From James Harden to Steph Curry, the All-Decade first, second, and third fantasy basketball teams

By Nick Whalen and Alex BaruthaRotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

As the year 2019 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the decade in the NBA. More than anything, the 2010s were defined by unprecedented player movement, dynastic runs, and super teams taking over the league.

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In many ways, the world of fantasy basketball mirrored what actually happened on the floor. As super teams rose and fell, the league’s brightest stars dominated the top of the rankings, with players like James Harden and Stephen Curry reaching new heights for productivity. 

Below, we present our All-Decade teams, which include — in our opinion — the best fantasy assets at each position over the last 10 years. A few items to consider:

  • The teams take into account the 2009-10 season through the 2018-19 season. 

  • Only players’ fantasy production was considered. Factors like team success, individual awards, championships, and controversies were not weighed.

  • We assumed 12-team, 8-category, roto leagues. As such, all references to rankings refer to a player’s finish in total production, as opposed to per-game, in eight-category leagues.

  • These teams are rooted in statistics but are also subjective. Since not all players were completely healthy — let alone in the league — for the entire decade, we had to make some difficult calls between the value of peak production versus longevity. 

First Team

Center: Anthony Davis, NOR

Seasons: 7

Best finish: 1

Average finish: 18.0

Davis didn’t play in the first three seasons of the decade, but his dominance from 2013-14 onward makes him a strong choice for best fantasy center over the past 10 years. He had four top-12 campaigns across his seven seasons, and he’s been top-8 in per-game production across the past six years. He finished the decade fourth in total blocks (1,121) and, quietly, 15th in made free throws on 79.5 percent shooting. Plus, he finished as the No. 1 fantasy player in 2017-18, despite appearing in only 75 games, averaging 28.1 points (53.4 FG%, 82.8 FT%), 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, a league-leading 2.6 blocks and 1.5 steals in 36.4 minutes. That season, Davis was voted First Team All-NBA and First Team All-Defense and took third in MVP voting. 

He was on pace for another elite fantasy season last year before demanding a trade from the Pelicans, but he still managed to finish 16th in total production despite playing only 1,850 minutes. Bradley Beal played 3,028 minutes and finished just one spot ahead of Davis. Al Horford was the second-best fantasy player to play fewer than 2,000 minutes and he finished 34th. Should Davis be knocked for what was essentially a post-All-Star-Break no-show? Probably. Is it enough to knock him off the First-Team pedestal? Probably not. - Alex Barutha

Forward: Kevin Durant, OKC/GSW

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 1

Average finish: 18.8

In a stat I had to double-check, Durant had four No. 1 seasons this decade, and he finished top-2 each of the first five years. In that five-year stretch, he averaged 29.3 points (48.9 FG%, 88.6 FT%), 7.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.9 threes, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks. He was crowned MVP in 2013-14 after leading the league in scoring for the fourth time in five years.

A foot injury and subsequent surgeries led to Durant playing in just 27 games during the 2014-15 season, and the next year marked his final year in OKC. He was the third-best fantasy player in 2015-16 and then proceeded to rank 12th, 5th, and 5th during his three years with the Warriors. Overall, he finished the decade with eight top-5 fantasy seasons. Plus, he was second in points (19,445) with the fourth-best true shooting percentage (62.6). Ultimately, Durant established himself as one of the best players of all time. - Alex Barutha

Forward: LeBron James, CLE/MIA/CLE/LAL

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 1

Average finish: 8.1

While LeBron has just a single No. 1 season (2010-11) this decade, his ability to stay healthy has been unprecedented among elite players. He had seven top-5 seasons and just one season outside of the top-10 (last year, as he dealt with the first significant injury of his career). LeBron is one of just two players to average first-round value for the decade, the other being Karl-Anthony Towns, and we’ll get to him later.

LeBron finished with two MVPs and averaged 26.9 points (52.9 FG%, 73.5 FT%), 7.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.5 threes and 1.5 steals over the past 10 years. And will we ever see someone play 27,000 regular-season minutes across a decade ever again? Health matters, both in real life and in fantasy. LeBron is the ultimate example. He ended the decade with the most points (19,550), fourth-most assists (5,503), seventh-most steals (1,107) and 10th-most rebounds (5,573). - Alex Barutha

Guard: Steph Curry, GSW

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 1

Average finish: 24

Curry wasted no time establishing himself as an elite player. He finished as the sixth-best fantasy player during his 2009-10 rookie season, following that up with a No. 10 overall effort. Then, he played just 26 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign and was labeled an injury risk. 

His response was to play at least 78 games in each of the next five seasons. Over that time, Curry never finished worse than the fourth-best fantasy player, and he won back-to-back MVPs, averaging 26.9 points (49.6 FG%, 91.0 FT%), 7.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 4.3 threes and 2.1 steals in those two years. His 2015-16 is probably the second-best fantasy season of the past 10 years.

While he played only 120 games over the final two seasons of the decade, his prime was on another level, and it’s just not enough to dissuade me from putting him on the First Team. Unsurprisingly, he finished with the most threes of the decade (2,483), but also the third-most steals (1,200). - Alex Barutha

Guard: James Harden, OKC/HOU

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 1

Average finish: 24.0

I was surprised to learn that Harden was the 20th-best fantasy player during his final season in Oklahoma City, which was the lockout year. Should we have seen his emergence as an elite player coming? He ranked sixth in free throw rate (.587), first in three-point attempt rate at .464 (among non-three-point specialists/role players) and second in true shooting percentage (66.0) as a 22-year-old. Daryl Morey’s decision-making since trading for Harden makes me think he’s treating real basketball like a keeper league.

Harden finished with three No. 1 finishes this decade, and his 2018-19 campaign was probably the best fantasy season over the past 10 years, and maybe ever, in the modern era. It truly rivals Michael Jordan’s 1987-88 season, which was his first MVP (Jordan also won Defensive Player of the Year). Is Harden’s offense just as good as Jordan’s offense and defense combined? This is a disturbing question to ponder.

En route to top-5 finishes every season since 2012-13, Harden has redefined what a successful offense can look like for both an individual and a team. The MVP in 2017-18, he’s undoubtedly a candidate for best fantasy player of the decade. At the very least, Harden is the best fantasy player of the past five years. Over the full decade, Harden was second in games played (765), second in minutes (26,106), second in threes (2,025), first in free throws (5,604), sixth in assists (4,743) and fourth in steals (1,189). - Alex Barutha

Second Team

Guard: Russell Westbrook, OKC

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 2

Average finish: 17.2

With their combined four No. 1 overall seasons, Harden and Curry are no-brainers on the First Team, but Westbrook isn’t far behind. Though he never reached the top spot, he finished second overall in his MVP 2016-17 season and spent half of the decade as a top-five player.

In the first season we’re considering (2009-10) — Westbrook’s second in the NBA — he solidified himself as a top-50 player, and for the rest of the decade, he was a first-round lock. The major blemish on his resume is an overall rank of 86 in 2013-14, but injuries limited Westbrook to just 46 games that year. On a per-game basis, Westbrook was on pace to finish the season as a top-10 player. 

For the decade, Westbrook ranked fifth in minutes played (25,662), fourth in total points (17,603), first in assists (6,462), second in steals (1,332), third in made free throws (4,336), and 17th in rebounds (5,361). And, of course, Westbrook is the only member of the decade’s prestigious 3,000-Turnover Club. - Nick Whalen

Guard: Chris Paul, NOR/LAC/HOU

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 3

Average finish: 20.2

Like Westbrook, Paul’s highs — at least in this decade — never quite reached the level of Curry’s or Harden’s, but he has a trio of top-three finishes to his name and two more top-10 seasons. Paul’s peak years fell just before our cut-off when he was the No. 1 overall player in both 2007-08 and 2008-09, but he remained an elite fantasy player for more than half of the decade.

An injury-shorted 2009-10 campaign in which he finished 66th overall drags down Paul’s average ranking, but he placed third overall in per-game value that season. He went on to stay relatively healthy for the next six years, logging five top-10 seasons and one 11th-place finish during that span. The steals leader for the decade, Paul topped out with one of the best fantasy seasons of his career in 2014-15, averaging 19.1 points, 10.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 48.5% from the field, 39.8% from three and 90.0% at the line.

More injuries began to hit Paul late in the decade, but he still managed to rank 24th in 2016-17 and 28th in 2017-18, despite missing 20-plus games in each season. Only last season did Paul truly begin to fall off. As his partnership with Harden began to fray, Paul again suffered through injuries, missing 24 games and finishing 48th overall. With a per-game rank of 21, it marked the first time in his 14-year career that Paul failed to be a top-20 player on a per-game basis. - Nick Whalen

Forward: Paul George, IND/OKC

Seasons: 9

Best finish: 2

Average finish: 77.6

As a player with two sub-190 seasons in the decade, George’s case for the Second Team isn’t unassailable. Ultimately, though, his peak seasons were enough to pull him ahead of more consistent options like LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap. The major outlier is George’s 2014-15 season when he appeared in just six games after fracturing his leg during a Team USA scrimmage the previous summer. Time missed due to injury is something we considered for all players, but in George’s case, the injury happened in August, well before most fantasy drafts. As such, we counted it as more of a lost season altogether than one in which he finished significantly lower than expected. If you drafted George that year with any expectations, it was on you.

Before the injury, George was coming off of a pair of top-10 finishes, including a then-career-best seventh overall in 2013-14. The next year was a wash, but George came back as an even better player in 2015-16, appearing in 81 games and again cruising to a top-10 rank. He slipped just outside of first-round value in his final year with the Pacers but finished the decade on a high note, ranking 11th in 2017-18 and climbing all the way up to No. 2 overall last season. 

Technically, both Aldridge and Millsap may have finished the decade with a higher average rank, but if you throw out George’s lost season, his average rises to 29.9 — and that’s including a rookie season in which he averaged 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game en route to a 192nd-place finish. - Nick Whalen

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL

Seasons: 6

Best finish: 4

Average finish: 42.0

Yes, yes, I know Antetokounmpo’s rookie year wasn’t until the 2013-14 season, mid-way through the decade. And while he wasn’t a top-20 fantasy player until 2015-16, he quickly established himself as an All-Star-caliber player. Shortly thereafter, he won the MVP award. He’s been ranked top-6 over the past three seasons, hitting a rank of No. 4 overall twice. Over the past three years, he’s averaged 28.0 points on 55.4% shooting, 11.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1.3 steals. His lack of threes and his poor free-throw shooting hurt his case, but he’s been dominant regardless.

Imagine if Giannis had a consistent three-point shot? (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Imagine if Giannis had a consistent three-point shot? (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Antetokounmpo doesn’t have the longevity throughout the decade of LaMarcus Aldridge or Paul Millsap, for example, but firmly establishing yourself in the best-player-in-the-league debate weighs heavily. That said, just because Antetokounmpo has only been in the league for half the decade doesn’t mean he didn’t climb up the leaderboards. Despite starting much later than most stat leaders, Antetokounmpo ranked 24th in blocks (626), 32nd in defensive rebounds (3,096), 30th in made free throws (2,149) and 38th in made two-pointers (2,968) for the decade. - Alex Barutha

Center: Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN

Seasons: 4

Best finish: 3

Average finish: 5.5

Towns probably would have been disqualified for this discussion had he not gotten off to such an incredible start to his career. During his 2015-16 rookie campaign, he was the NBA’s 10th-best fantasy player and won Rookie of the Year on the back of 18.3 points (shooting 54/34/81), 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.7 blocks. He’s improved his fantasy rank every year since then, never ranking worse than fifth overall across the past three seasons, partially fueled by an amazing streak of health. Towns missed just five total games across his first four seasons.

While he catches flak for being a poor defender, we’re much more concerned (in the fantasy world) with the fact that he’s on pace to be one of the best offensive centers to ever play. His career true-shooting percentage (61.9) ranked seventh in the decade — Steph Curry, Kyle Korver, and Kevin Durant are the only three-point shooters above him. Towns also ranked 57th in made threes (393) and 48th in total rebounds (3,831) this decade despite only playing in four years of it. - Alex Barutha

Third Team

Guard: Damian Lillard, POR

Seasons: 7

Best finish: 6

Average finish: 13.0

With seven top-20 seasons to begin his career, Lillard landing on the Third Team doesn’t seem fair, but it speaks to just how productive the four guards ahead of him have been. Lillard is coming off another fantastic fantasy season in 2018-19, when he finished seventh overall behind 25.8 points, 6.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 3.0 made threes per game. In terms of production, it was his best year to date, but he ranked higher overall (6th) in 2014-15.

Like many players, his worst fantasy finish came as a rookie, but even then, Lillard managed to be the 19th-most-valuable player in the league, as he hit the ground running with 19.0 points and 6.5 assists per game as a 22-year-old. Tethered closely to his fantasy success is Lillard’s durability. He’s never missed more than nine games, and he’s played at least 75 games in six of seven seasons. 

That level of consistency placed him near the top of several categories for the decade. Lillard ranked 11th in total points, 16th in assists, and seventh in made threes, despite not entering the league until 2012-13. He also ranked fourth in free throw percentage (88.9%), behind only Stephen Curry, JJ Redick, and Dirk Nowitzki. - Nick Whalen

Guard: Kemba Walker, CHA

Seasons: 8

Best finish: 11

Average finish: 38.8

Walker held off some bigger names who peaked early in the decade for the final guard spot on our team. While he didn’t get off to a blazing-fast start to his career like many players on this list, Walker’s rookie season was still decent, as he played in all 66 games and finished just outside of the top 100, despite shooting just 36.6% from the field. A year later, he jumped all the way up into the top-20, improving dramatically across the board and again playing in every game.

Outside of an injury-shortened 2014-15 season in which he missed 20 games and finished 82nd, Walker has essentially been an ultra-reliable second-round value year in and year out. Over the last four seasons, he’s finished 15th, 20th, 16th, and 11th, missing just six total games in that span. The knock on Walker has always been his poor field goal percentage, relative to other elite guards, but to his credit, that became much less of an issue later in the decade.

Playing in eight of 10 seasons, Walker closed the decade ranking in the top-25 in points, assists, steals, made threes and free throw percentage. - Nick Whalen

Forward: Paul Millsap, UTA/ATL/DEN

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 6

Average finish: 55.1

A slow finish to the decade has perhaps jaded just how rock-solid of a fantasy asset Millsap was for the better part of the last 10 years.

He’s certainly not the most exciting name on the list, but Millsap has four top-20 finishes to his name, highlighted by a sixth overall ranking in 2011-12. He fell off a bit the following year (40th) but bounced back upon arriving in Atlanta, posting finishes of 21st, 15th and seventh overall in his first three years with the Hawks. An All-Star in each of those seasons, Millsap averaged 17.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals. 1.3 blocks and 1.0 made threes over that three-year run.

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Working in Millsap’s favor is the fact that his prime years overlapped with most of the decade, but his last two seasons are what ultimately prevented him from challenging Giannis Antetokounmpo for a forward spot on the Second Team. Millsap missed more than half of 2017-18 due to injury, and his production fell off significantly in 2018-19 when he finished 92nd overall. - Nick Whalen

Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge, POR/SAN

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 14

Average finish: 31.5

Even more so than Millsap, Aldridge was the decade’s ultimate model of consistency. While he never returned first-round value, he also never ranked lower than 61st overall, and he managed eight top-40 finishes in 10 seasons. Yet, the lack of a truly elite peak is what prevents Aldridge from supplanting George or Antetokounmpo on the Second Team.

A seven-time All-Star during the decade, Aldridge entered his prime in 2010-11, finishing a career-best 14th overall on the back of 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. He provided similar production for the next four years before his value took a hit upon arriving in San Antonio. After finishing 39th and 61st, respectively, in his first two years with the Spurs, Aldridge rebounded to finish 21st in 2017-18 and 18th last season. For the decade, he ranked sixth in total points, fifth in rebounds, 17th in blocks, and third in minutes played, while hitting 81.7 percent of his free throws.

At the end of the day, longevity and dependability are key factors, but was Aldridge ever a player you felt like you had to get? The type of player who could ascend a tier or two and put you over the top? I never felt that way, and I don’t think many fantasy managers did either. - Nick Whalen

Center: Marc Gasol, MEM

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 9

Average finish: 41.6

I fought for Gasol to land on the Second Team, but in fairness, his peaks were never as high as those of Towns, who was a top-10 player as soon as he entered the league. Regardless, Gasol was the most consistent true center of the decade, finishing all 10 seasons as a top-100 player, even the two in which he missed more than 20 games.

Sandwiched around the first of those (2013-14) were a pair of top-12 finishes, headlined by a career-best ninth overall in 2012-13. Gasol didn’t make the All-Star team that season, but he averaged 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.7 blocks, and 1.0 steals and was named Defensive Player of the Year.

As the decade wore on, Gasol’s defensive contributions gradually waned, but he reinvented himself as a stretch five and ended the decade with finishes of 27th, 29th and 34th overall. - Nick Whalen

Honorable Mentions

Kyrie Irving: It was down to Irving and Walker for the final guard spot, and Walker’s durability ended up breaking the tie. Irving is the better player when healthy, but he missed at least 10 games in all but one season this decade.

Klay Thompson: An incredibly steady player with a top-10 finish to his name, Thompson was a tough omission, but he missed the cut due to the fact that he’s somewhat of a specialist whose defensive abilities don’t translate to elite fantasy stats.

Monta Ellis: Had a surprisingly reasonable case for the Third Team. A top-10 ranking in 2010-11 as part of seven consecutive top-40 finishes this decade.

Kawhi Leonard: An elite, first-round value when healthy, Leonard simply missed too many games. Plus, he wasn’t anything close to the Kawhi we know today until at least halfway through the decade.

Kyle Lowry: Lowry has a similar case to that of Millsap or Aldridge. Never a top-10 player, but he had three top-20 finishes and never ranked lower than 69th.

Serge Ibaka: Finished 24th, 12th and 13th in three consecutive seasons but faded toward middle-round value for the second half of the decade.

John Wall: Was easily on pace for a Third Team spot before missing significant time in each of the last two seasons. Wall ranked eighth, seventh, 13th, and seventh in consecutive seasons from 2013-14 through 2016-17.

Dwyane Wade: His prime simply ran out too early in the decade for serious consideration. Wade finished fourth in 2009-10 and eighth in 2010-11, but after that, he failed to crack the top-60 in six of the next eight seasons.

Kevin Love: Had two top-five seasons early on, but Love battled durability issues and fell off dramatically since the moment he arrived in Cleveland.

Dirk Nowitzki: Put up four top-20 seasons but, like Wade, Nowitzki fell off hard late in the decade.

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