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.
Championships: 2 MVP's: 1 All NBA: 9 All Star: 10 All Defense: 0
Other notable achievements: NBA Scoring leader (2010, 2011, 2012, 2014); Finals MVP (2017, 2018)
Notable Stats: PPG 28.0 RPG: 7.4 APG: 4.4 BPG: 1.2 3PG: 2.0 3P%: 38.4%
Wind the clock back to 2015. A 26 year old Kevin Durant has finished in the top 2 in the MVP race for 4 of the previous 5 years. He's led the league in scoring 4 times and hasn't yet hit his peak. That man is going to be your All Decade MVP, right? The only reason he hasn't is that LeBron is able to defy the ageing process and keeps adding strings to his personal bow.
Since 2015, KD has won a pair of title's – winning Finals MVP in both Championship years – and spearheaded the Warriors ascension from mere Championship team to All Time Legacy team.
His shot over LeBron James in 2017 was a 'torch passing' moment. If he wasn't already, it's been clear that he's been the best player in the league from that point, right up to his last play of the decade – tearing his achillies.
Because of his move to the Warriors, many don't truly appreciate Kevin Durant. He's certainly a complicated individual and tough to gauge. However, when you stick to his on court game, and take out the individual, he's completely overwhelming. Through the decade he's averages are All Decade worthy, whilst changing our perceptions of what somebody that tall should be able to do with a basketball in their hands. An unstoppable scorer (he's the league leader in points per game this decade), were it not for the presence of a top 3 All Timer, Durant would have been our MVP of the Decade.
Championships: 3 MVP's: 3 All NBA: 10 All Star: 10 All Defense: 5
Other notable achievements: Finals MVP (2012, 2013, 2016)
Notable Stats: PPG 26.9 RPG: 7.7 APG: 7.6 SPG: 1.5
We covered LeBron James' legacy and his achievements in the section above, so let's have a look at his decade from a statistical standpoint here.
For the decade, LeBron is in the top 10 in points, rebounds dimes and steals. He's won a decade best 3 MVP's, as well as 3 Finals MVP's.
He is the only player in the NBA to be selected an All Star in each year of the decade – he's also been voted All NBA every year (nine 1st team selections).
James has evolved as the years have passed. His 3 pointers per game have increased almost two fold whilst he's improved his accuracy from deep from low 30's to a consistent mid to high 30's. He's maintained his steal and block numbers, despite having to pick his moments on defence as he ages. He has increased his assist numbers, an indication of that genius level basketball IQ of his.
LeBron has done it all this decade: he has the statistical case, the achievements and the legacy to be the clear best player in the NBA through the last 10 years.
Championships: 0 MVP's: 0 All NBA: 3 All Star: 6 All Defense: 3
Other notable achievements: NBA Blocks leader (2014, 2015, 2018); Rookie of the Year (2013)
Notable Stats: PPG 23.7 RPG: 10.5 SPG: 1.4 BPG: 2.4
A slightly controversial pick, given that AD plays less centre than he does power forward. Nevertheless it'd difficult to deny the impact that he's had since making his NBA debut in 2012.
Davis toiled for a bang average New Orleans franchise that was never able to surround their transcendent star with enough talent, due to a front office that was never able to look beyond their own noses. Because of that, Davis hasn't been a 'winner' through his career. To that end, the start of this decade will go a long way to shaping Davis' legacy.
However, it's worth speculating where those Hornets/Pelicans squads would have been without the Brow. Jrue Holiday is a fantastic player, but who else did he have by his side? Tyreke Evans? A constantly injured Eric Gordon? Solomon Hill? Enough said.
Statistically, the case is overwhelming. Davis averaged 20+ points and 10+ boards for 6 consecutive seasons. He's led the league in blocks on 3 occasions. He's 6th in total points scored from 2013-2018. He's 5th in boards and 1st in blocks through that period.
Before Luka cam along, AD was widely considered the most coveted building block in the NBA. He's the centre in our NBA Team of the Decade.
Lets run it back with a quick recap of Inside Sports All-Decade NBA Awards.
Executive of the Decade: Daryl Morey
Rookie of the Decade: Blake Griffin
Coach of the Decade: Gregg Popovich
Defensive Player of the Decade: Draymond Green
MVP: LeBron James
3rd Team: Dwyane Wade, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Dirk Nowitzki, Al Horford.
2nd Team: Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Marc Gasol.
1st Team: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis.
All NBA Team Apologies: Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Love, Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, Tony Parker.
Here's to the new decade of NBA basketball.