B/R's All-2000s NBA Team: Who Joins Kobe, LeBron on Squad of the 21st Century?
Since the start of the 1999-2000 season, 1,697 different players have suited up in an NBA contest, ranging from A.C. Green, A.J. Bramlett and A.J. Guyton to Zoran Dragic, Zoran Planinic and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
But only 12 can make B/R's All-2000s NBA team.
We're sticking to the traditional structure here, selecting starters at the five typical positions, backups for each of them and then two wild cards who can line up at any slot. And to earn those spots, players must have excelled throughout a large portion of the 18 seasons since the beginning of the new millennium.
Longevity matters. Peak performances come into play. Legacy is important. Basically, anything that happens on a basketball court is relevant here, though older players won't get credit for their early-season work before the beginning of that aforementioned 1999-2000 campaign.
But are they starters? Who else joins them?
Time to find out.
Wild Card: Dirk Nowitzki
Years Considered: 2000-present
Per-Game Stats: 22.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks
Accolades: 13-time All-Star, one-time NBA champion, 12-time All-NBA, one-time Finals MVP, one-time NBA MVP
Dirk Nowitizki might not ever retire.
He's set to embark upon his 20th professional season and is still churning out gaudy scoring figures, thanks to a jumper that remains just as unblockable as it was during his early 20s. With a high release and the ability to maintain his accuracy as he springs backward off a single leg, often kicking out the other to subtly create more space, he's crafted a signature move responsible for countless points.
Actually, we can count them.
Since the start of the 1999-00 season, Nowitzki has scored a whopping 29,875 points for the Dallas Mavericks, which leaves him behind only Kobe Bryant (30,888). And though LeBron James will inevitably surpass him in the not-so-distant figure, that lofty placement is indicative of the German 7-footer's overwhelming talent.
Nowitzki was never a defensive menace. He never averaged a double-double for an entire season, though he came tantalizingly close during the early 2000s. His passing chops were palatable, but they rarely served as a game-changing skill.
This power forward was just a devastating scorer who could carry his team deep into the postseason, even taking down the Miami Heat superteam in 2011 and coming oh-so-close to dethroning Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and a different iteration of the Heat five years earlier. Well-roundedness is nice, but so is sustained excellence of this caliber in one important facet of the game.
Wild Card: Steve Nash
- 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks, 108.94
- 2004-05 Phoenix Suns, 107.92
- 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, 107.61
- 2001-02 Dallas Mavericks, 107.37
- 1997-98 Utah Jazz, 107.33
- 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, 107.22
- 2003-04 Sacramento Kings, 107.19
- 2009-10 Phoenix Suns, 107.16
- 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 107.06
- 2006-07 Phoenix Suns, 106.95
Years Considered: 2000-14
Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 9.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks
Accolades: Eight-time All-Star, seven-time All-NBA, two-time NBA MVP
Steve Nash may have been one of the weaker NBA MVPs in recent memory (twice, in fact), but that doesn't take the honor away from him. He still earned the league's highest individual honor on two separate occasions for his work leading some of the greatest offenses the sport has ever witnessed.
In fact, Nash consistently helped his teams become unstoppable offensive juggernauts, whether he was suiting up alongside Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion on the Phoenix Suns or with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Per NBA Math's adjusted offensive ratings, these are the 10 greatest point-producing squads in the record books:
Nash led the way for the bolded teams, making him the starting point guard for five of the 10 greatest offenses the league has ever seen. For good measure, his 2002-03 Mavericks sit at No. 14.
When you're the common element on that many dominant forces, you might be pretty good at generating points. And Nash was, thanks to his wizardrous passing and ridiculously accurate shooting.
Backup Point Guard: Chris Paul
Years Considered: 2006-present
Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 9.9 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.1 blocks
Accolades: Nine-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA, nine-time All-Defensive, Rookie of the Year
Let's get the obvious point out of the way: Chris Paul hasn't won anything.
Though you can point to external factors that help explain each individual postseason failure (injuries, tough matchups, ridiculous 3-1 collapses), Paul has never advanced to the playoffs' penultimate round. He's also never won MVP, though he did finish behind only Kobe Bryant in the 2008 voting.
Those are legitimate knocks against his legacy, and they're the only things keeping him from surpassing every other point guard since Magic Johnson's reign ended. Even with those factors holding him back, he still comes quite close to earning top billing, thanks primarily to his ridiculous advanced metrics.
That 25.7 PER? Only Shaquille O'Neal, Anthony Davis and LeBron James top it during the relevant time frame, among players with at least 100 games to their credit. Just John Stockton beats his assist percentage during the 2000s. During the same span, not one player has accumulated more win shares per 48 minutes, and his score in NBA Math's TPA lags behind only James, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
Objectively, he's as close to flawless as it gets at point guard, able to contribute efficiently on both ends. He only takes good shots, can get buckets from all over the court, rarely turns the rock over despite seeking out tough passes to assist his teammates and never seems to lose his competitive spirit.
Perhaps he really has just gotten unlucky during the postseason. Maybe his height holds him back. Either way, it's tough to knock his individual performances too much when games really count, since his postseason PER, true shooting percentage and box plus/minus are all actually higher in the playoffs than during the regular season.
Painful Point Guard Omissions: Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook
Backup Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade
Years Considered: 2004-present
Per-Game Stats: 23.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.9 blocks
Accolades: 12-time All-Star, one-time scoring champion, three-time NBA champion, eight-time All-NBA, three-time All-Defensive, one-time Finals MVP
Don't make the mistake of watching present-day Dwyane Wade and thinking that's all he was in his prime.
During his younger years, the 2-guard asserted himself as a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, thoroughly owning the action on each end of the floor. He was a legitimate All-Defensive presence who could lock down even the most fearsome presences, and he was somehow even better on the offensive end.
Lest we forget, Wade spent the 2008-09 season averaging 30.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 76.5 percent from the charity stripe. Not impressed by those efficiency numbers? Well, the Marquette product took a staggering 9.8 free-throw attempts per game—one of six consecutive campaigns in which he made at least nine trips to the stripe during his typical outing.
Plenty of different play types can be associated with Wade.
He's made a living of pump-faking to get a defender into the air, then jumping into him to draw a shooting foul. Few have been better at producing steals and blocks while playing transition defense. His ability to slash into the lane from an off-ball situation is awe-inspiring. On a more macro level, the NBA world should respect his ability to thrive as a solo star, coexist with Shaquille O'Neal and cede responsibilities and touches during his prime years to LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
But his most famous trait might be the reckless manner with which he played, constantly sacrificing his body to draw contact around the hoop and earn easy points. It wasn't only during the 2006 NBA Finals that he enjoyed an endless parade to the charity stripe.
Backup Small Forward: Kevin Durant
Years Considered: 2008-present
Per-Game Stats: 27.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks
Accolades: Eight-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion, one-time NBA champion, seven-time All-NBA, one-time Finals MVP, one-time NBA MVP, Rookie of the Year
Yes, Kevin Durant is pictured above as a member of the Golden State Warriors, with whom he won the first title of his impressive career and earned Finals MVP in the process. He could easily be shown in his Oklahoma City Thunder uniform, though that might upset fans still bitter about his departure last summer. Hell, he also won Rookie of the Year while wearing Seattle SuperSonics colors.
No matter where Durant has played, no matter what role he's filled, one constant has existed: The lanky small forward has emerged as one of the greatest scoring threats in NBA history.
This isn't just because the Durantula/Slim Reaper/Servant Durant has led the Association in scoring on four separate occasions. He's a master of volume, but it's his ability to produce points in bunches while retaining jaw-dropping efficiency levels that has made him a future Hall of Famer.
During the 2000s, five different players have averaged at least 28 points while posting a true shooting percentage north of 60. Stephen Curry (2015-16), Isaiah Thomas (2016-17), LeBron James (2009-10) and James Harden (2016-17) each did so once.
Durant has achieved the feat five times.
Backup Power Forward: Kevin Garnett
Years Considered: 2000-16
Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.3 blocks
Accolades: 13-time All-Star, one-time NBA champion, eight-time All-NBA, 12-time All-Defensive, one-time Defensive Player of the Year, one-time MVP
What couldn't Kevin Garnett do?
Especially during his peak years with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he functioned as one of the rare players who could fill up the box score with all five counting stats. When he wasn't swatting away shots (before and after the whistle), he was jumping into passing lanes to rack up steals. When he wasn't torturing opponents with dunks and mid-range jumpers, he could serve as a primary facilitator. And all the while, he thrived on the glass.
Garnett's 2003-04 season remains one of the greatest years in NBA history, and it was only one part of a larger peak. Even after he joined the Boston Celtics and teamed up with both Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, he anchored one of the stingiest defenses in recent memory and still had time to contribute in other categories.
The only flaw? Garnett never added a three-point stroke, going 174-of-632 (27.5 percent) throughout his entire career. Then again, he didn't need to, thanks to his knack for thriving everywhere else.
Aptly nicknamed "The Big Ticket" for his entertaining, passionate style of play and ability to single-handedly elevate a team near the top of the Western Conference during his early years, Garnett might get a bit overlooked historically. His career just happened to overlap with that of the greatest ever at his position (our starting 4 in this article), and he battled with Dirk Nowitzki throughout his NBA tenure.
But thanks to his two-way prowess, he's narrowly edging out his German counterpart here.
Backup Center: Pau Gasol
Years Considered: 2002-present
Per-Game Stats: 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.7 blocks
Accolades: Six-time All-Star, two-time NBA champion, four-time All-NBA, Rookie of the Year
Competition for this spot was rather stiff—stiffer than at any other position, to be quite honest.
Dwight Howard dominated on both ends for the better part of a decade. Ben Wallace emerged as arguably the greatest defensive force the sport has ever seen. Marcus Camby might not enjoy too much name recognition these days, but he was quite good during his peak years.
And yet, Pau Gasol surpasses them all.
This big man was never truly the top player at his position. Throughout his lengthy career, he's played second fiddle to at least one or two other centers (and spent quite a bit of time at power forward, as well). But he's consistently been near the top of the hierarchy, and that type of sustained excellence allows him to overcome shorter, but more extreme, peaks.
Gasol has made the All-NBA squad four times, but none of the selections came with the First Team. He's actually never appeared on even a single MVP ballot, though he's represented the Western Conference in four different All-Star games and the East in another two. So again, that top-end recognition just hasn't quite been there, but the dearth of elite accolades masks the underlying talent.
And yet, Gasol has a pair of rings, thanks to his time teaming up with Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers. He also outpaces every other center of the 2000s in NBA Math's TPA, as Shaquille O'Neal (2339.37), Wallace (2296.09) and Howard (1674.39) all fall well behind.
Don't sell him short. This type of standing is the natural byproduct of entering the league in Rookie of the Year fashion and then maintaining a high level for more than a decade-and-a-half.
Starting Point Guard: Stephen Curry
Years Considered: 2010-present
Per-Game Stats: 22.8 points, 4.4 rebounds 6.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
Accolades: Four-time All-Star, one-time scoring champion, two-time NBA champion, four-time All-NBA, two-time NBA MVP
Yes, Stephen Curry has been in the NBA for less than half of the possible seasons. He doesn't come close to matching the games accumulated by Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo or plenty others.
But think about his ridiculous list of accomplishments.
He led the NBA in scoring during the 2015-16 campaign (30.1 points per game) while shooting 50.4/45.40/90.8. That year, he shattered his own three-point record, set a new high-water mark for the offensive component of NBA Math's TPA and became the first unanimous MVP in league history.
Oh, and that actually grows even more impressive if you consider what he did the year before.
Typically, winning MVP a second time is harder than getting over the hump for the initial accolade. Voter fatigue sets in, eager to recognize a new player rather than continue with the status quo. But Curry didn't win with unanimity the first time around; he followed up his opening stint with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy by convincing every single voter his reign should continue.
The best shooter in NBA history's achievements don't end there, of course. He's also been the driving force behind the first 73-win season in the Association's annals, and that just so happened to be the only time in the last three years his squad hasn't won a title.
Curry could retire now and make the Hall of Fame, even though he's only 29 years old and will continue doing unfathomable things on the offensive end for a while longer. At this point, he's on track to become one of the greatest ever at his position, if not the absolute best—blasphemous as that may currently sound.
Starting Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Years Considered: 2000-16
Per-Game Stats: 27.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks
Accolades: 17-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, five-time NBA champion, 14-time All-NBA, 12-time All-Defensive, two-time Finals MVP, one-time NBA MVP
Seriously? You need justification?
Kobe Bryant wasn't just a basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was an icon, almost single-handedly maintaining the popularity of the historic franchise as he won titles early in his career (with Shaquille O'Neal) and later (with Pau Gasol). Those five rings mean quite a bit, to the point that Michael Jordan himself recently ranked Bryant ahead of LeBron James for that very reason, per Bay Area HQ (via Ryne Nelson of Slam Online).
Sure, that logic is faulty. The conclusion is erroneous.
But this isn't about Bryant versus James.
It's about Bryant versus everyone else at his position, and that's not even a discussion worth having. It gets trumped by the interposition debate because Bryant is so far ahead of the other contenders at the 2. Even if you feel like Dwyane Wade belongs ahead of him in the historic pecking order—for reference, I had Wade 15 slots lower in my Legends 100 series back in 2015—you're surely not going to argue that Bryant should slide off this team entirely.
He was too good at defense in his prime. He was too good at dunking over everyone and parlaying his mind-numbing athleticism into ridiculous production. He was too good of a leader, inspiring his teammates to perform better through fear of what might happen if they didn't.
Most of all, he was too good at winning.
Starting Small Forward: LeBron James
Years Considered: 2004-present
Per-Game Stats: 27.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks
Accolades: 13-time All-Star, one-time scoring champion, three-time NBA champion, 13-time All-NBA, six-time All-Defensive, three-time Finals MVP, four-time NBA MVP, Rookie of the Year
"My motivation is this ghost I’m chasing. The ghost played in Chicago," LeBron James told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins before the start of the 2016-17 season, in which he'd carry the Cleveland Cavaliers back to the NBA Finals and ultimately lose to the star-studded Golden State Warriors.
At this point in his illustrious career, James can make that statement without sounding the least bit cocky. He's elevated himself firmly into the GOAT conversation, with more and more fans and analysts accepting his candidacy each and every year.
But let's say you don't believe James is the best to ever lace up his sneakers on the hardwood. Who's been better in the 21st century?
Michael Jordan only played for the Washington Wizards during the 2000s. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired well before the new millennium. If your answer is Kobe Bryant, you need to reevaluate how you're determining legacies and stop relying on the "ringz" argument. But even still, Bryant doesn't play the same position.
James' inclusion in this starting lineup was the easiest decision of all.
No offense meant to Kevin Durant (who's closer than ever to surpassing James in the present) and the other tremendous small forwards of the last 17 years, but no one is within shouting distance of this four-time MVP.
Starting Power Forward: Tim Duncan
Years Considered: 2000-16
Per-Game Stats: 18.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.1 blocks
Accolades: 14-time All-Star, five-time NBA champion, 13-time All-NBA, 13-time All-Defensive, two-time Finals MVP, two-time MVP
There's excellence for a short time. There's excellence for a lengthy period. Then there's whatever Tim Duncan did.
Truthfully, the big man could've just kept playing for the San Antonio Spurs in perpetuity.
He logged fewer minutes than ever during the 2015-16 campaign before pulling the plug on his legendary career, but he was undeniably effective in those shorter spurts, even leading the league in defensive box plus/minus before maintaining his point-preventing prowess in the postseason. Had he wanted to continue his career, he easily could've done so.
Duncan simply never had a bad year.
He became a two-time All-Star just a few months into the 2000s, and he never looked back, compiling a resume that challenged almost anyone in basketball history. Whether we're looking at team-based success (four titles since Y2K), his pair of MVP awards or his 14 All-Star appearances, the big man did nothing but win games and produce monstrous numbers.
Duncan earning this spot over Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki simply shouldn't be up for debate. He was that good. The better question is whether this is the right position for him, since he played so much center for the Spurs later in his career, though we'll defer to the lineup slot most commonly associated with his name.
Starting Center: Shaquille O'Neal
Years Considered: 2000-11
Per-Game Stats: 21.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.0 blocks
Accolades: Nine-time All-Star, one-time scoring champion, four-time NBA champion, eight-time All-NBA, three-time All-Defensive, three-time Finals MVP, one-time NBA MVP
Plenty of centers in NBA history have been powerful players, capable of bullying their way past post defenders and finishing with ease around the basket. A similar number have thrived with a finesse game, knocking down touch shots near the hoop and dazzling with their footwork in the painted area.
Shaquille O'Neal was the best of both worlds.
The big man might have enjoyed some of his premier years with the Orlando Magic, which came before the scope of our analysis. But he was still a dominant figure while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a trio of titles, then again while winning the fourth ring of his career by teaming up with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
O'Neal was an astoundingly effective center, and the NBA was woefully unprepared for a man his size with his skill set. That was never more clear than in 1999-00, when he averaged 29.7 points (a league high), 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.5 steals and 3.0 blocks while shooting an NBA-leading 57.4 percent from the field.
Sure, O'Neal struggled from the charity stripe. He played his way into shape during regular seasons that came past his prime years.
And it basically didn't matter. He still emerged as one of the all-time greats.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.