Decade’s Top 10 NBA Players
The names that claimed an unnamed decade.
Putting it to a democratic vote a la this summer’s SLAMonline Top 50, the order was delivered and the dix were down. Sorry to Melo and Truth, but these cats were the best in show. The final tally proved it wasn’t even close.
Try guessing the Decade’s Top 10 without reading on. You can do that. But putting their accomplishments into words? Good luck.
Here’s our best shot at it….
No. 10: Jason Kidd
by Brad Graham
Understanding why Jason Kidd is one of the decade’s best is easy, especially because his recipe for success is straight out of a Rachael Ray cookbook… you take Hobble’s vision; a master chess player’s decision making; Jedi Knight anticipation; UPS’ delivery system; a drug dealer’s push; Mos Def’s tempo and Bernie Madoff’s thievery. Mix it together, let it cook under the Californian sun and serve it once every generation.
The superlatives rightfully spew out whenever Kidd’s discussed in reference to this decade because the consummate point guard’s dime dropping play is as effective as Kobe Bryant’s scoring, Ray Allen’s jumper, LeBron James’ drive, Dwight Howard’s glass cleaning, well, you get the picture, and have ever since Kidd playmaking prowess was unleashed.
Speaking of making plays like Santa does toys, it was during the ’08-09 season that Kidd became the fourth player in NBA history to reach the magical 10,000 assist milestone. That mark meant he’s now the only player in NBA history with 15,000 points, 10,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds. Not bad for a player who can’t shoot a basketball.
Equally important, on April 5 ‘08, in a game that saw Kidd hand out a season high 20 assists against, of all teams, the Phoenix Suns (more on them in a minute), he dished out his 10,142 career dime. This helped him surpass Magic Johnson for third on the all time NBA assist list. Of course his placement didn’t last long as Kidd leap frogged Mark Jackson early in the 2009/10 season for 2nd place on the assist list.
Remaining an immeasurable asset, J-Kidd joins Sam Cassell, Ben Wallace and Tim Duncan and as the most under appreciated talents of the decade. Don’t feel too bad for him though, Kidd did collect a staggering $135,822,835 worth of NBA Owner’s dollars this decade to make up for his troubles. So when it’s reported that he averages a triple double once every 10 games or so, just know he’s getting paid for a reason. Don’t worry, it doesn’t help me sleep any better either.
The comparisons to Tim Duncan also extend beyond locker room value as the PG finds himself locked into a similar battle (think Duncan vs. Kevin Garnett) with fellow virtuoso Steve Nash for the title of decade defining playmaker. A battle he’s handed over to Chris Paul and Deron Williams. However, unlike the Spurs’ superstar, Kidd found himself traded (twice) this decade.
In ’01, following charges for spousal abuse (in which he missed 15 games) Kidd was shopped after the Suns suffered another first round playoff exit (this time by the Sacramento Kings). Along with Chris Dudley, Kidd was sent to the New Jersey Nets for Stephon Marbury, Johnny Newman and Soumaila Samake.
Note: This trade would later allow the Suns to land Amar’e Stoudemire via the ’02 Draft, thanks in large to Marbury’s inability to play at Kidd’s level. To say the Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury deal didn’t work out remains a gross understatement. As a result, the Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs for the first time since ’88, wining just 36 games. Marbury dropped 20.4 ppg but the Suns clearly missed Kidd who instantly turned his Nets from losers to Eastern Conference Champions.
Kidd’s well documented culture changing arrival in Jersey not only had all 176 Nets fans wanting to be seen out at East Rutherford, it had him receiving legit MVP votes. Much like Kevin Garnett’s impression with the ’07-08 Boston Celtics, Kidd was the League’s real MVP in ‘01-02 but was denied the honor (he finished second in voting to Duncan) because stats and fashion dictated that point guards don’t receive the Maurice Podoloff trophy. That was the thinking at the time.
In fact it was way back in ‘03 (before Nash become a dual MVP and everyone’s second favorite player) that Jason Kidd’s popularity hit the ceiling. The seminal guard not only graced the cover of EA Sports famed NBA Live series, he once again led his New Jersey Nets out of the fog that is the Eastern Conference to their second consecutive Finals appearance, either making him one of the greatest losers of the decade (like Karl Malone in the ‘90s) or a rare generational talent who continually overachieved and carried a mediocre roster / franchise (or both).
It was here in New Jersey that proof of Kidd’s worth became apparent. In a seemingly pedestrian 120-114 overtime regular season win over the Washington Wizards (in which he collected his 86th triple double) Kidd helped himself and former team mate Vince Carter chalk up another appearance in the NBA record books. The duo became the first team mates since Michael Jordan (41 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds) and Scottie Pippen (15 points, 12 assists and 10 boards) to notched T-D’s in the same game and this was back when Tim Burton’s Batman was tops at the box office.
Vinsanity collected 46 points, added 16 rebounds (becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to record a triple double with at least 46 points / 16 boards, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Alvin Adams) and yes, he even somehow managed to hand out 10 assists. Of course, who set up the majority of VC’s points… you guessed it, Kidd. He nabbed a then career high 16 boards, equaled his ’07 season high with 18 assists and slipped in 10 points (thanks to late free throw). Point to all this? Kidd would tell reporters that “I wish I could have a triple-double like Vince.” Guess he’ll just have to settle for being the active leader. Oh well. Let the record show that LeBron James is second among active players, a mere 80 plus triple doubles behind Kidd.
Following his impressive stint in Jersey, Kidd would later be reunited with his first NBA franchise, the Dallas Mavericks in early ‘08 thanks to a trade that included the two teams swapping starting PG’s. Note: This trade was due in large to the Mav’s embarrassing first round NBA Playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors and their inability to match up with the bruising Baron Davis. Speculation has also been made that Kidd wanted to bolt from Vince Carter but only ESPN’s Bill Simmons believes that. Of course the Mavs (with their superior supporting cast have continued to shine, thanks to Kidd) while the Nets continue their tour towards the Antarctic Circle.
While NBA success is apparent, it’s with his national team that Kidd’s showing is best represented. Collecting two Olympic Gold Medals in Sydney (2000) and Beijing (’08), respectively, Kidd finishes the decade undefeated when wearing the stars and stripes. Winning USA Basketball’s 2007 Male Athlete of the Year, Kidd became the nations definitive point guard, showcasing that no one orchestrates the fast break better. Much like his ’08 Dallas Mavericks’ reprisal, Kidd became Jerry Colangelo’s Team USA anchor.
Now that the naughties are (almost) over, we can sit back and appreciate Jason Kidd. He finishes the decade ranked 2nd in career assists with 10,337 dimes dropped (and given he never ran with a player of Karl Malone’s calibre, his career total impresses this blogger as much as John Stockton’s); 3rd in career and 2nd in Playoff triple doubles, respectively, making him the NBA’s accountant (aka good with numbers); 6th in total steals with 2,200 and counting (making him the decade’s master thief) and last but certainly not least, 29th in SLAM’s revised Top 50 of All Time.
Above all that, the subject of Jason Kidd has never really been about the seven All Star berths (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008); the four All NBA First Team selections (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004) or the eight All Defensive Team nods (First team: 2001, 2002, 2006. Second Team: 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007) simply because his impact and play has never been based on individual glory. Kidd’s legacy and ability to deliver a bouquet of highlights is one of elevated team play (both on the NBA timber and for Team USA) but if you really want to make it about the numbers, a complete list of Kidd’s first 100 NBA triple doubles can be found here.
No. 9: Dwyane Wade
by Chris Deaton
Dwyane Wade is the champion of his class.
The finest hours of the deities are revealed under the brightest spotlights on the biggest stages. And although LeBron has his MVP and a defining game, Wade has his ring—something borne of defining games (3, 4, 5, 6).
At 27, his accolades project a legendary career: a Finals MVP, a superlative Olympic performance that keyed his country’s gold medal and five-consecutive All-Star appearances from 2005-09. He was honored as SI’s “Sportsman of the Year” in 2006, joining the likes of Russell, Kareem, Michael, Duncan and Robinson. Last season, he posted a career best 30 points and 7.5 assists a night en route to his first appearance on the All-NBA First Team.
And his résumé would be fuller were it not for a reckless abandon that has sidelined him 20 games or more in three of his six full seasons.
His play has frequently captured Jordan’s flavor, with exceptional finishing ability, a dangerous turnaround and coolness in the clutch. One of his game’s biggest knocks is his lack of range—but consider that MJ failed to crack 30 percent from three until his sixth season, and even then, it wasn’t an integral part of his game, nor did it need to be. Perhaps much is and will continue to be the same for D-Wade.
With Kobe in his 14th season, it’s possible that Wade, a player with less mileage, stands to inherit the mantle of the game’s best shooting guard during the 2010s. He is one of two men on this “Decade’s Best” list whose greatest years likely lie ahead. If that’s the case, in Dwyane Wade, the sporting world may be witnessing the evolution of one of the greatest players in NBA history.
No. 8: Steve Nash
by DeMarco Williams
Stephen John Nash is so good he’s actually underrated. Yeah, he’s been toasted with the two MVPs (‘04-‘05 and ‘05-‘06; only the third guard to ever accomplish the back-to-back) and six All-Star Game appearances, but there’s just so much more to the cool Canadian’s game than that.
Take, for instance, the man’s durability. Nash, 6-3 and 175 pounds if you weighed him right after the Christmas feast, averaged 77 games per season over the 00s. And then there’s his grossly overlooked shooting. Last year Nash became the only player in League history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line over three straight campaigns. Of the three achievements, Stevie’s long-distance dialing is probably the most overlooked. The ’03-’04 was the only season this decade the one-time Mav/full-time Sun didn’t finish in the top 10 in three-point percentage.
Still, when most folks think of the gritty guard, they immediately hark memories of him leading a fast break and delivering a crisp Spalding to Dirk, Amar’e or J-Rich over the years. And while the magical dishes are nice (The 35-year-old currently leads the NBA in dimes and is already in the top 10 for career assists), Nash is kinda like Michael Vick. See, the actual passing is only part of the fun.
Stevie has already amassed three 30+ scoring nights this year. Hell, Deron Williams, Tony Parker and Baron Davis have that many combined! He totaled over 20 in seven straight contests last year. He’s even had a couple of 40-point explosions over his hall of fame career.
Wait, did somebody say underrated?
So, yeah, call Stephen John Nash a great floor leader and assist machine all you want. He is most definitely that. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you the next time the decade’s finest pure point guard torches your squad for 30 of his own.
No. 7: Allen Iverson
by Mike Middlehurst-Schwartz
Say what you will about Allen Iverson – just remember who you’re talking about.
There are players on this list who had more successful a more decorated decade than “The Answer,” but few were more iconic. The imagery of Iverson is almost endless. Conjuring his name brings up memories of crossing over Michael Jordan (a little bit of a cheat since this moment went down back in the archaic 20th century), stepping over Tyronn Lue in the NBA Finals and the infamous practice rant which will go down in YouTube lore.
Iverson both lived and played at a speed that prevented almost anyone from keeping stride with him. And though his approach and style were polarizing, his results were undeniable – an MVP season in ‘00-01 and a litany of games taken over by the League’s favorite mighty mite. Toughness became his calling card after he proved time and again his willingness to play through a seemingly endless series of injuries.
Watching Iverson mature in the latter half of the decade has at times been an uncomfortable and awkward task. A short stay in Detroit was unsuccessful and an even shorter stay in Memphis was downright cringeworthy. But even though Iverson has been forced to reinvent himself – or at least his role – during his second stint with the Sixers, at least one of the decade’s best will get a chance to step aside on his own terms. Hey, it’s always sunny in Philadelphia, right?
No. 6: Dirk Nowitzki
by Ben Collins
Do you recognize him now? He has these big shoulders now — big, bounding arms swinging on refined hinges. They collect teeth now. As of about three weeks ago, this is true.
No homo. I mean, no no homo? Is that statement itself homohobic? Dirk, would you know? No, no comment?
No, he would know, probably, but he wouldn’t say. Just like his Twitter does. He’s found a way to say nothing by saying a lot about the only topic he knows everything about. And he can do this in two languages!
But reporters scoff. Boring! And we yawn and jot slowly, then walk away angrily.
Then some woman appears over the summer — someone who appeared to be cheating on him with his own cash — and we wanted to be angry so badly, we wanted to turn on him and punch him in his big, dumb, suddenly really-developed shoulders. But we couldn’t. We just felt bad for the guy.
Does that guy even speak English? People will yell this in sports bars. Even now. It will piss us off. It’s been 10 years. Yes, we will tell them, he’s perfect at it, just like he’s perfect at basketball, but we can’t write that. You can’t turn around one day and say, “Hey, listen, there’s a guy who’s been almost perfect at something for the past decade, we just haven’t been doing our jobs very well.”
But how can this person have not seen him before? Is he really that different of a player? In the late-90s and early-’00s he was this quirky, seven-foot, point-center with a jumpshot. Is he really this bruising, solemn, menacing, elbow-wielding, teeth-collecting, dare-we-say-it power forward?
Do you recognize him now?
No. 5: LeBron James
by Sandy Dover
The manchild has now grown into a man, the myth has become a bonafide fact, and his legend continues to grow with each step and shot. LeBron Ramone James is arguably the most anticipated and storied player to play the game of basketball. That he came out of high school to be a No. 1 pick is merely a footnote for the player who may be the most skilled big perimeter player to ever play basketball (when his career is summed up).
Starting as a professional point guard, then playing shooting guard, then the “3″ spot and now a legitimate threat to teams when playing power forward, LeBron James is the epitome of an all-world player. Dominating with his Jason Kidd-like vision and passing, shooting fadeaway jumpers from the three-point line with relative ease, attacking the basket like a bull from Barcelona and leading the break in the manner of Magic, it’s no wonder he’s feared. Standing (and possibly still growing?) at 6-9-1/2 and weighing between 260-275 pounds (depending on the day), even Michael Jordan wasn’t as physically imposing.
But it’s not the stats that makes Le Cavalier so special–that he has career points/rebounds/assists of 27-7-7, or that he literally can do just about anything in a real-life game that you can think of (he ain’t called “Video Game James” for nothin’)–no, what sets The King apart from his brethren is that for all of his skills, for all of his physical and mental advantages as a basketball player, he continually seeks to uplift his teammates. He’s the new Pippen, he’s the new Magic, he’s the new swingman, he’s the new point guard, but more than anything, he’s the new standard. He has been set apart, and for all of his gifts, LeBron James is going to be the player of the next decade as well.
No. 4: Kevin Garnett
by Myles Brown
In practically any argument of “Who’s better?” someone will inevitably exclaim “Well if Player X was traded for Player Y, he could’ve done that…”. On behalf of reasonable people everywhere, I beseech you. Please, stop that shit. Things are hard enough to quantify and evaluate without needlessly complicating matters even further with improbable scenarios. The case for any player should be stated based on the facts at hand and nothing more.
Except for K.G. Why? Because of the Blazers, Spurs, Mavericks, and Lakers. Instead of marveling at his ability to drag a sub par team into the playoffs every year, Garnett’s critics chose to chastise him for his inability to single-handedly upset a title contender. It’s bullshit.
With all due apologies to the King, Kevin Garnett is the most unique player in NBA history. He’s a 7-0 forward with a guard’s skill set who can play and defend any position on the floor. He’s the only player ever to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists for six consecutive seasons. He’s also the only player ever to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists for nine consecutive seasons. And he’s the only player ever to have his prime wasted on a roster that boasted “All Star” Wally Szczerbiak as the second option.
Upon escaping to Boston, Garnett immediately removed all doubts concerning his elite status by spearheading one of the most formidable defensive units of all time. His versatility, selflessness and infectious desire completely transformed a lottery team into a champion. Had he not been injured last spring the Celtics could arguably be looking to three peat this year. The critics have been silenced and there is only one remaining question about Kevin Garnett.
What would have happened if he spent his prime as a Spur?
No. 3: Shaquille O’Neal
by Sean Ceglinsky
A good debate is good for the soul, although anyone arguing that Shaquille O’Neal should not be mentioned among the top three ballers in the business over the course of the last 10 years needs to have his head examined.
Let’s keep it real people, Shaq changed the game. His resume speaks for itself.
For starters, he’s won four NBA titles (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006), taking home The Finals most valuable player honor on three occasions (2000, 2001, 2002).
A 15-time All-Star, O’Neal made the team nine different times during the decade (2000-07 and 2009), earning the MVP award three times (2000, 2004, 2009).
Need more proof that his No.3 ranking on this who‘s who list is worthy? We can go on and on, trust us. In fact, a case can be made that Shaq should be higher.
For example, Kobe Bryant would have had an extremely tough time winning the first three of his four championships in Los Angeles without O’Neal, who averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in each of his eight seasons with the Lakers.
Same goes for Dwyane Wade in Miami. A step slower, Shaq’s numbers were down a bit in 2006, but that didn’t prevent him from guiding Wade & Co. to a title.
O’Neal is hoping to duplicate the feat this season, with LeBron James in Cleveland, of course. Best believe that if Shaq is successful this time around, he’ll cement his name as one of the NBA’s best ever, regardless of the decade, or the century, for that matter.
Whether he wins another championship remains to be seen. One thing is certain: His trophy case at home is full of hardware, no doubt about it. Perhaps equally impressive is the collection of nicknames he’s managed to compile the last 10-plus years.
Some of his more mainstream monikers are: Shaq Fu, Superman, The Diesel, The Big Aristotle and The Big Shaqtus. Here’s a couple you might’ve missed: The Big Baryshnikov, Wilt Chamberneezy, and the most recent edition to the stable, Shaqovic.
Call Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal what you want, just make sure it’s one of the decade’s best.
No. 2: Tim Duncan
by Todd Spehr
Sure thing. That’s what Tim Duncan is – a sure thing.
In a decade that reeked of hype, praising guys before they’re worthy of praise, in some instances underachievement, perhaps the explanation as to why we the consumer isn’t enamored with Duncan is for one simple reason: We can count on him.
Duncan is the only player that automatically made his team a contender every year of this period. He is the only one to be the best player on four title teams in this post-Jordan era. And he has this Russellonian quality in that his greatness isn’t confined to something like an individual per game statistic; his career numbers certainly are not of the gaudy variety, but his title count is.
We hardly know a thing about him yet Duncan reveals himself in all his glory each time he plays, and therefore tells us more about himself than we realize. In a decade where our stars wanted to be bigger than the game itself, by staying within in it and concentrating on its basic premise – to win – Duncan became the rock in a forever-altering NBA landscape.
How will we remember the Tim Duncan of the 2000s? We won’t remember him for one moment, one game, or even one transcendent season. Instead, we’ll remember him for being there, for being great in some way, for all of it.
No. 1: Kobe Bryant
by Vincent Thomas
During the 2001 Playoffs Kobe averaged 29 ppg, 7 rpg and 6 apg. The Lakers would go on a 15-1 tear, razing their opponents on their way to back-to-back championships. The championship run included classic performances from Kobe, like his 48 and 15 in a Game 4 closeout of Sacramento.
He followed that up with 45 and 10 in the conference championship opener against the Spurs. He did all this while taking the mantle from Scottie Pippen and playing some of the most deranged and chaotic perimeter defense we’ve ever seen.
One of his most indelible images of a career full of them probably came in that Game 4 against the Kings. Shaq had fouled out with a good chunk of the fourth quarter remaining. What now? Even though Kobe averaged 28.5 to Shaq’s 28.7 that season, Shaq was still clearly the Lakers MVP and the League’s Top Dog. So, with Shaq out for the rest of a game against bigs like Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, the thinking was that the series might go on. But Kobe Just took over and then, after nailing a 10-foot floater to quiet the Arco nutbags, ran down the court with his arms by his side and palms parallel to floor making the “chill out, I got this” motion. In a lot of ways, he became Shaq’s equal at that moment. It was during this playoff run that the League’s best player, Shaquille O’Neal, began calling Kobe “the best player in the world.”
By the next season, as L.A. was on its way to a three-pea, folks were forced to start making distinctions. Shaq was the most dominant, Tim Duncan was the most valuable, but Kobe was the best…or whatever all the meant. By 2003, when Kobe averaged 30 ppg for the first time in his career, the arguments kinda stopped. Some folks tried to bring Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter into the discussion, but no sane person really disputed that Kobe was the best all-around player in the NBA. Again, Duncan and Kevin Garnett might have been more valuable and Shaq was still the most dominant force in the League, but nobody played the game of basketball with the brilliance, virtuosity, skill and brio that Kobe played it every game.
What he did in the ’05-06 season was downright preposterous. Not only did he average 35 ppg for the season — something that, other than Wilt, only Jordan (’87) and Rick Barry (’67) accomplished — but he averaged 43 effing points per effing game for ALL of January. To do that in the modern NBA is astounding. And, yeah, that’s the month he pulled off that 81-point game against Toronto that should go down as the greatest single game feat — considering all the factors — in the history of sport. That’s like rushing for 500 yards in an NFL game or hitting six grand slams in one baseball game.
There’s something really sad about the 2004-2007 Kobe, though, because it was during these seasons that his skill and athleticism met at a peak and it was also those three seasons when he dragged around a young, talentless Lakers squad that were relevant and compelling only because a martian played for them. Imagine if he could have spent those seasons on a contender. Before you blame him for forcing Shaq out of L.A. and making his own bed, you should check the terms on which Shaq has left Miami and Phoenix (and he most likely won’t leave Cleveland like Dr. J left the Sixers, either).
Kobe ended the decade playing with more savvy and wisdom than force and dynamism. More importantly, he ended the decade with an MVP in ’08 and a Finals MVP in ’09. So his 10-year resume looks like this: two-time scoring champ, 10-time All Star, three-time All Star MVP, league MVP (should have won in ’06, too), Finals MVP, four championships and consensus pick for “best player on the planet” title from ’03-’08 and arguable in 2002 and 2009, too.
Shaq may have been the NBA Kingmaker for the first half of the decade and Duncan may have been the most valuable player of the decade; but Kobe Bryant was the best.
For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.