The Best NBA Athlete at Every Position
The greatest athletes in the world play in the NBA. But who are the best athletes in the NBA?
It may depend on what you're looking for. Do you value speed over strength? Leaping ability over body control? Agility over acceleration? Balance over quickness?
When it comes to a few players, however, you get it all. So while it may seem hard to pick the best among a crop of so many high-level candidates, in some ways, it's easy. A couple of guys simply stand so far apart from their peers that selecting them becomes a no-brainer.
These are the best athletes at each position.
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
There are three choices for the NBA's most athletic point guard: Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose or somebody else. Either of the first two can be correct.
There is no one in the league who elevates and dunks like Westbrook. But there is a lot more to athleticism than leaping and throwing a ball down. Rose has such great body control, such an ability to change speeds, such leaping ability and such precision of movement that it may well outweigh the seismic event that each Westbrook rim attack creates.
But Rose can't move like that right now. It's possible he never will again.
Every basketball fan hopes that statement proves false, but the fact is that point guard athlete 1A is hobbled while point guard athlete 1B is doing things like this.
Last year, I would have taken Rose. Next year, I hope to take Rose.
But today, I must pick Westbrook.
Shooting Guard: Andre Iguodala
This is the toughest position to select. By far.
Dwyane Wade has been the reigning champ for most of the past decade. He still may be the best choice, but he appears to be breaking down physically. Modern medicine is miraculous to the point that Tim Duncan now looks more agile than he has in years, so perhaps Wade is prematurely being stripped of his crown here.
There are new challengers, regardless. Take Toronto Raptors rookie Terrence Ross, who looks to be the next great Canadian highlight factory. Then there is Monta Ellis, who is equipped with uncanny body control and can get from Point A to Point B as quick as anyone alive. He moves so quickly that his feet often look to be hovering.
Are there others? Is Gerald Green athletically impressive in ways other than putting his head above the rim? Can we call Eric Bledsoe and Nate Robinson shooting guards? How many steps has J.R. Smith lost?
Then there is Andre Iguodala.
He will be considered a forward by some and is really just, to me, a wing. But he starts at shooting guard for the Denver Nuggets and has a uniqueness to his motion that gives him an undeniable presence on the court. Whether it is running the floor, handling the ball or mirroring the man he is guarding, he is always poised yet explosive, balanced yet moving at full speed, laid back yet ready to pounce on the rim.
After much deliberation, it came down to Wade vs. Iggy.
By the slimmest of margins, I'll take the guy who doesn't currently look like he needs to begin a graceful transition to the next, less explosive phase of his career.
Small Forward: LeBron James
LeBron James is the Bo Jackson of our time.
If you surveyed every player, coach and general manager in the NBA, the vote for best small forward athlete would be unanimous. Well, Metta World Peace might be the wild-card dissenter—voting for himself, naturally—but LeBron is not merely the most athletic player in the National Basketball Association; he is probably the greatest athlete on the planet.
There simply never has been anything remotely like him. With his size (6'8", 260 lbs), locomotive speed, blue-ox strength and leopard agility, LeBron can cover more court in fewer steps than anyone else in the league. If players impede his path, he just goes around, through or over them.
There is a reason that the chase-down block was never a regular part of the NBA until LeBron showed up: Nobody really thought it was possible to make up that much ground and prevent a breakaway layup. Well, less than six years after he entered the league, he had amassed a highlight reel of chase-downs alone that was more impressive than most All-Stars' career mixtapes are when they retire.
All this, paired with a robotic ability to avoid injury, makes it no wonder that he is seen as the second coming of Karl Malone—if the Mailman could jump-cut like LaDainian Tomlinson. For now, it's hard to explain just how otherworldly LeBron's physical gifts are without making comparisons to several other great athletes.
In the future, however, other great athletes will just be called LeBronesque.
Power Forward: Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin is such a ferocious dunker that we need to invent new words to describe his exploits. "Mozgov'd" is one that no NBA fan will ever forget.
Griffin's leaping ability, body control and in-air timing are what put him in the conversation for best dunker in league history. He can sprint end-to-end at a remarkable velocity at any point in a game, but it is when he is rim-running with Frisbee-sized eyes in anticipation of a lob that his speed is on full display. Then he jumps as high as anyone his size ever has and uses impeccable hand-eye coordination to catch the ball and transfer the vast power to the rim.
It's artwork in action. It's why we watch.
And seeing a man with a barrel chest and a statuesque physique move like that, jump like that, spin like that—all without ever seeming out of control—is a sight to behold.
Center: Dwight Howard
During the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest, what happened after Dwight Howard took off his jersey to reveal an S on his chest was incredible. It wasn't incredible as in, "That was awesome, dude"; it was incredible as in, while it was occurring, I didn't find it believable. It wasn't fathomable.
Dwight approached the paint, took off from two feet inside the foul line—off two feet—and came as close to unassisted human flight as any man has. As he elevated and elevated and elevated and caught a lob while so high in the air that he was able to ferociously, violently, effortlessly throw the ball down through the rim.
The dozens of super-athlete millionaires in attendance lost their collective mind. Howard incited pandemonium to a level that hadn't been seen during that event since Vince Carter redefined dunking in 2000.
What came a few minutes later was even more impressive, yet less describable.
Dwight threw a lob to himself, jumped, tapped the ball off the glass, caught that self-pass off the backboard and routinely slammed the ball through. He appeared to be floating.
Sure, this was more than four years ago. He has been slowed by back surgery and Father Time since then. Today, he certainly isn't 100 percent. But Howard at 80 percent is still the most athletic center in the NBA.