In a series over at ESPN.com over the past week, five "basketball nerds" have been asked each day who is the best player currently playing at each position, and who is the best player at that position of all time. These were the players who received the most votes at each position.
Point Guard: Chris Paul
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
Small Forward: LeBron James
Power Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Center: Dwight Howard
Point Guard: Magic Johnson
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan
Small Forward: Larry Bird
Power Forward: Tim Duncan
Center: Bill Russell
In terms of current players, I would absolutely choose Paul, Wade (yes, over Kobe), James and Howard (isn't it weird how all their surnames are first names?). All of these players are productive on multiple levels and are more or less at the peaks of their careers. I wonder though if Kevin Love would be a better choice than Dirk Nowitzki. Yes, Nowitzki achieved amazing things this year by being the leading offensive option on the team that won the championship, and that prevented James and Wade from winning a championship in the process. But let's compare Love's and Nowitzki's statistics:
Love: field goal %: .470; 3-point field goal %: .417; free-throw %: .850; rebounds per game: 15.2; assists per game: 2.5; points per game: 20.2.
Nowitzki: field goal %: .517; 3-point field goal %: .393; free-throw %: .892; rebounds per game: 7.0; assists per game: 2.6; points per game: 23.0.
Love has a huge rebounding advantage, and Nowitzki holds slight advantages in most of the other categories. I guess in the end though it's hard to make a case against the guy who won the ring.
In terms of the all-time choices, Magic, Michael and Larry seem to me the obvious picks. The center spot seems to me the toughest to pick with Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal all having strong claims. In this case, it's hard to argue against the guy who won 11 rings - i.e. Russell (even if I think rings are overvalued). Russell certainly didn't score as much as the others, but his rebounding and reportedly his defence were close to unparalleled. You could argue about this for more space than I will here, but for now I have no problem with Russell being the pick.
For me, the power forward battle is between Duncan, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Kevin Garnett. Their stats were all fairly similar, though Malone was the highest volume scorer, while Barkley was a hugely efficient scorer (FG%: .541) and the most effective rebounder. But in the end Duncan has had a lot of success, so he probably deserves the spot.
So, in the end, I guess I'm agreeing with the consensus. With Duncan's success though, the debate about the all-time best at each position has become fairly settled. An all-time Top 10 though, I think, would be another story.