As the summer and fall months dwindle away and the NBA season starts knocking on our doors, some big-picture questions begin to surface: who will make The Leap this season? Which player will fall off? How will injuries rob us of all-time performances? Who is already a lock for the Hall-of-Fame? These big-picture questions get answered, but over time it’s easy to forget great players and great seasons when there are too many legendary players and legendary seasons to count.
Being a Hall-of-Famer is nice, sure, but it’s impossible to recount all of the great forgotten seasons of the league through it. While some performances only solidify a player’s HOF-case—Dirk in 2011, Iverson in 2001—there are also players that simply break into the conversation with their play. So without any further delay, here are 20 great individual seasons from 20 great players that will not be Hall-of-Famers, active or retired.
20 Michael Finley
Best Season: ’99-00, SG/SF Dallas Mavericks
PER: 19.2 PPG: 22.6 APG: 5.3 RPG: 6.3
Michael Finley is best known for being the third guy with Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash on the Dallas Mavericks, but truthfully he was much more than that. In '99-00 Fin-Dog played 40+ minutes in a game 58 times, finished in the top ten in points, top five in field goals made, and most memorably, put several players on posters. As a 6’7 wing with great athleticism, Finley was capable of guarding multiple positions and scoring against many different types of defenders. He was also particularly fond of sneaking to the offensive glass for put-back dunks while his wing defender stood nearby, looking embarrassed. He wasn’t the longtime face of the franchise, but he was the high flyer and steady scorer the Mavs needed at the time.
19 Al Jefferson
Best Season: ’13-14, C Charlotte Bobcats
PER: 22.7 PPG: 21.8 APG: 2.1 RPG: 10.8
After signing a large deal with the Charlotte Bobcats that most people scoffed at, Big Al led the team to a playoff appearance that nobody predicted. He delivered on the contract by scoring on an endless loop of post-ups on the left block, hooks and flip shots, acceptable position defense, and bullying athletes into terrible post position. It was like a slow death of efficiency and old school basketball for opponents. In ’13-14 he had streaks of scoring over 20 points in 7 and 11-straight games and shot over 60% from the field 15 different times. As he transitions into a sixth-man role with the Indiana Pacers, Big Al’s days of consistently putting up 17 and 9 might be over, but expect him to wear down backup units well into his 30s.
18 Glenn Robinson
Best Season: ’00-01, SF Milwaukee Bucks
PER: 20.1 PPG: 22.0 APG: 3.3 RPG: 6.9
Big Dog had a lot of pressure on him to live up to being the first overall pick in Grant Hill and Jason Kidd’s draft year, but he shouldn't be considered a disappointment by any measure. He averaged at least 20 points per game in eight of his 10 seasons, won a championship with the Spurs in ’05, and started all but 20 games in his entire career. He was a bully on the block against smaller wings, could stretch out to the three-point line, and was a part of a great ’01 Milwaukee Bucks trio with Sam Cassell and Ray Allen, which happened to be the last time the Bucks won a playoff series. Big Dawg possibly could have been a Hall-of-Famer, but it’s difficult to be upset with what he ended up doing throughout his career. It should also be noted that he committed to wearing the knee-high socks when it was cool and even when it wasn't.
17 Carlos Boozer
Best Season: ’06-07, PF/C Utah Jazz
PER: 24.1 PPG: 20.7 APG: 3.0 RPG: 11.7
Boozer became a complete laughingstock of the internet after he went from being completely bald for most of his career to, um, suddenly having hair so thick that it looked like it was painted onto his head. Let's not forget his impressive ’06-07 season over a few hairs though. In 17 playoffs games he put up 23.5 points, 12.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game and helped the Jazz reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1998. He also finished in the top 10 of MVP voting that year, which probably was too much to ask of him. Generously listed at 6’9, Boozer’s prime years were built around immense strength and soft touch down low and being able to score or effectively keep the ball moving as the receiver in the pick-and-roll.
16 Peja Stojakovic
Best Season: ’03-04, SF Sacramento Kings
PER: 21.8 PPG: 24.2 APG: 2.1 RPG: 6.3
Peja’s probably best known for majorly pooping the bed against the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference playoffs, but his best days were still a full two seasons in the future. He was given the starring role on a Kings team that finished 55-27, beat the Dallas Mavericks in the opening round of the playoffs, and he received an impressive All-NBA Second Team honors. Aside from great shooting ability, his high release-point and 6’9 frame made it incredibly difficult for teams to defend him. It should also be remembered that he was a valuable member of perhaps the greatest passing team of all time with those same Kings, and that people forgave him when he won a championship in 2011 with the Mavs. Championships fix everything!
15 Antonio McDyess
Best Season: ’00-01, PF/C Denver Nuggets
PER: 22.0 PPG: 20.8 APG: 2.1 RPG: 12.1
At only 6’9 McDyess was a bit undersized as a center, but his explosive leaping ability and speed made him a huge pain in the ass for most post players. He put his athleticism to good use by beating most players down the court for fast-break tomahawk dunks and swooping in from the weak side to swat away shots most players thought were easy layups. In ’00-01 he finished with 51 double-doubles in 70 games and had a 40 point-20 rebound-3 assist-4 block game, which has only also been accomplished by legends such as Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, and a not-so-legendary guy named Joe Barry Carroll. McDyess later recovered from major knee injuries by becoming a rugged defender and automatic from mid-range, but he unfortunately never regained the athleticism that made him so special.
14 Andrei Kirilenko
Best Season: ’03-04, SF/PF Utah Jazz
PER: 22.6 PPG: 16.5 APG: 3.1 RPG: 8.1
AK was one of the weirdest players ever seen. In ’03-04 he was the new face of the post-Stockton-and-Malone Jazz, which meant he was given freedom to create shots, take shots, gamble on defense, and confound opponents trying to throw passes around the perimeter or attack the basket. Kirilenko’s ability to strip a player like Kobe Bryant on the perimeter and reject Pau Gasol on the interior is still about as rare as it gets, but his offensive game was quite underrated too. Standing at 6’9 with incredible quickness, he developed a post-game polished enough to draw help and was tall enough to see open teammates all over the floor. His specialty was bouncing the ball between his own legs to cutters for layups and dunks, much like a Harlem Globe Trotter.
13 Deron Williams
Best Season: '07-08, PG Utah Jazz
PER: 20.8 PPG: 18.8 APG: 10.5 RPG: 3.0
The Chris Paul versus Deron Williams debate was over way long ago, but it was a real thing before lower leg injuries derailed D-Will's career. He's had the size and speed to defend and attack guards of all types, but his true gift has always been and always will be running the pick-and-roll. He’s reached 10 dimes per game four times in his career while playing alongside slow big men and is currently 12th all-time in assists. In 12 playoff games in ’07-08 Williams averaged 21.6 points, 10 assists, 3.6 rebounds on 49% shooting overall, 50% shooting from three, and played 42.8 minutes per game. A season and playoffs like ’07-08, including the durability to play in every single game, proved that Deron Williams was at some point every bit the player we had hoped he would become.
12 Stephon Marbury
Best Season: ’00-01, PG New Jersey Nets
PER: 22.7 PPG: 23.9 APG: 7.6 RPG: 3.1
Sadly, Starbury never delivered on his potential from a talent-standpoint. His best individual performance didn’t coincide with winning, but it did confirm what we all expected: few guards have ever been able to score like he could. In fact, despite standing at a mere 6’2, Marbury ranks in top 100 all-time in points per contest. He wasn’t a star for as long as he should have been, but in 2000-2001 he put together an impressive season, finishing in the top 10 in points and assists per game and second in offensive plus/minus. Seven years ago he infamously ate vaseline on a YouTube video—which we all assumed was the end of his relevance—but later found a new career as a legend in the Chinese basketball league. His NBA track record, however, mostly consists of playing on losing teams and insistence on being a ball-dominant, undersized guard.
11 Jamal Mashburn
Best Season: ’02-03, SF New Orleans Hornets
PER: 18.0 PPG: 21.6 APG: 5.6 RPG: 6.1.
Mash was nasty. His combination of size, skill, shooting, quickness, and shot-making made him unstoppable when he was feeling it. In 2003 Mash made his only all-star game, finished All-NBA third team, averaged career highs in minutes and assists per game, and appeared in all 82 games. It was a culmination of Mash learning to take over games offensively while leading his team to victories when Baron Davis was hurt. The following season it was discovered that the cartilage in Mashburn’s right knee was just worn out and he played just a total of 19 more games in his career, retiring in 2006. Despite the consistent slew of injuries, Mash was the bridge between the bruising small forwards like Anthony Mason of the 90s and the skilled and graceful ones like Kevin Durant today.
10 Lamar Odom
Best Season: ’03-04, PF/C Miami Heat
PER: 18.5 PPG: 17.1 APG: 4.1 RPG: 9.7.
Dwyane Wade was coming, but make no mistake: in ’03-04 Lamar Odom was The Guy. The long, left-handed, immensely skilled point-forward thrived as the centerpiece of an intriguing Miami Heat squad that was at its best when LO had the ball in his hands. His versatility made him a difficult matchup for 7-footers trying to match his size or wings trying to match up with his quickness or playmaking ability. He loved isolating his defender near the three-point line, driving them into poor positioning, and either finding space near the hoop for a lefty hook shot or an open teammate waiting in the corner. Despite all of the potential shown at age 24, we only got to see Odom in a starring role in one season, after which he was traded to the Lakers for Shaquille O’Neal. He was a once-in-a-generation type of player, with 7-foot size and wing skills, who came probably a decade too early in the NBA evolution.
9 Sam Cassell
Best Season: ’03-04, PG Minnesota Timberwolves
PER: 22.8 PPG: 19.8 APG: 7.3 RPG: 3.3
At age 34, Cassell guided the Timberwolves to the franchise’s most successful season. Aside from inventing the big balls dance that players do after making clutch plays, Cassell had 15 successful years, including back-to-back championships with the Houston Rockets, a third championship with the Celtics in 2008, and five-straight seasons of having a PER over 20. In ’03-04 Cassell peaked offensively by flirting with the exclusive 50% shooting, 40% from three, 90% free-throws and scoring 40 points twice in the first six playoff games. His game didn’t look very different from his younger days: it mainly consisted of mid-range jumpers, taking smaller guards down to the left block for fade aways, and a herky-jerky rhythm that made it difficult for big men to contain him if they helped. He helped the T’Wolves reach the Conference Finals in ’03-04 for the first time, and perhaps could have helped them reach the finals had he not dealt with back spasms.
8 Terrell Brandon
Best Season: ’95-96, PG Cleveland Cavaliers
PER: 25.2 PPG: 19.3 APG: 6.5 RPG: 3.3
Terrell Brandon put up a 25.6 PER as a 5’11 guard and no one remembers. He had an insane 29 point-15 assist-6 steal-5 rebound game that has only ever been accomplished one other time—by MJ, of course—and was the best player on a playoff team. Brandon moved well without the ball and used his quickness and fast release to get good shots against bigger defenders. In ’95-96 he recorded his highest effective field goal percentage of his entire career and was game-planned for by every team. As a full-time starter he never averaged less than 1.8 steals per game or a PER under 19.5. Though a serious knee injury wiped out his career by ’01-02, Brandon was a two-time all-star and named the best point guard in the league in 1997 by Sport Illustrated.
7 Steve Francis
Best Seasoon: ’00-01, PG Houston Rockets
PER: 21.6 PPG: 19.9 APG: 6.5 RPG: 6.9
Stevie Franchise was Russell Westbrook before Russell Westbrook. Not only in terms of size and skill—both 6’3 and rebounded like a forward—but also in terms of jaw-dropping athleticism. Nobody had seen a point guard like Stevie Franchise. He out-jumped bigger players for rebounds and contested shots, swiped steals, had highlight dunks regularly, and even shot 39% from three. The second overall pick in the 1999 draft had the tools to be one of the best players in the entire NBA at a time when Kobe and Shaq were collecting rings and Tim Duncan was after MVP trophies. Francis was the centerpiece of a trade to the Orlando Magic for Tracy McGrady and it didn’t even feel like the Magic were getting ripped off at the time. Unfortunately, Francis struggled as team centerpieces and struggled as the second option as well. Injuries, off-the-court issues, and an outdated isolation-heavy game determined his fate, unfortunately.
6 Glen Rice
Best Season: ’96-97, SF Charlotte Hornets
PER: 19.7 PPG: 26.8 APG: 2.0 RPG: 4.0
Glen Rice is one of the very best shooters ever and a champion. He started for Shaq and Kobe’s first championship team and made big shot after big shot in the playoffs when they needed someone to help out. His peak came during one of the seasons in which the three-point line was shortened to promote offensive play, but Rice simply did what the best do: dominate. He averaged 27.7 points-per-game in the playoffs, scored at least 40 points seven times in the regular season, and finished a respectable fifth in the MVP voting. He accounted for 34.7% of Charlotte’s three-pointers made that, which holds up against Steph Curry’s ’15-16 season, in which he accounted for 37.3% of his team’s threes. Basically: if Glen Rice is available for the three-point contest in your video game, you choose him.
5 Josh Smith
Best Season: ’11-12, SF/PF Atlanta Hawks
PER: 21.1 PPG: 18.8 APG: 3.9 RPG: 9.6
J-Smoove is one of the most frustrating talents the league has ever seen. Smith’s output in 11’-12, while playing in at least 60 games, has been matched only by Kevin Garnett. Sure, he shot 25.7% on threes, but again: out of any player to have ever played in the NBA, Kevin Garnett is the only other one to average at least 18.8 points, 3.9 assists, 9.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and 1.4 steal per game, while playing in at least 60 games. It’s such a shame to see Smith fall out of demand in a league built on versatility when his best season was predicated on precisely that. He may not play another game in the league because he hasn't figured out how to contribute as he's lost athleticism with age, but he’ll always be able to say he was truly one of the versatile, most athletic, unfulfilling talents the NBA has ever seen.
4 Gilbert Arenas
Best Season: ’05-06, PG/SG Washington Wizards
PER: 23.8 PPG: 29.3 APG: 6.1 RPG: 3.5
It's been said before, but Steph Curry’s 30-foot threes seem less crazy when you remember Agent Zero shooting and making many of the same ones. Blessed with an amazing handle and the ability to get scorching hot from the field, Arenas was the very best version of a combo guard and the wildest of shot makers. He scored over 40 points 11 times in ’06-07, played in all but two games, and averaged 34-5-5 against LeBron in the first round of the playoffs while playing an absurd 47.3 minutes-per-game. While his off-court issues and knee trouble near the end of the decade pretty much ruined his career, Agent Zero will be remembered for multiple game-winners, dropping a legendary 60-8-8 in an overtime win against a prime-Kobe Bryant, and for being one of the most entertaining offensive players we've ever seen.
3 Jermaine O’Neal
Best Season: ’02-03, C Indiana Pacers
PER: 21.4 PPG: 20.8 APG: 2.0 RPG: 10.3.
JO probably won’t be a Hall guy, but he was around long enough that his stats just piled up. He was a six-time all-star, recorded 43 double-doubles in 76 games in ’02-03, and was the best player on a perennial contender. He was one of the most successful players to jump from high school straight to the pros, and in his best season he supplanted Reggie Miller as the face of the Indiana Pacers. Every player to put up the numbers that JO did in ’02-03 is already a Hall-of-Famer or is Tim Duncan, who is not eligible just yet. He has always looked like a lanky draft pick recently out of high school, but his quickness, willingness to do the dirty work, and absolute fearlessness when protecting the rim made him among the NBA’s elite.
2 Brandon Roy
Best Season: ’08-09, SG/SF Portland Trail Blazers
PER: 24.0 PPG: 22.6 APG: 5.1 RPG: 4.7
Brandon Roy was supposed to be the best shooting guard in the league and bring the Portland Trailblazers back to Western Conference contention. His knees failed him—horribly—before we got to see that, but we did get to see just how special a player with his scoring ability, handle, size, and playmaking. In ’08-09 at age 24 he was All-NBA Second Team, finished with a PER of 24, had an insane five-game run in which he put up 30-9-5, 33 and 8, 38-9-4, 29-5-4, and 52-5-6, and later in the season 12-consecutive games of scoring 20 or more points. For better perspective, Roy’s third season compares well to Kobe Bryant’s third full-time starting season [’00-01] in nearly all advanced metrics. But much more important than stats, Roy was a symbol of hope for a basketball city lacking it, and for a short moment he delivered.
1 Baron Davis
Best Season: ’06-07, PG Golden State Warriors
PER 21 PPG: 20.1 APG: 8.1 RPG: 4.4
In ’06-07 BD was unforgettable. His eighth-seeded Warriors bullied the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round and he became a household name. Davis wasn’t an elite shooter, but he was an elite shot-maker, athlete, and among the most exciting players ever seen. His handle, passing, and overwhelming strength made him a devastating player in one-on-one coverage against guards. He’s the only player ever to have at least 36 points,18 assists, 8 rebounds and 3 steals in a game, which he did in the ninth game of the season. He posted a 26.8 PER in the ’06-07 playoffs and averaged 25.3 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.9 steals while working as the driving force of the We Believe Warriors. B-Diddy’s iconic playoff dunk over Andrei Kirilenko not only sealed his reputation as one of the greatest players to likely never make it to the Hall-of-Fame, but is still one of the most memorable playoff moments ever.
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