Coming up with a list of the top 5 best NBA players of the 2000s was a huge challenge. Over the past decade the sheer athleticism of players has taken an enormous jump, to the point where even benchwarmers are capable of poster-worthy, highlight reel plays on a nightly basis. Gone are the days where a handful of stars soared high above their peers. In today’s NBA there is more parity than ever among players, and most teams’ rosters are graced by one or more players deserving of the moniker of superstar.
However, despite the fact that the NBA’s talent pool is deeper than any time in the history of the sport there are certain players who’ve managed to shine a shade brighter than their fellow players over the past decade. Here are my picks for the top 5 greatest NBA players of the 2000s:
5 – LeBron James
Though he may now be public enemy number one in every other city than Miami, no one can deny the enormous impact this larger-than-life superstar has had on the game in the first seven seasons of his career. He is the only player on this list not to have played the entire decade, but it would be impossible to justify keeping him off.
Since joining the Cleveland Cavaliers straight out of high school LeBron has become the face of the NBA. Though he has yet to add an NBA championship ring to his finger he has become arguably the most dominant physical force in the game. At the age of 25 he already has over 15,000 career points, and in the 2007-08 season became the youngest player to score 10,000 career points. Now playing with fellow superstars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as a member of the Miami Heat chances are very good that LeBron will add multiple championship rings to add that much more flair to his already impressive resume.
4 – Kevin Garnett
Though he might not possess the flash of LeBron, Kevin Garnett is every bit the athletic freak of nature “King James” is. Despite his towering height, Garnett possesses the maneuverability of a much smaller man, and is dangerous not just under the rim, but anywhere on the offensive end. Garnett also has a stellar defensive game, and one of the NBA’s premier rebounders.
Despite his individual skill-set, Garnett achieved little team success as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, in his defense he had little roster help that would have allowed him to overcome teams like the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Santonio Spurs. When he finally did have some help – as a member of the Boston Celtics – it only took a single season for KG to silence his critics, helping the Celts capture their 17th NBA title.
3 – Steve Nash
Others may have put Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitski or perhaps Allen Iverson in this spot, but my vote goes to my fellow Canadian countryman. Yes, I may be accused of showing favoritism by selecting Steve Nash, but I fully defend my selection on the merits of what this tough-as-a-hockey-player guard has accomplished over the past decade.
Like LeBron James, Dirk Nowitski and Allen Iverson, Nash has yet to capture an NBA title. That being said, I would submit that no other player in the league over the past ten years has done more to make his teammates better. Nash confounds opposing defensive with his masterful distribution of the ball, and one can’t help be reminded of a certain former L.A. Laker star when Nash makes perfect a no-look, behind-the-back dish to a streaking teammate. Okay, Nash might not be quite in the same stratosphere as Magic Johnson, but with back-to-back MVP titles in the mid-2000s he is in some pretty exclusive company.
2 – Tim Duncan
True, there probably aren’t many kids who go to bed dreaming of one day being the next Tim Duncan, but that doesn’t mean this towering San Antonio Spur doesn’t deserve recognition as one of the best players of his generation. Breathtaking and mesmerizing aren’t adjectives one would use to describe Tim Duncan’s game. Instead, words like consistency, reliability and intelligence sum up the way this silent superstar goes about his business. If one really wanted to sum up Tim Duncan as succinctly as possible then the word ‘winner’ would be a very good choice.
Three times during the decade (and four overall) Duncan led the Spurs to NBA championship titles, twice during that span (and three times overall) nabbing himself the award as NBA Finals MVP. He, like Steve Nash after him, won back-to-back league MVP titles. Though he never electrified crowds the way Magic or MJ did, the aforementioned accolades give mute testimony that you don’t have to be the most exciting player to be the best.
1 – Kobe Bryant
As great as Tim Duncan was last decade, in my mind there was only one clear choice for top spot on the list of the top 5 best NBA players of the 2000’s. For the early part of his career Kobe Bryant was considered a sidekick, living in the enormous shadow of fellow Laker Shaquille O’Neal. After Shaq left Tinseltown for South Beach, Kobe showed his critics, and the rest of the world, that he was an even better ‘Batman’ than a ‘Robin’. Kobe put up monstrous numbers after Shaq’s departure, leading the NBA is scoring twice. During that period he had a number of huge statistical games, including an 81 point game that marked the second highest single game total in NBA history.
However, basketball is a team sport, and the game’s best are ultimately judged by how well their teams do. In the final two seasons of the decade Bryant led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals. In 2008 he fell just a hair short as his Lakers succumbed 4-2 to the powerful Celtics, but in 2009 he would not be denied. Bryant willed the Lakers to a convincing 4-1 victory against the Orlando Magic, earning his first NBA Finals MVP trophy along the way, and cementing his spot as the greatest basketball player of the past decade.