Ranking the Top 100 players of the century (20-11)
As the summer comes to an end and teams are close to reporting for training camp, so, too, do we approach the end of this series.
Today, we take a look at multiple MVP winners, both of the regular season and postseason variety, as well as at some of the most productive players basketball has ever seen.
Let’s go ahead and jump right into the players ranked 20 through 11.
20. TONY PARKER
Stats: 15.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.6 apg, 49.1 FG% in 18 seasons
Accolades: Four NBA titles, Finals MVP, six-time All-Star, three-time 2nd Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, Eurobasket champion
Unquestionably the winningest foreign guard in NBA history, Tony Parker was a pivotal part of one of the greatest sports dynasties of the 21st century.
Parker’s dependability at point guard, soft touch on offense and mastery of head coach Gregg Popovich’s point-producing schemes helped the San Antonio Spurs dominate the Association for the past 20-plus years…
…and will assuredly get him into the Naismith Hall of Fame sooner rather than later.
Sure, San Antonio was led, more than anyone else, by a player coming up on the final edition of these rankings, but Parker was still crucially important to what the Spurs have been able to accomplish since the 2001 season, and without him, the team would have had trouble finding someone else to fill his role as prolifically as Parker did.
19. CARMELO ANTHONY
Stats: 24.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.0 apg, 44.9 FG% in 16 seasons
Accolades: 10-time All-Star, two-time 2nd Team All-NBA, four-time 3rd Team All-NBA, one-time scoring champion, three-time Olympic gold medalist
The much-maligned Carmelo Anthony has seen his legacy tarnished by the way his career appears to have come to a close.
As of now, it looks like Anthony’s final time seeing action in the Association will be over the 2018-19 campaign, where he appeared in just 10 games for the Houston Rockets, averaging 13.4 points on 40.5 percent shooting in the process.
Regardless, even if we never see Anthony suit up for an NBA team again, that shouldn’t make his Hall-of-Fame career look any less impressive. At his peak, the Syracuse product was an impossible-to-defend, uber-confident bucket-getter, who was legitimately one of the best wings in basketball for a very long time.
His shootouts with LeBron James were the stuff of legend, as was his career with the USA basketball team, where he became the first player ever to make four straight Olympic rosters, as well as the only basketball player in history with three Olympic gold medals.
He may have had his relative flaws, but Anthony should be remembered nonetheless as one of the best players ever; his resume speaks for itself.
18. JASON KIDD
21st century stats: 12.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 8.4 apg, 1.9 spg, 35.5 3PT% in 13 seasons
21st century accolades: One NBA title, seven-time All-Star, two-time 1st Team All-NBA, 2nd Team All-NBA, three-time 1st Team All-Defense, four-time 2nd Team All-Defense, three-time assists leader, two-time Olympic champio
One of the best point guards in the history of basketball, Jason Kidd could do it all as a ball-handler.
Wizardry as a passer, tenacity defensively and on the glass, and relatively efficient accuracy – later on in his career, at least – as an outside marksman made Kidd not only special but one of the most unique ball-handlers the league has seen since this century.
Kidd had the ability to drop a triple-double on any given night, all while racking up takeaways on the less glamorous end of the floor and performing the role of coach on the floor every single minute he was out there.
There may never be another talent similar to Kidd, and once the Cal legend secured his first and only championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010-11, one in which he played a vital role, his legacy was secured forever.
Even without the championship on his resume, however, Kidd still would have been unforgettable.
17. PAU GASOL
Stats: 17.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 50.7 FG% in 18 seasons
Accolades: Two NBA titles, six-time All-Star, two-time 2nd Team All-NBA, two-time 3rd Team All-NBA, Rookie of the Year, two Olympic silver medals, one World Cup gold medal, three Eurobasket championships
Not many big men can come close to comparing resumes with Pau Gasol, who won at every level he played and put up big numbers throughout his entire career.
Gasol went from top player on unmemorable teams when he was with the Memphis Grizzlies to elite sidekick on legendary squads as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers in his prime, transitioning between the two roles wonderfully. And although those two championship Lakers teams were headlined by the one and only Kobe Bryant, without Gasol there’s no chance Los Angeles repeats in 2008-09 and 2009-10 – he was that important to the operation.
The big Spaniard was, and still is, an extremely well-rounded player, one who could knock down jumpers, attack out of the mid-range or low-post and finish with either hand around the basket, using his length to execute efficiently. He was also a great playmaker and an underrated defender, at least as a basket deterrent.
Of course, we would be remiss not to mention Gasol’s international career, where he was the driving force towards turning Spain into a basketball powerhouse.
16. KAWHI LEONARD
Stats: 17.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.8 spg, 49.5 FG% in eight seasons
Accolades: Two NBA titles, two-time Finals MVP, three-time All-Star, two-time 1st Team All-NBA, 2nd Team All-NBA, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, three-time 1st Team All-Defense, two-time 2nd Team All-Defense, one-time steals leader
The reigning Finals MVP and one of the most impactful two-way wings of the 21st century, Kawhi Leonard, terrifyingly enough, is still just hitting his prime, but already has a list of accolades that dwarfs most of his colleagues’.
Leonard, for the late 2010s, is a bit of a throwback player, one who doesn’t mind attacking the midrange with fadeaway jumper after fadeaway jumper, a skill set that’s slowly going extinct, or getting after it on defense against the top wings the league has to offer.
If there was any question regarding Leonard’s standing in the league in 2018-19 returning from what was essentially a lost season, he put those to bed emphatically in the postseason, where he looked like the NBA’s best player, especially as the games, and moments, got more important:
An elite defender coming off a career-high scoring season, Leonard’s outlook in 2019-20 as a newly minted member of the Los Angeles Clippers can best be defined with one adjective: scary.
15. PAUL PIERCE
21st century stats: 19.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 44.6 FG% in 17 seasons
21st century accolades: One NBA title, Finals MVP, 10-time All-Star, 2nd Team All-NBA, three-time 3rd Team All-NBA
An outstanding scorer from all three levels, Paul Pierce forged an impressive career thanks to his pristine bucket-getting prowess, which didn’t dissipate until his late-30s. Even as a 35-year-old with the Boston Celtics, four seasons prior to his retirement, Pierce was pouring in 18.6 points nightly on efficient shooting splits.
Although he was never the most athletic player, Pierce had underrated shiftiness when attacking defenders, and could stop on a dime to pull up for tough-to-contest jumpers from all over the floor. Legitimately, the Kansas product was one of the smoothest scorers ever.
And he was able to secure his legacy as an all-time great in 2008, when he helped push Boston to their first title in nearly 30 years, earning Finals MVP honors for his troubles. In that series against the rival Lakers, Pierce averaged 21.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.8 triples, outdueling Kobe Bryant in the process.
Not a bad cherry on top of a fantastic career.
14. DWIGHT HOWARD
Stats: 17.4 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 2.0 bpg, 58.3 FG% in 15 seasons
Accolades: Eight-time All-Star, five-time 1st Team All-NBA, 2nd Team All-NBA, two-time 3rd Team All-NBA, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, four-time 1st Team All-Defense, 2nd Team All-Defense, five-time rebounding leader, two-time blocks leader, one Olympic gold medal
Dwight Howard’s public perception may be at an all-time low at the moment, but that does not take away from the fact that at his peak, he was one of the most dominant players in basketball.
A three-time Defensive Player of the Year (which puts him in second place for most awards of that kind in league history), Howard would keep the paint on lockdown every minute he was on the floor, making it nearly impossible for rival players to get easy looks against the Orlando Magic in the late-2000s and early 2010s. Howard’s insane physique and unrivaled athleticism for a man of his size helped him dominate on the glass as well, and become an elite finisher on offense.
Howard was so impactful, in fact, that the Magic were able to make a surprising run to the NBA Finals in 2009, falling just three games short of a championship. That squad was built around the gravity Howard would generate as a rim-diver, which would open up uncontested looks from three for Orlando’s bountiful amount of shooters.
Now a member of the Lakers, Howard has one more shot to prove he can contribute to a winning team before he runs out of chances. But even if Howard’s second stint with L.A. goes poorly, he’s still a lock to enter the Hall of Fame eventually thanks to his absurd peak as a player.
13. RUSSELL WESTBROOK
Stats: 23.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 8.4 apg, 43.4 FG% in 11 seasons
Accolades: One MVP award, eight-time All-Star, two-time 1st Team All-NBA, five-time 2nd Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, two-time scoring champion, two-time assists leader, one Olympic gold medal, one World Championship
Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook may have his flaws as a player, but his ability to produce cannot be questioned. Westbrook is the only player to average a triple-double over multiple seasons, accomplishing the feat each of the last three campaigns.
Over that stretch, Westbrook is putting up 26.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists nightly, along with 1.8 steals and 1.8 three-pointers per game. What’s more, in that span, the former UCLA Bruin has led the league in scoring once, and in assists twice.
Simply put: That’s a ridiculous level of production.
Of course, it must also be noted that each of those three seasons, Westbrook was unable to lead his team, then the Oklahoma City Thunder, past the first round of the playoffs, which is how he finds himself now as a member of the Rockets.
Next season should be a fascinating one for the 2017 MVP, as it’ll be his first time teaming up with the No. 11 player on this list since each of their arrivals to superstardom.
Will the tandem be talented – and synergistic – enough for each to earn their first rings? Or will the duo one day be remembered along with the other all-timers who were never able to win championships?
Only time will tell.
12. STEVE NASH
21st century stats: 16.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 9.6 apg, 43.2 3PT% in 14 seasons
21st century accolades: Two-time MVP, eight-time All-Star, three-time 1st Team All-NBA, two-time 2nd Team All-NBA, two-time 3rd Team All-NBA, five-time assists champion
Hall-of-Fame floor general Steve Nash was able to amass a historic career despite his physical limitations thanks mostly to his insane skill level and luminary prowess as a distributor, and it’s hard to envision anyone like him coming along any time soon.
And even though it may seem ridiculous to write this, Nash may have actually been hurt by the era he played in, even with the two league MVP awards he took home in his prime. The early-2000s were a time when basketball was played in a more traditional manner, i.e., when three-pointers were more or less seen as a luxury, and not the most important shot in the sport as it is now.
As that was the case, Nash, a career 42.8 three-point shooter (the third-most-accurate mark ever among players with at least 3000 three-point looks), never attempted more than 4.7 three-pointers per game during his time in the NBA. Just for reference, Stephen Curry has only attempted fewer than 4.7 triples over a season once in his career.
Had Nash played in today’s game, he might have been a 25-point-per-game scorer, and perhaps even given him a slightly different legacy.
Regardless, the Canadian ball-handler will go down as one of the greatest point guards in league history anyway – a truly unique player who was far ahead of his time.
11. JAMES HARDEN
Stats: 24.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.6 spg, 44.3 FG% in 10 seasons
Accolades: One MVP award, seven-time All-Star, five-time 1st Team All-NBA, 3rd Team All-NBA, Sixth Man of the Year, two-time scoring champion, one-time assists leader, one Olympic gold medal, one World Championship
He may not have found much success leading a team in the playoffs just yet, but James Harden’s destruction of the regular season will lead him to the Hall of Fame one day anyway. Few players in league history can match Harden’s ability to absolutely dominate just about every facet of offense, be it scoring or assisting, and the numbers will attest to that.
Not only did the bearded one just average the most points per game for an entire season (36.1) since Michael Jordan in 1986-87, he’s also been among the league leaders in nightly assists throughout his time with the Houston Rockets, including 2016-17 when he led the Association in dimes at 11.2 per game.
Harden’s style might not be the most aesthetically appealing, with the big lefty often chasing fouls in order to get to the line where he knocks down freebies at an elite level, but it’s extremely effective, and borderline impossible to stop.
Of course, Harden’s eventual legacy will ultimately be defined by whether or not he’s able to win a title over the next few seasons, when he’s still at his peak.
But counting out the Rockets, led by Harden and Westbrook and in a new era of basketball dominated by super-duos, would be foolish.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.