With the NBA season on hiatus, what better time to rank the greatest to play the game. TGH NBA staff writers voted for their top 50 players in league history on a points system, and then the players were ranked by points in a final aggregate list. Today’s article covers players 40 through 31. Make sure to read the article on players 50 through 41 if you missed it.
40. Kevin McHale
One of the greatest supporting players in NBA history, Kevin McHale played the role of wingman to Larry Bird in Boston throughout the 1980s. McHale was known for his incredible resilience (he played the entire 1987 playoffs on a broken foot), his dazzling array of post moves matched only by Hakeem Olajuwon, and for his stellar defense. Although never the leader of his own team, McHale proves that you don’t need to be the top guy to be considered an all-time great.
39. Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy was a basketball revolutionary. During his time in the NBA as the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, he completely changed how the point guard position was played. Cousy had an incredible arsenal of passes and dribble moves which had never been seen before in the NBA of the 1950s including dribbling between his legs and behind the back passes. During his illustrious career, Cousy picked up a number of awards including eight assists titles, six NBA championships, and one MVP award. Without Bob Cousy, modern basketball might look completely different.
38. John Havlicek
The third straight Celtics player on this list, John Havlicek is one of the few players in NBA history to transition seamlessly from supporting player to team leader. Hondo was a key cog in the Celtics dynasty during the 1960s which won 11 championships in 13 seasons, after the retirement of Bill Russell in 1969 he still led Boston to two more titles in 1974 and 1976 as their star player. Havlicek peaked with a LeBron James-esque 1971 season in which he averaged 29 points, nine rebounds and eight assists a night while also making the all-defensive second team. He also made one of the greatest plays in NBA history, stealing the inbound pass to win the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals.
37. Bob Pettit
Bob Pettit was one of the few players who was able to dominate both during the slow down era of George Mikan and in the high scoring 1960s. He is one of only five players to average over 20 rebounds a game for an entire season, a feat even more impressive when you consider that Petit stands at ‘just’ six foot nine. He is also one of the few players to have been named an all-star every season of his career. Pettit is often overlooked because of the era that he played in but the numbers don’t lie with 11 all-star appearances, 10-time first team all NBA, two MVPs and an NBA championship. Those are numbers that are great for any era.
36. Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins is a player who perfectly encapsulates his nickname, The Human Highlight Film. Wilkins is one of the highest fliers in the history of the league, with a hangtime only comparable to that of his Airness himself, Michael Jordan. His dunks were explosive, and his scoring ability was even more so. Wilkins led the league in scoring in 1985-86 during one of the deepest runs of talent in NBA history. Over his career, he would go one to score nearly 27,000 points while giving us a slew of memorable moments like his 1987 dunk contest performance vs Jordan or his 1988 duel vs Larry Bird in the playoffs. While he never managed to win an NBA title, Wilkins’ unparalleled ability to put the ball in the basket earns him this spot on the list.
35. Patrick Ewing
One of the most coveted prospects in the history of college basketball, Patrick Ewing certainly delivered on his potential in the NBA. For a dominating nine-year stretch from 1989 to 1998 Patrick Ewing averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds a night while leading the New York Knicks on deep playoff runs nearly every season. Sadly, he was never able to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy back to New York, although he came within a John Starks game 7 meltdown in 1994. Even still, Patrick Ewing is remembered as a hero in New York and was one of the best players of the 1990s.
34. Clyde Drexler
Clyde ‘The Glide’ Drexler, has one of the greatest nicknames and greatest playing careers in NBA history. As a member of both the Portland Trail Blazers and Houston Rockets, Drexler was a do it all type of player. He and Michael Jordan are the only two players in NBA history to average over 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals per game for their career. What holds back Drexler’s legacy is the fact that he was never able to win an NBA title as his team’s best player, although he did win one as a member of the 1995 Rockets. While he did lead Portland to both the 1990 and 1992 NBA finals, he was not able to win either one. Even still, Drexler ranks as one of the NBA’s greatest ever players.
33. Elvin Hayes
A name that is not often mentioned in NBA circles today, Elvin Hayes was one of the best players of the 1970s, playing for both the Houston Rockets and the Washington Bullets. A dominating force on the glass, Hayes ranks fourth all-time in NBA history for rebounds. Throughout the early years of his career, Hayes was often criticized for a perceived lack of effort and poor shot selection but would prove the doubters wrong in Washington. During the 1977-78 season, he led the Washington Bullets to their only championship in franchise history, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds per game in the finals.
32. Elgin Baylor
One of the first true high flying scorers in NBA history, Elgin Baylor played well beyond his height. While standing just 6-foot-5, Baylor still ranks in the top 30 in NBA history for both total rebounds and rebounds per game. He also was a prolific scorer, ranking third all-time in points per game with 27.4. By all accounts, Elgin Baylor should be ranked much higher due to his statistical feats but he is held back by his lack of an NBA championship. Despite making the NBA finals eight times throughout his career, Baylor was never able to win one. Ironically the year he retired the Lakers would go on to win the NBA championship without him.
31. Steve Nash
An offensive innovator, Steve Nash revolutionized the NBA with his seven seconds or less offense in Pheonix. A winner of back to back NBA MVPs, Nash is most remembered for his incredible passing ability and superhuman court vision. During his time in Pheonix, they routinely ranked as the best offense in the NBA and made a deep playoff run most seasons. Although the Suns played incredibly under Nash, he was never able to make the NBA finals, let alone win one. He holds the NBA record for most playoff games played without a finals appearance. Even still, Nash ranks as one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game.
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