Top 25 since '96 Part 4: Counting down the greatest modern NBA players

Photo illustration by Nick Roy/theScore

It's been a quarter century since the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary by naming the top 50 players in league history. To mark the latest milestone, theScore's basketball news editors voted for the top 25 players since the original list debuted.

Reminder: players on the original list were ineligible for inclusion - so no Michael Jordan, Shaq, or anyone else who continued to star beyond 1996. Second, players who debuted before 1996 were eligible, but they needed to have made an impact over the last 25 years.

25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

Here's the fourth entry of our five-part series:

10. Kawhi Leonard

Adam Pantozzi / National Basketball Association / Getty
PTS REB AST STL BLK 3P%
19.2 6.4 2.9 1.8 0.6 38.4

Teams: Spurs, Raptors, Clippers

Kawhi Leonard wasn't regarded as highly as his peers coming out of college. Despite being a physical marvel, there were serious questions about his offense, specifically his jump shot. A decade after being drafted 15th overall, Leonard's undoubtedly the best player from his class.

The five-time All-Star has developed into one of the game's top two-way players. Leonard's an efficient mid-range scorer, is deadly in isolation sets, and has the athleticism to guard multiple positions. He also generates plenty of steals using his massive hands and long arms.

Leonard is already a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. The 30-year-old has seven NBA All-Defensive team selections, five All-NBA nods, and two Defensive Player of the Year awards. In 2019, Leonard joined LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to win Finals MVP with multiple teams. - Chicco Nacion

9. Giannis Antetokounmpo

Gary Dineen / National Basketball Association / Getty
PTS REB AST STL BLK 3P%
20.9 9.1 4.5 1.2 1.3 28.7

Team: Bucks

As the youngest player on this list, Giannis Antetokounmpo's prime years are unfolding right in front of our eyes. Given his body of work over his eight seasons, it's likely the 26-year-old will skyrocket up the all-time ranks before all is said and done.

Antetokounmpo's resume speaks for itself - two-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP while leading his Milwaukee Bucks to their first title since 1970-71 this past season.

The Greek Freak is arguably the league's best player right now, as teams simply haven't found a way to stop his physically imposing playstyle. Until they do, expect the accolades and titles to keep coming. - Matthew Winick

8. Dwyane Wade

Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images Sport / Getty
PTS REB AST STL BLK 3P%
22.0 4.7 5.4 1.5 0.8 29.3

Teams: Heat, Bulls, Cavaliers

Dwyane Wade is, without a doubt, the greatest player in Heat history. He leads the franchise in several statistical categories, including games played (948), points (21,556), assists (5,310), and steals (1,492) and even ranks second in blocks (812) despite standing just 6-foot-4. He also played a pivotal role in all three of Miami's championships, earning Finals MVP for the first in what was just his third season.

Curiously, the one accolade that eluded Wade throughout his 16-year career was a regular-season MVP. With everything else he secured, though, that likely doesn't bother him much. - Jonathan Soveta

7. Dirk Nowitzki

Joe Murphy / National Basketball Association / Getty
PTS REB AST STL BLK 3P%
20.7 7.5 2.4 0.8 0.8 38.0

Team: Mavericks

From 2000-14, Dirk Nowitzki put up 23.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.7 dimes in 36.6 minutes per night. (This past year, only Knicks forward Julius Randle averaged more minutes.) And Dirk was averaging over 75 games per season at that time.

That incredible 14-year span resulted in 12 All-NBA selections, the 2007 MVP trophy, and two Finals appearances - including the 2011 title. The Dallas Mavericks won at least 50 games in each of the first 11 years of that run.

Fans of opposing teams will recall few sequences more terrifying than Nowitzki flabbergasting their big men with his signature one-legged fadeaway, a virtually unblockable shot that seemed have eyes for the basket. - Andrew Joe Potter

6. Kevin Garnett

Nathaniel S. Butler / National Basketball Association / Getty
PTS REB AST STL BLK 3P%
17.8 10.0 3.7 1.3 1.4 27.5

Teams: Timberwolves, Celtics, Nets

Kevin Garnett was a treat to watch - unless you were the one trying to defend him in the paint.

Equal parts tantalizing big man and incredible trash talker, he could wear down opponents in so many ways. He could stare them down before drilling his hallmark mid-range jumper in their face, or he could embarrass them at the rim to cap off the verbal thrashing he'd put them through over the previous 20 minutes.

The 15-time All-Star and 2004 MVP did it all, pairing an all-around offensive game with a sensational, no-nonsense approach on defense that earned him Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Though he had more team success with the Celtics, he led the Minnesota Timberwolves to heights they've yet to reach again. With little help on the roster, Garnett took them to their first, and still only, conference finals appearance in 2004. - Soveta

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Come back tomorrow for our series finale, which features ... well, you can probably guess who.

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Top 25 since '96 Part 4: Counting down the greatest modern NBA players
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