B/R NBA All-Decade Teams: Who Ruled the 2010s?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 24, 2019

B/R NBA All-Decade Teams: Who Ruled the 2010s?

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The 2010s era of NBA basketball blended together generational talents young, old and anything in between.

    LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry shared their respective primes, often on the same championship stage. Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade carried their legendary careers into the sunset. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis just started their ascensions.

    It was a time to cherish, which is what we're here to do. Well, officially, we're here to add the latest installment of B/R's All-Decade team series. If you've missed any of the previous iterations, the '80s, '90s and 2000s selections are available for your reads, your comments and, of course, criticisms.

    There's no definitive way to do this, but we're out to make it as objective as possible. That's why stats (advanced and traditional) and accolades (awards, titles, end-of-season honors) do the heaviest lifting in the discussion, though we still leave room for intangibles like impact and stature.

    We always start with five honorable mentions and then shift to the first and second teams. In the spirit of position-less play that defined this decade, we're changing from two guards, two forwards and a center over to two backcourt players and three in the frontcourt. And so we're all on the same wavelength, the decade is defined as the 2009-10 season through 2018-19.

Honorable Mention

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo

    The Greek Freak got a late start to this decade (15th pick in 2013) and needed a few seasons of preparation before blasting off into NBA stardom. But he climbed to such a towering height that even with a small sample size he landed closer to a second-team appearance than being left out of the discussion.

    Throughout NBA history, someone tallied at least 1,900 points, 750 rebounds, 350 assists and 100 blocks only eight times. Antetokounmpo closed the decade by hitting those marks in back-to-back seasons, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players with multiple such campaigns. Add an MVP and three All-NBA honors to the mix, and Antetokounmpo's late-decade takeover must be discussed.

    Kobe Bryant

    If you haven't noticed, this list is taking a quality-over-quantity approach, so those who had elite numbers and accolades (like Bryant) best those whose loudest argument comes from longevity (sorry, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard). So, even though Bryant only appeared in seven of these seasons and spent just four as a superstar, he did enough work before his Achilles injury to get the nod.

    The decade's first championship and Finals MVP belong to him. Same goes for four first-team All-NBA selections and three All-Defensive honors. He even had four top-five MVP finishes in this stretch, including the bronze medal in the 2009-10 voting. Considering he averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds before tearing his Achilles in 2012-13, his healthy version had at least a few seasons left of superstar production.


    Tim Duncan

    A lack of counting stats might eliminate Duncan in some eyes, but here he's rewarded for his (and San Antonio's) consistent greatness, a seamless torch-passing to Kawhi Leonard and graceful aging. To be clear, this is no lifetime achievement honor. Over seven seasons in the 2010s, he was a four-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA honoree (once on the first team), three-time All-Defensive selection and a champion.

    Oh, and the production lost mostly went the way of minutes management. When he played, he still punished the opposition with polished skills and advanced instincts. His per-36-minute tallies of 18.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 blocks nearly mirrored his career marks.


    Dirk Nowitzki

    The story of the 2010s can't be told without Nowitzki. He was the first player to share the Finals stage with the vaunted Heatles, and he was the most unstoppable force in a championship series that also featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Nowitzki's fadeaways, post-ups, drives and triples were too much for Miami to handle, as the 7-footer powered the Mavericks to their first NBA title.

    He slowed considerably in the decade's second half, and he was more of a figurehead than a franchise leader by the end. But even then, he was the 2010s' 12th-best scorer, plus he had three All-NBA selections and three top-12 finishes in MVP voting.


    Dwyane Wade

    Before Wade ceded control of the Heat to James and long before his balky knees got the best of him, Wade was one of the best players on the planet. He averaged 26.6 points and 6.5 assists the year before James took his talents to South Beach and then posted 25.5 and 4.6, respectively, during their first season together, which was largely spent not trying to step on the other's toes.

    The Heat don't capture the crown in 2012 and 2013 without Wade taking it upon himself to clear up their hierarchy. They don't win without his on-court contributions, either, which included per-game deliveries of 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists over the Big Three era. He finished the decade with four All-NBA selections, eight All-Star appearances and four top-10 finishes in MVP voting.

Second Team

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    Second-Team Backcourt: Chris Paul

    Say what you want about Paul's flops, incessant chatter and lack of playoff success. The numbers speak for themselves, and they almost spoke loudly enough to get him a first-team spot.

    The point god is one of the greatest to ever play the position, and he was at the peak of his powers for nearly the entire decade. That's why he left it as one of the leaders in almost every advanced category: fourth in player efficiency rating, fourth in win shares and fifth in box plus/minus. He aced most traditional metrics, too, ranking first in steals, second in assists and 17th in points.

    Any shortcomings in team success have probably been overblown. His decade averages in playoff games featured 20.7 points, 8.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals. He had a 47.6/37.3/85.6 shooting slash in those contests. Oh, and his teams were a whopping 12.4 points better with him per 100 possessions. He did everything he could to position his club to win games.


    Second-Team Backcourt: Russell Westbrook

    Westbrook normalized triple-doubles. So, you can call him polarizing, or a stat-chaser, or a shot-chucker; it won't change the fact that he made triple-dipping a nightly activity.

    Save for some spotty shooting percentages, his stats have long been incredible. His decade included two scoring titles and two assist crowns. He had 147 triple-doubles, or 71 more than second place in the category (LeBron James, 76). Westbrook paced the decade in assists, scored the fourth-most points and even corralled the 17th-most rebounds—as a 6'3" point guard.

    He was selected All-NBA eight times, twice earning the first-team distinction. He was named 2016-17 MVP and had three other top-five finishes. His ferocity became the calling card of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and even if they never experienced championship bliss, he still helped steer them to the decade's second-most victories.


    Second-Team Frontcourt: Anthony Davis

    As a 6'10" post presence with point guard experience, Davis has been a walking cheat code almost from the start. He blocks shots, buries jumpers, bullies defenders in the post, erases perimeter players on defensive switches, cleans the glass, sets the table—whatever his team needs, he can provide.

    He averaged 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and an Association-best 2.8 blocks during his second season. By year three, he became the first player 21 or younger to post a PER north of 30 (30.8; previous high was Shaquille O'Neal's 28.5). Davis would go on to post top-25 marks in points (25th), rebounds (22nd) and blocks (fourth) during a decade he didn't join until its fourth season.

    He was unbelievable and clearly a decade great no matter how little the New Orleans Pelicans won with him or how messy his split from them became. He still made six All-Star rosters, three All-NBA teams and three All-Defensive teams, and he thrice landed among the top-10 finishers in MVP voting.


    Second-Team Frontcourt: Paul George

    Throw out the season he essentially lost to a gruesome leg fracture, and George basically spent the decade evolving from dogged defender to three-and-D ace to two-way star to full-fledged superstar. He was 2012-13's Most Improved Player, and he had an argument to become the award's first two-time winner this past season.

    George's rise coincided with that of the Indiana Pacers, and the plucky group picked up five total victories against the Big Three Heat in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals meetings. George was the team leader by stature and statistics, and for a spell, he seemed en route to becoming one of LeBron's top rivals.

    The consistent star-level production got George into the honorable mention range, and his 2018-19 eruption earned him this second-team spot. As a then-five-time All-Star in his age-28 season, he shattered multiple career highs (28.0 points, up from 23.7; 23.3 PER, up from 20.9) while being made a finalist for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.

    That was the ultimate exclamation point for a decade in which he was a six-time All-Star, made five All-NBA teams and appeared on four All-Defensive rosters.


    Second-Team Frontcourt: Blake Griffin

    Like his longtime running mate, CP3, Griffin's limited postseason resume might be a fatal flaw in the eyes of critics. Clearly, we don't fall into that group and instead remain blown away by his transformation from an athletic marvel into one of the most skilled frontcourt players of his time.

    The younger Griffin was a ridiculous rim-rocker, but even then, the way he'd snag a rebound and bring the ball up the court hinted at a much deeper skill set. As injuries and age sapped into his explosiveness, he leaned further into his skills and produced some can't-miss moments as a jumbo-sized point-forward. He even added a legitimately potent three-ball to the mix during the decade's final two seasons.

    All told, he was a six-time All-Star, a five-time All-NBA selection and a three-time top-10 finisher in MVP voting (including a third-placed finish in 2013-14). He was also one of only four players to record 13,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 2,500 assists during the decade.

First-Team Backcourt: Stephen Curry

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    Stephen Curry's impact on the NBA and the sport of basketball as a whole goes beyond the box score.

    Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr called Curry "the most impactful offensive player in terms of what he does to the defense, maybe ever," per KNBR's Kerry Crowley. Toronto Raptors skipper Nick Nurse dubbed Curry "a transformational player" and said the scoring guard had "transformed the way people view the three-pointer, the distance of the three-pointer as well," per Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

    A trip to your local blacktop could tell you as much. Kids weren't launching off-the-dribble threes or way-past-the-arc bombs like this a decade back.

    But Curry changed everything. He made defenders pick him up as soon as he crossed half court. He wrecked traditional pick-and-roll coverages by needing only an inch to fire impossibly accurate on-the-move triples. He had a gravitational pull on opposing defenses that made the rise of the Dubs dynasty possible. Plus, he had the humility to share the spotlight in a way that made the Warriors even more powerful.

    If we boiled this discussion down to numbers and accolades, though, Curry's case would still be ironclad.

    He won two MVP awards, including the only unanimous honor in NBA history. He buried more threes than anyone (by a mile), swiped the third-most steals, scored the fifth-most points and dropped the eighth-most dimes. His 62.4 true shooting percentage ranked second among the decade's 19 players to average 20-plus points.

    Add three rings to the equation, and Curry defined the decade as much as anyone.

First-Team Backcourt: James Harden

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    Barring injury, Chris Paul will play his 1,000th career regular-season game before this campaign closes. During his rookie year of 2005-06, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming were All-Star starters.

    Paul has seen a ton of basketball, in other words. So, it shouldn't be taken lightly when he labels James Harden "the best offensive player I've ever seen," as he did last December, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

    Sure, Paul and Harden were teammates at the time, but they weren't exactly planning any banana-boat excursions together.

    It's just that Harden's ascension from super sixth man to historically proficient scorer makes hyperbolic speech almost impossible.

    "You could argue for him as the best offensive player of all time," Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told ESPN's Tim MacMahon. "To be able to say that with a straight face, and not have it be GM speak or coachspeak, is pretty amazing."

    In Harden's first three seasons of the decade, he never averaged even 17 points. That he exited it with the third-most points overall speaks to that colossal growth.

    The MVP, six-time All-NBA selection and seven-time All-Star reached ludicrous speed shortly after landing in Space City. Over his final seven seasons of the decade, he averaged 29.0 points, 7.7 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 3.1 triples. By restricting his offense to the analytics diet of threes, layups and free throws, the Beard became as potent a point-producer as this decade witnessed.

First-Team Frontcourt: Kevin Durant

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    Think how unstoppable a 7-foot shooting guard sounds. Kevin Durant was even harder to contain in real life.

    Since he had two seasons to find his footing before the decade started, he could hit the ground sprinting at a speed that Usain Bolt would struggle to match. Durant captured the scoring crown (2009-10) and then three of the next four as well. His average outing in that stretch featured 29.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.9 triples.

    He dialed back the scoring volume a bit as the decade continued but supplemented it with improved efficiency and more playmaking. While his only 50/40/90 campaign came in the decade's first half, he could have two others in the second if not for falling a few percentage points shy from the charity stripe.

    Durant's scoring alone was mind-boggling. He not only led the decade with 28.0 points per game but also had more than a point-per-game cushion on No. 2 (LeBron James, 26.9). Take efficiency into account, and Durant's offensive virtuosity grows even clearer. His 62.6 true shooting percentage paced the 77 players who averaged 15-plus points during the decade.

    But you can't just label Durant as an offensive machine. Not when he was one of only two players to average seven rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal during the decade.

    "Kevin Durant is one of the best players I've ever played against, that this league has ever seen," LeBron James said in 2018, per Ben Golliver of the Washington Post.

    Durant's decade is almost hard to fathom. He was an All-Star every year and an All-NBA selection in all but one. He won two championships, took home two Finals MVP awards and added an MVP to his trophy collection.

First-Team Frontcourt: LeBron James

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    LeBron James' place among the NBA's all-time greats might be up for debate, but his spot atop the 2010s is cemented.

    Everything he could've done during the decade, he did. He was an All-Star in every season and an All-NBA first-teamer in all but one (third team in 2018-19). He won three titles, including the first ever for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. He won three MVP awards and finished top-three in voting eight different times. He earned three Finals MVP awards and made five All-Defensive teams.

    The King was the decade leader in total points and win shares. He had the fourth spot in assists, the seventh in steals and the 10th in rebounds. He even logged nearly 1,000 more minutes than anyone else (not including the 7,420 from his annual playoff trips), because if everyone knows you're a basketball cyborg, there's little reason to try to hide it.

    "No one has ever before seen a player quite like LeBron," Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson wrote for The Undefeated. "He's a five-tool player, fundamentally sound, and able to do practically anything on the court. As the NBA continues to evolve, I think he is the model other players ought to emulate."

    James could score like Michael, create like Magic, defend like Scottie (when fully engaged) and rumble through traffic like a souped-up semi truck. That's amazingly still true today—in James' age-35 season—but the 2010s saw him at the height of his powers.

    Then when you consider what he meant to Cleveland, and to Miami, and to player empowerment (both in free agency and their freedom of speech), and to the business of basketball, his impact goes beyond words.

First-Team Frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard

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    Consider the most powerful dynasties we've seen this decade. The Miami Heat wore that label for the decade's first half, and the Golden State Warriors carried it through the second.

    Kawhi Leonard effectively dismantled each of them.

    In 2013-14, he spearheaded the San Antonio Spurs' revenge tour that culminated with their 4-1 Finals victory over the Heat—a series that ended less than one month before LeBron bolted back to Northeast Ohio. In 2018-19, he guided the Toronto Raptors to their first title over the wounded Warriors, who watched Kevin Durant depart for the Brooklyn Nets a few weeks after.

    So, even if Leonard started the decade late, eased his way to stardom and brought the term "load management" into the NBA's lexicon, the two-way superstar is a clear-cut choice for the final first-team spot.

    "He is the most like Jordan that we've seen," Doc Rivers said in a May appearance on SportsCenter. "... Not that he is Jordan or anything like that, but he's the most like him. Big hands, post game, can finish, great leaper, great defender, in-between game. If you beat him to the spot, he bumps you off."

    Leonard has been a dynamic, multi-positional defender from the start. His offensive growth was gradual at first, before blowing up into an arsenal that now checks every box. He's a three-level scorer, a shot-creator and a killer in the clutch.

    He joined Durant and James as the decade's only players with multiple Finals MVPs. Leonard was also one of three players to win multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards. He made three All-Star appearances, three All-NBA teams (two on first team) and five All-Defensive rosters (three on first team). He had four top-10 finishes in MVP voting and two in the top three.

    Some non-first-teamers might have better numbers, but Leonard's peak and league-wide impact separate him from any first-team hopefuls.


    All stats, unless otherwise noted, used courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.