One of the most popular debates in the history of sports is the argument of who is the G.O.A.T of the NBA. While there can only be one, fans’ opinions on the matter are often met with great criticism by those who believe their rankings are true and only theres. But one thing we can all agree on, is that there have been a lot of good players in the NBA throughout history. When it comes to who are the best NBA players of all time, there is no wrong answer.
We begin the first installment of the 20 best NBA players of all time starting at 20 and working to 16. Be sure to check back regularly to keep up with the series and compare your best players of all time to this ranking.
20 Best NBA Players Of All Time – #20-16
20. Karl Malone
Career Accomplishments: NBA MVP (1997, 1999), 14x All-Star, 2x All-Star Game MVP, 11x All-NBA First Team, 3x All Defensive First Team
Coming in at number 20 is the ever-controversial Karl Malone. The Mailman is undoubtedly one of the best NBA players of all time, from an individual’s standpoint. He is one of the best rebounders to ever play the game, coming in at number eight all-time on the total rebounding list. In a league where physicality was at its peak, Malone was one of the largest physical specimens in the NBA. His country-strong physique molded him into one of the most dominant forces in the paint of all-time.
However, the one thing that has always eluded Malone throughout his NBA career was an NBA title. Unfortunately for him, that was the price to pay for playing in the same era as Michael Jordan. Had Malone managed to knock off Jordan and the Chicago Bulls even once, definitely twice, he would potentially ascend up the list of the best NBA players of all time. Nonetheless, Malone enjoyed one of the best individual careers in the history of the game, and a slot in the top 20 is well deserved.
19. Moses Malone
Career Accomplishments: NBA Champion (1983), NBA Finals MVP (1983), 3x NBA MVP (1979, 1982, 1983), 13x All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 4x All-NBA Second Team, NBA All-Defense First Team (1983), 6x Rebounding Leader
The second Malone on this list comes in as the 19th best player of all-time. As we mentioned with Karl being a great rebounder, it does not even touch the surface of what Moses Malone was and the impact he left on the NBA. Malone finished his career as a six-time season rebounding leader and ranks third in NBA/ABA history in career rebounds with a total of 17,834 boards.
While career longevity may have helped contribute to Malone’s high stat count, he should instead be credited for playing over the span of 20 years at such a high level. He retired following the 1994-95 season, where he was the last player from the ABA to stand on a professional basketball court. He was dominant in the pre-Bird and Magic era, battled amongst the titans of the 80s, and was a formidable foe for the 90s greats like the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz.
18. Scottie Pippen
Career Accomplishments: 6x NBA Champion (1991-1993, 1996-1998), 7x All-Star, All-Star Game MVP, 3x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 3x All-NBA Third Team, 8x All-Defensive First Team, 6th in NBA history in career steals
Despite being perhaps the best “Robin” to ever play the game of basketball, Scottie Pippen was nobody’s sidekick. While he was a major contributor to both Chicago Bulls’ Three-Peats, he also proved that he was a household name by himself when Michael Jordan was retired from the game, winning the All-Star Game MVP that year and even bringing the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, Pippen was at his best with Jordan alongside.
Pippen was the epitome of a dogged defender. His length and athleticism allowed him to guard a multitude of positions, including 6’9″ Magic Johnson, who he would guard the full-length of the court in an era where most players were afraid to do so. While Jordan’s offensive game is perhaps the greatest we’ve ever seen in the NBA, Pippen’s contributions defensively, and offensively, are what cemented those championship runs. The Last Dance did not paint Pippen in the brightest light, but do not let that documentary deter you from the type of force Pippen was on both ends of the floor and his contributions to those Chicago Bulls dynasties.
17. Dirk Nowitzki
Career Accomplishments: NBA Champion (2011), NBA MVP (2007), NBA Finals MVP (2011), 14x All-Star, 4x All-NBA First Team, 5x All-NBA Second Team, 3x All-NBA Third Team, 50-40-90 club (2007)
And those accomplishments do not even mention how dominant Dirk Nowitzki was in Europe. Arguably the greatest player to play in the NBA from Europe, Dirk’s illustrious career left an impact that is still felt today as the NBA continues to adapt to the more European style of play with guys like Kristaps Porzingis, Luka Doncic, Lauri Markkanen, and Bogdan Bogdanovic breaking out as young stars in the NBA.
Despite being at the forefront of one the biggest collapses in NBA history when his first seed Dallas Mavericks fell to the eighth seed Golden State Warriors, Nowitzki redeemed himself as he put together an inspiring run in 2011 that saw his team sweep the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, knocking off the young upstarts Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and beating the newly-formed Miami Heat Big Three in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in six games.
Although that team was not as talented as the Heat, it demonstrated just how skilled Nowitzki was and how he became the Mavericks’ identity that saw them surpass the greatest NBA player of the current generation.
16. Stephen Curry
Career Accomplishments: 3x NBA Champion (2015, 2017, 2018), 2x NBA MVP (2015, 2016), Only unanimous MVP in NBA history (2016), 6x NBA All-Star, 3x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, NBA scoring champion (2016), 50-40-90 club (2016)
Depending on who you ask, Stephen Curry may be the best point guard to ever play the game of basketball. While there have been many greats to come and go in the NBA, none of them can declare themselves a unanimous MVP other than Curry. That feat is unprecedented when comparing to the likes of Jordan and LeBron, who have each carried their own separate eras of basketball. Even the likes of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in their era never reached such a feat.
The kind of influence that Steph has on the next generation of the NBA is already revealing itself. Look around the league at guys like Trae Young and LaMelo Ball. Both are incredibly flashy, can (or at least will, in Ball’s case) shoot from long range, and keep a tight handle that dazzles defenders. It is a very AAU-esque style of play that is slowly but surely becoming the new norm in the NBA. Aside from his accomplishments on the court, it is the type of impact that Curry will leave on the future of the NBA that makes him one of the best NBA players of all time.