Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tuesdays Top Ten: Basketball Players Of This Decade

Tuesday's Top Ten this week was one of the most painstakingly hardest lists I've ever made. Not because I don't know basketball because believe me I watch enough basketball to son Hubie Brown and Bill Russell at the same time *obvious hyperbole*. No the reason this list was harder than most others was because I had to do a lot of soul searching and put aside petty grievances I had with some individuals on this list and acknowledge strictly what they've done on the court and how that correlated through their performances and while my hate might have held me back from rooting for them this decade, their numbers couldn't hold them back from being on this list. And so that is how these ten names came to be...

Shaquille O'Neal - This was almost a coin flip between him and Timmy D for the top spot. They both won championships this decade. They've both been the main focal point of their teams in three championships. They've both been dominant big men in a new era that has seen no other real peers. Both of their numbers has been every bit legendary as their status would indicate . The only difference is the fourth ring that Shaq got in Miami as Wade's sidekick. It wasn't in near the same fashion as his previous three but I won't split hairs. It's rarefied air to have that many championship rings and not only have them but be able to have actually contributed a great deal to all of them. For this reason you have to give the edge to Shaq.

Tim Duncan - The Big Fundamental is just the most underappreciated star of this decade other than maybe Paul Pierce. After all, all he's done is rack up three NBA championships, three NBA Finals MVPs, much like Shaq, and unleash the kind of steady neckbreaking work load that a bulldozer would be jealous of without complaint and to little fanfare. Even if the fans don't recognize him for what he's done and who he's been the least I can do is do my part in honoring him.

LeBron James - LeBron James hasn't won a championship yet but what he has won is the title of the most outstanding player in the league universally. I don't think there's a player in the league with his size, strength, quickness and explosiveness. He's just not human. He's like that dog that was genetically engineered in a lab in "Man's Best Friend" that's just a hybrid of 20 animals all rolled into one K-9. The movie trailer is literally the same concept as LBJ.

I'm sorry but when you're 275 pounds and you play like LeBron does and tell gravity it's on timeout with your dunks you certainly have a place on this list. Not to mention literally singlehandedly willing your team through to the NBA Finals at 21 you need to be on this list.

Jason Kidd - As I said before, this guy is the Jadakiss of NBA players. Great enough to command respect off his talent. Sees the game for others better than he can see through his own efforts and yet will never find individual glory. Kidd was just a victim of who he was playing at the time he went to the Finals. To have to go up against the Lakers two years in a row was just unfair. Especially when they've got a top 10 and a top 15 player on their side and you'd got Luscious Harris and Jason Kidd. That's just not a battle you can win and it's just not a battle people can expect you to win or fault you when you lose. Jason Kidd played the point better than anybody else this decade and we ought to commend him for all he did with those Jersey teams. That's the closest that organization, that rag tag bunch of outcasts they gave him or that city will ever be to a championship and all the credit is due to Jason.

Kobe Bryant - I struggled how high I wanted to put him. I mean he got three rings this decade but he was also not the main guy on those teams. You certainly can't minimize his contributions though in the slightest. At the end of the day though rings matter. They have to matter no matter what. There has to be a consistent standard when judging players even when you don't like them. Otherwise when your guy wins a championship you undercut your own favorite player if and when they win a championship. It has to mean something when your favorite player wins and when your least favorite player wins. This is just the reality. I can't overlook Kobe's MVP last year either. It was a particularly hard fought close race that year two. A lot of different players could have won it but Kobe did and for that he gets props and respect.

Paul Pierce - I have Paul just outside of the top 5 and I think it's about right. He's my favorite player but it's important to me I do a thorough and accurate job here in listing the players and how their resumes compare relative to their peers this decade. Paul Pierce had a spectacular decade even if it didn't get off to the best start back in 2000 in his unfortunate stabbing incident in late summer. The guy overcame that though. Love him or hate him you have to admire a guy whose stab wounds were half of an inch from killing him who didn't miss a game that season or the next one after that. With the cast of scrubs that Boston gave him in the next seven years though I'm sure he wish that whoever assaulted him would have went on and killed him because with that crew he was dead in the water. However he did bring his merry band of bums to the cusp of the Eastern Conference Championships in 2002 almost completely by himself (the second best player he had from the day he entered the league up until 2007 was Antoine Walker and the third was Raef Lafrentz) coming up short just two games from going onto face the Lakers in the Finals. However, six years later he'd get his chance to play the Lakers in the Finals and much like he had been the best player throughout the playoffs up until that point he was the best player once again in the Finals stunning Kobe Stanleys everywhere on his way to a ring and an NBA Finals MVP trophy. After putting up similar numbers to the oft-heralded Kobe Bryant throughout the decade (look the stats up here for yourself and here) he finally proved what I had been saying all along which was that him and Kobe were both on the same level much to people's dismay. I staked my whole basketball credibility on this subject for years like Barack Obama opposing the war from the beginning back when everybody else thought otherwise. Thankfully we were both right and we proved to know what we were talking about. Now I'm not denying Paul Pierce didn't have any help in winning that title, but I am saying he was the best player on that team and when the chips were down you know who to go to on that team. He's earned his spot on the list.

Kevin Garnett - The Big Ticket is to me the best 2nd option in the history of the league. Now I don't mean that as a diss, I mean that as a reality. I mean he was the original T-Mac before T-Mac was T-Mac. He couldn't get out of the first round for what he tried and last year aside, he didn't get out of the first round but one time in his whole career. He'd never been enough to take a team to the promised land. What he was however was a athletic, rail thin freak who gave you 110% every night, did all the things that you want your big man to do, inspired everyone else on the team and gave your defense the boost it needed to keep you in every game you played indiscriminately. I'll even go as far as to say, this guy out-Pippens Pippen as far as the best sidekicks of all time. He just can't be recognized as The Man but that doesn't mean this guy isn't great and doesn't belong on this list.

Allen Iverson - This one probably makes the least sense out of everybody I put on this list considering my love-to-hate past with this guy but there is something that I have to admit, the little shit went hard all decade. There's a lot to hate about his game but if you can get past that there's also a lot to say about a guy who took his team to the Finals against a Lakers juggernaut that was just starting to hit its stride, win or lose. Iverson was unquestionably the go to guy on that Sixers team (even though technically if you take 40 shots a game no one else is even in the running to be the go to guy) and he faced and beat a Milwaukee Bucks team at the time a lot of people though was going to beat them but he moved on. He also won an MVP award that same year that can't be dismissed. Over the course of the decade there hasn't been a more controversial player, there also hasn't been many tougher players and to his credit a more willing player to take the last shot, hit or miss, and deal with the criticism. Respect.

Dwyane Wade - The guy was just phenomenal in 2006 and his motor hasn't ever really stopped. Won a ring, won a Finals MVP, was the most outstanding player in the playoffs that year and continues to this day to dominate. It's really a shame that he came out the same year as LeBron James or he'd get, rightfully so, more recognition. Wade is great.

Dirk Nowitzki - Dirk has to be here. He won an MVP, albeit the most embarassing MVP trophy of all-time and he got his team to the Finals. Dirk is one of my favorite players but he's also only almost good enough to be great but not quite great. He's had chances he just hasn't taken advantage of them all in his career. If he played defense and was a little bit grittier he'd be higher.

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