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

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Draymond Green
Draymond Green (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Golden State Warriors. Draymond Green. 26. player. 41. . PF

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 26. Draymond Green

Even in the middle of Golden State’s historic run atop the league, Draymond Green didn’t get enough credit. He was often called the “heart and soul” of the Warriors — and yes, he was. But he was so much more, not only for his presence as a defensive backbone, but for his immense contributions on the offensive end as well.

While Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and later Kevin Durant all made the Warriors “click,” the offense wouldn’t have been the same without Draymond. He’s one of the smartest passers in the league and a split-second decision-maker like very few others. His willingness to move the ball, combined with his ability to read the defense and react on a dime, were heavily consequential in Golden State’s perennial beatdowns of lesser teams.

For his efforts, Green was rewarded with three rings and a place in the history books. He was the biggest and best example of the NBA’s small-ball movement. His minutes at center often rendered Golden State unguardable. He was the best defender in the NBA for a solid stretch, and even now, in 2020-21 and well past his prime, Green is averaging a career high in assists.

The Warriors will forever be remembered for not only their three rings but for changing the game. For expediting the 3-point revolution and ringing in the era of positionless basketball. Far too often we forget just how important Green was in forcing that trend.

Russell Westbrook. 25. player. 149. . PG. Oklahoma City Thunder

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 25. Russell Westbrook

Few player legacies have been and will be more hotly contested than Russell Westbrook. To some, he’s everything you want in a superstar — domineering, all-consuming, full of heart. To others, he’s a losing player — the kind of so-called star who actively sabotages his team. As you can probably tell from this ranking, I’m generally of a pro-Westbrook disposition.

At the end of the day, very few players in league history have accomplished the statistical feats Russell Westbrook has accomplished. He had down stretches, cold spells, defensive lapses, and everything in between, but for the overwhelming majority of his career, Westbrook has been the most dominant athlete on the floor. His explosiveness matched only by his propulsive desire to contribute in every possible way.

Westbrook became the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double for an entire season, then did it two more times. He won the MVP in 2017 after averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists and dragging the undermanned Thunder to the postseason. He’s a nine-time All-Star, a nine-time All-NBA recipient, and has led the league in scoring and assists twice each.

There is a time and place to lament Westbrook’s play style. His game has not aged as gracefully as others on this list, but at his peak, very few could hold a candle to Westbrook’s productivity. He is perhaps the central figure in Thunder history — a beloved fan favorite there, and a ceaseless irritant for those who opposed him. Give Westbrook the respect he deserves.