As the 2019 offseason continues to advance at what feels like a snail’s pace, we have reached part four of our offseason project in which we rank the Top 100 players of the 21st century.
Part one, starting at player No. 100 and going through No. 81, can be found here, while part two, which goes through player No. 80 through No. 61, is here, and part three, players No. 60 through No. 41, can be read here.
40. ELTON BRAND
21st century stats: 15.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 50.2 FG% in 16 seasons
21st century accolades: 2nd Team All-NBA, two-time All-Star
The Philadelphia 76ers’ general manager was quite the big man in his heyday, making multiple All-Star rosters along with an All-NBA team back in the mid-2000s. Elton Brand averaged over a 20/10 stat line throughout the first eight seasons of his career, chipping in almost a steal and multiple blocks nightly to boot.
Unfortunately, in the offseason following his eighth campaign, Brand ruptured his Achilles, and his game never returned to that elite form he displayed over his first 600 games in the Association.
Even so, Brand made a huge, consistent impact early in his career, and for that reason, he warrants his ranking on our list.
39. PAUL GEORGE
Stats: 19.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.8 spg, 43.3 FG% in nine seasons
Accolades: 1st Team All-NBA, four-time 3rd Team All-NBA, six-time All-Star, two-time 1st Team All-Defense, two-time 2nd Team All-Defense, Most Improved Player, one Olympic gold medal
One of the most explosive forwards in basketball, Paul George has used his athleticism and length on the wing to be one of the best two-way players league-wide for seven years now.
And the scariest part? He seems to be reaching another level now as he enters his late 20s.
Last season, George finished third in both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting after averaging a monstrous 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and a league-leading 2.2 steals per contest. George became just the second player ever to post a 28/8/4/2 stat line for an entire campaign, joining Michael Jordan on the illustrious list.
Now set to team up with the reigning Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, as members of the Los Angeles Clippers, the super wing duo has a chance to take their new franchise to heights they’ve never previously reached.
Despite all the accolades, the most impressive part of George’s career thus far has been the fact that he was able to recover from such a brutal leg injury that famously occurred while playing for Team USA, and return as an even better version of himself.
Not many people have that level of toughness in them.
38. JOE JOHNSON
Stats: 16.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.9 apg, 44.1 FG% in 17 seasons
Accolades: Seven-time All-Star, 3rd Team All-NBA
Joe Johnson was best known throughout his prime for two things: his bucket-getting prowess and the monster contracts he was always on. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, looking back, that Johnson wound up being the second-highest paid 2-guard of all time, trailing just Kobe Bryant:
That’s not a knock on him whatsoever, for the record, as Johnson more than earned his money by being one of the most consistent shooting guards in the league for a long time, earning All-Star honors seven times in eight years as a member of the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets.
Currently, Johnson is still playing, tearing it up as a member of Ice Cube’s Big 3 league. The 38-year-old looks to be a step above a lot of his competition, though, which has led many to wonder if he’s got NBA minutes left in him.
37. BLAKE GRIFFIN
Stats: 21.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.5 apg, 50.2 FG% in nine seasons
Accolades: Three-time 2nd Team All-NBA, two-time 3rd Team All-NBA, six-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year
Despite experiencing injury troubles throughout a lot of his prime, Blake Griffin proved that he’s still one of the best big men in basketball last season with the Detroit Pistons. Griffin, finally healthy, was able to suit up in 75 games and put up 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists in those contests, receiving All-Star and 3rd Team All-NBA accolades for his efforts.
What’s more, the most noteworthy part of Griffin’s productive season was the fact that he shot a career-best 36.2 percent from three on 7.0 nightly heaves (minimum: 50 attempts).
As long as Griffin is able to keep those shooting marks up to go along with his already impressive ball-handling abilities and passing chops, it’ll really help his game age continue to age well.
36. AMARE STOUDEMIRE
Stats: 18.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 53.7 FG% in 14 seasons
Accolades: 1st Team All-NBA, four-time 2nd Team All-NBA, six-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, Olympic bronze medal
One of the fiercest dunkers in NBA history…
…what made Amare Stoudemire truly special was that he was more than just a rim-rattler.
Stoudemire had a tidy face-up game, with the skill to square up and knock down mid-range jumpers over flat-footed defenders, or dribble by them for easy finishes down low.
Besides the dunking power and scoring touch, the Florida native’s career was mostly memorable due to his time with the Phoenix Suns, as he was a pivotal part of some of the best teams in that franchise’s history. Stoudemire, along with the guy who set up a decent amount of his best dunks, Steve Nash, led Phoenix to three conference finals over a six-year span, coming close to reaching the championship series multiple times.
After his time with the Suns, Stoudemire enjoyed one more season of elite-level play with the New York Knicks, when he made a legitimate MVP push for the first half of the year prior to the trade for Carmelo Anthony.
Unfortunately, injury issues forced Stoudemire’s career to take a dive after his age-29 season, and he was out of the NBA just five years after that remarkable year with New York.
35. LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE
Stats: 19.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.0 apg, 49.1 FG% in 13 seasons
Accolades: Two-time 2nd Team All-NBA, three-time 3rd Team All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, 1st Team All-Rookie
A steady, reliable, All-star-level big man for the majority of his playing days, LaMarcus Aldridge is showing little sign of slowing down despite heading into his age-34 season in 2019-20.
Last year, Aldridge averaged 21.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists while making his seventh All-Star roster of the last eight years, an extremely impressive feat considering he’s spent his entire career playing in a loaded Western Conference.
Aldridge has never been a high-flyer like some of the other bigs in this section of our ranking, but his elite back-down game and beautiful mid-range jumper helped set him apart anyway.
34. DAMIAN LILLARD
Stats: 23.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 6.3 apg, 43.4 FG% in seven seasons
Accolades: 1st Team All-NBA, two-time 2nd Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, four-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year
Damian Lillard is currently doing incredible things on a nightly basis as a Portland Trail Blazer.
Lillard has made an All-NBA team four out of the last six seasons, but more importantly than his accolades, he’s created multiple unforgettable postseason moments before even turning 29 years old.
First, there was the fading three-pointer against the Houston Rockets in the 2014 playoffs, Lillard’s first brush with magic:
And then, the explosive guard was able to somehow top himself, hitting an insanely deep shot that not only sent the Oklahoma City Thunder home for the summer in 2019, it ended their 11-year run with Russell Westbrook at the helm, as Oklahoma City hit the reset button and traded Westbrook just months later:
All Lillard is missing now is a Finals run to be recognized in even higher esteem, though with he and backcourt mate CJ McCollum signed to the Blazers for years to come, there’s a chance it could happen over the coming seasons.
33. ALLEN IVERSON
21st century stats: 27.4 ppg, 6.3 apg, 2.2 spg, 42.4 FG% in 10 seasons
21st century accolades: One MVP award, two-time 1st Team All-NBA, two-time 2nd Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, 10-time All-Star, three-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, Olympic bronze medal
Simply put: Allen Iverson was one of the most entertaining guards of all-time.
From crossing over Jordan as a rookie to stepping over Ty Lue in the Finals, Iverson’s bravado and swagger as a ball-handler helped make him one of the most popular players in league history, which would explain why he was voted into the All-Star game even in his final season when he only suited up in 28 games.
The analytics may not look back at Iverson’s career as fondly as regular fans do, but that shouldn’t be used against him; he simply played in a different era, prior to efficiency being the most important thing for a player to value.
Iverson’s high-minute, high-usage style might not translate as well to the modern game, but that doesn’t change that he was a legit game-changer for what he did in his prime. The diminutive guard led the league in scoring four separate times (three this century), led the Philadelphia 76ers to their best season since the early 80s, and led a revolution as far as how basketball is played today.
Without Iverson, today’s golden era of point-guard play – where primary ball-handlers are given the green light to lead their teams in field-goal attempts – might not exist (or, at the very least, wouldn’t be as popular), and for that reason, he should be revered forever.
32. KYRIE IRVING
Stats: 22.2 ppg, 5.7 apg, 1.3 spg, 46.5 FG% in eight seasons
Accolades: One NBA title, 2nd Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, six-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, one Olympic gold medal, one World Cup
Just judging by numbers and accolades, one could surmise that Kyrie Irving and the player we recently talked about, Lillard, are similar in status.
However, Irving gets the nod with our voters due to the fact that his extraordinary playoff moment came in the NBA Finals in the form of one of the truly great shots in the Association’s history.
During Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, with just under a minute remaining, on the road, and being checked by one of the best point guards of his generation, Irving calmly dribbled the shot clock down, took a side-step dribble and nailed a three-pointer that ended up winning the game, the series and the championship for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team’s first-ever title:
No, Irving wasn’t the best player on those elite Cavs team, nor has he ever been truly good enough to be called the best point guard of any given season.
But even so, Irving is part of a generation of outstanding point guards, and the fact that he’s usually among the best of them makes him stand out in his own right.
Just to prove how good Irving has been, and how quickly he got to a top level of play, we must remember that the Duke product is one of just a handful players to win NBA, World and Olympic titles… and he accomplished that treble by the age of 24.
Let that sink in.
31. BEN WALLACE
21st century stats: 6.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 46.7 FG% in 12 seasons
21st century accolades: One NBA title, three-time 2nd Team All-NBA, two-time 3rd Team All-NBA, four-time All-Star, four-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time 1st Team All-Defense, 2nd Team All-Defense, two-time rebounding leader, one-time blocks leader
One of the greatest big-man defenders of all time and unquestionably the best of his era, Ben Wallace used otherworldly instincts and unmatched toughness at the 5-spot to turn in a remarkable career despite averaging just over six points nightly for most of it.
For how much he struggled on the point-scoring end of the floor, Wallace made up for it tenfold for his contributions on the less glamorous side of things, constantly helping the Pistons get stops and helping make Detroit one of the toughest teams of the early- to mid-2000s.
They weren’t just tough, either.
Behind Wallace and guys like the previously listed Rasheed Wallace and Richard Hamilton, as well as a player coming up later in our ranking, the Pistons got at least as far as the Eastern Conference Finals for a crazy six straight years, reaching the Finals twice in that span and winning one title in 2004.
He may have been a bit lacking as an offensive player, but nonetheless, Detroit doesn’t reach those heights without Wallace manning the frontcourt all those years; his rebounding and defensive intensity were just way too important.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.
Basketball, NBA, Ranking, Top, Allen Iverson, Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs