Now we’re getting to the filet mignons and prime cuts in our countdown of the top 75 peaks in NBA history.

As a reminder, we’re looking squarely at on-court ability in a player’s absolute prime. In other words, If you could pick any player in history, with the hopes of winning the title immediately, not knowing the era, rules, coach, or teammates — who would you choose?

Part 1 bridged the gap from George Mikan to Joel Embiid and every era in between. Part 2 featured scores of dominant point guards with the likes of Gary Payton, Russell Westbrook, Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson, John Stockton, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd jostling for position. Even 22-year-old Luka Doncic stopped on by!

TOP 75 PEAKS: 26-50 51-75

Later this month, the NBA will be announcing its 75 greatest players in celebration of the league’s 75th season. Instead of the greatest 75 careers, we’re putting our own spin on it and looking instead at individual peaks. Take for instance, current players just entering their primes. You can’t compare the entire career of someone like say, work-in-progress 26-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo to Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki. He’s got another decade-plus to add to his resume! But if we’re talking strictly peaks and primes… now we’re talking.

Check out Part 1 for a complete explanation of our methodology. Long story short: we polled over 50 NBA experts and compiled all of their rankings to create our final top 75.

Today, we’re counting down from 25 to 11. Let’s go. 

MORE: MJ or LeBron? Debating which NBA legend had the higher peak

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25) David Robinson

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1995)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 10
  • Peak personified: One of only five players to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year

Though Robinson wasn’t the best player on his own title team, his peak has come to be even more appreciated in hindsight as many modern analytics illustrate just how much of a two-way force he was. The four other players to win both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year are also all champions and it doesn’t feel like a coincidence. How many players could drop 71 on the final day of the regular season to win a scoring title?

24) Moses Malone

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1979, 1982, & 1983)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 8
  • Peak personified: Won three MVP awards and Finals MVP in a series that featured Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson

Malone’s peak is not nearly as appreciated as it should be and there’s a case to be made that he’s the single most underrated great player in league history. The greatest offensive rebounder of all-time with an essentially unstoppable motor. He won in Philly and if it wasn’t for a young Larry Bird, Malone would have brought Houston a championship a decade earlier than The Dream did.

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23) Dwyane Wade

  • Highest MVP finish: 3rd (2009)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7
  • Peak personified: 39.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 18.3 FT attempts per game over last four games of 2006 NBA Finals to rally from a 2-0 deficit

In 2011, John Hollinger made the case that D-Wade’s 2006 run was the single most dominant Finals performance in NBA history. How’s that for peak performance! Wade’s 2006 run will forever haunt the dreams of the devoted Mavericks fans, the final four games were an onslaught and Dallas had no answer. 2009 Wade was also just a half-step behind LeBron James in terms of athletic ability and overall output, a special regular season year that might be amongst the best ever not to culminate in an MVP award

22) Karl Malone

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1997 & 1999)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 14
  • Peak personified: Selected First-Team All-NBA 11 straight seasons from 1988-89 through 1998-99

Malone’s longevity is largely his greatest NBA calling card but he will forever be remembered as an unstoppable pick-and-roll partner, paint scorer, and one of the strongest men to ever play on the hardwood. No shame in losing to Jordan.

21) Charles Barkley

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1993)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 11
  • Peak personified: Won an MVP award at Jordan’s physical apex and took two games off the three-peating Bulls in the ‘93 Finals

Of all the players Jordan faced in his six runs to the Finals, ‘93 Barkley was the greatest. The best player and leading scorer on the Dream Team, the Round Mound of Rebound was a much better athlete than he is an analyst. It’s tragic he hates advanced numbers because they help spell just how efficient he was relative to the field at the peak of his powers.

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20) Kawhi Leonard

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (2016)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections:  5
  • Peak personified: Highest win pct in NBA history and two-time Finals MVP with Spurs and Raptors

Leonard’s bizarre career was built for this list. In a ludacris twist of fate, he’s dealt to a Toronto franchise that was a star away. They come together, Leonard has the best run of his career, hits an all-time iconic shot and they wind up winning Canada’s first title. A saga so poetic that it had to end with a twist of tragedy.

MORE: Ranking the best small forwards entering 2021-22

19) Julius Erving

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1974, 1975, 1976 in ABA; 1981 in NBA)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7 NBA, 5 ABA
  • Peak personified: Named All-Star and made playoffs in all 16 seasons of his ABA and NBA career

Quentin Albertie, SLAM contributor and Peak 75 voter on Erving: 

“I wanted to give my thoughts on ranking Julius Erving so highly (perfect score of 100), as most people would probably have it a bit lower. From my perspective, Erving was a prototypical wing in terms of his size, athleticism, scoring potency, playmaking and defensive accomplishments. His dominance is evidenced by certain accolades (four NBA MVP selections and 16 All-Star selections (one for every season of his career). He’s also one of the players whose dominance in the ABA translated to the NBA. While the merger essentially makes them a collective entity, he literally became an all-time great player for two different leagues; much in the same way people discuss LeBron James or Kobe Bryant having two Hall of Fame careers in separate jerseys, Erving (with no. 32 and no. 6) did as well.”

18) Dirk Nowitzki

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2007)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 12
  • Peak personified: Defeated LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the NBA Finals as the lone All-Star on 2010-11 Mavericks

Nowitzki’s peak might’ve come in his 2007 MVP year, or immediately prior, but for all intents and purposes most people will probably remember the 2011 playoff run. The run felt like it had a strange force pushing behind it with so many veterans on their last legs with that team. People will remember the dismantling (and sweep) of the three-peat seeking Lakers and of course the Heatles coming up short in the finals but time felt like it froze in the Western Conference Finals. Nowitzki couldn’t be stopped, nor slowed, and the young gunners on the Thunder couldn’t keep up. While you were reading this, Dirk just drained another one-legged16-footer.

17) Jerry West

  • Highest MVP finish: 2nd (1966, 1970, 1971 & 1972)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 12
  • Peak personified: The man is the literal logo of the league

West went to nine finals, finished second in the MVP race four times, was the only player ever to be named the Finals MVP when his team didn’t win the Finals and still wound up as the Logo. Well ahead of his time as a shooter, West’s peak might be one of the few that transfer somewhat seamlessly to the present day game.

16) Kevin Garnett

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2004)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 9
  • Signature accomplishment: Six straight seasons average 20-10-5

For Garnett, just about anything was possible. The best and most important player on the Boston Celtics 2008 title, Garnett’s peak was actually spent as a Timberwolf. Garnett had one contending roster in Minnesota, during that 2004 campaign he won the MVP and his Wolves came two games away from unseating the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant Lakers. Before San Antonio’s trophy case got too out of hand, “Garnett or Duncan” was a very real conversation.

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15) Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2019 & 2020)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 5
  • Peak personified: Antetokounmpo, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only players to have won a Finals MVP, MVP, and Defensive Player of the Year award

Ti Windisch, network coordinator at BlueWire Podcasts, and Peak 75 vote on Antetokounmpo: 

“I’m probably higher on Giannis Antetokounmpo than many voters. I understand I surely succumb to some Bucks bias, plus the recency bias of having seen him lead a team to a championship just a few months back, but seeing the new version of him we saw in the postseason truly embrace physical, back-to-the-basket play in a league with more shooters than ever makes me believe he is on a GOAT trajectory. Giannis always tried to do a bit too much ball-handling and creation, when with his current skillset he’s better off finishing plays, not necessarily starting them. Embracing his inner Shaq led Giannis to a championship and Finals MVP to go with his two regular season MVPs, plus just the seventh 50 point game in NBA Finals history. In dropping 50 to clinch a Bucks championship, Giannis joined the only two players I gave perfect scores of 100 to (Michael Jordan and LeBron James) in the process. Maybe I am biased, but there is no debating that Giannis has all the makings of an all-time great already.”

MORE: Inside the Greek Freak’s path to GOAT status

14) Oscar Robertson

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1964)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 11
  • Peak personified: The original triple-double season was a record that stood 55 years!

Although he didn’t win until later in his career, Roberson was inevitable on the stat sheet. He was incapable of apathy and warred on the court. His numbers stunned the masses for over 50 years, just an overwhelming testament to his individual talent.

13) Hakeem Olajuwon

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (1994)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 12
  • Peak personified: Torched Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal in succession en route to 1995 NBA title

Olajuwon might be the most well-rounded big to ever play. Equally dominant on offense and defense, the dismantling of his rival before ultimately going blow-for-blow with O’Neal in a Finals the Rockets would sweep truly stands out as one of the special runs. Jordan taking a pause in the years they could have met in the Finals will forever leave a somewhat dreary ‘what if,’ hanging in the balance.

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12) Stephen Curry

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2015 & 2016)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 7
  • Peak personified: The only unanimous MVP winner in league history

During his unanimous MVP season, Curry had the most electric regular season of all-time. No shot was out of bounds, no defensive look could force him from his game. Crowds swarmed just to see the warm-up routine. The Warriors were a well-oiled machine marching to a record-breaking 73 wins! It was an incredible year and though it ended in spectacular drama, to the distaste of Warriors fans, a truly unforgettable peak year.

MORE: Where does Curry rank among the NBA’s best 30 players?

11) Tim Duncan

  • Highest MVP finish: 1st (2002 & 2003)
  • First/Second-Team All-NBA selections: 15
  • Peak personified: First-Team All-NBA as a rookie and Finals MVP as a second-year player

Duncan’s Peak personified might actually be that it’s tough to pick one from a career that spanned three decades and saw him celebrated amongst the league’s elite on 15 different occasions. Not to be lost in the celebration of longevity, 2003 MVP Duncan slamming the door on Jason Kidd’s Nets with a 21-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist, and 8-block showing certainly comes to mind.

Thanks for reading, we’ll see you back tomorrow for the top 10. Will LeBron or Jordan finish No. 1? Or will one of history’s dominant bigs take over the top spot?


Thanks again to the awesome collaborators who took time to pitch in for this project!

Contributors: Micah Adams Quenton Albertie Andy Bailey Rod Beard Ryan Blackburn Shawn Coleman Ben Collins Kevin Cottrell Adria Crawford Evan Dammarell Spencer Davies Jabari Davis Shamit Dua Travonne Edwards Farbod Esnaashari Beau Estes David Gardner Andy Glockner Dan Greenberg Lauren Gunn Nicolas Henkel Chase Hughes Josiah Johnson Jason Jones Dragonfly Jonez Trey Kerby Alex Kramers Dieter Kurtenbach Mitch Lawrence Josh Lloyd Jason Maples Danny Marang Oliver Maroney Kelly Melvina Janelle Moore Matt Moore Law Murray Krishna Narsu Eric Newman Ashley Nicole Moss Zak Noble Gina Paradiso Jeff Pearlman Andrew Potter Sam Quinn Eustacchio Raulli Billy Reinhardt Andrew Sharp Keith Smith Allana Tachauer Justin Termine Brad Townsend Roosh Williams Ti Windisch Ant Wright Trill Withers , and Su York.