The Top 25 NBA Players in their Prime

Posted on August 4, 2011 by


James is a law student from Tacoma, Washington. He is a lifelong Seattle SuperSonics fan, but is still able to enjoy the NBA, perhaps more objectively, without his favorite team. Check out his great work at Shut  Up and Jam.

The Best NBA Players Primes

The Peak Year Article over at Basketball Reference gave me an idea for a post – a different way to look at the best players ever. I ranked the top 25 players by Wins Produced in their prime. Their “prime” is their best 6 seasons. Unlike at Basketball-Reference I didn’t ensure their best 6 years were continuous, just the top years in their career. This is to make sure that a player isn’t hurt by sticking around too long (e.g. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) or having an off season or two due to injury. Here’s what I came up with:

Table 1: Top 25 NBA Players based on their best 6 Seasons (1974-Present) 

Rank Player Prime Years Prime MP Average WP Prime WP48
1 Magic Johnson 82′, 83′, 87′, 89′-91′ 17558 27.8 0.456
2 Charles Barkley 86′-90′, 93′ 17862 27.6 0.445
3 Michael Jordan 88′-92′, 96′ 18989 27.5 0.417
4 Kevin Garnett 02′-07′ 18798 26.5 0.406
5 Larry Bird 83′-88′ 18219 26.0 0.411
6 David Robinson 90′-92′, 94′-96′ 18018 24.9 0.398
7 Dennis Rodman 90′-94′, 98′ 16642 24.5 0.424
8 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 74′,76-80′ 18509 24.1 0.375
9 LeBron James 05′, 06′, 08′-11′ 18875 23.2 0.354
10 Jason Kidd** 99′, 03′, 06′-09′ 18090 22.1 0.352
11 John Stockton 88′, 89′, 91′, 92′, 94′, 95′ 17980 22.1 0.354
12 Shaquille O’Neal** 93′-95′, 99′-01′ 18094 21.9 0.348
13 Hakeem Olajuwon 87′-90′, 93′, 94′ 18245 21.9 0.345
14 Ben Wallace 01′-06′ 17154 21.8 0.366
15 Dwight Howard 06′-11′ 17742 21.5 0.349
16 Karl Malone 90′, 91′, 93′, 96′-98′ 18646 21.3 0.329
17 Tim Duncan 98′, 02′-04′, 07′, 08′ 17614 21.1 0.345
18 Moses Malone 79′-83′, 89′ 19017 20.8 0.315
19 Dikembe Mutombo** 93′-95′, 99′-01′ 17583 20.3 0.333
20 Shawn Marion 01′-03′, 05′-07′ 18738 20.3 0.312
21 Chris Paul 06′-11′ 15775 19.5 0.356
22 Clyde Drexler 87′-89′, 91′, 92′, 95′ 17550 19.5 0.320
23 Fat Lever 85′-90′ 16837 19.0 0.325
24 Scottie Pippen 91′-95′, 97′ 18144 18.9 0.300
25 Dirk Nowitzki 01′-03′, 05′-07′ 18063 18.0 0.288

* Numbers for 1974-1978 use turnovers in the team defense aspect of Wins Produced

** Numbers in 1999 readjusted for an 82 game season from a 50 game season.

(Editor Dre here! You know I’m not happy without a list or some images so James kindly let me fill in the commentary. Here goes!)

The Old Guard

9 MVPs and 3 Finals MVPs. Yeah they were good.

Both Moses and Kareem had long and fruitful careers. It turns out they were really good in their primes too. Let’s give it up for the only players on our list from the 70s.

The Dream Team

What the heck are Chris Mullin and Christian Laettner doing here?

It still amazes me that this collection of talent got together in their primes. The only two shooting guards on our list (Michael and Clyde) make their appearance here. I’m more than happy to label this team the greatest ever assembled.

The Redeem Team

Melo, Tayshaun? Sheesh

Four great players in their prime (Kidd,Paul,LeBron and Howard) easily anchored this team. Dwyane Wade is the only other active player close to cracking the top 25, which he might do if he can stay healthy. Excluding Kidd these players are still young and have a chance to climb the list. 

Shaq vs. Hakeem


These are two of the most dominant centers of the turnover era. Both had amazing primes that included MVPs and back to back titles. While they are neck and neck according to the numbers, I’d say Hakeem won the tie-breaker.

The Best Power Forwards of all Time

What a difference a team makes.

These two are an example of the rings vs. numbers argument. Both make a good case for being one of the greatest power forwards ever. I’ll say use San Antonio as an example of what to do with a great power forward and use Minnesota as an example of what not to do.

Underrated Pistons

Fear the Fro!

The Bad Boy Pistons of the 80s and the “no-star” Pistons of the 00s are great places to find some of the most underrated players of all time. Rodman and Wallace are the only two players on our top 25 list not selected in the first round of the draft. I’ll just let their combined 6 Defensive Player of the Year awards and 6 titles speak for themselves.

Underrated Nuggets

Best Nuggets Center of all Time.

Fat Lever helped the run and gun Nuggets of the 80s to a few 50 win seasons and limited playoff success. Dikembe helped the otherwise bleak 90s have one bright spot for Nuggets fans. I don’t think many Nuggets fan realized they were watching some of the greatest individual seasons of all time, which is a pity.

The Mavericks

Two people are out of place in this image. Can you spot them?

This year’s Mavericks had the greatest collection of talent without a title. In their primes Dirk, Marion and Kidd were impressively good, but this season they played support to an underrated Chandler to win it all. Dirk does end up on an all-time greats list, which was true without the title.

-James  w/ help from Dre