There's just something about the way a lefty shoots a basketball that makes it look so much cleaner, so much more pure, than your typical righty jumper. I don't know what it is, but the elbow is at such a precise angle, and the follow-through is more pristine, and the swish is just so much more crisp... it makes me wish that a larger portion of the league is lefty.
Unfortunately, only 10 percent of people in the world are left-handed, according to experts (via the Washington Post). And while that shows in the NBA, with top superstars like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird -- you get the point -- all dominating with their right hand, there's a fair share of all-time greats who represented the other 10 percent loud and proud.
In fact, the group is deep enough that I wasn't able to put in someone who, before I began research, came to mind as a shoe-in: Manu Ginobili. The Argentinian certainly belongs on a list of the greatest NBA Draft bargains, as the Spurs selected him with one of the last picks of the 1999 and were rewarded with an extremely productive guard who was a two-time All-Star and four-time NBA champion.
But Manu and his devastating eurostep just missed the cut, as did Hall of Famers Lenny Wilkens and Billy Cunningham, rebounding and dunking machine DeAndre Jordan, and longtime Los Angeles baller Lamar Odom.
Here are the 10 guys who did make the cut.
All stats retrieved from Basketball Reference.
PPG: points per game
RPG: rebounds per game
APG: assists per game
SPG: steals per game
BPG: blocks per game
WS: win shares
10. Chris Mullin
Career stats: 18.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.6 bpg, .509 FG%, .865 FT%, 93.1 WS
Best season (1988-89): 26.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.1 apg, 2.1 spg, 0.5 bpg, .509 FG%, .892 FT%, 10.6 WS
His best statistical campaign could have been any of a number of years in the late 80s/early 90s, but the above season allowed him to join a club of just 29 NBA players who have ever recorded a 25-5-5 season. This showcases his versatility well and also highlights just how dominant he was at his peak.
Only Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Dominique Wilkins averaged more points than Mullin in the five-year span from the 1988-89 season to the 1992-93 season. And that was primarily before he developed his masterful three-point stroke, as he shot "only" 35.4% from deep then. After that span, he shot 41.7% from beyond the arc over his final eight years.
9. Nate "Tiny" Archibald
Career statistics: 18.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 7.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.1 bpg, .467 FG%, .810 FT%, 83.4 WS
Best season (1972-73): 34.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 11.4 apg, .488 FG%, .847 FT%, 14.2 WS
Archibald's 1972-73 season was historic, as he became the only player (and remains the only player) to ever lead the league in both scoring and assists per game. Not Jerry West, nor Russell Westbrook, nor Chris Paul, nor Trae Young (yet)... that honor belongs to Tiny Archibald.
A severe injury derailed his career in 1977, and though he came back, he was never the same player: look at his averages before and after.
Before (seven seasons): 24.8 ppg, 8.0 apg
After (six seasons): 12.0 ppg, 6.7 apg
As his name clearly indicates, Archibald thrived despite his 6-foot-1-inch, 150-pound stature and earned the respect of his peers en route to six All-Star and five All-NBA selections.
8. Dave Cowens
Career statistics: 17.6 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.9 bpg, .460 FG%, .783 FT%, 86.3 WS
Best season (1972-73): 20.5 ppg, 16.2 rpg, 4.1 apg, .452 FG%, .779 FT%, 12.0 WS
Those career defensive averages would likely be a lot higher if those stats were kept in the early 70s, as Cowens' ridiculous 1972-73 campaign saw him lead the league with a ridiculous 9.9 defensive win shares. His 95.5 career defensive rating -- which is also a testament to how good his Celtics were on that side of the court -- is second all-time, ahead of other defensive aces down low like Ben Wallace and Hakeem Olajuwon.
But he was no slouch on the offensive end, either. In fact, he wasn't really a slouch anywhere, which was shown when he became the first of five players in NBA history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories in 1977-78 (via Sports Illustrated).
Given the other centers he was playing with and his relatively small frame of 6-foot-9-inches, 230 pounds, the career of Cowens is one that deserves more recognition.
7. Chris Bosh
Career statistics: 19.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 1.0 bpg, .494 FG%, .799 FT%, 106.0 WS
Best season (2009-10): 24.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.0 bpg, .518 FG%, .797 FT%, 10.1 WS
Because Bosh started in the league at just 19 years old, it felt like he was a lot older than 31 years old when he last appeared during the 2015-16 season. But he still had a lot more time left to play at a high level and further his Hall of Fame career -- with 11 All-Star selections, two rings, and those stats, he's a shoe-in anyway -- before blood clots prematurely ended his time on an NBA court.
You could already see just how versatile a player he was becoming, too, as he was developing a great three-point jumper in his later Heat years. It's a shame that his career was capped early, but his presence as a dominant big man for over a decade firmly entrenches him on this list.
6. Bob Lanier
Career statistics: 20.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.5 bpg, .514 FG%, .767 FT%, 117.1 WS
Best season (1973-74): 22.5 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 4.2 rpg, 1.4 spg, 3.0 bpg, .504 FG%, .797 FT%, 14.4 WS
Seven straight seasons of at least 21 points and 11 rebounds per game? That's quite a feat, especially when you consider that the 70s was an era when the emergence of the dominant big man was especially prevalent. The fact that those seasons occurred consecutively is made more impressive by the fact that only 12 guys in NBA history have ever had seven or more total seasons of that nature.
Thus, it's not hard to see that Lanier was an utterly dominant force on the offensive interior, but his defense was nearly as notable. He's one of just 29 guys in NBA history with at least 70 career offensive win shares and 40 on the defensive side.
5. Willis Reed
Career statistics: 18.7 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, .476 FG%, .747 FT%, 74.9 WS
Best season (1968-1969): 21.1 ppg, 14.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, .521 FG%, .747 FT%, 14.7 WS
Reed took advantage of the twilights of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain's careers, as well as the period before Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's emergence, and was the dominant center in the NBA. That role belonged to Willis Reed, who took home the MVP award in 1969-1970, brought the Knicks two rings, was a two-time Finals MVP, was a five-time All-NBA selection and led the league in win shares in 1968-69.
His ability to play in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals is the stuff of NBA legend and lore that will never go away, and he too had an undersized frame -- 6-foot-9 inches, 240 pounds -- that didn't deter him from posting monstrous numbers.
4. Artis Gilmore
Career statistics: 18.8 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.6 spg, 2.4 bpg, .582 FG%, .698 FT%, 189.7 WS
Best season (1971-72 ABA): 23.8 ppg, 17.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 5.0 bpg, .598 FG%, .646 FT%
Should I dock points from Gilmore for dominating in the ABA for five years before coming to the NBA? No, I shouldn't, because you can make the same case for Julius Erving and plenty others. Besides, Gilmore's performance didn't drop off too much once the merger came into effect, averaging a double-double in eight NBA seasons after his unbelievable ABA start.
One of the greatest to never win an NBA ring -- he won in the ABA in 1975 -- an aging Gilmore teamed up with George Gervin to make the Spurs a threat for a solid stretch, but could never quite pull off a deep run.
With his ABA numbers included, Gilmore is a top-five all-time rebounder (and is No. 1 in defensive rebounds) and is in the top-five in blocks, too, proving that he's one of the most dominant centers we've ever seen.
3. James Harden
Career statistics: 25.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.5 bpg, .443 FG%, .858 FT%, 134.6 WS
Best season (2018-19): 36.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.5 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.7 bpg, .442 FG%, .897 FT%, 15.2 WS
I certainly didn't see Harden's emergence as a star scorer coming after his first few years in Oklahoma City, instead kind of framing him in the same mold as a Manu Ginobili type of bench presence. And I certainly didn't see his scoring average going much higher than 27.0 points he averaged from 2013-2016. But the past three years, he's averaging 33.7 points per game and has led the league in each season. He was a serious candidate for 40 points per game after quite some time in 2020.
At only 30 years old (31 at the end of August) and a red-hot Rockets team following his lead, Harden has a real chance to climb higher on this list, though a top-three spot at this point is already incredible.
2. David Robinson
Career statistics: 21.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 3.0 bpg, .518 FG%, .736 FT%, 178.7 WS
Best season (1993-94): 29.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.7 spg, 3.3 bpg, .507 FG%, .749 FT%, 20.0 WS
Not much needs to be said about The Admiral that hasn't already been said. One thing I can add is that I wonder just how much better his career numbers would have been had he come into the league in 1987, instead of serving in the Navy for two seasons and bursting onto the scene in 1989 (24.3 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.9 bpg). Those two extra years of experience at a young age could have gone to make him a top-ten player of all time.
Some may consider him a part of that club, anyway. One of only four NBA players to ever achieve a quadruple-double, he simply couldn't be stopped in the mid-90s and could very well have been not only the best center, but the best player during Michael Jordan's brief absence.
1. Bill Russell
Career statistics: 15.1 ppg, 22.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, .440 FG%, .561 FT%, 163.5 WS
Best season: all of them?
It's genuinely hard to pick which season of Russell's was the best because they're all so damn good. You have any of 13 seasons to pick from in which he averaged over 18 rebounds per game -- oh wait, that's every year in his career.
Blocks weren't recorded as a statistic while Russell was active, but you can bet he'd have some ridiculous numbers in that department as well. No one has more defensive win shares than Russell (133.6) and it's not even close. He's the second-best rebounder in NBA history. He has five MVP awards and, oh, 11 NBA Finals rings.
No one tops Russell as far as the lefty NBA population, and there's a chance no one ever will.