The Top 25 NBA Players of the Past 25 Years: 6-10
Here are the first three parts of this series where I ranked players 21-25 , 16-20, and 11-15 in case you missed it, or need a refresher (it has been a while).
This list is very much up for debate and you can discuss it on BSL here.
10. Steve Nash
Resume: 18 years, 8X All-Star, 2X MVP, 1X top 3 MVP, 3X top 10 MVP, 3X 1st Team All-NBA, 2X 2nd Team All-NBA, 2X 3rd Team All-NBA, 1X top 10 PER, 5X leader APG, 4X top 5 APG, 2X top 10 APG
As one of the best pure point guards ever, Steve Nash led the dynamic 7 seconds or less Phoenix Suns offense that helped revolutionize the game. While leading one of the best offenses in NBA history, Nash combined heady play, brilliant vision, tremendous unselfishness, and an uncanny ability to put a pass where it needed to be. The thing that made Nash truly amazing though, was that he also brought elite shooting to the table. The word elite is sometimes used cavalierly, but not so in this case, if anything it is underselling how great and efficient a shooter he was. There are only 11 instances in NBA history where a player has made it into the 50-40-90 club (percentages of field goals, 3’s, and free throws made); Nash has done it 4 times! He actually came relatively close to an insane career 50-40-90 line as he shot 49% from the field, 42.8% from downtown, and 90.4% from the line. Literally the only thing missing from his offensive game was a lack of strong athleticism compared to some of his adversaries. Even though he never dunked in a game (literally), there is no one on this list that I would rather have quarterbacking an offense than Steve Nash; plus his name constantly comes up when asked about best teammates and leaders from this time period.
However, that athleticism deficiency did show up more on the other side of the ball as Nash was never a particularly good defender, and that may be kind even if some exaggerate how much of a liability he actually was. This is by far my biggest criticism of Nash as while defense tends to get overlooked some when rating players, it is of course half of the game, and therefore crucial to a team’s success. The other criticism of Steve is that his fingers are devoid of bling. If you refer back to the intro to this series, you will see part of the reason I feel this criticism is unfair. If Nash was a great defender, he may have won titles, but then again, he would be even higher on this list simply due to being a better player. Considering his strengths and weaknesses, I am comfortable saying that Steve Nash did almost everything he possibly could have to win a title other than become a great player earlier in his career. He was an elite player in the regular season and he was an elite player in the postseason. As a Lakers fan, I always feared Nash in the playoffs, and he consistently justified that fear. Those Suns teams came close to a title several times, but they faced the rigors of the Western Conference, failed to get the requisite luck in some instances, lost a series to the Spurs in part due to the infamous suspension of Amare’ Stoudemire, and lacked the type of defense typically needed to win a title. They also had a cheap owner that refused to do what was necessary to try to put the team over the top. Nash’s legacy would be even richer with a title or two, but I refuse to punish him for not getting to the promised land. Remember this for the next couple of players.
9. Chris Paul
Resume: 11 years, 9X All-Star, 2X top 3 MVP, 2X top 5 MVP, 3X top 10 MVP, 4X 1st Team All-NBA, 3X 2nd Team All-NBA, 1X 3rd Team All-NBA, 6X 1st Team All-Defense, 1X 2nd Team All-Defense, 4X Top 3 PER, 2X Top 5 PER, 3X top 10 PER, 1X Top 10 PPG, 4X leader APG, 6X top 5 APG, 1X top 10 APG, 6X leader steals per game
If you want the best point guard of the last 25 years to lead your offense, Steve Nash would be an excellent selection, if you want the best scoring point guard, Steph Curry is the guy, Jason Kidd would be the man for the job if you want the best mix of defense, rebounding, and passing, but if you want the best all-around point guard, the Point God is the clear choice. Chris Paul lacks height and explosive hops, but that is all he lacks as he possesses great pure point guard skills and the mentality to go with it, the ability to score from a myriad of places on the court including beyond the arc, good rebounding for his size, tenacious defense, fierce competitiveness, and strong leadership skills. This is a point guard in the mold of Isiah Thomas, but with a much better jump shot. He can get to the basket and finish, especially when he was younger and lightning quick, he runs the high pick and roll better than just about anybody to ever play, he is very unselfish, and is a very physical and crafty defender that has often led the league in steals. Not to be like someone in a job interview when asked to name a weakness, but CP3’s biggest flaw may be that he is too competitive, which at times can be wearing on his teammates, the refs, and perhaps himself. Despite that, he seems to be a very well-liked teammate and a respected leader.
The counterpoint to all of that is that he has never advanced past the second round. See above, but I will expand. If Chris Paul and the Clippers happened to play in the Eastern Conference, would he be a better player? I ask because his playoff resume would look much stronger if the Clippers were not in an absurdly stacked conference. The Clippers have had some chances to advance further though, and I am not letting them or Paul off the hook completely, but overall, just like Nash, CP3 has played really good ball in the playoffs. They have had some poor roster construction and misfortune (including injuries to Griffin and Paul), and at times CP3 has contributed to that misfortune, but he also has had several great clutch moments (he has been a great crunch-time player in the regular season as well) including hitting the game winner in game 7 to send home an excellent Spurs team in 2015. Paul is still in his prime as he enters his age 31 season, but the misfortune continues for him because the next player on the list just joined the best regular season team ever, who happen to play in the same division as the Clippers. It is almost as if a higher power has it out for the Point God.
8. Kevin Durant
Resume: 9 years, 7X All-Star, 1X MVP, 3X 2nd place MVP, 2X top 5 MVP, 5X 1st Team All-NBA, 1X 2nd Team All-NBA, 1X leader PER, 3X top 3 PER, 1X top 5 PER, 1X top 10 PER, 4X leader PPG, 2X top 3 PPG, 1X top 10 PPG
We have never seen a player like Kevin Durant before; at 7 feet tall (forget what he’s listed at) with freakishly long arms, KD has the game of a highly athletic and skilled shooting guard. He is a high volume 3 point shooter that hits 38% from distance, he has great speed and agility which he uses to take defenders off the dribble where he can pull up from mid-range or finish with smooth explosiveness, and he can post up defenders and score with a turnaround jumper. He makes scoring 30 look effortless as one of the best scorers during this era, but he has also developed into a solid passer and a tactical weapon on the other end of the court. Durant was not a strong defender earlier in his career, but as he has bulked up some and committed more to that end of the court, he has really put that lavish length and awesome athleticism to work. He is not constantly great on defense, as he has to expend a great deal of energy on offense, but when needed, Durant has shown the ability to greatly impact the game at that end with his ability to defend multiple positions and alter shots. He also grabbed over 8 boards a game last year.
This sounds like the perfect description of the ideal small ball four. Speaking of which, that is where he will often be featured with his new team, the aforementioned best regular season team in history. The Warriors should be downright scary with KD replacing Harrison Barnes, and not just because it is a great assemblage of talent, but unlike with Miami, it is also a fantastic fit. Anything but a title this coming season will be seen as a huge disappointment and rightfully so, but what does a title under these circumstances do for Durant’s legacy? We will have to wait to see exactly how that title or quite possibly, those titles come about, but to me this will expose another flaw in the rings argument. Winning with the Warriors will not mean that Durant is a better player than if he had stayed with the Thunder and continued to fall just short, he will just be in a better situation to win a title. Regardless, KD has proven he is good enough to lead a team to title contention and I think he will be more than good enough to fit in with a super team (will he start a new 55-45-90 club?) and help them become even more unguardable, as there have been few players ever more difficult to defend than Kevin Durant.
7. Dirk Nowitzki
Resume: 18 years, 13X All-Star, 1X MVP, 2X top 3 MVP, 6X top 10 MVP, 4X 1st Team All-NBA, 5X 2nd Team All-NBA, 3X 3rd Team All-NBA, 1X leader PER, 4X top 5 PER, 6X top 10 PER, 2X top 5 PPG, 8X top 10 PPG, 3X top 10 RPG, best player on one title team
Dirk Nowitzki is similar to Durant in multiple ways including being another 7 footer with a game we had never seen beforehand. Like KD, Dirk is a great shooting big man shooting 38% from 3 for his career and registering one of those precious 50-40-90 seasons. Dirk also helped revolutionize the game as a big that could spread the floor so effectively and put the ball on the floor against fellow big men. Unlike KD and despite the unfair soft label, Dirk has been more of a true big man, at least on the defensive end where he would match up with the likes of Duncan and Garnett while grabbing around 8 defensive boards a game during his prime. He has gotten much more of his points off post ups compared to Durant, especially as he has gotten older and perfected his unusual space creating knee up fade away jumper.
If not for LeBron James having an inexcusably bad 2011 NBA Finals, I would have to justify my placement of a non-champion so high on my list; yet, if not for the next man on this list, he would have had a title 5 years earlier, so it balances out. Dirk has been the best player on the Mavericks for almost his entire 18 year tenure and helped quickly turn a bottom feeder into a perennial 50 win team (11 straight years) with 3 60 win seasons sprinkled in for good measure. He is also one of the guys from this era that has been considered an excellent teammate and leader. Unfortunately for Dirk, his great friend Steve Nash blossomed late as he became a superstar after leaving Dallas, and his Mavs had to deal with the amazing Shaq and Kobe Lakers, along with the one team that has remarkably been even better this century, the San Antonio Spurs. That is the primary reason why the Mavs did not win more titles as Dirk kept up his high level of play in the postseason, but it seems that as long as we are not talking about a top 10 player of all-time, a lone title is enough to cement one’s legacy with most folk.
6. Dwyane Wade
Resume: 13 years, 12X All-Star, 2X top 5 MVP, 5X top 10 MVP, 2X 1st Team All-NBA, 3X 2nd Team All-NBA, 3X 3rd Team All-NBA, 3X 2nd Team All-Defense, 1X leader PER, 4X top 3 PER, 1X top 5 PER, 2X top 10 PER, 1X leader PPG, 3X top 5 PPG, 2X top 10 PPG, 3X top 10 APG, 3X top 5 steals per game, best player on one title team, 2nd or 3rd best player on two title teams
A younger, prime version of Dwyane Wade was somewhat similar to Allen Iverson, except he was much bigger, much more efficient, and thankfully dialed back the shooting a bit. D-Wade is both underrated and overrated in my estimation as he probably gets too much credit for the success of the Heat after LeBron joined (other than being heavily involved in recruiting him and Bosh), but I do not think he gets nearly enough credit for just how good he was in his younger years. Flash as he was called back then, was absolutely on Kobe’s level as a shooting guard even though that was and still is not the common perception. Kobe was the better outside shooter, but Wade was better at attacking the basket (a much higher percentage of his shots were at the rim), thus making him the more efficient scorer. Wade was also the more willing passer registering around 7 dimes a game during his prime, which among other things, likely made him more enjoyable to play with compared to Bryant (he certainly got along better with Shaq). On the other side of the ball, both were excellent defenders when they had the energy and drive to be one, while both could get lazy and take poor risks at times. Lastly, while Kobe is considered the king of clutch, Wade was generally more effective in crunch-time and had a Finals series that eclipses any big series Kobe ever had. So why is Kobe higher on the list you may ask? Durability and longevity are the primary answers as Kobe was just able to stay on the court more and play at an extremely high level for longer than Wade.
Back to that Finals series where Wade led the Heat from being on the verge of falling behind 3-0 to the Mavericks to a 4-2 series win. In those 4 wins, Wade did this in ascending order: 42 and 13 on 14-26 shooting, 36 and 6 on 13-23 shooting, 43 points on 11-28 from the field, and 36 and 10 on 10-18 shooting. He was also huge down the stretch in the 3 games that went down to the wire. That is historically great. Here is the thing though, he went to the line 73 times in those 4 games, which is astounding, but for many tarnish’s the series since some view it as one where the refs played too large a part in deciding the outcome. This led to a bit of a backlash against Flash, but even though I am glad that the game is not officiated the same anymore, you have to give Wade credit for continuing to drive into the lane and find contact considering how the game was called back then. This is also a guy that successfully carried bad supporting casts to the playoffs, did enough to win another title against the Mavs, and then took a backseat to LeBron for the betterment of the team, which resulted in two titles. Dwyane Wade likely will not have the high level longevity of some of the other players on this list, although he has held off father time and the abuse to his body better than I would have anticipated, but he deserves to be this high on the list given that tremendous peak.
Michael grew up in Owings Mills, MD, but also lived in Southern California for 12 years. He is a lifelong Orioles fan, a lover of travel, the outdoors, craft beer, and the NBA. Michael is a high school social studies teacher in Baltimore, where he also resides.