As the NBA enters its eighth decade, the conversation at Double Clutch HQ naturally turned to the greatest players to grace the hardwood in the past 10 years. Some of the categories might seem obvious but there is cause for discussion, and so we begin the series by announcing the MVP of the 2010s.
James Harden by Nick Whitfield
James Harden transformed from a well thought sixth man in Oklahoma City, into a one-man team and perennial MVP contender for the Houston Rockets. Some of Harden’s success must be credited to the Rockets having constructed the perfect situation in which his analytics-friendly style of play can fully thrive. Daryl Morey has provided an experimental environment where Harden is largely free from traditional barriers and measurement that might curtail his usage, shot selection or style of play. In Mike D’Antoni, he found a coach who has spent his entire career maximising every ounce of talent from his point guards.
It is entirely down to his ability however, that given this blank canvas and free reign of an offense that we’ve seen one of the most dominant offensive players to ever play the game. Top tier handles, a quick first step, strong three-point shooting even at huge volumes and ridiculous degrees of difficulty, and the most elite speed deceleration ever measured by a sports science laboratory… Combined with some of the best vision in the game to find teammates as defenses collapse on him and a mastery of nuance and subtlety that allows him to get to the line at will.
Make no mistake, James Harden is one of the most unguardable players of all time.
Chris Paul by Huw Hopkins
Let’s be honest, Chris Paul is probably the outlier on this list. Firstly, he has never actually won a single season MVP award in any year during the decade. Secondly, dude hasn’t even got to the Finals. Thirdly, I don’t even have a thirdly, but maybe that’s as good an argument as any.
Despite not receiving the trophy at any point during his career, this MVP award is for the whole of the 2010s. There are some players who have been excellent in the decade, but retired or dropped off early into the decade – Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki – and there have even been some that have arrived late to put in noteworthy efforts – essentially most of the others on this list. But between the years of 2010 and 2019, CP3’s consistency puts him behind just one player (maybe two, because of Kevin Durant) in terms of his ultimate performance during this stretch of time.
Between the 2012-13 season and 2015-16, Paul appeared in the top 10 for MVP voting every year. He was an All-Star seven times during the decade. He led the league in assists twice, led it in steals four times during this period. The Point God averaged more than 18 points and 9 assists, and he will finish his career with 8 All-NBA selections and 9 All-Defensive Team awards.
He might not be anyone’s favourite player. He might not be the MVP in any single season. But Chris Paul has done enough to demand respect for what he has achieved in the 2010s.
Kevin Durant by Nick Whitfield
Kevin Durant is one of the purest and most unstoppable scorers to ever pick up a basketball. For his 12 seasons in the league, he’s so reliable that you can pretty much just chalk up somewhere around 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and a block before you know anything about the stakes, the opposition or who’s defending him that night. His combination of shooting (he hovers just outside the 50, 40, 90 club for this entire career), length, height, athleticism, and his ability to put the ball on the floor is untouchable, and incomparable to anyone else in NBA history. I’d argue he’s the truest unicorn the league has ever seen.
His single MVP trophy in the decade doesn’t really tell the full story of how good Kevin Durant has been during this period. Ask NBA players who the best players in the league are any of the years in this decade and KD would be one of the first names for anyone to mention. Indeed, he added back-to-back Finals MVPs while matching up against LeBron James after leaving his former home in Oklahoma City.
But here lies the problem for KD. His accolades and game are untouchable, but for most fans and media it is impossible to remove the stigma of seeing him achieve these accolades with a team that was already at a championship level before he arrived. Narrative is the most powerful asset an athlete can have in terms of how they are perceived, and this is currently where KD seems to fall down in comparison to his rivals for the title of Most Valuable Player of the 2010s.
Stephen Curry by Jonah Stott
The absolute cornerstone in possibly the greatest team the NBA has ever seen. Three-time NBA champion. Back-to-back MVP winner. Six-time NBA All-Star. This all sounds very impressive, but it’s certain that you can produce a similar spiel for any of these candidates for MVP of the decade.
What sets Stephen Curry apart is his role in revolutionising the NBA over the last decade. He is the king of small-ball, his basketball IQ and vision is a critical part of how the Golden State Warriors team claimed three NBA championships in the decade. Night after night he has allowed the other members of his team to drain open threes, the likes of which had never quite been seen in the NBA before.
This doesn’t even touch upon his own ruthless efficiency. He had a historic 50-40-90 season in 2015-16, leading to him becoming the league’s first ever unanimous MVP, a literally unparalleled achievement. But the fact that his career stats put him at 47.6-43.5-90.5, nearly averaging 50-40-90 over a 10-year period is utterly prodigious, and all while undoubtedly adding to, rather than detracting from, his teammates.
He will twist you up, put you down to the ground and drive to the rim for a wonderfully acrobatic finish, or step back and produce a 30-ft three-pointer as clean and consistently as you like. He is an intensely wondrous talent, and very possibly this decade’s MVP.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER OF THE DECADE
LeBron James by Mike Miller
There isn’t really much of a debate here once you consider LeBron James. In this decade, he’s won three titles, three MVPs, rocketed up to almost the top of every all-time record list, and led his teams to eight straight finals.
That alone puts him head and shoulders above every other name in this list.
He’s also the only player in league history with a legitimate case to challenge Michael Jordan’s GOAT status (wow, that felt weird saying).
The 2010s was James’ decade, despite his three of nine record in the Finals. Naysayers will, of course, hold this against him but other than in 2011, should his teams really have won those match-ups? Should the Cavs really have had a chance in 2016? Is a human supposed to lead a Finals series in points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks?
And now, at the (definitely not too old to be playing basketball) age of 35, he’s leading the Los Angeles Lakers at the top of the Western Conference. Name anyone else that has started and finished a decade as the most important player on the team that sits atop its conference. And it’s then that you realise the real value and sustained excellence that The King has delivered over the last 10 years.