The conclusion of this upcoming NBA season will take us into a new decade, filled with hope, wonder, and excitement (but apparently no ninja turtle-style headbands??) With the 2010s rapidly approaching their end, Sports Illustrated decided there would be no time like the present to look back on the decade that was. So welcome to All-Decade Week, a look back at some of the players (among many other things) that made the last 10 years of basketball some of the best we’ve ever seen.
We’re kicking off the week with our All-Decade Third Team. While there are players who had bigger impacts over the last 10 years, these stars are certainly worthy of being recognized for their contributions to the game. Without further ado, let’s see who made the cut as five of the 2010s 15 best players. Surely, this won’t cause any debate whatsoever.
While Kobe Bryant’s off-court legacy requires much more thoughtful consideration, his on-court legacy—even if it hasn’t reached the heights of his self-mythologizing—is still largely unassailable. Bryant was far from his peak during the 2010s, but his first three years of the decade were still very strong. Kobe averaged over 25 points per game in every season from 2011 through 2013. With a hobbled Steve Nash and an unsettled Dwight Howard, Bryant practically dragged the 2013 Lakers into the playoffs by himself, only to miss the postseason after suffering an Achilles tear late in the regular season. (Bryant memorably still took his free throws after tearing his Achilles, a scene that’s been critical to that mythologizing we talked about.) Bryant was never the same after sustaining that serious of an injury so late in his career. His playing days ended in 2016. On the same night the Warriors won their 73rd game of the regular season, Bryant scored 60 points in the final contest of his career, the Lakers’ only win that month. He took 50 shots. It was a fitting way to go out.
Wade’s game started to age right at the turn of the decade, and with other explosive guards racking up the individual accolades in his stead, Wade finds himself on the third team. Still, it was an immensely successful decade for Flash. He won two championships, playing an integral role in both. (Wade also had an MVP-worthy performance in the 2011 Finals, a series thoroughly overlooked in his career highlights because somebody else had to ruin it.)
While he may have never again reached the heights of his immaculate 2009 season, 2010s Wade still had his killer instinct—and he came through time and time again with huge games during Miami’s four straight trips to the Finals. What Wade lacked in top-flight superstardom after the end of the Heatles, he made up for in moments. The Purple Shirt Game. The Golden State Game Winner. A triple double in his final NBA game. Ultimately, you can’t write the story of the 2010s without Dwyane Wade. And unlike many greats before him, he walked away with quite a bit of game left in the tank.
While Giannis has become the first hooper to unseat LeBron James in SI’s Top 100 rankings as the best player in the NBA, the 2010s were really only the start of what promises to be an epic career. Giannis’s beginnings were humble, but he’s started to explode over the last three years. In 2017, Giannis became a 20-point scorer for the first time. By 2019, he was the league MVP on the team with the best record in the regular season, built specifically to maximize his immense talents.
The Greek Freak is in a prime position to make the NBA bend to his will over the 2020s. He is somehow still only 24 years old, which means he has plenty of time to take his game to another level. (When Stephen Curry turned 24, he was still three years away from his first MVP.) Even if a brighter future lays ahead, Giannis has the hardware and the body of work to be one of the best players of the decade.
The start of Griffin’s career coincided with the start of the 2010s, and all he’s done is produce. Griffin has averaged at least 20 points per game in every year of his career, except for one. He made the All-Star Game as a rookie and then for four straight years after that. And while they were never loved during their height, Griffin’s Clippers teams, in combination with Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, and DeAndre Jordan were consistently playing some of the most efficient offense the league had ever seen, thanks in large part to the on-court chemistry he shared with Paul. Even as he’s battled injuries, Griffin has racked up accolades, making five All-NBA teams and collecting a sixth All-Star nod in 2019 for his work as the Pistons’ lead dog. Griffin may not have some of the accomplishments as the other players on the 2010s Third Team, but he left his mark on this decade in a big way. (Also, he jumped over a car! That was awesome!)
Dirk’s 2011 playoff run, which culminated in his first and only championship as well as a Finals MVP, remains one of the most impressive shows of determination in NBA history. Nowitzki was the only star on a team of talented veteran misfits, and he willed Dallas to a title, humbling the high-powered Heat in the process. That alone should earn Dirk a spot on the Third Team (at least), let alone the fact that he was still incredibly effective for the next five seasons.
Nowitzki’s career waned a little bit as the Mavericks never quite found their footing post-championship, but his game aged gracefully, his one-legged fadeaway still as iconic as ever. While the Mavs struggled to recreate team success after 2011, Dirk was never the problem. (He averaged over 20 points in three more playoff runs post-title.) Nowitzki’s career is only going to look better as time passes. By the end of his career, he was only finally starting to be properly appreciated.