Obviously Kobe. Complete scoring game, one of the best playmakers of his era, all-time great defensive player who could defend PGs full-court, most game-winners all-time. It says a lot that his only weakness is spamming shots because sadly he had to play on some horrible teams where he often had to take a ton of bailout shots.
I'd say the best player is one who can be your dominant scoring option but who can also run the offense and play elite defense and who's also your best option in crunch time. Lebron could score and play point but his offensive arsenal was too limited and he often shied away from attacking the paint in late game situations and was never as elite defensively as his highlight plays would indicate. Never improved his FT shooting, actually regressed as time went on.
For bigs it's obviously Hakeem, there isn't a more polished scorer or a better defender at his position, him and Duncan are pretty close but Tim could never carry an offense like that.
The optimal players are the guys that won a title as scoring champion (they fit maximum scoring into a championship system/basketball)
So that's peak Kareem in 1971, peak Shaq in 2000, and MJ for all 6 of his rings.
For example, Kobe couldn't win with Pau if he played the way he did in 2006 as hot dog scoring champ - Kobe had to tone his game down from his hot dog scoring days to win with Pau... Ditto for Durant, Lebron, etc - they all had to tone their game down below scoring champion level to win rings.
So only MJ's game was optimal enough that he didn't have to tone his game down below scoring champion level to win.. He was the perfect player, and if he played today, he would post elite 3-point stats..
I was thinking about this after a response about one of Harden's glaring aesthetic flaws (flopping, drawing fouls):
Which player is the closest to perfect that has ever played the game?
Every player has weaknesses.
Jordan was not a consistent 3pt shooter.
Bird was not an athletic freak.
Magic wasn't a 3pt shooter
Neither was Kareem
Kobe was prone to spam shots and shoot a low percentage
LeBron is not very skilled, relies on strength
Harden tries too hard to draw fouls
Curry is too small and is prone to disappearing in big moments
Wade was not a volume shooter, not a 3 shooter
Wilt was a choker
Russell was not a good shooter.
Dr. J couldnt hit threes
on and on...
SO WHO WAS THE CLOSEST TO PERFECT?
I say Jordan and Bird.
Jordan with more practice may have mastered the three point shot, perhaps looking more like Kawhi Leonard today, but more explosive. That shot wasn't featured in his era.
Bird, with today's strength regimens, may have gotten a little stronger to last longer in the league and not have the back issues that cut his longevity... a less athletic LeBron with way more skill. (Doncic?)
Or was it Russell, who refused to lose in the finals, winning an unprecedented 11 ships in the golden age?
UPDATE: New shit has come to light
Jordan on defense really cant get you anywhere with bigger dudes one-on-one.
Duncan seems to be as close to flawless as it gets
TMac, TMac, TMac
Shaq still couldn't hit jumpshots.
Hakeem and Garnett... if they were only combined.
How about Oscar Robertson? John Havlicek once said "he has no weaknesses as a basketball player". Jerry West once said "it took me several years to get to the point where I felt I was at his level, he came into the NBA as a better player than I was". He averaged a triple double for his first five seasons and was putting in almost 30 points per game without a 3 point line. Until Bird and Magic and Jordan played , Oscar was considered the best all around basketball player that ever lived - just saying he needs to be mentioned.