Most of the greatest players in NBA history are considered “great” because of both stats and personal achievements. The most important achievement in many NBA fan’s eyes is winning an NBA championship, the crown jewel that only the NBA’s most elite teams have won.
However, there are many “great” players both in history and currently that haven’t won an NBA title but are still considered “great” because of their personal achievements. Here are the 10 best out of all players that have not only failed at winning a Finals but also failed to even play in one.
10. Steve Nash
Aside from being one of the best point guards to ever play the game, Steve Nash was, arguably, also the top point guard in the 2000s. The former 2 time MVP, averaged 14.3 points, 3 rebounds, and 8.5 assists for his career. Setting up his teammates for good shots was his forte, however, he was no novice in the shooting. There is a reason he is considered one of the best shooters in NBA history, and its attributed to by his 50-40-90(50% from the field, 40% from 3-point range, 90% from the free throw line) average in 2006. And if that fact doesn’t convince you, maybe the fact that he did it 3 more times after that from 2008-2010 will.
Nash had multiple strengths in his game, but his most significant was his ability to make his teammates better. This skill has lead him to two Western Conference Finals appearances with the Suns. After winning his first MVP award after the 2004-05 season, he lead Phoenix past the Memphis Grizzlies in four games. Then in the second round, defeated the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Once arriving to the Western Conference Finals however, they were defeated by the soon to be champion San Antonio Spurs in five games. The following season, Nash won his second consecutive MVP, but, not his first championship, as the Suns were eliminated in the Conference Finals again, except this time by the Dallas Mavericks.
They would return to the playoffs in the 2006-07 season, lead by a career-best campaign by Nash; averaging 18.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 11.6 assists per game while also finishing second in MVP voting. After eliminating the Lakers in five games, the Suns were, yet again, knocked off in the Conference Finals by the Spurs for the second time. Nash would make it to the Conference Finals again in 2010 but would, once again, be defeated, by a team they’ve eliminated in the past, the LA Lakers. Unfortunately, Nash would never come close to reaching the Finals after that. Despite being an all-time great, he will forever be recognized as one of the many great point guards to never lead his team to a title.
9. Grant Hill
Even though he was a great overall player, the first thing that comes to NBA fan’s minds when hearing the name “Grant Hill” is, “What if?”, “What if he never suffered that ankle injury? Would he be an all-time great?”. Yes Hill could’ve had a better career if it wasn’t damaged by injury, however, here’s a player who averages 16.7 points, 6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists while playing the small forward position, here’s a player that is one of only three other players(Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and Lebron James) that have a total of 9,393 points, 3,417 rebounds, and 2,720 assists over their first six seasons in the league, but is mostly known for what he could’ve been instead of appreciating what he was before and after the injury.
Both before and after the injury, Hill has had playoff experience. His first playoff appearance was with the Detroit Pistons after the 1999-00 season. The Pistons would unfortunately, get swept by the Miami Heat. During Hill’s seven-year tenure with the Orlando Magic, starting in the 2000-01 season, his team would only go as far as the second round of the playoffs. When he signed with Phoenix in the 2007 offseason, adding him with stars Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, many believed they would win the championship the following season. That never happened, as the Spurs in the Conference Finals would eliminate them, and after that only would get that far for the rest of the time Hill was in Phoenix.
In the 2012 offseason, Hill signed a contract with the LA Clippers. Despite him only averaging 3.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, and only playing 15.1 minutes a game, the Clippers finished with a 56-26 record, fourth best in the West. However, they would fall to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. So, to answer the question: “What if Hills never suffered that ankle injury?”, he would more than likely be a Hall of Famer and have multiple rings, but, no one knows for sure.
8. Chris Paul
Before the emergence of point guards like Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving, when you heard the two words “point guard”, Chris Paul was the first person to come to mind. With career averages of 18.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 9.9 assists, Paul is the definition of a “true point guard”. He is known for being a great floor general by creating great, high-quality shots for his teammates. Standing at only 6’0, he is one of the best point guards to ever play the game.
Paul is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but, will he be one of the players in it that haven’t won a championship? So far, the answer is yes. During his New Orleans Hornets years, Paul would make the playoffs 3 times. The first time was after the 2007-08 season, where his team was eliminated by the Spurs in the second round. The second was the following year where they were, this time, eliminated in the first round by the Denver Nuggets. The final time was after the 2010-11 season where they were matched up with the defending champion LA Lakers. After losing in six games to them, Paul was traded to the LA Clippers on December 8 of the following season. With him and the emergence of a budding star, Blake Griffin, the Clippers would end Paul’s debut season with a playoff berth. They would go on to the second round, where San Antonio eliminated them. The following season, they faced the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round and would fall by their hand. Next postseason, the OKC Thunder would be eliminator in six games.
Paul would go on in the 2015 postseason to face the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals and would lose seven-game despite having a 3-1 series lead. Last year, Paul would suffer a severe hand injury in game 4 of the first round against Portland. This lead to the eventual elimination of the Clippers in six games. Even though Paul is currently out of his prime at age 31, father time still has time left for Paul to not only play in an NBA Finals but to also win one.
7. David Thompson
This super athletic wing was at one point, one of the NBA’s premier scorers. With having career averages of 22.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game while also once having averaged 27.2 points per game, scoring has without a doubt his best still as a player. To substantiate that claim even were, Thompson scoring performance in NBA history with 73 points in a single game.
Thompson, over the span of his short 8-year career, would only go to the playoffs 5 times, all of them while he was playing for the Denver Nuggets. During the 1979, 1982, and 1983 seasons, Thompson would lose in the first round. In ’79, to the Lakers, in ’82 to the Suns, and in ’83 to the Trail Blazers. The only time he made it to the Conference Finals was in the 1978 post-season, where he would lose to the Supersonics. The fact that his NBA career was cut short due to both substance abuse and injuries is a disappointment. It would’ve been a treat for all NBA fans to see him have monster scoring numbers on the NBA’s biggest stage.
6. Alex English
Because he played in the ’80s, the era where Magic and Bird dominated the NBA, Alex English was overloaded as a player. He was the highest scorer in this era, scoring 21,133 total points in the decade while also leading the league in points averaging 28.4 during the 1982-83 season. In spite of this, English played for a Nuggets team that had little postseason success.
Even though he led them to the playoffs 9 times throughout his 11-year time span he was on the Nuggets, they had only succeeded in going to the Conference Finals once, which was during the ’85 post season. English and his Nuggets were no matches for Magic and his Lakers as they eliminated Denver in five games. Ending his career with 25,613 points, 6,538 rebounds, and 4,351 assists along with career averages of 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, certainly gives him the title of one of the best scorers to ever play, however, it doesn’t shine brighter than the title of one of the greatest champions to ever play, which is one that both Magic and Bird have.
5. Chris Webber
Another player that is no stranger to “what ifs” being associated with his name is a power forward Chris Webber. During his successful career with the iconic Fab Five, he could never win a National Championship. This is what began the “what ifs”. The first one being “What if Webber never called a timeout in the dying seconds that cost his team the game? Would they have one?” Even before officially entering the NBA, the second surfaced during the draft, “What if the Magic never traded Webber to the Warriors but instead kept him to team up with Shaq?” Despite having these surrounding him, Webber still ended up becoming an elite player in the league.
He topped off a successful rookie campaign averaging 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.6 assists and winning the Rookie of the Year award. After being traded to Washington in the 1885-96 season, Webber would get his first taste of playoff basketball the following year. The run was unfortunately cut short by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in four games. In 1998, Webber was traded to the Sacramento King which is where he had the most success. His best season strategically was during the 2000-01 season, with averages of 27.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. In the 2002 playoffs, Webber lead Sacramento to one of the most memorable and controversial Western Conference Finals in NBA history.
Their opponent was the defending champion LA Lakers with Shaq and Kobe. Many NBA fans concluded that due to bad officiating in game six, the Lakers could advance to the Finals. Despite the controversial elimination, Webber still displayed his dominance during those playoffs, averaging 23.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 4.7 assists. That playoff run not only brought successful stats and controversy Webber’s way, but it also brought another “What if”. “What if the officiating during game six was better? Would Webber be in the NBA Finals? Unfortunately, like Grant Hill, we’ll never know.
4. Artis Gilmore
Before the AB-NBA merger, Artis Gilmore was the most dominant big man in the game. He first displayed his dominance in the ABA, where he won both the Rookie if the Year and MVP awards in his first season. Over his 4-year career in the ABA, he led the league in rebounds four times and in field goal percentage and blocks twice. His most significant achievement was winning the ABA championship in 1975 with the Kentucky Colonels.
Gilmore’s NBA career was far less dominant; however, he did have one good enough to get elected into the Hall of Fame in 2011. After getting selected number 1 in the draft by the Chicago Bulls, he managed to lead them into the playoffs only twice, in 1977 and 1981. In both years, they were eliminated in the first round. In 1982, Gilmore was traded to the San Antonio Spurs, where he would go to the playoffs 5 more times. His first season with them, Gilmore led them to the Western Conference in six games. In 1988, he found himself with the Boston Celtics, where he got one more chance to win a championship. However, they were dismantled by the “Bad Boy” Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals in four games.
At 7’2, Gilmore was known as a gentle giant, though once he stepped on the court, his ferocious presence was felt by the opponent. His dominance throughout his career certainly deserved a ring to help substantiate it just as much as NBA fans deserved to see him dominate the post in the Finals.
3. Bernard King
Standing at 6’7 205 lbs., Bernard King was the epitome of a dominant scorer in the 1980s. In 1984, King was the league’s leading scorer with 32.9 points per game. King also broke the record for most points scored in a season in his rookie season in his rookie season with 1, 909 at 24.2 points per game. He would break the record in the 1983-84 season with 2,027. And if that isn’t enough scoring achievements for you, he also once held the most points scored in Madison Square Garden with 60 along with becoming the tenth player in NBA history to score 60 or more points in a single game. Describing him as a scoring machine is most likely an understatement.
In terms of post-season success, he doesn’t have much. In the years 1983 and 1984, King and his Knicks were eliminated in the second round. In ’83, to the Sixers in four games, in ’84 to the Celtics 9 in seven. He has been eliminated in the first round 3 times (in 1979, 1988, and 1993). While with the New Jersey Nets in ’79, he was eliminated by the Sixers. He later returned to the Nets in ’93 where he was eliminated by the Cavaliers. King ended up in Washington with the Bullets where the Detroit Pistons eliminated him. Despite not having an NBA championship along with his multiple scoring achievements, he was still a scoring beast that every fan loved to watch.
2. Dominique Wilkins
The “Human Highlight Film”, Dominique Wilkins, was one of the most athletic players to ever play in the NBA. Being mostly known for his spectacular dunks he would do during games, Wilkins his full arsenal of them in the 1984-85 Slam Dunk Contest. He ended up winning while also finishing the season averaging 27.4 points per game. Despite his efforts, Atlanta didn’t make the playoffs, as they finished with a 34-48 record.
After the 1985-6 season, Wilkins led the league is scoring, averaging 30.3 points per game. In the post-season, Wilkins did lead the Hawks past the Detroit Piston in the first round of the playoffs in four games, but couldn’t knock off the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics, losing in five games. The following season, he finished the year second in the scoring race, averaging 29. He also led the franchise to their most number of wins ever with 57. However, Wilkins couldn’t lead the franchise past the second round of the playoffs, as they lost to Detroit. The following season, the same result would take place, as they lost to the Boston Celtics once again, this time in seven games.
The following next two seasons would find first round eliminations, once again to the Pistons and Chicago Bulls after that. After many playoff appearances, Wilkins could never get past the second round of the playoffs. This unfortunately, placed him on the list with many of the NBA’s best scorers in history who have no ring.
1. George Gervin
George “Ice Man” Gervin is one of the NBA’s Top 50 players of all time. This is certainly backed up by his many achievements, including being selected to be an all-star 9 times, leading the league in scoring 4 times, and being selected to the All-NBA First Team 5 times, just to name a few. Despite these, he has not had the same luck with post-season achievements.
Starting in the ABA, Gervin lead the Spurs to the playoffs his first three years there, however, they never won a playoff series. In the final ABA season, Gervin got the Spurs to the brink of advancing to the 1976 ABA Finals, however, they lost to the Julius Erving-lead New York Nets. In the NBA, Gervin would help get the Spurs the 2 seed in the Eastern Conference (they were in the East at this time) after the 1978-79 season. After finally defeating Julius Erving in the second round, they had a 3-1 lead against the Washington Bullets in the Conference Finals but collapsed, as the lost three straight to lose the series in seven games.
The Spurs would return to the Conference Finals (this time in the West) in 1982 but were swept by the Lakers. The following season, Gervin would lead San Antonio back to the Conference Finals once again, but had déjà vu, as they were, once again, beaten by the Lakers. His last taste of the playoffs was in 1986 when he was traded to the Chicago Bulls before the season. The Bulls finished with a 30-52 record but remarkably was enough to clinch a playoff berth. They matched up with the 1 seeded Celtics, who ended Chicago’s playoff run early, sweeping them.
Out of all players in this top 10 list, Gervin has had the worst post-season luck. Having been in multiple series with a 3-1 lead, one win away from the Finals, but ultimately end up collapsing and losing the series is a tough pill to swallow.