SI's NBA All-Decade Team: Biggest Snubs

The Crossover Staff
Sports Illustrated

The NBA has been a league ripe for debate long before the rise of cable TV talking heads. Russell vs. Wilt defined the 1960s, and two decades later, the battle of Magic vs. Bird vaulted the NBA to the top of their American consciousness. We haven’t slowed down since. Our MVP debates are as explosive as ever (hello, 2016-17), and entering 2019-20, there is marked disagreement over the league’s top player. A wild eight months lie ahead that same fierce debate expands to The Crossover’s All-Decade roster.

20 ballots were completed by our staff’s writers, editors and producers, which each ballot seemingly unimpeachable in the eyes of the voter. The final roster spurred plenty of disagreement. Is Kobe Bryant really one of the six best guards this decade? Should Giannis Antetokounmpo qualify given his quite recent rise? There were plenty of players that missed the cut on our 15-man team, including former All-Stars, Finals heroes and Defensive Player of the Year winners. So who missed the cut, and who has a case for our final roster? Check out the top snubs from The Crossover’s 2010s All-Decade team below.

All-Decade Coverage: Third Team | Second Team | First Team

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Rob Mahoney: LaMarcus Aldridge 

The case for LaMarcus Aldridge is the case for longevity. Plenty of candidates had great stretches or great moments. Aldridge is having a great decade—an extended body of work that satisfies the nature of this exercise. No one is saying that peak Aldridge was better than peak Tim Duncan, peak Dirk Nowitzki, peak Giannis Antetokounmpo, or peak Kawhi Leonard. Just that there’s a case to be made for a star who played well for 10 straight years and wound up with more All-NBA selections than any of them. There’s something to be said for continued excellence. Among frontcourt players, only LeBron James and Kevin Durant scored more points than Aldridge this decade. Only four other players pulled down more rebounds. It’s not a complicated formula; Aldridge stayed healthy, consistently pushed teams to the playoffs, played both sides of the ball, and produced with incredible reliability. He may not have outclassed his superstar peers, but Aldridge did outlast them.

Michael Shapiro: Klay Thompson

Is Klay Thompson a victim of comparison next to Steph Curry? That can be the only explanation for his failure to qualify for The Crossover’s All-Decade team. The 6’7” Splash Brother closed the decade with one of the more impressive backcourt resumes, racking up championships, All-NBA spots and historic scoring sprees. Thompson is a foundational piece of the century’s greatest dynasty. He’s among the greatest three-point shooters of all-time. Curry emerged this decade as an offensive force unlike anything the league has ever seen. Thompson is no less unique, and his omission from our roster remains puzzling. 

Thompson’s page of accolades is certainly commensurate with the other players on our All-Decade squad. He has three championships and five All-Star appearances, two All-NBA odds and an All-Defense honor. He’s scored 20-plus points per game in five consecutive seasons, and he’s shot over 40% from three in each of his eight NBA seasons. Thompson is one of two players in NBA history with 250 made threes in a season at over 40%, joined only, of course, by Curry. Thompson’s offensive resume is elite, and the Washington State product merits All-Decade consideration with his shooting sorcery alone, nevermind his defensive prowess.

The statistical case for Thompson is strong, but his historical impact extends far beyond the box score. Thompson will retire as one of the toughest players of his era, even attempting to stay on the floor with a torn ACL in the 2019 Finals. He ended the Kevin Durant era in Oklahoma City in 2016, then buried the Rockets in the 2017 Western Conference finals. Thompson was a critical piece in one of basketball’s greatest dynasties. His historic greatness deserves a place on our All-Decade team.

Andrew Sharp: Marc Gasol

Maybe I interpreted this assignment too literally. I understand that someone like Kawhi Leonard had higher peaks, so I guess that's why he made the first team. But whenever it comes time to select All-NBA teams, I like to imagine I'm building a real basketball team. That means including a real big man. To that end, I don't like that Kawhi, Kevin Durant, and LeBron are clustered together in the first-team frontcourt. That feels like cheating that skews the entire project. What's more, among centers over the course of the past decade... I'm not sure any center has been as reliably excellent as Marc Gasol.

It's true that the bulk of his prime coincides with the decade perfectly, so that gives him an advantage over other candidates whose peak didn't align with the timeframe in question (Duncan, Dirk, Bosh, KG, Dwight, etc). Fitting the timeframe here shouldn't be considered dispositive. That part of why I had Draymond Green as my first team center. Draymond's peak came in the second half of the decade, but his skills spawned stylistic changes to basketball that came to define the entire era. He's my first team big man. But past Draymond, what big man has been better than Gasol over the past decade? He was a consistent defensive player of the year candidate for several years in Memphis, he helped anchor a number of Grizzlies playoff teams, and last year, he closed out the decade by winning a title in Toronto.

To me, the best debate was whether to put Gasol or Blake Griffin on the second team. It's close. I chose Gasol based on health, but I understand anyone who chooses Blake based on peak talent. Beyond that? Give me Gasol's all-around excellence and consistency over LaMarcus Aldridge, Al Horford, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki or anyone else. Think of it this way: if you were transported to 2010 and asked to draft a team to win a title, knowing exactly how the decade played out, how many big men would you take over Gasol? Maybe you choose AD, maybe you choose Blake, maybe you choose Duncan, maybe you choose Dirk. But if you're actually trying to contend for the majority of the decade, I have hard time believing that a smart GM wouldn't choose Gasol over at least one of those players.

Rohan Nadkarni: Kyrie Irving 

I’m going to be honest, I’m not totally sure why I voted Kyrie Irving for Second Team All-Decade. When I see the players who finished ahead of him, I’m like, “Yeah, that makes sense. This all checks out.” I don’t know if it was some weird recency bias (even though Kyrie’s last season didn‘t end well) or I just got a little excited at snubbing Kobe, but here we are. BUT. If I had to argue why Kyrie deserves to be on this roster, it’s that he has something neither Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, or even James Harden have—and that’s a championship. And I’m not normally a RINGZ guy, but Kyrie played an integral role in the greatest comeback in Finals history! He was the second-best player on a team that upset the 73-win Warriors. With the Cavs down 3–1 and facing elimination every night, Irving scored 41, 23, and 26 points in Games 5, 6, and 7, including what ended up being the game-winning shot—in Steph Curry’s face!—in Game 7. 

I’m not saying that three-game stretch outweighs the body of work the guys ahead of Kyrie have put up over the last decade. But recognizing the guy who contributed so much to perhaps the biggest flashpoint moment of the 2010s doesn’t feel completely absurd. (The real snub, though, is not putting D. Wade on the First Team.)

Jeremy Woo: Derrick Rose

I’m fairly sure I was the only voter on our panel who cast a vote for Rose, albeit a third-team selection, so I wasn’t exactly expecting him to make the team, nor is his absence worth some type of grand protest. But I’ll gladly take the opportunity to introduce an alternate timeline where Rose’s body holds together more gracefully, his breathtaking peak years extend at least into the middle of the decade. The Bulls were a legitimate, perennial Eastern Conference contender, centered around Rose in his early 20s and some nasty team defense, and if not for his poor health and the rather notable presence of LeBron James elsewhere in the conference, odds are Chicago comes closer to getting over the hump. As the NBA moved toward pace-and-space in the years that followed, a healthy Rose optimized by better shooting could conceivably have improved on his MVP numbers, and put his franchise in better position to adapt, as well.

Derrick Rose was Russell Westbrook before Westbrook became Westbrook, the fundamental difference being a lack of concern for his own accolades. The tone of local media coverage amid his various injuries on some level obscured the fact that Rose was wired only to win games, a fundamental quality his balky lower body body and his wavering confidence in its function never wholly wore down. His health makes his candidacy for this list a bit of a niche proposition. But when I cast my votes, I assigned primary value to the caliber of a player’s peak, the success of his teams during that window, however long, and how well those achievements held up against what came before and what followed. We’re not voting for what-if scenarios, of course, but what Rose accomplished deserves to be more than a footnote.

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