As a coach I encourage my teams not to reach, play aggressive physical defense for 24 seconds, and don’t risk a needless foul going for the steal. As a player I could never see the fun in that, there’s nothing more electric than sliding into a ball handlers space for a strip before igniting a fast break the other way. Maybe my favorite part of basketball.
Who has the most Steals in the NBA? Steals have been tracked since the start of the NBA. The player with the most regular season Steals is John Stockton who retired in 2003 with 3,265 Regular Season Steals. He leads Jason Kidd (2,684), Michael Jordan (2,514) before the first active player, 37 year old Chris Paul (2,453). Lebron James leads the NBA in career Playoff Steals with 454 to date.
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It’s worth noting that Stockton played 19 seasons in the NBA. Averaging 172 Steals a season. Chris Paul has already played 17 and averages 144 Steals a season. So it is unlikely he will catch Stockton before he retires. Although he should pass Jordan this season and close the gap on Jason Kidd in second place.
Regular Season Career Steal leaders
The table below shows the top 20 All time regular season Steal leaders as of the end of the 2022 season. We have included the numbers from both the NBA and ABA, the main impact of this is ensuring Julius “Dr J” Irving gets to take up his rightful place in the top 10, as he played almost half his career in the ABA.
|NBA Career Leaders in Regular Season Steals|
The two active players in the top 20, Chris Paul (4th) and Lebron James (11th) have the opportunity to make some progress this season. As mentioned above CP3 should pass Jordan for third and COULD pass Kidd for second, if not this season, then next. Lebron is about to crack yet another all time top 10 list. 26 more steals takes him past Hakeem into the top 10. An achievable 100 steals would take the King past Drexler into 9th and put him in position to get as high as 6th the following year.
Sitting just outside the top 20 is Andre Iguoudala who needs just 57 steals to pass (ABA inflated) Don Buse to crack the top 20. Andre grabbed 27 in 31 games for the Warriors last year. If he can get enough games, he just might do it.
We’ll check back in before the start of next season to see who’s moved up!
Regular Season vs Playoff Steals
As you’ll probably know, when people talk about all time leaders in the NBA, it is by default assumed they are just talking about the regular season. Unless specifically stated otherwise this doesn’t count the Playoffs. So let’s do that, after all, stripping opponents in the playoffs is surely a more impressive feat!
|NBA Career Leaders in Playoff Steals|
As you might expect, defensive monster, all time great and playoff specialist Lebron James out performs his regular season position quite significantly, holding the number 1 spot in all-time Playoff Steals. Boosted by his 10 trips to the NBA Finals, he is already comfortably clear of Pippen & Jordan at the top of the list. You may be aware they also had some pretty deep playoff runs themselves.
An interesting name on this list is James Harden. Not known for his defensive energy, he clearly has a way of using his brain when it matters in the highest stakes situations to gain possession for his team when it matters.
Just off the list in 21st place is 2x NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi has gained 240 Steals in his Playoff career. He averages 1.8 Steals per game in the Playoffs and in fact, despite the narrative saying that his defensive ability has dropped off, his last 2 Playoff Runs are 2 of his 3 best for Steals per game. Compare this to Lebron who averages 1.7 per game and you can see that had Kawhi had better luck with health he may well have been much higher on this table already.
The Active Steals Leaders
History is great and all, but it’s already happened. Below is a list of the top 25 Active NBA players for total Steals.
|NBA Active Leaders in Regular Season Steals|
Some great standout names in the top 10 are Harden and Curry. Two players maligned for their defensive efforts over their careers when compared to their eye popping offensive output. It turns out that they do dig in and retrieve possession as well as anyone.