The Best NBA Players of All Time, Ranked
There are many lists of the best players in NBA/ABA history, and each is attempting to answer a slightly different question. REALGM and ESPN use a "wisdom of the crowd" approach that leaves the criteria open to the individual voters. The great Backpicks top 40 puts an emphasis on value added over the course of a players entire career. None of these approaches are right or wrong, and I think that a lot of time when people argue about players it's mainly because they have not defined the parameters of what they are trying to measure. Which player is the best for one game, one year, or for their whole career? We could give three different answers to the best player based upon which of those three questions we were trying to answer.
So, what are we doing here?
The parameters that I was following really led me to place a strong emphasis on a players "portability", which I measure as how well a player fits in with a random selection of other players, with an emphasis on how well they fit with other good players. Think of a player like Larry Bird, who can fit seamlessly with almost any group of players. Need shooting? passing? defense? positional versatility? Name a great player, and it feels like Larry Bird would fit well next to them. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I think of a player like Carmelo Anthony. A great player, no doubt, but if our team is already poor defensively, or has another player who plays "with the ball", we are not looking at a great fit.
*player comps are found via the Crafted NBA Similar Player App for players post 1978 and a very similar method in excel for players pre-1978.