NBA's Greatest 75 Players: Ranking the top peaks in NBA history, 26-50

NBA’s Greatest 75 Players: Ranking the top peaks in NBA history, 26-50

Information about NBA’s Greatest 75 Players: Ranking the top peaks in NBA history, 26-50

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Our countdown of the top 75 player peaks in NBA history continues.

Forget All-Star appearances, ring counts, or career accomplishments, we’re looking squarely at on-court ability in a player’s absolute prime. In other words, If you could pick any player in history, with the hopes of winning the title immediately, not knowing the era, rules, coach, or teammates — who would you choose?

In case you missed it, Part 1 of our countdown spanned the NBA’s entire 75-year history, bridging the gap from George Mikan and Bob Cousy to Joel Embiid and Derrick Rose. It included three of the greatest shooters of all-time, the two best in-game dunkers in NBA history and historic clutch-time shot makers.

TOP 75 PEAKS: 75-51

Later this month, the NBA will be announcing its 75 greatest players in celebration of the league’s 75th season. Instead of the greatest 75 careers, we’re putting our own spin on it and looking instead at individual peaks. Doing so in this manner allows for celebrating the fleeting, yet extraordinary peaks of players like Rose, Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill, three players whose start-to-finish careers do not accurately reflect their spectacular primes.

Check out Part 1 for a complete explanation of our methodology. Long story short: we polled over 50 NBA experts and compiled all of their rankings to create our final top 75.

Today, we’re counting down from 50 to 26. Let’s go. 

MORE: Top 50 storylines entering the NBA season

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50) Bob McAdoo

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1975)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 2
  • Peak personified: Averaged 37.4 points per game in 1975 postseason, the same year as winning the MVP and scoring title.

49) Kevin McHale

  • Highest MVP finish : 4th (1987)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections : 1
  • Peak personified: Named First-Team All-NBA and First-Team All-Defense in 1986-87, one season after leading all players (including both Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon) in scording during the NBA Finals. 

48) George Gervin

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (1978 & 1979)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections : 7
  • Peak personified: Won four scoring titles in five years, making him one of only five to win at least four scoring titles. 

47) Jason Kidd

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (2002)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 6
  • Peak personified : Averaged a triple-double in 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, leading the Nets to their first Finals since the NBA merger in 1976.

46) Dwight Howard

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (2011)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections : 8
  • Peak personified : Led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in the middle of his Defensive Player of the Year three-peat. 

McAdoo put up his best individual numbers bravely on non-contenders, only to win his one and only title as a Laker. A song many teams know well.

Kidd’s signature moment was a tough one to hone in on, he might tell you it was winning a title over the Heatles in 2011 but being the general on back-to-back Finals teams still stands out.

There was a time when you could argue Howard was the second best player in the league, which is no small feat given some of the names he sat alongside. The displayed two-way dominance early in his career should not be forgotten behind the shenanigans and bumpy stops later in his career.

MORE: The Lakers have five of the NBA’s 10 oldest players

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45) Clyde Drexler

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (1992)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections : 5
  • Peak personified: Led Trail Blazers to NBA Finals twice in three seasons, averaging 23.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists over that span.

44) Grant Hill

  • Highest MVP finish: 3rd (1997)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 5
  • Peak personified: Named First or Second-Team All-NBA five straight seasons from 1995-06 through1999-00, finishing in the top 10 of MVP voting in all five seasons.

43) Rick Barry

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (1970)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 6
  • Peak personified: At just 22 years of age, Barry pumped in 40.8 PPG in the NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers.  

42) John Havlicek

  • Highest MVP finish: 4th (1972)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 11
  • Peak personified: Led the Celtics in scoring in three different NBA Finals en route to winning eight championships, tied for the third-most ever.

41) Tracy McGrady

  • Highest MVP finish: 4th (2002 & 2003)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7
  • Signature accomplishment: Winning the 2002 scoring title, McGrady became the first player to average 32 or more PPG in a season since Michael Jordan. 

Was Drexler’s defining moment battling with Jordan in the Finals or getting it done over the Magic as a member of the Rockets five years later? Dealer’s choice.

People get cheeky when discussing the early Celtics juggernaut but Hondo was no slouch during his titles, winning the latter two without Bill Russell on the squad, where he secured a Finals MVP for his efforts. 

McGrady and Hill are both surrounded by what-if discussions, both players appeared to have a shot at being the league’s top dog and saw that opportunity savagely ripped away due to injuries, are they in the right order here?

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40) Bob Pettit

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1956 & 1959)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 11
  • Peak personified: Pettit’s Hawks beat Russell’s Celtics to secure the 1958 title and no other team would beat those same Celtics over the next eight years. 

39) Russell Westbrook

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2017)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 9
  • Peak personified: Westbrook averaged a triple-double over the course of the season for the first time since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961-62. (And then he did it three more times for good measure.)

MORE: Is Westbrook still a top-5 point guard?

38) Luka Dončić

  • Highest MVP finish: 4th (2020)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 2
  • Peak personified: Youngest player ever to make multiple All-NBA teams.  

37) Nikola Jokic

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2021)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 3
  • Peak personified: The only player in NBA history to average 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game for a career in the postseason. 

36) Anthony Davis

  • Highest MVP finish: 3rd (2018)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 4
  • Peak personified: The only player to score more points while officially leading the NBA in blocks per game is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Pettit stands alone in a grouping of otherwise modern players. Few saw Pettit play and numbers from the ‘50s tell an impartial story at best but his name has become legend. How could it not when you close a finals with a 50-point vs. Russell’s Celtics.

Dončić may have had the best statistical three-year start to a career ever and he did it without playing a minute in the NCAA, critics be damned. A top 40 finish without winning a playoff series is insanity and at the same time, he just averaged 36-8-10 in a playoff series that featured Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the perimeter.

Westbrook, Dončić, Jokic, and Davis all finishing this close with a single voter being much higher in each instance is anarchy, comedy, or both. All four players had an average rating of 85 and three decimal places were needed to separate Jokic and Davis. The good news is that NBA Twitter will take this calmly and  in stride, right?

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35) Steve Nash

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2005 & 2006)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7
  • Peak personified: Won back-to-back MVP awards and led Suns to NBA’s best offense for six straight seasons from 2004-05 through 2009-10

34) Patrick Ewing

  • Highest MVP finish: 4th (1989, 1993, & 1995)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7 
  • Peak personified: In 1989-90, became the first and only player to average over 28 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game

33) Bill Walton 

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1978)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 2
  • Peak personified: Delivered Portland’s only title after defeating Julius Erving’s 76ers and followed that up by winning MVP the next year despite missing 24 games 

32) Chris Paul

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (2008)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 10
  • Peak personified: Led the NBA in both offensive win shares and steals per game in the same season twice.

31) John Stockton

  • Highest MVP finish: 7th (1989)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 11
  • Peak personified: Retired with over 5,000 more assists than any other player. At his retirement, the gap from Stockton to second was larger than the gap from second to 48th.

Nash’s peak is understated, the back-to-back MVP awards aside, his playstyle and Mike D’Antoni’s principles led to an offensive revolution that he didn’t fully get to capitalize on. There’s no doubt today, Nash’s numbers would be hit with an insane amount of juice.

Walton might be the best example of a peak vs. career booster. Arguably the best player in the league at his apex, he hit a title, a Finals MVP, and an MVP in a two year span. Is 33 too high or too low for Walton?

Paul and Stockton finishing neck-and-neck might be maddening and yet their careers shaking out quite similar from an achievements standpoint. Paul sits fifth all-time in both assists and steals chasing Stockton’s records but was Stockton actually better at his peak, a question worth chewing on.

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30) Scottie Pippen

  • Highest MVP finish: 3rd (1994)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7
  • Peak personified: After going 57-25 in 1992-93, Pippen’s Bulls won 55 games the following season despite Michael Jordan’s retirement

29) Allen Iverson

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2001)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7
  • Peak personified: The 2001 MVP carried Sixers to the Finals and dealt the 2001 Lakers their only loss of the playoffs

28) James Harden

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2018)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7
  • Peak personified: Scored at least 30 points in 32 straight games, the 2nd-longest streak in NBA history and twice as long as any other guard (next: Kobe Bryant, 16)

27) Isiah Thomas

  • Highest MVP finish: 5th (1984)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 5
  • Peak personified: The best player on back-to-back title teams, Thomas and his Bad Boy Pistons also bounced Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the same postseason.

26) Elgin Baylor

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (1963)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 10
  • Peak personified: Averaged 40.6 PPG in 1962 NBA Finals, his 61 points in Game 5 are still a Finals record. 

Pippen’s six rings are his calling card. Fair or foul, it’s hard to tell his story without mentioning Jordan but the success of the Bulls in the one year they were entrusted to Pippen speaks volumes to just how talented he was at his peak.

We are reaching the absolute legend section of the list. Isiah Thomas is one of the most celebrated winners of all-time, Harden is one of the most celebrated players not to win of all-time, what an interesting juxtaposition. This list seeked to free players, at least in part of their circumstances and just acknowledge the talent of each candidate at their peak. While Harden reached the Finals as a Sixth Man in 2012 with OKC, what would a Finals run — or title — as an established star mean for his place among the legends?

Keep your eyes out for 25-11 dropping tomorrow!


Thanks again to the awesome collaborators who took time to pitch in for this project!

Contributors: Micah Adams, Quenton Albertie, Andy Bailey, Rod Beard, Ryan Blackburn, Shawn Coleman, Ben Collins, Kevin Cottrell, Adria Crawford, Evan Dammarell, Spencer Davies, Jabari Davis, Shamit Dua, Travonne Edwards, Farbod Esnaashari, Beau Estes, David Gardner, Andy Glockner, Dan Greenberg, Lauren Gunn, Nicolas Henkel, Chase Hughes, Josiah Johnson, Jason Jones, Dragonfly Jonez, Trey Kerby, Alex Kramers, Dieter Kurtenbach, Mitch Lawrence, Josh Lloyd, Jason Maples, Danny Marang, Oliver Maroney, Kelly Melvina, Janelle Moore, Matt Moore, Law Murray, Krishna Narsu, Eric Newman, Ashley Nicole Moss, Zak Noble, Gina Paradiso, Jeff Pearlman, Andrew Potter, Sam Quinn, Eustacchio Raulli, Billy Reinhardt, Andrew Sharp, Keith Smith, Allana Tachauer, Justin Termine, Brad Townsend, Roosh Williams, Ti Windisch, Ant Wright, Trill Withers, and Su York.

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