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

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Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /

Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard. 36. player. 34. . PG

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 36. Damian Lillard

“Dame Time” has been burned into the NBA vernacular for years now, the perfect encapsulation of Damian Lillard’s persistent late-game heroics. Intensely loyal to Portland, and often the one-man band behind Portland’s rousing success, Lillard is among the most dynamic offensive weapons of his generation.

A clear follow-up to the game-changing success of Stephen Curry, Lillard has buried countless defenses with unguardable barrages of deep (deep) 3-pointers. He is a pull-up threat as soon as he crosses halfcourt — a player who demands unyielding attention every second of every possession, whether he’s digging into his bag or playing off-ball.

Lillard is averaging 24.5 points for his career and already has six All-Stars under his belt. The 2012-13 Rookie of the Year has been named to five All-NBA squads and counting, and despite Portland’s lack of deep playoff runs, one cannot help but pity the franchise for not surrounding Lillard with the necessary pieces. Portland has often gone further than expected solely because of him.

The changing NBA has benefited few players more than Lillard. He has bought into the profound benefits of high 3-point volume, forcing defenses to bend backwards to have even a prayer of containing him. Not many can carry an offense like Lillard. For him, there are no bad shots.

player. 100. . SF. Indiana Pacers. Paul George. 35

50 greatest NBA players from 21st century: 35. Paul George

Paul George’s reputation has taken some lumps in recent years — his poor clutch-time performance in the postseason, for example, marred a particularly disappointing 2020 Clippers season. And yet, the list of 3-and-D wings who have ascended to George’s level is slim. He is a supremely gifted two-way player with no shortage of impressive moments, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

George spent the first six years of his career in Indiana, where he made four of his seven All-Star appearances and was the lead scorer on a scrappy Pacers squad. So scrappy, in fact, that Indiana was one of the few Eastern Conference teams to pose even the slightest threat to the Big Three-era Miami Heat.

With George at the helm, the Pacers were a bothersome matchup for LeBron and Co. — in part due to George’s ability to check LeBron defensively. PG13 has four All-Defensive nods to his name and led the NBA in steals in 2019. His versatility at 6-foot-8 has been invaluable from the very beginning.

In addition to his impressive six years in Indiana, George has since performed admirably in OKC and LA. He finished top three in MVP voting with the Thunder in 2019 and has put the Clippers in title contention for the first time ever as Kawhi Leonard’s co-captain. He is the quintessential 3-and-D player, even if his offensive skill set far exceeds that of a 3-point sniper.