With the recent decade now suddenly in the rearview mirror, we looked at the top player who defined the 2010s for each team in the NBA.
Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford
Honorable Mentions: Paul Milsap, Jeff Teague
The Atlanta Hawks were defined by their depth under former head coach Mike Budenholzer. It is what helped their entire starting lineup earn Eastern Conference Co-Players of the Month back in January 2015. But the best player during this era was Al Horford. The big man averaged 15.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game from the 2010-11 season until he left the team during the 2016 offseason.
Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce
Honorable Mentions: Al Horford, Isaiah Thomas
Even though he won the 2008 NBA championship and the Finals MVP in 2008, Paul Pierce went on to make the Eastern Conference All-Star team three more times this decade. Before he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2013, he was averaging 18.9 points and 5.6 rebounds with 4.1 assists this decade. Pierce even had a chance to officially retire with the organization on a one-day contract in July 2017.
Brooklyn Nets: Brook Lopez
Honorable Mentions: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson
Before they were the franchise that managed to sign both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the same offseason, the Nets were long led by Brook Lopez. He was a member of the team both in New Jersey and in their move to the new home in Brooklyn back in 2012, which was his first and only career All-Star appearance. During his tenure with the team this decade, the big man put up 19.7 points and 6.6 rebounds as well as 1.7 blocks per game.
Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker
Honorable Mentions: Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum
During a tough decade for the Hornets, the one thing that kept them alive and interesting was star point guard Kemba Walker. He was a part of the team as a member of the Bobcats and then when they rebranded as the Hornets. Walker was a two-time All-Star as well as a two-time recipient of the NBA Sportsmanship Award. The guard averaged 19.9 points, 5.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game for the team during the decade before he joined the Celtics.
Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler
Honorable Mentions: Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah
When former No. 1 overall pick Derrick Rose won MVP in 2011 at 22 years old, fans in Chicago fairly assumed they would have a new defining talent for their city. Unfortunately, serious injuries made the point guard become a less impactful player than projected. However, the blow was softened a bit with the sudden emergence of a late first-round pick in Jimmy Butler. The wing won the league’s Most Improved Player in 2015. He was a difference-maker on both sides of the ball, averaging 15.6 points and 1.5 steals per game with the Bulls.
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James
Honorable Mentions: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love
Considering that Cleveland’s hometown hero LeBron James notably left the Cavaliers as a free agent in 2010, few would have expected him to still be the Player of the Decade for this franchise. After such an ugly exit memorialized forever with a public shaming by team owner Dan Gilbert, though, James is a player who more than made up for the first early goodbye when he actually returned in 2014. All that he had to do was win the city’s first championship in any sport since 1948. In the process, he averaged an absurd 26.1 points per game with 7.7 rebounds and 8.0 assists for the Cavs in the 2010s.
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki
Honorable Mentions: Shawn Marion, Luka Doncic
Even though he was drafted in 1998, the undisputed most important in the career of Dirk Nowitzki happened in 2011 when he won a title and NBA Finals MVP. While his best playing days may have been before this decade, he still managed to be a perennial All-Star. The face of the franchise, he also won the league’s award for Teammate of the Year in 2017. His presence was felt, too, during his final season in the league as he helped ease the transition into the new era led by fellow European star Luka Doncic.
Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic
Honorable Mentions: Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson
The Denver Nuggets may have hit the lottery when they selected Serbian big man Nikola Jokic with the 41st overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Jokic is a talent like no other in the league and has become one of the more versatile players in recent memory. He has averaged 16.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the Nuggets and the most exciting part is that he may still plenty of room to improve. At just 24 years old, the center could also be the best player of the decade in the 2020s for the Nuggets as well.
Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond
Honorable Mentions: Greg Monroe, Blake Griffin
Despite not coming into the league until 2013, Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond has the second-most rebounds in the NBA since 2010-11. He has led the NBA in rebounds three times, twice earning All-Star considerations. Drummond has been consistent in his role and despite the team not being much of a contender, he has made his presence felt day in and day out.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry
Honorable Mentions: Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant
The things that Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry was able to accomplish during the 2010s were almost laughable. He was a back-to-back NBA MVP who won the championship three times. Curry led the Warriors to an unbelievable 73-9 regular season while topping the league in scoring and in steals in 2016 as well. He also connected on 3.8 three-pointers per game, which is 0.9 more than the next-best player during the decade. Curry has clearly redefined the way the game is played and is a generational talent unlike any we have ever seen step foot on a basketball court.
Houston Rockets: James Harden
Honorable Mentions: Dwight Howard, Clint Capela
There has been no trade recently that changed the league quite like the one that sent the 2012 Sixth Man of the Year winner James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets. He has been an All-Star every year for Houston and led the league in assists 2017. The guard then led the league in scoring in 2018 as the NBA MVP and then again in 2019. Harden has put up an absurd 29.6 points with 6.0 rebounds and 7.7 assists for the Rockets. In an age of analytics, he has been the darling for general manager Daryl Morey.
Indiana Pacers: Paul George
Honorable Mentions: David West, George Hill
Former Indiana Pacers wing Paul George was a four-time All-Star with the franchise, winning NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2013. The two-way star also received All-Defensive team honors three times while with the team. He averaged 18.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game for Indiana during his team with the Pacers. One of the other best factors about George is that his trade allowed Indiana’s front office to acquire two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo and potential first-time All-Star big man Domantis Sabonis.
LA Clippers: Chris Paul
Honorable Mentions: Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Before there was Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers, there was Lob City. None of the success happening for the franchise now would be possible if it weren’t for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The tide was turning when Griffin was drafted in 2009 and won Rookie of the Year in 2011. But it was solidified when they traded for CP3 in December 2011. Paul averaged an impressive 18.8 points and 9.8 assists with 2.2 steals per game when he was a member of the Clippers. He made the All-Star team five times in Los Angeles and twice led the NBA in assists during that time.
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant
Honorable Mentions: Pau Gasol, LeBron James
Unlike with Nowitzki, the peak accomplishments for Kobe Bryant occurred before 2010. But even during this decade, he added another NBA title to his arsenal and an All-Star appearance each year before retiring in 2016. Bryant averaged 24.2 points per game for the Lakers starting in 2010-11, which was above average for someone who was his age. Of course, there was little more memorable than Bryant scoring 60 points in his final professional game.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: MARC GASOL
Honorable Mentions: Mike Conley, Zach Randolph
Former Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol averaged 15.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists during his time with the Grizzlies this decade. He made three All-Star appearances while a member of the franchise, winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. The center was a fixture for Memphis, making the playoffs six times with the Grizzlies. Gasol, a World Cup winner with Spain, eventually won his first NBA title in 2019 with the Toronto Raptors after a midseason trade.
Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade
Honorable Mentions: LeBron James, Chris Bosh
While it was obvious that James was the best player on the team, none of The Big 3 era Miami Heat would have been possible if it were not for Dwyane Wade. He was the instrumental player recruiting both James and Chris Bosh to Miami and even gave up more money in the process to allow it to happen. Wade also sacrificed his role as the key star to make room for more touches to both James and Bosh. This led to two more NBA Finals wins for Wade and All-Star appearances between 2010 and 2016. He was also able to come back to the Heat and retire with the franchise.
Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Honorable Mentions: Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova
Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has been one of the most dominant basketball players in recent memory. He has averaged 19.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game since entering the league. After winning the NBA MVP in 2019, he has followed up with an equally impressive season so far this year. His play has been so sharp that one of the league’s most pressing questions, even now a year and a half away from his eligibility, is what will he decide to do as an upcoming free agent.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns
Honorable Mentions: Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins
After trading away Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2014 offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves were able to bounce back in some ways by grabbing No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns. He has played the part of one of the elite big men in the NBA, averaging 22.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game since entering the pros. Towns has also made 39.6 percent of his three-point attempts, showing his versatility as an offensive force.
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis
Honorable Mentions: Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson
His exit may have left a sour taste in the mouth of the New Orleans Pelicans, but Anthony Davis was absolutely stellar during his time with the team. He averaged 23.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and also led the league in blocks three times. Davis was a six-time All-Star for the Pelicans and while he now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, his return will leave New Orleans in a fine place for the upcoming decade. Not only did the front office get an unreal surplus of draft picks in the deal but Brandon Ingram is playing like a potential superstar.
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony
Honorable Mentions: Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler
It was a relatively underwhelming decade for the New York Knicks under team owner James Dolan. The front office mortgaged quite a bit of their future to secure Carmelo Anthony via trade in 2011 despite knowing that the star would become a free agent that offseason. As such, the team was a bit of a one-man show under his leadership. He averaged 24.7 points as well as 7.0 rebounds per game on the Knicks, eventually leaving in 2017.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant
Honorable Mentions: Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka
The Oklahoma City Thunder somehow drafted three MVP winners who all hit their primes during the 2010s. While none of them is still with the team, the one who made the biggest splash was Kevin Durant. The former No. 2 overall pick put up 28.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while also shooting 38.6 percent from three-point range. Even though point guard Russell Westbrook was the player who had the longest tenure with the team, it was obvious that Oklahoma City was the most successful version of itself with Durant on the roster.
Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic
Honorable Mentions: Dwight Howard, Evan Fournier
Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic might be the most underrated NBA player of the decade. He made just one All-Star appearance, finally earning the love last season. While he originally started his career in Philadelphia, he has found a niche in Orlando. The former No. 16 overall pick has averaged 16.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game for the Magic.
Philadelphia 76ers: Joel Embiid
Honorable Mentions: Ben Simmons, Thaddeus Young
His career may have started off defined by injury but since he has become a healthier player, there have been few with a higher ceiling than Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. The big man has scored 24.2 points and pulled down 11.6 rebounds per game. He made the NBA All-Rookie First Team his first year in the league back in 2017. He has made the All-Star team, All-NBA Second Team and All-Defensive Second Team in both years since.
Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker
Honorable Mentions: Goran Dragic, PJ Tucker
The Phoenix Suns have not had a decade many fans will want to look back on with fond memories. But the one takeaway is that there is at least some hope for the future due to the scoring punch of Devin Booker. He has been able to put up 21.7 points and 4.5 assists per game since he entered the NBA just two days before his 19th birthday. Booker put up 70 points back in March 2017 and at just 20 years old, he was the youngest player to put up 60 points in an NBA game. Back in March 2019, Booker had three games in a row where he scored at least 48 points.
Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard
Honorable Mentions: LaMarcus Aldridge, CJ McCollum
There are few players in NBA history who have embraced their team’s city quite like Trail Blazers star has welcomed Portland into his life. After he was drafted No. 6 overall in 2012, he has turned his the Blazers into one of the most consistent contenders in the league. Lillard, who won Rookie of the Year his first season in the pros, is a four-time All-Star. He was honored with All-NBA 1st Team consideration in 2018 and led Portland to the Western Conference Finals in 2019. He has averaged 23.7 points and 6.4 assists per game for the Trail Blazers during his professional career thus far.
Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins
Honorable Mentions: Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay
While the Sacramento Kings had a disappointing decade in many ways, their most feared player during the 2010s was undeniably DeMarcus Cousins. He was a force to be reckoned with on the Kings, averaging 21.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. He earned All-Rookie First Team honors in 2011 and he then took home All-NBA 2nd Team in 2015 and 2016. The big man was also disciplined and suspended a bit too often for comfort during his time on the Kings, eventually leading to an inevitable divorce of the two parties.
San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard
Honorable Mentions: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker
When he won NBA Finals MVP in 2014, it was clear that former No. 15 overall pick Kawhi Leonard was a special player in this league. But he was able to take his game to the next level during his time with the San Antonio Spurs, also winning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards for his efforts in 2015 and 2016. Leonard, who led the league in steals in 2015, also came into his own on the offensive side of the floor while before his time in San Antonio came to a surprisingly ugly close that kept him sidelined for the majority of 2017-18.
Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry
Honorable Mentions: DeMar DeRozan, Kawhi Leonard
While it was Leonard who was the undisputed best player of the team that won the Toronto Raptors their first NBA championship, veteran point guard Kyle Lowry was the heart and soul of the squad. After the team traded away his longtime teammate DeMar DeRozan during the 2018 offseason, the year was inevitably going to be an emotional rollercoaster for Lowry. But for him to respond by helping Toronto finally carry the Larry O’Brien trophy was an effort that solidified his place as the Player of the Decade for the Raptors.
Utah Jazz: Rudy Gobert
Honorable Mentions: Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors
If general fans valued defense the same way they value offense, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert would be considered one of the Top 10 players in the NBA. After he led the league in blocks back in 2017, the French big went on to win Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and in 2019. Gobert has actually averaged 2.2 blocks per game since entering the league in 2013. He has also pulled down 10.8 rebounds per game and has connected on 63.4 percent of his total field goal attempts.
Washington Wizards: John Wall
Honorable Mentions: Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat
Before his recent injury trouble, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall was an electrifying player. He has averaged 19.0 points and 9.2 assists for the Wizards since going No. 1 overall in the 2010 NBA draft. He made the All-Star team from 2014 until 2018, also grabbing All-Defensive 2nd Team honors in 2015 and All-NBA 3rd Team in 2017. Wall has averaged 1.7 steals per game, too, showing he can be a defensive stopper. Now he is on a tough contract, though he initially earned it with his previously fantastic play.
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