The NBA in recent years has become a staple of entertainment not just in the United States but globally as well. With the reach of the NBA increasing daily, it is time to take a look at the most influential players the NBA has had in the last 20 years at each position.
PG: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry was drafted No. 7 overall by the Golden State Warriors in the 2009 NBA Draft. After starring for Davidson in the NCAA tournament, Curry took his sharpshooting talents to the Bay Area. Since arriving in the NBA, Curry has been setting records for every shooting statistic imaginable. With an incredible knack for shooting beyond the arc, Curry has been lighting the league on fire for years now.
But the reason Curry has been so influential is the new wave of shooting in the NBA. Along with Klay Thompson and the efficient offense run by coach Steve Kerr, Curry has led the charge for youngers players to focus more on three-point shooting and shooting from way downtown. Although Damian Lillard and James Harden have adapted to the wave of deep shooting in recent years, Curry was dominant from the beginning from downtown.
SG: Allen Iverson
Averaging 26.7 points per game for his career, Allen Iverson was taken with the first overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft and he never looked back. Iverson dominated the NBA and carried the Philadelphia 76ers for the majority of his career.
With iconic moments like his stepover on Ty Lue, his 2001 All-Star Game performance, or his defining look with the shooting sleeve and chains he donned on the court, Iverson was the guy that young basketball players wanted to be. In the same way that Curry placed an emphasis on shooting, Iverson created an emphasis on ball handling and having confidence in your game, which are key traits seen in guys like Kyrie Irving today.
SF: LeBron James
Although there is little explaining that needs to be done here, James has been the King in the NBA for almost 20 years now. Coming out of high school as one of the best prospects of all-time, James has been able to consistently lead teams to the playoffs no matter the talent around him.
In recent years, the NBA has transformed to a league where size does not define your position, something that was originally championed by LeBron James. At 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds, James has been able to pound the paint inside while also having the skills needed to play the point when needed. His success, statistics, and leadership have led to him consistently being compared to Michael Jordan, who is truly the greatest basketball player of all-time. Following the legacy of Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the only question now is who will the King pass the crown off to next?
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
Born in Germany, Dirk Nowitzki revolutionized the way a big man could play in the NBA. One of the first true stretch fours, Dirk was able to coin his own fadeaway, rebound efficiently and also shoot at an elite clip from three-point range. Nowitzki played for 20 years in the NBA and became the sweetheart of the Dallas Mavericks by the time he retired in 2019.
Due to the way Nowitzki played and maneuvered inside, newer players like Kristaps Porzingis modeled their games after him. Standing at 7-foot-3, Porzingis is a stretch five who also has the fade and the inside defensive skills to lead a team. Paired with Luka Doncic, there is a clear comparison between the days of Nowitzki and Steve Nash. Without the overwhelming global influence of Nowitzki, the importance of the stretch big would not be what it is today.
Shaq, Shaqtin a Fool, Big Diesel, Shaq Fu, or Shaq Daddy, Shaquille O’Neal is clearly one of the most dominant centers of all-time. Although the late 2000s and 2010s have led to more three-point shooting centers, O’Neal led the Magic, Lakers, and Heat while being an explosive force in the paint. Shaq broke rims, denied dunks, and missed so many free throws that teams employed their own “Hack a Shaq” strategy.
O’Neal amassed an incredible amount of awards during his NBA career, but the impact he had on future players can not be quantified. Even after he retired, the passion O’Neal played with and the fun he had with his teammates was contagious and encouraging to everyone around him. No matter how many threes a center takes in 2020, the impact O’Neal had on traditional centers will never be forgotten.