B/R NBA All-Decade Teams: Who Owned the 2000s?
The 2000s were a decade of change for the NBA.
Michael Jordan exited. LeBron James and the vaunted draft class of 2003 entered. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal dominated together and then won apart. Hand-checking was outlawed to give perimeter scorers more breathing room. Allen Iverson's rise as a cultural icon gave way to the league's adoption of a dress code.
What a time to be alive, right?
This is ultimately a subjective exercise, but we're using as many objective measures as we can. Stats (traditional and advanced) and accolades (titles, season honors, etc.) drive this discussion, although we still need to account for various intangible gifts to the game like impact and stardom.
The process opens with five honorable mentions and then shifts to the first and second teams assembled under the traditional format of two guards, two forwards and a center. Also, so we can all synchronize our clocks, we're counting the decade as the 1999-00 season through the 2008-09 campaign.
From the build to the bounce, Carter had the look of Michael Jordan 2.0. While Vinsanity never approached that level, he was must-see television as a ridiculous rim-rocker, perimeter marksman and explosive scorer.
Though never a scoring champ, he did post a top-eight average in five of the decade's first six seasons. He also became an All-Star regular (eight straight selections), and his showing at the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest still sets the standard for the event. But his resume was light on postseason success, he never finished higher than 10th in MVP voting, and he only made two All-NBA teams.
McGrady was a point-producing natural, enough so that he made scoring seem effortless. He glided around the hardwood sticking pull-ups and turnarounds on any defender unlucky enough to draw his assignment. Before knee and back injuries sapped his springs, he was a Cirque du Soleil-caliber aerial artist, too.
His prime was cut short by those ailments, and his track record was infamously devoid of postseason success. But as his 13-points-in-33-seconds barrage once showed, he didn't need longevity to dominate. During the decade, he won two scoring titles, was named 2000-01's Most Improved Player and made seven All-NBA rosters, two on the first team.
The reach of Yao's NBA story goes well beyond basketball. But inside the lines, he was a 7'6", 310-pound cheat code.
His size was overwhelming on its own, but it became an almost unfair advantage when coupled with his skill. He had solid footwork in the post, an ability to finish near the basket with either hand, a soft jumper out to 15 feet and the vision to find open teammates when extra defenders came his way.
While he only missed two games his first three seasons combined, those would prove the exceptions during a career cut short by injuries to his foot and ankle. He only topped 57 games once during his final four years of the decade. That keeps him out of the official discussion here, but his production when healthy (19.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game) and global impact make him worth a mention.
Of all the honorable mentions, Wade was the toughest to keep off the actual rosters.
Even if he got a late start (fifth pick in 2003), his ascension was so sudden and incredible that he reached heights some of the official selections never did. He made the playoffs as a rookie (with a Miami Heat team that lost 57 games the year before), was an All-Star as a sophomore and became both a champion and Finals MVP the next year.
Despite playing just six seasons of the decade, he still managed to win a scoring title, make four All-NBA teams, earn two All-Defensive honors, book five All-Star trips and become one of only eight players with 9,000 points, 2,500 assists, 700 steals and 300 blocks during this stretch.
Wallace never averaged double-digit points or shot even 50 percent from the foul line, so the only way he could get mentioned here is by playing all-time-great defense. And, as you might've guessed, that's exactly what he did.
At only 6'9", 240 pounds, he was arguably the decade's most intimidating rim protector and most relentless rebounder. But he was just as effective handling perimeter switches, and his defensive impact played a pivotal role in the Detroit Pistons' run to the 2003-04 championship.
He's one of only two players, along with Dikembe Mutombo, to win the Defensive Player of the Year award four times (all during this decade). Wallace also made five All-NBA teams, graced six All-Defensive squads and finished among the decade's top 10 in defensive win shares (second), rebounds (third), blocks (second) and steals (tied for ninth).
Guard: Steve Nash
Nash opened the decade in a reserve role, supplying the 1999-00 Dallas Mavericks with 8.6 points and 4.9 assists per night. It was his fourth season in the league. To start with that foundation and develop into a floor general who not only claimed a second-team spot here, but also had a legitimate argument for the first team, is a testament to a legendary work ethic that isn't discussed enough.
The guy couldn't dunk, and he still offered the total package on offense.
Armed with an endless array of touch shots, floaters and rolling skyhooks, which he could finish with either hand, the ground-bound guard had no trouble finishing among the tallest trees. Keep him away from the basket and his efficiency only elevated. He splashed 43.6 percent of his triples during the decade and engineered three 50/40/90 campaigns.
Over the '00s, he captured a pair of MVP awards, made six All-NBA appearances (three on the first team) and took home three assist titles. More incredibly, as ESPN's Amin Elhassan and Kevin Pelton noted, Nash quarterbacked the Association's top offense for nine consecutive seasons in this time frame.
Guard: Allen Iverson
Two players contributed 19,000-plus points in the decade. One was Kobe Bryant, the closest thing we've seen to a Michael Jordan clone, right down to the 6'6" size. The other was Allen Iverson, who was generously listed as a 6-footer and weighed 165 pounds soaking wet.
But if you measured heart, Iverson was off the scale. The Answer was the proverbial David come to life, and he slew Goliaths on a nightly basis. He captured three scoring crowns during the decade, and that didn't include the career-high 33.0 points per game he put up in 2005-06. He also averaged 6.2 dimes and 2.2 thefts over the '00s, in case anyone was under the delusional belief his game was one-dimensional.
The accolades speak for themselves: 10 All-Star selections, six All-NBA honors (two first-team) and an MVP in 2000-01 when he willed the undermanned Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA Finals (and a stunning Game 1 road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers as AI dropped 48 points). His impact went beyond the sport itself, as he brought hip-hop culture and an undeniable authenticity to the league.
Truth be told, it's tough keeping him off the first team given the mammoth-sized impression his career left. But he couldn't quite match the all-around skills of the two guards occupying those roster slots.
Forward: Paul Pierce
Pierce's decade felt like it spanned several lifetimes. There were only two constants in his '00s tale: the Boston Celtics jersey draped across his 6'7", 235-pound frame and elite numbers on the stat sheet.
The Shamrocks were both 58-game losers and NBA champions during this stretch. Pierce himself ran the gamut, too, from a player who sometimes struggled with immaturity to a legend and leader of one of the league's most storied franchises.
He wasn't the most explosive player around, but he could bully defenders into submission or blow past them with a lightning-quick first step into a pull-up jumper that always seemed to find its mark. He could do it all and tried to at times, but he learned how to do only whatever was necessary—especially under the brightest lights, like the 2008 championship round when he took home the Finals MVP trophy.
His selection as a second-teamer might surprise some since he never finished higher than seventh in MVP voting and only had four All-NBA honors (none as a first-teamer). But the numbers know the truth, and The Truth was one of the decade's greats. He scored the fourth-most points, generated the sixth-most win shares, swiped the seventh-most steals and snagged top-25 spots in assists (23rd) and rebounds (24th).
Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki did everything he could to claim a first-team spot, and he came as close as anyone. He produced the decade's most win shares, made nine All-NBA rosters (four on the first team), won an MVP award and led the Dallas Mavericks to their four highest win totals in franchise history.
Oh, and he also revolutionized the league and the game of basketball as a 7-foot sniper and maybe the first true stretch 4 (and stretch 5). Once the '00s closed, the NBA had witnessed 13 seasons in which a 7-footer had made at least 61 triples; Nowitzki authored 10 of them.
"If you look at him and what he did throughout his career in Dallas I think in a lot of ways he changed that position," Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said in March, per Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "He was one of a kind in that point in time."
Nowitzki remains an unparalleled player.
There might be a slew of jumbo shooters now, but they aren't averaging 23.6 points on 47.4/38.2/87.4 shooting over an entire decade. They also don't possess a weapon nearly as powerful as his one-legged fadeaway jumper. His first-team omission is the result of unfortunate timing—you'll understand when you see the forwards selected—and a few playoff flops by his Dallas Mavericks.
Center: Kevin Garnett
With the NBA starting its move toward a more versatile, positionless style in this decade, it feels appropriate to give KG this spot even if he wasn't a full-time 5. He wasn't a full-time anything, instead shining as basketball's version of a five-tool talent in baseball. He looked like a big man, glided like a guard and locked down every position.
"He was that new-generation, transcendent player at the time," Paul Pierce told B/R's Howard Beck in 2015. "Because nobody saw nothing like that, the combination of speed, athletic ability, versatility at the time. He was the first."
Garnett booked two All-Star trips before the decade started, but the '00s witnessed his evolution into an all-time great. He did everything from everywhere on the court. He won four rebounding titles and paced the decade in boards. He also had its highest box plus/minus among players who appeared in all 10 seasons while landing second in win shares, sixth in points, ninth in blocks, 11th in steals and 14th in assists.
He was a champion, an MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year. He made eight All-NBA appearances (four on the first team) and 10 All-Defensive rosters (eight first-team honors). His only mistake was sharing a decade with the best power forward in history, a legitimate G.O.A.T. candidate and the most unstoppable force in recent memory.
First-Team Guard: Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd always seemed to see the game a step ahead of everyone else, so it's only natural he had the foresight to tweak his game in a way that allowed him to age gracefully. He was such a non-shooter early in his career that he landed the mocking moniker Ason Kidd (as in, he had no "J'), but he splashed 250 triples at a 39.4 percent clip over the last two seasons of the '00s.
Before Father Time forced any adjustments, though, Kidd was a blur in the open court and a magician in any setting. A four-time assists leader during the decade, he had the improvisational gifts of a world-class jazz artist.
"He would give you four or five passes that you never ever seen before," Richard Jefferson told ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk. "It was absurd."
No one dropped more dimes in the decade—only Steve Nash came within 1,000 of Kidd's tally—and Kidd's quarterbacking proved the Midas touch in the win column.
He spent the decade's first two seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who won 104 games over those years and only 36 the year after his exit. The then-New Jersey Nets won 26 games prior to his arrival then punctuated his initial campaign with 52 wins and the franchise's first NBA Finals trip. His teams were playoff participants in each of these 10 seasons.
While never the most prolific scorer (his decade- and career-high output was the 18.7 points per game he provided in 2002-03), he extended his influence to all areas of the game. He had 77 triple-doubles in the decade; LeBron James was second in the category with 24. Kidd was also the decade's only player with 10,000 points, 7,000 assists and 5,000 rebounds.
He was the MVP runner-up in 2001-02, a five-time All-NBA pick (four on the first team) and an eight-time All-Defensive selection (three first-team honors). He might have the most tenuous argument among our first-teamers, but he earned his spot.
First-Team Guard: Kobe Bryant
Of all the players to wear the "next Michael Jordan" label, Kobe Bryant came closest to becoming the "Air" apparent.
It wasn't just the moves and mannerisms that were reproduced as if Bryant were living out an MJ biopic. The jewelry collection was almost identical (Jordan had six rings to Kobe's five). The stats were equally absurd. When Bryant pumped in a ridiculous 35.4 points per game in 2005-06, it was the most anyone had averaged since Jordan's 37.1 in 1986-87.
But the most striking similarity might've been their ferocious competitiveness and the commitment to the craft that created. Bryant's work ethic was legendary at the time, and he's since become the standard-bearer in that regard. Mamba mentality paved the way for Giannis Antetokounmpo's MVP rise. It was a daily source of motivation for LeBron James, too.
"I knew I had to be better because of Kobe Bryant," James told reporters. "I knew he was in the gym and I knew he was working on his game. And I knew he was great. So every day that I didn't want to work out or every day I felt like I couldn't give more, I always thought of Kobe."
Bryant's work paid off with an embarrassment of riches in the decade. He was its leading scorer by almost 2,000 points. Only he and former running mate Shaquille O'Neal captured an MVP, a Finals MVP and a scoring title during the '00s. Bryant averaged 28.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists over this stretch; James was the decade's only other player to average 25/5/5.
Bryant opened the '00s by winning three straight titles with O'Neal, then he closed it by capturing the 2008-09 crown without him. Bryant made an All-NBA team all 10 seasons, seven times landing on its first group. He had another seven first-team All-Defensive selections and nine All-Defensive accolades in total. Advanced analytics might not all agree, but he could make a convincing argument for the best player of the '00s.
First-Team Forward: LeBron James
The decade was four seasons old before LeBron James' arrival, and this spot was still never really in jeopardy.
Despite strong pushes from Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, James cannot be denied a first-team honor. His combination of impact and elite production is simply too great.
When James landed with the Cleveland Cavaliers as the top pick in 2003, his greatness seemed preordained. He had already been on the national radar for years, and scouts couldn't help but salivate at his otherworldly blend of size, skill and athleticism.
Even then, it's possible no one saw this coming. He couldn't buy a jumper as a rookie (32.4 percent), and he still averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds as a teenager. He bumped his averages north of 27/7/7 for a follow-up, then he topped the 30-points-per-game mark in Year 3.
His jumper never quite came around in the decade (32.8 percent from deep), but it didn't matter. He was too big, too strong and too talented for defenses to control. Even the Detroit Pistons, who were the stone wall of the era, proved powerless against him. In Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, James put 48 points on them, including 29 of Cleveland's last 30 points and each of its final 25 on 11-of-13 shooting.
"We threw everything we had at him" Chauncey Billups said afterward. "We just couldn't stop him."
No one ever did. James notched a decade-best 8.5 box plus/minus, secured his first of four MVP awards, made five All-NBA appearances (three on the first team; only one fewer than Garnett or Nowitzki) and was chosen to the 2008-09 All-Defensive first team.
His evolution—and NBA takeover—would carry into the 2010s, but this laid the foundation for him to enter the G.O.A.T. discussion.
First-Team Forward: Tim Duncan
The San Antonio Spurs were a good team before Tim Duncan arrived in the Alamo City, but he helped get them to greatness and become the Association's standard for consistent dominance.
"When your superstar could take a little bit now and then, everybody else could shut the hell up and fall in line," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said during Duncan's jersey retirement. "So thank you for letting me coach you, Timmy."
As much as you can read about San Antonio's secret sauce—forever enshrined as the "Spurs Way"—everything tied back to Duncan. They never create that culture without his selflessness and leadership. And they never enjoy such rich success without his rise as perhaps the top two-way talent of his generation.
His fundamentals were so razor-sharp that watching him made you feel as if you were seeing the reason basketball was invented. He might not have had a three-ball or the richest dunk reel, but he tormented opponents with surgical execution. He unofficially shot 100 percent from the elbow. He read the glass like Dennis Rodman tutored him in the art of rebounding. He patrolled the paint like a Bill Russell reboot.
Duncan's post skills were unmatched in this era. His fakes, footwork and finishing ability were top-shelf quality, and all of his moves had counters and counters to the counters. His passing was special for any secondary playmaker, let alone one who stood 6'11" and weighed 250 pounds.
He shared the decade with all-time greats and still became its most constant contributor to winning. He won three titles during the '00s, was the only player to spend the decade on the All-NBA first (seven times) or second teams and was the only one to win multiple MVPs and Finals MVPs (two each).
First-Team Center: Shaquille O'Neal
While a younger Shaquille O'Neal could wow with unexpected levels of speed and grace, this decade's Diesel was all about power.
Frankly, he had more of it than anyone could dream of handling.
"When I saw him on the schedule, my main goal was just not let him dunk the ball," Nazr Mohammed wrote in the Players' Tribune. "That was it. ... In his prime, it was a good night for you defensively if you held Shaq to 20 points and 10 rebounds with no dunks."
Most people did not have good nights against O'Neal.
For the first three seasons of this decade—all of which ended with titles for the Lakers and Finals MVP honors for the big fella—he averaged 28.6 points and 12.4 rebounds, and those numbers spiked to 29.9 and 14.5, respectively, during the three playoff runs. His 29.7 points per game in 1999-00 gave him the second scoring crown of his career and made him the decade's only interior player to win one.
He had enough agility to spin around defenders, and it was game over if he got them on his back. Opponents could try to bear hug him, but even then, he was so strong he could explode through it for a vicious jam. Some tried sending extra defenders his way, but he improved enough as a passer to exploit the openings those double (or triple) teams created.
There wasn't a more powerful force in basketball than prime O'Neal, and even if that player wasn't around for the entire decade, he made enough appearances for this to be a no-brainer. In the '00s alone, he was a four-time champion, an eight-time All-Star, an MVP, an eight-time All-NBA selection (seven on the first team) and a three-time All-Defensive honoree.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.