25 GOAT NBA Players by Position

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If there is such a thing as a pointless debate in basketball, the NBA GOAT debate has got to be up there on the list. It seems like every fan nitpicks stats to favor their choice, whether it’s Michael Jordan, LeBron James, or whoever. Even MJ refuses to give his two cents on the topic, which says a lot!

What fans can do objectively, though, is create a list of GOATs based on position. Even a list of that sort is a tall task, but it gives a better and more complete picture of who the greatest players are regardless of era. Along with these thoughts, here are the GOAT NBA players by position.

What is Considered GOAT in BasketballWhat is Considered GOAT in Basketball?

Depending on who you ask, the definition of a GOAT, or Greatest of all Time, can be subjective. But through whatever lens you are peeking from, it’s all about the body of work. Still, the meaning of the term “body of work” differs from individual to individual. That could mean he should win championships, individual awards, defend, score in a variety of ways, etc.

Based on these loose definitions, it’s easy to see why everybody has their opinion on who the basketball GOAT is. Here are some basketball players who are considered in the conversation in the NBA GOAT debate:

1. Michael Jordan

Jordan is the GOAT in the eyes of the majority of basketball fans. MJ’s cultural impact is so significant that decades after his retirement, his brand is still head and shoulders above any other in basketball. In addition, MJ won six NBA championships and Finals MVPs, winning every single Finals series he’s ever been on.

2. LeBron James

James is currently the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in the regular season and the playoffs. He is an athletic freak that “plays basketball the right way.” There is nothing that the guy can’t do on a basketball court, and he tries to make a difference outside of it as well.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem was the previous all-time leading scorer, and that’s with only one three-point field goal made in his entire career. The former Lew Alcindor was the epitome of a winner– winning championships at the high school, college, and NBA levels. He only lost twice in 90 games in three years at UCLA, and the primary reason why dunking was banned in college basketball.

4. Kobe Bryant

To people who think Kobe was the GOAT, it’s primarily because of his legendary will and mentality. Bryant was a smaller version of Jordan but with better playmaking and handles. Another argument for Bryant as the GOAT was the inspiration he left in the current generation of players. Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all look up to Bryant as a mentor.

5. Bill Russell

There’s a reason why the NBA Finals MVP was named after Russell. He won 11 championships in Boston, winning eight consecutive at one point. He was offensively limited as a player, but he was a ferocious rebounder, probably the all-time best defender, and an underrated passer.

5 Top Point Guards in NBA History5 Top Point Guards in NBA History

It’s impossible to point out one basketball player and label him the Greatest of all Time. There is no perfect metric for this title, not to mention the different eras and rules they play in. That is why ranking the top NBA players by position is much more reasonable, regardless of the era. Even that leaves out several all-time greats, so take everything with a grain of salt.

Here are the 5 best point guards in NBA history.

1. Magic Johnson

Johnson still sits at the table in the NBA GOAT list. Along with archrival Larry Bird, Magic put the NBA on the map and is considered to be the most important basketball figure based on marketing alone.

As a point guard and leader, there is probably no one better. Magic is the record-holder for most assists in the NBA playoffs. His average of over 12 dimes per game in the postseason may never be broken. Magic has both the team and individual accomplishments to show for his success– five NBA championships, three MVPs, and three Finals MVPs.

2. Oscar Robertson

The “Big O” was one of the best versatile players in the early NBA and the first to average a triple-double for a whole season. Robertson had career averages of 25.7 points, 9.5 assists, and 7.5 rebounds. He had one MVP and one championship under his belt.

The most impressive thing in the Big O’s resume is that he was the first to average double-digit assists in the NBA. Remember that the criteria for assists were much more stringent before than today, one of which was the rule that the player making the shot should not have taken a dribble before making the basket.

3. Stephen Curry

The face of the modern three-point revolution, Curry was already basketball history’s greatest shooter, and he’s not even done yet. Unlike Magic or the Big O, Steph’s cup of tea was his scoring chops from anywhere on the court, although he’s capable of setting the table for his teammates. Basketball fans may never see a shooter as good as Steph Curry. If someone comes along better than him, that’s probably not in this lifetime.

4. Isaiah Thomas

Many have Isiah Thomas way down their list, but the guy was hands-down the best point guard in the 80s behind Magic. Love him or hate him, Zeke was a potent scorer capable of scoring 20 per night, dishing eight to 10 dimes a game. His highest assists per game average were in the 1984-85 season, where he dropped 13.9 helpers! Even Magic Johnson did not average that many in a season. 

To cement his status on the GOAT point guards list, Isiah Thomas is one of only six PGs to win Finals MVP.

5. John Stockton

Grab a dictionary and look at the definition of a point guard. Most probably, you’ll see John Stockton’s picture there. Stockton is the all-time leader in assists and steals, and by a wide margin! 

To put this in perspective, Stockton has 744 more steals than the only active player in the top 3, Chris Paul. CP3 had to compile at least 100 steals a season for roughly the next eight seasons to overtake Stockton. By then, Paul would have been 45, and from the looks of it, CP has two or three years left of solid basketball in him.

The same thing with the assists record. If CP3 averages 10 assists per game from here on out, he would need 442 games to overtake the Jazz legend. That’s roughly six 82-game seasons, probably more if he sits games down every now and then because of rest and injuries.  

5 Greatest Shooting Guards in NBA History5 Greatest Shooting Guards in NBA History

A shooting guard’s role rarely evolved over eras. They are asked to score consistently and set the team whenever the lead point guard rests or is unavailable. Here are the five GOATs of the position.

1. Michael Jordan

The man that needs no introductions. Scoring-wise, Jordan is in a league of his own. He holds the record for most points per game in an NBA Finals series with 41 PPG in the 1993 NBA Finals. MJ was collecting scoring titles like stamps in his heyday, ending up with 10, the most by any player in the history of the NBA.

2. Kobe Bryant

Kobe’s penchant for taking tough shots did him in, but the man was as tough a cover as anyone. He could get hot in an instant and never saw a shot he didn’t like. That mentality allowed him to have the second-highest one-game scoring output in NBA history with 81.

3. Dwyane Wade

Nicknamed “The Flash,” Wade used his quickness to his absolute advantage, torching defenders with his driving and acrobatic finishes. Wade also got an automatic midrange game if the drive wasn’t there. 

He was also a pest on the passing lanes and one of the best shot-bocking guards in the game. D-Wade won the scoring title in 2009 (30.2 PPG) and averaged 7.5 dimes in the same year. 

4. Jerry West

Dubbed “The Logo” and “Mr. Clutch,” West was one of the pioneers. He was the only player to be named Finals MVP on the losing team, although knowing who West is, he would have preferred the championship any day. 

To put Jerry’s scoring acumen in perspective, the guy averaged 27 for his entire career WITHOUT A THREE-POINT LINE!

5. Allen Iverson

Speaking of culture-setters, Iverson was the guy in the late 90s and early 2000s. He led the league in scoring four times and led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001. “The Answer” was a relentless scorer, which made up for his lack of size. He can be inefficient, but you can bet he’ll always come at whoever’s in front of him.

5 Greatest Small Forwards in NBA History5 Greatest Small Forwards in NBA History

Small forwards are traditionally the Swiss army knives on the team. Here are the 5 best in the position:

1. LeBron James

James is one of those gifted athletes who can play 1 to 5, but small forward was his natural position. At 38, he could not hand with the fastest 3s in the league on a nightly basis, but the body of work in a 20-year career is undeniable. LeBron James may very well be the best basketball player of all time.

2. Larry Bird

The “Legend” himself, Bird was a fierce competitor who didn’t back down from anybody. He has a knack for making the big shots and a quick, trash-talking wit to go along with it. Bird averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals in his career while winning three consecutive MVPs (1984 to 1986).

3. Kevin Durant

If you’d create a custom player in 2K, the result would be Kevin Durant. KD is a 7-foot scoring machine who can knock down shots from all angles. The crazy thing is, with his size and length, anything is a good shot for him, as he can simply rise above defenders and pull up. 

Durant had four scoring titles and two Finals MVPs across his name.

Life is unfair, and KD is the proof.

4. Julius Erving

Before Michael Jordan and all other icons, Julius Erving was the guy. “The Doctor” was a pioneer aerial artist, probably the best basketball has seen. His best days were in the ABA, but his NBA accolades ain’t no slouch, either. He was the MVP in 1981, a season where he averaged 24.6 points, eight rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.8 blocks on 52% shooting from the floor. 

5. Elgin Baylor

Speaking of pioneers, Baylor was definitely one. He was the quintessential scorer that could score in various ways, including some crazy layup packages around the rim. Baylor never won a championship or a scoring title, but the numbers favor his argument as a top small forward. He averaged 27.4 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists over 846 career games.

5 Top Power Forwards in NBA History5 Top Power Forwards in NBA History

Unlike the other positions, the power forward GOAT players list is not as clear-cut. Check them out:

1. Tim Duncan

Duncan was said to be a “center masquerading as a power forward,” but he indeed was a 4 in the early stages of his career. The Big Fundamental played with David Robinson from 1997 to 2003 and started with other centers in their championship runs. TD was a five-time champion, two-time league MVP, and one of the best defensive anchors to never win a DPOY award.

2. Bob Pettit

Pettit was one of the pioneers of the position and an elite one at that. In fact, his Hawks was one of two teams that stole a championship away from the Celtics in the Bill Russell era. The other one was Wilt Chamberlain’s Philadelphia 76ers. He had career averages of 26.4 points, 16.2 rebounds, and three assists.

3. Charles Barkley

Barkley was once the most dominant offensive force in the league, and that was the time when Michael Jordan was still in his prime. The knock on his resume was the lack of championships, but with individual skills alone, few can keep up with the Round Mound of Rebounds. In his lone MVP year, Barkley averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and a block per game.

4. Karl Malone

Speaking of individual excellence, The Mailman was so good for so long. He won two MVP awards, was selected an All-Star 14 times, and was a First-Team All-NBA member for 11 straight seasons. Jordan prevented Malone from winning a championship, but the accolades make a solid case for the Jazz great to be on this list.

5. Dirk Nowitzki

Some may want to put Kevin Garnett over Dirk here, but Nowitzki has the longer career, sixth on the all-time scoring list, and a championship as the best player on the team. Sure, KG was a generational defender, but Dirk has a winning record over Garnett in the playoffs and regular season. In his MVP season, Nowitzki averaged 26.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists while shooting 50% from the floor, 40% from three, and 90% from the line.

5 Greatest Centers in NBA History5 Greatest Centers in NBA History

Centers were historically the most stacked position in the NBA, so it’s a shame not put all the greats in a list of 5. 

1. Bill Russell

11 championships. Enough said.

2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Based on his NBA accolades alone, Kareem is firmly on the GOAT players list. He won five MVPs and five championships. For his career, he averaged 24.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.1 blocks.

3. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt owns the single-game scoring record with 100 points while also leading all-time in rebounds. His 50.4 PPG in the 1961-62 season is the highest single-season scoring average. Furthermore, The Big Dipper once averaged over 27 rebounds a game and grabbed 22.9 per game in his career. 

4. Shaquille O’Neal

While Wilt and Kareem were not allowed to power through opposing defenses, Shaq had all that freedom. O’Neal was a force to be reckoned with, a physical specimen with the agility and reflexes of a guard. Shaq was a four-time champion and a three-time Finals MVP, with career averages of 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.3 blocks.

5. Hakeem Olajuwon

If Shaq was pure power, Hakeem beat opponents through finesse and grace. But that doesn’t mean he’s not dominant. The Dream was one of the best two-way superstars the league has seen. He is the only NBA player with at least two DPOYs and two Finals MVPs. Michael Jordan (6 FMVPS, 1 DPOY) was the only player who came close.

Wrapping Things Up: 25 GOAT NBA Players by Position

The NBA GOAT debate is a bomb waiting to explode, mainly because there is no correct answer. Those who favor Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, or anyone they can think of simply draw their own stats to support their opinion.

A better way to subjectively look at the whole landscape is to rank players by position. Even that could be tricky because there are so many great NBA players in the league’s history. That said, naming GOAT NBA players by position is an excellent way to cover all bases rather than simply crowning a single GOAT.

We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.

Hoops Addict
Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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