In the first decade following Jordan's second and final retirement from the Bulls (don't bring up the two year stint with the Wizards), the NBA went through an up and down process.
Ratings during the early '00s (the handchecking and zone defense era) were the lowest since the '70s. Scoring and field goal percentages were their lowest in years, and the NBA moved from NBC to it's now current home, ABC.
However, after LeBron, Wade and Carmelo were drafted in 2003, the handchecking rules were abolished in 2004, and the league started looking up again. As the decade wore on, games were more fast paced, higher scoring and more guard-oriented than big-man oriented in years past, paving the way for little guys like Tony Parker to drive to the hoop at will.
Ratings started improving and as the decade ended, ratings were at it's highest in the history of NBA on TNT and ratings were at it's best for the NBA on ABC since it's move from NBC in '02.
The decade was a decade dominated by three superstars and two teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, who combined to appear in nine of the 10 Finals and combined to win seven of the 10 Finals.
Here are the Top 10 NBA Players of the first decade of the new millennium:
10. Jason Kidd: 2000-01: Phoenix Suns, 2001-08: New Jersey Nets, 2008-09 Dallas Mavericks
Accomplishments: 2 Finals Appearances, led league in APG four times
I had to include Kidd on this list. I had a conundrum between Kidd and McGrady, but Kidd was just the far more complete player, had a lot more post-season success and was a top player at his position for the entire decade. Unlike McGrady, who was a bench player his last year in Toronto in 2000 and had fallen off by the last year of the decade due to injuries.
Kidd was arguably the best PG from the start until the end of the decade.
Kidd was a complete player finishing on the NBA All-Defensive Teams for the first eight years of the decade, ending up on the first team twice.
He led two New Jersey Nets teams to back-to-back Finals appearances with Kenyon Martin as the second best player.
The only two blemishes on Kidd's resume: No MVP award, and no championships.
9. Dirk Nowitzki: 2000-09 Dallas Mavericks
Accomplishments: 1 Finals Appearance, 1 MVP
Considered the most skilled offensive big man in the history of the game, Dirk made his presence felt in the '00s.
In every year of this decade with the exception of the first, he led the Mavs to 50-plus wins in every year. With the exception of the Spurs, no team has had that kind of consistency in the NBA over the past decade.
Dirk was on an All-NBA team every year except 2000, making the first team on four different occasions.
Although he never led the NBA in a major statistical category, Dirk led the Mavs to a Finals appearance, where they lost to the Heat in six games after blowing a 2-0 lead.
Dirk won MVP in '07, but his team lost in a first-round upset to the eighth-seeded Warriors.
Regardless of those two years that diluted Dirk's legacy and started the popular belief that he's a "choker", you'll be hard pressed to find many guys who were a more consistent and player and leader than the German during the 2000s.
8. Allen Iverson: 2000-06, 09 - Philadelphia 76ers, 2006-08 Denver Nuggets, 2008-09 Detroit Pistons, 2009 Memphis Grizzlies
Accomplishments: 1 MVP, 1 Finals Appearance
I may get some flack for putting Iverson this low on the list. I mean, look at his numbers throughout the decade. They're both consistent and high.
Iverson led the league in PPG three times. He won the steals title three times. He led a team that had no business in the Finals to the 2001 Finals, where their second-best player was the defensive-minded Dikembe Mutombo.
He was All-NBAer six times, including two first-team selections. He is sixth in career PPG.
All of those are true, and with the exception of his final year in the decade, he put up great statistics.
But as great as Iverson was, especially during the '01 run, he arguably hurt his team more than he helped them. With the exception of the '01 run where obviously he was the team, Iverson had a reputation as a low efficiency scorer and defensive gambler.
His career field goal percentage is .425, and his career playoff FG percentage is .401, with four of his eight years in the playoffs being below 39 percent.
I'm not even going to get into the Billups-Iverson trade, which showed just what kind of effect Billups has on a team and what kind of effect Iverson has on a team.
Despite the flaws in Iverson's game, you can't deny he was a top-10 player in the Post-Jordan era.
7. Steve Nash: 00-04 Dallas Mavericks 04-09
Accomplishments: 2 MVPs
Nash may have been the hardest player to rank in this entire list. The guy has 2 MVP's, matched by only Duncan in this decade and HOF's in the past. He helped rebuild a Suns team and made them a perennial playoff contender until the end of the decade.
But as good as Nash was for the last half of the decade, it doesn't take away the fact that from the first half of the decade, he was considered an All Star at best.
Nash, the last half of the decade, led the league in APG three times. He also led the league in TSP on two separate occasions. That is unbelievable as a point guard.
It's not a mystery that Nash is the engine that makes the Suns go.
For being the face of a deep playoff contender for 5 years, and then also being the 2nd best player for a deep playoff contender in the Mavs in the first half of the decade, Nash no doubt deserves ranking on this list.
6. Dwyane Wade: 2003-09 Miami Heat
Accomplishments: 1 Finals MVP, 1 NBA Championship, 1 Finals Appearance
Wade was another difficult one to rank. He only played six out of the 10 years in the league. Five of the six were great years, he was a staple of the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams for the last half of the decade, and he is one of six players in the decade to win a Finals MVP.
Oh yeah, he also finished the decade leading the league in PPG.
Considering these accomplishments, the fact that he's considered one of the clutchest players in his generation along with having one of the greatest Finals series of all time who may have only been matched by Jordan's Finals, Wade, despite playing only 6 years in the decade, deserves No. 6 on this list.
5. Kevin Garnett: 2000-07 Minnesota Timberwolves, 2007-09 Boston Celtics
Accomplishments: 1 MVP, 1 NBA Championship, 1 Finals Appearance, 1 DPOY
"The Big Ticket" is the definition of an all around player. You want a guy who can bang in the post, go to Garnett. You want a guy with one of the best mid range jumpers for a big, go to Garnett. You want a guy who shut down the opposing team's big, you go to Garnett.
Garnett was a monster in his day. Before Howard started taking away his rebound titles, Garnett won four rebounding titles, his best being 13.9 in 03-04.
Garnett, even though considered past his prime by this point, even won DPOY in '08 becoming the catalyst and main force behind the Celtics' success.
He arguably deserved the Finals MVP over Pierce in 2008 when the Celtics defeated the Lakers further reinforcing the notion that Pau Gasol is "soft".
Garnett's best year may have been in 03-04 when he won MVP averaging 24.2 PPG and 13.9 RPG. He led the T-Wolves all the way to the West Finals.
4. LeBron James: 2003-09 Cleveland Cavaliers
Accomplishments: 1 MVP, 1 Finals Appearance
Like Wade, except even moreso, "The King" only played six years in this decade, but his mark is undeniable.
I don't need to describe all of his career accomplishments, so I'll just make it short:
One MVP. One Finals appearance where the Cavs' second-best player was Larry Hughes. One scoring title. The only player other than MJ and "The Big O" to put up 30-8-7 in a season. Rookie of the Year and being "the King" of the advanced metric system, being matched by none other than the GOAT, Michael Jordan.
How's that for a resume?
3. Shaquille O'Neal: 2000-04 Los Angeles Lakers, 2004-08 Miami Heat, 2008-09 Phoenix Suns, 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers
Accomplishments: 1 MVP, 3 Finals MVP's, 4 NBA Championships, 5 Finals Appearances
The Big Aristotle was the most dominant big man since Wilt.
Words can't describe how dominant Shaq was at the beginning of the decade. The man averaged 30-15 in two of the three years the Lakers won the championship.
He averaged 40 in one Finals series.
As far as a player's peak is concerned, Shaq had the best peak of any player in this decade. A lot of people may point to Kobe's '05-'06 and '06-'07 seasons as being the best, or maybe even LeBron's seasons in the latter stage of the decade, but what made Shaq's success so special was the dominant numbers he put up in the post-season.
His stats in the postseason were better than the ones he put up in the regular season. This was a man who averaged a little less than 30 and 13 in his prime years in the regular season. He completely upped the ante when it was playoff time.
What holds him back on this list is the last half of the decade. From 2006-09 Shaq was no longer a top-10 player.
The major criterion for this list is consistency. And although Shaq wasn't a bad player in those years, he was no longer an elite player.
2. Tim Duncan: 2000-09 San Antonio Spurs
Accomplishments: 3 NBA Championships, 2 MVPs, 3 Finals Appearances, 2 Finals MVPS
I'll make this short like LeBron's. Look at the resume.
There are only one or two players in this decade who were as complete a player as Duncan. Duncan was All-NBA and All-Defensive all 10 years in this decade. He was All-Defensive Team first team seven times.
What holds Duncan back—similar to Shaq's situation—was that he was so dominant in the first four or five years of the decade, but quickly tapered off after that. Although still a great player, he was no longer considered a top-5 player the last two or three years of the decade.
1. Kobe Bryant: 2000-09 Los Angeles Lakers
Accomplishments: 4 NBA Championships, 6 Finals Appearances, 1 MVP, 1 Finals MVP
The only three candidates can be argued as number is Kobe, Shaq and Duncan. As I said before, consistency is the main criteria for this list. Kobe was simply more consistent throughout the decade than Shaq and Duncan, regardless of who had the more dominant peak.
Kobe, with the exception of the first year of the decade, was a top-five player every year of the decade. He was All-NBA all 10 years and All-Defensive eight years, matched by only Duncan.
He was First-Team All-Defensive seven years and First-Team All-NBA seven years.
Kobe Bryant made an appearance in the Finals six out of the 10 years of the decade. Nobody except Shaq comes close to that.
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