Top 25 since '96 Part 1: Counting down the greatest modern NBA players

Photo illustration by Nick Roy/theScore

It's been a quarter century since the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary by naming the top 50 players in league history. To mark the latest milestone, theScore's basketball news editors voted for the top 25 players since the original list debuted.

Two main caveats guided our voting. First, players on the original list were ineligible for inclusion - so no Michael Jordan, Shaq, or anyone else who continued to star beyond 1996. Second, players who debuted before 1996 were eligible, but they needed to have made an impact over the last 25 years.

25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

Here's the first entry in our five-part series.

25. Dwight Howard

Icon Sports Wire / Icon Sportswire / Getty
16.2 12.1 1.4 0.9 1.9 15.9

Teams: Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks, Hornets, Wizards, 76ers

Dwight Howard's reputation for disrupting locker rooms with his lack of seriousness has obscured just how incredible he was during his prime. From 2006 to 2014, the shot-swatting, rim-rattling center was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, an eight-time All-Star, and he produced four top-five finishes in MVP voting, including placing second to Derrick Rose in 2011.

No season illustrates peak Dwight better than 2008-09. While playing alongside a core of Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Jameer Nelson, and J.J. Redick, the 23-year-old Howard led the Magic to the league's top defensive rating, and he sparked playoff upsets over the reigning champion Celtics (albeit with Kevin Garnett hurt) and LeBron James' Cavaliers, culminating in an improbable trip to the 2009 NBA Finals. - Andrew Joe Potter

24. Gary Payton

Otto Greule Jr / Hulton Archive / Getty
16.3 3.9 6.7 1.8 0.2 31.7

Teams: SuperSonics, Bucks, Lakers, Celtics, Heat

Gary Payton was nicknamed "The Glove" for his smothering defense. The nine-time All-Star finished in the top 10 in steals eight times, including a league-leading 2.9 per game during the 1995-96 campaign. Payton remains the only point guard to have won Defensive Player of the Year, and he shares the all-time record for All-Defensive first-team selections (nine) with Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, and Kobe Bryant.

His excellence wasn't limited to the defensive end, as he registered three top-10 scoring finishes. The nine-time All-NBA selection also sits 10th on the Association's all-time assists leaderboard. - Chicco Nacion

23. Reggie Miller

Andy Hayt / National Basketball Association / Getty
18.2 3.0 3.0 1.1 0.2 39.5

Team: Pacers

Several indelible images come to mind when thinking of Reggie Miller's career. The eight points in 8.9 seconds during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Knicks, the public spat with Spike Lee and pantomimed choking gesture at Madison Square Garden, and the countless clutch playoff moments are all forever part of NBA lore.

By statistical measures, Miller's Hall of Fame career pales in comparison to some, though there's no denying the exploits of a player who was the focal point for a team that made the playoffs in 15 of his 18 seasons. Miller is also just one of three perimeter specialists to drain 2,500-plus attempts from deep, a skill that would have proven handy if he were playing today. - Michael Chandler

22. Anthony Davis

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images Sport / Getty
23.9 10.2 2.3 1.4 2.3 31.2

Teams: Pelicans, Lakers

Anthony Davis' NBA career can be split into two parts: Under-the-radar superstar with no help in New Orleans, and injury-prone sidekick to LeBron in Los Angeles. But no narrative can take away from the sheer brilliance of "The Brow."

Davis averaged at least 24.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and two blocks per game each season over a dominant stretch from 2014 to 2020, all while never shooting below 49.3% from the field. He's also the only active player who ranks in the top 10 in points, rebounds, and blocks per game. - Matthew Winick

21. Chris Bosh

Nathaniel S. Butler / National Basketball Association / Getty
19.2 8.5 2.0 0.8 1.0 33.5

Teams: Raptors, Heat

After putting up big numbers for a Raptors team that struggled to consistently contend, Chris Bosh's career arc changed drastically following his move to the star-studded Heat. Teaming up with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade forced the 11-time All-Star to become a versatile third option, which paid off with back-to-back championships (2012 and 2013).

Unfortunately, just as Bosh was set to become Miami's No. 1 option after the departures of James and Wade, his career was cut short at the age of 31 because of blood clots. Bosh's resume still earned him a Hall of Fame spot, though his legacy might have taken on a different shape if he'd been able to play throughout his entire prime. - Josh Weinstein


Click here for part two of the series, which features a pair of Celtics greats.

Top 25 since '96 Part 1: Counting down the greatest modern NBA players
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