We Ranked Our Top 10 NBA Left-Handed Players in History, and the Boston Celtics Claimed 3 Spots
While there aren’t a whole lot of left-handed basketball players in the NBA, there have been some pretty good ones in the league’s history. We compiled a list of the top 10 southpaws to ever play in the league. The list shows just how many good lefties there were, as players like Manu Ginobili, Gail Goodrich, Chris Bosh, Derrick Coleman, and Lenny Wilkens didn’t make the cut.
The Boston Celtics came away with three players on the list (four if you really want to stretch it). Here’s an up-close look at Sportscasting’s top 10 left-handed players in NBA history.
No. 10: Chris Mullin
After three seasons in the NBA, Chris Mullin really came into his own. During the 1988-89 season, the sharp-shooter from St. John’s made the first of five straight All-Star appearances after averaging a career-high 26.5 points.
Mullins shot better than 50% from the floor in his career and was named All-NBA four times. He averaged better than 25 points per game for five consecutive seasons.
For his career, he averaged 18.2 points and 4.1 rebounds. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 after a 16-year career.
No. 9: Nate Archibald
The man known as “Tiny” is the first player to ever lead the NBA in scoring and assists in the same season. Archibald accomplished the feat during the 1972-73 season when he racked up 34.0 points and 11.4 assists with the Kansas City Kings.
He missed the 1977-78 season with an Achilles injury but returned the following season with the Boston Celtics, where he slowly made his way back.
In his second year in Boston, Archibald returned to All-Star status, beginning a three-year run as an All-Star. Archibald was a six-time All-Star and is a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.
No. 8: Willis Reed
Willis Reed played 10 years in the NBA before injuries caught up with him, forcing him into retirement. A second-round pick (10th overall) by the New York Knicks in 1964, Reed dominated play from the beginning. As a rookie, he averaged 19.5 points and 14.7 rebounds and was named Rookie of the Year.
He was named an All-Star in each of his first seven seasons, averaging a double-double each year. He’s a two-time NBA champion, who averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds in his Hall of Fame career.
Reed was All-NBA five times and is a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
No. 7: Bob Lanier
Bob Lanier was the top pick in the 1970 NBA Draft, selected by the Detroit Pistons. After playing 24.6 minutes per game and putting up 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds, Lanier’s career took off in his second season.
As an NBA sophomore, Lanier averaged a career-high 25.7 points while pulling down 14.2 rebounds per game. He earned the first of four straight All-Star berths. Lanier played 10 seasons with the Pistons and was an All-Star in seven of them.
He finished his career with the Milwaukee Bucks, playing five seasons. He returned to All-Star status in the 1981-82 season.
Lanier was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
No. 6: Billy Cunningham
A 6-foot-6 forward, Billy Cunningham won a championship with the Philadelphia 76ers in his second NBA season. During that year, he averaged 18.5 points and 7.3 rebounds.
In the 1968-69 season, Cunningham made the first of four straight NBA All-Star appearances. The following season, he put up career-highs in points (26.1) and rebounds (13.6). During the 1973 and ’74 seasons, Cunningham played in the ABA for the Carolina Cougars. He was named MVP of the ABA in his first season.
Cunningham returned to the Sixers in the 1974-75 season and played two more years in the league. He’s a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.
No. 5: Artis Gilmore
Artis Gilmore began his professional basketball career with five All-star seasons in the NBA. When he came to the NBA as a member of the Chicago Bulls, he averaged 18.6 points and 13.0 rebounds but failed to make the All-Star squad.
In his second NBA season, he returned to All-Star mode when he put up 22.9 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. He also shot 55.9% from the floor. Gilmore, a 7-foot-2 center, made six of his 11 All-Star appearances in the NBA. He also played for the San Antonio Spurs and made a brief appearance with the Boston Celtics.
Gilmore shot 59.9% from the floor in his NBA career and averaged 17.1 points and 10.1 rebounds. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.
No. 4: James Harden
Harden is the only active member on this list. He’s played 14 seasons for four different teams and has proven he can be called upon to score and distribute the basketball.
While he was much more of a scorer earlier in his career, he’s taken on more of a true point guard role lately. Harden has averaged at least 10 assists in each of the last three years. He led the league with 10.7 per game in the 2022-23 season. He also had an NBA-best 11.2 in the 2016-17 season.
This comes after Harden led the NBA in scoring for three straight seasons as a member of the Houston Rockets. During the 2018-19 season, Harden put up a career-best 36.1 points per game.
Harden was named the league’s MVP in the 2017-18 season. He’s a 10-time All-Star and has been named All-NBA seven times. He’s a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
No. 3: Dave Cowens
An undersized center, Dave Cowens is also one of the most underrated players in NBA history. At 6-foot-9, the Boston Celtics star more than held his own against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the big boys of the NBA.
“One of my great pleasures was watching him wear down the Bob Laniers, Lew Alcindors (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar),” former Celtics reporter Bob Ryan said, per The Athletic. “He would just run, run, run, run, and by the fourth quarter, he would still be running, and their tongues would be hanging out. His game was a game of attrition.”
Cowens was an eight-time NBA All-Star and was named MVP of the league for the 1972-73 season. That year, he averaged 20.5 points and 16.2 rebounds. He averaged a double-double for the first eight years of his career. During that stretch, he never put up less than 13.9 rebounds in any season.
Cowens was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991. He’s also a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
No. 2: David Robinson
Patience paid off for the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs selected Robinson with the first pick in the 1987 NBA Draft, but he was required to fulfill his two years of military service after playing at the Naval Academy.
Robinson made his NBA debut in 1989 and didn’t disappoint. He played all 82 games and won Rookie of the Year after averaging 24.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 3.9 blocked shots. He made the first of seven straight All-Star appearances that year.
In the 1991-92 season, not only did Robinson score 23.2 points per game, but he also led the league in blocks with 4.5 a game. He was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was also named MVP for the 1994-95 season.
He’s a 10-time All-Star and eight-time All-Defensive player. Robinson is a member of the Hall of Fame and the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.
No. 1: Bill Russell
Bill Russell ran out of fingers when it came to collecting championship rings. The Boston Celtics legend won 11 championships during his illustrious career.
Russell changed the game of basketball with his defense-first mindset. He played in an era where blocked shots weren’t statistics, but he became the master of that art. He also led the league in rebounding five times, including a career-high of 24.7 per game during the 1963-64 season.
Russell was named MVP five times and is one of three players (Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain) to win the award three straight times.
He was All-NBA 11 times and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975. He’s also a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team.