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December 31, 2009
The Decade's Best (and Worst)
The NBA 2000s in a Box

by Kevin Pelton


I first got to thinking about the 2000s as an NBA era long before the decade drew to a close. This started almost exactly two years ago, and in a specific context. I was re-reading the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which among other features breaks down the entire history of the nation's pastime by decade. That got me to wondering what a similar chapter about the NBA in the '00s would feature. I originally penned this column doing just that in January, but now have updated it to include the entire decade--every game played in the 2000s.

I've altered James' original categories somewhat in adjusting them to the NBA and made a couple of my own additions, but for the most part stayed faithful to James' vision. I should also pause to note the invaluable assistance of Basketball-Reference.com to my research, including Justin Kubatko specifically looking up one stat for me. Without further ado....

Attendance Data: Approximately 208,736,092 total fans at NBA games
Highest: 2000-01 San Antonio Spurs (22,273 average); Chicago Bulls (20,839)
Lowest: 2001-02 Charlotte Hornets (11,286); Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies (14,479)

Best Won/Lost Record by Team:
(Season) 1999-00 Los Angeles Lakers and 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks (67-15)
(Decade) San Antonio Spurs (574-245, .701)

Worst Won/Lost Record by Team:
(Season) 2004-05 Atlanta Hawks (13-69)
(Decade) Charlotte Bobcats (156-284, .355); L.A. Clippers (311-512, .378)

(Also see my breakdown of the decade's best single-season teams.)

The best and worst combined records in the '00s:

Team            W    L      %
San Antonio    574  245   .701
Dallas         561  261   .682
L.A. Lakers    530  291   .646
Phoenix        494  330   .600
Detroit        493  330   .599
Utah           461  363   .559
Sacramento     453  371   .550
Houston        450  373   .547
Boston         440  382   .535
Indiana        429  393   .522

Team            W    L      %
Charlotte      156  284   .355
L.A. Clippers  311  512   .378
Atlanta        312  510   .380
Memphis        317  505   .386
Golden State   322  500   .392

Having Their Best Decade Ever: Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, New Jersey Nets, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs
Having Their Worst Decade: Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder

Largest Home-Court Advantage: Denver Nuggets (.643 home winning percentage, .352 on the road). For the most part, home-court advantage is not sustainable in the NBA above and beyond the boost all teams get at home. However, because of the Mile High City, the Nuggets have historically had the league's strongest difference between home and road play.

Tallest Player: 7'7" Gheorge Muresan played 30 games in 1999-00. Shawn Bradley and Yao Ming are both listed at 7'6".
Shortest Player: Again, 5'3" Muggsy Bogues played briefly in the decade. Otherwise, 5'5" Earl Boykins.
Heaviest Player: Oliver Miller (325 pounds)
Lightest Player: Boykins (135 pounds)
Oldest Player: Kevin Willis suited up for Dallas late in the 2006-07 season at age 44, making him the oldest player in league history.
Youngest Player: When Andrew Bynum made his NBA debut in November 2005, he was less than a week removed from his 18th birthday. With the advent of the age limit, that league record will not be broken unless the system changes.

Highest WARP:
Kevin Garnett, 2003-04 (27.4)
Kevin Garnett (195.8)

(Also see my list of the decade's best players.)

Highest PPG:
(Season) Kobe Bryant, 2005-06 (35.4 ppg)
(Decade) Kobe Bryant (28.4 ppg)

Highest RPG:
(Season) Ben Wallace, 2002-03 (15.4 rpg)
(Decade) Dwight Howard (12.6 rpg)

Highest APG:
(Season) Steve Nash, 2006-07 (11.6 apg)
(Decade) Chris Paul (9.9 apg)

All-NBA Team:
G - Jason Kidd
G - Kobe Bryant
F - Kevin Garnett
F - Tim Duncan
C - Shaquille O'Neal

All-Defensive Team:
G - Jason Kidd
G - Bruce Bowen
F - Ron Artest
F - Tim Duncan
C - Ben Wallace

Best Player Who Never Won the MVP Award: Jason Kidd. There isn't really anyone who should have won an MVP in the decade but did not. Kidd was consistent year after year, but the best individual season for anyone who never won MVP was probably Tracy McGrady in 2002-03.
Worst Award Selection: Rookie of the Year, 2002-03 (Amar'e Stoudemire over Yao Ming). Both players were excellent rookies, but Stoudemire got extra credit for coming out of high school and being on a team that was a game or two better. Yao's numbers were as good or better across the board, as I pointed out in this column at the time.
Best Unrecognized Player: Elton Brand

Best Shooter: Ray Allen
Best Defensive Player: Ben Wallace
Best Stopper: Bruce Bowen
Best Dunker: Vince Carter. Carter's transcendent 2000 Slam Dunk Contest show secured him this category no matter how much he slowed later in the decade.
Best Without the Ball: Peja Stojakovic
Best Screener: Jason Collins
Biggest Ballhog: Flip Murray
Iron Man: Bruce Bowen. He played 500 straight games, starting Feb. 28, 2002 and ending March 12, 2008.

Fastest Player: Leandro Barbosa
Slowest Player: Rafael Araujo. (Weirdly, both slowest and fastest are Brazilian.)
Best Athlete: Josh Smith

Best NBA Books:
:07 Seconds or Less, Jack McCallum
The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons
Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver
The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, Free Darko authors
Pro Basketball Prospectus/Forecast series, John Hollinger
The Last Season, Phil Jackson

Five Largest NBA Changes During the Decade:
1. Rules re-interpretation limiting contact on the perimeter, which has helped lead to the rise of young point guards late in the decade and increased use of smallball.
2. Increasing pace after a decade of the game slowing down (also related to one).
3. Rising influence of international players and globalization of the league's fanbase.
4. Creation of the D-League and progress toward a true minor-league system.
5. Development of an APBRmetrics community, with teams embracing statistical analysis.

Best Offense: 2004-05 Phoenix Suns
Best Defense: 2007-08 Boston Celtics
All Offense/No Defense: 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks. Relative to league average, those Mavericks were actually the most potent offense in modern NBA history, just above the 2004-05 Suns. Yet it was that Dallas team that truly lived up to the all-O/no-D rep that followed Phoenix; the Mavericks ranked 26th in the league in Defensive Rating. That makes them the most offensively-biased squad in modern history.
All Defense/No Offense: 2004-05 Chicago Bulls (second in Defensive Rating, 26th in Offensive Rating)

Best Backcourt: Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, San Antonio (2002-present)
Best Frontcourt: Vlade Divac, Chris Webber and Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento (1998-2004)

First of His Kind: Wang Zhizhi (first Chinese player in NBA)
Last of His Kind: Amir Johnson (last preps-to-pros player drafted)
One of a Kind: Allen Iverson
A Very Good Movie Could Be Made About: Yao Ming

A Better Man Than a Ballplayer: Eric Snow
A Better Ballplayer Than a Man: Ruben Patterson
Most Admirable Superstar: Steve Nash

Mr. Dickens, I'd Like You to Meet: Kelenna Azubuike, Udonis Haslem, Boniface Ndong, Ansu Sesay
Nicknames: Agent Zero (Gilbert Arenas), The Matrix (Shawn Marion), Half Man/Half Amazing (Vince Carter), The Answer (Allen Iverson), Vanilla Gorilla (Joel Przybilla), The Custodian (Brian Cardinal), The Rhino (Craig Smith), White Chocolate (Jason Williams), Junk Yard Dog (Jerome Williams)

Harold Miner Award: Adam Morrison. A thrilling college star at Gonzaga, Morrison posted the least valuable season in modern history by WARP, then tore his ACL. He now plays garbage time for the L.A. Lakers.
Flameout: Ron Mercer. The sixth overall pick in 1997 out of Kentucky, Mercer was solid his first couple of years, but faded quickly after his first season in Chicago and was out of the league by age 28.
Could I Try This Career Over? Shaun Livingston
Ted Stepien Talent Scout Award: Darko Milicic. The No. 2 overall pick by the Detroit Pistons when European big men were all the rage, Milicic rarely got playing time on the deep, veteran Pistons and has offered little production with three teams since leaving Detroit.

Outstanding Sportswriter: David Aldridge

Franchise Shifts:
2001 - Vancouver to Memphis
2002 - Charlotte to New Orleans
2008 - Seattle to Oklahoma City

After 16 years without a franchise moving, the NBA has had three moves in the last eight years, and David Stern has hinted more potentially could be on the horizon. The instability is a disturbing league-wide trend.

New Arenas:
2000 - AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
2001 - American Airlines Center, Dallas
2002 - AT&T Center, San Antonio
2003 - Toyota Center, Houston
2004 - FedEx Forum, Memphis
2005 - Charlotte Bobcats Arena (now Time Warner Cable Arena)

The late '90s and early '00s produced a high number of new arenas (the Air Canada Centre, Conseco Fieldhouse, the Pepsi Center, Philips Arena and the Staples Center all opened in 1999), but things have slowed considerably since then. The Orlando Magic plan to move into the Orlando Events Center in 2010.

Best Division: The 2003-04 Midwest Division saw all seven teams finish .500 or better, with four of them winning at least 50 games.

Best NBA Finals: 2005--San Antonio 4, Detroit 3. Though the series went the distance and featured one classic game (Game 5, won by Robert Horry's late three), it wasn't especially memorable. Many of the decade's Finals matchups were mismatches.
Best Playoff Series: 2002 Western Conference Finals--L.A. Lakers 4, Sacramento 3

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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