The NBA is seeing a level of talent that has not been seen since the late 1980s. Especially right now, there is a converging of generations of players. There's the old generation of Kobe and Tim Duncan, combined with the superstars in their prime like LeBron James and Chris Paul, and the rising superstars of tomorrow in Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose.
This is talent that can be compared to any level in the history of the NBA. When you have talent levels like this, you can start to think of it on a historical level. There are players in the NBA right now who will retire as the greatest player in their franchise's history.
Here are five such players.
Stats: 1,055 GP, 22.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 47.5% FG, 38.0% 3P, 87.8% FT
Dirk was not actually drafted as a Dallas Maverick. He was drafted ninth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, but was traded immediately to the Mavericks on draft day.
Ever since then, the Mavericks have been the model of consistency, and Dirk has been the lone constant. He led the Mavericks to 11 straight winning seasons until the lockout-shortened season of 2012. In 2011, he finally led Dallas to their first ever NBA Championship.
Dirk has been an iconic figure in Dallas during a stretch where he did nothing but win. If he retired today, he would already be the best player in Mavericks history.
Other Contenders: Rolando Blackman, Brad Davis
Stats: 1,111 GP, 20.3 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 50.7% FG, 2.2 BPG
Tim Duncan is not only the best player in the history of the San Antonio Spurs, but arguably the best power forward in the history of the league.
Duncan was drafted by the Spurs with the first pick in the 1997 NBA Draft out of Wake Forest. While first overall picks many times bust, it was clear early on that Tim Duncan was not one of those players. In his first season, Duncan averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 54.9% from the field, 2.5 blocks.
In his second season, Duncan won his first NBA Championship. Since then, he has won three more. He has single-handedly made San Antonio a relevant franchise for the last fifteen years. He won back-to-back MVP awards, and a plethora of All-NBA and All-Defensive teams.
The only other contender for best player in Spurs history is David Robinson, and it's not even close. Robinson never could win a championship as the best player, and Duncan won four. The best player in franchise history is Tim Duncan. End of story.
Other Contenders: David Robinson
Stats: 380 GP, 26.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 46.8% FG, 36.4% 3P, 87.8% FT
It's true, Kevin Durant has only been on the Thunder for five seasons, but he has already made his mark. Durant came into a bad situation, and the situation only went from bad to worse when owner Clay Bennett opted to move the then-Seattle Supersonics to Oklahoma City.
However Kevin Durant did the unthinkable: he turned Oklahoma City into a destination. All of a sudden, Oklahoma City became one of the top franchises in the NBA. This was proven this week as ESPN The Mag named Oklahoma City the top franchise in the NBA this season in their annual franchise ranking.
Durant is already the most notable player in franchise history. After five seasons, we don't know if he's necessarily the BEST player in franchise history yet, but he is absolutely the most important. Over the next few seasons, he will cement his case.
Other Contenders: Gary Payton
Stats: 269 GP, 17.3 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 45.7% FG, 37.2% 3P
Kevin Love has only been on the Timberwolves for the past four seasons. In those four seasons, he has been one of the best per-minute rebounders in the league, right since the beginning. However he was never given the opportunity to succeed.
During Love's third year, however, he was truly given that opportunity, and he flourished. He became a true go-to scorer, a fantastic rebounder, and a fantastic outside shooter.
Despite all this, Kevin Garnett was arguably a better player than Love. It's an argument I would make. But what gives me hope that Love could be the greatest Timberwolf is some comments he made this offseason. Love said, "It's tough seeing all these guys that are young and older who have all played in the playoffs. When they start talking about that, I have nothing to talk about. If I don’t make the playoffs next year I don’t know what will happen."
Love has the mindset that he wants to win. He wants to be thought of as a franchise player. There are very few players who have that mindset, and that is what will make him the greatest Timberwolf ever.
Other Contenders: Kevin Garnett
Stats: 596 GP, 25.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 6.2 APG, 48.6% FG, 1.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG
I know what you're thinking. This guy is saying that the best player in the NBA is not the best player in his franchise's history? That is exactly what I'm saying.
Wade was drafted fifth overall out of Marquette after a stellar career there. However NBA teams questioned if he could be a legitimate shooting guard in this league, or whether he was just a combo guard. It's fair to say that he has proved the doubters wrong.
For years now, Dwyane Wade has been one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He is always up among the top scorers in the league. He has always been a solid floor general. He has rebounded and blocked shots at a FAR higher rate than his 6'4" height would suggest. He's the whole package.
Oh, and he won a title by himself in 2006.
Not even LeBron James has been able to do that. Wade is the first true franchise player in the history of the Miami Heat, and history will reward him for that. Dwyane Wade will be remembered as the great Miami Heat player ever.
Other Contenders: LeBron James, Alonzo Mourning