Teams of the decade: Rating the 10 best NBA players in the LeBron and Curry era

Teams of the decade: Rating the 10 best NBA players in the LeBron and Curry era
LeBron James hit a late winner for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now 35, King James remains a absolute star in the NBA. Picture: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

IF there’s a sport that has benefited from the social media era it’s basketball.

Short and snappy is how we now like to digest our information and the action on the hardwood translates perfectly into 10-second highlights, gifs and memes. You don’t have to watch any of the action on Sky Sports or streamed to get a regular feed of memorable moments from LeBron James, Steph Curry and James Harden.

The NBA’s official Instagram and Twitter services keep the spotlight on the stars’ dazzling blend of athleticism and skill. The picture of Cristiano Ronaldo soaring to score a header for Juventus recently went viral but the majority of NBA players reach those heights, and more, game after game.

Of course, when it comes to picking the best NBA selection of the decade, it’s tough to separate the mythical from the practical. In LeBron, the two combine in one of the most breath-taking basketballers of all time. His slamdunks and no-look passes are matched by his defensive rebounds and work-rate.

The likes of Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook can look devastating in a compilation of their snazziest scores on a given night but they don’t always make the best decisions for the collective or provide the graft the likes of Patrick Beverly, Al Horford or Draymond Green offer.

Even with that in mind, here’s a list of the 10 best NBA players of the decade, with apologies to Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitski, three legends who were omitted as they were all more dominant in the noughties.

1. LeBron James: Very few athletes in any sport have had to live up to the hype that accompanied the now 35-year-old’s arrival into the NBA. Not only has he delivered in titles, with Miami Heat, but more significantly with his native Cleveland Cavaliers, he’s adapted his style as the sport evolved with the emphasis on three-pointers. 

He’s still in contention for the big prize going into the new decade, with the LA Lakers, and he’s put more high-profile sports stars to shame with his social advocacy and his class off the court.

2. Steph Curry: In terms of natural ability, the rest of the players on this list are better than the Golden State Warriors figurehead. However, Curry utterly changed the rules of engagement in basketball with his stunning range outside the three-point line.

Twice an MVP, three times a champion in a five-year reign at the summit, he’s also one of the most influential basketballers ever.

3. Kevin Durant: Not as popular as he should be, largely because he departed OKC to join their rivals the Warriors, Durant is a scoring machine but also an excellent defender. Currently injured, he’ll need a championship ring with his new club the Brooklyn Nets to silence the critics but his quality can’t be denied.

4. Kawhi Leonard: A silent assassin and the best two-way player in the NBA, as his smooth scoring is matched by his merciless defending (earning him the moniker The Klaw). Ultra-consistent with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard led the underdog Toronto Raptors to glory last season and could now do the same with the LA Clippers.

Joel Embiid watches from the corner as Kawhi Leonard waits for the ball to drop for Raptors to win in the play-offs. Picture: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Joel Embiid watches from the corner as Kawhi Leonard waits for the ball to drop for Raptors to win in the play-offs. Picture: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

5. James Harden: Another lethal weapon offensively. Sweet beyond the arc, brilliant at Euro-stepping to the hoop and crafty at drawing fouls, the 2017-18 MVP needs a title to seal his status as an iconic.

6. Anthony Davis: A classically rangy and skillful big-man, Davis was regularly terrific for New Orleans and now has a shot at ultimate glory in the coming years with the Lakers.

7. Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Greek Freak is like a runaway train when driving to the basket. Year on year his overall game has improved to earn him an MVP crown. He adding three-pointers to the mix which increases his potential to become a legend.

8. Chris Paul: Fiery, nimble and with astonishing vision, Paul ran the ‘Lob City’ incarnation of the Clipper with Blake Griffin and, only for injury to scupper him, was briefly brilliant with the Rockets

9. Dwayne Wade: At his peak in the early half of the decade, when he formed a dynamic duo with LeBron at the Heat, backed up by Chris Bosh, he maintained high standards and bowed out with his head held high in 2019.

10. Russell Westbrook: Flawed but fascinating, averaging a triple-double of 10-plus points, rebounds and assists when he wanted.

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