Criteria included individual statistics, contributions to winning, team success, impact on the sport, consistency, longevity, age and health. A player’s achievements before 2010 were not considered.
MVP of the 2010s: LeBron James
James is the only viable answer: He dominated the decade in virtually every category, outlasted the likes of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, and enjoyed a head start on younger contemporaries such as Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and James Harden. Along the way, James claimed three titles, three MVP awards and three Finals MVP awards while reaching the Finals in eight straight years. He led all players in a wide variety of statistical categories, including minutes, points, win shares and postseason wins. He finished in the top four in MVP voting every year from 2010 to 2018, and he regularly ranked first in all-star votes, social media followers and sneaker and jersey sales. Plus, his three free agency moves — to Miami in 2010, to Cleveland in 2014 and to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 — rearranged the league’s competitive landscape.
Some observers, including a panel of New York Times writers, nominated Curry over James given that his three-point shooting has so directly shaped the modern game. Although Curry deserves major credit for the rise of the “pace and space” era, James’s influence on basketball as a sport, business and lifestyle is unmatched. From player empowerment to political activism to social media, James set the standard for the past 10 years. He even had a hand in pushing Curry’s Warriors to new heights: If James hadn’t loomed as such an overwhelming obstacle, would Durant have left Oklahoma City to form a Golden State superteam?
Defensive Player of the 2010s: Kawhi Leonard
Draymond Green would have been the pick if not for Leonard’s magical 2019 playoff run. After all, Green captained a half-decade of elite Warriors defenses, won the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year award, and earned five all-defensive team selections while consistently raising his game in the playoffs.
Although Green best represents modern defensive trends that favor mobility, positional versatility and interchangeable lineups, Leonard is a timeless lockdown specialist who made life miserable for the biggest superstars of his era. Leonard defended James in the 2013 and 2014 Finals; he won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016; he received five all-defensive nods; and he limited Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2019 Eastern Conference finals. On top of all that, he won two titles and two Finals MVP awards with teams that relied heavily on his shutdown capabilities.
Most Improved Player of the 2010s: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, is an incredible player and an even better player development story: The “Greek Freak” went from a relative unknown in the Greek minor leagues to a next-generation Shaquille O’Neal in six years. Drafted 15th overall in 2013, the 25-year-old forward has improved his player efficiency rating, usage, scoring average and rebounding numbers every season during his seven-year career. He won the 2017 Most Improved Player Award and had a case to win it in 2016, 2018 and 2019, too.
Over that long stretch of steady growth, Antetokounmpo has built himself into an all-around force. He’s a deadly lead playmaker, a very capable passer, an excellent finisher, a trustworthy leader and arguably the NBA’s best all-around defender. He has even shown progress this season on his outside shooting, which is his only remaining bugaboo.
Sixth Man of the 2010s: Andre Iguodala
Jamal Crawford and Lou Williams each won three Sixth Man of the Year awards over the past decade, but the quintessential substitute of the 2010s was Iguodala. Although the former all-star forward didn’t shift to the bench until he arrived in Golden State in 2014, his willingness to sacrifice his minutes and scoring opportunities was a critical driver of the Warriors’ dynasty. Iguodala claimed the 2015 Finals MVP award for his work guarding James, and he delivered memorable defensive stands against both the Cavaliers star and Durant in the years to come.
Like San Antonio’s Manu Ginóbili before him, Iguodala was a plus-minus standout and a sixth man who became a linchpin of his team’s closing lineups. There’s no Golden State “Death Lineup” without Iguodala’s quick hands, switching defense, passing and corner three-pointers. His varied contributions on big postseason stages easily outweigh high-volume scoring in the regular season.
Rookie of the 2010s: Blake Griffin
Note: This award goes to the player with the best rookie season of the decade; the one-year “rookie” designation can’t be turned into a cumulative honor. Yes, Griffin’s selection comes with a bit of an asterisk because he redshirted his actual rookie year with a knee injury. That shouldn’t matter. The 2011 rookie of the year averaged 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists at 21, earning all-star honors and winning the slam dunk contest to boot. Griffin’s 9.8 win shares as a rookie remain the most since Chris Paul had 10.4 in 2006.
Griffin’s role in the growth of the NBA’s social media popularity shouldn’t be forgotten in the wake of numerous knee injuries. He was one of the first basketball players to routinely go viral thanks to his vicious posterizations and “Lob City” finishes, and his YouTube highlight reels will hold up long after he retires.
Coach of the 2010s: Steve Kerr
Kerr started at a disadvantage against the likes of Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra because he didn’t begin coaching until 2014. He made up for lost time by presiding over the winningest five-year stretch in NBA history, stressing the importance of joy and depth while riding superstar-laden teams to three titles and five straight Finals appearances.
This is a philosophical pick, because Kerr made numerous key decisions that shaped the sport. He turned loose Curry as a shooter and emphasized a fast-paced, ball movement-oriented offense. He also moved Green into the starting lineup and built powerful lineups around his unique big man, devising small-ball looks that posed matchup issues for the entire league. The present and future of the sport are very much in Kerr’s mold.
Executive of the 2010s: Masai Ujiri
The 2010s were largely defined by the free agency moves of James, Durant and other superstars. Yet in the NBA’s new player-driven era, Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors president, managed to swing the trade of the decade by plucking a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard from San Antonio for a modest return. That blockbuster paid off with the 2019 title, an unthinkable occurrence for a cold-weather expansion franchise north of the border.
Ujiri didn’t deliver as many titles as Miami’s Pat Riley or Golden State’s Bob Myers, but he turned a pair of off-the-radar organizations — the Nuggets and Raptors — into consistent winners. His Toronto turnaround has been filled with remarkable and gutsy moves: He resisted the temptation to trade Kyle Lowry; he fleeced the Knicks in the Andrea Bargnani deal; he sold high on DeMar DeRozan; he took calculated risks on Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol; he drafted Pascal Siakam; and he fired the reigning coach of the year, Dwane Casey, to promote the little-known Nick Nurse.