The 2000s featured a long slate of players holding the mantle of Best Player Alive, but by the end of the decade, the game’s top player was clear. LeBron James seized the throne in 2008-09 and never looked back, dominating the 2010s with a run akin to Michael Jordan. But LeBron wasn’t without significant competition.
James kicked off the decade with Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade in their primes, and Kobe Bryant was still rolling as an All-NBA talent. Things didn’t get easier as the 2010s continued. Kevin Durant emerged as arguably the best scorer of the century. Kawhi Leonard evolved from an elite complimentary piece to a bona fide star. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry marked a new generation of superstars, and before long, a certain Greek Freak challenged James’ throne.
So who was truly the Best Player Alive in every year of the 2010s? Check out The Crossover’s selections below:
2009-10 – LeBron James
James’ final year in Cleveland ended with disappointment, but during the regular season, the best player of his era continued to dominate the competition. LeBron finished the year second in scoring, first in PER and first in win shares, guiding the Cavaliers to 61 wins. An Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Celtics concluded James’ time in Cleveland, at least for a few years. He’d fulfill his promise to bring home a championship before the decade is over.
Honorable Mentions – Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade
Howard reached the Finals in 2008-09, and he was even better the following year with perhaps the best center season of the 2010s. Howard led the league in blocks, rebounds and field goal percentage, becoming the lone player this century to average at least 18 points and 13 rebounds per game while shooting 60% from the field. Howard paired that efficiency with another dominant defensive campaign as he won his second of three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards. We may be underrating Howard’s Hall-of-Fame career in 2020.
We’re once again stuck with a difficult choice for the No. 3 spot with no shortage of deserving candidates. Kevin Durant won his first of four scoring titles in 2009-10, and Kobe Bryant captured his fifth and final championship. Neither player was as good as Dwyane Wade. Miami’s superstar carried an undermanned Miami team to 47 wins, and he ended the year with top-five finishes in points, steals, PER and win shares. Wade earned first-team All-NBA and second-team All-Defense honors, highlighting his impressive impact on both ends of the floor. Wade in his prime may be the best shot-blocking guard in NBA history. He was pretty spectacular on the other end, too. Wade’s two-way brilliance gives him the nod.
2010-11 – LeBron James
We’ve hit on MVP misfires numerous times in our Best Player Alive series, and the 2010-11 MVP may be the most egregious. No disrespect to Derrick Rose, but giving the award to anyone but LeBron James reeks of either boredom or vengeance. James quickly became a villain upon joining the Heat, though that shouldn’t take away from his superb season. LeBron finished second in scoring and 12th in assists, once again shining as an advanced analytics icon as he led the league in win shares and PER. If there was another deserving candidate, perhaps we’d take LeBron out of the top spot given his disastrous Finals. But in reality, there’s nobody who truly challenged James’ crown as the best player in the NBA.
Honorable Mentions – Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki
We’ll select Kevin Durant as our first runner-up in what will become a theme throughout the decade. Still, even if Durant couldn’t snag the top spot, he was clearly the game’s top scoring threat by 2010-11. KD led the NBA in scoring for the second straight season at 27.7 points per game as OKC sprinted to 55 wins, and he was the top scorer in the postseason before losing to the Mavericks in the Western Conference finals. 2010-11 didn’t mark the peak of Durant’s career by a long shot. He still earned the No. 2 spot in his fourth NBA season.
I truly feel bad for Rose here, who would certainly slide into the top three had Miami–or any team other than Dallas–won the 2011 Finals. But Dirk Nowitzki’s playoff heroics gives him the nod. Both Rose and Nowitzki finished in the top 10 in points per game, PER and win shares. And while Rose’s season ended in a five-game loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, Nowitzki defeated Miami’s Big 3. He hit a game-winning layup in the final seconds of Game 2 of the Finals, then scored 29 points on 18 shots in a critical Game 5 victory. After nearly a decade of playoff frustration, Nowitzki sealed his legacy with a dominant 2011 postseason.
2011-12 – LeBron James
There was little competition for the Best Player Alive here, even as James had yet to truly hit his Miami peak. LeBron won 85 of 121 first-place MVP votes as he scored 27 points per game, and he came through in the clutch after a miserable 2011 Finals. James and the Heat headed Boston down 3–2 in the Eastern Conference finals, with an implosion of the Big 3 possibly on the horizon. James rose to the occasion. He blitzed Boston with 45 points–including 30 in the first half–and 15 rebounds, making 19 of 26 shots. He’d defeat the Celtics two nights later before winning his first ring in a five-game series against the Thunder
Honorable Mentions – Kevin Durant, Chris Paul
Durant falls just short again here. The Thunder couldn’t overtake James and Co. in the playoffs, though that’s no fault of Durant’s. He averaged 30.6 points per game in the Finals on 54.8% from the field and 39.4% from three, continuing an outstanding postseason. It remains a shame Durant couldn’t win his first ring with Oklahoma City.
The Point God continued to shine as the league’s top point guard in his first year with the Clippers, leading the NBA in steals while averaging 19.8 points and 9.1 assists per game. Paul continued to be an advanced analytics darling, and he deserves serious credit for turning around a moribund franchise that registered just one playoff appearance in 14 years. The Clippers never reached the Finals with Paul, but CP3 should be recognized for making Los Angeles’ second team anything other than a laughingstock.
2012-13 – LeBron James
It remains debatable when exactly LeBron hit his peak as a player, but 2012-13 stands as his best statistical season. James scored 26.8 points per game with an 60.3 effective field goal percentage, and he canned over 40% of threes for the only time in his career. James led the way in Miami’s 27-game win streak, and he delivered once again in the playoffs. Ray Allen saved the Heat’s season in Game 6 of the Finals, but don’t discount James’ historic Game 7. He scored 37 points and added 12 rebounds, sealing the victory with a 19-foot jumper with 27 seconds left. James got the monkey off his back in 2012. He sealed his legacy in 2013.
Honorable Mentions – Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony
KD told Sports Illustrated he was “tired of being second,” in April 2013, but unfortunately, he would still have to wait another half-decade to seize the mantle of Best Player Alive. Durant shouldn’t be ashamed of finishing behind James, especially at LeBron’s peak. Regardless, Durant continued his historic offensive career in 2012-13, joining the 50-40-90 club as he averaged 28.1 points per game. Durant ceded the scoring title, but he would recapture it one year later for the fourth time in five years.
Carmelo Anthony’s legacy has frankly been disrespected in recent years, and qualifying his production at his peak as empty calories is either ignorant or disingenuous. Anthony was a legitimate superstar as he ne