For most NBA players, an NBA title is the ultimate accomplishment in the game of basketball. The game is ruled by stars and they receive all of the praise when leading a franchise to an NBA title. However, there is a downside that comes with NBA stardom. If players don’t lead their teams to a championship, they may be forever ridiculed and labeled as losers. Despite displaying greatness throughout the years, NBA stars will always have this asterisk hanging over their head.
For certain players, one NBA championship is not enough. Meanwhile, other NBA stars only need that one shot at glory to validate their careers. Kyrie Irving just hit that shot during the 2016 NBA Finals. His clutch performance changed many perspectives in the NBA. For one, he’s not on this list.
There’s more than one way to win an NBA title. Some players become stars after they win an NBA championship. For example, San Antonio Spurs’ forward Kawhi Leonard is one of the best two-way players in the game. He earned that distinction during performances in the NBA Finals. He also won NBA Finals MVP in 2014. Fortunately, Leonard was part of a 2011 draft day trade, sending him to an organization that won five titles since 1999.
Usually, future stars are not that lucky. However, if you are an NBA star, it’s up to you to make your own luck. Maybe you change teams during free agency. Maybe you help your franchise grow into NBA champions. Either way, the prize at the end is worth the hard work. Here are the top 15 NBA players without a championship.
15. Al Horford
Al Horford is the perfect example being an impact player without putting up huge numbers. For his career, Horford averages 14.3 points and 8.9 rebounds. He spent his first nine NBA seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. After two injury plagued campaigns in the middle of his career, Horford bounced back with the most successful season in 2014-15. Although his scoring took a dip to 15.2 points per game, Horford was part of the best Hawks’ season ever. The Hawks won a franchise record 60 games, garnering the no. 1 seed. However, the Hawks only won 48 games last season, leaving Horford with a major decision to make.
With the NBA handing out money like candy on Halloween, Horford chose to sign with the Boston Celtics. His presence on the Celtics immediately makes them title contenders. Horford has the ability to shoot the midrange jump shot and even expanded his shooting to 3-point range last season. Horford would become a legend if he led the Celtics to an NBA title.
14. Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns is two years removed from high school basketball. During his rookie season, Towns made the eighth most field goals (625) in the NBA. He’s already playing at an All-Star level for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Towns averaged 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds, while shooting 54 percent from the field in 2015-16. Defensively, Towns also blocked 1.7 shots per game. This guy is omnipresent on the court.
Towns lived up to pre-NBA hype. Towns was a unanimous choice for NBA rookie of the year. His demeanor on and off the court has been impeccable, and he’s learning from an all-time great in Kevin Garnett. Towns has already become an ambassador for the game of basketball. He seems like one of the few young stars that can win an NBA title early in his career. In addition, the Timberwolves are set up for a great run in the NBA. However, they will have a trouble making the NBA playoffs next season for one reason only. Towns and T-Wolves play in the Western Conference.
13. John Wall
What happened to John Wall and the Washington Wizards last season? Well, injuries really crushed a promising year, leading to a regime change on the sideline. Personally, Wall scored a career high 19.9 points per game. He also dished out a career high 10.2 assists last season. Wall also tied a career best from 3-point range shooting 35.1 percent from downtown. Yet, the Wizards didn’t win enough to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Despite his great numbers, Wall is due to have a breakout year. This is the most important season of his career. Since joining the Wizards in 2010, Wall has never led the team to 50 wins. But now that Scott Brooks is the head coach, there should be a breath of fresh air for the Wizards. Fittingly, Wall has a similar style to Brook’s former point guard Russell Westbrook. However, Wall hasn’t won games on the same level as Westbrook.
12. DeMarcus Cousins
This is a tough one. DeMarcus Cousins averages 20.2 points and 10.8 rebounds for his career. Despite the Sacramento Kings hiring six coaches since the 2010 season, Cousins has been a mainstay for this franchise in disarray. Some NBA personnel believe Cousins is the reason for the problems. However, Sacramento is slowly getting better. They won 33 games during Cousins’ best season. He averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds, while playing 65 games last season. Still, durability has been an issue for Cousins.
Will Cousins ever get traded from the Kings? Last season, there was talk of the Los Angeles Lakers trading for Cousins, but it didn’t make that much sense. We’ve seen Cousins on teams in rebuilding mode and it hasn’t worked out well. However, it would be interesting to see Cousins on a team with championship aspirations. Would he really cause the demise of a title run? For now, Cousins is still trying to reach his first postseason appearance in the NBA.
11. Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony said he would be content if he finished his career with three goal medals and a national championship at Syracuse. First, Team USA has to win two more games in the Rio Olympics to accomplish the trifecta. Yet, the New York Knicks’ veteran forward is yearning for that coveted NBA title too. Realistically, the Knicks aren’t in contention for the NBA Finals, but there’s a glimmer of hope with the talent acquisitions over the summer.
Melo is teaming up with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. A couple of years ago, Anthony had a chance to join the duo in Chicago. Instead, he chose to stay with the Knicks in a reloading effort. Anthony came into the league as a 20 point scorer and he’s never failed to reach 20 points per game in any season. However, his scoring is trending downward over the last four seasons. He’s gone from 28.7 points per game in 2012-13 to 21.8 points per game last season. If the Knicks are to make an NBA title run, Melo might have his worst scoring performance of his career.
10. James Harden
James Harden is an acquired taste for the Houston Rockets. The dynamic shooting guard can score in a variety of ways. He draws fouls at an astronomical rate since joining the Rockets in 2012. Harden averaged over 10 foul shots per game in 3 of the last four seasons. However, he’s a ball dominant player that stagnates the offense. Harden averaged over seven assists the last two seasons, but you’ll hardly ever see him pass the ball for the sake of ball movement. In addition, his defensive lapses have become fodder for the social media generation. Harden was also hugely disappointing during his lone trip to the NBA Finals in 2012. If the Rockets are lucky enough to make the finals, Harden will have a lot to prove. Just because Harden gets a few assists, it doesn’t mean he’s a point guard. He’ll need a point guard on his team if they expect Harden to lead a franchise to an NBA title.
9. DeAndre Jordan
Last summer, DeAndre Jordan thought he wanted to expand his offensive role in the NBA. He seemed ready to commit to the Dallas Mavericks, but the Los Angeles Clippers talked Jordan out of leaving. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the team, Jordan is the third wheel. He scored a career high 12.7 points per game in 2016. Jordan also averaged more than 13 rebounds per game the last three years. He sports a career high 15 rebounds per game in 2015. As one of the most ferocious dunkers in the NBA, Jordan is a force in the paint. He shoots 67 percent from the field in eight NBA seasons.
Jordan’s biggest weakness is foul shooting. Although he has nice form on his shooting stroke, Jordan is a career 42 percent free throw shooter. His percentage could increase if the Clippers changed their style of play a little bit. Jordan never gets the ball in the post. Once the Clippers show they trust the big man with the ball in his hands, the rest of his game can settle down. In addition, Jordan can make the offense better.
8. Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is only 22 years old. However, he’s never played in all 82 games of an NBA season. That would be fine, except Davis hasn’t even played in 70 games of an NBA season yet. Therefore, it was no surprise when he shut it down after playing 61 games in 2016. Davis was dealing with various injuries, and he needed knee surgery in early March. Due to the procedure, Davis has been sidelined for the past four months.
If basketball was a modeling competition, Davis would have the total package. He just fits the bill as the prototypical big man in the NBA. In the last three seasons, Davis has produced a double-double. He’s scored over 20 points during that span. However, it’s the defensive ability that separates Davis from other players. He averages 2.4 blocks per game during his short career and it’s not out of the realm to see him average three blocks in a season. The New Orleans Pelicans tasted the playoffs in 2015, but they fell back last season. Will Davis be able to lead this new group into the postseason? As long as Davis is healthy, there should be consideration for NBA MVP.
7. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard is special. He also has to be the best emcee in the NBA. But Lillard is more than a basketball playing rapper and child star in those hilarious State Farm commercials. Lillard can get scorching hot for the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged 25 points for the Blazers in his first season as the main attraction.
So many NBA fans were mad at Kevin Durant for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, Lillard already had a lethal scorer from Texas leave his team in the dust. Once upon a time, Lillard teamed up with LaMarcus Aldridge until he left for greener pastures. Lillard didn’t sulk and he eventually led Portland to the playoffs. Injuries to the Clippers helped the Blazers advance to the second round of the postseason. Now Lillard has the pressure of elevating his game to the next level. Maybe he can average 10 assists for the first time in his career.
6. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin had a forgettable 2015-16 season. On Christmas day, Griffin injured his quad. He was never the same for the rest of the year. Griffin played in 35 games, but during his rehab he punched a friend at a restaurant. The incident resulted in a broken hand and suspension. Although Griffin made it back in time for the postseason, he aggravated the quad injury, leaving him sidelined for the rest of the playoffs. Other than that, Griffin had a stellar year for the Los Angeles Clippers. He averaged 21.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
The Clippers have a decision to make about Griffin before the trade deadline. Griffin is entering the fourth year of a 5-year $94.5 million deal with the Clippers. There’s a chance this will be Griffin’s final season with the franchise. It all depends on how well the team meshes during next year’s postseason. Despite trade rumors heating up, the Clippers would be wise to keep the Big Three intact.
5. LaMarcus Aldridge
If Kevin Durant wants to look for guidance in how to handle his first season in new digs, look no further than LaMarcus Aldridge. When Aldridge left the Trailblazers to join the San Antonio Spurs in 2015, he was the prized NBA free agent to switch teams. Aldridge led the Spurs to a franchise record 67 wins. Yet, the Spurs only earned the No. 2 seed in the Western conference. It seemed like they were destined to meet the Golden State Warriors in the conference finals, but something strange happened. The Spurs ran into a buzzsaw, losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games.
Aldridge’s scoring dropped from 23.4 points to 18 points per game in his first season with the Spurs. However, he shot over 50 percent from the field for the first time since 2011-12. He’ll be joined by two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol in the front court. Gasol is replacing the recently retired Tim Duncan. Hopefully, the transition is as smooth as last season. Aldridge should also aspire to grab 10 rebounds per game next season. He only averaged 8.5 rebounds per game after providing double digit rebound numbers in his final two seasons with Portland.
4. Chris Paul
As great as Chris Paul has been, he’s never been out of the second round of the playoffs. First of all, he’s spent all his time in the Western Conference. Second, Paul has had some bad luck when it comes to postseason play. Last season, the Los Angeles Clippers seemed destined to meet the Warriors in the second round. Hours after Stephen Curry sustained an injury in the playoffs, Paul and Blake Griffin got injured. Both players were lost for the remainder of the season. Eventually, the Clippers were taken out by Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers.
Does Paul get a pass from the NBA public? Sometimes. He’s been considered the best point guard in the NBA. However, he’s also the leader of a team that lost a 3-1 lead to the Houston Rockets in the second of the 2015 NBA Playoffs. Paul hasn’t had his best moments at the most critical times. Yet, he was magnificent with his game winning, series winning runner over the Spurs in the first round. For now, Paul has two other teammates on this list, so the Clippers will no longer have excuses.
3. Paul George
Paul George came back strong after his horrific leg injury in the summer of 2014. He played six games to end the 2014-15 season. Then George came out the gates strong last year. While other players were resting up, George played in 81 one games. He also brought the Pacers back to the playoffs where they lost in seven game to Toronto. He averaged a career high 23 points per game. George also produced seven rebounds and four assists per game. He’s an MVP candidate this upcoming season.
The Indiana Pacers have completely overhauled their team from the Eastern Conference final years from a few years ago. They’ve gotten younger and more athletic. If George is ready to take his game up another notch, the Pacers will be close to championship material.
2. Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook will be the most watched NBA player next season. After losing Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder signed Westbrook to a contract extension. For the time being, Westbrook is a hero in OKC. He will also try to lead the NBA in scoring. Westbrook has a career average of 21.5 points per game. He poured in a career high 28.1 points per game in 2015. Interestingly enough, Durant missed 55 games that season. However, the Thunder missed the playoffs with Westbrook as the leading man. He’ll try to prove all of his detractors wrong in 2016.
On the basketball court, Westbrook has a gear that few NBA players reach. However, he’s not immune to taking bad shots. Throughout his career, Westbrook has taken 2.9 3-pointers per game. The last three season’s he’s attempted over four 3-pointers per game. Yet, Westbrook shoots 30 percent from downtown. It’s about time he cuts those 3-point attempts in half.
1. Kevin Durant
If Kevin Durant is on this list next year, something went horribly wrong. Durant was the latest star player to form a so-called super team. Once he joined the 73-win Golden State Warriors, Durant became public enemy No. 1 despite serious alterations to the roster. It seems like Durant could have gone to any team except the Warriors. Yet, he’s prepared for the backlash from the outsiders. There’s still a question of how well the new-look Warriors will mesh on the court. Seriously, the Warriors don’t have to over complicate it. They have three of the best shooters in the NBA, and their ability to find great shots will be a major factor.
Durant bounced back from his foot injury in grand fashion. He played in 72 games for what was his final season with the Thunder. The three-time NBA scoring champ led the Thunder with 28.2 points per game last season. Keep in mind, Durant averages 19 shots per game in his NBA career. His shot attempts are likely to dwindle next season. However, his shooting percentage could rise in 2016. Durant surpassed the 50 percent mark the past four seasons. Yet, his moves to the Warriors are not about regular season numbers. It’s all about winning an NBA championship.
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