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 players best players on a season-by-season basis. The players were selected by combining numerous factors, including regular season & playoff numbers; playoff success that season; importance to their team; and any individual awards they won.
The first of the two posts will indicate the players from the 2000-01 season to the 2006-07 season, the second will cover ’07-’08 through this season.
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 & the Lakers repeated as champions over Allen Iverson, and Shaq was named Finals MVP for the second straight time after averaging 33.0p/15.4r/3.4b.
That regular season, Shaq had another monster stat line, 28.7p/12.7r/2.8b with an eFG% of 57. 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 ’01-’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 25.5p/12.7r/2.5b and had a league leading 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 & regular season MVP and led the league in WS yet again with 16.5. He put up another season of 20+ points, 12+ rebounds, and 2+ blocks per game, and his level of play in the postseason skyrocketed.
Duncan was the NBA playoff leader in 13 categories: games, minutes played, FG & FGA, 2P & 2PA, FT & FTA, ORB, DRB, TRB, BLK, and PTS. In the finals against the Nets, his averages were also inflated. A staggering line of 24.2p/17.0r/5.3a/5.3b is one that’s seldom achieved and helped the Spurs beat New Jersey in six games that year.
2003-04: Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
In what was his best season as a pro, KG led the Wolves to a number one seed in the West. 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 of that season boasted NBA-highs in PER (29.4), WS (18.3), and was third in DRtg (92). His stat line for that season — 24.2p/13.9r/5.0a/2.2b — is one that has only been averaged by one other player, 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 20.3p/11.1r/2.6b and lead the league with a DRtg 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 2P & 2PA, FT & FTA, TRB, and PTS. The numbers he contributed 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 y/o 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 34.7p/7.8r/3.8a for the series. However, in those four straight victories, Wade averaged 39.3p/8.3r/3.5a while shooting 50% from the field.
His regular season was also spectacular, finishing top-5 in PPG (27.2), PER (27.6), FTM (629), and Box +/- (7.3).
2006-07: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Despite being one of the most scrutinized athletes ever, LBJ 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 27.3p/6.7r/6.0a for the third time in four years, and his 13.7 WS ranked second in the NBA; more than double the second closest on the Cavs (Z. Ilgauskas’ 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 decent, the Spurs’ experience appeared too much for them, and they were swept in four close games. However, LeBron averaged 25.1p/8.1r/8.0a in 20 playoff games that year and became the fourth player in NBA history to record that.
Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of the list.
*Photo Credit: @kingjames*
*All data courtesy of Basketball-Reference*