All-Time NBA Left-Handed Starting Five
If you're wondering why it's so jarring to see someone who is left-handed dominating in the NBA — or any sport for that matter — there's a scientific explanation behind that thinking. It's because left-handed people make up only 8 to 9 percent of the world's total population.
While it's already rare enough to be left-handed, the odds of being a lefty and one of the best basketball players who ever played ... astronomical. That's why it's such a curiosity when we come across a truly gifted left-handed NBA player.
Here's a look at our first-team and second-team picks for an all-time starting five of only left-handed NBA players.
First Team Point Guard: Lenny Wilkens
Born: Oct. 28, 1937 (Brooklyn, New York)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 180 pounds
Career: St. Louis Hawks (1960-68), Seattle SuperSonics (1968-72), Cleveland Cavaliers (1972-74), Portland Trail Blazers (1974-75)
Career highlights: Nine-time NBA All-Star (1963-65, 1967-71, 1973), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1971), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: NBA fans mostly think of Lenny Wilkens from his lengthy coaching career — he coached more games than any coach in NBA history — but before spending 31 years on the sideline, he was one of the best point guards to ever step on the court.
After becoming a two-time All-American at Providence, Wilkens spent 15 seasons in the NBA and averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Wilkens was a nine-time All-Star and ended his career No. 2 on the NBA career assists leaderboard behind Oscar Robertson.
First Team Shooting Guard: James Harden
Born: Aug. 26, 1989 (Los Angeles, California)
College: Arizona State
Height/weight: 6-foot-5, 220 pounds
Career: 14 seasons (2009-present)
Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder (2009-12), Houston Rockets (2012-21), Brooklyn Nets (2021-22), Philadelphia 76ers (2022-present)
Career highlights: NBA MVP (2018), 10-time NBA All-Star (2013-20), seven-time All-NBA Team (2013-15, 2017-20), NBA Sixth Man of the Year (2012), NBA All-Rookie Team (2010)
Bottom line: When talking about the greatest left-handed NBA player of all time, you must bring James Harden's name into the discussion.
One of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history, Harden's unique (and sometimes frustrating) style of play has defied critics and skeptics for most of his 14 seasons in the league. Harden averaged 30.4 points, 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds when he was named NBA Most Valuable Player with the Houston Rockets in 2011-12 — the first of three consecutive seasons he averaged over 30 points.
Unfortunately, Harden has become a bit of an NBA vagabond in recent years, as he's on his third team in less than three seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers, and there's a real chance his abject failure in the postseason throughout his career could be his defining legacy.
First Team Small Forward: Chris Mullin
Born: July 30, 1963 (New York, New York)
College: St. John's
Height/Weight: 6-foot-6, 200 pounds
Career: Golden State Warriors (1985-97, 2000-01), Indiana Pacers (1997-2000)
Career highlights: Five-time NBA All-Star (1989-93), three-time All-NBA Team (1989-91)
Bottom line: By far the toughest spot to pick on this list, the small forward designation goes to Chris Mullin. After all, we'll argue that being 6-foot-6 and having the ability to shoot 3-pointers with stunning accuracy for most of his career meant Mullin was probably 20 years ahead of his time.
He was a three-time Big East Player of the Year and two-time All-American at St. John's before playing 12 seasons in the NBA. He also had his best years with the Golden State Warriors, where he was part of the famous "Run TMC" crew alongside Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond, earning three consecutive All-NBA Team nods from 1989 to 1991.
First Team Power Forward: Chris Bosh
Born: March 24, 1984 (Dallas, Texas)
College: Georgia Tech
Height/weight: 6-foot-11, 235 pounds
Career: Toronto Raptors (2003-10), Miami Heat (2010-17)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA champion (2012-13), 11-time NBA All-Star (2006-16), All-NBA Team (2007), NBA All-Rookie Team (2004)
Bottom line: Chris Bosh was a cheat code at the power forward spot because he could play center at an elite level and, in a pinch, could do a passable impression of a small forward if called upon.
Bosh had some great years with the Toronto Raptors early in his career but will always be best known for his time with the Miami Heat, where he won a pair of NBA championships alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in 2012 and 2013. Bosh's career came to an early end in 2017 because of a blood-clotting condition that doctors ultimately ruled would not allow him to play again.
First Team Center: Bill Russell
Born: Feb. 12, 1934 (Monroe, Louisiana)
Died: July 31, 2022, 88 years old (Mercer Island, Washington)
College: San Francisco
Height/weight: 6-foot-10, 215 pounds
Career: Boston Celtics (1956-1969)
Career highlights: Eleven-time NBA champion (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1969), five-time NBA MVP (1958, 1961-63, 1965), 12-time NBA All-Star (1958-69), 11-time All-NBA (1958-68)
Bottom line: Boston Celtics center Bill Russell is the greatest left-handed NBA player of all time — and if we really want to go there, he's undoubtedly the best left-handed athlete of all time.
Russell was the centerpiece of the greatest dynasty in NBA history, winning 11 NBA championships in his 13-year NBA career. The five-time NBA Most Valuable Player averaged a staggering 22.5 rebounds per game for his career, and his dominance in the NBA Finals was so complete that the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award was eventually named after him.
Russell died in July 2022, at 88 years old, and the NBA made his No. 6 jersey the only number in league history to be retired on every team.
First Team Sixth Man: David Robinson
Born: Aug. 6, 1965 (Key West, Florida)
Height/weight: 7-foot-1, 230 pounds
Career: San Antonio Spurs (1989-2003)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA champion (1999, 2003), NBA MVP (1995), 10-time NBA All-Star (1990-96, 1998, 2000, 2001), 10-time All-NBA Team (1990-96, 1998, 2000, 2001), NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1992), eight-time NBA All-Defensive Team (1990-96, 1998), NBA Rookie of the Year (1990), NBA Sportsmanship Award (2001), NBA 50th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: David Robinson possessed one of those short, left-handed jumpers that came equipped with a hitch in it … and never seemed to miss.
Robinson didn't actually play for the Spurs until two years after he was drafted, as he fulfilled his military service obligation with the Navy. But when he finally played, he single-handedly turned around the entire franchise and was named the NBA Most Valuable Player in 1995.
The biggest knock on Robinson was he lacked killer instinct when it came to close games or the playoffs, but he closed his career by winning a pair of NBA championships alongside fellow Hall of Famer Tim Duncan in 1999 and 2003.
Second Team Point Guard: Nate 'Tiny' Archibald
Born: Sept. 2, 1948 (New York, New York)
Colleges: Arizona Western, UTEP
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 150 pounds
Career: Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City-Omaha Kings/Kansas City Kings (1970-76), New York Nets (1976-77), Boston Celtics (1978-83), Milwaukee Bucks (1983-84)
Career highlights: NBA champion (1981), six-time NBA All-Star (1973, 1975, 1976, 1980-82), five-time All-NBA Team (1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1981), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Nate "Tiny" Archibald was a playground legend in the South Bronx and barely played high school basketball before heading west for college — first at a community college, Arizona Western, then starred at UTEP for legendary head coach Don Haskins.
Archibald was essentially impossible to guard in the open court and played 14 seasons in the NBA, where he was a five-time All-NBA Team selection and led the NBA in scoring and assists in 1972-73.
Archibald shook off the big knock on his career — no team success — during his time with the Boston Celtics late in his career, where he played five seasons, made three All-Star teams and won an NBA championship in 1981.
Second Team Shooting Guard: De'Aaron Fox
Born: Dec. 20, 1997 (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 185 pounds
Career: Sacramento Kings (2017-present)
Career highlights: SEC Tournament MVP (2017), All-SEC (2017), SEC All-Freshman Team (2017), McDonald's All-American (2016)
Bottom line: The Sacramento Kings can continue to list De'Aaron Fox at point guard all they want. But anyone with any basketball sense who has watched Fox play knows he's now as much a shooting guard as anything else.
Fox is the youngest player to make this list by almost a decade, but we could care less about his age — by almost sheer force of will alone, he's turned Sacramento into a competitive NBA team. Which seems like some sort of miracle.
Fox has averaged over 21.0 points and 5.0 assists in the last three seasons, and while there are still some questions about his durability, we've fallen in love with his game and think he's on the verge of making multiple All-Star appearances and becoming an All-NBA Team pick.
Second Team Small Forward: Billy Cunningham
Born: June 3, 1943 (Brooklyn, New York)
College: North Carolina
Height/weight: 6-foot-7, 210 pounds
Career: Philadelphia 76ers (1965-72, 1974-76)
Career highlights: NBA champion (1967), four-time NBA All-Star (1969-72), four-time All-NBA Team (1969-72), NBA All-Rookie Team (1966), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: Billy Cunningham would probably be our first team small forward if he didn't bounce for two years to play in the ABA for the Carolina Cougars from 1972 to 1974. Cunningham was a prep basketball star in Brooklyn before becoming a two-time All-American at the University of North Carolina. He then played 11 seasons of professional basketball, including nine seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers.
He was part of one of the greatest teams in NBA history in 1967 when he helped lead the 76ers to the NBA championship alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Chet Walker. Cunningham finished his career with some stats that jump off the page — 21.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
After his playing career was over, he became the team's head coach and led them to an NBA championship in 1983 — which is also the last time the 76ers won the title.
Second Team Power Forward: Zach Randolph
Born: July 16, 1981 (Marion, Indiana)
College: Michigan State
Height/Weight: 6-foot-9, 250 pounds
Career: Portland Trail Blazers (2001-2007), New York Knicks (2007-2008), Los Angeles Clippers (2008-2009), Memphis Grizzlies (2009-2017), Sacramento Kings (2017-2019)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA All-Star (2010, 2013), All-NBA Third Team (2011), NBA Most Improved Player (2004)
Bottom line: We look forward to telling future generations of NBA fans about what kind of player Zach Randolph was — intimidating, underrated, durable and someone who had a sharp, left-handed game with elbows jutting out like Ginsu knives.
Z-Bo played in at least 70 games in 12 of 18 NBA seasons while toiling away in obscurity on some truly terrible teams for most of his career. He blew his best chance at playoff success in 2014 with the Memphis Grizzlies when he punched Oklahoma City center Steven Adams in Game 6 of the Western Conference Playoffs and was suspended for Game 7, which his team lost.
Don't feel too bad for Randolph, though — the Marion, Indiana, native and former Michigan State star banked almost $200 million in career earnings.
Second Team Center: Willis Reed
Born: June 25, 1942 (Bernice, Louisiana)
College: Grambling State
Height/weight: 6-foot-10, 240 pounds
Career: New York Knicks (1964-1974)
Career highlights: Two-time NBA champion (1970, 1973), two-time NBA Finals MVP (1970, 1973), NBA MVP (1970), seven-time NBA All-Star (1965-71), NBA All-Star Game MVP (1970), five-time All-NBA Team (1967-71), NBA Rookie of the Year (1965), NBA 50th Anniversary Team, NBA 75th Anniversary Team
Bottom line: The decision for this spot was between Willis Reed or Dave Cowens — two players who would probably be considered power forwards or centers in today's NBA.
We give Reed the slight nod because he's the author of perhaps the greatest moment in NBA history. After he missed Game 6 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers with a torn thigh muscle, Reed was almost certainly a scratch for Game 7, but his heroic, limping walk out of the tunnel for warm-ups, followed by scoring the first two baskets of the game (his only points) sparked the Knicks to the win and the NBA title. It was one of two NBA championships Reed won with the Knicks.
Famed broadcaster Howard Cosell summed up America’s feelings toward Reed in the winning locker room after the game. “You exemplify the very best that the human spirit has to offer,” Cosell told Reed, who was also a five-time, All-NBA Team selection and the NBA Most Valuable Player in 1970.
Second Team Sixth Man: Mike Conley
Born: Oct. 11, 1987 (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
College: Ohio State
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 175 pounds
Career: Memphis Grizzlies (2007-19), Utah Jazz (2019-present)
Career highlights: NBA All-Defensive Team (2013), three-time NBA Sportsmanship Award (2014, 2016, 2019), NBA Teammate of the Year (2019)
Bottom line: The son of former Olympic gold medalist Mike Conley Sr., Mike Conley Jr. teamed with Marc Gasol to guide the Memphis Grizzlies through one of the greatest seasons in franchise history and carved out a reputation as one of the good guys in the NBA — he was voted NBA Teammate of the Year in 2019.
Conley, a high school and college teammate of 2007 No. 2 overall pick Greg Oden, was rewarded handsomely for his time playing for Memphis, including signing a five-year, $153 million contract in 2016 — at that time the richest deal in league history.
Conley, who was traded to the Jazz in 2019, finally made his first All-Star team in 2021 after 14 seasons in the NBA.