NBA Drafts of the Past: The Best Players in the Last Decade at Each Pick

Alex Joseph@alex_brosephAnalyst IJune 22, 2011

NBA Drafts of the Past: The Best Players in the Last Decade at Each Pick

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    Every day, the draft gets closer, and every day I keep telling myself that it's going to be great.

    The consensus seems to be that this year's draft class may the weakest the NBA has seen in years. This may be true, especially when compared to drafts like that of 2003, in which LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade all went in the top five. 

    But I keep telling myself, don't let the experts fool you. 

    My interest keeps rising with every mock draft. I really think there is potential in this year's draft class, at least throughout the first round. 

    Alas, I may be the only one. I took it upon myself to research every draft of the last ten years, and wouldn't you know it, there appear to be a lot of surprises in every draft. 

    Maybe this year will be the same. 

    Regardless, I've compiled a list of the best players taken with each pick of the first round over the last ten years.

    Some are no-brainers and some are surprises, but all of them bring me one step closer to the promise that this year's draft won't disappoint. 

30. David Lee (2005, New York Knicks)

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    Not a bad way to start off, right? 

    David Lee has turned into a more-than-solid NBA forward. In 2005, which was the first year that the first round of the NBA draft consisted of 30 picks, Lee was a steal. 

    Lee progressively got better every season until he eventually averaged a double-double with the Knicks in 2010 with 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. 

    Lee, who now plays for Golden State, saw his stats slip a bit in his first year with the Warriors. If the Warriors can find a low-post presence that's more adequate than Andris Biedrins, Lee should see his stats go improve again. 

29. Toney Douglas (2009, Los Angeles Lakers)

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    Douglas was taken with the 29th overall pick by the Lakers in the 2009 draft. However, the Lakers immediately shipped him off to the Knicks for a second-round pick in this year's draft and cash considerations. 

    Needless to say, I imagine the Lakers are regretting this decision. Sure, Douglas likely isn't going to be a superstar, but the Lakers definitely could have used him. He's better than Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, and Shannon Brown at the point. 

    With Chauncey Billups running the point in New York, Douglas is just waiting for his turn to shine. 

    Douglas's only competition for this article's sake was Josh Howard, who was selected 29th overall in 2003. Howard has all the tools to be a great player in the NBA, but injuries have limited his career. He has only played in more than 70 games three times in his nine-season stint. 

28. Tony Parker (2001, San Antonio Spurs)

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    The face that Tony Parker is making in the picture to the left is the same face that every team that isn't San Antonio is making ten years later. 

    Parker, taken with pick No. 28 in the 2001 draft, was the last overall selection of the first round. In San Antonio, Parker has managed a more than decent career.

    He has averaged 16.7 points and 5.7 assists per game in his career with San Antonio while being a part of one of the NBA's most recent dynasties, winning three championships in his ten years in the league. 

    Some notable players taken before Parker were: Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry, Eddie Griffin, DeSagana Diop, Rodney White, Kedrick Brown, Vladimir Radmanovic, Steven Hunter, Kirk Haston, Michael Bradley, Jason Collins, Joseph Forte, Jeryl Sasser, Brandon Armstrong, and Raul Lopez. 

    Yeah, Parker was a steal. 

27. Kendrick Perkins (2003, Memphis Grizzlies)

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    Perkins' only real competition was Aaron Afflalo, who was taken at No. 27 by the Detroit Pistons in the 2007 draft 

    Even though Afflalo's game just keeps getting better, Perkins gets the nod for anchoring the defense on a championship team in Boston

    Perkins is just downright scary, and while he is may be the worst offensive big-man in the NBA, his tenacious defense and competitive spirit tend to make up for his offensive shortcomings. 

    Hopefully, the Thunder have their center of the future. Perkins has commented that he was playing only at about 60 percent due to the injury that plagued him during the season.

    As a Thunder fan, I can only hope that's true.

26. Kevin Martin (2004, Sacramento Kings)

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    Martin has been a really underrated scorer in the NBA. He has averaged over 19.5 points per game six times in his eight year career. 

    The only problem with Martin is that scoring is about all you're going to get from him. He's not a terrible defensive player; he has averaged at least one steal per game in six out of his eight seasons, as well. He isn't a passer, though. His highest assist total has been 2.7 per game in 2009. 

    But, again, Martin's scoring ability is an easy way to bypass his lack of an all-around game. He is great at coming off screens, going to the basket, and he is an 86 percent career free-throw shooter. 

    There has seemingly been a lot of talent picked at No. 26 pick in recent drafts. Martin barely edged out: Samuel Dalembert (2001), John Salmons (2002), Aaron Brooks (2007), and George Hill (2008). 

25. Gerald Wallace (2001, Sacramento Kings)

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    What was going on in 2001? Wallace gets taken at No. 25, Parker gets taken at No. 28, Dalembert at No. 26, and a player to be named later in this article was taken at No. 19. 

    This may be the only draft in the last ten years in which the talent outside of the lottery exceeded the talent taken within the lottery. 

    Wallace has proven to be a dynamic player. His career really took off when he was dealt to Charlotte, where he was given more chances to play than in Sacramento

    As the only All-Star ever to play for the Bobcats, he was shipped off to Portland this last season for next to nothing: Joel Pryzbilla, Dante Cunningham, and first-round draft pick in this year's draft. 

    It was a great trade for Portland, and Wallace will thrive there for years to come. 

24. Serge Ibaka (2008, Seattle Supersonics)

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    I don't know how Sam Presti does it, but his draft track record is nearly unblemished. Except maybe the trade down for Cole Aldrich last year... but that still has time to prove its worth. 

    Ibaka, who didn't have much competition for the sake of this article, has already come a long way since he was drafted. He has transformed from a raw, one-on-one defensive talent into a great all-around defender with a suitable jump shot. 

    He will keep getting better. Right now, he has virtually no low-post offense, which is a reason the Thunder desperately need Perkins to get healthy fast (and, you know, actually be a low-post presence). 

    You can call him Air Congo or Serge IBLOCKA, but one thing is for sure: Presti found a hidden gem with a No. 24 pick in Ibaka. 

23. Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons, 2002)

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    The lanky small forward out of Kentucky has managed a more than reputable career after being the No. 23 selection in the 2002 draft. 

    Prince is likely going to be a coveted free agent, even though he is getting up there in years (he turned 31 this year), because he is one of the best role players the NBA has to offer. 

    He does a little bit of everything, and he was much better suited on the Pistons teams that went to back-to-back finals in 2004 and 2005. 

    In 2004, Tayshaun really put his name on the map with his infamous block of Reggie Miller in the Eastern Conference Finals.

22. Jarrett Jack (2005, Denver Nuggets)

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    It's funny to think that Jack is the ninth player listed in this article, taken at No. 22 by the Nuggets in the 2005 draft, and that he may be the most underwhelming player listed thus far. 

    This just goes to show you that you have to expect the unexpected when it comes to the draft. 

    For what it's worth, Jack has been a valuable player ever since entering the league, but that's mostly been in a back-up role. But, he is a more than capable point guard.

    He can score, he can pass, and he plays team basketball. But, as you can tell, he didn't have much competition in this article. 

    Here's to hoping Portland can find a more valuable player than Jack with their No. 22 pick this year. 

21. Rajon Rondo (2006, Phoenix Suns)

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    What a great surprise Rondo has turned out to be. I can imagine that Phoenix is pretty sore about trading off his draft rights to Boston, but I guess already having Steve Nash as their point guard makes them feel okay about doing it. 

    Rondo has been dealt a lot of criticism throughout his career for his under-developed offensive game, but honestly, he hasn't needed it. 

    In four out of the five seasons he's played for Boston, he has averaged 48 percent field goal shooting or better. He also averaged over ten points in each of those four years, which isn't too bad when you're playing alongside three superstars. 

    Rondo has always been good at driving to the basket, but this past season it was evident that he has really been working on his jump shot. While it still needs work, it's really not as bad as some might say it is. 

    Not to mention, his passing ability and sneaky rebounding ability make him a great all-around point guard. Also not to mention, the dude played in the playoffs with a dislocated elbow!

    What a guy! 

20. Jameer Nelson (2004, Denver Nuggets)

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    Originally drafted with the No. 20 pick by the Nuggets in '04, Nelson's draft rights were dealt to Orlando for a future first-round draft pick. 

    Nelson is generally undervalued when it comes to Orlando's success, but nobody is going to say that Nelson is more valuable than Dwight Howard

    Nelson, though, is definitely the second most important piece for Orlando. His numbers are never overwhelming, and he has been injury-prone in his short career, but he is a great distributor and facilitator for their offense.

    When the Magic acquired Gilbert Arenas last season, I assumed Nelson would be knocked down to the second string and that Arenas would flourish in a new setting. 

    This was not the case. Nelson outplayed Arenas in every facet of the game, and the team always played better with Nelson on the court. 

19. Zach Randolph (2001, Portland Trail Blazers)

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    Randolph really started blossoming in his third season in the league. He went from being a role player to a starter, and saw his point and rebound averages jump from 8.4 and 4.4 per game to an outstanding 20.1 and 10.5 per game, respectively.

    Since then, Randolph has been a beast for every team he's played for. This season he led the Rudy Gay-less Grizzlies to a first-round upset over the No. 1 seed Spurs. Then, he almost willed his team to a second-round upset against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Randolph finished postseason play averaging 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. He has proven himself to be a top five power forward in the NBA. 

    Not too bad for the 19th overall pick in the 2001 draft. 

18. David West (2003, New Orleans Hornets)

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    David West has been one of the most consistent power forwards in the NBA for the last six seasons. 

    During this time, West has nearly averaged a double-double in points and rebounds each season. And besides the end of the year this year and 2006-2007, West has been remarkably healthy. 

    Had the injury bug not have bitten him this season, the Hornets might have been able to pull off a first-round upset of the Lakers. 

    Hopefully West will recover quickly from his season-ending injury and surgery, because he is a valued piece of the Hornets' puzzle. 

    Granted, he could be on the move, as he is currently an unrestricted free agent. 

17. Danny Granger (2005, Indiana Pacers) and Josh Smith (2004, Atlanta Hawks)

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    This one was too close to give to one or the other. Both players have been great for their respective teams since coming into the league. 

    Granger is the better scorer. Smith is the better defender. But neither are slouches when it comes to playing the opposite side of the ball. They're just great all-around players.

    Smith has been to the postseason four times in seven seasons in the league, Granger has been twice in his six seasons played. To be fair, though, Granger has had a lot less to work with than Smith. 

    Granger is the only one of the two to be named to an All-Star team, but both are quite worthy of appearances each year. 

    One cool stat about Smith is that he is the youngest player (24 years old) to reach 1000 blocked shots.

    Anyway, both these guys are great, and they were both picked at No. 17, out of the lottery. 

16. Nick Young (2007, Washington Wizards)

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    And from out of the depths and shadows of an article riddled with perennial all-stars, Nick Young emerges as the best player to be picked at No. 16 in the last ten years.

    Who knew, right?

    Young didn't have much competition; his closest foe was Marreese Speights. Young has easily shown more promise in just this last season than Speights has in his entire career.

    He had a breakout season, especially when he took over the starting job at shooting guard, averaging 17.4 points per game as compared with the 8.6 points per game he averaged a year prior. 

    Young, right now, is just a scorer. He needs to work on all the other facets of his game, especially if he wants to keep his starting job next year should he stay in Washington. Jordan Crawford looked mighty good at the end of the season when he was filling in for an injured Young. 

15. Al Jefferson (2005, Boston Celtics)

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    Jefferson came into his own after he was dealt from Boston to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007.

    He averaged a double-double for two of the three seasons he was there, and came within 0.7 rebounds of averaging a double-double in the other season. Unfortunately, nobody informed him that he was playing in Minnesota, the place where great power forwards have to put up with incompetent owners. 

    Jefferson never had a chance to win a championship while in Minnesota, so I'm sure he was elated when he was picked up by the lesser of two evils, Utah

    This rounds out the best post-lottery picks of the last ten years. But, it's quite possible that many of the post-lottery players are better than the actual lottery picks, such as...

14. Kris Humphries (2004, Utah Jazz)

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    Okay, so Humphries didn't solely make the cut because he's dating Kim Kardashian, but it definitely isn't working against him. 

    Honestly, you'd think there would be better choices than Humphries for the best No. 14 pick to be drafted in the last ten years. I mean, it's a lottery pick. 

    But it was either Humphries, Anthony Randolph, Al Thornton, Luke Ridnour, or Troy Murphy. The other candidates didn't really ever stand a chance, which is really saying something. 

    Alas: Randolph hasn't quite panned out, Thornton has been an average role player for awhile, and although Ridnour hasn't been a bad back-up point guard, he's going to become irrelevant next season with Ricky Rubio and a healthy Jonny Flynn around. Meanwhile, Murphy, who would have won this contest as of a few years ago, has since fallen off the face of the Earth. 

    Humphries had a breakout season in New Jersey, especially in the latter half. He ended up averaging a double-double with 10 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. His strong finish may also make him one of the most coveted free agents this summer. 

13. Richard Jefferson (2001, Houston Rockets)

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    Jefferson, whose draft rights were traded to the Nets in 2001, has spent the majority of his career in New Jersey. 

    The once explosive, high-flying small forward has seen stats and skills deplete since being traded to San Antonio two seasons ago. But for awhile, Jefferson was without question one of the top small forwards in the league. 

    His underwhelming performance in San Antonio has come as a bit of a surprise. Sure, Jefferson has played 10 seasons in the league, but the year prior to coming to San Antonio, Jefferson was still averaging over 19 points per game. That quickly dropped to barely over 12 points per game. 

    Still, Jefferson's mostly consistent career made him an easy winner as the best player to be drafted at No. 13. He really had no competition. 

    What's going on with these lottery picks? I mean, this isn't as bad as No. 12... 

12. Nick Collison (2003, Seattle Supersonics)

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    Nick Collison? A role player? This high on the list? What gives?

    I'm really not sure. Collison's only competition was Thaddeus Young, who went at No. 12 to 76ers">Philadelphia in the 2007 draft. 

    While Young is the more exciting player and possesses the superior offensive game, I gave the nod to Nick for being a highly, highly coveted role player. 

    He literally does everything correctly. He scores when he can and should, he plays great defense (he played the best defense on Dirk in the WCF), and he probably takes the most charges of any player in the league. 

    At first glance, Collison may seem like a throw-away kind of player, but he is very much respected by both his teammates and opponents. 

11. Jerryd Bayless (2008, Indiana Pacers)

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    This selection can probably be argued. Other notable picks at No. 11 over the last ten years include: Andris Biedrins, Mickael Pietrus, and J.J. Redick. 

    Yet again, these selections aren't too impressive for lottery picks. I gave Bayless the upper hand here because I think he has the most potential of the given candidates.

    Bayless played fantastically down the stretch of the season while filling in for an injured Jose Calderon. There's no reason he shouldn't be starting, especially if the Raptors try to deal Calderon this offseason. 

    I might be the only one who believes that, though.

10. Joe Johnson (2001, Boston Celtics)

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    Finally, a seemingly relevant player cracks the lottery! No, that's not fair to the others; they're all relevant in their own right. 

    I'll reword it: Finally, a superstar with an understandable contract cracks the lottery!

    Wait, that's not right either? 

    Oh well, Johnson has at least proven himself to be one of the top shooting guards in the NBA year in and year out, but I'll have to jump on the bandwagon and say that his ridiculously large contract is anything but justified. 

    Still, he remains one of the best scorers in the league and is definitely the best No. 10 pick to come out of the draft in the last ten years. 

    But seriously, that contract?! The guy barely shot 30 percent from deep this year! 

9. Amare Stoudemire (2002, Phoenix Suns)

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    From here on out, the list is pretty impressive. The top ten picks definitely make up for the latter half of the lottery picks. 

    The best No. 9 pick to come out of the draft in the last ten years is definitely the explosive Amare Stoudemire. 

    Amare's awards and honors include: Rookie of the year (2003), All-NBA First Team (2007), All-NBA Second Team (2005, 2008, 2010, 2011), and six All-Star selections. 

    Amare was perhaps the second most coveted free agent last summer behind LeBron James, and that came with good reason. Amare has been a top three power forward in the league for about five years now. 

    If New York can find a scorer in the draft, possibly Marshon Brooks, to take some of the load off of Amare and Carmelo, and also maybe pick up another frontcourt player in free agency, the Knicks are going to be a load next year. 

    Also, here are some of the forwards who were selected before Amare in 2002: Drew Gooden, Nikoloz Tskitishvilli, and Chris Wilcox. Yao Ming, who was taken at No. 1, and Nene at No. 7, were also taken before Amare. 

8. Rudy Gay (2006, Houston Rockets)

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    Rudy Gay was once again having a remarkable season before his season-ending injury caused him to miss 28 games late this season. He has otherwise been incredibly healthy throughout his career, never missing any more than three games in any previous season.

    His injury didn't stop the Grizzlies from making a run, though, and it had to be killing Gay, who is the heart of their team. 

    Gay was averaging 19.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game prior to the injury, and was shooting the best percentages of his career: 47 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep. 

    Hopefully he will heal well, because he is a fantastic player and teammate. The Grizzlies are going to be ridiculous next year if everybody sticks around. 

7. Luol Deng (2004, Phoenix Suns)

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    Since having his draft rights were traded to Chicago, Luol Deng has found a spot in the Bulls' starting rotation since his rookie season. 

    During this time, Deng has improved from an above-average, slashing small forward to a much improved slasher and shooter, while becoming his team's best defender among one of the best defenses in the league. 

    Deng, who is currently under contract until 2014, will continue to do great things in a Bulls uniform. With Boozer in the mix, Deng went from being a second scoring option on the Bulls this season to the third, but that didn't hurt his stats, as he still averaged 17.4 points per game. 

    The Bulls will continue to contend in the East for years to come. 

6. Brandon Roy (2006, Minnesota Timberwolves)

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    Before this season, Brandon Roy would have been an easy pick as the best player to be drafted at No. 6 in the past ten years. However, the injury he suffered early in the season took away most, if not all of his explosiveness. 

    He really had to will his way back onto the court to provide any significance to his team. The reason I kept Roy as the best No. 6 pick is because amidst all the rumblings of Roy's career may now be shortened, I think that he's going to be able to pull through. 

    Roy has all the heart and determination to work his way back into the shape he was in before the injury. He still has all the skill to do so, as he showed in Game 4 against the Dallas Mavericks, in which he finished with 24 points and willed his team to victory. 

    I have all my faith in Roy, and you should too. Don't underestimate his heart. 

5. Dwyane Wade (2003, Miami Heat)

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    The 2003 draft was nuts. I've already talked about David West and Kendrick Perkins, and they went at No. 18 and No. 27! 

    Dwyane Wade, who may end up going down as the best player from this draft (if LeBron keeps having postseason collapses), is quite possibly the best player ever to be drafted at No. 5 in the entirety of the NBA draft. 

    Here are Wade's career stats: 25.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. 

    Here are Wade's accolades: NBA All-Rookie first team (2004), two-time All-NBA first team, three-time All-NBA second team, one-time All-NBA third team, three-time All-NBA defense second team, seven-time NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP (2010), two-time NBA All-Star Skills Challenge Champion (2006, 2007), NBA Scoring title (2009), NBA Finals MVP (2006), NBA Champion (2006), two-time Olympic Bronze medal winner (2004, 2006), one-time Olympic Gold medal winner (2008). 

    If that isn't enough, he's also Miami's all-time leading scorer (13908) and all-time assists leader (3472).

    If that still isn't enough, he's also been named Best Breakthrough Athlete (2005), Best NBA Player (2006), and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (2006).

    With Kobe Bryant aging, I think it's finally safe to say that Dwyane Wade is the best shooting guard in the NBA, and likely the best guard overall. 

4. Chris Paul (2005, New Orleans Hornets)

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    In 2005, Chris Paul was selected by the New Orleans Hornets with the fourth pick in the draft. The Utah Jazz were the owners of the third pick. They passed on Paul and took Deron Williams. 

    Six years later, Paul and Williams are considered to be two of the three best point guards in the NBA. Funny how all that worked out. 

    Even though Derrick Rose won the MVP award while many other point guards such as Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo have improved drastically, I still think Paul is the best point guard the league has to offer.

    He is a prototypical pass-first type of point guard, something that is becoming less common in the NBA due to the high demand for hybrid point guards such as Rose and Westbrook. 

    Paul saw some of his stats falter last season, but to be fair, he and David West were the only real offensive options the Hornets had. Paul's points suffered because of this, but he still averaged nearly 10 assists per game, which is really crazy to think about. 

    I don't think there's any arguing that Paul, Williams, and Rose are the league's top three point guards, but I'm still captain of Team Paul. 

3. Carmelo Anthony (2003, Denver Nuggets)

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    This was by far the most difficult decision of the article. Anthony nudged out Deron Williams and Pau Gasol. 

    Did I just call Deron Williams one of the three best point guards in the NBA? Yes.

    Did Pau Gasol help turn the Lakers back into a dynasty, and did he acquire two rings along the way? Yes.

    Has Carmelo ever won a ring? No. So why Carmelo over the other two?

    He's the better player. Hands down. If somebody asked you to pick between the three to start a team with, who are you going to pick? Carmelo.

    His offensive game is unreal. He can score at will while getting any shot he wants. The one knock on Carmelo has been his lack of effort on the defensive end. This is likely warranted, but there were times this season I watched Carmelo turn it on defensively because he had to, and he was really good. 

    Carmelo will never get the type of recognition that Kobe, LeBron, or Wade get, and that's because the other three are great all-around players, not just offensively.

    I think Carmelo has the potential to do it all; it's just the matter of if he wants to or not. 

2. Kevin Durant (2007, Seattle Supersonics)

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    If Carmelo was the hardest decision of the article, this may have been the easiest.

    Kevin Durant is in his fourth year in the league and he has already done so much:

    • Two-time NBA All-Star (2010, 2011)
    • Rookie of the Year (2008)
    • Two-time All NBA First Team (2010, 2011)
    • Two-time NBA Scoring Champion (2010, 2011)
    • FIBA World Championship MVP (2010)

    Not to mention, he has led a very young Thunder squad into the playoffs two years in a row, including a WCF appearance this year.

    The sky is the limit for Durant, who keeps improving each year in different areas of his game. All the recognition he receives comes at no cost, because along with being one of the best players in the NBA, Durant may also be one of the best teammates and nicest guys in the league. 

    Everybody loves him, and maybe he's so nice and humble because he's still so young, but whatever the case, he's just a great guy. 

1. LeBron James (2003, Cleveland Cavaliers)

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    Say what you will about LeBron. There's no in-between with him anymore. You either love him or you hate him. 

    If you aren't a resident of Miami, Florida, then most likely you currently hate him. It's really sad to think about it. LeBron was one of the most beloved NBA players just a season ago, and as soon as he decided to team up with his buddies, everybody changed their mind.

    Maybe it's a different situation for me, since I've been a fan of LeBron and have followed his career ever since he was a Junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary. 

    And maybe I stick up for LeBron too much. All throughout the finals, all I heard was that Wade is so much better than LeBron for [insert reason here]... and all the while I stuck up for LeBron. I said he was only having a few bad games. He had carried the Heat throughout the playoffs thus far! Give him a break!

    Alas, his struggles continued throughout the finals, and his promises of multiple championships seemed like an after thought. 

    I'm still not sure what happened to LeBron. Really, up until the finals he was playing nuts! He was carrying the team while Wade and Bosh struggled badly. Does he get nervous? Can he not play on the biggest stage in basketball? Was he trying to prove the point that he could help win the series without taking shots?

    Whatever the case, it didn't work out for him in the end. But we cannot let six finals games speak for his entire career thus far. 

    LeBron is a two-time MVP, Rookie of the Year, Scoring Champion, seven-time NBA All-Star, seven-time All-NBA (five first team, two second team), three-time All-NBA Defensive First Team, and he's won two Olympic medals (one bronze, one gold) as well as two FIBA medals (also one bronze, one gold). 

    LeBron has been the best basketball player on the planet, save for six NBA Finals games. 

    Can't we cut him a little slack?