Fresh eyes have concluded a host of Boston Celtics have played themselves into basketball immortality.
Bleacher Report published its definitive list of the NBA’s top 50 players of all time Thursday, and eight legendary ex-Celtics players are on it. Among them are superstars of the team’s dynasties of the 1950s and 1960s and 1980s as well as the “big three” from the 2008 NBA Finals-winning squad, Boston’s most recent championship.
Without further ado, here are the Celtics greats on Bleacher Report’s top 50 list, where they rank and snippets about their credentials, via Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey:
Ray Allen, 44
“When you think of the prettiest shooting forms in NBA history, Ray Allen’s almost always comes up.
Paul Pierce, 41
“… By the time he retired in 2017, Pierce had racked up 26,397 points, 6,918 free throws and 2,143 threes. Today, he ranks 15th, ninth and eighth, respectively, in those three categories.
“On top of his steady scoring (he’s second in Celtics history in points scored), Pierce was also a solid secondary playmaker (3.5 assists per game) and a reliable defender (part of six top-five defenses in Boston).”
Bill Walton, 39
“Injuries robbed the basketball world of a long career from one of the greatest passing bigs of all time and the precursor to (Denver Nuggets Center Nikola) Jokic.
“The difference between Jokic and Bill Walton, though, was that the latter was also dominant on defense.
“Combine the playmaking with Walton’s scoring and defense and you had a player who, if healthy, would’ve been much higher on this list.
Kevin McHale, 34
“… On top of the up-and-unders, offensive rebounding and shot-blocking, a big part of the brilliance of McHale’s career was his willingness and ability to accept and adapt to whatever role was thrown his way.
“Despite averaging less playing time than his peers featured here, McHale made seven All-Star teams, six All-Defensive teams and one All-NBA team. He also won three titles and two Sixth Man of the Year awards.”
John Havlicek, 26
“… In his own time, Havlicek was one of the game’s most well-rounded players.
“Over the course of his career, Havlicek’s 20.8 points per game ranked 29th. And the only players to match his combination of points, rebounds and assists over that time were Wilt Chamberlain (No. 9 on Bleacher Report’s top 50 list), Rick Barry (50) and Oscar Robertson (11).
“He finished with 13 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA selections, eight All-Defensive selections and the 1974 Finals MVP.”
Kevin Garnett, 16
“… Kevin Garnett helped lay the foundation for today’s increasingly positionless game.
“He could dominate the boards. … He could defend. … And, of course, he could score.”
“… But Garnett’s most impactful trait may have been one that isn’t quite as easily measured.
“‘He changed … the entire organization,’ Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck. ‘… it was the fact that he believed. He had this strong faith in what the team could be.'”
Bill Russell, 8
“On top of the 11 championships, Russell piled up 12 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA selections and five MVP trophies. Regardless of the level of competition he faced, Russell’s defensive instincts and abilities may be unmatched across history.”
Larry Bird, 5
“Over his 13-year career, Larry Bird piled up 12 All-Star selections, 10 All-NBA selections, three All-Defensive selections, three NBA championships, three league MVPs and two Finals MVPs.
“Bird’s place at or near the top of the league throughout his career was the product of one of the most fundamentally sound individual games in the history of basketball.
“… If you frame his basic numbers as what he did relative to the league average at the time, they look even more impressive. … Above average at everything. Way above average in several categories.
“And Bird didn’t just dominate the NBA. He did it with an unrivaled and unique brand of swagger.
Bleacher Report also stacked an “honorable mentions” category with players who missed the top-50 cut. Among them are, in no particular order, four more legendary ex-Celtics players: Al Horford, Sam Jones, Robert Parish, Bill Sharman.
Debaters, have at it.