The Best NBA Players During Every Year Since 2000: Kobe Bryant and LeBron James Are The Greatest Players Over The Last 20 Years
Since the year 2000, we have seen some all-time great players dominate the game in the modern era. With the expansion of the NBA to include foreign players and the popularity of the league growing, 2000 was a start of a new era of dominance by a select few Hall of Famers.
Going year by year and starting with arguably the most dominant big man ever, here is the list of the greatest NBA players per season from the year 2000 until the current 2021 season.
2000-2003 - Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal was the most dominant modern-day force in NBA history. The Big Diesel won the NBA MVP in 2000, after posting 29.7 PPG and 13.6 RPG. No player on Earth could slow Shaq down and that is why he captured the NBA title in 2000 with a young Kobe Bryant by his side.
In 2001, Shaq continued his dominance by posting 28.7 PPG and 12.7 RPG in the regular season and won Finals MVP once again. O'Neal was bolstered by a Kobe Bryant coming into his own, and the duo would soon face friction as alpha stars on the Los Angeles Lakers squad. In 2002, Shaq dominated the league putting up 27.2 PPG and 10. RPG which was enough to guide the Lakers to his 3rd NBA title. By 2003, the friction between Shaq and Kobe was heating up and that is why they did not win any more championships together.
2004 - Kevin Garnett
Kevin Garnett is one of the most intense competitors in sports history, and also one of the greatest defensive players in the NBA. In 2004, he had his best season which was one for the ages. The Big Ticket captured the MVP Award after averaging 24.2 PPG, 13.9 RPG, and 5.0 APG for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Garnett was easily the best 2-way player in the league and he even guided an average Timberwolves team to the Western Conference Finals for a showdown against the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, the Shaq and Kobe-led Lakers won the series and went to the Finals but Garnett was still the best player in 2004.
2005 - Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan was the NBA's best player in the 2005 season. The Big Fundamental averaged 20.3 PPG, 11.1 RPG, and 2.2 BPG for the stacked San Antonio Spurs led by Greg Popovich. Duncan and the Spurs went all the way to the NBA Finals, to face the defending NBA champions Detroit Pistons.
In a grueling 7 games, the Spurs outlasted the Pistons. Duncan captured Finals MVP by averaging 20.6 PPG, 14.1 RPG, and 2.1 BPG in the series while also getting the majority of his help from Manu Ginobili (18.7 PPG in the series). The Spurs won the NBA title after an 81-74 win in Game 7, where Duncan's 25 points was enough to lead all scorers.
2006 - Dwyane Wade
Despite an incredible season from Kobe Bryant where he averaged 35.4 PPG and also had an 81-point performance, Dwyane Wade had the best season in 2006. Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal, and the Miami Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks and MVP Dirk Nowitzki in 6 entertaining games in the Finals.
Wade averaged 34.7 PPG and 7.8 RPG in the Finals, and despite starting the series 0-2, the Heat won 4 straight games in incredible fashion. Wade might have had the greatest performance in Finals history, and he was the best player in 2006.
2007-2010 - Kobe Bryant
One season after Dwyane Wade won the NBA championship, Kobe Bryant went on a 4-year tear. Bryant averaged 31.6 PPG, 28.3 PPG, 26.8 PPG, and 27.0 PPG during those 4 seasons while also winning the 2008 MVP Award.
Of course, the Lakers acquired superstar big man Pau Gasol and Los Angeles found themselves in the NBA Finals. The Lakers fell to the Celtics in the NBA Finals in 2008, but Kobe Bryant led the team to back-to-back wins in 2009 and 2010. The Black Mamba earned his 4th and 5th championships which placed him among the top-2 shooting guards for eternity.
2011-2016 - LeBron James
Once the Kobe Bryant and Los Angeles Lakers' reign in the NBA was over, LeBron James became the undisputed face of the NBA. By leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and joining the Miami Heat, James formed the most talented team in the NBA in free agency. But even with James being the best player in the world, he failed to capture the NBA title in 2011.
James then captured the MVP Awards in 2012 and 2013 while also winning his first two NBA titles and Finals MVPs. Even after losing to the Spurs in the 2014 Finals, James was still the best player in the world and went back to Cleveland to join Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. James did the unthinkable in 2016 by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to capture the NBA title and remind us we are living in The King's Universe.
2017-2018 - Kevin Durant
After a long reign by LeBron James, Kevin Durant finally proved his worth as the best player and scorer in the NBA. Durant averaged 25.1 PPG and 26.4 PPG during these two years, despite playing with 2 other All-Star scorers in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Durant also immediately became the best player on this superteam, defeating LeBron James and the Cavaliers twice in the NBA Finals. Of course, Durant won both Finals MVPs. While Durant benefited greatly from an incredible superteam, he still showed up in the Finals and delivered in the biggest stage.
2019 - Kawhi Leonard
2019 was the year of The Claw. Kawhi Leonard forced his way out of San Antonio and was subsequently traded to the Eastern Conference to the Toronto Raptors of all teams. The Raptors were a great team making deep playoff runs thanks to DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, but nobody expected them to be a threat in 2019.
But Kawhi Leonard changed the franchise. With his spectacular 2-way play and the team's acquisition of Marc Gasol, Leonard carried the Raptors to the NBA Finals. He went through the Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo, hit arguably the most clutch shot in playoff history against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7, and took advantage of an injury-plagued Warriors team to win his 2nd NBA title.
2020-2021 - LeBron James
LeBron James is currently the best player in the world, and he reclaimed his throne after leading the league in assists (10.2 APG) in 2020 and winning the NBA title in the same year. That would mark his 4th NBA title and 4th Finals MVP.
LeBron is also the best player this season because no player can lead a team every single game like The King. James is averaging 25.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, and 7.9 APG for the Lakers this season and they were the favorites before Anthony Davis went down with an injury.