Editor’s Note: As part of a new series for his podcast “What’s Wright with Nick Wright,” FOX Sports commentator Nick Wright is ranking the 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years. Today’s entry is a list of players who just missed the cut.
When the NBA announced its 75th Anniversary Team last fall, the panel included three players who had originally failed to make the 50th Anniversary Team: Bob McAdoo, Dominique Wilkins and Dennis Rodman. Spoiler alert: All three made Nick Wright’s list of the top 50 players of the last 50 years.
But a few original members of the NBA’s anniversary team and a few modern players who made the latest one just missed the cut for Wright’s club.
Here are Wright’s 10 honorable mentions for the best 50 NBA players of the last 50 years.
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Simply put, Unseld was one of the greatest rebounders (and outlet passers) ever. Over a 13-year career spent entirely with the Washington franchise (strictly known as the Bullets during his tenure di lui), the 50th Anniversary Team member grabbed 14.0 rebounds per game. It’s the highest average registered since the undersized center broke into the league in 1968, and the sixth best of all time.
“Wes Unseld has the top end to make this list, but not the body of work,” Wright said. “He has an MVP, and he has a Finals MVP. But he only has one truly great season.”
The fierce center was one of the very best players of the 1970s, averaging 16.5 points and 12.7 rebounds. That made Cowens an eight-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year and MVP. A 50th Anniversary Team honoree, he also kept the post-Bill Russell, pre-Larry Bird Boston Celtics teams in title contention.
“He won a couple rings, he won an MVP,” Wright said. “He just missed the cut.”
He was a two-time scoring champ and six-time All-Star who got traded five times. The crafty forward averaged more than 30 points in four consecutive seasons during his prime with the Jazz. Dantley was later a key contributor for the budding Detroit Pistons teams from the mid-’80s, but was dealt away just before they won back-to-back titles.
“He’s a what-if,” Wright said. “Would the Pistons have won if they kept him?”
Alex English scored more points than any other player in the 1980s, fueling the Nuggets’ high-octane offense. (Photo by Brian Drake / NBAE via Getty Images)
Nobody scored more points in the 1980s than English. The eight-time All-Star forward won a scoring title and made three All-NBA second teams while leading the Denver Nuggets to nine consecutive playoff appearances.
“He’s (one of) the highest on the all-time scoring list of guys that didn’t make my list,” Wright said. “The problem is, it’s all he did. He makes one conference finals, that’s it. He just barely misses the cut.”
The savvy forward made 10 All-Star teams and a host of clutch shots for the Celtics. Consistency and a wide range of contributions over an extended period earned him a place on the 75th Anniversary Team. Pierce is best remembered for winning the Finals MVP amid a memorable run alongside Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
“Was he the best player on that team? Absolutely not,” Wright said. “But was he the best player in those Finals? Maybe. He also was a top-20 all-time scorer. However, only one time was he first- or second-team All-NBA. I feel he was the third best of the (Celtics’) big three. ”
He’s one of the greatest shooters ever. Allen picked up where Reggie Miller left off in terms of high-volume 3-point shooting, only he converted at a higher clip and was a more versatile scorer. The 10-time All-Star made significant contributions to title runs for the Celtics and Heat, and he landed a spot on the 75th Anniversary Team.
“You can almost make the argument, Ray Allen, because he hit arguably the most iconic shot in NBA history, that alone should be enough to get him on this list,” Wright said. “However, I can’t put him on it. He was never an MVP candidate, really. He was never a first-team All-NBA guy. He was a great part of some great teams, but never the leading part.”
Tracy McGrady was incredibly talented, but he never experienced much postseason success. (Photo by Noah Graham / NBAE via Getty Images)
The dynamic forward could score from anywhere on the court and was a valuable rebounder and facilitator. He made eight All-NBA teams (two first teams) and seven All-Star teams during a prime that ended prematurely because of injuries. On his best nights by him, McGrady looked like the best player in the world.
“Tracy McGrady is probably the best of all the players that as far as their career upside was, he is probably the best of all of them that did not make this list,” Wright said. “He was an MVP candidate, he was a (two-time) scoring champion. However, his lack of playoff success is so glaring compared to the guys that made this list that I think he was a fair omission from my list and a fair omission from the (NBA’s) top 75 list. ”
After producing the most prodigious scoring marks in college basketball history, Pistol Pete took his spectacular act to the NBA, kept gunning and kept scoring. The slender guard averaged 24.2 points per game and made five All-Star teams during a 10-year career that was cut short by knee injuries. Still, it was enough to make the 50th Anniversary Team.
“There was no winning. No winning, whatsoever,” Wright said. “He didn’t have much longevity. When I did this thing initially, Pistol Pete was there. And then I removed him in favor of someone else after really deep diving into it. Iconic player, amazing scorer.”
After just nine full seasons, Lillard earned his way onto the 75th Anniversary Team. The lethal-scoring combo guard has as much range as anyone in history and never backs downs from the biggest moments. It already has netted him five All-NBA selections, six All-Star nods and a Rookie of the Year award.
“Dame does have an obviously elite résumé. The problem is, he just hasn’t done it long enough,” Wright said. “So, you’ve never been the best at your position. You’ve never been on a real contender. You only have one playoff run past Round 2. It’s just not enough. I think he’ll make the next list.”
He’s again one of the best players in the league and again might be its MVP. Jokic just shattered Wilt Chamberlain’s single-season record for player efficiency rating (32.94) and will soon be selected to his fourth All-NBA team. Through seven seasons, his career average of 6.2 assists is nearly two assists greater than the next-closest center in league history.
“If the world stopped today, he does not have the résumé of other guys that make the list,” Wright said. “He’s been a two-time All-NBA first team, and he’ll either be first- or second-team this year, one time All-NBA second team. So the last (four) years he’s been spectacular. He has also only been out of Round 2 once. And nobody’s expecting them to get out of Round 2 this year. “
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