Everyone loves to debate the best players of their generation and everyone has their favorites. Every generation likes to think their players were the best but it's hard to argue against the athleticism and explosion in today's NBA. The 70s were dominated by the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes and John Havlicek. The 80s had names like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas who dominated the sport and helped define the generation. When their time wound down, names like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon took over. In any sport, you'll hear fans from every era claim that theirs was the best and nobody could compare today to theirs.
Ten to 20 years from now, we'll have new names dominating the sport, and we'll inevitably compare them to the stars of today and nostalgia will cause us to claim our generation is and always will be superior.
For this article let's say that this generation is from 2000 to current, the post-MJ era (let's act like that Wizards stint never happened). This generation saw a shift from the focus on post-ups and dominant centers to the emergence of perimeter scorers and the importance of the 3 point line. Teams started looking in new places to find the next star and looked to draft players from oversees and high school. These stars led teams like the Spurs, Mavs and Lakers to become the teams of this era. From The King to the Black Mamba, Everyone has their favorites, here's our ranking.
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15 Ray Allen
The league's best 3-pt shooter of all time (although Curry might have already taken that title) finished his career as primarily a spot up shooter so it might be hard to remember what a star he was early in his career. Ray Allen started his career with the Bucks leading them to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals before moving on to Seattle and then Boston.
He will always be known for his jumper but Allen was a gifted athlete, even competing in the dunk contest and always attacked the rim for highlight-reel throw-downs. During his time in Seattle he became a more all-around player and actually ran their offense as a point guard at times. Ray won his first ring as part of the big three in Boston hitting huge shots in the finals against the Lakers. Ray Allen displayed his shooting perfection in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA finals with the Heat against the Spurs when he he hit a corner three off the back-pedal for what might be the biggest single shot in NBA history.
14 Vince Carter
Vinsanity took the NBA by storm and continued that throughout the 2000s as one of the league's most popular players. While he never achieved significant team success, few players were as exciting to watch during their prime as VC was. Carter put Toronto on the basketball map and single-handedly revived the dunk contest. Carter was traded to the Nets after things ended badly with the Raptors and he paired with Jason Kidd for one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Carter was always an underrated passer and play-maker who never quite lived up to his limitless potential. During the 2000s, he was consistently one the top vote-getters for the all-star game, fans loved to see his high-flying abilities.
13 Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is struggling with injuries now but he is still one of the most gifted scorers the league has ever seen. At 6-foot-11 he has the skills of a shooting guard and has grown his game to become a great defender and rebounder. Durant won the 2013-14 MVP after going on a tear during the middle of the season posting absurd scoring numbers. The Thunder have to count themselves lucky after the Blazers selected Greg Oden over him in the 2007 draft, a decision I am sure they regret every time they see Durant go off for 40. It is unfortunate he wasn't able to be healthy this season as the LeBron versus Durant rivalry is one of the best the league has.
12 Paul Pierce
It's a marvel what type of career Paul Pierce has had, he always lacked athleticism and was never the most graceful player on the court but became one of the most consistent scorers and leaders of this generation. Pierce knows how to score and has a killer instinct, displayed even at his later years in this year's playoffs when he torched the Raptors and hit huge shots against the Hawks. Pierce will be remembered as one of the best Celtics ever, which is something considering the storied history of the franchise. When he finally was supplied teammates that matched his greatness in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, they became the best team in the league as he went on to win MVP in the NBA finals.
11 Dwyane Wade
Before being relegated to LeBron's sidekick, Dwyane Wade was the guy who had his own ring, almost single-handedly beating the Mavs in the 2006 finals, who were favorites. Wade's first years resemble the numbers that Kobe put up as an all-around star who was one of the best wing defenders in the league. Wade can get the rim at will using a variety of spin moves and euro-steps to fool his defenders. Wade also uses one of the most effective pump-fakes in the league, something that's always been confusing since he isn't a great shooter. Teaming with Bosh and LeBron, Wade won two more rings.
10 Jason Kidd
Before he was fake-spilling water as an NBA coach, Jason Kidd was one of the best pure point guards the league ever saw. Kidd was a walking triple double, finishing with 118 in his career and he led the Nets as one the best teams in the 2000s. He is one the best rebounding guards ever and used his court vision to toss some of the prettiest dimes. Kidd struggled heavily with jumper early in his career which makes it all the more impressive how he ended up his career with the 3rd most 3-pointers ever. Kidd finally won his ring playing with the Mavs and defending Wade and even LeBron at times in those finals. He was a versatile defender, finishing his career 2nd most steals ever. Kidd now brings his savy basketball IQ as the coach of the young Milwaukee Bucks.
9 Allen Iverson
Probably the most defining player of the 2000s, Allen Iverson brought swagger to the league with cornrows and take no prisoners attitude. Despite his small frame, no one played tougher in the league. Iverson was a one man offense on his 76er teams that surrounded him with a bunch of defenders so that Iverson could do his thing. He wasn't always the most efficient scorer but he was one of the most prolific in NBA history. He led the league in scoring four times and holds the second highest scoring average in playoff history, behind only MJ. Iverson was never able to win a ring, losing his only finals appearance to the Lakers.
8 Tracy McGrady
One the most promising careers that never felt like it went as far as should have, Tracy McGrady was an unstoppable scorer with more athleticism than he knew what to do with at times. After growing into a star in Orlando, McGrady joined the Rockets where he teamed up with Yao Ming for what should have been the best duo in the league. His career ended earlier than it should have and it's a shame to look back and his time playing in Houston with Yao and think about what could have been had they been healthy at the same time. T-Mac never gets the credit defensively that he should but will always be remembered as the player who scored 11 points in 35 seconds for the comeback win against the Spurs.
7 Shaquille O'Neal
The diesel would be higher on the list if we included the 90s, but we are going from 2000 on and while he had some dominant years early in the decade, he faded fast due to injuries. Kobe was amazing on those Lakers teams but watching them always felt like watching Shaq's team. He was as dominant as a player has been in this generation; no team had an answer for him. Shaq went on to Miami to win his 4th title teaming with D-Wade. Some critics say Shaq should have been even better than what he was, but his caeer speaks for itself. Shaq is one the most memorable personalities the NBA has ever seen.
6 Steve Nash
It's amazing to watch Steph Curry run around the court, passing with both hands, pulling up from 3 whenever he wants, but it's Steve Nash who paved the way for this style of play. Nash led the seven seconds or less offense in Phoenix that took the league by storm and made them perennial contenders. The two-time MVP was an amazing passer who was consistently able to take unknown or dissapoting players and help them have career years. His playmaking often overshadowed the fact he was one the best shooters ever as a frequent member of the 40-50-90 club (field goal %, 3-point %, free throw %). Nash made many deep runs into the playoffs but it remains one the great tragedies of this generation of the NBA that his Suns teams never got over the hump.
5 Kevin Garnett
Few players have ever hit the NBA floor playing with more passion than Kevin Garnett. The phenom drafted out of high school was one of the best defenders of his generation. Garnett starred for the T-Wolves winning MVP in 2004. Garnett had a six-year run where he averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists per game, showing his versatility and rare combination of skills. He was traded to Boston in 2008 and formed the big three with Pierce and Allen. Garnett was the heartbeat of those teams and the centre of their staunch defense. Garnett won his ring in 2008 with the Celtics and continues to play in the league, talking everyone's ear off and getting in their heads.
4 Dirk Nowitzki
One of the most unique scorers in NBA history, his career looked like he might have peaked as a very good but not great player until the Mavs unlikely run to win the ring in 2011. Dirk Nowitski was unbelievable during that run, hitting huge shot after huge shot. The league has never seen a big man that could shoot like Dirk. He is one of the most efficient jump shooters ever. The big man has a very high release point and with his 7-foot frame it's impossible to block him. The Mavs consistently had one the best offenses in the league during this time and Dirk was the reason why. We unfortunately have Nowitski to blame a bit for the likes of Darko Milicic and Andrea Bargnani as teams sought to find their own version, but there is only one Dirk.
3 LeBron James
Everyone loves to hate LeBron James and he gives us a lot of reasons to do so but he is the torchbearer of the post Shaq and Kobe years. LeBron is an athletic freak, the size and strength of a power forward with the speed and agility of a point guard, he is damn near impossible to stop. LeBron is one of the best passers the league has ever seen, whipping dimes that no one else can throw in the league. He has evolved his game in recent years, developing an unguardable post-game and improving his 3-point efficiency. He may take a play off here and there on defense but when he wants to, he can shut any position player down. LeBron has returned to his home in Cleveland and is currently leading them into the finals and if he brings home a ring, he may start to rank even higher than this, on the all-time list.
2 Tim Duncan
It's amazing how good Tim Duncan still is at as he's approaching his 40s. The big fundamental is never the loudest player on the court but lets his game speak for itself. The Spurs are likely the defining team of this generation and Duncan is at the heart of their success. Duncan has won four rings and has every accolade a player could want. Duncan's biggest skills may be his versatility. He does everything on a basketball court from passing to being one of the best defender in the league, even now. At a time in the NBA's history when fundamentals went out the window in favor of raw athleticism, Duncan remained a testament to the old school NBA star, he went to school for four years, polished his game and came in and starred from day one. It's going to be a sad day when he decides to hang it up and we don't get to see one more 15-foot bank shot.
1 Kobe Bryant
The Black Mamba, the closest thing we have to MJ since MJ owned his generation. Kobe Bryant won five rings during this time to go along with 16 all-star selections and 11 all-NBA first team recognition. Bryant has the killer instinct on the court and always wants the ball in his hands for the final shot. Kobe dropped 81 points against the Raptors, an unbelievable feat for his generation and for a guard, only second behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. Bryant emerged from the shadows of Shaq by winning two more rings after he left.
As his athleticism has decreased Bryant has grown into a more savvy scoring, with some of the best footwork a guard has ever had. Guarding Kobe was demoralizing for other teams. It seems like the tougher the shot the more likely he is to make it. Kids from all around the world have picked up a ball and want to play basketball because they were/are fans of Kobe.
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