The GOAT debate in the NBA is one that will be going on forever, and though there are really just two or three legit candidates, fans have their personal favorites who they’ll back no matter what.
Because arguments about the NBA GOAT spring up often among groups of friends or on social media, we decided to make things easier for you by creating a GOAT debate cheat sheet where we give you the best stats and arguments for every GOAT candidate imaginable, from Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to lesser discussed candidates like Oscar Robertson and Shaquille O’Neal.
We should mention that the arguments for certain candidates aren’t foolproof due to the fact that some statistics, like blocks and steals, and awards, like Player of the Month or 3rd Team All-NBA, didn’t exist early on in the NBA, meaning players like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain could have an even stronger case if they did.
Regardless, you can check out our GOAT debate cheat sheet and the arguments that can be made for each candidate below.
Most All-NBA selections: Broke the tie with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant by being selected for a 16th time this season. He’s both the youngest and fifth-oldest to be selected for an All-NBA team. One caveat here: There was no All-NBA 3rd Team during Abdul-Jabbar’s time in the NBA. If there had been, perhaps he would top this list.
Most All-NBA 1st Team selections: With 13, he has two more than the next guys: Bryant and Karl Malone.
Most points scored in the playoffs: He’s running up the score by now. With 7,491 already, he’s got over 1,500 more points than the player in second (Michael Jordan)… and counting.
Most playoff games won: Moved past Derek Fisher and Tim Duncan this postseason. He’s got a 66.15 percent winning percentage in the playoffs. That’s only slightly worse than Jordan, who had a 66.48 percent win rate in the playoffs.
Most steals in the playoffs: Jordan and Scottie Pippen are right behind him, but he’ll continue to extend his lead over the years to come.
Most playoff Win Shares: He’s No. 1 in playoff Win Shares by a mile at 55.3. In second place is Jordan at 39.8. Third is Duncan with 37.8.
Most playoff game-winning buzzer beaters: At five, he has the most playoff buzzer beaters ever. He has as many as Jordan (3), Bryant (1) and Kawhi Leonard (1) combined. Strangely enough, he has more playoff buzzer beaters than regular-season buzzer beaters, which he only has two of.
Best Value Over Replacement Player in regular season: He’s No. 1 in regular-season VORP at 133.7. Second place is Jordan at 116.1 and third is John Stockton at 106.5.
Best Value Over Replacement Player in playoffs: He also leads all players in NBA history in playoff VORP at 33.2.
Most consecutive double-digit scoring games in the regular season: One of his crazier accomplishments. If he scores in double-digits for at least five more games next season, he’ll become the first player ever to hit 10-plus points in 1,000 straight games.
Most Player of the Week awards: If he wins two more of these, he’ll double the next player on the list, Kobe Bryant. He does benefit here from the NBA moving to give out two Player of the Week awards weekly (one for each conference) starting in the 2001-02 season.
Most Player of the Month awards: He has more of these than the next two players on the list combined (Bryant and Jordan). Again, the NBA started giving out a Player of the Month award for each conference starting in 2001-02 season, so he does get a bit of help here. Also, the award didn’t even exist before 1979.
Most points in All-Star games: He’s the only player ever with at least 300 points scored in All-Star contests.
Most Finals MVPs: He’s got two more Finals MVPs than the No. 2 player on the list, LeBron James. Along with Shaquille O’Neal, he’s the only player to win Finals MVP three times in a row… and he did it twice. The NBA didn’t start giving out Finals MVP until 1968-69, however, so Bill Russell might be No. 1 on this list had the award existed in his era.
Highest career scoring average: He almost lost his top spot here to Wilt Chamberlain during his Wizards days, but now, it’s extremely likely he’ll remain No. 1 for years to come. He averaged 30.12 points per game for his career while Chamberlain averaged 30.07 points per contest. No other player is above 27.36.
Highest career playoff scoring average: With 33.4 per, he’s the only player ever over 30 points per game in the playoffs with a minimum of 10 playoff games played. Luka Doncic is at 31.0 points per postseason contest but only has six games under his belt.
Most scoring championships: He’s got an astonishing 10 scoring titles on his resume. Chamberlain is second with seven and no other player has more than four. From 1986-87 to 1997-98, he won the scoring championship every full season he played.
Most 1st Team All-Defense selections: A true two-way player, he was named to 1st Team All-Defense a record nine times. He’s tied with Bryant, Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton for most 1st Team All-Defense selections ever.
Most times regular-season steals leader: He’s tied with Chris Paul here at No. 1; each man led the league in steals average three times. He averaged 2.3 steals for his career, tying him for the fourth-highest steal average ever.
Best career PER: He’s got a slight lead on LeBron James here. His 27.9 career PER is tops in league history (minimum: 1,000 minutes played) while James’ 27.5 is No. 2.
Best regular-season Box Plus/Minus (BPM): Once again, he’s No. 1 here with a slight lead on James. His 9.2 regular-season BPM – “a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court,” per Basketball-Reference – is tops in league history and James’ 8.9 is second.
Best playoff BPM: Among players with at least 2,000 career playoff minutes, he’s No. 1 in BPM at 11.1. James is No. 2 with 10.2 and Kawhi Leonard is third at 7.8.
Best scoring season: In 1961-62, he averaged 50.4 points per game. You know that’s never going to be topped.
Top scoring game: He famously once scored 100 points in a game. Kobe’s 81-point masterpiece vs. the Raptors comes at a distant No. 2.
Most rebounds in career: He’s got over 2,300 more rebounds than the No. 2 finisher, Bill Russell, and over 6,400 more rebounds than the No. 3 player on the list, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Most rebounds per game: One of just two players ever with over 22 rebounds per game for a career. The only other is Russell.
Top rebounding season: He’s the only player ever to average 25-plus rebounds per game in a season… and he did it three times. One of those years, he averaged 27.2 rebounds per contest.
Most times leader in rebounds: He led the league in nightly rebounds 11 times in his career. That makes him the player to have led the league in rebounding the most times.
Most rebounds in a game: On Nov. 24, 1960, he secured 55 rebounds in a game against the Boston Celtics. That’s the single highest rebounding performing in league history. Only he and Russell have ever secured at least 50 rebounds in a game.
Most rebounds in a playoff game: His 41 rebounds in an April 5, 1967 playoff game gave him the highest rebounding playoff performance ever. He’s the only player with more than 40 rebounds in a postseason contest.
Most MVP awards: His six career MVP awards are the most for a player ever. He won three apiece with Bucks and Lakers. At No. 2, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan are tied with five each.
Most points scored: His 38,387 career points are the most for a player ever. He’s got almost 1,500 more points than the No. 2 player on the list, Karl Malone. LeBron is not that far off at 34,241. He has a realistic shot at No. 1 if he sticks around long enough.
Most All-Star selections: He was an All-Star 19 different times, the most for a single player in league history. He only missed All-Star honors once in his 20-year career.
Most regular-season wins: At 1,074, he’s got the most regular-season wins in NBA history. He has 60 more wins than the next player, Robert Parish. He’s one of just three players with over 1,000 regular-season wins along with Parish and Tim Duncan.
Most regular season Win Shares: He’s No. 1 in career Win Shares with 273.4. He’s over 25 Win Shares higher than second place, Wilt Chamberlain.
Most career Offensive Win Shares: Author of the unstoppable Skyhook, he has the highest Offensive Win Shares ever. LeBron James is No. 2 at 165.8 compared to his 178.9 so that one might be beaten over the coming seasons.
Most NBA titles won: At 11 championships, he’s the only player with more rings than fingers.
Most Finals appearances: He made the Finals 12 times and only lost one of them. LeBron James is tied for third with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with 10 Finals appearances.
Most rebounds in playoffs: He’s the only player with over 4,000 rebounds in the postseason.
Best rebound average in the playoffs: His 24.9 rebounds in the playoffs is No. 1 all-time. He’s one of just two players along with Wilt Chamberlain to average 20 rebounds in the postseason.
Highest career Defensive Win Shares: At 133.6, he has the No. 1 mark in Defensive Win Shares ever. Second place in the stat for a career, Tim Duncan, trails pretty far behind at 106.3.
Highest assists per game: He averaged an astounding 11.2 assists per game for his career. He’s one of just two players, along with John Stockton, with over 10 assists per game for a career.
Most assists in the playoffs: His 2,346 assists in the postseason is No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, LeBron James, is almost 500 behind. He’s the only player ever with over 2,000 assists in the playoffs.
Highest assist average in playoffs: Only player ever to average more than 11 assists in the postseason, and he’s at 12.3. Second place is Stockton at 10.1.
Most triple-doubles in the playoffs: His 30 playoff triple-doubles is the most ever, though LeBron James is closing in with 28 now. No. 3 on the list, Jason Kidd, is miles behind at 11.
Most assists in All-Star Games: With 127 assists in All-Star competition, he’s the only player with over 100 dimes in the annual event.
Most 1st Team All-Defense selections: He’s in a tie with Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton for most 1st Team All-Defense selections with nine each.
Most All-Star Game MVPs: He won All-Star Game MVP four times, putting him in a tie with Bob Pettit for the most all-time.
Most game-winning regular-season buzzer beaters: At seven, he’s tied with Joe Johnson for the most game-winning regular-season buzzer-beaters. His shooting percentages in those situations were not so good, though. On the bright side, he hit six of his seven while his team was trailing, so he really saved the day for the Lakers often.
Most seasons with a winning record: He had a winning record 19 times, every year of his career. That’s seven more than the second-place player.
Most wins with the same team: He’s the only player with more than 1,000 wins with the same team.
All-time blocks leader: His 3,380 career blocks are the most ever, almost 600 more than second place, Dikembe Mutombo. He has the most blocks on record, though Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain would probably have more if blocks were recorded in their heydays.
Highest block average in the playoffs: He blocked 3.3 shots per playoff game, the highest mark ever. He’s the only player on record to average over three blocks in the postseason.
Most seasons with best field-goal percentage: He had a career field-goal percentage of 58.2 percent, he led the league in field-goal percentage 10 times. He’s the only player to do that at least 10 times.
Most triple-doubles: The triple-double king in NBA history, he has 35 more than second place Russell Westbrook.