Basketball’s Mount Rushmore Over the Decades: Part 2 – The 00’s

The Basket Counts collaborates with In Jeans and Joggers for a three part column on basketball’s Mount Rushmore for the ‘90s, ‘00s and current decade.

By Ryan Hicks, Sam Findlay, Ray De Souza and Ryan Flannery

For Part 1, check out Basketball’s Mount Rushmore Over the Decades: Part 1 – The 90’s

Here is Part 2, enjoy!

 

Samuel Findlay (from In Jeans and Joggers):

Kobe Bryant

The Mamba, Kobe Bryant, ruled the ’00s as one of, if not, the best player in the league for almost a decade – an All-Star each year throughout the ‘00s and an NBA champion in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2009 (and 2010 if we’re counting that one as well). Not to mention, Kobe was Finals MVP twice, and what’s more, was the league MVP for the 2007-08 season. Yep, I’m calling it. Kobe Bryant was the ‘00s best player. Basically, Kobe was the Michael Jordan of his era, with the will to win and passion for the game much like that of the Bulls’ number 23 (and 45).

Most notable and incredible, is that Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 points for the 2005-06 season. That’s unheard of. To compare, Kevin Durant is currently averaging 31.6 points and is playing out of his mind. Now think about averaging 35.4 points just like Kobe managed to do for the 2005-06. Incredible. And the following season, he put up 31.6 points while playing 77 games. I think it’s fair to say Kobe was the definition of “scorer.” Oh, and remember that 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006?

 

Allen Iverson

Much like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson was a force be reckoned with offensively, who found the bottom of the net and played well above his height of six foot. He could score from everywhere and didn’t at all seem bothered by the seven footers, as he was such a great penetrating guard and got it done – reverse layups and all. He found a way to use his talent to its full potential and is arguably the best pound for pound player in NBA history. During the 2005-06 season in which Kobe Bryant averaged 35.4 points, A.I. put up 33 points per game. How a player who averaged 33 points didn’t win the scoring title is mind-boggling. 33 points a game is no easy feat, as we can see in today’s game where scratching over 30 a game is rare, and at the moment, is only being done by Durant, as mentioned earlier.

Iverson was honoured recently by getting his No. 3 jersey retired in Philadelphia by the 76ers for the great work and play he provided while a member of the team, leading them to the Finals in 2001 – the year he was also named league MVP. The Sixers were, however, beaten by the Lakers in five games after going up 1-0 to start the series, despite Iverson’s strong play. Furthermore, A.I. had a killer, and I mean KILLER, crossover. We can’t forget his crossover on none other than Michael Jordan:

Tim Duncan

The Big Fundamental is his name (or nickname), and that he was. Duncan wasn’t flashy and didn’t talk his game up, but man he was (and still is) an outstanding basketball player.

Timmy is a four time NBA champion, earning rings in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007, while winning Finals MVP for three of the four championships (1999, 2003 and 2005). Duncan is also a two time MVP for his dominance during both the 2001-02 season and 2002-03 season. His stats and percentages were consistent all over the board. To name just one stat line, during his first MVP season, Duncan averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.5 blocks, while shooting the ball at .508 percent from the field and .799 from the free-throw line. Duncan’s post game and the low block is where he made a name for himself – although he could shoot from the elbow and mid-range quite well, too – with footwork and off the glass finishing that was so simple, yet so pretty.

Instead of simply calling Tim Duncan The Big Fundamental, let’s call him “The Big Fundamental Who Got It Done During the ‘00s.”

Shaquille O’Neal

The most dominant player in league history, Shaq, Diesel, Superman, The Big Shaqtus, The Big Aristotle or whatever you like to call him, was just that, dominant in all aspects of the word. He was an unstoppable force at 7 foot 1 and 147 kg (325 lbs for those who prefer listing weight in pounds), and couldn’t be stopped down low by single coverage and on a good night, not even by a double team.

Shaq won four championships (in 2000, 2001, 2002 with the Lakers and in 2006 with the Heat), three Finals MVP trophies (2000 and 2001) and was league MVP for the 1999-00 season  – averaging 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 3 blocks, while shooting .574 percent from the field. Sure, half of that season was 1999, which isn’t during the ‘00s. However, Shaq stayed pretty solid throughout the decade of ‘00s, particularity in in the earlier years. Most of his points came off dunks, and although he wasn’t a great free-throw shooter, he would often finish even when he was fouled. Shaq really was the most dominant player basketball has ever seen.

 

Special Mention: Chauncey Billups

MR. BIG SHOT! You’re the man, Chauncey – my all-time favourite player. As Jalen Rose would say, keep getting’ dem checks! The ’00s were an awesome time for Billups and the Pistons.

Ryan Hicks:

Kobe Bryant

Kobe is the type of player that people (like me) fly half way around the world just to watch play so that they can one day tell their kids “I saw Kobe.” The current generation of players coming into the league all grew up watching and emulating The Black Mamba just as he did with Michael. He draws obvious comparisons to MJ for good reason, he is the closest we’ve seen to another Jordan, and he literally modelled parts of his game on His Airness, just as the next generation modelled parts of their game on Kobe.

What makes him great has also hindered his achievements – his drive, his competitiveness, his ego and his expectations. If he and Shaq had been able to co-exist, who knows the heights they could’ve reached. Although the blame for their falling out falls jointly on Bryant and Shaq, it has still created one of the biggest hypothetical “what if’s” in NBA history. Bryant wasn’t the most loyal, accepting teammate throughout his career, saying in 2007 that he wanted to be traded, saying in public that the Lakers should “ship his ass out” when talking about Andrew Bynum trade talks for Jason Kidd (that ultimately failed), feuding with Shaq and running Dwight Howard out of town. The demands he placed on his teammates and management matched the demands he placed on himself, which make it difficult to be a teammate of Kobe’s.

On the court, though, there was no stopping Kobe in the ’00s.

Kevin Garnett

KG was in his prime for all of this decade, and there were not many better players than The Big Ticket in his prime. He was a 10x All-Star, NBA Champion, an MVP, 1x DPOY, 10x All-Defense, 8x All-NBA, 4x Rebounding Champion and responsible for some of the biggest playoff performances in history during this decade.

In 2004, before KG went out and did THIS in Game 7 of the WCF, he had this to say:

Nobody matched KG’s intensity and passion for the game. He was the defensive anchor and the offensive Swiss army knife. Whatever was asked of him, he was capable of doing. His versatility and the way he played the game changed the expectations of what big men should be capable of doing. He was also the first successful player to come out of high school. KG left his mark on the game in the ’00s and his career has forever changed its landscape.

Shaquille O’Neal

The scariest sentence a player could hear from their coach in the ’00s: “You’ll be guarding Shaq tonight.” What they should’ve been saying is “You’ll be trying to guard Shaq.” The problem is, the coach could’ve had every player on the court trying to stop Shaq, and 5 guys wouldn’t have been able to stop his combination of power and quickness. Before Kobe became “The Mamba,” he was Shaq’s sidekick in a three-peat that saw Shaq win Final’s MVP three times, during a reign of physical dominance that may not be matched. He wasn’t done there though, he moved to Miami and won it all again with Dwyane Wade. O’Neal was the most dominant, nightmare-inducing big man of all-time.

Tim Duncan

Duncan’s per 36 minute stats for his career are staggering. He is the model for consistent excellence. Duncan was lucky enough to be drafted into the perfect situation that allowed him to thrive. He has an all-time great coach, a smart organization, he can fly under the radar in a small market and he was able to learn from David Robinson and defer any early expectations onto the established veteran. Once Robinson was gone and TD was the leader of the team, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were already on the scene. With Duncan at the helm, during the decade the Spurs won three championships, made the WCF twice, and made the conference semi-finals four times.

Ryan Flannery:

Shaquille O’Neal

While the 1990s was where Shaq made his debut and started turning heads with his raw athleticism and quickness the new millennium was where he became the brutal powerhouse that will make him go down as arguably the most intimidating force in NBA history. The Los Angeles Lakers began the decade by accomplishing a rare three-peat, with O’Neal’s exploits being the crucial centrepiece to these championships, as he won Finals Most Valuable Player in all three seasons. O’Neal will be remembered as probably the most unstoppable big man in the history of the game, as his drop-step dunk move consistently made the NBA’s best defenders look foolish and weak.

Allen Iverson

Undoubtedly, the face of the NBA’s hip-hop generation of the early 2000s, “The Answer” gave hope to millions of kids around the word who were smaller than everyone else. An explosive scorer, Iverson could pour in 40 point games regularly, as his combination of quickness and elusiveness left defenders in his wake all over the court. Evidence of this is the 2000-01 season in which Iverson won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. The 76ers team that he led to the Finals was one of the weakest teams on paper ever to make the Big Dance, and almost the entirety of their success can be attributed to Iverson’s unwavering determination and will to win.  Iverson never met a shot he didn’t like, and made no apologies for that fact.

Tim Duncan

If Allen Iverson is at one end of the NBA’s hip-hop spectrum, then ‘The Big Fundamental’ is most definitely at the other. You have to look long and hard to find videos of Duncan putting defenders on posters or dazzling you with his athleticism, but that fact is simply a testament to just how effective he is. In the 2000s decade, Duncan’s Spurs have won three championships, with the centrepiece being Duncan’s incredible play with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan’s work on offense on the low block is legendary, with the ability to rise up and hit his trademark bank shot, and also shot-fake and drive to the hole or draw the foul. He also has been an anchor on defence for his entire career, always willing to clean up the scraps and do the dirty work. The consummate professional, it is incredible how underrated Duncan is despite all of his accolades.

Kobe Bryant

The fact that the Lakers get 2 heads on this mountain just goes to show what an incredible team they were, with Kobe being one of the most gifted scorers the game has seen. However, it wasn’t until Shaq’s departure after the 2003-04 season that Kobe fully made the Lakers his own. Season after season, Kobe put his team of role players on his back and marched them into the playoffs, often putting up absolutely ridiculous scoring numbers (35.4ppg in 2005-06). It wasn’t until the Lakers heist of Pau Gasol in 2008 that Kobe finally got the help he needed, and the results soon followed. The Lakers became back-to-back champions with Kobe proving to his doubters and also to himself that he could be successful without Shaquille O’Neal.  Bryant has been cast by many as this decade’s Michael Jordan, based off their similar frame and competitive instincts, and the highest praise that can be given to him is that those comparisons are not far off the mark.

Ray De Souza (from In Jeans and Joggers:

Kobe Bryant


After Michael, there was a vacant role that not only involved being the premier shooting guard of the league, but rather the premier player of the whole league. This was a role that Kobe Bryant longed for. A player whose obsession for the game was only surpassed by his own obsession to win, Kobe “Bean” Bryant is the closest thing to Michael that the league has seen.

With supreme confidence in his own ability, Bryant has never been afraid to take the last shot, his fourth quarter prowess enabled him to elevate himself from a great player to a superstar. In terms of career highlights and accolades, his list is endless. He is a point scoring machine, was part of the greatest “one-two punch” the game has ever seen and has eventually become one of the game’s great leaders. He has an assassin’s mentality, and was able to gather one MVP award and five rings along his travels (“that’s one more than Shaq, for those keeping score”).

Throughout the 2000′s the “Bryant” name dominated the headlines, on and off the court. His career is one that screams of evolution. He has been able to frequently recreate himself and evolve as a person and player countless times.

From a brash teenager entering a team where he was an outcast, to a member of the rise and fall of a dynasty, to eventual reemergence of a champion, and the creation of a legend, Bryant has seen and been through it all. He can arguably be considered to be the greatest player of this era, and would undoubtedly earn a place on the Mount Rushmore of the 2000s.

 

Shaquille O’Neal

Standing at seven foot one, Shaquille O’Neal or “Big Diesel” was and is larger than life in every aspect. Call him what you like, Shaq was able to use his size to dominate at the center position for a decade. During this time, no player could consistently physically matchup to the imprint he would leave on a game. A career average of almost 11 rebounds and 23 points, Shaq would punish you at both ends of the court.

With Phil Jackson at the helm and Kobe by his side, his years during the Lakers ‘Three-Peat” dynasty were easily his best. Shaq was the best, and most dominant player on the planet. He was able to collect three rings with the Lakers, and an MVP award winning season in which he averaged an astonishing 29. 7 and 13.6.

A well-travelled man, Shaq went on to play for a number of teams and amassed a catalog of highlights, achievement and awards. Four championship rings, one MVP, three finals MVPs and countless All-Star appearances, Shaq was a physical freak the likes of which the league will probably never see again. At his peak, nothing could stop him, not even his own abysmal free throw ability.

The most powerful and dominant player maybe the game has ever seen, Shaq is one player who definitely deserves his place amongst a Mount Rushmore of the 2000s (that’s if the mountain could handle his and Kobe’s ego of course).

Tim Duncan

Regarded as the “Greatest Power-Forward of All-Time,” very few would argue seeing Tim Duncan’s face on a Mount Rushmore of NBA players of the 2000s. One of the most skilled big men that has graced the court, Duncan’s calculated and precise game is that of which oozes professionalism. The “Big Fundamental” as he has been coined, exhibits a game that doesn’t involve great athleticism or highlight reel dunks. As his nickname suggests, it revolves around the fundamentals. A soft touch around the rim, a supreme post game and his ever reliable bank-shot, Duncan plays the same way now, as he did when he first entered the league. He is a walking double-double, and throughout the 2000s he averaged 11.7 rebounds and almost 21.5 points a game at an extremely efficient 50 percent field goal percentage.

Year after year, he has provided the NBA with some of the greatest and consistent play, and used this to lead his team to four championships. A two-time MVP and three-time finals MVP, the career highlights and awards that he amassed during the 2000s are countless. Tim Duncan is an inevitable first ballot Hall-of-Famer and truly a once in a lifetime player. He plays the game of basketball in its purest form, and in a style which we may never really be see again.

Jason Williams

Many people will be reading this pick, and be thinking:

“Is this guy high?” 

And:

“Is Williams his dealer?”

Nevertheless, I couldn’t pick my NBA Mount Rushmore of the 2000s without paying homage to one of my favourite players of all-time.

A trash talking “white boy” from West Virginia, Jason Williams was a player who some would argue never fulfilled his full potential. Equipped with arguably the best handles in the history of the game, “White Chocolate” exploded into the league as a rookie with an immense amount of skill and the incapability to perform a “normal pass.” With Vlade Divac and Chris Webber by his side during his years at Sacramento, he played with a reckless regard and schoolyard streetball style that made me fall in love with the game of basketball. Williams was a nightmare for defenders, his unpredictable, flashy and “top 10″ worthy plays made this Kings team one of the most exciting to watch in the league.

In terms of career, his stats never reached the heights of other peers, and as result of his willingness to push the “flashier” pass caused his assist-to-turnover ratio to always be high. Nevertheless, as his career progressed, Williams’ tendencies towards those flashier plays diminished. This allowed for a more coach friendly style of play and eventually led to him to being an important role player in the 2005-06 Miami Heat NBA Championship-winning team.

The 2000s were of course littered with countless players, and in particular point-guards who have had far greater careers as a whole and were better all-around basketballers. However, whenever I think of this era I am brought back to watching “White Chocolate” attempting and often performing the impossible. Be it through his non-stop trash talk, array of no look passes or insanely high dribble, Williams brought back a fast paced streetball style of basketball that I will always remember, and that is why I will gladly place his face alongside the greats of the 2000s even if many others won’t.

Tune in next week for Part 3: The Current Decade. We’ll be predicting what this decade’s Mount Rushmore will look like when it’s finished



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