The Top 10 NBA Superstars Since Michael Jordan's Last Championship
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There may never be a player like Michael Jordan again.
Okay, never is a pretty long time. Still, there probably won't be anyone who can live up to the legacy that "His Airness" carved out in 13 NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls.
But since Jordan last won a championship in 1998, who have been the 10 greatest players in the game who combine talent, impact and accomplishment?
The list also omits Reggie Miller, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and other Jordan-era superstars who played in seasons following Jordan’s last title in 1998, but had their primes coincide with M.J.
The game’s greatest players will forever be compared to Jordan—the greatest player of all time. He won six titles, was named MVP in each of the Finals he played in and won five regular-season MVPs.
For the younger folks who are reading this, you must understand that Jordan led the Bulls to a three-peat, retired to play professional baseball, and then returned to win another three-peat. Imagine LeBron James leaving to play football midway through his career, and then coming back without skipping a beat.
The list goes on: 14 All-Star nods, 10 scoring titles, nine All-Defensive First Team awards, two slam dunk championships, Naismith College Player of the Year and plenty more.
But since Jordan left the Bulls in 1998 after his final championship (we won’t count the Washington Wizards years), who have been the 10 greatest players in the Association?
After reading through this list, post your own top 10 list in the comments section.
10. Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson had no problem stepping over his competition.
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Allen Iverson almost didn’t make this list, only because he never won a title.
But there is no denying that the guard, who is certainly smaller than his listed 6’0”, was one of the best shooters and slashers of the post-Jordan era.
Iverson is currently No. 18 on the NBA all-time scoring list, but managed to average a good amount of assists (6.2 per game) and actually rebounded pretty well for his size in the prime of his career.
A.I. would be higher on this list if not for three things:
1) He could never win it all. As a small shooter, Iverson joins a long list of guards who could never win without a big man. Of course, that's par for the NBA, where no guard (other than Jordan) has won it all without an elite center or power forward.
Iverson did lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a Finals appearance in the 2000-01 season, the same year that he won the league's Most Valuable Player award. He scored 48 points in Game 1 of those Finals, but that was as close as he came to winning a title.
2) He was a volume shooter. Iverson had just one season shooting greater than 46 percent, finishing his career as a 42.5 percent shooter and a 31 percent three-point shooter. He also shot just just 78 percent from the free throw line.
3) There is no denying that Iverson had his fair share of issues on and off the court. He was contentious towards authority and this hurt his ability to work within the team structure.
But despite those three areas, we are talking about one of the generation's most popular players who played at an extremely high level despite nagging injuries and weak supporting casts.
And no, we’re not talking about practice.
9. Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki joins this list thanks to his title in 2011.
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Dirk Nowitzki has scored the most points in the NBA of any European-born player, and is also the first to have won an MVP award.
He's ahead of Allen Iverson because 1) he will have more points than Iverson after this season and 2) he has a title.
Nowitzki's impact grew after his first two years in the league, and he now has 13 consecutive seasons of averaging 20 or more points per game. He has also averaged 8.3 rebounds per game for his career.
Dirk has been that catalyst for the Dallas Mavericks, leading the franchise to 12 consecutive playoff appearances, including two trips to the Finals. Though he will never be labeled a "good defender," he has evolved through the years.
Nowitzki is No. 19 all-time in scoring and should pass Iverson, Patrick Ewing, Jerry West and Reggie Miller this season if he plays to his averages. He will have the fourth highest point totals of post-Jordan era scorers, behind Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
And after an unexpected run in 2011 that concluded with an upset over the Miami Heat, Nowitzki now has his title.
The greatest German hoop star of all-time will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats.
8. Steve Nash
Steve Nash has all the intangibles of an elite point guard.
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You’re crazy if you think Steve Nash doesn’t belong on this list.
The 6'3" Canadian isn't as athletic as some of the game's greats, but he won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards in the mid-2000s for his ability to pick apart defenses with ease.
The 15th overall pick out of Santa Clara is the No. 5 all-time assists leader in NBA history, trailing only Jason Kidd for this post-Jordan era list. Nash entered this season just 217 assists shy of passing Magic Johnson on the all-time list.
Nash is an absurd 49 percent career shooter, though he has never averaged more than 19 points per game.
To argue on behalf of him higher ranking than Allen Iverson, and for him being put on a list that doesn’t include Dwayne Wade or Ray Allen, let me point to Nash’s ability to make his offense better.
He is the captain on the floor, and his ability to dissect defenses fosters efficiency and a flow to the game that no one else of this generation has produced.
Nash has never made it further than the Western Conference Finals, but he certainly has a shot this season once he returns to facilitate Mike D'Antoni's offense for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Plus, he's hilarious.
7. Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce was the heart of the 2008 Championship Celtics.
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Paul Pierce is one of the few superstars who has stuck in one uniform for his entire career.
He will always guard the best defender. He will always take the last shot. He has bravado, talent and valor. He is the heart of the Boston Celtics as this generation knows it.
He also won the Finals MVP when the Celtics won a title in 2008. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen had to come to him.
A 10-time all-star, Pierce is 25th all-time in total points scored and should finish well ahead of Allen Iverson to fall somewhere within the top five scorers since Michael Jordan retired.
Want to talk endurance? He has only had one season (2006-07) in which he dealt with significant time off the court. But his toughness extends well beyond on-court injuries.
Don't forget, Pierce was stabbed 11 times in September 2000, dealt with lung surgery, and still played in all 82 games of the 2000-01 season.
6. Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd is one of the all-time great point guards.
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Jason Kidd is the greatest point guard of the post-Jordan generation.
He came into the league and won Rookie of the Year when Jordan was finishing up his baseball career, but Kidd qualifies more as a superstar in the post-M.J. era.
The one-time triple-double machine is second all-time to John Stockton in total assists in a career that also includes an NBA Championship, 10 All-Star appearances, five All-NBA First Teams and five All-Defensive Teams.
Kidd's floor pace set the tone for the revamped New Jersey Nets, leading them to back-to-back Finals appearances before falling to the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.
He finally got it done with Dallas in 2011. At a time when it seemed like his career might be fading, he suddenly found his three-point shot and made a tremendous impact.
His ability to command an offense and empower a defense, paired with his accomplishments, makes Kidd as the best point guard on this list.
5. Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett is one of the post-Jordan era's best all-around big men.
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It’s a shame that too many of today’s young NBA fans may only remember Kevin Garnett in a Boston Celtics uniform.
The Garnett that the rest of us will remember was an even more determined and dominant forward. The kid out of high school was more athletic and nimble than fans had ever seen from a post position.
He could hit the elbow jumper, attack the basket, and handle the ball in a way that was incredibly unique to the game. And he did it all with a scowl that intimidated even veterans.
He was the leader of a competitive Timberwolves team for years, knocking at the door of title contention but never actually getting there.
With Minnesota looking to rebuild, the Celtics swooped him up, and along with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo, Garnett was part of a championship team.
Still playing at a high level in this, his 18th season, Garnett is climbing the ranks of the all-time greats.
KG now has more rebounds than any player who played most of his career after Jordan's last title. He won Most Valuable Player in 2004, has been an All-Star 14 times and has been named to nine All-Defensive First Teams.
Garnett is also third in scoring of all players since Jordan's retirement and could finish his career as a Top 10 all-time scorer in NBA history.
4. LeBron James
LeBron James finally got his ring, and he won't stop there.
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LeBron James is still in his prime, but more than any other player on this list, he is here mostly on projections of what's to come.
At 27 years of age, his resume is as follows: an NBA Championship and a Finals MVP, three regular season MVPs, eight All-Star appearances, a scoring title, Rookie of the Year and four NBA All-Defensive Teams honors.
The game has never seen a player this complete. No player with LeBron's size has ever been this athletic, and he is compiling points, assists and rebounds at an incredible rate.
With all due respect to Jordan, he could end up as the greatest of all time.
But, for now, he still has more padding to do on his body of work. If he finishes with just one title, he will certainly be remembered differently than if he rallies off two, three or eight more titles.
3. Tim Duncan
Despite lacking the flair of a superstar, Tim Duncan is an all-time great.
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It's not fair when a team drafts a robot, especially a robot who can see the floor like few other big men in the game's history.
Why does Tim Duncan need to be anything more than a robot?
He's a combination of power and finesse in the post, matched with the versatility of intelligent passing and gifted defense.
But Duncan has always left fans desiring more. It's an intangible. It's proof that our society doesn't fall in love with quiet leadership.
Be in our face. Be classless at times. Be anything.
Instead, the nation is somewhat indifferent to one of the game's greats, and it's probably not fair.
Duncan has done more for an NBA franchise than any player since Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls. The four titles in San Antonio belong to him. He has three Finals Most Valuable Player honors, two regular-season MVPs, 13 All-Star appearances, eight All-Defensive First Teams and he won Rookie of the Year.
There is little missing to Duncan's actual game. In terms of players eligible for this list, Duncan's all-time numbers include: third in rebounding, second in blocks and eighth in scoring.
Maybe he makes the game look too easy.
2. Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal is the most dominant big man of the post-Jordan era.
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The man was unstoppable.
Shaquille O'Neal was the most dominant player in the NBA since Michael Jordan. His size, paired with a medley of moves around the basket, made him unguardable.
As athletic as he was big, O'Neal is the sixth leading scorer in NBA history, and is second all-time since Jordan's last title. His 58.2 field goal percentage is second-best in league history.
We will have the entire (spoiler alert) O'Neal vs. Kobe Bryant argument in the next slide, but it's clear that neither could have done it without help from the other.
That said, O'Neal played in the Finals with three franchises. He beat Jordan during the greatest of all time's return to the Bulls in 1995 before losing to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in the Finals. He then won three consecutive titles with the Lakers before taking one down with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
Inside the painted area, O'Neal was unstoppable. The league's only answer for the 7'1", 325-pound diesel was the introduction of the zone defense.
But the other thing that stopped O'Neal was the man himself. He just never had the competitive drive of Jordan or Bryant.
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant has been the NBA greatest player since Michael Jordan retired.
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Kobe Bryant is the best player since Michael Jordan, since he is the player most like Jordan.
And that's just how Bryant wanted it. Since entering the league, Bryant has, somewhat obviously, been trying to be like Jordan. From his mannerisms to his demeanor—everything matches Jordan.
And can you blame him?
Bryant grew up watching Jordan become the greatest player of all time. He witnessed every game-winner, each reaction, and he modeled his game accordingly.
Bryant, who has five rings, is still seeking his sixth. Make no mistake, Bryant does not want to end his career one title short of Jordan.
And Bryant still wants to be the reason why his team wins that sixth title. He wants to be the man.
Which is one of the reasons why the Los Angeles Lakers could struggle this postseason. Until Bryant realizes he doesn't need to score 30 points per game anymore, the Lakers won't be able to find a true offensive rhythm.
Bryant could have had more than six titles by now, but his ego stopped him from doing that. The drive to be like Mike chased out the man who cast a shadow over him: Shaquille O'Neal.
It's a shame these two could not stick together. Had Bryant embraced playing alongside O'Neal, in addition to playing under Phil Jackson, the Lakers may have won six titles in a row.
It wasn't that Bryant needed O'Neal or vice versa. They needed each other.
Of Bryant's five titles, he won Finals MVP in both Finals without O'Neal. Additionally, Bryant has a regular-season MVP, 14 All-Star appearances, two scoring titles, and nine All-Defensive First Team honors.
Other than being one title short of Jordan, Bryant is also two seasons shy from moving past Jordan on the all-time points list.
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that no one has matched his drive since Jordan retired.
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