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

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Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /

147. . PG. Brooklyn Nets. Jason Kidd. 16. player

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 16. Jason Kidd

While some of Jason Kidd’s best basketball was played before the turn of the century, his accolades were still plentiful after the calendar flipped to 2000. Following a fruitful stretch in Phoenix, Kidd was traded to the New Jersey Nets in 2001. He would lead the Nets to consecutive Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003.

At 6-foot-4, Kidd was one of, if not the most, skilled passer of his generation. He led the NBA in assists per game five times, doing so thrice after the turn of the century. He was equally adept on defense, where he earned nine All-Defensive nominations over the course of his career. A nightly triple-double threat and elite two-way presence, Kidd made eight of his 10 All-Star appearances in the 21st century.

While his prime years had long since passed, Kidd’s contributions to Dallas’ 2011 championship run cemented his legacy. He was no longer a dynamic scorer, but Kidd’s playmaking chops were essential to the Mavs’ ability to out-execute LeBron’s Heat. Even in later years, Kidd’s basketball I.Q. proved invaluable.

Kidd was arguably the best two-way point guard of the 2000s — not only the league’s leading assist man but one of its best point-of-attack defenders. Kidd influenced the game in manners well beyond the scoring department. He was truly special.

18. . SF. Boston Celtics. Paul Pierce. 15. player

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 15. Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce spent the first 15 years of his career in Boston, where he became the centerpiece of modern Celtics legend. He bled green, and in doing so made 10 All-Star appearances, was named to four All-NBA teams, and won Finals MVP in 2008.

The California native became one of the NBA’s most dynamic wing scorers from the early 2000s on. He was never a great athlete, but at 6-foot-7, Piece had the size and skill to make do. He was skillful to the extreme, with a deep bag of tricks and a potent mid-range game that elevated him to the ranks of NBA greats.

In Boston’s 2008 championship run, Piece had the unenviable task of dueling Kobe Bryant. A duel he practically won, along with the series. While Pierce has rendered himself the unfortunate butt of a great many jokes since his retirement, his self-confidence on the court was always well earned.

Pierce and the Celtics’ Big Three were never able to scale the mountaintop again after ’08, but Pierce’s robust success in Boston earns him prime real estate on this list. Even in the gloomy early 2000s, Pierce made Boston worth watching. Also of note is Piece’s longevity. Right up until he left Boston in the summer of 2013 — that infamous Nets trade — Pierce was a nightly threat to score 20+.