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Stanford Basketball Power Ranking: Top 15 NBA Cardinal Careers, #1

A king among kings during the NBA's first golden age.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

1. George Yardley, 6'5" SF, 190 lbs. (NBA: 1953-1960, ABL: 1961-1962). Stats: 19.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 42.2% fg%, 78% ft%, 20.45 PER, 0.178 w/s, 33.4 mpg. Accolades: 6x All-Star, 1x All-NBA First Team (1958), 1x All-NBA Second Team (1957), NBA Scoring Leader (1958 - 27.8 ppg), Hall of Famer 1996 - Actually, we might run into some controversy in this top 5 ordering, after all. George "The Bird" Yardley is a Hall of Famer by any stretch, as is #2 Stanford NBA all-timer Jim Pollard. Both were full-time starters, and both were All-Stars for the majority of their careers. Pollard played for 6 championship teams, Yardley played for none. Pollard made four All-NBA teams, Yardley made just two. But I'm still siding with Yardley. Read on to find out why.

Yardley did way more for his team that Pollard did for his, since Yardley was the primary scorer and ball-handler for the Pistons (he was the #2 man in Syracuse behind Dolph Schayes, but that was later), in addition to being their top rebounder. Yardley was an early jump shooter, and though a faster-paced league yielded an efficient field goal percentage, 42.2% taken in context is probably closer to 45% today, all things considered. His two big advanced metrics blow Pollard's away, despite the fact that Pollard was on a team that won all the time. Yardley took the Pistons to two Finals as their best player, and he made the playoffs every year. Sure, making the playoffs may not have been so hard to do in such a small league (when Yardley retired, there were 8 teams), but still -- the quality of the competition was beyond Pollard's, in a quickness-contingent, post-shot clock NBA.

Yardley was confronted with an NBA that boasted Bill RussellWilt ChamberlainBob CousyBob Pettit, and Schayes himself. These were all-timers in any era, and yet Yardley still managed to distinguish himself in their midst. In fact, during the year that Yardley made First Team All-NBA, he beat out Russell, and Hall of Famers Maurice Stokes and Tom Gola.

Yardley was the Fort Wayne/Detroit Pistons' first big star. He numbered among the best NBA players of the immediate post-shot clock era. As with most players of his day, Yardley had a summer job as an aeronautical engineer because the league wasn't paying its players stupid-good money yet (and wouldn't start doing that until the mid-1980s). But that didn't stop him from blitzing people on the parquet in-season. During his best season, 1957-58, George Yardley averaged 27.8 points, becoming the first NBA player to score more than 2,000 cumulative points in a single season (he had 2,001). He shattered George Mikan's previous record of 1,932. The above video is a nice little primer on Yardley in action, including some highlight clips. You'll note that his big move, as suggested in the video, is a crossover-into-a-bank jumper on the right wing; he also has a nice quick pump-fake and a slick dribble hand-off action near the top of the key. He is the best Stanford basketball player to ever ball in the NBA. So it's good to get acclimated to him.