim Hardaway is one of the original "crossover" artists. His "UTEP Two-Step" became the crossover emulated by players like Allen Iverson, Dywane Wade and other since then. 

    Hardaway is one of only 10 players in NBA history with 15,000 points and 7,000 assists. 

18. John Stockton, 34.1

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    Points: 13.1

    Assists: 10.5

    John Stockton has produced more points than any player in NBA history.  Between his 19,711 points and 15,806 assists, he has produced 51,323 points. No other player is over 50,000 total points.

    A large part of that, though, is that he had a 19-year career. His points per game drops him down a bit, but he's still a remarkable player who often gets less appreciation than he has earned. 

17. Stephon Marbury, 34.5

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    Points: 19.3

    Assists: 7.6

    Stephon Marburry, for whatever his other issues were, was in fact a talent. His placement here is a testament to his offensive ability. Marbury had all kinds of individual talent, but he was never able to translate that into team success. 

    He seemed to have a dispute with every coach involving his role, and as a result, in spite of his talent, he was bounced from team to team. The skill wasn't worth the distraction. 

    In his 12-year career, he only made the postseason five times, and the only time he made it past the first round, he was a minor player for the Celtics. 

    Marbury is presently playing in China. I'm not sure if he's arguing with his coaches there.

16. Kobe Bryant, 34.7

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    Points: 25.3

    Assists: 4.7

    Kobe Bryant is lower than you might expect. It's easy to come to the erroneous conclusion that he is lower because came in at 18 and didn't start, lowering his per game averages. The fact is that if you look at it in terms of per 36 minutes, Kobe's only 25th. 

    The reality is that Kobe's assist totals are lower than most of the players on the list. In fact, only four players on this list have fewer assist averages than Kobe Bryant. While he has been one of the great scorers in the history of the game, his passing skills were never on the level of the other great shooting guards. 

15. Pete Maravich, 35.0

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    Points: 24.2

    Assists: 5.4

    "Pistol" Pete Maravich was one of the  great showmen in the history of the game. In his Hall of Fame induction, he was described as "perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history." Maravich was just pure entertainment. 

    His ball handling, shot making and passing were all things that just made him a unique player in history. 

14. Deron Williams, 35.6

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    Points: 17.2

    Assists: 9.2

    Deron Williams' star fell this year. After the team slumped, head coach Jerry Sloane abruptly resigned. Then, not too long later, Williams was just as abruptly traded to the Nets. Suddenly, Williams was the top candidate in the "best point guard in the NBA" conversation.

    He certainly still belongs there. Derrick Rose is a better scorer. Chirs Paul is a better passer. Deron Williams, though. is probably the best combination of the two.

    Incidentally, just in case you're wondering, Rose doesn't have the minutes to qualify. If he did. he would be at 18th right now, with a career average of 34.3 points produced per game, though that total will likely go up as he nears the 15,000 minute qualifier. Last year, he averaged 40.4. 

13. Elgin Baylor, 36.0

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    Points: 27.4

    Assists: 4.3

    Elgin Baylor is a player that would be considered much greater if he played today. In 1962, though, he didn't play a full season, but he averaged 38.3 points and averaged 18.6 rebounds. Of course, that was before they widened the lanes to 18 feet. 

12. Kevin Johnson, 36.1

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    Points: 17.9

    Assists: 9.1

    Kevin Johnson is one of the names that is surprisingly high. Perhaps it shouldn't be so surprising. Johnson was one of only 18 players to have 12,000 points, 6,000 assists and 1,000 steals. He was first team All-NBA four times. He's eighth all-time in assists per game. 

    He's was a pretty darned good player! 

    Incidentally, Johnson is the second mayor on the list. He is the current mayor of Sacramento. 

11. Larry Bird, 36.9

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    Points: 24.3

    Assists: 6.3

    Larry Bird was such a complete player that few in NBA history can really stand with him in terms of versatility, so it's no surprise at all that he is this high on the list. Bird had five seasons with 20 points, 10 boards and five assists, most in NBA history. 

    Only five other players even did that it more than once, and only 10 players have done it period. 

10. Isiah Thomas, 37.8

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    Points: 19.2

    Assists: 9.3

    Isaiah Thomas was one of the greatest scoring point guards of all-time, if not the best of all-time (depending on whether you consider Magic Johnson a scoring point guard). He was the last point guard to lead his team in scoring and win a championship in the same season. 

9. Dwyane Wade, 38.0

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    Points: 25.4

    Assists: 6.3

    If you were to ask people who the 10 greatest offensive players in the history of the game were, I don't know how many would say Wade. I mean that literally. I don't have any idea how many would include Wade. It could be everyone, or it could be that he would be left off a lot of lists. 

    The thing is, he should be on every list. He's very much in the conversation with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant for greatest player of the decade and every objective number confirms that. For whatever reason, though, the subjective things, like MVPs, are lacking in his resume. 

    Wade gets less credit than he deserves.

8, Chris Paul, 38.5

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    Points: 18.7 

    Assists: 9.9

    How good is Chris Paul? Carl Landry and Trevor Ariza both averaged more than 15 points per game during the postseason. That's better than Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum did. How's that for good?

    Paul doesn't just pass for assists; he creates shots for his opponents with his ball handling and then hits his teammates to give them easy buckets. What makes Paul so magnificent is that he can make any team better. 

7. Wilt Chamberlain, 38.9

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    Points: 30.1

    Assists: 4.4

    Some would be surprised to see the only player who averaged 50 points a game, and the only player who ever lead the NBA in rebounds, scoring and assists in his career only seventh in the rankings. 

    The thing is, Chamberlain's numbers really tailed off at the end of his career. Some falsely tie this in with the widening of the lanes. The truth is, his scoring in 1963, the last year the lanes were 12 feet, was 44.8. His scoring in 64 was 36.0. So yes, there was a drop off, but nowhere nearly as dramatic as some have made out.

    The truth is that it was the trade to the 76ers that started his decline in numbers, not the lanes widening. 

    Still, no matter what you make of him, he was one of the great scorers in history, and the fact that he led the league in assists as a center is mind-boggling. 

6, Allen Iverson, 39.1

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    Points: 26.7

    Assists: 6.2

    Some have thought to revisit the Allen Iverson MVP year of late and decreed it a mockery of the system. These are nothing more than revisionist historians. 

    At the time, it wasn't even close. Iverson got 93 first place votes. The rest of the league got 27. Instead of talking about Tim Duncan, or whomever, got "robbed" people need to realize that Iverson was amazing that year. 

    He took more physical abuse than Michael Vick that year. It was incredible what he went through. You could hardly watch more than a minute of a 76ers game without watching Iverson have to pull himself up off the court. 

    He was the team's offense. He led the team to the finals. The second best player on the team was Aaron McKie! How can you bring that team to the finals? No, Iverson was one of the great offensive talents in the game, and deserved that MVP. 

5, Jerry West, 40.4

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    Points: 27.0

    Assists: 6.7

    Jerry West was about as good of a scorer as you will ever see. He could drive the lane, and he could sink a shot from just about anywhere on the court. If he had a three point line, he could easily have 2,000 more points. 

    West is a player that in the last five years I've noticed people are dropping down. I don't get it. People talk about his "speed." Well, speed, especially when you're looking at that old film, is a deceptive thing.

    The other thing is that people didn't just magically start growing genetically superior overnight. There are a host of reasons that the game is faster today. One has to believe that everything would be relative. If West grew up today, he would be faster too. 

    I believe that if he were playing today, he would very much be as elite a player now as he was then. 

4, Michael Jordan, 40.7

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    Points: 30.1

    Assists: 5.3

    Here is a comment for you to cut and paste. It will save you time.

    "Michael Jordan is only fourth! What are you stupid? How can you have Jordan fourth? He should be first you (insert your favorite expletive here.)."

    Here is the response I will cut and paste in return. 

    These are objective rankings. He scored 30.1 points per game and averaged 5.3 assists. That comes out to 40.7 points produced per game. The reason I have him here his that 40.7 is smaller than 41.7, but bigger than 40.4. 

    Simple enough? It should be noted that Jordan would be second had he not done his Wizard stint. 

3, LeBron James, 41.7

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    Points: 27.7

    Assists: 7.0

    Yes, LeBron is third. He's higher than Kobe or MJ. Again, these rankings are objective. Now I suppose that some are going to argue that "sometimes stats lie." To which I would reply, sometimes they tell the truth. 

    Look, LeBron has averaged 27.7 points and 7.0 assists per game for his career. Those are some pretty hefty numbers. Maybe LeBron hasn't stepped it up in the finals, but in the 90-plus games it takes to get there, he's done pretty well. 

    Stop judging the man entirely on two series and a charity event. Sometimes it's not he stats that are lying. 

2, Magic Johnson, 41.9

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    Points: 19.5

    Assists: 11.2

    If you doubt that Magic Johnson belongs here, look at the highlight reel above. It is amazing. If Magic never had the whole HIV thing come up, he could very well be the all-time leader in assists and have 20,000 points. 

    He tried a brief comeback that didn't work well in 1996. If it weren't for that, he would have a score of 42.5 here. 

    Johnson was probably the one player in the history of the NBA that could have had a career at any position. 

1. Oscar Robertson, 44.7

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    Points: 25.7

    Assists: 9.5

    Oscar Robertson is no surprise at the top spot. The man averaged 30 points and 10 assists a game for a five year period. That's a lot of points produced. 

    He, like Jerry West, would be interesting to see if he were playing today and had today's upbringing. Would he be a LeBron James? A Michael Jordan? A Kobe Bryant? Or would he just be Michael Finley?

    It's hard to take a great player from the past and then transpose them into a different era. We can only judge them for the time they played in, and offensively, no player dominated the game with both passing and scoring the way Robertson did. Because of that, his placement at the top of this list is highly appropriate. 


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