The NBA features the best basketball players in the world. Out of millions of hoopers, just the creme of the crop actually make it to the league and have the chance to play important minutes for more than one season.
Moreover, the league has become so competitive lately that it’s pretty unusual to see players stay on their teams for a long period of time. They’re more into teaming up with other stars and playing for big markets than staying loyal to an organization.
Obviously, that goes both ways. Sometimes franchises trade their stars away as a way to rebuild their roster, so seeing a player stay for more than 5 years in one place is the exception to that rule. But for those who stayed or that made the bigger impact on the past decade, they’ll still have a room in the heart of the fans.
Today, we’re going to honor them by talking about the best player from each franchise over the past decade:
Atlanta Hawks – Paul Millsap
Not so long ago, Paul Millsap was the best power forward in the Eastern Conference. He put the world on notice with his outstanding performances on both ends of the floor and constantly led the Hawks in scoring and as their second-best defender.
Sadly, the Hawks could never get past LeBron James’ dominance in the Conference and Millsap eventually joined the Nuggets for a huge paycheck. Now, it seems like injuries and father time have finally caught up to him but he could still be a difference-maker on a contending team.
Boston Celtics – Isaiah Thomas
It’s crazy how fast things can change in the NBA. Less than five years ago, Isaiah Thomas was an All-Star, the league’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter, and the most dominant scorer the Celtics had since Paul Pierce left the TD Garden. Now, he’s out of the league.
Thomas was heart over height night in and night out. He was an inspiration for millions of young hoopers from all over the world until a heartbreaking back injury took a major toll on his game. He should still have another shot at making a roster.
Brooklyn Nets – Brook Lopez
Like Paul Millsap, Brook Lopez was a driving and dominant force in the Eastern Conference despite his team’s struggles to contend. If the Nets had surrounded him with more talent (or on a timely matter), he could have led them to the Finals.
Lopez was a walking 22-10 kind of big man and a much better defender than people give him credit for. Now he’s taken his talents to the Milwaukee Bucks and added a lot of range to his offensive repertoire, thus earning the nickname “Splash Mountain”.
Charlotte Hornets – Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker was another perfect example of a player just that was just too good to be playing on such a bad team. The Charlotte Hornets constantly struck out in the NBA Draft and they weren’t much of an appealing destination for top-notch free agents.
That constantly left Walker on a tough spot. He embraced the challenge of being a leader and take his team to the payoffs but enough is enough. Now, he’s trying to fill in Kyrie Irving’s shoes for the Boston Celtics, finally with an actual chance to compete.
Chicago Bulls – Derrick Rose
This one’s kind of tricky. Derrick Rose’s decade got off to a terrific start and he became the youngest MVP in the history of the game, as well as the first member of the Bulls to win the award since Michael Jordan. That’s why he gets the nod over Jimmy Butler here.
There wasn’t doubt that Rose was the best young player in the league before suffering that career-altering injury. He was the finest entertainer in the NBA and it’s just heartbreaking to see him bounce around the league like that. We’re all rooting for you, D-Rose.
Cleveland Cavaliers – LeBron James
LeBron James is not only the greatest player in Cleveland Cavaliers history, but he’s also the greatest athlete to ever have come out of the state. Period. Even if they were a contending team in the 80s, they owe LeBron James pretty much everything. That’s a fact.
James bailed on the team and took his talents to the Miami Heat but eventually came back and led them to four straight trips to the Finals and their only NBA Championship in franchise history. He’s also their all-time leader in points, minutes, rebounds, assists, steals, three-pointers, etc.
Dallas Mavericks – Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki should be considered the greatest foreign player to ever set foot on an NBA hardwood. He completely changed the way the power-forward spot was played and paved the way for the modern big man to take the league by storm.
Nowitzki was a great and vocal leader who led by example. He’s one of the most dominant scorers in NBA history and the only reason why the Mavs were always in a position to contend. He took them to their only Championship in franchise history.
Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic
The Denver Nuggets have had plenty of superstars on their team throughout the course of their history but that hasn’t translated to much success in the playoffs. Hopefully, that’ll all change now that Nikola Jokic is leading the way for them.
Jokic is already the best passing big man in the history of the game, even ahead of Arvydas Sabonis. He’s a point guard trapped in the body of a big man and if he starts playing consistent defense, he’ll be the best big man in the world.
Detroit Pistons – Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond would have won multiple MVP awards if he had played in the 60s, 70s, or even 80s. He’s an old-school, heavy-footed big man that dominates both sides of the glass, finishes with both hands, and can body most centers in the league.
Unluckily for him, his style of play isn’t that suited for today’s game and the Pistons failed to surround him with enough talent to compete. He can still be a solid contributor for a contending team needing a strong presence in the paint.
Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry has completely changed the game. He’s the most influential player of the last decade and the main reason why the Golden State Warriors went from a subpar team to the most dominating and terrifying dynasty in modern basketball.
Curry is the greatest shooter of all time, an underrated playmaker, and a guy that has a legit case for being a top-3 point guard once it’s all said and done. You may not like the way the game’s played right now but hey, jump aboard or stay behind.
Houston Rockets – James Harden
James Harden is the most unstoppable scorer in the league. He has bent the rules in his favor by creating so many different ways to fooling the referees, and that’s why most old-school basketball fans aren’t that fond of the way he plays.
Still, you have to give Harden a lot of credit. He continues to evolve and reinvent himself and it seems like it’s just a matter of time before he finally leads the Houston Rockets to a Championship. If not, there will always be an asterisk on his legacy.
Indiana Pacers – Paul George
Paul George may not be welcome at Indianapolis anymore after leaving the team in bad terms but hey, he’s still the best player they’ve had since Reggie Miller. In fact, he has a strong case for being a top-3 player in Pacers history, like it or not.
George came out of the blue, stepped in for an injured Danny Granger, and proved that he could become one of the best two-way players on earth. He even overcame a career-threatening injury and led the Pacers back to the playoffs right after.
Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul
Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards to ever lace them up. He’s drawn a lot of criticism for never making it to the NBA Finals but there’s no denying that he’s been the best playmaker in the league since being drafted 15 years ago.
Paul is a pesky defender that can hound opposing guards all over the court, and then put up 18 points and 10 assists with ease. Hopefully, he’ll end up playing for a contending team and finally winning a much-deserved NBA Championship.
Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe Bryant
There hasn’t been a player nearly half as influential off the court as Kobe Bryant. He mentored countless players and his Mamba Mentality became a philosophy for millions of people even outside the sports industry. Obviously, he’s also the greatest Laker ever.
This past decade was pretty tough to endure for Lakers fans. They struggled mightily to get back to their winning ways and father time caught up with the Black Mamba, which only made things even harder. Still, he’ll be remembered as a top-5 player ever.
Memphis Grizzlies – Marc Gasol
The younger Gasol brother made a name for himself ever since he got the starting center spot for the Memphis Grizzlies. He was their leader during the grit-and-grind era when it felt like they could upset the best teams in the world.
Gasol even won the Defensive Player of the Year award and even if his game wasn’t flashy, he was skilled and smart enough to do about everything they needed to contend. Gladly, he was finally able to win a Championship with the Toronto Raptors.
Miami Heat – LeBron James
This one was pretty tough and is by no means disrespect towards Dywane Wade, the greatest player in Miami Heat history. Still, we have to give LeBron James the nod here considering the way he turned the Heat into the biggest threat in the East.
With LeBron James on board, Erik Spoelstra’s team made it to four straight trips to the Finals, winning a couple of them. The post-James era wasn’t as successful, though, although they’ve finally put together a strong young core with a promising future.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nobody ever thought Giannis Antetokounmpo was going to be as good as he was. Most people mocked the Milwaukee Bucks when they got him with the 15th overall pick, as they thought he could be a borderline second-round pick at best.
Needless to say, Giannis has done an outstanding job proving his doubters wrong. He’s improved his numbers every year he’s been in the league and the same can be said by his game overall. He’s the league’s reigning MVP and prime candidate to win the award again, as well as the DPOY.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been the complete opposite of a winning franchise throughout their history. But after the Kevin Garnett era and following the loss of Kevin Love, there’s finally hope up north again thanks to Karl-Anthony Towns.
Towns is one of the most gifted big men in the league. He’s got an elite post game and footwork, a versatile offensive repertoire, and even some nice range to his jump shot. He needs to be more mentally tough and improve on the defensive end, though.
New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis
It’s a huge shame that the New Orleans Pelicans could never surround Anthony Davis with the players he needed to take them to the NBA Finals but hey, at least his trade got them the most promising young core the league has seen in ages.
Davis posted MVP caliber seasons year after year in New Orleans. He proved that he was the best two-way big man on earth and made a case for himself as one of the best 5 players in the league. Now, he has the chance to pursue his first ring.
New York Knicks – Carmelo Anthony
Ever since being traded by the Denver Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony was the heart and soul of the New York Knicks. He was their icon and the only reason why they could compete in the playoffs during the early 2010s, even if they did him dirty afterward.
Anthony’s tenure as a Knickerbocker ended up on a very low note. Still, he’s the best player the franchise had since Patrick Ewing and hopefully one day, he’ll have his number 7 jersey hanging high on the rafters of Madison Square Garden.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook
Kevin Durant may be the most talented player in Oklahoma City Thunder history but this franchise will always belong to Russell Westbrook, who decided to extend his contract with them even though KD decided to leave and join the Warriors.
Westbrook put the franchise on his back year after year. He literally did everything for them to win and make the playoffs and even though he gets a lot of hate for his lack of success in that instance, you’ve got to give him a lot of credit. He’s a born competitor.
Orlando Magic – Nikola Vucevic
God knows the Orlando Magic have had their fair share of struggles over the past couple of decades. Honestly, other than Dwight Howard, they haven’t found many talents worthy of bragging, but the closest to that must be Nikola Vucevic.
Vucevic has been their lone bright spot in the offense for years now. He’s a walking double-double and the team’s leading scorer. Still, it feels like they must do a lot of work to surround him with enough talent to actually be a threat in the East.
Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid
It took him a while but Joel Embiid definitely proved that ‘The Process’ was worth the wait. He took the league by storm since day one and, injuries aside, he’s got a strong case for being the most talented two-way center in the league.
Embiid could be a perennial contender for the MVP and DPOY award. He’s the difference-maker they were craving for years and the building block for their project going forward. He must mature and prove that he’s a leader in the playoffs.
Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker
It’s crazy to think that Devin Booker has a 91-233 record throughout his young career in the NBA. I mean, he’s got 86 games scoring 30+ points, which is almost as many wins he’s piled up through the years. That’s just how bad the Suns have been.
Booker should try and force his way out of the desert. He’s still pretty young and has plenty of years to thrive in the league and his talents are just going to waste with the Suns. He’s got what it takes to be the league’s leading scorer on a winning environment.
Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard is one of those diamonds that fly under the radar. He was often overlooked by scouts so he fell right into the lap of the Portland Trail Blazers, where he made an immediate impact and won the Rookie of the Year award.
Lillard hasn’t taken his foot off the gas since his rookie season and has constantly beaten the odds to take his Blazers to the postseason. However, it still feels like they need to add another star next to him and maybe break up their backcourt.
Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins was one of the best big men on earth but it took him a long while before making his debut in the playoffs. How’s that? Well, that’s just how poorly managed the Sacramento Kings were in the early 2010s, and that’s why he threw that many tantrums.
There’s no denying in Cousins’ talent. He just wants to win, he’s been a winner his all life. Sadly, injuries have riddled his career over the past three years or so but he’s still talented enough to find a spot on a contending looking for a big man.
San Antonio Spurs – Kawhi Leonard
Nobody, not even Gregg Popovich ever thought Kawhi Leonard was going to end up being nearly half as great as he is. He took over the ultimate stage in the 2014 NBA Finals by proving that he was already an elite defender with a lot of upside in the offensive end.
Now, six years later, Leonard has a strong case for being not only the best two-way player on earth but the best player in the league. He can make history by leading the Clippers to their first Finals appearance (and Championship) in franchise history.
Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Raptors’ Championship run was in the making for years. It took them a while but they thought things through and put together a solid squad that could contend on a yearly basis, and Kyle Lowry was the only one to be there through thick and thin.
Obviously, DeMar DeRozan has a case for being the greatest Raptor ever, but it was Lowry the one who stepped up next to Kawhi Leonard to deliver their first title in franchise history, and that’s why he’s getting the nod on this list. Sorry, DeMar.
Utah Jazz – Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward is no longer welcome at the rocky mountains of Utah after leaving them for the Boston Celtics. Still, there’s just no denying that he was the best player the franchise had in a very long time and the most influential of the decade.
Hayward grew into a standout scorer, playmaker, and even pretty solid defender in Utah. Now, his departure left the door wide open for both Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert to claim their spot as the leaders of the franchise but they must finally succeed in the playoffs first.
Washington Wizards – John Wall
John Wall gets a lot of hate for being injured and getting that much money as if he was the one who chose to get hurt. Yes, his contract is a tough pill to swallow for the Washington Wizards but he definitely earned every single dime on the hardwood.
When healthy, Wall is the fastest player in the league, a suffocating backcourt defender, and one of the ultimate playmakers on earth. If the Wizards want to have a shot at competing, they must go through Wall. They’ll only go as far as he takes them.