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All-Decade Teams: The 2000s

Posted by Justin Kubatko on July 24, 2009

Since we're nearing the end of another decade, I thought it would be interesting to come up with All-Decade teams for the 2000s. I know that technically the decade is not over yet, but the NBA has a split season, and since we've already crowned the 2009 NBA champions it seems to me that the 2008-09 season is a good breaking point.

Rather than choose the teams arbitrarily, I wanted to come up with a method to select the teams. I decided to use a weighting scheme similar to what Doug Drinen of PFR uses. Here's Doug's description of the method:

My opinion is that most people mentally rank players by counting all the players’ seasons, but weighting their best seasons more. In order to mimic that, I’ve defined each player’s approximate career “value” to be:

100% of his best season, plus 95% of his 2nd-best season, plus 90% of his 3rd-best season, plus, ….

So, for two players with the same career [value], the one with the higher peak will be rated a little higher. And junk seasons at the end of a player’s career count for almost nothing.

In order to find each player's "value" for a particular season, I decided to add his regular season Win Shares to his post-season Win Shares. I also tweaked Doug's weights slightly. Since we're dealing with a period of 10 years rather than entire careers, a player's best season gets a weight of 1, his second-best season gets a weight of 0.9, his third-best season gets a weight of 0.8, etc. This will help to prevent players who may have missed a season due to injury or were drafted later in the decade from being penalized too harshly. I also decided to mimic the All-NBA voters and not make fine distinctions at each position, so a particular team might have two power forwards rather than one small forward and one power forward.

OK, that's enough background. Here we go with the first team...

All-Decade First Team
G Kobe Bryant 88.2
G Chauncey Billups 76.1
F Dirk Nowitzki 95.4
F Tim Duncan 91.5
C Shaquille O'Neal 86.1

I have a good feeling what the two most common reactions to these results are going to be, so let me tackle them now:

Reaction #1: How can you have Chauncey Billups over Steve Nash?

Here is a comparison of their per game statistics for the decade:

Player G MP FG FGA 3P 3PA FT FTA ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS FG% 3P% FT%
Billups 712 32.5 4.7 11.2 1.7 4.4 4.4 4.9 0.5 2.6 3.1 5.9 1.0 0.2 2.0 2.1 15.6 .422 .396 .891
Nash 753 33.7 5.8 11.8 1.6 3.7 2.9 3.2 0.6 2.6 3.2 9.1 0.8 0.1 3.0 1.7 16.2 .494 .436 .905

Aside from the big advantage Nash has in assists, their per game statistics are quite similar. However, when you consider that Nash's teams never finished lower than 7th in pace factor, while Billups's teams were usually near the bottom of the league in pace, most of Billups's per game numbers are actually better than Nash's.

There's also the matter of playoff performance. Billups was on seven straight teams that reached the conference finals, a remarkable achievement. What happens if we remove playoff performance from the equation? Nash comes out ahead by the slimmest of margins, 62.0 to 61.9. However, it did not seem right to me to exclude playoff performances because (a) they do matter and (b) it would be silly to tweak the method just to reach a pre-determined result.

Reaction #2: How can you have Dirk Nowitzki over Kevin Garnett?

In my opinion, Nowitzki, although thought of highly by most people, still manages to be underrated. Consider:

  • Nowitzki earned a decade-best 137.6 Win Shares during the regular season.
  • Nowitzki finished fifth in the decade with 17.4 playoff Win Shares, but while Nowitzki played in only 97 playoff games, no one above him played him in fewer than 133 games.
  • Nowitzki is an almost perfect blend of productivity and efficiency. Among players with at least 400 games played during the decade, he had the 15th-highest usage percentage, the 8th-lowest turnover percentage, and the 6th-highest offensive rating.
  • The Mavericks have won 50 or more games nine consecutive seasons, including seasons of 60 and 67 wins after losing two-time MVP Steve Nash. The one constant during this streak? Nowitzki.

None of this is meant to slight Garnett, who I think is a great player. I just think — and this system happens to agree — that Nowitzki was a little bit greater.

Moving on to the second team...

All-Decade Second Team
G Steve Nash 70.0
G Ray Allen 66.3
F Kevin Garnett 86.8
F LeBron James 76.9
C Ben Wallace 60.8

The only surprise here might be Ray Allen, but he was named to the All-Star team nine times during the decade and he was/is a phenomenally efficient scorer, not to mention that he has also been a clutch playoff performer.

Finally, the third team...

All-Decade Third Team
G Tracy McGrady 63.4
G Jason Kidd 59.9
F Shawn Marion 72.4
F Paul Pierce 69.1
C Amare Stoudemire 54.1

Again, no big surprises, although I had to make a bit of a judgment call at center. Pau Gasol finished ahead of Stoudemire, but I think most people view Gasol as a power forward, not a center. Since Stoudemire was named to three All-NBA teams at center, I decided to go with him. Actually, Stoudemire ended up being the lowest-ranked player to make the team. Here are the players who finished ahead of Stoudemire in the rankings but were squeezed out due to positional quotas:

+------+---------------------+-------+--------+
| Rank | Player              | Years | Rating |
+------+---------------------+-------+--------+
|   14 | Elton Brand         |    10 |   60.7 | 
|   16 | Vince Carter        |    10 |   58.5 | 
|   17 | Peja Stojakovic     |    10 |   58.2 | 
|   18 | Pau Gasol           |     8 |   58.2 | 
|   19 | Allen Iverson       |    10 |   57.5 | 
|   20 | Dwyane Wade         |     6 |   54.6 | 
|   21 | Manu Ginobili       |     7 |   54.3 | 
+------+---------------------+-------+--------+

Some people might be surprised that Dwyane Wade does not rank higher, but keep in mind that Wade only played six seasons, and in two different seasons Wade missed 31 games due to injury.

Just to recap, once again here are the All-Decade teams for the 2000s:

First Team Second Team Third Team
G Kobe Bryant 88.2 Steve Nash 70.0 Tracy McGrady 63.4
G Chauncey Billups 76.1 Ray Allen 66.3 Jason Kidd 59.9
F Dirk Nowitzki 95.4 Kevin Garnett 86.8 Shawn Marion 72.4
F Tim Duncan 91.5 LeBron James 76.9 Paul Pierce 69.1
C Shaquille O'Neal 86.1 Ben Wallace 60.8 Amare Stoudemire 54.1

In the coming weeks I'll try to do the same thing for the 1990s and 1980s. Stay tuned...

Update: Coaches are covered in this blog post.

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78 Responses to “All-Decade Teams: The 2000s”

  1. Jason J Says:

    I'm not surprised to see Dirk top out the decade in WS. He's sort of this generation's Karl Malone (Karl Malone fans don't jump down my throat for this one). Obviously they don't play the same style, but in terms of accruing stats and winning seasons they have some things in common. Both are highly efficient and highly prolific. They rarely miss a game and have very few weaknesses. Their D isn't perfect, but they buy into the team systems and work hard, so the team D is always there. They may be the most consistent producers of their respective decades. Do they have the versatility or extra gears necessary to win titles? Maybe not. Would I take either of them ahead of Duncan in an all-time draft? Hell no. But it's not staggering that a metric like WS loves them.

    So does that bring into question the validity of measuring players via WS? Not necessarily. I'm of the opinion that no metric should be seen as an absolute, but you definitely see what WS values and can use it as a quick reference for player's contribution to team success over time.

  2. Dawna Says:

    I dont know much About stats but the sexiest player by far is Iverson I think he deserves more credit then your giving him.

  3. Luke Says:

    Neil,
    I always love these lists and anything like this because they force you to think outside of the conventional wisdom of a player's perceived value. Iverson is a perfect example. Sure, he was on every All-Star team for the entire decade, but he was also voted onto the team by the fans every single year. (He started every game, anyway, except 2007 when he was hurt and didn't play in the game. So unless another starter got hurt and he subbed in for that starting spot, I'm assuming he was voted in every year.) Now, that's not necessarily a condemnation of the man's ACTUAL value (Kobe, Shaq, LeBron, Duncan, etc, get voted in every year and I think we can all agree that their actual value is through the roof), but it does show that Iverson's PERCEIVED value, by the common fan, is at the same level as Kobe, Shaq, LeBron, and Duncan.

    And when confronted with any kind of information that contradicts those perceptions, it's much easier for a fan to say that the statistics that they don't understand must be wrong, rather than their long-standing, unquestioned beliefs. It just baffles me that people seem to think guys like you sit around thinking, "I need to devise some sort of statistical formula that puts Allen Iverson as no better than the 7th best guard of the decade. And I should probably use that same formula to show Chauncey Billups as no worse than 2nd." Maybe that was your plan from the start, and you've got a huge grudge against AI, but I'm guessing not.

    I think part of the problem is that people aren't there for the entire process of devising the formula, crunching the numbers, and getting the results. They just see it all at once, and just see the names at the end. I think they assume that those specific, particular names themselves were the goal, rather than the numbers next to the names. I think it would be very interesting to see the whole process drawn out. Post #1: Here's how I'm going to determine the best players of the decade, and the specific formula, and why I'm using this formula. Everyone would read it and say, "Oh, sure, that makes perfect sense. It will be nice to see that my undying love for Allen Iverson justified irrefutably by hard statistical data." And then a week later, when the results are in and Iverson's not on the list, I wonder if those same people be so eager to write off the formula as flawed when they had already agreed prior to the results being announced that the method and reasoning were sound.

    Obviously you don't have the time or energy to do something like that, nor should you have to cater to the lowest common denominator. And really, let's face it, there's a lot of very very dumb sports fans out there. But still, it would be an interesting experiment.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    You can actually read about the exact, step-by-step process of calculating Win Shares here.

  5. Matt Says:

    Dirk over Garnett? You CANNOT be serious.

  6. Matt Says:

    "None of this is meant to slight Garnett, who I think is a great player. I just think — and this system happens to agree — that Nowitzki was a little bit greater."

    Anyone who seriously believes that Nowitzki is better than Garnett needs to have their head examined.

  7. rhett Says:

    I notice dirk and kevin have almost identical career and playoff PER - however the perception of the two seems to be night and day.Part of it, I think, is that some of the best things dirk does are what he doesn't do (turnovers) so his strengths don't always jump out at you in highlight reels. His one legged fade away shot thing is inelegant and doesn't seem as 'dominant' as a two handed slam with chest pounding. It's still two points though, he can get that shot whenever he wants and no one can defend it. As well remember what a match up nightmare he is - reference the damage he did to Min with Garnett on the roster. They tried switching Garnett on him in the third game and he couldn't contain Dirk off the dribble and dallas swept. Also note he's been a part of a 50 win team 9 years in a row with out shawn bradley and erik dampier as his centers, and recently, with jason terry as the second best player on the team.Dallas teams have always had depth but few players of above average talent.I wouldn't say dirk or kevin is better than the other - they seem equally effective at much different styles of play.

  8. Jason J Says:

    Dirk / KG is an interesting comparison. KG has been my favorite player since MJ and Charles retired, so I'm fully biased, but looking at the comparison thru age 30:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/fc/pcm_finder.cgi?request=1&sum=1&p1=garneke01&y1=2007&p2=nowitdi01&y2=2009

    Identical PER. Nearly identical WS. Dirk's higher proportion of free throws and his great 3 point shooting and low turnovers make him an ORtg godling, and KG's got the superior versatility and defense.

    If you really believe that Garnett is dramatically better, I think the argument would have to be something to the effect that DRtg doesn't do much to measure individual defense and rather rewards team defense. Therefore while Dirk is a contributing cog in a good D and KG is always one of the absolute best defenders in the league, the gap in ability isn't really captured by the metric. You could actually hammer home the point better by looking at PER which ranks them evenly and doesn't consider defense at all.

    That's the angle I'd take on it anyway. That and the whole leadership / intensity thing, though to be fair, it sure seems like leadership and intensity have a greater impact when Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are around to be inspired instead of Wally World and McCants (like the old Michael Jordan quote goes, "I could make my teammates better too if I was playing with Worthy and Kareem").

    I'm not sure those are necessarily true things to say, but they are at least defensible points. Mostly.

  9. Tom Says:

    This is a joke.... KG destroys Dirk in stats.... The only stats Dirk has over KG are 3 pt %, 3 pt shots, FG% and PPG and TOs (not even by much at all).... KG beats him in all categories... As for TOs, did u expect a guy thats mostly a spot up shooter to have a high TO rating? Dirk gets set up for many of his shots especially 3 pt shots... Its not close when u compare KGs assist/TO ratio or KGs steals/TO ratio, thats a much better way to judge TO rather than just a TO amount per game. Also Dirks PPG is deflated because hes a good FT shooter, he gets freebies from 3 sec violation, Technical Fouls, etc where he personally didnt earn the extra pts... KG is a much better passer, rebounder, defender and player... Dirk cant even play defense, he just flops like a fish... Dirk according to this is the best player of the decade LMFAO....

  10. Justin Kubatko Says:

    First, there are a number of good questions and comments here, and I'll try to get to some of them in the coming days, but I can't make any promises.

    Second, I don't understand why people come here to throw around insults. If it makes you feel better to write something like "U r an idiot, AI roolz!" then so be it, but don't expect a reply from me. As George Bernard Shaw put it:

    "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

    Third, Jason J brings up an interesting point in this comment. Here are the defensive ratings for Dirk and KG this decade, sorted from best to worst:

    +---------------+------+-------+
    | Player        | Year | DRtg  |
    +---------------+------+-------+
    | Kevin Garnett | 2004 |  91.6 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2008 |  93.8 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2009 |  97.5 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2003 |  98.0 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2006 |  98.2 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2003 |  98.3 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2000 |  98.7 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2005 |  98.7 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2001 |  99.4 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2001 | 100.2 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2005 | 100.3 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2002 | 100.5 | 
    | Kevin Garnett | 2007 | 101.4 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2007 | 101.9 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2006 | 103.4 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2002 | 104.1 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2008 | 104.2 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2004 | 104.4 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2000 | 107.1 | 
    | Dirk Nowitzki | 2009 | 107.6 | 
    +---------------+------+-------+
    

    KG has eight of the top nine seasons, and his top two seasons are significantly better than Dirk's best. For the decade, KG's defensive rating was 97.9 and Dirk's was 103.1.

  11. Matt Says:

    "Also note he’s been a part of a 50 win team 9 years in a row with out shawn bradley and erik dampier as his centers, and recently, with jason terry as the second best player on the team.Dallas teams have always had depth but few players of above average talent.I wouldn’t say dirk or kevin is better than the other - they seem equally effective at much different styles of play."

    Let's also remember that for a while, Garnett's Timberwolves had Wally Szczerbiak as their second best player. Nowitzki's supporting casts trump those of Garnett's.

  12. Jason J Says:

    Justin, I included the 90s seasons in my quick comparison - so KG only had a 3 point advantage overall in DRtg. Using the DRtgs for just the 2000s, the defensive separation becomes very clear. You can also see that either KG was phoning it in or the team defense had completely fallen apart for Minne in 2007.

  13. Anon Says:

    1st Team Playoff WS/3000 min:

    Duncan 13.0
    Nowitzki 12.8
    O'Neal 12.1
    Billups 12.0
    Bryant 10.8 (Please don't hurt me Kobe fans. LOL)

    And compared to his counterpart in Boston:

    Garnett 10.9

    Keep in mind that all these guys have at least 2000 playoff minutes in their careers. But anyway it goes without saying that the Dirk bashing on this board is incredibly childish. Does the man have a ring? No. But I for one will HARDLY fault him for not being able to achieve a goal that people keep forgetting takes an ENTIRE team to accomplish.

  14. Anon Says:

    By the way, Jason J as always provides some great insight from a fan's perspective about these players, and it goes well with the statistical analysis that Neil/Justin provide. You could fool me into thinking that you are actually one of the writers on the blog :)

    As for the Duncan/Nowitzki comparison, I think that it's very interesting. On one hand Duncan's four rings might seem to make it a non-debate about who the better player is, but considering the facts that 1) Duncan played on consistently better TEAMS than Nowitzki over their respective careers and 2) Nowitzki has almost as many WS/3000 min in the playoffs as Duncan, it certainly evens the playing field more for the two players. Personally, I would still take Timmy D if I HAD to choose, but probably because I was always a big fan of his in the first place, lol.

    But I am in full agreement with Justin. Dirk is definitely underrated and is putting together one of the greatest careers in NBA history that NO ONE is talking about. And overall as well.

  15. rhett Says:

    You can say his supporting cast trumps and you'd be right- but remember so do his results. On his trip to the finals he beat SA in a game 7 in SA and dropped 50 on phx - when both of those teams where great. Admittedly, he's had his rough series - but can you ever remember KG cremating teams the way dirk did that year? When talking about, and making lists, of great individual performers I don't know why folks would be so worked up that dirk would be on par with KG. The numbers are there and the results are there. Their styles and modes of operation are contrasting but both are equally valuable - it just depends on whether you want a offensive or defensive powerhouse - yin or yang.

  16. Mike Says:

    "re sixers 01,
    That team was led by Mutumbo. You know, the guy who led the Rockets to 21 straight wins after Yow got hurt. You know, the guy who led Denver to the biggest first round upset ever. Dik gets no credit. AI gets credit he doesn’t deserve for what that team accomplished."

    That is pure idiocy. The 76ers were 41-14 before they acquired Mutombo and 15-12 with him. To be sure, Mutombo's defensive presence was huge, but Iverson made that team go.

  17. Jon A. Says:

    When ranking players statistics help and can be invaluable but you should always remember what people thought of the players at that moment. One way to do this is to keep track of how many 1st team All NBA teams these people made. I took the 9 years of All NBA team (only first team) and it produces some pretty good conclusions. Here they are:
    Duncan 8
    Bryant 8
    Shaq 7
    Garnett 4
    Nowitzki 4
    Nash 4
    Kidd 4
    James 3
    Iverson 3
    McGrady 2
    Howard 2
    Stoudemire 2
    Wade 1
    Paul 1

    A few things pop up: 1) Jason Kidd is highly underrated in this purely statistical model as he was 1st team 4 different years yet doesn't even make the 2nd team? 2nd) Chauncey Billups was NEVER 1st team All NBA, it's pretty hard to argue someone is the best PG of the 2000's when he never was voted 1st team, Nash and Kidd both were voted 4 times so the debate for best PG of the 2000's is between those two 3) LeBron James already has been voted 3 times, the kid probably will have 10-12 by the time he retires 4) The Dirk vs. Garnett debate is a valid one to have as both were voted 1st team 4 times and both won 1 MVP during the decade. While Garnett fans will point to the ring as the deciding factor Dirk fans can point to the fact that Garnett was missing the playoffs in Minnesota and fading into a has been until Danny Ainge paired him with two other future Hall of Famers to make him a "winner" again. I personally feel that if Dirk had been surrounded by Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, James Posey, Kendrick Perkins, and P.J. Brown, Dirk would have won the title that year as well. That team was stacked and if anyone doesn't agree with me, check out the fact that the team had a higher winning percentage that year when Garnett was injured vs. when he was healthy and in the lineup. Interesting statistic that shows just how much talent that team had and waters down the notion that Garnett "carried" the Celtics to a championship.

  18. Chicago76 Says:

    It is amusing that people seem so upset by a well-designed model when the results don't appear to be at worst fairly reasonable.

    Looking at it using another estimate. Take PER-11.5 to estimate Value over Replacement (VORP). Now weight it based upon minutes doing something like this: (99/00 to 08/09 minutes)/(82*48). The results would look something like this (being a little less liberal with position designations than the analysis above):

    First Team: O'Neal, Garnett, McGrady, Bryant, Nash
    Second Team: Gasol, Duncan, James, Iverson, Kidd
    Third Team: Ming, Nowitzki, Pierce, Carter, Billups
    Fourth Team: Stoudemire, Brand, Marion, Allen, Starbury

    Wade misses out due to limited seasons. Ben Wallace misses out as PER doesn't take into consideration out on a lot of defensive aspects captured in WS. Both systems have their weaknesses, and a hybrid of the WS analysis and some PER-driven VORP may give the best overall picture.

  19. Dave Says:

    Jon A.
    I think we are evaluating over 10 seasons (00-09), but only allowing 1st Team votes seems a bit harsh to consider the decade cumulatively - you score a 1 if you are the top C or two top F, G or else you score 0 for that season? Could we not incorporate 2nd and 3rd team votes too? And won't this metric be biased against Cs (as only 1 position cf two for other positions F, G). You effectievly are evaluating a player's decade by the seasons where they were elected in the top for their position. We see for any one other than Shaq, Kobe and Duncan that is less than half the possible seasons.

    At least Justin's metric attempts to capture some of the other seasons. Just an observation, do you think Billup's lack of award reflects his lack of recognition for playing winning basketball, or that WS unduely rewards him for playing on successful teams, unlike Kidd say (although It is hard to explain why Nash doesn't out perform him given he has both...).

    It is interesting to note that Dirk and KG come out a dead heat in this metric too. In fact if you just use All-NBA awards then the only difference is Dirk was All-NBA third team twice to KGs once (I know, look at the all-defensive teams), with one MVP each.

  20. Justin Kubatko Says:

    FYI, I forgot to include coaches when I selected these teams, so I've covered them in this blog post.

  21. KneeJerkNBA Says:

    @8- agreed. I'd love to see this comparison go back as far as stats allow.

  22. Daniel Bui Says:

    Wait,let me get this clear. Pau Gasol was snubbed because most people see him as PF, but in the 1st team, Tim Duncan is there at SF?

  23. Jason J Says:

    Daniel - Justin made the lists All-NBA style, which differentiates forwards and centers but not small forwards and power forwards or point guards and shooting guards. For instance, the 2000 All-NBA team was C: Shaq, F: Duncan, F: Garnett, G: Kidd, G: Payton. It just needs to have two guards, two forwards, and a center. So Duncan is there as a forward but is not specified as a PF or an SF.

  24. Daniel Bui Says:

    Oh alright, thanks for clearing that up, Jason.

  25. GURU Says:

    NASH VS BILLUPS??????
    ???????

    BILLUPS is only better in steals 1 vs 0.8...ARE YOU RETARDED or what...

    DID you look at NASH 3point %, is one of the best ever...His average is RAY ALLENs best season...
    RAY ALLEN overated ( finishes games with 0/7 from the 3 point line)...JUST look closely at his 3point stats...

  26. gebwel Says:

    nice article. i love reading the debate (the civil part) over nash v kidd vs billups and KG vs nowitzki. it amazes how so many people belittling dirk, especially when compared to KG. i like both players actually, but to say KG is head and shoulders over dirk is kinda mind-boggling. it looks to me that KG is actually better suited to play a complimentary role (a la scottie pippen), but he never had his jordan during his minny years. dirk, on the other hand, has proven that he can lead a team on his own (his trip to the finals after nash's departure). KG is probably the better overall player, but dirk is the go-to-guy when his teams needed points in a hurry.

  27. Aaron D. Says:

    Your top 5:
    1.Chauncey Billups
    2.Kobe
    3.Dirk Nowitzki
    4.Tim Duncan
    5. Shaq

    My only disagreement is Dirk Nowitzki. Ofcourse, he has major talent and was (until this season) the best scoring PF in the NBA. No doubt, when he retires, he'll be the best European/overseas player to ever play in the NBA. But as far as this decade goes, I'm going to have to give that 3 spot to a real 3 in the NBA, LeBron James. Besides the fact that he has more MVP's than Dirk and the same amount of finals appearances, when it's all said and done, LeBron will be the BEST Small Forward to ever play. He's already being compared to Jordan and has made an instant impact on the league unlike Dirk who struggled his rookie. LeBron single-handlingly took a mediocre team in Clevland to the Finals at the age of 22. Ever since Dirk led his team to the Finals, he has yet to lead them PAST THE FIRST ROUND. All-Decade is given to the NBA's elite players from 2000-2010 and Dirk just hasn't done enough....My top 5:
    1.Chauncey
    2.Kobe
    3.LeBron
    4.Tim Duncan
    5.ShaQ

  28. godfather147 Says:

    Billups over nash,get off the pipe buddy.