Scoring 80 points in a regular season game against a bottom-feeder is quite an accomplishment. It’s like writing a book that your family really enjoys. Leading a team to the NBA Championship, however, is a whole different sort of achievement. It’s more like writing a book that impacts the world. The list below explores the top NBA players of all-time in terms of both how well they did in their playoff appearances, as well as how frequently they made the playoffs. These are the guys that a team wants when it counts the most:
1. Michael Jordan (6 championships) – Duh. Jordan was the best playoff-player, and best player, of all-time whether judged on a per-game basis or career achievement. His average playoff game was 33 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6 championships) – Contrary to what Stuart Scott thinks, Kareem was the best Laker of all-time, both playoffs and regular season, not Magic. In his prime, Abdul-Jabbar was a given to score 25-30 points and pull down 15 rebounds in a playoff game. His performance trailed off as he progressed through his 30s, but not enough for Magic Johnson to surpass him.
3. Magic Johnson (5 championships) – Jordan’s specialty was scoring, Kareem’s was rebounding, and Magic’s was passing. In Magic’s entire playoff career, he assisted on 42.2% of all the baskets his teammates scored while he was on the court!
4. Wilt Chamberlain (2 championships) – Wilt the Stilt’s stats are usually seen only in video games: 22.5 points per game, 24.5 rebounds per game, and a 52.2 FG% for his playoff career. In the 1962 playoffs, he played 12 games, averaging 35 points and 26.6 rebounds per game.
5. Shaquille O’Neal (4 championships) – With numbers similar to Kareem, Shaq was good for 25-30 points and 10+ rebounds for most of his playoff career. Without Shaq, Kobe would have waited much longer for a ring. Dwayne Wade, on the other hand, won a championship with an inferior version of Shaq in 2006.
6. Tim Duncan (4 championships) – Yet another 20/10 player, Duncan quickly rose out of David Robinson’s big shadow to be the best player on the most recent three Spurs’ championship teams.
7. Jerry West (1 championship) – West effectively made the transition from a top scorer to a top passer before winning a championship as Wilt Chamberlain’s sidekick in 1972.
8. Bill Russell (11 championships) – Not the scorer that the big men ahead of him were, but he averaged 25 rebounds per game in his playoff career! He was also arguably the best defensive player of all-time.
9. Larry Bird (3 championships) – Bird was simply a tremendous all-around player. There just is not too much more that can be said about him.
10. Hakeem Olajuwon (2 championships) – The legitimacy of Hakeem’s two rings is questionable, since they were won during the time when Michael Jordan was “playing” baseball and saving the Looney Tune world. Still, he was a tremendous shot-blocker and rebounder who averaged 26 points per game over his playoff career.
11. Chauncey Billups (1 championship) – See Larry Bird.
12. Dirk Nowitzki (0 championships) – The first player on the list without a ring. During the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons, Dirk was the best player in the game. He is one of the top 20 players to ever step foot on an NBA court. How Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki could play on the same team and not win an NBA championship is a complete mystery.
13. Charles Barkley (0 championships) – This is the man rookie DeJuan Blair of San Antonio needs to emulate. At 6’6″, Barkley ranks among the all-time greats in rebounding and offensive efficiency.
14. Kevin McHale (3 championships) – He was a solid shot-blocker and rebounder, as well as a highly-efficient scorer.
15. Kobe Bryant (5 championships) – Kobe has played sidekick for two great big men throughout his career, while being treated as the hero. Without a doubt the least-talented and most one-dimensional player on this list, Kobe barely makes it just because his 5 championships and role as team leader has to mean something. (Full disclosure: I also added him here just so I could take a shot at him.)
Honorable Mentions: Reggie Miller, LeBron James, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, John Stockton/Karl Malone
On Pace For The Top 15: Manu Ginobli, Pau Gasol, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire
All stats from: http://www.basketball-reference.com/