By Ryan Hicks, Sam Findlay, Ray De Souza and Ryan Flannery
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.
I’m personally (perhaps controversially) hoping LeBron overtakes MJ as the Greatest of All-Time. Hearing from people who grew up watching the legends like Magic, Bird & Michael makes me jealous to say the least, but to be able to know that I grew up watching legends like Kobe, Shaq, Duncan, AI, CP3 and now Durant and Lebron makes me feel a little bit better. Like any fan, a chance to be a part of, or witness to history excites me – that is why I want for LeBron’s career to be as illustrious as they come. Don’t get me wrong, LeBron is still far from overtaking Jordan at this point, but it’s not beyond possibility.
Each year he has added something to his game to silence the critics, but also driven himself to become an unstoppable force on the court. Whether it’s his 3pt shot, his post game, his Roy Hibbert-kryptonite floater, or his ability to come up big in the clutch, LeBron has found ways to improve his game that now has opposing coaches scrapping notes from their scouting reports and scrambling to find a weakness (or wonder if one still exists). James’ style of play (pass-first, strength over quickness, a developing post game), his size and his proven ability to adapt the way he plays indicates that he could continue to flourish in the league well into his 30’s if injuries don’t hold him back. A long tenure in the league could see LeBron climb atop the NBA’s All-Time Mount Rushmore.
Offensively, Durant possesses more weapons than any other player on the court. His combination of length, quickness, height, handles and shooting ability make him impossible to stop. He is the most potent scorer of this generation and a nightmare matchup for any defense. By the end of the decade we’ll have seen a few more scoring titles from KD, and more than likely some more finals appearances and with a bit of luck, a much deserved MVP nod as the 25yr old Durant enters his prime. Durant has already stamped his mark on this decade, but by the end of it, this will hopefully be known as the decade of LeBron and KD. When it’s all said and done this should be the decade where 2 of the 3 best small forwards of all-time went toe to toe. What both players do in their next free agency could ultimately decide the legacy they leave on the game but at the moment Durant is neck and neck with LeBron for “Best Basketball Player on the Planet.”
The Brow! Davis turns 21 this week. 21! His averages so far this season as a 20yr old have been 20.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.5 assist, 2.9 blocks and 1.4 steals. As this is his sophomore season in the league, these stats should be his base line to build off. It’s tough to imagine the statistical dominance he’ll be displaying when he reaches his prime, or just how far away his prime is. The ceiling for Davis’ game is incredibly high, and that’s why I’ve chosen him as a prediction for this decade’s Mt Rushmore. His New Orleans squad has some good young pieces and future assets that could prove promising for the budding superstar. It can support as he tries to propel the franchise into the upper echelons of the hyper competitive Western Conference. He is the perfect building block for a franchise, a likeable, humble, driven person who happens to be one of the best two-way players in the league. He can make others around him better on both sides of the ball which is a rare talent.
If Harden can rid his game of his perceived deficiencies of regularly playing lackadaisical defence on the perimeter, then he is poised to be best shooting guard of this decade without question. At the moment he is still probably at the top of current SG’s with Kobe and Wade nearing the twilight of their career, but if his defence doesn’t improve then players like Klay Thompson and Bradley Beal might catch up to him. The situation in Houston looks very positive for The Bearded One going forward with Dwight and Harden under contract through 2016 (Howard has a player option the following year, Harden has a team option in 2017-18). With Lin and Asik due to come off the books at the end of next year, they can look to add an additional piece or 2 around the core of Howard, Parsons and Harden.
Harden was also involved in the most influential trade of the decade when he was traded from OKC to Houston. Not only because it robbed OKC of a dynasty, it made Houston into a powerhouse in the West and allowed Harden to blossom into a fully-fledged superstar, but the greater ramifications it has for the Thunder in the coming years. That move by management single-handedly traded away one of Durant and Westbrook’s closest friends and best chances at a title to save a bit of money and avoid amnestying Kendrick Perkins (which would be an admission by the management that Perkins-Green trade was a mistake). It sent a message to Westbrook and Durant that the management is much more concerned about money than winning. Convincing the stars to stay in the Midwest and play for small market OKC was going to be hard enough going into their free agency, but the OKC management just made it that much tougher on themselves and if I’m KD or Russ, I’d be lining up suitors for my services the second I get a chance to sign somewhere else.
Samuel Findlay (from In Jeans and Joggers):
There is no debating it, LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, and has been for some years now. LeBron gives hope to the thought that there might someday be a player of Jordan’s magnificence, that possibly being, well, LeBron.
It took him a few years in Cleveland (dominating nonetheless, as the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer) before moving to Miami to a ring (or more so, back to back rings), but once he did, he and the Heat have been favourties each season since. Even with the Pacers, Thunder and Spurs all playing at a championship level, I’m still taking the Heat to win it this year – because of LeBron James.
King James is a two-way player who fills up the stat sheet every game. He’s a triple-double waiting to happen, averaging 27 points, 7 rebounds and 6.5 assists, while shooting just over 57 percent from the field. That was no typo. 57 percent from the field. It seems like only big men who score most, if not, all of their points under the basket are the ones to shoot the ball with such efficiency. And when it comes to Player Efficiency Rating, LeBron’s is 29.59 – second to the only player battling with him for MVP in Kevin Durant. While we’re on the topic of the MVP, LeBron has won the award four times, as well as winning two Finals MVP trophies during both championships. And no need to mention his other accolades, such as all of his All-Star appearances, All-NBA First Team selections and so on. LeBron is the Mount Rushmore of our current decade.
KD, as mentioned during my LeBron explanation, is the only other player really in the MVP conversation this season. It’s a tight race, too, with both LeBron and KD making a very strong case for the award.
Durant is an unstoppable force, especially on offence. He’s the league’s best scorer at 31.7 per game, along with 5.6 assists and 7.7 rebounds. Oh, and he has a PER of 30.26. Much like ‘Melo or Kobe Bryant when healthy for example, Durant shoots the ball with the upmost confidence every time, and is a heat check guy for real. It almost seems like the Thunder’s best option every single possession is for Durant to shoot a three. I mean, no one can block him, or even really contest his shot for that matter, with the type of length he has at 6 foot 9 (or so) and his wingspan of 7 foot 4. Then again, that length also makes it tough for most to stop him when he penetrates and attacks the basket. KD or LeBron for MVP. Take your pick.
Carmelo Anthony could very well be the best overall (with emphasis on the word “overall”) scorer in the NBA. Stay with me now. When I say he is the best overall scorer in the NBA, I mean it in the sense that he can best score from everywhere on the floor and is the most complete at doing so – off the dribble, pull up, catch and shoot, in the post (both low and high), back to the basket, face up, under the basket, off an offensive rebound, put-back, you name it. Sure, Durant might be averaging more points this season and scored with more ease. But ‘Melo’s talent is his scoring ability, and how he can do is from anywhere. And let’s not forget, ‘Melo did score 62 points earlier this season against the Bobcats.
Despite a struggling season for the Knicks, ‘Melo is still playing great basketball, and has done so for many years now. When knocking down long range shots, he is impossible to stop, and is one of those guys that will pull up and shoot out of nowhere when you least expect it. ‘Melo is gradually becoming a better defender and rebounds the ball at a high rate (8.3 rebounds per game this season).
It’s going to be interesting to see where Carmelo Anthony ends up after this season – weather he will stay in New York with the Knicks or move on to another team (with reports that Phil Jackson may be joining the Knicks’ front office, he may very well stick around). Either way, he ends up in my Mount Rushmore for the current decade.
After a tough run of injuries during his rookie and sophomore year, John Wall really started to prove just how talented he was, and could be, last season, earning himself a max deal with the Washington Wizards. Now injury free and the reigns handed over to him to run the Wizards, Wall has excelled.
Averaging 19.5 points, 8.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds this season, Wall made his first All-Star game and, while in New Orleans for All-Star weekend, won himself the Slam Dunk contest, too:
What’s most impressive about Wall’s game is his competitiveness and his leadership at the point guard position. Some players will coast at times, but Wall never seems to do so. This season, led by Wall, who hasn’t missed a game, the Wizards are currently 33-30 (side note: I’ve got a bet with a friend that the Wizards will win 40 or more games. If I win the bet, I’ve got a fat boy deluxe burger from His Boy Elroy coming my way. I like my chances.) This season, when the Wizards got to .500, it was for the first time in four years, and it looks like they will make the playoffs this year as well – thanks to Wall. I’ve made this point before in a previous column, but I’ll reiterate it again: last season the Wizards went 5-28 while Wall was out injured. When Wall returned, however, he turned things around, helping the Wizards go 24-25 to end the season.
Wall’s potential seems endless, possessing speed and natural skill that suits his up-tempo style of play perfectly. When this current decade comes to an end, Wall could very well be the best point guard in the NBA. He’s not far from it now. Expect big things from the Wizards’ leader.
Special Mention: Andre Drummond
He just missed out on my Mount Rushmore of the current decade, but Andre Drummond is worth mentioning. Just look at the damage he is doing this season: 13.2 points, 13.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
Drummond is a rebounding machine, and is a defensive beast, who protects the paint so very well. Remember the former Piston Ben Wallace? Drummond is the modern day Big Ben, only a better scorer. And he is just 20 years of age! JUST 20 YEARS OF AGE! It amazes me every time I think about his age and how long and imposing he could be for years to come in the NBA. I thought Drummond should have been an All-Star this season, and made my case for his selection in my Selection All-Stars column. Nevertheless, he’s bound to be an All-Star in the years to come.
With most of his points coming inside of dunks and lobs, Drummond shoots the ball over 60 percent from the field, and keep in mind all this is happening while the Pistons try to work out how to play Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Drummond together, which has proven to be easier said than done. It a messy frontcourt, and the spacing is possessing. Still, Drummond is striving in a bad rotation that often forces him to play in a very clogged paint and key. Keep an eye out for Drummond on a nightly basis and you’ll notice just how often he fills the stat sheet, and then couple that with actually watching his dominance and you’ll be impressed. I know I have been, and can’t wait to see Drummond improve over the decade into an elite player.
Ray De Souza (from In Jeans and Joggers):
It is no argument that the best overall player in the world of basketball is LeBron James. He has been for the last five, to six years. The question regarding his greatness and place in the history of basketball actually started this Mount Rushmore debate in the first place.
An athletic specimen, the likes of which have never graced the league, James could have excelled in any sport he wished. He can play the one spot through to the five and not miss a beat. A true two-way player, he fills the stat sheet, and leads his team to win. In terms of stats LeBron is well on his way to having one of the great NBA careers of all-time. With four MVP trophies and career averages of 6.9 assists, 7.2 rebounds and 27.5 points per game, whilst shooting at almost .500 percent, LeBron’s statistics are off the charts. No player since Michael, has dominated in every facet of the game like this. Whilst some will argue that he still lacks the killer instinct of Jordan or Kobe, James has made up for this by finding his own way to take over, and close games. Two NBA championship rings on his fingers, prove that he has finally got that monkey off his back.
At the age of 29, LeBron has still got time on his side to become even greater. The more his hair recedes the better player he becomes. That drive and willingness to give his team everything still exists, and as such his dominance over the game will long continue. The game of basketball is still LeBron’s to own for the next five or so years, and that is why his face on an NBA Mount Rushmore of today’s players and in due course players of all time would never be out of place.
“Ice-Berg Slim” as Jalen Rose has touted him, is a cold blooded scoring machine. The most gifted offensive player in the world, Kevin Durant is always going to get his 25 points and then some.
Standing at six-foot nine with a seven-foot four wingspan, Durant is a nightmare to guard. He can shoot over any defender, beat you off the dribble, take you to the line and of course pull up from thirty. Because he has been in the league for seven years, many people forget that he is only at the tender age of 25 years old. With a career average of 27.2 points per game that’s only going to increase, Kevin’s grip over the second best player in the league has only tightened over the last few years. This year especially, Durant has shown that his game is only going to progress. By scoring over thirty points more times than he hasn’t, Kevin Durant is a player that’s naturally progressing to become one of the greatest players of all time. To get to that next level, he needs to mature in his leadership and recognise that this is his team. Nevertheless, he is one player who definitely commands the number two position on any player ranking system.
The ultimate floor general, Chris Paul is one player you would always want as your leader. Hands down the best point guard in the league for the last few years, CP3 is a player with a pitbull mentality. He is not afraid of anyone, and will let you know it.
Be it defence, scoring or assists Paul will always provide what his team needs. He knows when it’s time for him to take over, or when he needs to get certain players involved. With an extremely efficient assist to turnover ratio, statistically Paul is a walking double-double whenever he steps on the court. 18.6 points per game, 9.9 assists and an amazing 2.4 steals per game, CP3 is in a different class of guards. Able to elevate those around him, Paul is now equipped in Los Angeles to make a consecutive deep post-season runs. Whilst careers are not always defined by awards or championships, an NBA title or even finals appearance is something that still eludes him and such that will be pushing him on more than ever this season.
An extension of a coach, Paul’s leadership and playmaking ability definitely warrant his face on an NBA Mount Rushmore of modern players. He is an elite player and a superstar but just remember, if you do see his head on a monument don’t pat it.
One of the most versatile players in the league, Kevin Love is a rebounding machine. With an ability to dominate in the post, Love is also able to stretch the floor, step out to the three point line and be one of the premier perimeter shooters in the league.
Whilst the Timberwolves might not be relevant, that doesn’t mean Love is trying his best to keep this underachieving roster afloat. As each year has passed Love’s game has progressed to superstar level. A big body that can not only play with his back to the basket, but also able to face a defender up, Love’s ability to score and rebound is amongst the elites of the game.
By being only 25 years old his career averages of 18.9 points per game and 12.3 rebounds a game are only going to improve. This year alone he is averaging an astounding 26.5 points a game, and has had more 30-point games than any player in the game that doesn’t bear the name Lebron or Durant. He has been able to improve his career three point percentage to .362 which is incredible for a player who is able to consistently bring down over 12 rebounds a night. Love’s ability and skill have separated him from the average NBA player. Whilst his leadership and ability to make those around him better around him still needs to improve, he is a superstar in his own right and the best power forward in the league. Love is already a walking double-double, and can beat his opponent in so many ways. These reasons along with his potential to get even better definitely warrant his stubble filled face worthy of a spot on an NBA Mount Rushmore of modern day players.
Big surprise here, right? James is the most outrageous combination of size, strength, athleticism, speed and court awareness that we have ever seen. Now that he has had a decade in the league to hone his skills and fully harness his absurd physical gifts, the results have followed in waves.
After getting the monkey off his back (no I’m not talking about Skip Bayless) in 2011-12 to win his maiden NBA championship, LeBron has been the very personification of clinical. He has won 4 out of the last 5 regular season MVP awards, and is a very strong chance at making that 5 this season. It is not outside the realm of possibility that he wins 6 MVP awards in this decade, which would place him ahead of a certain former Bulls player that he is constantly compared to. James is truly a once in a generation player, and may very well one day go down as the best to ever play the game.
In this decade, any discussion involving LeBron James usually features Durant in the same breath, as the two players have been inextricably linked since Durant made the jump into superstardom. While they play the same position, their playing styles are very different, with Durant being deadly from anywhere on the court with his silky smooth release on his jump-shot. We saw Durant lead his Thunder to the NBA Finals once in 2011-12, and it is virtually guaranteed that he will see the big dance many more times in this decade, as he continues to delve deeper into his outrageous skillset for someone his height. Durant has already won 3 scoring titles this decade and shows no signs of slowing down, as he endeavours to add multiple championships to his extensive trophy cabinet.
With Durant breathing down his neck, Anthony is arguably the most gifted one-on-one player in the world today, with Melo getting the edge due to his combination of a wet jump-shot, lightning first step, and the strength to finish at the rim through contact. This is more than likely the reason why every play my Knicks seem to run is the Melo-iso, as it gives them the best chance at a bucket. Coming off his first NBA scoring title, Anthony’s list of accolades and achievements is substantial, and he has definitely lived up to his outrageous hype of being comparable to LeBron James in the 2003 draft. The only thing that remains for Anthony to go down as one of the greats is for him to lead his teams to more playoff success. The rest of this decade will be a great test for him, whether he can truly stand up as a leader and bring a championship to New York, which would undoubtedly cement his position on this Mount Rushmore.
This is where this list gets really tough, as there are so many young superstars with such a limited body of work. Paul George’s emergence has been too recent. Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry have lost too much time through injury. Brian Scalabrine has recently retired. This makes a speculative pick the only option, as we also have to take the rest of the decade into account, and Irving seems to be the logical choice. Even in his 3 short seasons in the league, Irving has shown a level of talent and composure that is incredibly rare for such a young player. His exploits in the fourth quarter of games have become legendary among Cavs fans, and have given them hope that he can become the superstar they’ve been desperately crying out for since they were burned by “The Decision.” Irving has the ball on a string, possesses sneaky quickness and athleticism, and has a jump-shot to rival the best in the league. This combination of talents leaves you with a player that can carry his Cavs to a lot of playoff success in the very near future.