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NBA Top 150 – 150 thru 147

I am counting down the top 150 players in NBA history…here are numbers 150 thru 147.

150) Stephon Marbury6′ 2″ PG from 1996 – 2009…The dynamic hotshot out of Georgia Tech played only one year there before entering the draft and going 4th overall behind Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. I remember being very high on his prospects at the time, thinking he would have a better career than Iverson because his game seemed more polished, while his quickness and explosiveness was maybe just one notch below A.I. His athleticism and skills did enable him to have an impressive NBA career stats wise, but his head and attitude prevented him from acheiving greatness. The numbers: 6 times at least 20 pts/8 asst in his career, 3 times over 22 pts/gm (peaked at 23.9 in 2001). 2 time all-star, 3 times better than 5 free throws made per game. His final career averages were 19.3 pts, 7.6 asst (#15 all-time), 3.0 rebs, and 1.2 stls…he only shot 43.3%. He had a beautiful stop-n-pop jump shot – great elevation, perfect form – and could explode to the hole and throw it down like few PGs before or since. His unwillingness to continue his career in Minnesota playing alongside another young, hyper-athletic stud big man (Garnett) was truly baffling, and became the hallmark of career – questionable decision-making, selfish guy. He played only 2 seasons in New Jersey before they shipped him out for Kidd (and then subsequently made the NBA Finals the next two seasons, 2002 & ’03). His career winded down in New York before one last season with the Celtics and KG again (ironically). You have to wonder as he once again played alongside his former fellow T-Wolve if he had any regrets about his career decisions – KG having reached his potential, piled up all-NBA seasons, all-star games, and a ring – while his own underacheiving legacy was rapidly ending. He should have ended up far higher on this list…double digits, not three.

149) Maurice Stokes – 6′ 7″ PF from 1955 – 1958…A tragically short career, but he shined as bright as anyone for the 3 years he was able to play. He was far ahead of his time with his skill set, as Red Auerbach said of him “a Magic without flair, but then, he was a power player…he was in the style of a Karl Malone”. His first game as a pro, playing for the Rochester Royals, he put up 32 pts, 20 rebs, 8 asst. He finished his rookie year averaging 16.8 pts, 16.3 rebs (league leader), and a remarkable 4.9 asst (8th in NBA). He could dribble the ball the length of the floor as a power forward, along the lines of a Chris Webber but 40 years earlier, and with similar passing skills. His next two seasons went like this: 1956-57…15.6 pts, 17.4 rebs (2nd in NBA), 4.6 asst (3rd); then 1957-58…16.9 pts, 18.1 rebs (2nd), 6.4 asst (3rd). He was all-NBA 2nd team all 3 years of his career. But then tragedy struck…his final game as a pro, he fell over the back of another player, landed on his head, and was knocked out for a bit. He regained conciousness, continued to play, but then got very ill on the team flight home, turning white and sweating profusely. He eventually went into a coma for 10 hours or so, and then woke up completely paralyzed. His teammate Jack Twyman (himself a two-time all-NBA 2nd teamer) became his legal guardian and helped him out for the rest of Stokes’ life as he died in 1970 at age 36. Barring the tragedy, Stokes’ legacy would likely have been up there with the greats of his era – Wilt, Russell, Oscar, West, Pettit, Cousy, and Jerry Lucas. He was a freakish talent in the 50’s…you can check out the story at YouTube.

148) Michael Cooper – 6′ 5″ SG/SF from 1978 – 1990…He of the infamous ‘Coop-a-loop’ alley-oop dunk, Cooper will always be remembered as one of the best perimeter defenders in NBA history, and an integral member of all 5 of the Lakers championship teams from the 1980’s. Larry Bird called him the best defender he ever faced, high praise considering he also faced ‘The Worm’, Dennis Rodman. Cooper was 1st team all-NBA defensive team 5 times, including defensive player of the year in 1987, while making the 2nd team all-defense 3 more times. But it wasn’t just about D with the super-skinny product out of L.A. (Pasadena High School, Pasadena City College, then 2 years at New Mexico before coming back to L.A. for his entire NBA career). Cooper averaged better than 5 asst/gm three times in his career, including 5.9 in 1984 and 5.7 in ’86. Four other times he was between 3.8 and 4.6 dimes/gm. He also was an ironman, playing all 82 games six times in his career, with 3 more seasons at 80 games or better. Throw in all his playoff games, too, along with his seemingly frail (but obviously wiry strong) frame, and his durability was pretty amazing. And when it came to the playoffs, Coop was always at his best, averaging double-digit scoring 5 times vs. just twice in his regular season career. In the 1987 playoffs, he connected on an astounding 48.6% of his 3 point attempts, draining just under 2 per game. For his career, he shot 34.0% from distance in the regular season, 39.2% in the playoffs. And if you’re wondering “why the very uncool knee-high socks?”, here’s your answer: He had a league championship game in high school that was going to be televised, and his grandmother, who had cataracts, told him he’d have to do something to distinguish himself from everyone else. So he pulled his socks up high, scored 25 with 9 boards, and kept the look going for the rest of his career. 

147) Baron Davis – 6′ 3″ PG from 1999 – Today…Built like a fullback but with the quickness and explosiveness of a tailback, the bearded point guard out of Crossroads High (here in L.A.) and UCLA has had quite an enigmatic NBA career. First, the numbers – 2 all-star teams, one 3rd team all-NBA, 3 times 20+ pts, 4 times 8+ asst, 6 times 4+ rebs, and 5 times 2+ steals. He dominated games with his personality as much as his skills & athleticism. When motivated (which unfortunately wasn’t always), he was a dynamic and difficult force to deal with. He was clearly the best player on 2 different playoff teams that amazingly won their 1st round matchups. The first and most amazing was the 2002 Charlotte Hornets. Baron led the team in playoff minutes; here were the next 4 biggest minutes guys in those playoffs: David Wesley, P.J. Brown, George Lynch, and Elden Campbell, in that order – wow!!! Talk about a poo-poo platter! Baron was 22.6, 7.0 reb, 7.9 asst, and a phenomenal 3.6 stl in those 9 playoff games. Jamal Mashburn was on that team, but injured during the playoffs. His next amazing playoff feat was the memorable upset over the defending Western Conference champion Mavericks (and #1 seed) playing with the Golden State Warriors in 2007. This team had zero size essentially, as Jason Richardson was their leading playoff rebounder at 6.7/gm. They did have Stephen Jackson alongside Baron, but their best bigs were Al Harrington and Andris Biedrins. Baron averaged 25.3, 4.5 reb, 6.5 asst, and 2.9 stls while shooting a red hot (for him) 51.3% in those playoffs. The following season was Baron’s last highly productive season. Playing all 82 games, he averaged 21.8, 4.7 reb, 7.6 asst, and 2.3 stl but then signed with the Clippers as a F/A in summer 2008. Unmotivated after Elton Brand renigged on his promise to stay with L.A., Baron was basically fat and out of shape, but making $13m/yr while going through the motions. Now with the Cavs, who just recently made a PG the #1 pick of the 2011 draft (Kyrie Irving), his career is fading, but not forgotten. He remains #37 on the all-time NBA steals list with 1,496, #19 in stl/gm at 1.86 per, and #21 on the all-time assist list at 7.3/gm.

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