A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

MVP/Power Rankings Monday: My picks for the top 25 NBA peak seasons of all time

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Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell during a bas...

Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell during a basketball game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over at realgm.com we’ve been ranking the top 50 player peaks of all time. The project is about halfway through. The rule is each player gets to have one season on the list. Here is my personal top 25:

1. C Wilt Chamberlain (1967)

2. SG Michael Jordan (1991)

3. C Hakeem Olajuwon (1995)

These are the 3 seasons I considered in contention for best of all time. Wilt has simply a perfect season for a center, mixing elite playmaking from the center position (always a devastating skill with their ability to draw attention as the hub of the floor), elite efficiency, reaching the defensive potential his physical gifts and feel gives him, rebounding amazingly as always and stepping it up big time in the postseason statistically and being the only team in a span of 11 seasons to beat the Bill Russell-led Celtics. Jordan has an incredible mix of physical gifts, skill and feel for the game for a SG, making him the only player I give a perfect 33 to for their position in my 33pt method. He’s the finest scorer ever and one of the best perimeter defenders. He also exercised demons by eliminating the Bad Boy Pistons and then topping Magic’s Lakers in the Finals. Finally, Hakeem Olajuwon has a tremendous mix of post scoring, playmaking and elite defense and having one of the most stunning playoff performances and runs ever, taking out Karl Malone’s Jazz, Charles Barkley’s Suns, David Robinson’s Spurs and Shaquille O’Neal’s Magic in successive order, outplaying every one of them to prove his dominance. These 3 seasons are perfect.

4. C Shaquille O’Neal (2000)

5. C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1977)

6. PF Tim Duncan (2003)

7. C Bill Walton (1977)

8. PF Kevin Garnett (2004)

9. SF Lebron James (2012)

I chose to rank all of these players so high because of their all around game. All 6 rank among the best defenders in their respective years, with Duncan, Walton and Garnett’s seasons being legendary on that end. All 6 are also incredible offensive players, mixing both unstoppable scoring and elite playmaking to make their teammates better on that end – Shaq, Kareem and Lebron excel the most on the offensive end. The mix of this offensive and defensive greatness gets them top 9 spots.

10. C Bill Russell (1965)

11. SF Larry Bird (1986)

12. PG Magic Johnson (1987)

13. PG Oscar Robertson (1963)

I have Russell as the greatest defensive player ever and Bird, Johnson and Oscar as the 3 greatest offensive players. So why aren’t they higher on the list? Because Russell does not have the offensive impact of above players and Magic, Bird and Robertson don’t have the defensive impact. Even if they are greatest of all time caliber at the one end they have an impact on, I have to put the players who contribute in all areas of the game slightly over them, not that it’s an insult to be top 13 all time on a peak seasons ranking.

14. PF Dirk Nowitzki (2011)

15. PG Steve Nash (2005)

16. PG Chris Paul (2008)

3 all-time great offensive seasons, but like the above players their defensive impact appears to negligible at best. Dirk gets the edge for his incredible playoff performance. Nash vs Paul is an interesting debate, but the Suns ridiculous offensive success in 2005 in comparison to the Hornets’ very good offensive team in 2008, makes me favor Nash’s impact on that end. I put these players over the ones below them, because although the below players have more defensive impact, they are still primarily offensive impacting ones. And if I’m picking between players who’s impact is offense, I might as well favor the ones who are the best on that end.

17. SG Tracy McGrady (2003)

18. SG Dwayne Wade (2010)

19. SG Kobe Bryant (2009)

20. SG Jerry West (1966)

These 4 wings bring an elite combination of high volume scoring, elite play-making and strongly lauded defense for wings. This makes them ideal 1st offensive options for a team. I consider McGrady the most talented of the group and while I have many criticisms of Tmac’s career as a whole, in 2003 he showed what he was truly capable of with one of the most dominant wing seasons of all time. Wade does an amazing job attacking the rim but has a less polished skill game than the other 3. 2010 may seem a strange choice for his peak season, but I consider 2009 and 2010 Wade the best versions and in 2010 he performed much stronger in the playoffs while having just as much regular season impact on the W/L column despite lesser stats (the Heat were better in 2010).  Bryant and West are incredible perimeter scoring talents, I give Kobe the edge in physical gifts a little.

21. C Patrick Ewing (1990)

22. PF Charles Barkley (1993)

23. C David Robinson (1995)

24. SF Julius Erving (1980)

25. C Moses Malone (1983)

These are amazing but somewhat flawed players. Ewing and Robinson can anchor elite defenses but despite strong scoring numbers, have a concerning lack of polish in their offensive games, making it harder to run the offense through them reliably in the postseason. Barkley is a tremendous offensive talent but a very concerning defensive player, which is a bigger problem taking up a big man position at PF, than it is for a player like Nash at PG, a position less relied upon defensively. Julius Erving has amazing physical talent and feel for the game, but concerns me with his less than dynamic shooting/perimeter polish game. That leaves the final spot to be between Karl and Moses Malone. Both are decent but not standout defenders, thus the decision comes on the offensive end. Karl is a fantastic scorer, but Moses’ combination of not only scoring but all-time great offensive rebounding gives him the edge, as well as the fact that I generally believe it’s harder to get dominant offensive at the center position than power forward.

By Julien Rodger

Twitter: @ASFW_jrodger

Email: julienrodger@gmail.com (Send me a question, if I get enough I’ll do a mailbag answering them)

Written by jr.

October 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I know they were one-way players, but it’s still surprising seeing Magic and Bird out of the top 10. Do you really think Garnett or Walton gives you a better chance at a title then those two?


    October 20, 2012 at 1:57 am

  2. It’s incredible how much everyone’s lists have changed since we first started the project, haha.


    October 20, 2012 at 10:46 am

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