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Ranking the 10 Best Players in Cleveland Cavaliers History
- Updated: May 23, 2020
Over the course of 50 seasons in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers have had a number of standout players wearing the team’s uniform.
In many cases, a collection of the very best took the court together and helped the Cavs play some of their finest basketball.
Below is a countdown of the top 10 players ever to play for the Cavaliers, with an assessment of exactly why they qualify for this prestigious list.
10. Lenny Wilkens (1972-74)
Despite being the Cavaliers player on this list who spent the shortest amount of time with the team, Wilkens belongs because of the professionalism he brought to the team.
Prior to Wilkens’ arrival in 1972, the Cavs had no future Hall of Famers playing for them, with the veteran serving as a valuable playmaker.
In his two seasons, he averaged 18.5 points, 7.7 assists, 42 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, then returned in 1986 to serve as the team’s head coach for eight seasons.
9. Austin Carr (1971-80)
Mr. Cavalier was the top pick in the 1971 NBA draft, but knee trouble short-circuited his ticket to the Hall of Fame. Carr spent nine seasons with the team, but spent a good portion of that time coming off the bench instead of becoming a perennial All-Star.
Still, during his time with the Cavs, he averaged 16.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game before later becoming a fixture as part of the team’s local television lineup.
8. Kevin Love (2014-20)
Love arrived shortly after the return of LeBron James in 2014, with the team then winning four consecutive Eastern Conference championships and one NBA title.
Love missed most of his first taste of the postseason in 2015 due to injury, but was around to celebrate the following year.
In his six seasons in Cleveland, he’s averaged 17.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists, while battling a string of injuries. His most memorable moment came on Nov. 23, 2016, when he torched the nets for 34 points in the first quarter against Portland.
7. Jim Chones (1974-79)
Chones had two years of ABA experience when the Cavaliers acquired him in 1974, and he immediately plugged a hole at center.
During his five seasons with the team, he averaged 14.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 blocks per game and was a central figure during the team’s “Miracle in Richfield” of the 1975-76 season.
Had he not suffered a broken foot just prior to the start of the Eastern Conference finals, the Cavaliers conceivably might have celebrated their first NBA title forty years earlier. He remains a member of the team’s radio coverage.
6. Hot Rod Williams (1986-95)
Williams fell into the Cavaliers’ lap in 1985 because his basketball career was in jeopardy due to his alleged involvement in a point-shaving scandal. It took a year before he was cleared and took the court for the Cavs, but the wait was worth it.
Williams averaged 12.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game during his nine seasons. He fluctuated between a starting and reserve role, but gave the team a strong presence on the boards and was part of the successful teams of the early 1990s.
5. Brad Daugherty (1986-94)
Daugherty was another Cavaliers player who watched a potential Hall-of-Fame career ruined by injury, though his eight seasons often helped the Cavs offer the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls a stiff challenge.
Daugherty averaged 19.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in his career, numbers that helped him become a five-time All-Star and give the team a solid defender in the paint.
Despite Daugherty’s best efforts to come back from a back injury, he officially called it quits in 1996, more than two years after his last game with the Cavs.
4. Mark Price (1986-95)
Price’s arrival in 1986 was overshadowed by fellow rookie guard Ron Harper, but his nine seasons with the Cavaliers stamped him as a playmaker who could shoot from beyond the arc and was virtually automatic at the line.
He averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game during his career, knocking down 802 3-pointers at a rate of 40.9 percent and connecting on 90.6 percent of his free throws.
He was a four-time All-Star who bounced back from a knee injury that limited him to just 16 games during the 1990-91 season.
3. Larry Nance (1988-94)
Nance arrived at the 1988 trade deadline and helped the Cavaliers reach the postseason for the first time in three seasons. He went on to become a key facet of those strong Cavs teams of the early 1990s, averaging 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.5 blocks per game.
That ability to swat away opposing shots was matched on the offensive end with jumping ability that helped deliver countless thundering dunks.
His son, Larry Jr., is now part of the Cavaliers, having arrived in a 2018 trade deadline deal.
2. Kyrie Irving (2011-17)
Irving dealt with a series of injuries during his six seasons in a Cavaliers uniform, dealing with four different head coaches before stunning the team by asking for a trade in 2017.
During that time, he averaged 21.6 points, 5.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
While some of his post-trade comments about the Cavaliers organization and city of Cleveland might have caused some controversy, he’ll forever be remembered for hitting the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to give the Cavaliers their first and only title.
1. LeBron James (2003-10, 2014-18)
You were expecting someone else? The easiest selection on this list is a player who was part of all five of the Cavaliers teams that reached the NBA Finals, and who was the MVP of their championship run in the 2016 NBA Finals.
His image among Cavs fans began as a hero, turned to villain when he left for Miami in 2010 and settled into icon when he led the Cavs to that NBA title.
During his two stints with the Cavaliers over 11 seasons, James proved to be an all-around player, averaging 27.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
While his departure to Los Angeles in 2018 was disappointing, he fulfilled his promise from four years earlier to deliver a title, firmly entrenching his legacy as the greatest Cavaliers player ever.
The Cavaliers are currently in their latest rebuilding effort, with some of their newest additions seeking to crack the above list. That may take some time, considering the level of talent that currently makes up this group. Cavs fans are certainly hoping that any changes take place as quickly as possible.