NBA History: 50 best NBA players of the 21st century

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Shawn Marion
Shawn Marion (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) /

Phoenix Suns. Shawn Marion. 28. player. 66. . SF

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 28. Shawn Marion

Forever underrated, Shawn Marion was one of the best defenders of his generation. The fact that he never made an All-Defensive team is egregious to this day. He even finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2007. How he skated around such well-deserved accolades is a mystery still unsolved.

The 6-foot-7 Marion was immensely versatile, both a tremendous help defender and a lockdown ball-stopper. He led the NBA in total steals twice, and he averaged at least a block per game the first 10 years of his career. He covered more ground than virtually anyone and did so while contributing robustly on offense.

Marion helped lead Phoenix to some of its greatest and most memorable seasons. He paired nicely with the likes of Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, and Amar’e Stoudemire — a catch-all defender who could rim-run, spot up, and make the extra pass offensively. Despite his wonky jump shot, Marion spaced the floor and made great use of his athleticism as a cutter.

While Marion never won the Finals in his prime, he did play a key role in the Mavericks’ 2011 championship run — adding an ever-elusive ring to his list of under-recognized accomplishments. Marion should have made more than four All-Star games, and his complete exclusion from the All-Defensive lists is, again, unforgivable.

Vince Carter. 27. player. 81. . SG. Toronto Raptors

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 27. Vince Carter

Over two decades in the NBA, Vince Carter left an unmistakable mark on both the game and the culture. He was the ultimate highlight reel — perhaps the greatest dunker in NBA history. He was an elite scorer, averaging 23.8 points and 5.5 rebounds across his first 10 years in the league. He made eight consecutive All-Star appearances, graced two All-NBA teams, and was Rookie of the Year when it all started in 1998-99 (I know, I know, outside the 21st century).

Up until just recently, Carter spent this entire century seemingly on a basketball court. Even after his prime ended, he spent another decade contributing meaningfully for several different teams. As his athleticism faded, Carter became a potent shooter. At his peak, few players could stick with Carter on the perimeter. Those unfortunate enough to meet him at the rim met unadvisable fates.

Carter spent his first six years in Toronto, where he made five of his All-Star appearances and made his biggest impact on a single franchise. He was the lifeblood of Toronto basketball in the franchise’s early years — a source of immense joy for fans and a ticket to the postseason after years of subpar finishes.

The Raptors were founded in 1995, and Carter arrived in 1998 via draft-day trade. He was there to welcome not only the turn of the century, but to kickstart what is essentially the first era of Raptors basketball. A dynamo on the wing who could fly more effortlessly than a bird of prey, Carter will forever have a spot in NBA lore.