We're coming to the end of 2019 and this seems as good a time as any to reflect upon the NBA decade that we've just lived. We've seen two dominant teams, a handful of all-time players, some controversies and some of the most beautiful basketball come about from a statistical revolution dictating how the game is now played.
Over the coming weeks, Inside Sport will be taking a look at who have been the shining lights this decade, on the court, the sidelines and in the front office.
We're following the NBA's official calendar and as such, our decade starts in the 2009/10 season, through to the conclusion of the 2018/19 season.
For our teams, the only rule is that we have a somewhat traditional two guards, two forwards and a centre. We've placed more emphasis on sustained performance as opposed to a brief, high peak. Finally, winning counts. A lot. Sorry Melo.
Today, we're taking a look at our All-Decade 1st team and our MVP of the Decade.
All Decade MVP
There are contenders for this award that in most decades would have legitimate MVP cases in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. This decade, however, is LeBron's – making 8 straight finals appearances see to that. You could argue that James was the best player of the last decade, as well.
He started this decade as the lone soldier on a Cavs side that made it to the Conference Semis. He ushered in the Player Empowerment Era in forming the Heatles, winning a pair of championships in the process. He returned to Cleveland as the Prodigal Son, winning the 2016 title and, to paraphrase Bill Simmons, proved that God does not in fact hate Cleveland.
Its also fair to contend that the 2015 title was LeBron's for the taking, but injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving robbed him of a reasonable chance of taking down a still green Warriors group. Instead, the Cavs were knocked out in 6 games with LeBron ably 'supported' by the likes of Matt Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov. For that alone, LeBron deserved the Finals MVP – he took a team of 35 win talent to a pair of wins away from a title.
As well as the overall legacy that LeBron has created this decade, he has littered the last 10 years with pivotal moments – plays that we all remember.
Of course, there is The Block on Andre Iguodala – everybody remembers that. It's sometimes forgotten that LeBron made it a personal mission to win that title, as a make up for 2015, to reassert himself as the best player on the planet (he took Curry's 2016 MVP very personally) and to ruin the Dubs 73 win season.
There are other big moments, too. What about his triple double to close out the Thunder in the 2012 finals? His clutch shot in game 7 against the Spurs? The epic performance on the road in Boston on 2012? The entire 2015 Finals series?
It feels kind of trite to reduce LeBron's decade to a series of moments, so let's put it simply. LeBron is a top 3 all timer and the bulk of his CV has been created in this decade. Alongside Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (my personal top 3 of all time), James is the only player to be able to argue that he was the best player in the NBA across 2 decades. He's the face of the NBA.
All Decade 1st team
Championships: 3 MVP's: 2 All NBA: 6 All Star: 6 All Defense: 0
Other notable achievements: NBA Scoring leader (2016); NBA Steals leader (2016) All Rookie Team (2010)
Notable Stats: PPG 23.5 RPG: 4.5 APG: 6.6 SPG: 1.7 3PG: 3.6 3P%: 43.6
Whilst LeBron James has been the dominant player of the decade, in 30 years will we look back on the 2010's as the decade of Steph? It's possible. Curry took the most integral skill in basketball – shooting – and dragged it to places it has never been. His ascension dovetailed perfectly with the Analytics Revolution to recreate the game as we know it. Curry's mere presence on the floor, even 30 feet from the basket, stretched opposition defences to breaking point. His gravity opened up Klay Thompson. It created Draymond Green. The joy he played with helped recruit Kevin Durant.
Outside of the optics and the legacy, the stats are incredible. Steph has put up 23 points and 6 assists a game this decade, whilst hitting close to four 3 pointers per contest – All Decade numbers even without context.
There's also a side of Curry's game that is underappreciated – his willingness to do whatever it takes. How many MVP's would openly be a decoy in multiple offensive sets? How many would willingly take a back seat to a newly imported team mate? How many would sacrifice their slight, injury prone frame to set screen after screen after screen? Curry's boyish looks belie an icy will to win....and to humiliate.
Championships: 0 MVP's: 1 All NBA: 6 All Star: 7 All Defense: Ha, ha!
Other notable achievements: NBA Scoring leader (2018, 2019); NBA Assists leader (2017); 6th Man of the Year (2012); All Rookie (2010)
Notable Stats: PPG 24.3 RPG: 5.2 APG: 6.2 SPG: 1.6 3PG: 2.7
There are certainly legitimate arguments to be made against the aesthetic qualities of Harden's game. For all the wondrous dribble moves (RIP Wes Johnson), the deep 3's and the lob's to Capela or Nene, there is the litany of free throws that Harden shoots. Yes, it's a skill – an art even – to draw fouls as he does, but it can certainly be tedious.
What can't be argued is his production. The Beard has put up a nightly 29.6 points, 6 boards and 7.7 dimes since the infamous trade that brought him to Texas in 2012. He of course has an MVP but he also has a trifecta of runner ups to his name. Revisionist history already dictates that he should have won in 2017 instead of Westbrook and there are legitimate arguments that he could have won in both 2015 and 2019.
Harden is a walking skeleton key for a basketball team's offense. He makes legitimate players out of borderline talents like PJ Tucker, Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik, whilst also having the most 50 point games (18) of the decade.
Where Harden has struggled is in the later rounds of the playoffs, which seems an odd stick to beat him with. Firstly, he's actually making the later rounds of the playoffs most seasons with a single finals and four conference finals appearances to his name - that's quite an accomplishment. Furthermore, it fails to take into account that in most – if not all – of the Rockets playoff losses with Harden, they haven't been the clear favourite. Usually, they're in fact underdogs.
Given his age (30) and health, Harden has time to add silverware and accolades to his already rich collection.