Criteria: Top 50 NBA Players of the 21st Century

Well, here I am back again for the fifth straight year, ready to lead you down a several thousand word journalistic voyage that is related to the best professional sports league in the world … The National Basketball Association. This year I’m doing things slightly differently that you are used to if you have indeed checked out my work in the past. Rather than investigating the current landscape of the NBA, I’ve expanded my horizons and sprinkled some variety into this very long, tedious, and often-times frustrating process. This year I’ll be ranking the Top 50 NBA Players of the 2000’s. And instead of posting one player per day in the 50 days leading up to the NBA season, I’ll be posting two players per day in the final 25 days of the month of October.

Before I go ahead and show you the actual criteria I used to put the list together, allow me to clear something up: These rankings are based solely on a player’s production in seasons that concluded in the 21st Century. Everything that was done prior 1999-2000 season is irrelevant to me for the next 25 days. Tim Duncan’s 1999 championship … it never happened, he only has four titles. Jason Kidd’s first Mavericks tenure … non-existent. forget about those years. Shaq’s 1995 Finals appearance with the Magic … it doesn’t matter. Jordan’s six titles with the Bulls … nope, MJ is a Wizard in the world we’re operating in (and no, MJ wasn’t good enough in those two Wizards years to crack the Top 50; my apologies to all of the Jordan Worshipers reading along). I’m also not factoring in what could come in the next decade and beyond that. So while it would be a blast to attempt to forecast the careers of guys on the rise like Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Paul George, Damian Lillard and many others, we can save that discussion for another time.

Anyway, you know what that subtle change to the timeline has meant for this guy? It’s meant that rather than a single years worth of games to re-watch and re-evaluate, I needed to cram seventeen seasons worth of games into my research process. Rather than reading one season’s worth of takes on the league, I needed to find and read nearly two decades of articles and columns and box scores. Instead of looking at the current state of a given player, I needed to evaluate a career as a whole, and comparing a guy who has played 14 good seasons to a guy who has played seven great seasons is very tricky. And when you legitimately give a shit about getting all of this correct, every single decision you make, every hot take you throw out there … it can drive you nuts.

One thing that I am going to ask you to remember as you follow along with this countdown: If we didn’t have differing opinions about sports it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun to discuss it and debate it, so I don’t expect you to take everything I say as fact. All I’m doing is throwing some ideas out there while also trying to encompass as much of the past seventeen NBA seasons as I can. And if this countdown proves anything at all, it’s just that I’m a complete and total NBA nerd that has an irrational love for the league and the game of basketball in general. In a roundabout way, that makes me remarkably similar to a lot of you readers.

That’s enough foreplay, don’t you think? Let’s get to the criteria!


Status – What kind of role did he occupy on his teams? Was he the alpha dog? A second option? A role player? How well did he fill this respective role? Think of it like this: Breaking Bad was a nearly perfect TV show, and a big reason that’s the case is because every actor brilliantly performed their role, no matter how big or small it was. So I hold someone like Aaron Paul (who played Jesse Pinkman) in higher regard than I do someone like Matthew Fox (Jack from Lost) even though Fox was the main character on Lost. Paul was more valuable in his role than Fox was, so if I were ranking drama TV characters, Jesse Pinkman would be ahead of Jack Shephard.

NOTE: I included something similar to this anecdote in my criteria in the past, only my review of Fox as Jack Shephard was scathing. Between now and then I rewatched Lost, and I realized I was a little too harsh on the character. He was more interesting the second time around than I thought he was on first view. Maybe it’s because the first time I watched Lost I had no idea what was going on for the final two seasons.

Team Success – How successful were the teams that he played for? How often was his team a title contender? How much help did he have? How much of an individual impact did he have on the win/loss record of his team?

Big Moment Chops – Did he rise to the occasion in big games? Does he have a track record of coming through down the stretch in games? Was he considered clutch? Actually, let’s disregard that last question. For a period of time that lasted for so long that it now seems incomprehensible, the general consensus was that Carmelo Anthony was clutch and LeBron James was not. So whether or not a player was “considered” clutch is irrelevant. Allow me to try that again … was he actually clutch?

Longevity – Did he have an impact for a long period of time? What was he like before, during and after his prime? Did he stay relatively healthy throughout his career? This point in the criteria is closely related to …

Power at his Peak – At his absolute peak, where did he rank in the league? Where does that peak rank among the best peaks in the 2000’s? How long did that peak last? Does a significant peak make up for lack of longevity? I’ll answer those questions in the Derrick Rose and Yao Ming portions of the countdown.

Numbers and Accolades – What were the players’ averages in the major statistical categories? Did they win any individual awards? Did they make an All-NBA team, All-Defensive Team, or any teams that I made up on my own but seemed relevant during this process?

Talent – Forget about the amount of success he achieved during his career, because that’s heavily dependent on the situation a player is in … simply put, how skilled at the game of basketball was he?

Reputation – How do fans feel about his career? How well received was he when he was in the league? Did guys want to play with him? Did he do little things that made his team better or was he out for himself? Was he known as a hard worker and leader, or someone who didn’t give a crap?

How Does He Stand Out – Was he fun to watch? Was he ever must watch television for basketball junkies? Were there elements or aspects of his game that made him completely unique from anyone else in the league? Did he change the game of basketball or how we think about basketball in any way?


And that’s it! I hope this criteria will clear up any confusion moving forward. If it doesn’t, then oh well. More than anything else, I hope you have as much fun reading along with the countdown as I had writing it!


Top 50 NBA Players Countdown Criteria

After a three month writing sabbatical, I’m happy to say that I’m back on the grind and ready to unleash a several thousand word, 50 plus day countdown of the best players in the NBA today. Conventional 21 years olds spend their summer vacations hanging out with their girlfriend, working out, drinking too much, spending a whole bunch of time in the sun and enjoying their four months of freedom before the rigors of a their senior year of college. I dabbled in all of those activities, but in my spare time I crammed in several hours of research, re-watching highlights and taped playoff games, and re-reading box scores and articles just so I could confidently put together an NBA anthology that will in all likelihood be critiqued and ripped to shreds by everyone who reads my next 50 or so posts over at Saving The Skyhook. Before I get a receive a whole bunch of mean comments, just remember a few things:

A. In no way, shape, or form have I ever claimed to be an expert. I’m just a fan who cares way too much about the NBA for my own good. Evidence of this is I spent several hundred hours constructing a Top 50 players list which will put exactly $0 into my bank account.

B. Everyone has an opinion, and that’s all this list is… my opinion. Remember, if there weren’t differing opinions about sports it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to discuss. I’m not trying to tell you my opinion is better than yours. I’m just expressing my opinion while also trying to encompass as much of the previous NBA season as I can. If this countdown proves anything it’s just that I’m a complete and total NBA nerd. I have an irrational love for the NBA and the game of basketball in general. In a roundabout way, that makes me very similar to a lot of you readers.

C. Just so there isn’t any confusion to how I came to my rankings, I will gladly show you the exact criteria I used during this process. I know it is my opinion, but still it wouldn’t be fair to you if you didn’t know what logic went into my decisions for the upcoming list. Think of it like the Declaration of Independence. That written document legitimized our Founding Fathers beliefs that the 13 colonies should be an independent country of their own, completely separate from Great Britain. I wasn’t there, but when King George III received the Declaration, I imagine this was his reaction: “I don’t like this, but I totally feel where these patriots are coming from. I appreciate them explaining this to me in a written format. I’m thirsty, I want some tea… Someone get me some tea damn it!!!” Something like that. Think of this as my Declaration of Independence, that way you don’t think I am disrespectfully forcing my rankings upon you. Feel free to enjoy some tea while reading my criteria.

1. Individual Statistics/Accolades/Talent
-What was the players’ averages in the major statistical categories? (NOTE: Any career best or player career best notices are for players with who have played 5 NBA seasons or have 3 postseason appearances). Did they win any individual awards? Did they make an All-NBA team, All-Defensive Team, or any teams that I made up on my own but seemed relevant? And put simply, how good of a basketball player is he?

2. Status
-What is the players’ role on the team? How significant is the role? How well do they play their role? A non-NBA example: In 2009 Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Ledger gave the performance of a lifetime; one that was indescribably better than Christian Bale, lead actor in The Dark Knight. That movie isn’t the same without Ledger. My point is this: A transcendent role player could very easily be ranked ahead of an good but not great player who shoulders a larger burden on a nightly basis than said role player.

3. Team Success
-What was the players’ regular season and postseason record? How much of an impact does that player have on the win/loss record of his team?

4. Late Game Chops
-How good are they in the clutch? Do they play better in big games or tend to disappear? Do they look confident in the playoffs or more like a deer in the headlights?

5. Reputation
-How good of a teammate is the player? Is he a good teammate or is he despised? Does he do little things that make the team better or is he out for himself? Is he known as a hard worker and leader, or someone who doesn’t give a crap? Does he lack a killer instinct, sell out coaches, handle his free agency so comically that it has been dubiously nicknamed “The Indecision”, and care so much about the public’s opinion of him that he inadvertently destroys his image?

6. How Do They Stand Out
-Does he have any memorable games? Is there something unique about his game? Do you absolutely have to watch him play on NBA League Pass? Would you pay money to see him play in person?

Be sure to check out Saving The Skyhook for a whole bunch of NBA content over the next fifty days!