October 06, 2009
OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!
Let's just skip to what people have been asking for since the beginning. The 10 best players.
Times have changed. You can't just figure out who goes where on a list after a series of spirited arm-wrestling tournaments, as was all the rage in the '80s. Magic won, by the way.
With that in place, if you don't mind, let's set a few ground rules. This is a team game, but this is a list of individual players. No player was awarded a higher or lower ranking because they got to play with better or nastier teammates. Defense is half the game, and if you are going to score, you better do it efficiently. Somehow, Flip Murray(notes) missed the cut.
So, here we are, finally. The 10 best players of the last decade. Read on.
10. Allen Iverson(notes)
There's a fair bit to criticize, but Iverson did score quite a lot and create shots for teams that truly needed him to score and create shots. And he's played for the duration of the decade in question, despite heaps of injuries.
And if this comes off as begrudging, it's because it is. I have a hard time selecting Iverson over people like Elton Brand(notes) or Chris Paul(notes) or even Vince Carter(notes), players who don't score as much but contribute a great deal in all other areas of the game and score way, way more efficiently than Iverson ever did.
T-Mac was the best perimeter player in this league during 2002-03, better than who you think was the best perimeter player in this league, and he was only 23 at the time. Injuries took over from there, though McGrady has been a fine contributor, he's averaged only 55 games a season in his last four years, and the production has tailed off considerably from his peak with the Magic.
Still a terrific all-around player, though, and well-deserving of placement on this list.
Wade could run away with the MVP this year and work as this league's best player. He was at that level last season, among a couple of others, and the same went for 2005-06.
In between then, he missed 62 games over two years and only entered the league in 2003-04. So, despite the ring, that takes him down a peg in comparison to the players who were going at it for the entire 10-year run.
He can't guard anyone, anymore, and though Kidd has sussed out that whole "jump shot" thing with the Mavericks (he's nearly hitting in the mid-40s from behind the arc over 110 contests with Dallas), that wasn't the case for a good chunk of the decade. And he was probably overrated, quite a bit, for a good chunk of the term.
He also defended like mad for most of the run, was an expert passer, scored, rebounded, led teams and worked as the best point man of the decade. Kidd might not be all-world anymore, but he was for long enough to throw up here.
Shaquille O'Neal, man among men, is only sixth on this list. It's been a pretty good decade.
Shaq turned in one of the great seasons of all time in 1999-00, but he's only averaged about 65 contests a season since then, he's been out of shape for a few of those years and ultimately disappointed a bit to these eyes.
He also was a beast down low, won four championships, produced some poorly rated summertime TV fare, tweeted like a fiend, picked several lame fights and contributed to several playoff teams. Big man, big noise, big production.
He's the game's finest player, but there is a quibble with the fact that LeBron didn't play a minute of NBA basketball from 1999-2003, while the others on this list were contributing at an MVP level and/or leading their teams to great things.
James is the real deal, though. He somehow exceeded the hype he was met with upon his arrival in the NBA, he contributed in every conceivable area, he led a truly awful Cavaliers team to the Finals in 2007 and he seems poised to do other-worldly things for the next 15 years or so.
Dirk's second season was 1999-2000, and though his stats were relatively modest (17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds) compared to his eventual averages, the run did inform us that he was no bust worth fretting over. Sure, the non-busto signs were there from time to time during the lockout year, but 1999-00 is where we start to count.
And Dirk's been hotter than hell ever since. Scores at an efficient rate, rebounds, never turns the ball over, improved on defense considerably and he won games.
With the scoring titles and four rings (with several, possibly, left to come), Kobe has the finest trading card resume of any player on this list. But defense matters, and because he isn't a big guy, Bryant just can't compare to those who score nearly as much, but also change games defensively while pulling in twice as many rebounds.
For a guard, though, this man's accomplishments are sublime. He scores, he leads, he works, he yells, he frets, he complains when others don't seem to share his obsession with the game, and I can relate to that. A fine decade for Kobe Bean.
KG takes the cake over Kobe by a hair due to his defense, an area that isn't always accurately documented by statistics.
His stats, though, are pretty awesome. Garnett averaged over 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for six years. Only Larry Bird has come close to that, and you know damn well Bird wasn't defending or blocking and stealing (combined, usually more than three blocks/steals per game) like KG. Pity it took Garnett until he was 31 to get a team worth shouting about.
Tim Duncan has led his team to four championships, three during the decade in question. He scores efficiently on either block, is a monster defender, rebounds like few others, draws huge amounts of attention when he has the ball offensively (something Kobe and KG, for all their gifts and for all the double-teams sent their way, just can't compare to), and he wins games.
Has he had great teams around him? Sure. But he's been better than everyone else.
If you really think about it, if you really deal with the game on the level it deserves, you know he's been the best. Really, it shouldn't even be a question. Tim Duncan's been the best player of the last decade.
Questions? Comments? Furious and righteous anger at a world, not to mention top 10 list, gone wrong? Swing by later today at about 3 p.m. Eastern for a BDL mini-chat regarding this very list.