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Ever since Michael Jordan left the NBA, analysts and fans have been debating between who is worthy of being on the same level as Air Jordan himself. The debate between Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James has become legendary and a constant argument.
Despite who is considered better, below are five players that I consider the best to play the game ever since Michael Jordan proved his game on the court. These five players have stood out as the best over the past couple of decades. Although these guys’ statistics don’t measure up to Jordan’s, they come close and that is an accomplishment on its own.
Keep in mind, this is an opinionated question and I may not hold the same views as others do. However, there is no doubt that these are at least some of the best players that have played the game of basketball ever since MJ retired.
5. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant has been one of the most consistent players during his generation. He started out with the Seattle SuperSonics for one year before the team moved and renamed to Oklahoma City Thunder. He has been the face of the franchise ever since he arrived from the University of Texas.
Durant has consistently displayed his scoring advantage over opponents, his leadership to his team, and his complete dominance on the court. Durant averaged 20.3 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game, 0.9 blocks per game, and 1.0 steals per game. This past season, he averaged a career high 32.0 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game, 0.7 blocks per game, and 1.3 steals per game. His career average stands at 27.4 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game, 1.0 blocks per game, and 1.3 steals per game. He has shot 48 percent from the field, 38 percent from beyond the arc, and 88 percent from the free throw line in his career.
4. Shaquille O’Neal
Shaquille O’Neal was once the most dominant player in the paint. Although he had a struggling shot, especially from the free-throw line, O’Neal thrived down low and led his teams to multiple championships. He stood 7’1″ tall and weighed 325 pounds, which was one of the reasons he was so dominant in the paint. He made his defenders look like high schoolers.
Shaquille started his career with the Orlando Magic for his first four seasons. He then moved to the Los Angeles Lakers for the next eight years, where he and Kobe Bryant dominated the league. After his long stint in LA, he went to the Miami Heat where he played for four years. In his last four years in the league, he played for the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Boston Celtics.
His best season in the league was arguably the 1999-2000 season with the Lakers. He averaged 29.7 points per game, 13.6 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game, 3.0 blocks per game, and 0.5 steals per game. He shot 57 percent from the field and 52 percent from the free-throw line. His career averages are 23.7 points per game, 10.9 rebounds per game, 2.5 assists per game, 2.3 blocks per game, and 0.6 steals per game. He shot 58 percent from the field and 53 percent from the free-throw line.
3. LeBron James
LeBron James has shown an enormous advantage against other NBA players and has served as one of the league’s biggest stars and leaders. He started his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he played for seven years. After winning no championships there, he was under a lot of scrutiny when he left the team for the Miami Heat. In the four years in Miami, he led the team to four consecutive NBA Finals and two championships. He will be returning to the Cavs next season.
King James’ most productive season was during the Cavs’ 2005-06 campaign. That year, he averaged 31.4 points per game, 7.0 rebounds per game, 6.6 assists per game, 0.8 blocks per game, and 1.6 steals per game. He shot 48 percent from the field, 36 percent from long range, and 74 percent from the free-throw line. His career averages are 27.5 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game, 6.9 assists per game, 0.8 blocks per game, and 1.7 steals per game. He has shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range, and 75 percent from the free-throw line. He has become the league’s biggest “stat-sheet-stuffer” as he does basically everything on the court.
2. Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan has been in this league for a very long time and has continued his excellence year after year. He has played his whole career with the San Antonio Spurs, entering the 18th season, and has been the leader of a legacy shared with coach Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.
Tim Duncan is a five-time champion with the Spurs. He was once a consistent 20-point/10-rebound threat in this league. His career averages are 19.9 points per game, 11.1 rebounds per game, 3.1 assists per game, 2.2 blocks per game, and 0.7 steals per game. He has shot 51 percent from the field and 69 percent from the free-throw line in his career. He recently aided in the Spurs’ 2014 championship run in which they defeated LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant has been the person most compared to Michael Jordan due to his high scoring ability. I put him at the top of the list because he resembles Jordan the most and his numbers are the best match when compared against MJ himself.
Kobe Bryant is another player, like Tim Duncan, who has spent his long and dominant career with the same team. He has been with the Los Angeles Lakers for 18 years now and is entering his 19th season. During the 2005-06 season, Kobe had his most dominant season in his career. He averaged 35.4 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists per game, 0.4 blocks per game, and 1.8 steals per game in 80 games.
Bryant’s career averages are 25.5 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, 4.8 assists per game, 0.5 blocks per game, and 1.5 steals per game. He has shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from beyond the arc, and 84 percent from the free-throw line. Kobe has won five championships with the Lakers in his career, has been the face of the franchise, and has been a dominant player in this league his whole career.