Back in 1996 — the year the baby crawling on the ceiling in “Trainspotting” gave us all nightmares — the Association released its list of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. It was undoubtedly a strong list. Nobody on the list is weak. We could quibble around the edges about who should have gotten in, but the list was good for it’s time.
But that time was 17 years ago. The NBA landscape has changed a lot since then.
What players now would push their way on to that list (and push out a Dave DeBusschere or Dolph Schayes)?
To me, there is a group of five no-brainers at the top: Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki. I’m not sure how you argue against any of those (and if you try to with Nowitzki, think about his international impact as the greatest European player ever in the league).
But the next five get interesting.
Is Steve Nash one of the 50 greatest of all time? Posnanski makes this argument in favor.
That said, Nash’s combination as brilliant playmaker and brilliant shooter is probably unmatched in the three-point era of the NBA. Well, there’s no probably about it: Do you know how many players have made 150 three-pointers and dished out 800 assists in a season? One. Steve Nash. And he did it three times.
What about Ray Allen? He’s the greatest three-point shooter the game has seen, one of the best pure shooters ever, and he’s got a ring. Does he get in? If him, what about Reggie Miller, who Posnanski also has on the list? Personally I can’t put Reggie on there, although my distaste for his job as an “analyst” may play into my feelings.
What about Paul Pierce? He’s the most iconic Celtic since the Larry Bird era, but is he top 50?
Gary Payton? He’s a newly minted Hall of Famer who Posnanski says belongs.
I think of Payton as the Barry Larkin of basketball (or Barry Larkin as the Gary Payton of baseball). Payton scored, passed, rebounded, played defense so spectacular they called him The Glove. Like Larkin (who hit, stole bases, hit with power, played great defense, got on base), Payton rarely did things that jumped out at you. He just did everything.
I’d put Payton in, but that may be a personal bias as I love The Glove.
Thing is, you look at this list and you know that in 10 years Kevin Durant is going to have to be on it. And what about Chris Paul? The NBA is blessed with a lot of young talent that is going to make a Top 50 harder and harder to pair down every few years.
Just after getting dunked on by Clint Capela, Cousins showed his frustration by pushing Trevor Ariza after a whistle. The Pelicans center got his NBA-leading ninth technical foul – automatic suspension triggered at No. 16 – but I’m surprised this didn’t escalate beyond just that.
Paul George floors Jeremy Lamb with crossover, hits step-back 3-pointer over him (video)
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s a roundup of Monday night’s action you might have missed while paying for a $14,000 Uber ride.
1) Rockets fall behind in a shootout, but come back from 13 down late in the third to extend win streak to 10. This was as good a game as the Pelicans could play without Anthony Davis — they put up 103 points on 58.7 percent shooting and hitting 17 threes. DeMarcus Cousins was a beast in the paint, while Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore couldn’t seem to miss from beyond the arc. Late in the third the Pelicans were up 13, and they were up 10 at the start of the fourth.
It was not enough.
James Harden had 12 points in the fourth (and finished the game with a career-high 17 assists).
Clutch scoring last two games: James Harden 18, Rockets opponents 16
Chris Paul added 11 in the fourth, and the Rockets stormed back winning the fourth 37-20 and the game 130-123, extending their win streak to 10 games.
The Rockets are 21-4 and are outscoring teams by 11.4 points per 100 possessions this season — they are the best team in the NBA right now. CP3 and Harden mesh on offense — the Rockets are +7.8 points per 100 when they are on the court together — and Houston surprisingly has the fifth best defense in the NBA this season. None of this is a fluke. This team is playing hard right now, establishing an identity, and establishing themselves as a contender.
Can they beat a healthy Warriors team in a seven-game series? I am not going that far, I think there are things that can be exploited in a series, but we are five months away from the Rockets needing to answer that question. What Houston has shown is it is the team best suited to challenge Golden State — the Rockets can play at pace and thrive, they have multiple elite scoring playmakers (and coach Mike D’Antoni staggers them so one is almost always on the court), they have a switchable defense that can attack the Warriors wings, and they have the right mindset. GM Daryl Morey put together a team to go after the Warriors, and he did it better than anyone. They are a legit threat to the title holders, and the Rockets should only get better as the season moves along.
2) Celtics lose with Kyrie Irving out. Thunder lose because… you tell me? There were a couple of upsets Monday night in the NBA, but only one was easy to excuse.
The lowly Chicago Bulls have not been quite so lowly the past week, winning three straight games, the latest one handily against the Boston Celtics 108-85. Credit best friends Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis (*cough*) who combined for 47 points, plus the improved play of Kris Dunn lately continued as he had a dozen points. We would normally call this a terrible loss for the Celtics, and you can be sure Brad Stevens didn’t like it, but with Kyrie Irving sitting out with a left quad contusion, there is at least a good reason for the off night.
There is no good reason for the Thunder — fully healthy — to lose at home to the Charlotte Hornets 116-103. The Hornets hit 13-of-25 from three, and Dwight Howard outplayed Steven Adams all night on his way to 23 points, Kemba Walker had 19 points and 9 assists, but this is the kind of game the Thunder should win. After a Russell Westbrook highlight slam over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the game was tied 66-66, but then the Hornets went on a 22-2 run. Of late, the Thunder looked like they were turning a corner with three straight wins, but then followed it up losing 2-of-3 now and needing to go to overtime against a shorthanded Grizzlies team to get that one win. Royce Young re-tweeted himself and hit the nail on the head.
I keep thinking, “Okay, this is officially the low point for the season,” and then a week later it’s “Okay, THIS is officially the low point of the season,” and then a week later…
There is no one thing wrong with the Thunder, but more and more focus is turning to Carmelo Anthony. Not just his lack of defense or his shooting slump — he had 11 points Monday and is shooting 33 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three his last five games — but the roster depth OKC gave up to get him. Paul George and Russell Westbrook have a grove together (the Thunder are +4.8 per 100 when they are paired) but things slow when Anthony is added to the mix and another star sits while Anthony plays. In ‘Melo’s last five games OKC is -1.8 per 100 with Anthony on the court.
"What we're seeing is Melo aging before our eyes," a source from another team said the other night. https://t.co/V5acjzLCLY
The Thunder still have time, but each day the inconsistent play and losing get more concerning. As George said after the game, “We can say we’re going to figure it out, we can say all that, but at some point it’s got to stop.”
3) Matt Barnes retires. Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.
For a lot of fans, mention Barnes and they think of the guy who tried to get in a fight with Derek Fisher. Or the New York nightclub incident with Cousins. Or the guy who was a pest on the court and seemed a magnet for technical fouls and fines from the league office. But Barnes was the kind of guy you wanted coming off the bench on your team and hated to play against — he went hard, he could shoot threes, he defended, and he brought a spark to the game. He was the kind of opponent you hate to go against.
Barnes was a second-round pick out of UCLA who played for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well after Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes was thrust into a larger role (the Warriors went on a 14-game win streak in that time).
While he had a rough exterior, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off for him. He’ll be missed by some of us, but he’s a guy ready for life after basketball.