What to know: Kevin Love began the decade compiling monster scoring and rebounding numbers on lottery-dwelling teams in Minnesota. His stats took a hit when he joined LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, and though he struggled at times to fit in, he remained a crucial element to their success. The Cavs were at their best when Love was mixing it up between spreading the floor and bullying opponents in the post. Ironically, his standout play of the decade was a game-saving stop on Stephen Curry in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
19. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C
Team(s): Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs
What to know: LaMarcus Aldridge has become the perfect Spur — sound, understated, and frankly, a little dull. A brute force in the post, with a buttery touch from midrange, Aldridge has also developed into a steady rim protector in San Antonio. Only seven players have averaged over 20 points and 8 rebounds per game over the decade, and only Aldridge and Blake Griffin have played all 10 seasons of the decade. Aldridge won't immediately jump out to many people who reflect on the NBA in the 2010s, but only a handful of players have played at a high level so consistently.
What to know: Kyle Lowry's decade might have hinged on failed trade talks. In 2013-14, the Raptors nearly sent him to the New York Knicks until Knicks owner James Dolan stopped the deal. What's happened since then? Six straight playoff appearances with Toronto, five All-Star Games, and, of course, a championship in 2018-19. A shrewd playmaker and gritty defender, Lowry doesn't often make the cut in "Best point guards" debates, but he's never far off.
(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
17. Jimmy Butler, G/F
Team(s): Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat
All-NBA teams: 6 (four All-Defensive, two All-NBA)
Awards: Most Improved Player (2014-15)
What to know: Over his nine years in the NBA, Butler has evolved from a high-energy role player to a three-and-D wing to a legitimate franchise star. Butler is not the best shooter, playmaker, or defender among the NBA's elite, two-way wings, but he's damn good at all three. Fiery and intense on the floor, Butler's been a borderline top-10 player over the last five seasons and a proven difference-maker everywhere he goes.
What to know: In a decade that saw the role of a center evolve, Marc Gasol stands as one of the best big men of the era. One of the NBA's unique players, Gasol was often happier hitting cutters from the elbows than posting up or looking for his own shot. Throughout the decade, he expanded his range out to the three-point line, where he is now a real threat. His calling card was defense, however. He was the anchor of the grit-and-grind Grizzlies, a perennial playoff threat, and then a key piece for the 2018-19 champion Raptors.
All-NBA teams: 7 (five All-Defensive, two All-NBA)
Awards: Defensive Player of the Year (2016-17)
What to know: On pure influence alone, Draymond Green was a top-five player of the decade. Under Steve Kerr (much like his teammates), Green was unleashed as a do-it-all small-ball force. Green was a revelation during the Warriors championship run as a player who could perfectly defend a possession, grab the defensive rebound, bring the ball up the floor, and then make a play for a teammate, whether it was springing open a shooter or hitting a cutter. His rise made the versatile, playmaking four the most coveted type of player in the NBA (but there is only one Draymond) and a key cog on one of the most dominant teams in NBA history.
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
14. Kyrie Irving, PG
Team(s): Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets
What to know: Kyrie Irving entered the NBA as the face of the post-LeBron Cavs, became James' running mate during Cleveland's Finals runs, then left to lead his teams to mixed results so far. However, nobody can doubt Irving's talent. On a pure skill level, few in the league can match Irving, who dribbles the ball like it's on a string and can score from anywhere on the floor. Irving has shined in the brightest moments, putting on some of the most dazzling scoring displays in league history during the Finals. His dagger three-pointer over Stephen Curry in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals is one of the biggest shots of the decade.
What to know: Since 2010-11, only two players have averaged 18 or more points per game and shot better than 40% from three-point range: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. While Curry is often painted as the fulcrum of the Warriors' system, Thompson is just as crucial. A tireless worker on both ends, Thompson is a constant motion on offense, running through a never-ending series of screens and cuts, all while defending the best wing player on the other side of the ball. He's finished in the top three in three-pointers made five times in his career. If it weren't for Curry, Thompson would be regarded as the best shooter alive.
What to know: Damian Lillard owns two shots that have rarely happened in NBA history: series-winners. And they are two of the great shots in NBA history: a buzzer-beating catch-and-shoot three to beat the Houston Rockets in 2014, then a 37-foot bomb to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019. The Blazers have won an average of 46 games and made the playoffs six straight years with Lillard, all while he's been one of four players to average 25-4-6 on 36% three-point shooting since 2015. Lillard is yet to experience success at the highest level, but there is no doubting his ability.
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
11. Paul George, F
Team(s): Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers
All-NBA teams: 9 (five All-NBA, four All-Defensive)
Awards: Most Improved Player (2012-13)
What to know: Paul George's decade was a series of twists and turns, from breaking out on a rising Pacers team, losing nearly a full year to a broken leg, then landing on the Thunder in a shocking trade. George placed third in MVP voting after a career year in 2018-19, then asked out of Oklahoma City to team up with Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers. Through all of these twists and turns, there has been a constant: George's excellent two-way play. Long and slippery, George smoothly scores from all over the court, creates for his teammates, then hounds his opponents on the other end. Perhaps better suited as a sidekick than a leading man, there are only a handful of players as well-rounded as George.
What to know: Few players reconfigured their games over the decade as Blake Griffin did. Griffin entered the NBA as a high-flying force of nature who could finish around the basket and create his own shot in doses. Fast forward to 2018-19, his first full season with the Pistons, and Griffin shot 36% from three on seven attempts per game and averaged over 5 assists per game. The full picture of the decade is a player who built himself into an all-around force and was mostly underrated in the broader sports world. As the years have gone on, the monster dunks have waned, but each year, Griffin added a new skill to remain relevant in a league that lost interest in his natural position.
All-NBA teams: 6 (three All-NBA, three All-Defensive)
What to know: Anthony Davis came into the league loaded with potential and has realized it, adding bits and pieces into his game each year to become the most dominant big man in the league. A typical Davis game might include him nailing a three-pointer, hitting a fade-away jumper, catching an impossible alley-oop, blocking a shot, and leading a fastbreak. He does it so easily that we've almost come to take it for granted. There's never been a player like him.
All-NBA teams: 5 (three All-NBA, two All-Defensive)
Awards: Most Valuable Player (2018-19), Most Improved Player (2016-17)
What to know: Like Anthony Davis, it's shocking that Giannis Antetokounmpo has realized his potential and more. Antetokounmpo entered the NBA as a skinny, unrefined, 19-year-old from Greece, with obvious potential, but a long way to go. Six years later, he's here. Antetokounmpo puts up stats like prime Shaq and moves like prime LeBron James. He is the most unstoppable force around the basket and in transition, can create for others, and defend at a high level. And he's slowly adding a jump shot to his game. He may now have the title of Best Player in the World. He'd be higher on this list if he had played more seasons this decade.
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
7. Chris Paul, PG
Team(s): New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder
What to know: Chris Paul's peak has come and gone, but from 2010-2016, he was a consensus top-10, if not a top-five player. The "Point God" was a conductor on offense and a pest on defense, a force impossible to ignore because he impacted every possession. His decade has a few major what-ifs: What if the Clippers didn't blow a double-digit lead against the Rockets in 2015 and lose in the semifinals? What if Paul didn't get hurt in the 2018 Western Conference Finals when the Rockets took a 3-2 lead over the Warriors? Success at the highest level has evaded Paul in cruel ways, but his dominance at every other point still stands.
What to know: Russell Westbrook's best moments this decade have been his rim-rattling dunks, soaring rebounds, and blazing fastbreaks — the feats of athleticism that left viewers truly awe-struck. As proponents of Westbrook have often noted, you feel Westbrook on the court. He may have shot Kevin Durant out of town and his teams out of some close games, but there is a reason no other player in the last 40 years has averaged a triple-double over a season. Westbrook did it three times. Amid understandable criticisms of his game is an undeniable fact — Westbrook can do things other players cannot.
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
5. Kawhi Leonard, F
Team(s): San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Los Angeles Clippers
All-NBA teams: 8 (three All-NBA, five All-Defensive)
Awards: Defensive Player of the Year (2014-15, 2015-16)
What to know: Kawhi Leonard has routinely owned the biggest moments during his nine years in the NBA. Leonard won Finals MVP in 2013-14 for his breakout performance, which saw him suffocate LeBron James on defense. Since 2014, Leonard has made leaps on offense every year, all while becoming the most feared perimeter defender in the NBA. After forcing his way out of San Antonio in 2018, Leonard reminded the NBA world of his dominance last spring, averaging 30 points per game in the playoffs to dismantle the Warriors and lead the Raptors to a surprising championship. He now finds himself in the discussion for the best player in the NBA, and he is only 28 — there is more still to come.
Awards: Most Valuable Player (2017-18), Sixth Man of the Year (2011-12)
What to know: There is no other experience quite like watching James Harden play basketball. Love or hate how he pounds the ball into the floor and draws fouls, Harden's ability to can ridiculous step-back threes or blitz into the lane for layups in the Rockets' analytics-driven system has made him the best scorer in the NBA. Over the last five years, Harden leads the league in scoring average with a whopping 31.7 points per game. He's finished in the top-five of MVP voting five times this decade. His style may not be for everyone, but it's undoubtedly effective.
What to know: Stephen Curry is most responsible for changing the actual sport of basketball over the past decade. Curry rose through the NBA ranks by taking and making shots that were long considered ill-advised. Curry hit them at such a rate that defenses had to make major adjustments, and offenses around the world took notice. Plenty of players now take audacious pull-up three-pointers, but nobody does it like Curry, who at a moment's notice can become the most electric spectacle in sports. Curry's decade was one for the history books: the first unanimous MVP season, several three-point records, the highest-scoring 50-40-90 season ever, and a changing perception about what's a good shot in basketball.
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
2. Kevin Durant, F
Team(s): Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets
What to know: Lost in his torn Achilles, missed Finals opportunity, and free agency madness, all in two months, was Kevin Durant's ascent to Best Player in the NBA. Long known as the NBA's "purest" scorer and the clear next-best player in the league, Durant reached basketball nirvana with the Warriors. Golden State's system allowed him to thrive as both a devastatingly efficient isolation scorer, floor-spreader, playmaker, and a fearsome rim-protector, to boot. He upstaged LeBron James in back-to-back years in the Finals, taking home two straight Finals MVPs. The Achilles injury will likely rob Durant of a year of his prime, but it should not be forgotten that the last time he was healthy on the floor, he had become the game's most unstoppable force.
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
1. LeBron James
Team(s): Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Lakers
All-NBA teams: 13 (nine All-NBA, four All-Defensive)
Awards: Most Valuable Player (2011-12, 2012-13)
What to know: This decade saw LeBron James compete for the title of greatest NBA player ever — no small feat. Over the course of 10 years, James became a villain, a hero, a three-time champion, and a force unto himself on and off the court. All the while, between the lines, James controlled every game as only he could. His perennial 27-7-7 stat line is unmatched by any other player, yet still underscores his impact. His eight straight Finals appearances are his crowning achievement, and he would likely have more than three championships if his Cavs did not run into perhaps the greatest team of all-time in 2017 and 2018. As James prepares to turn 35, he enters the 2020s in near-peak form, with a chance to add even more to his resumé and perhaps definitively snag the title of G.O.A.T.
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
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