The NBA will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next season. The celebration will include naming the NBA’s 75 greatest players, 50 of which were already selected during the 1996-1997 season, when the league celebrated its 50th anniversary. Basketball Network’s “The Next 25” aims to look back at the careers of some of the game’s greatest players as we give our take on who should be part of the twenty-five names that the league will add to the list.
In each edition, we will make a case for five players that we feel meet the criteria. Today, we focus on the final five players we think should make it to the list announced this coming season in a group we call “the split decisions.”
Prior to Dirk Nowitzki winning a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, Pau Gasol won back-to-back chips as Kobe Bryant’s co-star for the Los Angeles Lakers, with the second title being against the Boston Celtics where Gasol averaged 18.6 points and 11.6 rebounds for the series to avenge their finals loss to the C’s in 2008. Gasol’s enormous contributions to the championship-level basketball the Lakers were playing would have made him the greatest international basketball player in NBA history, if not for Dirk’s magnificent performance in 2011; that is how good Pau Gasol is. Pau retired with career averages of 17 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 blocks, numbers which should have been higher if not for a few years spent playing very limited minutes later in his career. Gasol was also one of the game’s most efficient players, he shot 50 percent from the field and nearly 37 percent from beyond the arc in his 18 NBA seasons. In twelve of those eighteen, Gasol’s teams made it to the playoffs. Beyond the numbers however, Pau will be remembered as the missing piece to Kobe’s championship aspirations in the post-Shaq era, his contributions to the Lakers are immeasurable as he played the triangle offense and complimented Bryant’s play to perfection. With two rings to show for it, Pau is definitely one of the 75 greatest players of all time.
The Frenchman is one of the few players not named Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, or LeBron James to win a Finals MVP in the 21st century. Given that the four players mentioned account for 11 of the 21 Finals MVP awards since the year 2000, getting one during that period in time is an all-time great accomplishment. As the NBA game shifted from being focused on the big man to being dominated by guard play, Parker’s development as a player and a leader ensured San Antonio’s consistent excellence in the league. TP took the league by storm and became known for his patented teardrop shot, a floater with minimal backspin on the ball that would clear the fingertips of opposing big men with its high arc, a shot that is in the arsenal of almost every NBA scorer today. Injuries often saddled Parker towards the end of his career, but very few guards controlled the game’s pace and were as effective as Tony.
Like Tony Parker, Paul Pierce was another player that snuck in a Finals MVP in the 21st century when he led the Boston Celtics to their first title since 1986 by beating Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008. Pierce’s journey was very different from Parker’s, playing as the star of a second-rate playoff team for most of his career; Paul struggled to get the notoriety he deserved as one of the best players in the league due to his team’s underwhelming records. When Pierce finally got help (and a lot of it) in the likes of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics were always a contender. Pierce finally got his recognition after being named finals MVP in 2008 with averages of 21.8 points and 6.3 assists per game, he will also be remembered for his epic duels with LeBron James during The King’s first stint with Cleveland and then when James moved to the Miami Heat. Pierce gave James the business in some of those games, which helped LeBron grow into a player who would eventually surpass Pierce in individual and team accomplishments.
This one may raise a few eyebrows given how the last few years have been, but Melo already sits in the top 10 of the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Given the amount of time he has spent away from the game recently, the fact that he has reached this milestone and is still in a position to add to this total at the age of 37, is incredible. Drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the 2003 NBA Draft, Melo instantly made the Nuggets a contender in the tough Western Conference. During his days with the New York Knicks, the team would always be in the playoffs and although they failed to achieve much success as a unit, they were always one of the threats to the Miami Heat’s dominance. Despite Melo’s reduced role in recent years, he still has a career average of 23 points per game, higher than some of today’s best scorers such as Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Melo is simply an exceptional talent, and as he chases a title with his buddy LeBron James and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers, Anthony shouldn’t need that ring to make it to this illustrious list.
Mr. Big Shot is a player often forgotten in the annals of the NBA’s history, possibly because of the simplicity of his game and the tepid fanfare around the Detroit Pistons even when they were at their best. The Pistons upset the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals, and Chauncey was the team leader, averaging 21 points and five assists for the series to win the Finals MVP that year. Billups was not the team’s leading scorer, but he was the guy that made everything happen for them on both ends of the floor. Chauncey also played a highly efficient brand of basketball, especially in the finals when we shot 52 percent from the field, 47 percent from three, and 93 percent from the line. He was never the flashiest, but the Pistons were a team to reckon with from 2003 to 2007, and Chauncey was the captain of that ship. For being the leader of one of the best defensive teams ever to play the game, Billups earns the last spot on the list.