LeBron James or Michael Jordan? Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain? Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant? Old school or new school?
These debates rage on endlessly in every corner of NBA fandom, and our experts have done their best to answer them, ranking the greatest players in the league's 74-year history.
ESPN's NBA expert panel voted on thousands of head-to-head matchups, taking into consideration both total career value and peak performance.
To be snubbed is one thing, but there's always a more fiery debate about who isn't ranked high enough -- or the dreaded "underrated" tag. Our list rolls on with players ranked 40th through 11th, commemorating the extraordinary players who arguably played key roles in defining their respective eras.
All-time NBArank: Nos. 74-41
40. Chris Paul
18.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 9.5 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.4 3s PG
Paul will get knocked by some for his failure to lead a team to a championship, but that shouldn't take away from what he has accomplished on the floor. Paul has been named to eight All-NBA teams, including to the first team four times. He's fourth in career assists per game, and he has been one of the game's peskiest defenders, with nine NBA All-Defensive team selections while leading the league in steals six times.
-- Andrew Lopez
CP3 has been a do-it-all playmaker for OKC
Chris Paul has been nothing short of an MVP-caliber player for the Thunder in his first season with the team.
39. Walt Frazier
The epitome of cool and the face of the legendary Knicks teams of the 1970s, Frazier had a smooth offensive game and his tenacious defense left no holes for opponents to attack. He won two championships with the Knicks, and he made seven All-Star teams, seven All-Defensive teams and six All-NBA teams. Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals is remembered as the "Willis Reed Game" after he limped out of the locker room and hit two early shots, but it was Frazier -- who had 36 points, 19 assists, seven rebounds and six steals -- who powered the Knicks to their first NBA title.
-- Tim Bontemps
38. Bob Pettit
1954-55 Milwaukee Hawks, 1955-65 St. Louis Hawks
26.4 PPG, 16.2 RPG, 3.0 APG
Pettit was simply one of the most dominant players of his era. He played 11 seasons in the NBA and was named to the All-NBA first team 10 times; he made the second team in his final season. He won the MVP award twice, finished in the top four of MVP voting eight times and was a four-time All-Star Game MVP. He led the St. Louis Hawks to the NBA championship in 1958.
37. Patrick Ewing
1985-2000 New York Knicks; 2000-01 Seattle SuperSonics; 2001-02 Orlando Magic
21.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG
Ewing is the greatest Knick of all time, yet New York often dwells on what he didn't do. Ewing leads the storied franchise in several statistical categories, including career points (23,665), rebounds (10,759) and blocks (2,758). He made the Knicks title contenders despite never truly having a second superstar to play alongside him in his prime. With one of the best fallaway jumpers a big man has ever had, Ewing led the Knicks to 13 straight postseasons. The 7-footer just couldn't deliver a championship during an era ruled by Michael Jordan.
-- Ohm Youngmisuk
36. Kevin McHale
1980-93 Boston Celtics
17.9 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 55.4 FG%
McHale was a seven-time All Star and three-time champion while playing on one of the most legendary front lines in NBA history, next to Hall of Fame teammates Larry Bird and Robert Parish. Known for his vast array of post moves and long arms that helped him earn six All-Defensive nods, McHale peaked as a first-team All-NBA selection in 1986-87 with 26.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game on 60% shooting from the field.
-- Andre Snellings
35. Jason Kidd
12.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 8.7 APG, 1.9 SPG, 1.4 3s PG
With Gary Payton's hard-love tutelage, Kidd lived up to his pre-NBA hype, becoming one of the greatest point guards to play the game. Kidd dominated games with his passing, rebounding, defense and ability to spark fast breaks; his 12,091 assists and 2,684 steals are second only to John Stockton in NBA history. Kidd, who has two Olympic gold medals and one NBA title (with Dallas), took what was previously a laughingstock franchise in New Jersey to two straight NBA Finals. And despite entering the league with little to no jumper, Kidd made 1,988 3-pointers, 10th all time.
34. George Mikan
1948-49 (BAA), 1949-54, 1956 Minneapolis Lakers
23.1 PPG, 13.4 RPG, 2.8 APG
No player presents a greater challenge in all-time rankings than Mikan, who reigned over an embryonic league with a style of play that would soon be outdated. Towering over opponents, Mikan spurred the creation of a goaltending rule and the expansion of the paint to limit his advantages. Yet Mikan remained a force, leading Minneapolis to six championships in seven seasons across three leagues (the NBL, the BAA and finally the NBA). Despite playing before the schedule expanded to 82 games, Mikan still owns three of the top 12 seasons ever by Basketball-Reference.com win shares estimates.
-- Kevin Pelton
33. John Havlicek
1962-78 Boston Celtics
20.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.2 SPG
"Hondo," as he was known in Boston, was said by Red Auerbach to be the "guts" of those great Celtics teams of the 1960s, and Havlicek proved time and again he was willing to do whatever it took to win. He spent a significant portion of his career coming off the bench -- a precursor to standout sixth men like Manu Ginobili -- and was one of the elite two-way players of his era, making 11 All-NBA teams and earning eight All-Defense selections. Havlicek was a part of eight title-winning teams and is still Boston's leader in points scored.
32. James Harden
2009-12 Oklahoma City Thunder; 2012-20 Houston Rockets
25.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 2.8 3s PG
Harden has developed into the ultimate offensive weapon of the analytics era, owning three scoring titles and an assists title. His step-back jumper has become one of the most potent signature shots in NBA history, allowing him to be a historic volume 3-point shooter who gets the rest of his points in the paint and at the free throw line. His 2018-19 season was the most efficient (.616 true shooting percentage) ever for a player who averaged more than 35 points per game.
-- Tim MacMahon
Flashback: The best of Harden's 2017-18 MVP season
Take a look back at James Harden's dynamic MVP season in 2017-18.
31. Isiah Thomas
1981-94 Detroit Pistons
19.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 9.3 APG, 1.9 SPG
Love him or hate him, Thomas is one of the greatest players in NBA history. There's no debate about that, even though the "Bad Boys" Pistons didn't make a lot of friends with their physical brand of basketball. The 6-foot-1 Thomas guided Detroit to two championships, and he was the 1990 Finals MVP and a two-time All-Star Game MVP, among many accomplishments. He's one of the few players in league history who can boast about taking down a prime Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan when it mattered most. Winning a gold medal with the Dream Team would've been the icing on the cake.
-- Eric Woodyard
30. Steve Nash
1996-98, 2004-12 Phoenix Suns; 1998-2004 Dallas Mavericks; 2012-14 Los Angeles Lakers
14.3 PPG, 8.5 APG; 42.8 3P%, 1.4 3PG
Nash found a perfect partner in coach Mike D'Antoni, whose "seven seconds or less" offense empowered the back-to-back league MVP (2005 and 2006) to use his expert handles and passing genius. The Suns, in turn, became one of the great teams to never win a title. For a nine-year stretch in Dallas and Phoenix in the 2000s, Nash led the league's most efficient offense. He is third in career assists and led the league in that category five of his 18 seasons. He was also a marksman, shooting 42.8% from 3 for his career.
-- Dave McMenamin
29. Allen Iverson
26.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 6.2 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.2 3s PG
Often labeled the best pound-for-pound player in NBA history, Iverson was an icon. The 6-foot point guard led the league in scoring four times and capped off a magical MVP campaign in 2000-01 with the Sixers by leading them to the Finals in just his fifth year in the league. His 48 points in Game 1 to beat the Shaq-Kobe Lakers in overtime will forever be the NBA's David and Goliath moment.
Allen Iverson's top moments with the 76ers
Take a look back at some of Allen Iverson's best moments with the Philadelphia 76ers.
28. John Stockton
1984-2003 Utah Jazz
13.1 PPG, 10.5 APG, 2.2 SPG
The ultimate pass-first point guard, Stockton never averaged more than 17.2 points but led the NBA in assists per game nine consecutive seasons. Unparalleled in consistency, Stockton played every game on the schedule 17 times in 19 years and returned from microfracture knee surgery to play effectively until his retirement at age 41. Stockton is the league's career leader in assists (3,715 more than runner-up Jason Kidd) and steals (581 more than Kidd) by margins that make those records unlikely to fall any time soon.
2013-20 Milwaukee Bucks
20.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG
You don't have to look further than the name to understand Antetokounmpo's ascent in the NBA at the age of 25. Before "Giannis" became a household name, he was often called "The Greek Freak" by those who couldn't pronounce his last name. The reigning MVP was on pace to win the award for a second straight season while seemingly getting better by the day, putting up career numbers before the NBA suspended action because of the coronavirus pandemic. His best years seem to be ahead of him.
Giannis Antetokounmpo not slowing down after MVP season
Check out all the highlights that have Giannis Antetokounmpo eyeing a second straight MVP award.
26. Dwyane Wade
22.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.5 SPG
Wade was more than just a sidekick to LeBron James during the duo's run to four NBA Finals with the Heat. In just his third NBA season, Wade was named Finals MVP after helping lead Miami to a title in 2006 with Shaquille O'Neal. Wade, one of the better shot-blocking guards in history, never finished higher than third in MVP voting, but he was an eight-time All-NBA selection.
25. Kawhi Leonard
18.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.4 3s PG
Leonard has already played nine seasons, but it feels like he's just getting going. Leonard won his first championship and Finals MVP with the Spurs in 2014, but that was alongside Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. He showed last season he can carry an entire franchise, leading the Raptors to their first championship. And when the stakes are at their highest, Leonard rises to the challenge, whether it's his elite defense, Game 7-clinching buzzer-beater against Philadelphia, or winning a second Finals MVP at the expense of the Warriors' dynasty.
Kawhi's ridiculous moments in his first season in LA
Kawhi Leonard has been everything the LA Clippers thought he'd be when he arrived. Check out some of his season's best highlights.
24. David Robinson
1989-2003 San Antonio Spurs
21.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 3.0 BPG
"The Admiral" didn't make his NBA debut until he was 24, two years after being the top pick in the draft, due to his service commitment to the Navy. He earned All-Star appearances in his first six seasons, winning Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP honors, as well as rebounding, blocked shots and scoring titles during that span. Back and foot injuries forced Robinson to miss almost all of his eighth season -- helping deliver Tim Duncan to San Antonio, a major reason why Robinson won two titles.
23. Charles Barkley
1984-92 Philadelphia 76ers; 1992-96 Phoenix Suns; 1996-2000 Houston Rockets
22.1 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.5 SPG
The Hall of Fame forward carved out a niche on the floor by being a double-double machine. Barkley earned the 1992-93 MVP award while leading Phoenix to the NBA Finals, and he won gold medals for Team USA in '92 and '96 Olympics. He won the rebounding title for Philadelphia in 1986-87, despite generously being listed at 6-6. Off the floor, the affable Barkley became arguably the most popular basketball analyst ever while working for TNT's "Inside the NBA."
-- Nick Friedell
22. Elgin Baylor
1958-60 Minneapolis Lakers, 1960-72 Los Angeles Lakers
27.4 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 4.3 APG
Baylor was one of the NBA's first acrobatic, high-scoring wings, a stylistic progenitor to Dr. J, Air Jordan and King James. He was one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, peaking at 38.3 PPG in 1961-62 while actively enlisted in the military and only playing games on weekends. He set the NBA record with 61 points in a playoff game, a mark not topped until Jordan broke it in 1986.
21. Scottie Pippen
1987-98, 2003-04 Chicago Bulls; 1999 Houston Rockets; 1999-2003 Portland Trail Blazers
16.1 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.0 SPG
Michael Jordan's greatness made many think of Pippen as an all-time great sidekick. But Pippen is a legend in his own right as one of the most versatile players the NBA has ever seen. With his 6-8 height and endless wingspan, Pippen made the All-Defensive first team eight times while stifling some of the NBA's greatest stars. When Jordan left to play baseball in 1993-94, Pippen averaged 22 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.9 steals while leading the Bulls to a 55-win season before losing to the Knicks in the East semifinals. Pippen earned six rings and made the playoffs 16 straight times, a streak that didn't end until his final season.
20. Kevin Garnett
17.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.4 BPG
The former MVP and Defensive Player of the Year didn't find much success in the playoffs during his run with Minnesota, but he finally became an NBA champion after going to Boston to form a Big Three with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in 2007-08. Garnett, who is tied for second in NBA history after playing 21 seasons in the league, ranks in the top 20 in career blocks and steals and is also 10th in career rebounds.
19. Dirk Nowitzki
1998-2019 Dallas Mavericks
20.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.3 3s PG
Nowitzki forever changed the game, setting the trend for 7-footers who dominated with shooting touch and proving that type of player could be the centerpiece of a perennial contender. Dirk's Mavericks join Bill Russell's Celtics, Magic Johnson's Lakers and Tim Duncan's Spurs as the only franchises to string together a decade-plus run of seasons with 50 wins or more. Nowitzki shattered the "soft Euro" stereotype by leading Dallas to the 2010-11 title as the Mavs' lone All-Star.
18. Moses Malone
1974-75 Utah Stars (ABA); 1975-76 Spirits of St. Louis (ABA); 1976 Buffalo Braves; 1976-82 Houston Rockets; 1982-86, 1993-94 Philadelphia 76ers; 1986-88 Washington Bullets; 1988-91 Atlanta Hawks; 1991-93 Milwaukee Bucks; 1994-95 San Antonio Spurs
20.3 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG
Malone was one of the original preps-to-pros players, joining the ABA as a teenager. He was a dominant scorer and rebounder who was peerless on the offensive glass, averaging 6.1 offensive boards during an eight-year span where he led the NBA in boards six times. Malone was a three-time NBA MVP, including in the 1982-83 season, when he also was Finals MVP for the Sixers and won his only championship ring.
17. Karl Malone
1985-2003 Utah Jazz; 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers
25.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.4 SPG
They didn't call Karl Malone "The Mailman" for no reason. He always delivered on the basketball court. Although he didn't win an NBA title despite three trips to the Finals, Malone is still the league's No. 2 scorer, behind the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Malone's statue is planted outside of Salt Lake City's Vivint Smart Home Arena, next to that of his running mate, John Stockton.
16. Jerry West
1960-74 Los Angeles Lakers
27.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 6.7 APG
Considered a top-five player of all time at his position, shooting guard, West had the tortured NBA existence of making it to the NBA Finals nine times but winning only once. A 27 PPG regular-season scorer, West upped his average to 29.1 per game in the playoffs. Immortalized in the league's history, as his silhouette appears as a red, white and blue symbol to signify the best basketball in the world, "The Logo" was an All-Star all 14 seasons he played.
15. Julius Erving
1971-73 Virginia Squires (ABA); 1973-76 New York Nets (ABA); 1976-87 Philadelphia 76ers
24.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 4.2 APG
As the premier above-the-rim player of his era, Dr. J's legend would probably be even greater had he not spent the first five years of his career in the ABA. Erving was named NBA MVP in 1981 and won the championship in 1983 -- who could forget his "rock the baby" dunk against the Lakers that season, serving as a prelude to his Finals win? His career NBA averages of 22 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks tell the story of his all-around game.
Dr. J rocks the baby for huge slam
On Jan. 5, 1983, Julius Erving completes his famous "Rock the Baby" dunk, with Michael Cooper wanting no part of the vicious jam in a 76ers win.
14. Kevin Durant
2007-08 Seattle SuperSonics, 2008-16 Oklahoma City Thunder; 2016-19 Golden State Warriors; 2019-20 Brooklyn Nets
27.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 1.8 3s PG
Coming off an Achilles injury, Durant's climb back into the elite of the league isn't a given, but even if he retired tomorrow, he has stacked an all-time career. His eight years in OKC featured his best individual basketball, with four scoring titles and an MVP. No matter how you view his two championships with the Warriors -- both of which included Finals MVPs -- they will forever be high on the bullet points of his overall résumé. Another title in a less controversial fashion could vault Durant into the top 10, and if he recovers to be even close to his pre-injury self, he could challenge some massive career numbers.
-- Royce Young
13. Stephen Curry
2009-20 Golden State Warriors
23.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 3.6 3s PG
The greatest shooter of all time. Curry's ability to hit shots from all over the floor changed the way the game is played. He has led the Warriors to three NBA championships and earned two MVP awards, becoming the first unanimous MVP in league history in 2015-16. Curry's influence on the game is seen on every level of basketball as younger generations shoot more than ever while trying to replicate his game.
The best of Steph Curry's handles
Does Steph Curry have the best handles in the NBA? Take a look at some of his best moves and decide for yourself.
12. Hakeem Olajuwon
1984-2001 Houston Rockets; 2001-02 Toronto Raptors
21.8 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 3.1 BPG
"The Dream," with all due respect to Kevin McHale, is the premier low-post technician to ever catch an entry pass. Olajuwon, a two-time Finals MVP who averaged 30.9 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 3.4 blocks and 1.5 steals during the playoffs of the Rockets' back-to-back title runs, is also one of the all-time dominant defensive anchors. His NBA record of 3,830 blocks might never be approached, much less broken.
11. Oscar Robertson
1960-70 Cincinnati Royals; 1970-74 Milwaukee Bucks
25.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 9.5 APG
"The Big O" burst onto the scene as a rookie in 1960, and by the time his sophomore season was wrapped up, he had become the first player to average a triple-double in a single season. Robertson picked up his only NBA title when he went to Milwaukee and teamed up with a young Lew Alcindor. Robertson is still the only player in NBA history who sits in the top 10 in points per game and assists per game.