Cohen: Ranking Best Players from 2000s (2000-09)
August 8, 2014
#1 Kobe Bryant
Josh Cohen’s Analysis: If there were a poll for professional athlete of the decade in the 2000s, Kobe would only be challenged by golf’s Tiger Woods, football’s Tom Brady and tennis’ Roger Federer.
You had the Shaq & Kobe years when they together – though not always in harmony -- led the Lakers to three straight NBA titles. You had Bryant’s resurgence as a champ and MVP to close out the decade and sandwiched between all those rings were some extraordinary statistics, including a season where he averaged better than 35 points a game.
With five titles (four in decade), seven NBA Finals appearances (six in decade) and perennial All-Star honors, Kobe solidified his status as one of the top five players in NBA history during this decade.
#2 Shaquille O’Neal
Cohen’s Analysis: The other half of the Lakers dynasty and arguably the most menacing and daunting player in NBA history, Shaq reformed the term dominance for a portion of this decade.
During L.A.’s three straight titles, in which he was named Finals MVP each of those seasons, and four NBA Finals appearances in five years, O’Neal stomped all over the competition. Shaq was also the league’s MVP in 2000 and an NBA All-Star every year except in 2008.
Since O’Neal’s status faded after capturing his fourth title (with the Heat) as a result of injuries and endurance, it wouldn’t be appropriate to rank him ahead of his former teammate, Kobe, who started and ended the decade on top.
#3 Tim Duncan
Cohen’s Analysis: It’s hard to find players who just never seem to really deteriorate. With countless accolades throughout the decade, including three NBA titles (four total), two league MVPs, perennial All-Star appearances and an All-Star Game MVP, Duncan was as reliable as they come.
Though he starred in little San Antonio and never really had engaging charisma to attract the masses, Duncan clearly established himself as the greatest power forward in NBA history.
#4 Steve Nash
Cohen’s Analysis: No, he never won an NBA championship and no; he may not be considered a top five player all-time at his position.
But Nash’s value and recognition for several years in Phoenix were unparalleled. He captured two consecutive league MVPs (2005, 06), was named to six All-Star games throughout the decade (eight total) and always had the Suns in position to contend for a title.
Sure, some still believe Shaq deserved the MVP award over Nash in 2005 and many criticize Steve for his defensive liabilities and playoff setbacks. However, for a few years, Nash was arguably the league’s most appealing star and an extremely entertaining player to watch.
#5 Kevin Garnett
Cohen’s Analysis: KG is an interesting case. He was at his “individual” best in Minnesota where outside of a voyage to the conference finals in 2004 never really had the Wolves in position to win a title. Garnett was, nonetheless, the league’s MVP in ’04 as well.
Though already established as a household name and all-time great power forward, it was the trade to Boston that really catapulted KG’s career. In his first season with the Celtics, Garnett helped steer the franchise to an NBA title – the team’s first since 1986.
It was also in Boston that fans started to recognize Garnett as an inspiration and motivator. He kept the C’s united and provided very distinctive leadership qualities that helped make his teammates – like Rajon Rondo – better players and professionals.
#6 Dirk Nowitzki
Cohen’s Analysis: Though it was the next decade in which he finally hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy, the 2000s were a special time for Nowitzki.
Not only did he transfigure his position by becoming the greatest shooter at 7 feet tall, Dirk also proved foreign talent can compete at the highest level with born Americans.
Nowitzki helped the Mavs advance to the NBA Finals in 2006 and a year later was the league’s MVP. He also was an All-Star in every season during the decade starting in 2002.
#7 LeBron James
Cohen’s Analysis: Barring injury or a sudden decline, it seems almost like a foregone conclusion that LeBron will ultimately be the No. 1 ranked NBA player of the 2010s.
From the onset of his career in 2003 until 2009, James was often more criticized for his flaws than praised for his accolades and skills. Though he guided the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 and was the league’s MVP in 2009, LeBron’s reputation wasn’t always superb.
He was thought to be unwilling to handle pressure-packed moments, was said to be too passive at times and was drilled by the critics for not being a reliable leader.
Obviously with two straight titles in the current decade, most of this rap has evaporated. For what it’s worth, James’ accomplishments in the 2000s were very good, but not worthy of a higher ranking.
#8 Dwyane Wade
Cohen’s Analysis: There were some breathtaking moments for Wade in this decade and there were some regrettable ones as well.
Wade was electrifying in the 2006 NBA Finals. He helped the Heat overcome a 2-0 series deficit to win their first NBA championship. Wade also was the league’s scoring champ in 2009.
Sandwiched in between those years, however, were unforeseen injuries. With recurring knee and shoulder problems, Wade barely played in those two seasons.
Nonetheless, Dwyane, when healthy, was clearly a top five talent in the league and instantly became the face of the Heat franchise.
#9 Jason Kidd
Cohen’s Analysis: Some are quick to forget just how amazing Kidd was during his years in New Jersey. He was excellent in his two separate stints with Dallas and consistent in his tenure with Phoenix. But, Kidd’s all-around performance as a member of the Nets was rather outstanding.
Kidd completely transfigured the culture in New Jersey and almost instantly had the Nets competing for championships. They reached the NBA Finals in two straight years (2002, 03) and Jason piloted it all. Rivaling Oscar Robertson because of his frequent triple-doubles, Kidd solidified himself during this decade as one of the best point guards and floor leaders ever.
#10 Paul Pierce
Cohen’s Analysis: There were the Pierce & Antoine Walker years and then there were the Pierce & Garnett/Allen years. Paul was exceptional in both, but something was missing in the former as compared to the latter.
Once KG and Allen arrived, Pierce’s demeanor and drive improved and it helped propel the Celtics to an NBA championship.
#11 Allen Iverson
Cohen’s Analysis: The decade started hot for A.I. He was the league’s MVP in 2001 and in that same year helped the Sixers reach the NBA Finals.
But following that breakthrough season and despite still posting staggering statistics for most of the decade, Iverson’s climb up the charts stalled. He was often criticized for comments, radical behavior and an inability to be a reliable leader.
Nonetheless, Iverson was one of the most electrifying scorers throughout the decade.
#12 Vince Carter
Cohen’s Analysis: It never quite got as good as we all expected for VC. There were flashes in the early portion of the decade where most of us assumed Carter was on his way to big accomplishments.
But Vince’s reputation took a hit when he desired a trade out of Toronto. And while he still was impressive during his stint with New Jersey, he never was able to steer the Nets back to the NBA Finals.
#13 Tony Parker
Cohen’s Analysis: It’s certainly within reason to suggest that Parker is getting better with age. But even in his younger days, Tony was pivotal in San Antonio’s success.
Particularly in 2007 when he was named Finals MVP, Parker elevated his status and showed he was gradually becoming one of the top point guards in the league.
#14 Tracy McGrady
Cohen’s Analysis: T-Mac made scoring look effortless over the span of five or six years. Particularly during his stint in Orlando, McGrady was unstoppable. He was a two-time scoring champ (2003, 04) and was named to the All-NBA First Team twice.
Injuries to his back, knees and shoulders derailed his career by the time the decade was three-quarters complete.
#15 Chauncey Billups
Cohen’s Analysis: Most assumed Billups was just another draft bust after the first few years of his career. But slowly, Billups evolved into “Mr. Big Shot” and had the Pistons, his sixth team in five years, competing for titles.
In 2004, his Pistons stunned Shaq, Kobe & the Lakers to capture the championship and his superb play were rewarded with Finals MVP honors.