There have been so many great players in NBA history, which is why a handful of them retired without or currently still don’t have any championship rings. To make it clear from the start, this list is based solely on the talent and accomplishments of the players. I’m not considering things like Finals appearances or the strength of the teams these players were on, although I might mention those factors for context.
I decided to exclude James Harden and Russell Westbrook because both of them are still in their primes. I tried to avoid considering players still at their peaks for the list, but you will notice one active player who is still playing at a high level.
*Originally published Dec. 3, 2018
McGrady is one of several tragic stories in the NBA’s history of a player getting injured while in his prime and never being the same again. If he had stayed healthy McGrady would have had a shot to win more scoring titles, throw down more monster dunks, and maybe even win an NBA championship.
He made only five All-Star games, but Miller was the original great three-point shooter. He made 2,560 three-pointers in his career, which are still the second-most all-time. He poured in 25,279 points over his 18-year career but never won a championship.
Ten All-Star games, one scoring championship, six All-NBA teams, and Anthony does not even have a single Finals appearance. He’s currently a free agent after a painful stint with the Houston Rockets and it looks like Melo’s chance to win a championship has passed. Through his previous 15 completed NBA seasons and the recent stint in Houston, Melo has accumulated 25,551 career points.
Vinsanity will go down as one of the most entertaining dunkers ever, and he’s still doing it in his age 42 season! Carter’s longevity is truly astounding, and it’s only strengthened his legacy. He passed the 25,000 career points mark this year, putting him in elite company. But right now it looks like his career will end without a championship.
Pistol Pete was a wizard with the ball. In just 658 career games he scored 15,948 points, averaging over 24 points, five assists, and four rebounds per game. The former one-time scoring champion never won a title though.
Number 10- George Gervin
Gervin started his career off in the ABA, but his best seasons came once he was in the NBA. Gervin became a four-time scoring champion, averaging 27.2, 29.6, 33.1, and 32.3 points per game in those seasons. The Spurs legend played 14 seasons, including his ABA years, and scored 26,595 points. That’s an average of roughly 1,900 points per year, which is incredible, especially considering he played in just 30 games his rookie season in the ABA.
Number 9- Steve Nash
Surprised to see Nash on this list? While people tend to have mixed feelings about the former Phoenix phenom, he did win two MVPs during his 18-year career. It took a little while for Nash to catch on in the NBA, but he officially arrived by his fifth season. The eight-time All-Star and five-time assist champion is third all-time in assists and has a massive highlight reel of crazy passes. Nash made several trips to the Western Conference Finals but came up short every time.
Number 8- Dominique Wilkins
Wilkins was one of the best dunkers in NBA history. He was a freak athlete who faced off against Michael Jordan in one of the greatest dunk contests in the league’s history. He lost to Jordan, just like his Hawks teams so often did. The nine-time All-Star took just 15 seasons to score 26,668 points but never had a good enough group around him to win a championship
Number 7- Allen Iverson
Every NBA fan has seen the clip of Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue back in the 2000-01 Finals. Iverson won the MVP that season even though he and the 76ers lost in the Finals to the Lakers. Iverson, despite being just 6-0, was a four-time scoring champion and was able to score against the largest of opponents in the paint. He also had some of the best handles in the NBA history, which is why he has a highlight reel of cross-overs and ankle breakers.
Number 6- Patrick Ewing
Ewing gets a lot of flak for being dunked on so much by Bulls players so much, but he is one of the greatest centers of all-time. He was great the moment he came out of college, winning the Rookie of the Year award and making the All-Star game in his first season. Through 17 seasons in the NBA, Ewing made 11 All-Star games and scored 24,815 points. The biggest issue for him in the Knicks was simply that the Eastern Conference had so many good teams during his era. Ewing and the Knicks did manage to make it to the Finals while Michael Jordan playing baseball, but they lost to the Houston Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Number 5- Chris Paul
Since we’re already on the topic of all-time great point guards, Paul needs to be discussed. While he’s still active and will have a few more shots at winning a title, his prime will start fading soon, if it hasn’t already. So I’m comfortable with including him on this list.
Through his 13 completed seasons in the league, Paul has made nine All-Star games, been an assist champion four times, and a steals champion six times. He has the most assists and steals among all active players and ranks 9th and 12th all-time, respectively. He’s also one of the best defensive point guards in history, that’s why he’s made seven All-Defensive first teams and two All-Defensive second teams.
Number 4- John Stockton
Hardly your typical NBA player, Stockton carved out a large legacy for himself as the NBA’s all-time assists leader. In his long 19-year career, Stockton led the league in assists nine times and steals twice. He finished his career with just under 20,000 points (19,711) and 15,806 assists. The second most career assists in NBA history is 12,091, nowhere even close to Stockton’s total. It’s hard to argue that there was ever a better passing point guard than Stockton.
Number 3- Elgin Baylor
Baylor was on the 1971-71 Los Angeles Lakers team that won an NBA title, but he retired nine games into the season because of injuries. It took Baylor just 14 seasons, two of which he played just a combined 11 games in, to score 23,149 points. If we factor out those two years which were basically lost because of injuries, Baylor averaged 1,929 points per season. That’s more points per season than the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, averaged during his career.
Number 2- Charles Barkley
It’s rare for someone of Barkley’s height, 6-6, to get so many rebounds; he’s 19th in NBA history. That, plus the ability to score, made him a dynamic player and helped him win an MVP. He also totaled 23,757 points during his 16-year career. While he’s famous for being one of the twenty-five greatest players in the league’s history, he never managed to win a championship despite being an All-Star for three different teams during his career.
Number 1- Karl Malone
The mailman is easily one of the 20 greatest NBA players of all-time. He went to 14 All-Star games in his 19-year and won two MVP awards. His pairing with Stockton in Utah really was something special, but the team never got over the hump despite making it to several NBA Finals. Malone is 2nd all-time in points scored and 8th in rebounds, putting him in rare air with Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as one of four players in the top ten for both those categories.