Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images /

50. Bill Walton

  • Resume: 10 seasons, 2 NBA championships, 1 NBA Finals MVP Award, 1 regular season MVP Award, 2-time All-NBA selection, 2-time NBA All-Star, 1 Sixth Man of the Year Award, 2-time NBA All-Defensive Team, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 13.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.8 BPG, .521/—/.660 shooting splits, 20.0 career PER, 39.3 win shares

Bill Walton is an NBA what-if for the ages. A series of injures (broken nose, foot, wrist and leg at different times) derailed his first two years in the league, and that was just the beginning. Once he was finally healthy enough to play 65 games during the 1976-77 season, Walton led the league in rebounds and blocks, led the Portland Trail Blazers to the title and earned Finals MVP honors.

Here’s the dilemma: Despite winning the regular season MVP the following year as Portland won 50 of its first 60 games, Walton suffered a broken foot that would be the first of dozens of injuries to his feet and ankles, destroying what would’ve been a truly legendary career. So the question is, how much credit do we give to a player who only gave the NBA two-and-a-half transcendent years?

If we were to include “what-ifs” and “potential” in these rankings, Grant Hill would be near the top, Anfernee Hardaway would be in here somewhere and Derrick Rose would’ve made the cut too. But Walton makes this list because at his peak, he was hands down the best center in the league and played for one of the greatest forgotten title teams of all time.

Had Walton’s feet held up, who knows how many games that 1977-78 Blazers team might have won? And how many additional championships? Walton was the perfect piece for that team, helping to keep the ball moving as an otherworldly passing big who locked down the paint on the other end. He would later serve a sixth man role for the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, another one of the greatest title teams of all time. For those reasons, and for those transcendent seasons, we cannot, in good conscience, leave him out of the top 50.