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NBA Top 150: #132 thru #124…

132) Reggie Miller – 6‘ 7″ SG/SF from 1987 – 2005...A brash, confident, mouthy sharpshooter out of UCLA, Miller spent his entire career in Indiana, craving the big moments when he could drain a three late in the game and seal yet another Pacer victory. The 11th pick of the 1987 Draft, the genius Indy fans complained that local hero Steve Alford wasn’t the selection (Alford’s career stats, taken 26th overall by Dallas: 4.4 pts, .9 rebs, and 1 asst in just under 10 minutes a game playing only 4 seasons…Indy got it right). He came a long way from the guy everyone said wasn’t even as good as his big sister (Cheryl Miller – if there’s a chick list for the top 100, she’s top 5 for sure). Miller was a fine player with a fine resume – the infamous 8 points in 9 seconds vs. the Knicks in the 1995 playoffs to steal a game 1; six times averaging 20+ pts (career best 24.6 his 3rd season); #14 on the all-time points list with over 25,000; #2 on the all-time threes list with 2,560; five times leading the league in free throw percentage (career 88.8%, #9 all-time; 6,237 FTM, #14 all-time); and made 5 all-star teams and 3 all-NBA 3rd teams. He also had tremendous longevity and durability – 12 times he played at least 80 games (I’m including the ’99 season when he played all 50), and as late as his 15th year in the league, at 36 yrs old, he averaged 16.5 pts/gm while shooting over 45% from the field and over 40% from distance. But there are also many warts with Reggie. He was TREMENDOUSLY one-dimensional, at 6’7″ never averaging 4 rebs/gm in his career and only once averaging 4 assists (4.0 in 1991). His defense was adequate, nothing special. His Pacers made the NBA Finals once, losing to the Lakers 4-2 in 2000 (24 pts, 2.4 rebs, 2.7 asst those playoffs), as well as 4 other conference finals in his prime, three times losing in game 7’s: 1994 to the Knicks (Reggie was 7-17, 25 pts, 2 rebs, 0 asst); 1995 to Orlando (5-13, 12 pts, 4 rebs, 0 asst); and 1998 to Chicago (7-13, 22 pts, 0 rebs, 4 asst). Jeez, that is some ugly one-dimensional crap there. Basically 20 pts, 2 rebs, 1.3 asst, and 44% shooting…awful numbers with a trip to the finals on the line. And yet, despite this, he is by far the most overrated guy I’ve come across in my research for this list. I consulted many other lists initially, and the two I respect the most, Bill Simmons’ and Slam Magazine’s, had him 63rd and 54th respectively. On other lists I saw, he was 50th, 64th, 78th, and then #26 for guards only (there are well over 40 guards ahead of him on my list). If Reggie wasn’t hitting his shots, he really wasn’t doing much for his team. He is getting a lot of credit for longevity and some clutch moments outside of those awful game 7’s just to be this high. Certainly guys like Fat Lever, Latrell, Chet Walker, John Drew, and Penny were way better all-around players. I’m not sure he’ll even remain this high when the book is finally published. I will admit one more amazing thing with him though – did he ever age during his career? He looked the same at 38 as he did at 23. He even looks about the same now calling games now for TNT. Reggie Miller – a colorful long-bomber who played a long time, but not close to a top 100 player all-time.

131) Calvin Murphy – 5‘ 9″ PG/SG from 1970 – 1983...The lifetime MVP of the imaginary NBA 5′ 9″ & Under League that would have Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb on the all-time team, along with Earl Boykins – a very underrated smurf, absurdly quick in his prime playing for the Clippers and Nuggets. Anyway, this is where the list hits home – Speedburner size…though technically I’d be ineligible since I’m actually 5′ 9 & 3/8″. Murphy was a dominating player in college at Niagra. As a freshman, when he could only play other school’s frosh, he averaged 48.9 points a game! He didn’t drop much when he joined the big boys, as he averaged just over 33 points a game for his career – 4th all-time in NCAA – making All-America all 3 yrs (2nd team soph year). Not only was he lightning quick, but also had supreme hand-eye coordination as he was an expert baton twirler before playing basketball, winning a national championship in 8th grade, and kept it up to win the 1977 State Championships in Texas, during the prime of his career. But back to hoops, the San Diego Rockets made him the 18th overall pick of the 1970 draft, going behind future greats Bob Lanier, Pete Maravich, Dave Cowens, and even Rudy Tomjanovich, and just one pick ahead of Tiny Archibald. Upset and insulted at being picked so low after his stellar collegiate career, Calvin spent the next 10 years showing the league his greatness. He had a wonderful stop-n-pop jump shot where he usually released the ball while still on his way up, with lots of touch. He had a great mid-range game, and was a such a great scorer he actually played shooting guard at times during his career. Of course, he went to the hole plenty of times utilizing his quickness, and if he ever got fouled – forget about it. A career 89.2% free throw shooter (7th all-time), he still holds the record for FT% in a season at 95.8 in 1981, and once made a record 78 in a row that stood for 10 years. For his career, he averaged over 20 pts/gm 5 times, peaking in 1978 at 25.6 while shooting 49.1%. He also averaged over 7 asst/gm twice, and during a seven year prime from 1973-74 through the ’79-’80 season, averaged 20.5 pts, 5.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and shot 49.5%. He was the 3rd best player behind Moses Malone and Robert Reid on the Rocket team that upset the Lakers in the 1981 playoffs and eventually lost in the finals to Boston, averaging 18.1 pts those playoffs while shooting 49.8% from the floor and an absurd 96.7% from the line (58 of 60). And for a little guy, he was tough and durable, playing all 82 games five times while missing just 16 total games during his first 9 years in the league. Regarding his stature, he once famously said “The average height for the American male is 5′ 9″. I’m the only normal-sized person in the NBA.” He was voted into the Hall of Fame back in 1993.

130) Rudy Tomjanovich – 6‘ 8″ SF/PF from 1970 – 1981...Rudy T…The Punch…’Never Underestimate the Heart of a Champion’…these are things that come to mind when one thinks of Tomjanovich, as well as a disastrous stint as Laker coach post-Phil and post-Shaq, but Rudy T was actually an excellent ballplayer in the 70’s. He put up monster numbers at Michigan (career 25.1 & 14.4 rebs, including 30.1 & 15.7 his senior year), before becoming the second player selected in the 1970 draft, behind only Bob Lanier and just ahead of Pete Maravich. He was a backup his rookie year, but started alongside Elvin Hayes in the Rocket frontcourt his 2nd year and responded with 15 pts & 11.8 rebs a game. The next year Hayes left for the Baltimore Bullets, and Rudy became the best player on the squad, responding with a solid 19.3 & 11.6 in 81 games. These two seasons ended up as his only with double digit rebounds, but he remained the Rockets best player for two more seasons, averaging over 20 pts on better than 52% shooting both years. Overall, before The Punch, Rudy T averaged 20 pts, 9.3 rebs, and shot 51% from his second season through that game against the Lakers on December 9th, 1977. He also made 4 All-Star teams during that period. Here is a link to a video that gives a detailed account of game events that led to The Punch, as well as a great shot of the Kermit Washington right cross. Rudy T suffered fractures of his face and skull, a broken nose and jaw, and a concussion, as well as spinal fluid leaking into his brain cavity. His face was unrecognizable for many weeks afterward. Nonetheless, he suited up for opening night the next season, played 74 games, and averaged 19.0 pts and 7.7 rebs while shooting 51.7% from the floor – quite a studly performance all things considered. Overall, he was one of the best shooting forwards during the 1970’s, averaging at least 20 pts four times (24.5 career best in ’74), and sinking over 51% of his shots five times while making 5 All-Star teams. His best Rocket team was the 1976-77 squad that featured Moses Malone’s first year in the league (13.5 pts, 13.4 rebs, 2.3 blks) but they were unable to overcome the 76ers in the Eastern Conference finals, losing 4 games to 2. Rudy T averaged 20.3 pts and shot 50.5% in those playoffs…his rebounding slipped to 5.4, as Moses swallowed up 16.9 rebs/gm that postseason.

129) Sam Cassell – 6‘ 3″ PG from 1993 – 2008…Cassell starred at Florida St. alongside Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward and one of the ‘blackest’ white guys to ever play in the NBA, Bobby Sura (loved his game). Sporting a guard heavy lineup with these three future 1st round draft picks (Sura the highest at 17th in 1995, Ward 26th in ’94, Cassell 24th in ’93), this trio of guards led the Seminoles to the Elite Eight during the NCAA Tourney in 1993. After Cassell left for the NBA, FSU only made the tourney once (1998) over the next 15 years. Cassell’s winning qualities continued to shine when he arrived in the league. He played about 22 minutes a game during the ’94 and ’95 playoffs on the Hakeem championship Rocket teams, contributing roughly 10 pts, 4 dimes, and a steal a night in those limited minutes – Kenny Smith manned the point when Cassell was on the bench. The Rockets traded Cassell and Robert Horry after the 1996 season to the Suns for Charles Barkley…then the Suns traded him and Michael Finley mid-season to the Mavericks for Jason Kidd – so Cassell was traded twice for future Hall-of-Famers in less than 5 months (and he wasn’t done moving yet, as the Mavs traded him 2 months later to N.J. – this time, no Hall-of-Famers involved). The next year Cassell showed these teams what they were missing, as he averaged 19.6 pts, 8 assists, 1.6 steals, and 5.8 free throws a game at an 86% clip – 6th in the league in free throws made that year – quite impressive for an average sized, non-explosive guy. Cassell would go on to record 6 seasons of at least 18 pts/gm (career high 19.8 in ’04), 5 seasons of at least 6.7 assists (9.0 career best in ’00), and twice average over 4 rebounds a game. His career averages ended up at 15.2 pts, 6.0 asst (#57 all-time), 3.2 rebs, and 1.1 stls while shooting 45.4% from the floor and 86.1% from the line. But it was his ability to lead and produce victories when it counted most that got Cassell to this spot on the list. In 2001, playing alongside Ray Allen and Glenn ‘Big Dog’ Robinson, he led the Milwaukee Bucks to within one game of the NBA Finals, falling 4-3 to the 76ers. At Minnesota in 2004, this time with Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell, he again lost in the conference finals – 4-2 to the Lakers and Shaq, Kobe, Malone, and Payton. Finally, with the Clippers in 2006, he and Elton Brand led the Clips to their only playoff series win in their entire L.A. history, and almost won a hard fought 2nd round series vs. the Suns, losing in 7 games. His overall averages in these 3 playoffs: 17.3 pts, 5.7 asst, and 3.7 rebs…and he was 31, 34, and 36 years old during these playoffs! Interestingly, none of these franchises has experienced near the success that they enjoyed in ’01, ’04, and ’06 respectively. Cassell retired after the 2008 season 30th on the all-time assist list (5,939) and 28th on the all-time FT% list.

128) Shawn Kemp – 6‘ 10″ PF from 1989 – 2003… The Reign Man, or the nickname that I called him, Kemper Financial (it didn’t catch on, much like my nickname for Kendall Gill – Kendall Motor Oil – I liked 80’s products/commercials as nicknames). I distinctly remember the pre-draft hype and mystery surrounding Kemp, as he played no college ball at all (scandal at Kentucky forced him out, then transferred to a JC that he never played for either). He was the first player since Moses Malone to go straight from high school hoops to the pros, and after getting a taste of things in his first year (14 minutes a night, 6+ pts, 4+ rebs, about a block per), he was ready to play with the big boys, while announcing he was bigger, stronger, and definitely more explosive than most of them. Kemp averaged a solid 15 pts, 8.4 rebs, 1.5 blk while shooting over 50% his second season, and then embarked upon a 6 year spree where he averaged a double/double every season, finished top 10 in FG% three times, and led the league in vicious, authoritative, get-the-hell-out-of-the-way dunks. One of the best in-game dunking big men of all time, here are 10 of his best from that era – check the one where Chris Gatling gets posterized but still immediately gives Kemp a low five afterwards. Kemp ran the floor as well as Hakeem, had Hakeem’s amazingly coordinated spin move, and was every bit as explosive as The Dream was in his prime. In the 1996 Playoffs, he outplayed Hakeem (averaged 13.8 rebs/gm in a sweep of Houston), Karl Malone in the conference finals (last 3 games of the 7 game series – 25.3 pts, 13.7 rebs, and shot 27-41 from the floor, 65.8%), and then in the Finals averaged 23 & 10 with 2 blks while shooting 55% against Chicago in Seattle’s 4-2 series loss. But then in the summer of 1996, brilliant Seattle management signed Jim McIlvaine for $33m, paying him more than Kemp, while denying Kemp’s request for a raise and infuriating their prize big man. For those who might have forgotten, McIlvaine was a big white stiff who blocked shots and did little else. Angry with management, Kemp’s numbers declined from the prior season (19.6 to 18.7 pts, 11.4 to 10.0 rebs, 1.6 to 1.0 blks, and 56.1% to 51.0% shooting) and he was then traded to Cleveland. With the Cavs, Kemp’s weight went up while his FG% and explosiveness went way down. After shooting 52.9% from the floor during his Seattle days, Kemp proceeded to shoot 44.1% over the next 3 years in Cleveland before leaving and closing out his career with Portland and Orlando and shooting even worse for his last 3 years in the league (40.7, 43.0, 41.8). With a better head on his shoulders and attitude, Kemper Financial was certainly destined for Top 100 status. Meanwhile, maybe Junior can do him proud – Shawn Kemp Jr. will be playing for the Washington Huskies this year. A 6’10” 265lb power forward, he seems to have fast forwarded to the weight gain part of his dad’s career.

127) Bobby Jones – 6‘ 9″ SF/PF from 1974 – 1986…A premier defender in the league for over 10 years, Bobby Jones was also a too-good-to-be-true ‘boy scout’ during the league’s wildest days, even playing in the ‘anything goes’ ABA his first two years in pro ball. He was a reluctant hoopster to begin with, only playing as a child because his big brother needed someone to play against. He grew tall though, and eventually became the Charlotte Player of the Year his junior year in high school, even though track & field was his first love (he won the state high jump his sophomore and senior years, 2nd place to Bob McAdoo his junior year). He earned a scholarship to North Carolina, where he put up solid numbers his junior (15 pts, 10.5 rebs, 65.6 FG%) and senior (16.1, 9.8, 61.7%) years after being a seldom used reserve on the legendary 1972 silver medal-winning Olympic team. In the ABA, he led the league in FG percentage both years, and is technically the all-time leader in FG% for that league (58.6%). He remained an extremely smart, efficient shooter throughout his NBA career, never shooting worse than 52.3% for a season and finishing 14th on the career FG% list at 55%. Dr. J once said he “runs like a deer and jumps like a gazelle”. This athleticism enabled him to be quite a solid rebounder (over 8/gm first 4 pro seasons) and shotblocker (4 times over 1.7/gm) in his early years. He’s one of 4 guys in NBA history to average 2 stls & 2 blks the same year, doing it twice, while in 9 of hist first 10 years he averaged at least one of each. He had a smooth, easy, quick-release jump shot, and was fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game. His supreme defense, named 1st team All-NBA def 10 times, stemmed from intelligent play combined with tremendous effort and energy at that end of the court. Jones’ defense combined with his underrated all-around game was recognized with five All-Star game appearances. In his prime (first 8 years), he averaged 14 pts, 7 rebs, 3 asst, 1.7 stls and 1.6 blks, and of course – won a ring, playing 27 minutes a night during the 76ers playoff title run in 1983. A simple and very religious man, he remains in Charlotte teaching basketball at a Christian middle school.

126) Alvin Robertson – 6‘ 3″ PG/SG from 1984 – 1993, ’96…The ultimate thief in the history of the league, no one before or since has ever been as consistent or adept at stealing the ball as Robertson owns 4 of the top 10 steals seasons in NBA history. He was a highly regarded NBA prospect at Arkansas, becoming the 7th overall pick in the legendary 1984 draft (MJ, Akeem, Barkley, Stockton), and then playing on the equally legendary 1984 Olympic team. Easing into his career with the Spurs, Robertson played just 21 minutes a night as a rookie but still nabbed 1.6 stl/gm in that time, the only season of his career under 2 a game. An explosive, very athletic player who could dish the alley-oop as well as convert it, he announced his arrival in a big way the very next season, as he became the only player in NBA history to record 300 steals in a single season, swiping 301 at a 3.7/gm clip, also an NBA record (Don Buse stole 346 in the last year of the ABA, then stole 281 the next season in the NBA, a record at the time and still #2 on the all-time list). Also in that 1986 season, Robertson won the NBA’s first Most Improved Award as he averaged 17.0 pts, 6.3 rebs, 5.5 asst, and shot 51.4% while playing in all 82 games. This was the first of 4 straight years averaging at least 17 pts, 5 rebs, 5 asst, and 3 stls, a period when he was the Spurs best player and a 3 time All-Star. That 1986 season was also the year he got his quadruple-double (20 pts, 11 rebs, 10 asst, 10 stl), one of four players in history to record such a fat, well-rounded box score, and the only guy to do it with steals, not blocks. All totaled, Robertson had five seasons of at least 3 stl/gm, and six seasons of at least 5 rebs/5 asst. He made four All-Star teams, 2 All-Defensive 1st teams and 4 All-Def 2nd team squads, and was the Defensive Player of the Year once, again in 1986. He also retired for two full seasons, only to come back with the expansion Toronto Raptors in 1996, scoring the team’s first ever points on a three-pointer while starting in the backcourt at SG alongside rookie PG Damon Stoudamire. Even at the age of 33 that year, his numbers were a respectable 9.2 pts, 4.4 rebs, 4.2 asst, and 2.2 stls/gm. He ended his career #1 on the all-time steals per game list averaging 2.7. He also once got into a nice little spat with Shaq – here’s the footage – note how he basically fights Laimbeer’s battle for him. Unfortunately, he’s turned out to be quite a bad apple off the court, being violent towards wives and girlfriends, and then getting arrested for his participation in an underage sex ring operation in early 2010. His son Tyrell Johnson, whose mom was an Arkansas track athlete, plays safety for the Vikings these days, wearing number 25…he starts.

125) Larry Nance – 6‘ 9″ PF from 1981 – 1994…Among the most explosive and athletic big men to ever play in the league, Nance arrived upon the scene with little fanfare as the 20th player picked in an absolutely stacked 1981 NBA Draft. How stacked? 1, 2, 3 were Mark Aguirre, Isiah Thomas, and Buck Williams. Others taken before Nance were Orlando Woolridge, Tom Chambers, Rolando Blackman, Kelly Tripuka, Herb Williams, and Darnell Valentine. Danny Ainge was a nice 2nd round selection in that draft. But back to Larry, he also left high school with very little fanfare, graduating just under 6′ 6″. He grew up a short drive from Clemson, and shortly before he was about to enroll at a local junior college, they offered him a scholarship. The positive aspect of his late growth spurt, combined with lots of soccer up until junior high, was that he developed a good shot and had very smooth, coordinated footwork for a tall guy. After four years at Clemson, Nance grew 3.5 inches taller and put up 15.9 pts and 7.6 rebs while hitting 57.5% from the floor his senior year. Drafted by Phoenix in 1981, he only played 15 minutes a night his rookie year, before then embarking upon an 11 year stretch of incredibly consistent productivity, highlighted by ESPN ‘Play of the Day’-worthy dunks and blocked shots. For the next 11 seasons, Nance never averaged less than 8.0 rebs/gm or more than 9.1. For all but two of those seasons, he averaged between 2.0 and 3.0 blks/gm, finishing his career at #19 on the all-time list with just over 2,000. And he never scored less than 16.3 pts/gm during that stretch, reaching as high as 22.5 in 1987 and 4 more times averaging over 19. He also finished in the top 10 in FG% seven times during this stretch, while finishing his career at 54.6%, good for 16th on the all-time list. But Nance was a lot more than numbers, as mentioned earlier – he was a highlight machine! (note the posterization of Kareem at the 1:34 mark). The winner of the 1st NBA Slam Dunk competition in 1984, Nance could dunk with flair and power, as well as reject shots with the best of them. With the ability to shoot from 16, 17 feet out, combined with a quick first step, he was a difficult matchup for bigs to guard. He played on two conference finals playoff squads – the 1984 Suns, alongside Maurice Lucas and Walter Davis, and the 1992 Cavs, a nice squad that included Mark Price at PG, Brad Dougherty at C, and Hot Rod Williams, who would sometimes play at PF moving Nance to SF when the Cavs went big. Alas, Jordan and company took care of them 4-2 in the Eastern Finals, as they had in the first round in 1988, and in the legendary 1989 series, when Jordan’s shot over Ehlo crushed the Cavs on their home court by one point in the deciding game 5. In those two playoffs combined, Nance averaged 17.4, 9.0, and 2.35 blks while shooting 54%. If the Cavs hadn’t traded Ron Harper for super-stiff Danny Ferry in 1989, one has to wonder if the Cavs could have maybe won the East once or twice during that period. And with Nance, Hot Rod, and Dougherty, why did they want another big guy anyway?!?!!? Tragically dumb trade. Anyway, having grown up the son of an auto mechanic and later visiting a drag race during his playing days, Nance owned a car during his playing days and currently races them for the IHRA in the Pro Stock Series. Oh, and look out for Larry Jr., a 6′ 7″ freshman at Wyoming.

124) Pau Gasol – 7‘ 0″ PF/C from 2001 – today…I first saw Pau at a Clippers pre-season game and it was immediately apparent to me and the fans nearby that he was a player. Very tall but extremely agile and skilled for his size, now I could see why he was so coveted during the 2001 NBA Draft, going 3rd overall, just behind Kwame Brown and Tyson Chandler, and right in front of Eddy Curry. (Brief aside, my big guy for that draft? Eddie Griffin – loved him. He went 7th. He played 1 yr at Seton Hall and dominated, posting 17.8/10.8 with over 4 blks/gm. He was 6’10” and athletic. But sadly, he was a bit immature & irresponsible, and ended up being released by the T-Wolves at 24 yrs old w/ just a month left to go in the season, hardly playing anyway. Later that summer in Aug ’07, he hit a moving train driving while completely drunk – .26 BAC.) Anyway, back to the 2nd best Euro to ever play here, Gasol had an immediate impact in the league, scoring what is still his career low in points, 17.3 pts with 8.9 rebs and 2.1 blks…while shooting 51.8%! No Euro had ever come over and put up numbers like this his rookie season, certainly not Dirk (8.2/3.4) or Drazen (7.6/1.4/1.5), or any others. And it wasn’t a fluke because he’s been putting up similar or better numbers now for 10 years straight. Here’s the resume he’s built: ROY in ’02, 4 All-Star games, top 10 in rebs twice, FG% & Blks 3 times, with two rings and 1 all-NBA 2nd Team appearance, two 3rds. His career FG% of 52.2 lies at #43 all-time. Gasol just knows how to score in the post, putting his size and good footwork to use against his opponents, while doing a solid job on the boards, especially since he came to the Lakers (3 of his 4 best reb seasons are with the Lakers, twice over 10/gm). He’s not the most exciting player, you never ask your buddy ‘did you see that Gasol highlight last night?’, but the next morning you open the paper and check his line, and you see 20/9/2 blks, 4 or 5 free throws, and 3 dimes…another rock solid night from the Spanish big man. In the playoffs, his rebounding dipped in his 3 trips with Memphis, all 1st round defeats. But with Lakers, he stepped it up, garnering well over 10/gm when they won their two titles. Strangely, Gasol turned from rock to sandstone during last spring’s playoffs, shooting 42% while scoring only 13.1 with just 7.8 boards. It was as if he’d just aged 5 yrs from the regular season to the playoffs. Is this the new Gasol? He struggled vs. the Hornets in round 1 against Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry!! What was happening? He looks to be one of the more volatile guys on this list, likely to move up or down 20+ spots over the next few years, it’ll be interesting to see which way he goes…I would guess south.

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