I recently took on the monumental task of compiling the greatest 200 players ever in the NBA (The list ran over to 210). It’s not easy, because you have weird factors to account for like adjusted-pace and the competitiveness of the era at that player’s position, but I’ve come up with a top 200 list. One thing that surprised me was that by the time you get past the top 100 or so, the competition thins out a lot. The NBA has had a number of really great players, but sometimes just being a good bit above average is enough to crack a top 200 list. The guys at the end of this list will range from great role players (Vinnie Johnson) to underachieving superstars with a short lived prime (Steve Francis).
Without further ado, let’s start the list, with the aforementioned Vinnie Johnson at #210
210. Vinnie Johnson
“The Microwave” played an important offensive role on a defensive team in the late 80s and early 90s. A member of the vaunted “Bad Boys” Piston clique, Johnson delivered crucial and timely scoring off the bench, and did so in bunches. His PER-36 stats for the 85-86 and 86-87 seasons are over 20 points per, and though he only played in the 20s per minutes, he put up an average of 15.6 attempts up in that time. He was a specialist, but a very good one, and opens up our list at 200.
209. Kelly Tripucka
Tripucka was never much on defense, but he was a crafty scorer and good passer, and found a way over 20 points a game for 5 of his first 6 seasons in the league. In his second year, 82-83, Tripuka put up 26.5 points per game as a member of the Pistons, and he led the league in minutes played, averaging 38.8 minutes per contest. Though listed at only 6’6″, Tripucka played much bigger due to his long arms and quick first step.
208. Muggsy Bogues
It’s hard not to like this 5’3″ giant. Bogues is the shortest player ever to play in the NBA, and is smaller than most women, but Bogues squirmed through offenses and frustrated defenses in a way unprecidented by any player of his size. He was continually in the top 3 assists men in his prime, and his appeal to fans makes him more appealing to writers, as well.
207. Michael Adams
Adams played in the same era as Bogues and put up insane scoring numbers on a run-and-gun Nuggets team. Adams was small, 5’7″, but like Bogues he found ways to overcome his size and score over much larger defenders. His quickness was elemental in his attack, and though he only made one all star team, Adams could have been a useful scorer for most teams in any era.
206. Kevin Duckworth
Kevin Duckworth is to big what the preceeding two players are to small. A legit 7 footer with a 300 pound frame (though often listed at 285), Duckworth was remarkably agile for someone his size. He had soft touch around the basket and made a couple all star games. Unfortunately, Duckworth recently passed away, a result of morbid obesity and a heart attack.
205. Kenny Smith
The now famous TNT analyst was a gifted scorer and quick point guard. He paired up with Hakeem Olajuwon in the mid 90s to win a couple titles and he had a quick start in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings, a miserable team during his era. Kenny Smith competed in both the slam dunk contests and the three point contests, and faired well in both competitions.
204. Sam Cassell
It’s funny that Cassell follows his backcourt mate from the Houston Rockets days. Cassell had a long and steady career and almost helped Kevin Garnett get over the hump, when they had Cassell, Garnett, Sprewell, and Sczerbiak all in their respective primes.
203. Arvydas Sabonis
It’s really unfair that all we saw of Sabonis was a Russian on his last legs, a lumbering giant and shadow of the player he was during his prime in Europe. Even in his late 30s, as a member of the Blazers, Sabonis made a big impact, on the Portland “Jailblazers.” A part of a disgruntled and underachieving cast, Sabonis represented a hardworking deviation from the norm.
202. Byron Scott
Magic Johnson’s backcourt mate was a good defender and a good shooter. He wasn’t particularly amazing at anything, but he was a solid role player on some championship rosters. He enabled Magic Johnson to cover the shooting guard since he was quick enough to handle point guards and 6’4″
201. Darrell Armstrong
Darrell Armstrong made a horrible Magic team competitive. He worked harder than anyone else in the league and played just as hard, terrorizing opponents with a full court defensive assault that drove other point guards insane. He won the Most Improved Award and 6th Man Award in the same season and is one of the most underrated point guards in the last 20 years.
200. Doc Rivers
Like Byron Scott and Kenny Smith, Doc Rivers was a big combo guard at 6’4″ that always managed to get other players good shots and make them better. Rivers was a good defender and most likely would have been an all star in this less guard heavy era, but not likely a perennial type all star.
199. Chuck Person
Person was a gunner, flat and simple. He looked to shoot as much as possible, and he was capable of giving teams complete headaches on his good nights.
198. John Starks
Starks had a short lived prime but played a role in the physical abusive Knicks teams of the 90s. At his very peak, he was a guard capable of frustrating a much better Bulls team, and his dunk over Pippen and Grant has gone down as one of the greatest highlights ever.
197. Toni Kukoc
The “Pink Panther” was the first of what would become many 7-foot Euro big men with a great handle and deadly outside shot. Though 6’11″, Kukoc was still capable of defending smaller players, and played well past his prime as a member of the Bucks in the early 2000s. I always felt Kukoc was overrated, and that’s why he’s down this far in the top 200 of all time.
196. Hersey Hawkins
Hawkins was a good shooter, solid defender, and the only player worth noticing on the post Barkley Sixers. In his third season in the league 90-91, he put up 22.1 points per game in 38.9 minutes a night. He shot over 40% from three for his first three seasons, and his career three point percentage was 39.4%. He averaged double firgures for a decade, before retiring as a member of the Hornets in 2000-01.
195. Detlef Schrempf
Schrempf was the pre-cursor to many other tall defensive Euro players we see today, including Kukoc who we just mentioned. Schrempf paved the way with his tenacity on offense. He wasn’t a great defender, but the same can be true about many that followed his path.
194. Terry Porter
Porter was one of those guys that just didn’t go away. He played his first decade in the league with the Portland Trailblazers, a team that was very talented at that time. He started along side Drexler and put up double figures scoring for nine straight seasons. He played until he was 38 years old, and still averaged 18 minutes per game in his farewell tour with San Antonio in 01-02.
193. Danny Ainge
Ainge is one of those guys whose stats might have been a lot higher if he wasn’t playing with such a loaded squad. In fact, we don’t even need to speculate that it is the reason, because the year he left Boston to go play with the Kings, he put up 20+ points per game, though not enough to save the horrid Kings of that era. Ainge was a solid defender and an all around skilled athlete (further evidenced by his MLB career in the early 80s).
192. Thurl Bailey
Thurl Bailey played with Stockton and Malone in the 80s and was an effective option for scoring while Malone rested. He put up double figures in 9 of his first 11 seasons, and averaged 19.5 points per game in both 87-88 and 88-89. He had a crafty hook shot and played good defense, and while few will note Bailey as a standout, he could start on any team today and still put up solid numbers, as his era was one of the tougher for big men, and Bailey’s 6’11″ 215 pound frame took a lot of beatings.
191. Al Jefferson
Al Jeff has shown himself to be a talented big, even if he isn’t that athletic. A throwback big in many ways, Jefferson rebounds by boxing out and plays defense with his feet, not his hands. He has soft touch around the basket and will keep the Jazz competitive next year, perhaps even giving them enough scoring to remain relevant in the heady competition of the Western Conference.
190. Steve Francis
Steve Francis had some very good years, but unfortunately our memories are tainted by his off-court antics. He became a team cancer late in his career as he refused to accept a reduced role, and our good memories of Francis are overshadowed. Early in his career he was a dynamic scorer, and an awesome rebounder for a point guard.
Next Article we’ll look at ranks 179 through 160.