This week on NBA.com, we're dedicating a different day to take a closer look at each decade in league history.
First up, the 2010s.
One thing we're doing each day is an All-Decade Team made up of the two-best guards, two-best forwards and the best centre of the respective decade. For the 2010s, we're starting with the 2009-10 season and ending with the 2019-20 season. Technically speaking, it should probably be 2009-10 to 2018-19, but we didn't want to leave a season out. So for the first go-around, we're grandfathering in an 11th season.
Besides, I'm not sure anything would have changed had we not included this season because, as of this writing, no end-of-season hardware has been handed out and no champion has been crowned yet.
With all that in mind, here's how my All-Decade Team looks for the 2010s...
G: Stephen Curry
Curry didn't make his first All-Star team until 2013-14, but there wasn't another guard who dominated the last decade like he did.
To name a few of his accolades:
- Two MVP awards. The only other player since 2010 to have won multiple MVP awards is - you guessed it - LeBron James.
- Three championships. Once again, the only superstar since 2010 to have won three championships is ... LeBron James. He might not have a Finals MVP award, but it's hard to poke holes in Curry's postseason averages of 28.2 points, 6.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. He's had a number of big moments in the playoffs.
- Six All-NBA selections. Russell Westbrook actually has the most All-NBA selections among point guards since 2010, but Curry is tied with Chris Paul for the most All-NBA First Team selections. That matters.
And, of course, Curry changed the game of basketball forever with his 3-point shooting. He will be remembered as one of the most influential players in NBA history because of it. As ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz wrote in 2018, "Curry will go down as not only the avatar of the NBA's Golden Age of Shooting, but as the inspiration for generations of kids who see him as the model for how to refine their skills and overcome bigger, more athletic players."
You can't tell the story of the 2010s without Curry, plain and simple.
G: James Harden
A lot of what I wrote about Curry applies to Harden, albeit with a few caveats.
For example, Harden is one of the seven players to have won an MVP award since 2010. There's an argument to be made that he should've won at least one more. He has made six All-NBA Teams, five of which as First Team selections. Harden has even changed the game forever, with him being the poster child of the analytics movement. Curry might have started the 3-point revolution, but Harden has taken it to the extreme by eliminating the midrange entirely from his game to double down on basketball's three-most efficient shots: 3s, layups and free throws.
The one thing Harden doesn't have that Curry does, of course, is the championships. And yet, he was the best player on one of the most dominant teams in the league for a good chunk of the decade and led the Rockets to a couple of deep postseason runs, most notably in 2018 when he helped Houston push Golden State to seven games in the Western Conference Finals.
Plus, it's hard to hold Harden's postseason resume against him in this situation when Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul - the two other players I gave serious consideration to for this spot - have had their own issues in the playoffs. Westbrook moreso than Paul, but still.
Even though Harden was a rookie when the 2010s began, the only player who scored more total points during the decade was LeBron James. He also ranked third in steals and fifth in assists while sitting near the top of the league in a number of advanced statistics such as Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares, Box Plus-Minus and Value Over Replacement Player.
F: LeBron James
James owned the 2010s, so much so that The Associated Press named him the male athlete of the decade.
The decade started with the final season of James' first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which ended in a second-round loss to the Boston Celtics. He went on to spend four seasons with the Miami Heat, two of which ended in championships, before returning to the Cavaliers and eventually leading the franchise to its first-ever championship with a historic comeback against Stephen Curry's Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Those runs were a part of eight straight Finals appearances for James. It's the third-longest such streak in NBA history behind only Bill Russell (10), Sam Jones (9) and Tom Heinsohn (9), each of whom were on the Celtics teams that dominated the late 1950s and early 1960s.
You may never see what @KingJames did again 👏 pic.twitter.com/0yt87GWKdR- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 23, 2019
In addition to winning those three championships and three MVP awards, James was the only player in the NBA to make an All-NBA Team and be voted in as an All-Star in each season of the 2010s. He is now tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan for the most All-NBA selections in NBA history and tied with Julius Erving for the third-most All-Star selections.
Forget only the 2010s. LeBron's decade ranks among the single best decades by anyone, right there alongside Michael Jordan's 90s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 70s and Bill Russell's 60s. But that's another story for another day.
The craziest part of it all? James is still going strong. At this rate, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we'll still be talking about him a decade from now when we're looking at the All-2020s team, especially if he can lead the Lakers to a championship or two.
F: Kevin Durant
One MVP award. Two championships. Two Finals MVP awards. Four scoring titles. Nine All-NBA selections. 10 All-Star selections.
Yeah, Durant deserves to make this team.
2017 was a good year for the NBA Finals MVP 🙌🏽🏆- Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 5, 2018
🗣️ Kevin Durant #NBAVote pic.twitter.com/azEugkuYGe
The only other player you can realistically make a case for is Kawhi Leonard, who, by the way, would make this All-Decade Team if we were doing two backcourt players and three frontcourt players instead of two guards, two forwards and a centre. (More on that in a minute). The problem? While Leonard's last few years stack up well with Durant, he hasn't been doing it for quite as long. It wasn't until 2015-16 that Leonard made the first of four All-Star appearances, by which point Durant had already won an MVP award.
Granted, Leonard took home a championship and Finals MVP award several years before Durant did, but he was still a role player on the San Antonio Spurs at the time, whereas Durant has been a part of the "best player in the league" conversation all decade long.
For most of the 2010s, it was James, Durant and then everyone else. For that reason, he gets the nod.
C: Marc Gasol
This is where it gets difficult.
As I alluded to above, most places filled out their All-Decade Teams for the 2010s with two guards and three forwards, not two guards, two forwards and a centre. Why? Probably because the league has been trending towards smaller lineups for a while now, but I'm assuming part of the reasoning is because the pool of centres is quite ... underwhelming.
The issue is that there isn't really a centre who has dominated the decade in nearly the same manner that Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James and Kevin Durant have. Anthony Davis is the first player to come to mind, but he's more of a power forward who plays centre than a true centre. Same deal with Draymond Green and Dirk Nowitzki.
If you eliminate them for that reason, you're left with Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol.
None of them have an ironclad case. Duncan made two All-Star teams and won one championship in the 2010s, but he retired following the 2015-16 season. Howard started the decade with five straight All-Star selections and won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, but he fell off rather quickly. Gasol has three All-Star selections and a Defensive Player of the Year award to his name, but he's never been in the same stratosphere as Duncan or Howard.
The one thing Gasol has working in his favour is that he's been relevant all season long. He was the anchor of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies at the start of the decade and although he averaged career lows across the board in his first season with the Toronto Raptors, he helped the franchise win its first-ever title in 2019.
Ultimately, Gasol might not have been the best centre of the decade, but I'm not sure there's a centre who had a better decade from start to finish than him.
2010s All-Decade Second Team
G: Chris Paul - One of the greatest point guards of all-time. Not having Paul on the First Team hurt the most.
G: Russell Westbrook - It was a historic decade for Westbrook. Not only did he win one MVP award and two scoring titles, he became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double in a season.
F: Kawhi Leonard - We've already gone over Leonard's case. He may not have started the decade as one of the best players in the league, but sure did end it as one.
F: Anthony Davis - The best of Davis is yet to come, and yet he's already racked up the accomplishments with seven All-Star selections, three All-NBA selections and three All-Defensive Team selections.
C: Dwight Howard - Howard was a legitimate MVP candidate at the start of the decade. It's easy to forget how dominant of a force he was in Orlando.
2010s All-Decade Third Team
G: Kobe Bryant - Bryant's best years were in the 2000s, but he won a championship, a Finals MVP award and made seven All-Stars teams in the 2010s.
G: Dwyane Wade - Similar as Bryant, although Wade won back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013. Without him, the Heat don't repeat.
F: Dirk Nowitzki - Nowitzki's run in 2011, when he led the Mavericks to their first championship in franchise history, was one for the ages.
F: Draymond Green - If he were a centre, Green might have made the First Team. His defensive versatility tied everything together for the Warriors.
C: Tim Duncan - Even in his late 30s, Duncan was one of the best defenders in the league. He anchored the Spurs in their title run in 2015, resulting in his fifth championship.
Apologies to: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Rudy Gobert, Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving
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