Upon Further Review: The Best Players in NBA History, #22
In what will become a daily entry over the course of the next month, Waiver Wire writers Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi will release a list of the the 25 players who they believe to be the best in NBA history. Players were judged on their careers as a whole rather than short stretches of dominance (for example, Bill Walton didn’t make the list due to injuries cutting his career short).
Vinny Ginardi: We follow perhaps the best perimeter defender in Scottie Pippen with one of the better defensive centers in league history.
In an era with a plethora of great centers and power forwards, Robinson separates himself as one of the few that could do it all. In his seven year peak from 1990-96, Robinson averaged 25.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocks (!) per game. In his career, Robinson earned a Most Valuable Player award, a Defensive Player of the Year award, was named to an All-NBA team 10 times (four first team) and an All-Defensive team eight times (four first team), and helped the Spurs win two championships.
So why isn’t he ranked higher? During the peak of Robinson’s career, the Spurs never made the finals. If it weren’t for Robinson’s injury causing the Spurs to luck into Tim Duncan, it’s safe to say that Robinson would have joined Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone on the list of great players who never won a title. Yes, the West had some great teams in the 90s and Robinson never had a great supporting cast, but it’s hard to justify putting a player into the top 20 when he was getting beat out by other bigs in the playoffs (most notable Hakeem Olajuwon).
Greg Kaplan: Talented bigs are such a rarity in the NBA that you need to be able to appreciate them when they do come around. David Robinson’s biggest weakness was that he played in the wrong era. Was there ever a time in NBA history that had such strong centers at the same time than the 90s? You had Olajuwon, O’Neal, Ewing, Robinson, Mourning, and Mutumbo. Then, you also had versatile fours like Barkley, Malone and a young Shawn Kemp. All of these players transcended and revolutionized their positions like very few players before them.
With all that talent around the league, David Robinson still managed to stand out among his peers, and did so in a much smaller market than others. He had nine years of averaging double-digit rebound totals per game. He spent eight seasons averaging north of 20 points per game, including a remarkable 29.8ppg in 1993-94, leading the league by doing so. For his career, he averaged a stellar 51.8% from the field.
Can you make the case that the Spurs got beyond fortunate for the year they lost David Robinson, tanked, and ended up with the first overall pick that turned into Tim Duncan? Uh, yeah, that’s a word for it. However, to say that Robinson was gift wrapped a ring enhances his career doesn’t do everything he accomplished during his 14 years in the league justice, especially considering he likely missed a minimum of two years at the beginning of his career due to service time in the Navy. The Admiral played in one of the most difficult eras for big men, and excelled. That should be what we remember most about a player as special and talented as David Robinson.