With NBA training camps opening up, preseason starting and the regular season a mere three weeks away, it’s time we start to finish up our offseason project.
Over the past month-plus, HoopsHype has ranked the Top-100 players of the 21st century, starting with Serge Ibaka at No. 100 and most recently looking at James Harden at No. 11.
Now, we break into the truly elite portion of the list: the Top 10.
10. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
21st century stats: 20.7 ppg, 9.6 rpb, 2.4 apg, 1.9 bpg, 58.8 FG% in 11 seasons
21st century accolades: Three NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, eight-time All-Star, six-time 1st Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, two-time 2nd Team All-Defense
Perhaps the most physically dominant player the league has ever seen, Shaquille O’Neal falls merely tenth on our list due to the fact that a lot of his prime – including his 1999-00 MVP campaign – came before the turn of the century.
Nevertheless, O’Neal still had a fantastic run from 2000-01 until his retirement in 2010-11. Over that 11-year stretch, the behemoth big man took part in three separate championship campaigns (two of which he earned Finals MVP honors for), was the best center in the league (per All-NBA honors) six times and even made two All-Defensive 2nd Teams.
O’Neal had zero touch outside of the painted area, but his insane mixture of otherworldly size (he stood at 7-foot-1 and weighed over 300 pounds) and explosive athleticism made him absolutely impossible to even slow down, let alone stop… without fouling.
Odds are, we’re going to go a very long time without seeing another player like Shaq.
9. CHRIS PAUL
Stats: 18.5 ppg, 9.7 apg, 2.2 spg, 46.9 FG% in 14 seasons
Accolades: Nine-time All-Star, four-time 1st Team All-NBA, three-time 2nd Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, seven-time 1st Team All-Defense, two-time 2nd Team All-Defense, Rookie of the Year, four-time assists leader, six-time steals leader, two Olympic gold medals
He may get knocked down a peg due to lack of playoff success (to this point in his career, at least), but there’s no question Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards of all time, and a future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
Since he reached the NBA back in 2005-06, no player can come close to matching Paul’s 9,181 career assists, with second place on that list, LeBron James, trailing by over 1,500 helpers. And it’s not just his vision that makes Paul special.
Paul is also a nearly 20-point-per-game scorer for his career – an outstanding midrange shooter off the bounce, and a more-than-capable outside shooter with his feet set. Despite his physical limitations, Paul is also a good finisher in the paint, one who knows how to use his bowling-ball-like stature to score through contact.
So although Paul may never win a ring, his impact on the game and overall insane production will place him among the greatest floor generals ever.
8. KEVIN GARNETT
21st century stats: 17.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 bpg, 49.7 FG% in 16 seasons
21st century accolades: One NBA title, one MVP award, 12-time All-Star, three-time 1st Team All-NBA, three-time 2nd Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time 1st Team All-Defense, three-time 2nd Team All-Defense, four-time rebounding champion
The younger generation of basketball aficionados probably remember Kevin Garnett as the defensive stalwart for those memorable late-2010s Boston Celtics teams, the one who could also do his fair share of scoring via low-post post-ups and mid-range face-ups.
What they probably don’t remember is the younger version of Garnett, the Minnesota Timberwolf who was – at one point – considered the best player in the league, and would do absolutely everything on the floor, from shoot, pass, defend, rebound and even bring the ball down on offense like a point guard.
Just watch Garnett’s insane postseason performance against the Sacramento Kings for proof:
The ridiculously talented big man’s best four-year stretch came between the 2003-04 and 2006-07 seasons, where he led the league in rebounding average all four campaigns, and put up a ridiculous 22.7/13.3/4.7 stat line to go with 1.4 steals and 1.7 blocks nightly while shooting a tidy 50 percent from the floor.
You think that type of production/efficiency would translate to today’s game?
Garnett will most be remembered for his intensity and defensive tenacity, but there was a time when a legit argument could be made between who was the better 4-man, he or Tim Duncan, so that should tell you all you need to know about the type of player he was in his prime.
7. DWYANE WADE
Stats: 22.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.5 spg, 48.0 FG% in 16 seasons
Accolades: Three NBA titles, Finals MVP, 13-time All-Star, two-time 1st Team All-NBA, three-time 2nd Team All-NBA, three-time 3rd Team All-NBA, three-time 2nd Team All-Defense, one-time scoring champion, one Olympic gold medal
Widely considered one of the three or four greatest shooting guards of all time, Dwyane Wade spent the vast majority of his career dominating his counterparts.
Wade’s career arc was fascinating in that he hit the ground running, making an All-Star roster and receiving 2nd Team All-NBA honors by his second season, and winning a title and earning Finals MVP by his third campaign, before injuries – both to his championship teammates as well as himself – forced him to have a down couple of years in respects to team success.
Following the 2008 Olympics, however, in which Wade played a huge role and reminded everyone just how unstoppable he could be, the future Hall-of-Famer returned to top form, averaging 28.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks over the course of the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, finishing third and fifth in MVP voting respectively those years.
Wade, still not even 30 at that point, then teamed up with LeBron James and Chris Bosh, forming a Big 3 which added two more rings to Wade’s legacy, but came at the cost of his personal success in the form of lower averages and lesser accolades.
Still, even if Wade did lose out on an award or two while still in his prime, the leading shot-blocker in league history among guards, and one of the most explosive 2-guards basketball has ever seen, will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats anyway.
6. STEPHEN CURRY
Stats: 23.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.7 spg, 43.6 3P% in 10 seasons
Accolades: Three NBA titles, two-time MVP, six-time All-Star, three-time 1st Team All-NBA, two-time 2nd Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, one-time scoring champion, one-time steals leader, two World Cups
A revolutionary guard and the greatest shooter in NBA history, Stephen Curry has changed the game of basketball since reaching his prime in 2013-14. Prior to that, many believed teams built around shooting lacked the physicality on both ends of the floor to contend for titles.
Well, Curry and his Golden State Warriors winning three of the next four championships following his emergence quickly dispelled that belief.
Not only that: Now teams around the Association are trying to match Golden State in surrounding their best players with as much shooting as possible, because this style of basketball is presently thought of as the most efficient way to build contenders.
Of course, no matter how had opponents try, it’ll be difficult to match what the Warriors were able to create with Curry at the forefront.
In just 10 seasons of service, Curry already ranks eighth all-time in three-point attempts, a feat that makes his career 43.6 percent outside shooting mark all the more impossible to believe. Of the 10 players with the most three-point tries ever, only two can boast at least 40-percent accuracy from the outside, Curry and Ray Allen, who sits exactly at the 40-percent threshold, a good amount behind the Davidson product.
Curry already ranks third in all-time three-point makes at 2,483, trailing just Allen and Reggie Miller, two legends Curry should pass by the end of 2020-21 at the latest.
Simply put: Much in the way Shaq dominated down low, Curry, a two-time league MVP, has made an illustrious career out of destroying foes on the perimeter, relying on elite ball-handling and change-of-direction skills as opposed to the big man’s brute strength in the paint.
And after the departure of Kevin Durant and injury to Klay Thompson, we’ll get to see a much more selfish Curry in the upcoming 2019-20 season, which should excite everyone who loves basketball.
It’s time to watch Curry put some shots up.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.
Basketball, NBA, Ranking, Evergreen, Featured, Top, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal, Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder