Fantasy All-Decade: Harden, Durant Headline First Team

Fantasy All-Decade: Harden, Durant Headline First Team

As the year 2019 nears its close, it's time to reflect back on the decade that was in the NBA. More than anything, the 2010s were defined by unprecedented player movement, dynastic runs, and superteams taking over the league.

In many ways, the world of fantasy basketball mirrored what actually happened on the floor. As superteams 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. 

We'll start by revealing RotoWire's All-Decade First Team, which, of course, was compiled with a fantasy spin. A few items to consider before diving in:

  • The teams take into account the 2009-10 season through the 2018-19 season. Nothing that happened before or after that 10-season period was considered.
  • Only players' fantasy production was considered. 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. 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 off 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. 

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 12, 5, and 5 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. 

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 in a later article.

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 ends the decade with the most points (19,550), fourth-most assists (5,503), seventh-most steals (1,107) and 10th-most rebounds (5,573).

Guard: Stephen Curry, GSW

Seasons: 10

Best finish: 1

Average finish: 24.0

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 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 finishes with the most threes of the decade (2,483), but also the third-most steals (1,200).

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 (he 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. In the past 10 years, Harden is 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).

RotoWire's Second and Third-Team All-Decade rosters will be released in the coming days.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Alex Barutha
Alex is RotoWire's Chief NBA Editor. He writes articles about daily fantasy, year-long fantasy and sports betting. You can hear him on the RotoWire NBA Podcast, Sirius XM, VSiN and other platforms. He firmly believes Robert Covington is the most underrated fantasy player of the past decade.
Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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