Over the last decade and a half, the NBA has seen countless superstars, and other great players step onto their courts. This two-part piece will display my opinion — objective opinion — on the league’s best players on a season-by-season basis. These guys were selected by combining numerous factors, including regular season and playoff numbers; playoff success that season; importance to their team; and any individual awards they won.
2000-01: Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
The most physically dominant center since Wilt Chamberlain had an outstanding start to the new millennium. He and the Lakers repeated as champions over Allen Iverson, and Shaq was named Finals MVP for the second straight time after averaging 33.0 points, 15.4 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.
That regular season, Shaq had another monster stat line, 28.7 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks with an effective field goal percentage of 57.0. On top of that, he led the NBA in PER (30.2) and win shares (14.9).
2001-02: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
The greatest power forward ever had one of the best seasons of his storied career in 2001-02. Despite losing to the Lakers in the West Semis that year, Duncan did all in his power to combat them. His averages of 29 points & 17.2 rebounds per game weren’t enough, however, and the Spurs lost in five games to the eventual champs.
His regular season, on the other hand, is arguably the best of his career. He scored over 2,000 points that year, the single time in his career, and had averages of 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and led the league with 17.8 win shares.
2002-03: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Another remarkable season from the Big Fundamental; this time, Duncan took the Spurs all the way to an NBA Championship. Along the way, Duncan picked up a Finals and regular season MVP and led the league in win shares yet again with 16.5. For the second-straight year, Duncan averaged more than 20 points (23.3) and 12 boards (12.9) and his level of play in the postseason skyrocketed.
Duncan was the NBA playoff leader in 13 categories: games, minutes played, field goals made and attempted, two-point field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds, blocks and points. In the finals against the Nets, his averages were also inflated. A staggering line of 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.3 blocks is one that frequently requires a double-take and was vital to the Spurs beating New Jersey in six games that year.
2003-04: Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
In what was his best season as a pro, Garnett led the Wolves to a number one seed in the West with a 58-24 record. On top of team success, Garnett was the league’s leading shot maker (804), rebounder (1139) and scored more points than anyone else (1987).
The MVP also boasted NBA-highs in PER (29.4), win shares (18.3) and was third in defensive rating (92). His stat line for that season — 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 blocks — is one that only one other player has averaged, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
2004-05: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Despite missing 16 games during the regular season, Duncan managed to post a line of 20.3 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while leading the league with a defensive rating of 93. As he returned for the playoffs, he was San Antonio’s most consistent option. Duncan had another playoff with averages greater than 20 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks, and led the playoffs in twos made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, rebounds and points. The numbers he threw up resulted in his third Finals MVP award.
2005-06: Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
In what is one of the greatest performances in Finals history, a 24-year-old Dwyane Wade led his Miami Heat to a title by winning four straight games after falling behind 2-0 to the Dallas Mavericks. Later receiving MVP for his efforts in the strong comeback, Flash averaged 34.7 points, 7.8 boards and 3.8 assists for the series. However, in those four straight victories, Wade’s metric were 39.3, 8.3 and 3.5, respectively, while shooting 50 percent from the field.
His regular season was also spectacular, finishing top-five in points per game (27.2, fifth), PER (27.6, fourth), free throws made (629, fourth) and box plus/minus (7.5, third).
2006-07: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Despite being one of the most scrutinized athletes ever, James has cemented his spot as an all-time great. Although he had three great years before this one, this year is when his reign of dominance started over the league. James averaged 27.3 points, 6.7 boards and 6.0 assists for the third time in four years, and his 13.7 win shares ranked second in the NBA; more than double the second closest on the Cavs (Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 6.6).
In the playoffs that year, LeBron & the Cavs met up with the Spurs in the Finals after breezing through the previous three rounds. While the Cavs played decently, the Spurs’ experience appeared too much for them, and they were swept in four close games. However, LeBron averaged 25.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.0 dimes in 20 playoff games, becoming the fourth player in NBA history to record that.
2007-08: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Despite not being his best season with the Lakers, Kobe captured his lone MVP award and made yet another appearance in the Finals. The 29-year-old averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists while landing on the All-NBA and All-Defense first teams.
Bryant’s scintillating run came to an end in the Finals. The Boston Celtics dropped them in six games, with Kobe averaging 25.7 points on 40.5 percent shooting. For the playoffs as a whole, however, the Mamba led everyone with 30.1 nightly points.
2008-09: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers 2008-09 season began and ended with LeBron. Cleveland rode James to a 66-win regular season before losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to a superb Orlando Magic team. The King averaged 38.3p/8.3r/8.0a in that series and led the playoffs with an average of 35.3 PPG.
In the regular season, LeBron won his first of four MVP awards and led the NBA in a litany of analytical categories. Including PER (31.67, fourth all-time), Win Shares (20.3), Box Plus/Minus (12.9, first all-time), and Value Over Replacement Player (11.6, third all-time).
2009-10: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
In the season following their franchise record in wins, LeBron & Co. snagged 61 victories, second best in Cavalier history. LeBron posted another monster stat line, 29.7 points, 8.6 assists, 7.3 boards and 1.6 steals and became the second player ever to average that for a season (Michael Jordan in 1988-89). James also led the league in all the same categories as the year prior: PER (31.1), win shares (18.5), and box plus/minus (12.5).
In the playoffs, however, Boston’s Big Three were too much for Cleveland. The Celtics beat the Cavs in six games before going on to lose to the Lakers in seven in the Finals. His averages for the 2010 playoffs were identical to the ones in the previous season — 29.1 points, 9.3 boards and 7.6 assists.
2010-11: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Just his third year in the league, Derrick Rose was the first of the dynamic, athletic point guards that are so prevalent in the league now. Rose led the Bulls to 62 wins and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Individually, Rose captured his first MVP award and became the first player since Bob McAdoo in 1974-75 to win the award in their third year or sooner (first guard overall), according to Basketball-Reference.
Rose averaged 25 points, 7.7 dimes and 4.1 rebounds while being top-5 in win shares (13.1) and box plus/minus (5.9). Once the postseason rolled around, Rose elevated his game and averaged 27.1 points and 7.7 assists before losing to the Miami Heat in five games.
2011-12: LeBron James, Miami Heat
This was the year LeBron won his first title and became the eighth player to win three MVP awards. His regular season numbers were about his average: 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists. In the postseason, however, LeBron took his play to another stratosphere.
In five games against Oklahoma City in the Finals, LeBron & the Heat reeled off four straight wins, and James threw up improved numbers across the board. For the entirety of the playoffs, James was the leader in points, rebounds, free throws made and attempted, field goals made and attempted and minutes.
2012-13: LeBron James, Miami Heat
In his second consecutive MVP season, LeBron garnered 120 out of 121 first place votes and his second straight championship. In what was another typical James season, 26.8points, 8.0rebounds and 7.3 assists, and LeBron continued to display why he’s the best player of this generation. On a team that featured two other superstars, James led the team (and league) in his usual categories — PER (31.6), win shares (19.3) and box plus/minus (11.6).
Miami went the distance with San Antonio before capturing the title, and it was James who played superhuman on both ends of the floor. He closed the series with a dazzling 37-point, 12-rebound performance that earned him the Finals MVP award.
2013-14: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
After spending most of his career as the second-best to LeBron James, Durant had his best season as a pro. KD & the Thunder were beaten by the eventual champions, San Antonio, in the Western Conference Finals but Durant’s regular season was brilliant. Durant put up career-bests in every major scoring category (PTS, FG, FT, and 3P) and led the league in PER (29.8), WS (19.2), Offensive Box +/- (8.4), and VORP (8.5).
He averaged a career-best 32.0 points a night while shooting 50.3 percent from the field. It translated to the postseason seamlessly. In 19 games, Durant threw up 29.6 a night. He also played some of the best defense we had ever seen from him.
2014-15: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Unless you live under a rock, you know who Steph Curry is. The 2015 season belonged Curry and Golden State, and he did not disappoint. An astounding 67 wins were carried by Steph and that magical jump shot he possesses. Curry led the league in threes made (286), breaking his record (272) in the process. On top of the lead in that category, Curry led in steals, free throw percentage, offensive box plus/minus and was top-10 in almost every other major category.
Once the season was over, Curry captured his first MVP and had an outstanding playoff run, connecting on 98 long balls (broke Reggie Miller‘s record of 58), and averaged 28.3 points, 5.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds. In the Finals against Cleveland, Steph & LeBron had six remarkable games. As the Warriors beat an injury-laden Cavalier team, Curry averaged 26 points, 6.3 assists and almost two steals per game.