To celebrate the NBA's 75th anniversary, the league will later this year honour the "NBA 75," a list of the 75 greatest NBA players to have ever played the game of basketball.
In 1971, the NBA announced its 25th Anniversary Team to kick off this prestigious honour, followed by the revealing of the 35th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1980.
In 1996, the league expanded upon those teams, creating a list of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, selected by a panel of media, current and former players, coaches, general managers, and team executives.
MORE: Who was selected to the NBA's 25th, 35th, 50th Anniversary Teams?
The "NBA 75" will undoubtedly be the toughest to form, given the amount of all-time talent the league has seen since the creation of the last list.
Players like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson and Steve Nash hadn't even entered the league yet and will all almost certainly be selected. Others like Jason Kidd, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Gary Payton and Pau Gasol have all built strong cases as well.
With a talent pool like that, how many spots would that leave for active players who have left an everlasting impact on the NBA?
For reference, on the "NBA 50" list, there were 11 active players selected. Legends like Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton were rewarded for their contributions to the game.
But with the aforementioned group of players who weren't eligible for the previous list, it's hard to imagine there will be room for as many as 11 active players on the "NBA 75" list. So who will the NBA panel consider and where do the cuts begin?
Active players who could make the "NBA 75"
There isn't even a case that needs to be made for LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. You simply cannot have a list of the 75 greatest players in NBA history without this trio included.
James is arguably the best player who has ever graced the court. Curry completely altered the way the game is played today and is the greatest shooter in league history. Durant just might be the most talented scorer of all-time. And all three of them have the awards, accolades, statistics and resumes to back their selections.
Another player who I would consider very close to a lock, and should find his name on this list, is Chris Paul. No matter how you choose to order them, Paul is one of the five greatest point guards of all-time and his resume justifies a selection.
After that foursome, things get tricky. In my opinion, there is a list of six active players who should expect to see their name on the "NBA 75" list.
Next in line
He is only 26 years old, but Antetokounmpo has made it tough for the panel to leave him off of this list.
He's a two-time MVP, one-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA selection, four-time All-Defensive Team selection, and, most recently, an NBA champion and Finals MVP.
Antetokounmpo is one of only three players in NBA history to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, joining Jordan and Olajuwon, two players who made that "NBA 50" list. He is also the only player in NBA history to win a Most Improved Player of the Year award and then go on to win an MVP or Finals MVP. He is a symbol of growth, he has magnified the ever-developing prominence of the game internationally and even at a young age already deserves a spot on this elite list.
After cracking the top 10 on the NBA's all-time scoring list this past season, Anthony has a solid case to make the "NBA 75."
The naysayers will point to him not having a Larry O'Brien in his trophy case, but Anthony is still a 10-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA selection and one-time scoring champion. He has tallied a remarkable 27,370 points (and counting) over his 18-year career and if he can play for another couple seasons, he has a realistic chance of climbing as high as eighth on the all-time scoring list.
Every other player who is in the top 10 all-time in scoring will find their name on the "NBA 75," so why not Melo?
Harden is another player who has an argument as one of the greatest scorers in NBA history.
He has led the league in scoring three times and boosts his resume by being one of only five players to have both a scoring title and assist title to his name, joining Jerry West, Tiny Archibald, Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook (three of whom made the "NBA 50" list, and the fourth having a case to be made shortly here).
Harden is a one-time MVP, nine-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA team member, and he is also one of two players in league history to win Sixth Man of the Year and MVP, joining Bill Walton, who was also on the "NBA 50" list.
Harden ranks 33rd on the all-time scoring list and 42nd on the all-time assists list. At 31 years old, he will surely climb his way closer to the top. His 2,445 3-pointers made are also fifth-most in league history.
But awards, accolades and statistics aside, Harden has made a significant impact on how the game is played today, placing an increased focus on 3s, layups and free throws. He is a maestro in his craft and has a chance to be recognized for it on the "NBA 75" list.
Howard may not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of active players who could crack the "NBA 75," but he's certainly a part of the conversation.
He was the most dominant big man in the league for nearly half of a decade, represented by five rebounding titles in six years and back-to-back blocks titles in two of those seasons. To put his defensive prowess into perspective, Howard is the only player in NBA history who has won Defensive Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons.
He carried his Orlando Magic team to the NBA Finals during an unstoppable season in 2009, and although they came up short of a title, he would eventually earn his first championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020.
He is an eight-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA Team member and five-time All-Defensive Team member. He ranks 11th all-time in rebounds and will surely crack the top 10 this upcoming season. He has more boards than players like Garnett, O'Neal, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone, all of whom will be on the "NBA 75" list. He ranks 13th all-time in blocks, again surpassing players like Garnett, Hayes and Malone, as well as Kevin McHale, who was on the "NBA 50" list.
Howard's resume is more than worthy of consideration for the "NBA 75."
To put it plainly, Leonard is one of the best two-way players to ever play the game.
Leonard's breakout as a star and lockdown defender in the league can be symbolized by one moment, as the then-22-year-old created an agonizing reaction from arguably the greatest player in NBA history just by checking into the game during the 2014 NBA Finals.
Leonard would go on to win his first NBA title and Finals MVP during that series, which was just the start of what has become a decorated and remarkable career.
He is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, seven-time All-Defensive Team member, five-time All-Star and five-time All-NBA Team member. He had one of the most memorable NBA title runs in recent history, leading the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever championship in 2019, earning his second Finals MVP trophy along the way.
Although he hasn't appeared in enough regular season games to tally the counting stats needed to climb all-time leader boards or win regular season MVP awards, there is no denying that you cannot tell the story of the NBA without mentioning Leonard's name.
For that reason alone, he deserves a look for the "NBA 75."
Westbrook is among the most talented players the NBA has ever seen, as evidence of his record-setting 184 triple-doubles (and counting), the most in league history.
As mentioned in the Harden section, Westbrook is one of five players in NBA history to have a scoring title and an assist title to his name, but he is the only player in league history to have multiple of both, with three assist titles and two scoring titles.
Westbrook is a one-time MVP, nine-time All-Star and nine-time All-NBA Team member. He ranks 12th all-time in assists and will undoubtedly crack the top 10 before his career is over. He ranks 34th all-time in scoring and should have no trouble climbing into the top 25 there, either. There are also only two guards in NBA history (Kidd and Robertson) who have more rebounds than Westbrook, and if he plays another three or four seasons, he may take the top spot in that category.
The heart and intensity that Westbrook plays with will leave an imprint on the NBA forever.
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