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 second group, players 10 through 34, are here because they either had a good peak that could carry a contender for some years but it was too short for our decade scenario, or they could be a highly valuable complementary player for all 10 seasons. These players could all be a major part of a team that did quite well for a decade, but each showed one or more limitations that forces you to really consider who the other good player is that they're paired with. Ultimately a team cannot be a top contender for nearly 10 full seasons with any of these guys as their best player; that would be the legends in the top 9.
The rest of the top 50 is:
Part 1, #35-50
Part 3, #1-9
34. Walt Frazier - One of the premier big-game and defensive PG's of all-time. He wore smaller defenders down in order to take high percentage shots, but his lack of speed and an outside shot makes his transition to today's game tough to extrapolate.
33. Kevin McHale - McHale was a fantastic scorer and outstanding defender, but he wasn't the type of player you could hang your franchise on for years.
32. Dirk Nowitzki - He could carry a club and perform in the clutch, but he lacked consistency in a lot of areas, which hurt the consistency of his teams in the post-season.
31. Chris Paul - His complete orchestration of a team's success is very similar to Isiah (who CP3 is a better shooter than) or Nash (who CP3 is a better defender than), but I'm a bit worried about his recurring injuries and occasional too-willing-to-defer-in-big-moments attitude. He's only 7 years into his career, but he's consistently shown what it takes to finish as a top-25 player.
30. Dave DeBusschere - There have been very few complementary players who could set the tone for a contender, but DeBusschere was one of them. Look at his tremendous defense, rebounding, and outside shooting, and he would make one hell of a second fiddle.
29. Billy Cunningham - Played tough, always did what was best for the team, and could put up points, grab boards at a high rate, and pass it well for a forward. Ultimately though, he's still not "the man" on a regular contender.
28. John Stockton - Stockton looks phenomenal on paper and was a great leader, but remember that his apex was lower than almost all of his decent assumed-to-be-lesser contemporaries like Payton, KJ, and Hardaway. He's one of the most notorious beneficiaries of hometown stat-keepers in history.
27. Willis Reed - Reed is incredibly tough to rank since he kicked serious ass at both ends of the floor for an iconic team, but his career was basically 7 years long.
26. Dave Cowens - Cowens played at a high level for a strong team for a little longer than Reed. That and slightly superior rebounding gives him the nod between the two even with Reed being both a better scorer and defender.
25. Julius Erving – Erving carried some disjointed Sixers clubs to great heights before Moses arrived and got them to the promised land. There are plenty of holes in Dr. J's game that would hurt him today (tricky to rank for this reason - could slide as low as 40-ish based on his lacking jumper, defense, and passing), but his emotional and on-court leadership added tremendous value.
24. Charles Barkley - Barkley certainly did a great job carrying a bad Sixers club for years, but he also didn't know when to let his skilled teammates do some of the heavy lifting while in Phoenix, which ended up hurting them in multiple playoffs.
23. Karl Malone - Great numbers forever, but he needed someone else to carry the club through the playoffs and fourth quarters.
22. Bob Cousy - One of maybe 4 or 5 truly transcendent PG's who could transform an entire team's offense, but Cousy still needed teammates who could provide the D.
21. David Robinson - Great teammate, great defender, very good scorer and rebounder...but when push came to shove in the playoffs, he just couldn't keep up with great opposing centers.
20. LeBron James - This is pretty much the spot James would earn if he retired today. I'm not sure how high he'll get to because on one hand he's obviously ultra-talented and versatile and can carry every type of squad, but on the other hand his post-season meltdowns during his first 8 seasons were a little bit much.
19. Scottie Pippen - Pippen is one of the most versatile ballers of all-time, and an unbelievable defender. His plateau of greatness, however, wasn't particularly long for an all-time legend considering he never had a real peak (his best season, '93-94, wasn't particularly mind-blowing for a HOFer considering how pitifully shallow the East's talent was at the time).
18. Sam Jones - Super scorer (efficiency and versatility) who was super clutch - would have been a SportsCenter legend today. Unfortunately for his ranking, he was a reluctant leader who never wanted the responsibility of being "the man" full-time.
17. Bob Pettit - Absolute beast down low, banging heads with everyone for some unbelievable numbers that carried his team to 4 Finals in 5 years. Similar to Kevin Love, his team's style of play was limited due to his bad defense and athleticism.
16. John Havlicek - Basically a slightly better version of Pippen with a stronger true peak.
15. Wilt Chamberlain - Without question the hardest player to rank on this list. He could dominate the game in many ways and was often the centerpiece of contenders, yet he routinely faded away in the most crucial games and moments, and everyone hated playing with him so much he was traded twice in his prime. It should be noted that he played radically reduced roles on the two championships he was part of (averaged 12 shots/gm those 2 seasons - averaged 31 shots/gm up until that '67 Sixers team). He could transform a club in the regular season...but only for so many years until the whole squad would blow up under his self-serving stat-chasing and backstabbing. Is that the guy you'd build around for 10 years, because no one did? I could easily leave him completely off this list (for the record, I would never pick him for my team), but he really could carry a club to a high seed while having highly efficient numbers for years at a time.
14. Kevin Garnett - He's shown that he can put a bad team on his back or be the alpha-dog leader on a squad of Hall of Famers, but he better have someone else next to him willing to shoulder some playoffs responsibilities because KG tends to defer too much on that stage.
13. Moses Malone - Malone put together an absolutely monstrous 6-7 year peak, yet the rest of his career doesn't match up very well, and he was constantly changing franchises.
12. Steve Nash - I know a ranking this high seems odd for such a terrible defender (not much worse than Magic, btw), but he was everything I said about Cousy except also an unbelievable shooter, which is why his teams' success reacted so strongly to his presence. It's a shame it took so long for him to finally get to play with a great defensive big man like Magic and Cousy had helping them win titles for years.
11. Jason Kidd - Carried bad surrounding talent further than any star ever. Could absolutely change a team's offense by making everyone better, plus he was a great defender. Think I ranked Kidd too high? If you only get two good players in the stated scenario, don't you want one who has tons of experience improving non-good teammates and lifted them to consecutive Finals?
10. Isiah Thomas - Not only was Isiah perfect at knowing when to flip the switch between facilitator and taking over (resulting in some of the hugest playoff games ever for a PG), the Pistons adopted his tough, gritty, tenacious attitude as their own and rode it to great heights. He had everything you'd want in a PG except an outside shot and better leadership early in his career.