Basketball is one of the few team sports where a single player can make a terrible team good. Individual players in the NBA can become household names despite playing in Oklahoma City or Phoenix, as long as they’re good enough. One player can do a lot for a team, but that’s not to say it’s all good.
Basketball is still a team sport and the best players elevate those around him. Michael Jordan made a pretty good Scottie Pippin look great and LeBron James made the terrible Anderson Varejao look pretty good. However, a lot of players think having that kind of star talent gives them license to ignore their teammates. Ball hogs insist on doing everything themselves, either due to an inflated ego or a lack of trust, and make everyone around them worse.
A decently talented player can take the ball, control it 90% of the game, take all the shots, attempt all the blocks, and never pass the ball and they’ll look great. These guys are always easy to spot because they’ll score a billion points and become household names despite never winning anything. Here’s our list of some of the best NBA players who only brought their team down.
15 Alex English
You may not know the name Alex English, but maybe you should. He was one of the most prolific scorers of the 80s, so much so that he sits 18th on the all-time NBA scoring list. That puts him just above guys like Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, and Jerry West.
But that’s the thing, he scored so many points because he wouldn’t let any of his teammates handle the ball. You see this a lot in the 80s, guys taking all the shots themselves whether they’re any good at scoring or not. English was good, but not that good.
English made the playoffs ten times with the Bucks and Nuggets, but he never won a championship. In fact, his teams were almost always knocked out in the first or second round. English was good enough to get his teams to the playoffs, but he was so focused on scoring it was too easy for the good teams in the playoffs to shut him down and thus the team.
14 Bernard King
Bernard King doesn’t rank high in the all-time scoring list, but he was a ballhawk through and through. He won the scoring title in 1985, averaging 32.9 points a game and scored 28.4 points a game when he was 34 in 1991.
But much like English, King found no success in the playoffs. If anything, he was actually worse. He only ever made it out of the first round twice throughout his 14 year career and never came close to a title.
The reason, as you guessed, was his scoring. He averaged nearly five assists per game near the end of his career, but during the height of his scoring days, he hogged the ball something fierce, never averaging more than four assists per game. It didn’t help he was often injured, missing two full seasons due to various injuries, and only playing two full seasons.
13 Dominique Wilkins
Dominique Wilkins is known for two things: his dunking and never winning much of anything. Many argue that it’s not his fault, he had to go up against the Celtics. But Wilkins and his teams also lost to others like the Bucks, Pistons, and the Bulls. Granted, they were all great teams, but somebody remembered as an all-time great like Wilkins should have gotten at least some wins against them.
Then when you start to think about it, you realize maybe Wilkins himself played a pivotal factor in his teams failures. He was a dunker, always wanting to show off and score. Wilkins is great, there’s no denying, but he wasn’t great enough to single-handedly win a title, otherwise he would have. So you have to wonder, did his propensity to try and score and dunk cost him a title, or at least more playoff success?
12 Chris Paul
Chris Paul is a classic example. He’s a great player and gets a lot of attention, but what does he actually mean to a team? As soon as he showed up in LA, the rest of the Clippers more or less disappeared. Even Blake Griffin was no match for Paul. Remember when Griffin was considered one of the best in the league? Whatever happened to him?
It was widely considered that Paul just had terrible teammates in New Orleans and to some degree that was correct. But now he’s got top tier talent around him, including Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and a great coach, yet he still can’t win anything. He’s the leader of that team, but at what cost?
11 Glenn Robinson
Glenn Robinson was one of those players who refuses to play defense. He’s more than willing to be around the ball when his team is on offense, driving up the court or jacking up shots near the back. But when it comes to defense, he wasn’t interested. He wasn’t interested in sharing either, never averaging more than 3.6 assists per year,and that only ever happened once. Looking at his stat sheet, there are a lot of ones in the assist column.
To be fair, Robinson actually won a title with the Spurs. He was signed just before the start of the playoffs to give the Spurs some offense, and, as a role player, he helped the Spurs win it all. But that’s where he was at his best, an occasional role player, not a star player on the court the whole game.
10 Pete Maravich
Pete Maravich was one of the first “flashy” players in the NBA. Watching him was like watching an acrobat on the court. He scored a lot and made a lot of All-Star games, but that was about it. His teams never had much success in the playoffs and he never won any rings.
The reason is because he was a turnover machine. He’d sooner turn over the ball to the opposing team than his own teammates, averaging just five assists or so per game a year. And like many others on this list, he was also all about scoring and looking good while doing it. The knock on him was that he never helped his teammates, and that’s because he wasn’t too concerned about that over his ten year career.
9 Gilbert Arenas
When he’s not threatening his teammates with a gun, Gilbert Arenas was busy scoring a lot of points and starting fights. There wasn’t much to Arenas’ game other than that. Actually, let’s talk about that whole threatening a teammate, Javaris Crittenton, with a gun thing. Being in that kind of environment absolutely is not good for anyone, no matter what anyone tells you. It makes the coach look like he’s lost control of the team and it puts everyone on edge as long as that person is around.
Arenas was only good for a short period of time. The last five years of his career were filled with injury, yet he continued trying to play as if he were the star on the team. It’s no secret he was on his last legs during his time in Orlando and Memphis and those teams weren’t particularly good anyway, but he definitely played a role in bringing them down.
8 Stephon Marbury
Talk about a guy with an attitude problem. Having a spark, a fire, is one thing, but constantly starting fights – including with your head coach – is crossing the line. There’s a reason why nobody wanted him towards the end of his career and it wasn’t just because of his decline in ability.
Marbury only ever cared about himself on and off the court. If he didn’t like a contract he was playing under, or he didn’t like a teammate, he’d force his way out of a team. Such was the case with Minnesota, forcing his way out after getting jealous of Kevin Garnett’s new contract.
Throughout his time with the Knicks, he was constantly in the news. Whether it was fighting Isiah Thomas, having an affair with an intern, or constantly arguing with Larry Brown. Whether or not you believe in “distractions” the media loves talking about, you have to admit that all this off the court stuff, combined with his ballhawk nature on the court, only held back his teams. His win/loss record can attest to that.
7 Anthony Davis
There’s a reason why Anthony Davis hasn’t won much, despite allegedly being the “next LeBron James.” Remember guys like Tyreek Evans and Jrue Holiday? What happened to them? They were shipped off to the Pelicans to play second fiddle to Davis and were never heard from again.
Davis doesn’t have much to work with outside of those two, but throughout his career, he’s held back his teammates from reaching whatever potential they might have. He doesn’t have the issues of Marbury or Arenas, and he isn’t known as a “me” guy. But he plays like one on the court, hogging the ball, getting his shots and his points, and not doing anything to help those around him.
This might be a bit controversial, but it’s true. Davis is on his second coach since entering the NBA and all signs indicate if the Pelicans don’t win this year, he’ll soon have his third. His teammates consistently under-perform and the only playoff series he played in, his team lost. He’s leading the NBA in scoring this year, but his team is still only 7-12 at the time of writing.
6 Charles Barkley
My college Joshua Murray said it best in an article about the most overrated players in NBA history.
“He was often out of shape, showing up to camp 20 pounds overweight. It shouldn’t as much a surprise if you watch him now as an analyst on TNT, but Barkely wasn’t the smartest NBA player, he was never a great passer and teammates often grew tired of his attitude.”
The article also says Barkley was also terrible at defense because of his size and desire to score. That’s all totally correct. Everyone knows Barkley now as the large, highly opinionated commentator who doesn’t really know much about the game. You’d never guess in a million years that Barkley used to play.
But back when he did play, he was often a liability. He didn’t play defense, was out of shape, and he always hogged the ball. As well as insisting on taking all the shots and driving to the rim, he also tried to get all the rebounds, however out of position he was. He had to have the ball in his hands and he didn’t care who he was playing with.
5 James Harden
James Harden is a scorer and that’s about it. He doesn’t know what “passing” means, he’s been called out by coaches, and his defensive skills are infamous. Everyone remembers the time he watched an opposing player march to the rim, but that’s not the only time he’s refused to play defense.
There’s a reason why the Thunder got better after he left, and why the Rockets have failed to do anything in the playoffs, and his refusal to open up the game for his teammates is a big part of why. And of course, who could forget the time he ripped his teammates, calling himself and former teammate Dwight Howard the “cornerstones of the team,” while trashing everyone else as merely “role players.” That does wonders for team unity, right?
4 Allen Iverson
“Practice, we’re talking about practice,” Iverson famously said, implying that practice is a waste of time. That’s the kind of mindset he had during his NBA career. Practice doesn’t make perfect and repetition helps nothing. Imagine what it would have been like playing with someone like that.
Iverson always missed practice, didn’t tell coaches about missing practice, and even showed up to games late. He actually bothered playing defense unlike some super stars, but he was no less a ballhawk, maybe one of the fiercest in NBA history.
Iverson never won anything and the reasoning has always been that his teammates sucked. Two things: the first is that it’s hard to gauge just how good or bad his teammates were because he never got them involved, lone wolfing every play. The second thing, a superstar like Iverson is supposed to make his teammates better. Look at others like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordon did for their teammates.
3 DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins is a great ball player, but he’s impossible to play with and coach. He’s gotten five coaches fired, he’s always starting fights and arguments, his teammates hate him, he’s always demanding trades, he takes plays off, and really you could go on.
He puts up a lot of points, but that’s it. At least other scoring machines on this list could do that consistently, but there are many games were Cousins doesn’t show up. He’s hurt their young team and the Kings have been awful through and through since he came into the league in 2010.
The Kings have a pretty decent roster as well. Rudy Gay has disappeared since he was traded to Sacramento, the once promising Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore have been non-factors, and decent players like Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson have fallen off a cliff since arriving in town.
2 Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard was great in Orlando. He was a defensive star and was a facilitator on the team. Then he became famous and everything spiraled down the toilet for him. He wanted bigger contracts, a bigger role on the team, and to be a bigger presence on offense. Eventually, his ego got the better of him and he demanded to be traded from small time Orlando.
That’s how he ended up with the Lakers and he's been terrible ever since. He’s given up playing defense and now tries to play the game like Shaq. He’s terrible at passing the ball, can’t shoot, and just lacks a spark on offense.
He, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash should have been huge for the Lakers, but instead, he sunk that team. Then he moved on to Houston, where again, he and James Harden should have set the league on fire. But instead, the two absolutely could not gel together.
1 Carmelo Anthony
We all saw this coming, didn’t we? If Allen Iverson isn’t the biggest ball hog in league history, Anthony certainly is. It doesn’t matter if he’s triple teamed, has an injury, or even if he’s in the locker room after the game, he’s still going to try and jack up a shot.
The Kicks have built their team around Anthony, and it shows. A lot of rebounders and facilitates, people made to pass him the ball. When someone else takes the glory, like Jeremy Lin did for example, its reported that Anthony gets jealous, as former teammate Amar’e Stoudemire suggested.
There’s also talk that he’s not a leader and a coach killer. When he doesn’t get his way, he apparently does get jealous or demands change. He did of course demand to be traded from Denver and he is now on coach #5 in New York. It just goes to show that just because you’re a superstar, doesn’t mean you’re going to make the team around you any better.