1. Bob Cousy
2. Nate Thurmond
3. Allen Iverson Bob Cousy
- Very underrated on this board. When you look at the players from his era, Mikan and Pettit were better than Cousy. But Cousy has a strong argument for being better than any other player from his era. You could argue that Cousy was better than Schayes and Schayes got voted in a long time ago in the no. 41 spot.
Cousy - 13x all star, 10x all NBA 1st team, 1 MVP, 6x NBA title
Schayes - 12x all star, 6x all NBA 1st team, 0 MVP, 1x NBA title
Cousy has a clear edge in awards and titles over Schayes plus had greater impact on the game - decades later, Cousy was the guy all point guards modeled their game after. Did Schayes do that? Of course not - he was a PF and the guy back then all PFs modeled their game after was Pettit.
What about Arizin? He was a SF and he didn't have as much impact as Cousy either - Baylor was the guy back then all SFs would model their game after - not Arizin.
And as for awards and titles, we have:
Cousy - 13x all star, 10x all NBA 1st team, 2x all NBA 2nd team, 1 MVP, 6x NBA title
Arizin - 10x all star, 3x all NBA 1st team, 1x all NBA 2nd team, 0 MVP, 1x NBA title
Not to mention the impact Cousy had on the game and his legacy. We simply had never before seen a guy who could make the kind of passes that Cousy could. It's like he had eyes in the back of his head - able to see 2 steps ahead of the opposition, able to anticipate where his teammates would be, hit teammates perfectly in stride for transition layups. Some of the plays he made - you might watch them today in 2021 and think they are routine plays - but a) many of the plays he made were truly outstanding and not routine at all and b) He was so far ahead of his time - to make the types of plays he did back in the 50s was pretty amazing. Keep in mind back then there was much more strict rules in regards to dribbling. The way players dribble the ball in today's game - they would get called for a carry, palming or travel pretty much every time down the floor. Cousy was called the hardwood Houdini for a reason. And it's not like he was all flash and no substance (like Maravich, Jason Williams, etc.), Cousy was all about winning. That's all he cared about - winning. Scoring the basketball, making great passes to teammates to get them baskets. Hell, he was even a good rebounder for his size. He did whatever it takes to win. He became the player that all point guards who would come later on would model their games after.
Not for another 2 decades when Frazier came along would we see a player as good as Cousy at both scoring and setting up teammates for scores. Frazier was obviously a better defender, but he also had the advantage of coming along decades later, when more players were lifting weights, rules weren't as strict on palming/carrying/traveling, the ball was easier to shoot and easier to dribble than the one Cousy played with, etc. Frazier was voted in at the no. 30 spot in this poll. Is he really 26 spots better than Cousy? No way.
Cousy led the NBA in assists 8 years in a row.
Cousy was hands down the best player at his position for an entire decade, was considered the best scorer and best passer at his position for an entire decade, and completely ignore all of the awards (which were voted on be people who actually were alive back then and followed the game very closely LIVE and based their voting off not just stats but also intangibles, eye test and impact the player had on the game, reputation around the league, etc. and also completely ignoring contributing the more titles than any PG ever, a huge part of the greatest dynasty in NBA history, the guy who was the one leading the famous Celtics fast break which changed the way the game would be played from then on since up until then no one else was playing that type of push the tempo, run run run, get quick shots up before the defense is set type of style. Let's also ignore that during his career Cousy made more high degree of difficulty shots - shots that literally no one had ever even attempted, let alone made, he was also the league's best ball handler and passer for his entire career - in an era where they played with a ball that was MUCH more difficult to dribble, pass and shoot than the ball they have the advantage of playing with today.Nate Thurmond
- right in that same tier with Reed, Gilmore and Ewing. I see those four centers as pretty debatable. Ewing, Gilmore and Reed all got voted in already - it's Thurmond's time now. Thurmond has a strong case for being better than all 3 of them (probably the best defender of the group, but Gilmore has the longevity and ABA Finals MVP, Reed has 2 Finals MVPs so I've got Thurmond just barely ranked behind those other guys).
Both Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain have gone on record saying they felt Thurmond was their toughest adversary. “He plays me better than anybody ever has,” Abdul-Jabbar told Basketball Digest when he was in his prime. “He’s tall, has real long arms, and most of all he’s agile and strong.” In an article in Sport, Abdul-Jabbar also said, “When I score on Nate, I know I’ve done something. He sweats and he wants you to sweat, too.”
"Some basketball observers have suggested that the 6-11 Thurmond provided the best mix of offense and defense in basketball history. Many say that his defense was better than Chamberlain’s, and that his offense was better than Bill Russell’s. With quickness and long hands, a smooth outside shooting touch, tenacious rebounding, classic shot blocking ability, and a total team attitude, Thurmond offered a perfectly balanced package."
Thurmond is one of the most underrated players of all time and is top 50, no question in my mind. https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/warriors/defensive-dominator-thurmond-one-nbas-most-underrated-all-time
Thurmond went against Wilt, Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Unseld, Bellamy, Beaty, Cowens, Reed - all in their prime. Yet he still managed:
-7 all star games in 14 seasons
-2 times all defensive 1st team, 3 times all defensive 2nd team...despite the fact that all defense awards didn't exist until his 6th season! Clearly one of the best defensive players of all time and one of the best rebounders of all time
-Did not make a 1st or 2nd team all NBA (obviously those usually went to Wilt/Kareem/Russell) but there's very little question he would have made quite a few all NBA 3rd team selections if it existed back when he played
-Finished 2nd in MVP voting in 66-67, finishing ahead of Russell, Robertson and Barry - Thurmond finished no. 2 behind Wilt who was no. 1. Finished 11th in 69-70, 8th in 70-7, 8th in 71-72, 9th in 72-73 and 8th in 73-74
-Helped his team to NBA Finals in 67, where they lost to arguably the greatest team of all time, the 67 Sixers. That series Thurmond averaged 14 PPG and 26.7 RPG while playing 47 MPG, going head to head vs Wilt. Thurmond's Warriors fell in 6 games to Wilt's Sixers. Let's compare that to the Eastern Division Finals - Russell (while also going against Wilt) averaged less PPG (11) and less RPG (23) than Thurmond, and Russell's Celtics lost in 5 games to Wilt's Sixers. How did Wilt do in each series? His numbers. were better in the Eastern Division Finals, going against Russell than they were in the NBA finals vs Thurmond. Wilt went from 21 PPG, 32 RPG and 10 APG vs Russell down to 17 PPG, 28 RPG and 6 APG vs Thurmond.
Ranking of players getting traction: Cousy > Parish > English > Mourning > Walton > McGrady > Davis