In the early stages of the 2016-17 NBA season, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve officially entered a new basketball era, with a number of notable departures occurring over the offseason. For the first time in two decades, all-time greats Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Garnett haven't graced the hardwood with their dominating presence, not to mention the less-celebrated former stars like Amar’e Stoudemire and Elton Brand who have recently walked away from the NBA. The first three are clearly first-ballot Hall of Famers, players who defined an entire generation and were long the standard of excellence to which everyone else aspired. But Brand and Stoudemire? They might not be so lucky, and you could make compelling cases for and against both.
So what does it really mean to be a Hall of Famer? What separates the very good from the great? In borderline cases, it can simply be a general feeling about a player that decides their fate. Was player X ever the alpha dog on his team, or was he merely a very good sidekick for many years? Was he a great team player on a championship contender, or putting up empty stats for a bottom-feeder? With such a subjective honor, sometimes it’s best to throw stats out the window and go with your gut.
Ultimately, some players get lost in the numbers game and miss the cut. Some have been underrated their entire careers while others are so far removed from their former glory that voters may forget just how special they used to be. With the older generation stepping aside, and only a handful of players left from the ‘90s, it seems like a good time to give some recognition to the greatest players drafted this millennium who sadly won’t be making a post-retirement trip to Springfield, Massachusetts.
15 Michael Redd
14 Andrei Kirilenko
One of the most uniquely versatile players in the game, Kirilenko was the basketball equivalent of a Swiss Army knife during his NBA career. His ability to contribute in every major statistical category made him a favorite of fantasy owners, but his contributions translated to the real games as well. A three-time All-Defensive Team member, “AK-47” had opponents constantly looking over their shoulder with his uncanny ability to come out of nowhere for blocks and steals, and he was a terrific play maker for his position on offense.
13 Zach Randolph
12 Carlos Boozer
An unlikely success story, Boozer grew up in Alaska, not exactly a basketball hotbed. He nevertheless quickly became a double-double machine in the NBA, despite his underwhelming physical profile, using his strength and instincts to position himself to secure rebounds, and a high release, reliable mid-range jumper to rack up points. His best years came with the Utah Jazz, where he was a two-time All-Star in consecutive 20-point-10-rebound seasons. However, as solid as Boozer was for his NBA career, he was never really a superstar.
11 Joe Johnson
10 Gilbert Arenas
In terms of star power, few on this list can match the brilliance of Arenas during his “Hibachi” heyday. Arenas was a gifted scorer who experienced a shockingly rapid fall from grace thanks to bad luck and his own stupidity. After putting together three All-Star campaigns, each time challenging for the scoring title, Arenas seemed to be in the midst of his prime. Then, injuries struck, forcing him to miss almost two full seasons.
9 John Wall
One of the most exciting players in the game, John Wall possesses some of the best physical tools of any point guard in league history, a 6’4” whirling dervish with a sprinter’s speed and firecracker explosiveness. He’s never been a great shooter, but it doesn’t matter when he has the ability to get to the rim at will and the size and vision to finish or find open teammates once he gets there. Still, despite his best efforts, the Wizards have struggled during his tenure, making the playoffs only twice. Wall has also struggled mightily with controlling his turnovers, and still lacks a consistent outside shot, which allows opposing defenses to sag off.
8 Paul Millsap
7 DeAndre Jordan
Another member of the unofficial “All-Underrated Team,” Jordan has quietly been the steadiest force on one of the most consistently good teams in the Western Conference over the past few years. Mostly known as a rebounder and shot blocker, the hyper-athletic center has never had the scoring output to earn a place on an All-Star team, but his two All-NBA and two All-Defensive team selections speak to his status as arguably the best true center in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Clippers have yet to find success in the playoffs, and the window is quickly closing on their core. Unless they can win a championship in the next couple of years, Jordan’s contributions are likely to continue going underappreciated.
6 Deron Williams
5 DeMarcus Cousins
No matter what you think of his personality, there’s no denying that DeMarcus Cousins has become one of the most dominant big men in the game. He’s incredibly unique with his huge 270 pound frame and nimble footwork, equally able to muscle opponents under the basket or dance around them. He’s as close to a complete package as you’ll find in a center, an elite scorer, rebounder, and passer who contributes blocks, steals, and even three-pointers. That’s why it’s such a shame that he’s stuck in the NBA’s most toxic organization, the Sacramento Kings.
4 Rajon Rondo
When you think of the term “pure point guard,” chances are you’re picturing a floor general who’s committed to getting his teammates involved, is a wizard with the ball on offense, and a thief on defense. That’s a pretty good description of Rajon Rondo, who’s never been known for his shot (besides how ugly it is). As a 21-year-old NBA sophomore, he was thrust into the role of starting point guard on a championship contender led by the Celtics’ newly formed “Big Three.” Not only did he hold the starting job for the entire year, he succeeded in helping deliver an NBA Championship to Boston for the first time in over 20 years.
3 Andre Iguodala
As crazy as it might seem, we might some day see a former Finals MVP get passed over by the Hall of Fame. Andre Iguodala may just find himself in that strange position once he retires because it’s tough for career role players to get that kind of recognition. Operating as a point forward on offense, Iguodala is at his best being a glue guy, moving the ball, making smart cuts, and directing traffic. Defensively, he’s strong, quick, and long, with great anticipation and hands that help make him one of the league’s premier thieves. Role player or not, Iguodala’s been among the best wing defenders and all-around players of the past decade.
2 LaMarcus Aldridge
1 Amar’e Stoudemire
Stoudemire is a classic “what if?” player, who showed a tremendous amount of talent but for various reasons, including plain old bad luck, was unable to fully capitalize on it. Coming to the NBA straight out of high school as a 6’10” “man-child,” the power forward nicknamed “STAT” quickly rose to prominence with Steve Nash as the greatest pick-and-roll duo since Stockton and Malone. Given free reign in Mike D’Antoni’s high octane offense, the Suns became an overnight success and instant contenders. It was not to be though, as the Suns suffered gutting playoff loss after gutting playoff loss over the years. Three times during Stoudemire’s tenure, they lost to the eventual champions in hard-fought series before their window shut for good and the team was blown up.
Stoudemire only managed to summon one more All-Star season after leaving Phoenix, as injuries ravaged his body, and he never again came so close to basketball immortality as he did in his glory days with the run ‘n gun Suns.
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