10. PAUL PIERCE
No one ever considered Pierce the best player at his position for any lengthy duration of time. But at one point in 2008, he did something even more memorable: He outplayed both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant during one playoff run and became a Finals MVP.
9. ALLEN IVERSON
Beginning in 2000, Iverson still went to the playoffs seven times, made 11 All-Star teams and six All-NBA teams, twice on the first team, and he seemed more indestructible than anyone since Jack Bauer. He led the NBA in scoring three times after the turn of the century, and for all of the jokes about how little he gave up the rock, Georgetown’s finest still finished his career with an average of 6.2 dimes a night playing with talented offensive juggernauts like Eric Snow, Matt Harpring and Kenny Thomas.
8. STEVE NASH
He’s won no championships, and in fact, has played in 118 playoff games without ever making the Finals, easily the most of anyone in history (You could also count his repeated hair styling failures as a negative, but with so many players being followers rather than trendsetters, we’ll quietly stick this under his Pros category.). But honestly, you can’t really fault him.
7. DWYANE WADE
With career averages of 25.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists per night on nearly 49 percent shooting, the man who put Marquette basketball on the map isn’t only one of the best players in the world, he is one of the most efficient. Wade almost never takes bailout shots. For his career, he’s averaged less than two triple attempts a game, and before LeBron James showed up on South Beach, he trusted his teammates enough to average at least 6.5 assists in six straight seasons.
6. KEVIN GARNETT
He’s made 14 All-Star teams, with 12 of them coming since 2000, while becoming the only play in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in six straight seasons. Garnett was the Fun Police, Da Kid, the only 7-1 forward (screw what his player info says… the man is over seven feet tall) any of us ever saw who could score in the paint against anyone, and then lock up the league’s best perimeter scorers.
5. DIRK NOWITZKI
He had failures, but overcame them. He had regrets, but shut them out. He had critics, but shut them up. After he delivered in 2011, winning a championship and a Finals MVP, all of the stats began to overwhelm us. He’s a career 25.9-point, 10.3-rebound a night guy in the playoffs. He’s going to pass 25,000 career points sometime next season. He’s a career 48/38/88 percentage shooter. He’s made every All-Star Game since 2002, and made at least the All-NBA Third Team every season since 2001. Finally, throughout 14 years in the NBA, Nowitzki has never missed more than nine games in a single season.
4. LeBRON JAMES
Even at just 27 years old, James already has eight All-Star Games (with two game MVPs) under his belt. He’s won three NBA MVPs and one Finals MVP, made the first team for both All-NBA and All-Defensive in each of the past four seasons, has an insane 26 Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards, and has career averages just south of 28/7/7. Not bad.
3. SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
When he was at his absolute best – which would have to be from 1999 to 2002 – no one was better. No one. Defensively, he was like a brick wall that could move at alarming speed and cut off potential layups. When he was hungry and listening to Phil Jackson, he put together an MVP season that included a career-high 29.7 points, along with 13.6 rebounds and three blocks a night.
2. TIM DUNCAN
Since the 1999-2000 season, Duncan has scored 19,743 points, rebounded 10,985 missed shots, made 12 All-Star Games, won two NBA MVPs, an All-Star Game MVP, two NBA Finals MVPs and three championships. His grocery list of achievements is longer than Eddy Curry’s Stop-n-Shop list. He’s a model of consistency, and was the driving force during an unbelievable seven-year run where San Antonio made at least the Western Conference Semifinals in every season.
1. KOBE BRYANT
No one went through more transformations in one career. No one logged more SportsCenter time, been the instigator of more Internet forum threads or managed to fight and beat Father Time more often. No one dealt with as much drama away from the floor – self-inflicted or not – as Kobe Bryant. He is a survivor, and you can make the case his 16-year career is more impressive than winning six championships or grabbing five NBA MVP awards.