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

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Tony Parker
Tony Parker (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

player. 29. . PG. San Antonio Spurs. Tony Parker. 24

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 24. Tony Parker

The diminutive point guard from France who became a legend. Tony Parker arrived in San Antonio with meager expectations and a lot to prove. The tales of Tim Duncan not talking to him his entire rookie year are well-documented. He needed to earn his keep on an established contender, and he did so — starting from the get-go, and showing up as a rookie in the 2002 playoffs.

Parker would go on to spend essentially his entire career in the playoffs, putting together big performance after big performance for the NBA’s most steadfast contender. His numbers may not stack up to others on this list, but Parker — like Ginobili before him — was willing to sacrifice in a system geared to benefit the whole, rather than the individual.

That said, Parker was the No. 2 option and lead playmaker on a legendary Spurs team — a Spurs team that won four championships during his tenure, and that was hardly ever counted out of the Finals hunt. San Antonio was never flashy and never loud, but Parker had no shortage of style. He was endlessly slick with the ball in hand, and earned his reputation as one of the century’s top point guards.

Parker made six All-Star appearances, was named to four All-NBA squads, and even won Finals MVP in 2007. The Spurs are a fascinating and rare franchise, one that has dominated the bulk of this century. It’s not often a small market like San Antonio can hold such a prominent spot in the NBA history books. Parker deserves heaps of credit for helping them get to that point.

Los Angeles Lakers. Anthony Davis. 23. player. 20. . PF

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 23. Anthony Davis

After years in Pelicans purgatory, Anthony Davis was finally traded to the Lakers ahead of the 2019-20 season. The result, in a rather predictable climax, was Davis’ first NBA championship — a long-awaited ascent to the top as the 1B for LeBron James’ 1A. Now that he has a ring on his résumé, there’s not much preventing Davis’ steady rise on this list.

Even before his Lakers coronation, Davis’ NBA accomplishments were vast. He has led the NBA in blocks three times. He now has four All-NBA and four All-Defensive nods under his belt, along with eight All-Star appearances and some debatable Defensive Player of the Year snubs. Davis has been one of the game’s premier two-way talents for a minute, and now he’s finally on a good enough team to win basketball games.

The former No. 1 pick’s offensive repertoire has steadily increased ever since he entered the league in 2012. Davis has added a reliable 3-point shot, as well as a killer face-up game he could only have dreamt of at Kentucky. He has broadened his already-hulking shoulders, and emerged as one of the most tantalizing rim protectors this century.

Davis is still in the prime of his career and will likely continue his ascent. He has proven himself much closer to LeBron’s equal than other teammates in James’ past — not only averaging more points than LeBron last season, but assuming the mantle of LA’s defensive backbone. Davis’ combination of skill, size, and athleticism is rivaled by only a handful of his peers. He won’t fall off this list any time soon.