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Top 10 NBA Players Who Became NBA Analysts

Greg is an author of two self-published titles on Amazon, and an avid follower of the NBA.

The NBA recently announced its 75th anniversary team, stirring a lot of debate on who should have made it instead of whom. When it comes to top-something lists, the debates often get heated, and we have our dear NBA analysts to thank for the provoking conversations and the what-ifs. It’s great to see that there are NBA players who manage to find a new career right away after retiring.

Quite recently, JJ Redick was signed by ESPN to be one of their NBA analysts – and it doesn’t get bigger than that when you’re a retired professional sports player looking to become a paid professional in sports broadcasting. As a basketball player, JJ Redick was one of the best shooters of his era, and he could easily make the top 25 list of all-time greatest shooters. As great as he was as a shooter, the same could be said about his broadcasting skills, as heard on his podcast The Old Man and the Three, cohosted by Tommy Alter.

Aside from JJ Redick’s broadcaster-quality voice, his inside knowledge of the NBA and the inner struggles of a professional athlete (especially that of a player who’s had a very long career) make him a perfect addition to the many former NBA players now-turned analysts. The list that follows is not a definitive ranking of the 10 best analysts of all time, but a simple assessment of both their value as an athlete and talent as a basketball analyst.

10. Greg Anthony

Player Grade: C+

Analyst Grade: B

Assessment: Let’s start off with the relatively unknown figure on this list. As a professional basketball player, Greg Anthony only had one season where he averaged at least 30 minutes of playing time. He was more of a role player for his whole playing career. That same season was also the only time he averaged double figures in scoring, hence it wasn’t too hard for me to grade him a C+ relative to the other names on this list. As an analyst though, you could argue that he has fared better, having been a regular face in many of the top broadcasting brands – ESPN, ABC, CBS, and YES. You know you’ve made a name for yourself as a commentator or NBA Analyst when you get featured on NBA video games. Greg Anthony has been featured in the NBA 2K series since NBA 2K16.

NBA jersey of retired Atlanta Hawks player and former All-Star, Steve Smith.

NBA jersey of retired Atlanta Hawks player and former All-Star, Steve Smith.

9. Steve Smith

Player Grade: B

Analyst Grade: B

Assessment: Steve Smith may not be very well-known for his NBA career, although he did make the All-Star team in 1998 and had a solid 14-year career. While you could easily remember Smith as a member of the Atlanta Hawks, he was a well-traveled player that made stops at six different teams. If you ask me, his play style would probably fit better in today’s game than in the 90s and early 2000s since he was considered a prolific three-point shooter during his time (although he would be considered just a little above average by today’s standards). As a basketball analyst, he has been a mainstay for NBA TV, calling Atlanta Hawks games since 2008. The unfortunate thing about Smith is that his name sounds pretty close to the other popular ESPN NBA analyst, Stephen A. Smith. I’m only realizing now why it was so important for the latter’s screen name to emphasize the A as a middle name.

Retired NBA player Chris Webber shows up during the NBA Asia Challenge.

Retired NBA player Chris Webber shows up during the NBA Asia Challenge.

8. Chris Webber

Player Grade: B+

Analyst Grade: B+

Assessment: It seems like most of Chris Webber’s life – from college, to the pros, to retirement – has revolved around basketball. He had a terrific NCAA career, and he had a professional career that, had luck been on his side, could have been one filled with championships and possibly MVP awards. His NBA career was off to a typical All-Star’s start, but it was derailed by injuries and misfortune. His post-NBA career as an analyst is still relatively young, but his obvious talent as a play-by-play commentator and studio analyst makes him one of the better analysts that basketball has today.

7. Reggie Miller

Player Grade: A

Analyst Grade: A

Assessment: Reggie Miller’s pleasant, televised surprise to the announcement that he made the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team was so genuine and well-deserving of a slow clap from fans who knew him as a player and for those who have heard his voice during NBA games. If you ask me, if the NBA made an All-75 list 10 years ago, I don’t think he would have made the list. But because of how the game has changed now – three-point shots raining from everywhere, and the emergence of players who make an art out of moving without the ball – I’m not surprised at all to see him selected alongside 74 other legendary names. The predecessor to both Ray Allen and Steph Curry, Reggie was the anomaly of his time, rather than the constant in every team today. He ran all around the halfcourt, fought through screens, all to shoot a lethal three-pointer. As an NBA analyst and commentator, it’s hard not to recognize Reggie’s voice on air. ‘Click, click, welcome to your Kodak moment’ has sort of been Reggie’s catchphrase in games, especially when there’s a poster dunk. Like Mark Jackson, Reggie could end up becoming one of the most recognizable personalities among NBA analysts of all-time, possibly overshadowing his own NBA career despite how great it was.

Tracy McGrady in-game playing for the Houston Rockets.

Tracy McGrady in-game playing for the Houston Rockets.

6. Tracy McGrady

Player Grade: A

Analyst Grade: B+

Assessment: While not making the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team, Tracy McGrady is by and large an all-time great, having made the Hall of Fame in 2017. A multi-time scoring champion and All-Star during his playing days, only the lack of postseason success and a championship ring separate T-Mac from the rest of the greats. McGrady also made a seamless transition to NBA analyst, which surprised me quite a bit since I didn’t know much of his talent as a commentator and critic during his playing days. But with such talent level and greatness that he achieved while playing, it’s not surprising that he would shift to becoming a sports TV personality, providing simple analysis not too bogged down with analytics. What I like about T-Mac as a commentator is that he doesn’t need to put shade on today’s players to sound relevant. He doesn’t have to say that the players today couldn’t survive in his era (which would be untrue) because he knows that the game progresses, and he’s not a stuck-up retiree picking on good young players.

Playing for the Phoenix Suns in an effort to revive his injury-laden career, Grant Hill goes for a contested layup against John Wall.

Playing for the Phoenix Suns in an effort to revive his injury-laden career, Grant Hill goes for a contested layup against John Wall.

5. Grant Hill

Player Grade: B+

Analyst Grade: A

Assessment: Like Chris Webber, Grant Hill had a typical All-Star’s trajectory when his career began – he made the All-Star team in his rookie season and was already drawing Michael Jordan comparisons due to his size, versatility, skill, and athleticism. And he came into the NBA season during the time Jordan was still out due to his first retirement – partially filling a fandom void the NBA was struggling to address when their biggest star left. And like Chris Webber, his rise to stardom was unfortunately very short lived, as injuries kept him out for most of any season. He hardly ever played more than half of the regular season’s games after he suffered his first major injury. That said, when Grant transitioned into television and broadcasting, he was a great fit to run the studio as well as a deserving successor to Ahmad Rashad as showrunner of NBA Inside Stuff. Like his basketball talent, his talent as both an analyst and TV personality was natural, and his transition to a post-professional athlete career was seamless.

NBA legend Magic Johnson posts up against a fellow all-time great, Clyde Drexler.

NBA legend Magic Johnson posts up against a fellow all-time great, Clyde Drexler.

4. Magic Johnson

Player Grade: A+

Analyst Grade: A-

Assessment: Earvin Magic Johnson’s career as a basketball player is self-explanatory – the undisputed greatest point guard in NBA history (unless you count LeBron as a point guard), an all-time leader in assists and triple doubles, 3-time regular season MVP, 3-time Finals MVP, 5-time NBA champion, and only missing one All-Star appearance for his 12 seasons with the Lakers. He’s in the first ballot for any All-time great NBA players list. His transition to NBA Analyst was not surprising at all, though these days he’s not as frequently seen as he was earlier post-retirement. As an NBA Analyst he’s not necessarily a constant figure, however, his positive attitude and ‘takes’ are rare for today’s types of NBA player critics. Unlike some old retired heads who focus their critique on saying trash like ‘if he played in my era, he wouldn’t be able to guard me,’ Magic instead focuses his analysis on how the game has grown and his proclaiming of Kobe Bryant as the Greatest Laker of All Time just shows how he’s not insecure at all for what he was able to achieve despite a relatively shorter career than most legends.

Mark Jackson seated among Golden State Warriors assistant coaches during his stint as the team's head coach.

Mark Jackson seated among Golden State Warriors assistant coaches during his stint as the team's head coach.

3. Mark Jackson

Player Grade: B+

Analyst Grade: A+

Assessment: ‘Mama there goes that man.’ Mark Jackson fits perfectly with his co-commentators Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen. But what many of today’s generation of NBA fans may not know is that Jackson is one of NBA history’s greatest point guards of all time. Because of the immense talent that overflowed the years following Marc’s retirement as a player, it’s easy to overlook a player who once trailed only John Stockton in total career assists. He was eventually overtaken by Steve Nash and Jason Kidd in the 2010s. All three of these great point guards – Nash, Kidd, and Jackson – have each coached an NBA team. However, what sets Mark Jackson apart is that you could easily argue that he might easily establish himself as one of the most memorable NBA Analysts and be remembered more for that, rather than his own NBA career as a player.

2. Bill Walton

Player Grade: A+

Analyst Grade: A

Assessment: While a relatively unknown player in today’s generation, a quick history lesson will tell any casual fan that Bill Walton had a Hall-of-Fame career. A champion with both the Portland Trailblazers and the Boston Celtics, Walton was a prototype for the skilled centers we have in today’s game like Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. He would fit in easily in today’s game due to his versatility and passing skills. As an analyst, Walton’s voice is unmistakable in ESPN, and he’s one of the few who can boast of winning an Emmy while being a former NBA champion and MVP.

Charles Barkley courtside during a game.

Charles Barkley courtside during a game.

1. Charles Barkley

Player Grade: A+

Analyst Grade: A+

Assessment: Both Charles Barkley’s separate careers as NBA player and NBA analyst deserve high praise. While it’s easy to overlook the Chuckster’s achievements as a player because he never won an NBA championship, making both the 50 Greatest Players and the 75th Anniversary Team is a testament to how spectacular he was as an athlete. For his next chapter post-retirement, there was no more natural way for Charles Barkley to transition his passion and expertise for the game than to become an NBA analyst. A regular on one of the best and longest-running sports shows, Inside the NBA, it’s difficult to imagine a world where NBA on TNT doesn’t feature Charles Barkley on its roster. Those who follow the show know just how well Barkley knows the game and its players – he’s not an analytics freak, but his takes on inter-player relationships and team situations, especially during postseason play, make Charles Barkley the recognizable face he is in the NBA world.

There you have it for my personal assessment of the top 10 NBA players who made a successful transition to NBA analyst. I’d however like to point out a few honorable mentions:

  • Walt Frazier – the voice of New York Knicks home games.
  • Kenny Smith – Charles Barkley’s longtime co-host of Inside the NBA and two-time champion with the Houston Rockets.

As great as professional sports journalists are in breaking the game down (Mike Breen, Stephen A. Smith, Colin Cowherd, etc.), there’s a perspective that only NBA players can provide – because they’ve lived the NBA life. What goes on inside a locker room, the struggles of being a journeyman athlete looking for the next contract, the pressure to bounce back from injury – all these things the non-NBA player analyst can only provide secondhand. Former NBA players who became analysts afterwards are a rich source of NBA stories – especially those that happen off the court. It’s one of the reasons why JJ Redick’s The Old Man and the Three is my favorite NBA podcast, and I can listen to it all day.

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