After having evaluated the top players historically at each position (C, PF, SF, SG, PG), it's time to put it all together and try to create one list. As I've stated before, the key thing I'm looking for is a player's ability to improve his team's odds of winning games and contending, so both regular and post-season success are factors.
There are a zillion considerations that could fill an entire article of their own when putting together any list like this, but I'll try to standardize how I look at the players without complicating things too much. My scenario for considering the value of these players in helping a team contend is:
I can add two good players to a squad whose remainder is 10 average players that cover all the positions, and our goal is to play together for 10 years in a modern-style league and to contend for and win as many titles as possible. The two good players will use their best 8-year stretch throughout the hypothetical decade (considerations allowed for freak injuries, forced to be a backup for too long, baseball sabbaticals, etc – and we're talking abilities & intangibles here, not their stats), with two random seasons from their career that don't fall in the 8-year stretch thrown in at two random spots. So you get the best 8-year stretch of two players, plus two other random seasons from their careers (this helps guys like Parish, hurts guys like Reed), and you want to do as well as you can next to otherwise average teammates for a decade.
That's the basic scenario, and these top-50 are generally grouped by what their role would be as one of those two good players. This isn't a perfect scenario, but it's at least an attempt to consider them all under the same pretenses. Some of the guy's careers are very difficult to place into it, but I attempted to consider a fairly consistent version of it for everyone.
This first group, players 35 through 50, are here because they would certainly have to be the complementary player in the good pair for the entire decade because their peak wasn't high enough or long enough to contend for titles, or they just weren't alpha enough to be “the guy,” or they could be the top guy in the pair for a couple years before problems arose. This last group of players was particularly troublesome to evaluate and place. Rick Barry was super talented and could lead a team to a title, but there is no way he could remain with the same group for an extended period of time before either he or everyone else quit. Oscar Robertson didn't connect with his teammates, and his clubs all ultimately underperformed before he took a supporting role next to Kareem. Dominique didn't exactly understand the team concept, but he had a 3-year stretch that was just brilliant as a club carrier. You get the idea.
The rest of the top 50 list is:
50. Dominique Wilkins – Being a “me first” scorer doesn't endear him to this list, but his '85-86 to '87-88 run is enough to squeak him in; he carried a rather dismal Hawks team to 50, 57, and 50 wins and into the second round in three consecutive seasons during the NBA's most talented stretch while in the East with superb Boston and Detroit clubs, the underrated Bucks, and a rapidly improving Chicago team.
49. Ray Allen – Elite shooter, carried ho-hum Bucks ('01) and Sonics ('05) teams in the playoffs while his teammates got cold, and then became one of three selfless leaders for a great Celtics squad. He's not a standout passer or defender, but he does both intelligently.
48. Joe Dumars – Super complementary player who got it done defensively and in the big moments.
47. Gary Payton – The Glove had every PG skill and obliterated Stockton on numerous occasions, but he could also kill his own team behind-the-scenes.
46. Paul Pierce – Pierce was/is sort of like LeBron Lite with a much better shot and more inconsistent volatility in the playoffs.
45. James Worthy – You could never build a team around Worthy, but for 8 straight years you would absolutely kill for his playoff contributions.
44. Robert Parish – Chief is tough to place since his career was good for so long, but he was never a leader and didn't really peak.
43. Clyde Drexler – All sorts of leadership and skills, except for the “it's a crucial moment (and/or the playoffs) and time to take over” switch.
42. Tommy Heinsohn – Only 8 players since the advent of the shot clock have lead at least 3 championship teams in scoring during the regular or post-season. Jordan tops the list at 6 times, and Heinsohn is second at 5, besting such luminaries as Kareem (4x), Duncan (4x), Bird (3x), and Shaq (3x). Heinsohn is also the only rookie ever to do it.
41. Rick Barry – His value to a club would be great for a season or two, and by that point he had made a mortal enemy out of every teammate and was looking for a new home. If he and Oscar could have ever learned how to buy into the long-term concept of a team, they would both be in the top-10. Maybe neither of them deserves to be ranked as valuable to a franchise at all..?
40. Oscar Robertson – The Big O had great skills and efficiencies, but he never connected with his teammates nor had big post-season moments, and consequently his Cincinnati teams (which had very good talent) missed multiple playoffs and won only 2 series in 10 years.
39. Nate Thurmond – Thurmond was an absolute gem if his team didn't need him to create much offense, but boy could he defend and get massive amounts of rebounds against anyone.
38. Dennis Rodman – Was a one-man rebounding army who was a better version of LeBron's 2012 defensive self – just don't expect him to score any points.
37. Elgin Baylor – For all the love older fans have for Baylor's pre-Jordan air show and monstrous numbers, he was a really inefficient scorer who just didn't provide the push/attitude to make LA great.
36. Hal Greer – Did pretty much everything well, but he lacked dominance and a strong post-season resume.
35. Patrick Ewing – Maybe the top “stats look good, but playoff/clutch contributions and title-level alpha-dog leader status don't hold up” player since Elvin Hayes.