NBA’s top 10 list by the decade

The endless debate on who the greatest of all-time (GOAT) is, has gotten tired and redundant. If you base your argument on championships, the greatest is Bill Russell. If you base your argument on statistics, you have to put Russell Westbrook in your top 10, and if you’re basing your argument on legacy, you’re looking at a handful of selections.

The moral of the story is that we can’t compare upwards of seven decades of players accurately. There’s no way to quantify who the overall greatest is, so what we did was curate a list from the last three decades of NBA basketball; the 90s, 00s, and 10s.

This list is curated by our culture writer A.J. Bussey, and Thunder beat writer Addam M. Francisco.

Top 10 from the 90s:

10. Grant Hill – 90’s Stats: 20.7ppg, 8.1 rpg, 6.5apg

Entering the league in the same draft class as the ROY aka Mr. Triple Double himself, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill led the NBA in triple-doubles during this decade while being 250th in games played in the 90’s. Early in his career the Michael Jordan comparisons were high but injuries kept us from seeing what he truly could have been. Despite all this, Hill was one of the biggest names in the league in the 90’s

9. John Stockton – 90’s Stats: 14.9ppg, 11.9apg, 2.3spg

One of the most incredible stats is that Stockton led the league in assists during the first seven years of the 90’s and averaged less than 8 assists per game in this decade only once. Nine All-NBA selections during this decade and was a true iron man, never missing a game for seven straight seasons. 

8. Charles Barkley – 90’s Stats: 22.4ppg, 11.6rpg, 4.2apg

Sir Charles did what no one else could do during the the early 90’s: He beat out MJ for league MVP during the height of his game. To be as dominant as Chuck was as a power forward standing at 6’6” in a league that was dominated by some all time bigs was a feat in itself.

7. Clyde Drexler – 90’s Stats: 20.9ppg, 6.4rpg, 5.7apg

Clyde The Glide was clearly one of the best players during the early 90’s – finishing as runner up in the 91-92 MVP voting –  and although past his prime once traded to Houston, he was still an effective force in their ’95 title run. Averaging 22-6-5 on 46% shooting and adding two steals a night, this was a man who was not an all star but still contributed a star’s work.

6. Shaquille O’Neal – 90’s Stats: 27.1ppg, 12.2rpg, 57.8% FG

Shaq was the most dominant and often times destructive big in the league from the moment he stepped into the NBA. During his time with the Magic, O’Neal made a habit of sprinting up and down the court and was an absolute bully when it came to finishing in the open court. He even led the Magic past the ’95 Bulls to get to the Finals.

5. David Robinson – 90’s Stats: 24.4ppg, 11.5apg, 3.4bpg

During the ’91-’92 season, The Admiral averaged an otherworldly 4.5 blocks a night while still finding time to shoot over 50% a night on the offensive side of the game. Robinson could do anything you needed on the court…including be one of four players in NBA history to collect a quadruple-double, posting 71 points in a single game and leading the league in win shares 4 times.

4. Scottie Pippen – 90’s Stats: 19.2ppg, 7.2rpg, 5.9apg, 2.2spg

I can sum up Pip’s greatness in one statement: “Without Scottie Pippen, there’s no Michael Jordan.” Eight first time All-Defense (leading all players in the 90’s), led the Bulls to 55 wins after MJ left, widely respected and known as the greatest wing defender of all-time. And did it all on potentially the most blasphemous contracts ever signed.

3. Karl Malone – 90’s Stats: 27.2ppg, 10.7rpg, 3.7apg

Here’s Malone’s decade resume’: All-NBA First Team every year of the decade, playoff berths all 10 seasons, scored more total points than anyone in the league, played in 785 out of 788 possible games and his Jazz had the NBA’s second-best record behind only the Bulls. The Mailman is literally the best to never win a ring (check out the finale of The Last Dance if you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know how that happened).

2. Hakeem Olajuwon – 90’s Stats: 23.9ppg, 11.6rpg, 3.6bpg, 1.8spg

The only sad part of Olajuwon’s career: Not seeing him faceoff against Jordan and the Bulls in the 90’s for the title. Other than that, the Dream shook the league…literally. Back to back rings in ’94 & ’95, beating two Hall of Fame centers (Patrick Ewing & Shaq respectively) and having a now world famous post move named after him. Hakeem Olajuwon is arguably the greatest big man to ever play the game.

1. Michal Jordan – 90’s Stats: 30.3 ppg, 6.2rpg, 4.9apg, 2.2spg

Led the Bulls to a 72-10 record, six championships (out of eight years played in the decade), seven time scoring champ (also out of eight years played), played 17 games in 1994-1995 season and still nearly hit top ten in MVP voting. I could go on and on and on but to put it plainly: there was absolutely NO ONE who could turn it on and turn it up like His Airness could.

Top 10 from the 2000s:

10. Jason Kidd: 12.6ppg, 6.3 rpg, 8.7 apg, 1.9 spg.

Jason Kidd is among the most underrated point guards to ever play the game. He never averaged 20 points through any of his 19 NBA seasons, but he was a fundamental, prototypical point guard, and benefitted each team he played on. He deserves a spot on this list.

9. Vince Carter: 16.7ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.1 apg.

Vince Carter, the man who is still technically an active NBA player after 22 seasons is a lock on this list. The NBA journeyman is known more for his high-flying dunks early in his career, but he’s also the only NBA player with at least 2,000 threes and 800 blocks in his career. Carter’s ability to transition to being a role player is why he’s lasted so long in the league.

8. Paul Pierce: 19.7ppg, 5.6rbg, 3.5apg, 1.3 spg.

Paul “The Truth” Pierce was never the most exciting, flashy player to play the game, but the Celtic great is one of the most prolific players to touch the hardwood.

7. Gary Payton: 6.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.8 Steals PG

Too many people sleep on the impact Gary Payton had on the NBA but we didn’t. Payton never lacked confidence. He’s one of the pioneers of trash talk as we know it today, as he notably talked trash to Michael Jordan during his rookie season, as well as doing a great job containing Michael in the NBA Finals.

6. Tracy McGrady: 19.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.2 SPG.

T-Mac made the jump straight from high school and got right down to business. He became a Hall-of-Fame swingman, and if it weren’t for injuries, many think he would have been more comparable to Kobe Bryant. McGrady averaged approximately 20 points over his 20-year career.

5. Kevin Garnett: 17.8 PPG, 10 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.4 BPG

It took Garnett some time to win a title, but even before that he was an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. KG played 21 seasons, the second longest career in NBA history, and is in the top 20 in career blocks, steals, and ranks in the top 10 for rebounds.

4. Allen Iverson: 26.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 6.2 APG, 2.2 SPG.

Allen Iverson is considered to be the best pound-for-pound player of all-time. Yet, he’s so severely underrated partially due to him winning no titles, and his controversial career. That doesn’t and never will change the fact that he revolutionized the cultural aspect of the NBA.

3. Tim Duncan: 19 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3 APG, 2.2 BPG.

Tim Duncan is the most boring great of all-time, but he was so good that we couldn’t leave him off the top of this list. “The Big Fundamental” was precisely that. His game was simple, but his midrange bank shot was deadly, and his ability to defend other bigs was spectacular. Oh yeah, he led the San Antonio Spurs to five NBA titles as well as 1,001 regular-season victories.

2. Shaquille O’Neal: 23.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 2.3 BPG.

You may have noticed that Shaq’s name has shown up twice on this list, and that’s because he was dominant through two decades. Other than sending him to the free throw line, Shaq was the most unstoppable center to ever grace the game of basketball. O’Neal won four titles, three Finals MVPs, averaged a double-double for his career, and was a 15-time all-star. There’s only one player that can top that in this decade.

  1. Kobe Bryant: 25 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG.

Five championships, the 81-point game, the 60-point finale to his career, the MVP award, and the loyal legend that was Kobe Bryant just scratches the surface of his greatness. Bryant has, and always will be lauded as the one player that’s linked the most to Michael Jordan. Like Jordan, Bryant wasn’t only the most skilled player on the floor, he was the hardest-working, and the toughest player on the floor as well, mentally and physically. His ‘Mamba Mentality” is a coined phrase that resonates through basketball, and life.

Top 10 from the 2010s:

10. James Harden: 25.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.6 SPG.

James Harden has revolutionized the game in a different way that Steph Curry and Allen Iverson. He’s found creative ways to put the ball in the basket, and has half of the NBA criticizing him and the other half trying to immolate him. He’s won three scoring titles and one assist title. The only thing keeping him from sky-rocketing up this list is his lack of defense the majority of the time he’s on the floor.

9. Dirk Nowitzki: 20.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG.

You see what Dirk is doing in this picture? That’s what he did for 20 seasons, consistently. Dirk was among the first ‘big men’ that stepped beyond the arc consistently. He was a pioneer for players like Kevin Durant today. In addition, he brought Dallas their first title, and helped to legitimize that franchise.

8. Giannis Antetokounmpo: 20 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG.

Giannis’ ranking is this low only because of two things: his young career, ad his lack of team success thus far in his career. One of those things will change inevitably, and the other seems to be changing as we speak. Giannis will perhaps spearhead the next decade’s list if his keeps this trajectory.

7. Russell Westbrook: 23.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 8.3 APG, 1.8 SPG.

Russell Westbrook is statistically the best point guard to play the game, but his lack of postseason success haunts him. Russ averaged a triple-double for three-straight seasons, won two scoring titles, an MVP, and led the league in assists for two-straight seasons. Truth be told, Westbrook may go down as the most underrated point guard to play the game, and the only way to change that narrative is for him to win a title before he’s washed up.

6. Chris Paul: 18.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 9.5 APG, 2.2 SPG.

Paul has one mark on his career and one mark only. He hasn’t gotten to the NBA Finals. If he were to even get to there, he’d be even higher on this list. CP3 is the ‘true’ point guard of this generation and deservingly so. He’s been on eight All-NBA teams, four All-NBA First Teams, ranks fourth in career assists per game, and unlike many elites in the game today, he plays defense and a lot of it. Paul has been named to nine NBA All-Defensive teams.

5. Dwyane Wade: 22 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.5 SPG.

Dwyane Wade didn’t need LeBron James to win a title. He won the Finals MVP award in just his third season, with an aging Shaquille O’Neal. That speaks for itself. Wade is another underrated player because he never finished higher than third in MVP voting, but he did finish his illustrious career with eight All-NBA selections. Wade could have been on the 2000s list as well.

4. Kawhi Leonard: 18.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.8 SPG.

Somehow, a player in his ninth NBA season is still getting things going. His first title and Finals MVP award in 2014, but he had the help on Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. He moved on to Toronto and proved that he could do it by himself as well. Leonard takes a lot of time off, and that’s why he isn’t higher on this list, but his ability to play at an elite level on both ends of the floor can’t go unnoticed.

3. Stephen Curry: 23.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG.

Steph Curry is the best shooter of all-time. He’s turned trick-shots into automatic jumpers, and has led the Warriors to two titles, while he’s won three total. He was also the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. Curry has ushered in an entirely new style of play in the NBA that everyone tries to emulate, even if they shouldn’t.

Kevin Durant: 23.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.7 SPG.

Regardless of how fans view Kevin Durant, he’s the second best player of the decade, and him being No. 1 is a valid argument. During his eight seasons in OKC, he won four scoring titles, an MVP, and literally played a lead role in turning OKC into a big-league city. Whether you respect his two rings in Golden State or not, he won Finals MVP both times. If Durant comes back from his Achilles injury, and wins a less-controversial title, he’ll jump into being a top-10 all-time player.

  1. Lebron James: 27.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG.

Lebron is the best player of this generation. His stature doesn’t match his skill set, but he’s been the leader of his team since his rookie season back in 2003. It took him awhile to win an NBA title, but since teaming up with Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, he’s won three titles and working on his fourth. He’s now 35-years old, but he’s leading the Lakers to a hopeful championship before he retires.

About the author

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.


  1. Wow!!! This is spectacular!
    Love “the best in the decade” rankings. Put things in a better perspective and levels this basketball debate!

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