Ranking the 25 Best Leapers in the NBA

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2013

Ranking the 25 Best Leapers in the NBA

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    Few things captivate sports fans around the world like the leaping ability of NBA players.

    As they spring their way through the 2012-13 season, it's clear that the league has never seen such a wide collection of high-flying entertainers.

    Some of them bounce off the floor as if they were on a trampoline, and it makes for electrifying blocks, rebounds and dunks.

    A vast group of NBA players can jump like jackrabbits. Who are the absolute best?

    When we break down the top 25, we're mainly assessing vertical height, but we also factor in body control, coordination and in-game applicability.

     

    *Unless noted otherwise, all vertical measurements are gathered from DraftExpress.com and NBA.com.

Injured/Inactive Players

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    The following leapers either have injuries, aren't fully recovered or have appeared in less than 10 games in 2012-13:

    Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (40"): knee

    Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers (35.5"): back and shoulder, not fully recovered

    Tyrus Thomas, Charlotte Bobcats (39.5"): six games

    Chase Budinger, Minnesota Timberwolves (38.5"): knee

    Miles Plumlee, Indiana Pacers (40.5"): nine games

    Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards (39"): ankle

    Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks (42"): knee "explosiveness not there" (via LI Newsday)

25. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics

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    Height: 6'9"

    Max Vertical: 38"

    The Boston Celtics have benefited from Jeff Green's jet-propelled ways numerous times in 2012-13.

    Whether he's cleaning up as a help defender or rocking the TD Garden with a fast-break exclamation point, Green is trying to maximize his athletic resources in every game.

    He also made sure to give LeBron James and company a taste of their own medicine, as he unloaded a majestic dunk on them.

24. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    Height: 6'8"

    Max Vertical: 39.5"

    The most athletic component of the Golden State Warriors' young squad is North Carolina product Harrison Barnes.

    He uses his bounce to finish in the lane and protect the rim against opposing swingmen.

    Barnes' most impressive attribute isn't his sheer vertical aptitude, it's what he's able to do with the ball once he climbs the ladder.

    Nikola Pekovic found out the hard way.

23. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Height: 6'11"

    Max Vertical: 30.5"

    Don't let the official pre-draft measurement fool you. DeAndre Jordan can climb higher than 30.5" when he needs to.

    He's one of the lead characters in the Los Angeles Clippers' ongoing flick, "Lob City," throwing down vicious dunks that routinely get people out of their seats.

    Jordan's body control, hand-eye coordination and agility are extraordinary for someone his size, as he's a more fluid version of JaVale McGee.

    His most recent Lob City work features a menacing posterization of Brandon Knight.

22. John Wall, Washington Wizards

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    Height: 6'4"

    Max Vertical: 39"

    The Washington Wizards are an athletic bunch, and their representative on this list is point guard John Wall.

    He got the attention of NBA brass during his high-flying year with the Kentucky Wildcats and continued displaying his vertical prowess once he joined the professional ranks.

    Wall doesn't always utilize his hops, as he's more of a speedy type, but he can do amazing things when he exercises his hangtime.

    Wizards fans would love to see him showcase his physical gifts in the playoffs someday.

21. Andre Iguodala, Denver Nuggets

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    Height: 6'6"

    Max Vertical: 34.5"

    He probably lost an inch or two off his vertical the last couple years, but Denver Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala is still one of the most electrifying aerial threats in the NBA.

    The longtime Philadelphia 76ers star continues to cap off fast breaks with his majestic, swooping slams. He'll forever be remembered as the guy who got robbed by Nate Robinson in the 2006 Slam Dunk Contest.

    Iguodala also uses his lift to reject shots, including this redirection of LeBron James' layup. Nothing like a pair of top-25 leapers going at it.

20. Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz

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    Height: 6'9"

    Max Vertical: 12'3" approach vertical reach (via P3 Santa Barbara)

    Utah Jazz forward Jeremy Evans has enjoyed some phenomenal leaping moments the past couple years.

    But most of them have come in slam dunk contests.

    Evans is averaging eight minutes per game for his career and seven minutes per game in 2012-13, but he's a household name in the dunking community due to his exploits in the 2012 and 2013 contests.

    A fan favorite in Utah is his handoff reverse from Jazz legend Mark Eaton.



19. Jeff Taylor, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Height: 6'7"

    Max Vertical: 40"

    Jeffery Taylor was one of the most gifted leapers in the 2012 NBA draft class, and he's demonstrated that propulsion on several occasions for the Charlotte Bobcats.

    His lift allows him to contest shots and be one of the best defenders on his squad, and he can also fill the lane and finish breakaways with a flourish.

    When Taylor gets a running start, there are few in the league who can challenge him from a verticality and agility standpoint.

    Tim Duncan and Tony Parker didn't stand a chance on this one.

18. Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets

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    Height: 6'8"

    Max Vertical: 35"

    There's a reason they call this guy the "Manimal."

    Denver Nuggets power forward Kenneth Faried has been destroying rims and snatching impossible rebounds since he set foot in the NBA. He crams alley-oops, put-backs and transition slams as if he gets paid by the dunk.

    He was outshined during the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest, but his off-backboard between-the-legs flush was still impressive for a big guy.

    For this in-game slam against the Los Angeles Lakers, his elevator goes a couple floors higher than Dwight Howard's.

17. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks

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    Height: 6'9"

    Max Vertical: 39.5"

    If this was a 2007 list, Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith would be much higher.

    The eight-year veteran is still just 27 years young, but he's not quite as freakishly-athletic as when a college-age pro winning the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest.

    His signature dunk is the southpaw tomahawk, which he revived against Brook Lopez in January.

    Smith's magnificent hangtime helps him throw down over any challenger and block both small forwards and power forwards.

16. Rudy Gay, Toronto Raptors

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    Height: 6'8"

    Max Vertical: 40.5"

    In January, Rudy Gay took his talents from the U.S. to Canada as he joined the high-flying Toronto Raptors.

    He's been soaring past NBA foes for six years now, and he still has plenty of juice in his step.

    Coming out of college, we were unsure of whether he'd become more than a slasher and open-floor player. He turned out to be a solid all-around player, using his bounce to get open jumpers, dunks and swat opponents' tries.

15. James Harden, Houston Rockets

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    Height: 6'5"

    Max Vertical: 37"

    James Harden's beard often overshadows everything else about him, and that includes his springs.

    Although the Houston Rockets superstar doesn't possess an unearthly max vertical, he consistently displays extraordinary hangtime, agility and strength on his forays to the rim.

    If he gets through that first line of defense, it's nearly impossible for the help defense to thwart his attack.

    Exhibit A: Harden's lethal victimization of the Utah Jazz just a few weeks ago.

14. Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings

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    Height: 5'9"

    Max Vertical: 38.5"

    Sacramento Kings second-year guard Isaiah Thomas nearly went undrafted in the 2011 draft, but he easily makes the cut for our leapers list.

    If it weren't for his ability to spring on a dime, he probably wouldn't be too successful in the league. His skyward leaps free him for pull-up jumpers, step-back jumpers and floaters.

    His most impressive play wasn't even legal.

    Against the Clippers in 2011-12, he rocketed up to goaltend a Randy Foye shot. Although it didn't count, it was a jaw-dropper.

13. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

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    Height: 6'7"

    Max Vertical: 39"

    When you think Chicago Bulls leapers, nobody can blame you for thinking of Derrick Rose and Nate Robinson.

    But Jimmy Butler is equally deserving of aerial recognition.

    He's become one of the best two-way youngsters in the league, and Tom Thibodeau is lucky he developed so quickly as a slasher and stopper.

    If you don't believe he's an elite flier, ask the Brooklyn Nets. It seemed like he jumped over the entire team on this alley-oop

12. James White, New York Knicks

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    Height: 6'8"

    Max Vertical: Reportedly 46" (via VerticalDunk.com)

    At 30 years old, it's unlikely New York Knicks forward James White can reach 46" on his vertical anymore.

    However, 38 or 40 inches isn't too shabby, and it was good enough to earn him a spot in the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest. He's not a dangerous all-around player in games, but his athleticism helps him defend at a high level and is good for the occasional highlight.

    He's best known for his exploits in Turkey, which included an incredible between-the-legs slam from the free-throw line.

11. Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas Mavericks

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    Height: 6'2"

    Max Vertical: 39"

    French guard Rodrigue Beaubois isn't a prolific shooter for the Dallas Mavericks, nor is he a dynamic playmaker.

    Where he makes his impact is hustle and explosiveness. Beaubois is always a threat to force a turnover on the perimeter, and if he does grab a steal, it's almost always bad news for opponents on the other end.

    Transition dunks aren't his only aerial activity: Beaubois can protect the rim, too. He put Ramon Sessions in his place a couple years ago on a nasty fast break block.

10. J.R. Smith, New York Knicks

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    Height: 6'6"

    Max Vertical: 35.5"

    There were reports of J.R. Smith notching a 44-inch vertical, but his official measurement is much more modest.

    However, I wouldn't be surprised if he flirted with or exceeded 40" on some of his in-game dunks, when there's incentive to rise over a defender.

    Smith has crammed some of the most super-charged dunks in the NBA, as his body control and ball skills are exceptional when he's airborne.

    His most recent masterpiece is a brilliant, rapid reverse alley-oop from Pablo Prigioni.

9. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors

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    Height: 6'6"

    Max Vertical: 37.5"

    One of the most exhilarating young pilots in the Association is 2013 Slam Dunk Contest winner Terrence Ross.

    He doesn't see much playing time for Dwane Casey's Toronto Raptors, but his brief stints on the court are met with much anticipation from fans.

    Ross's put-back slams and fast-break aptitude prove that his explosiveness and fluidity are good for more than just contests and exhibitions.

    Will he ever become anything other than a high-flier?

8. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

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    Height: 6'7"

    Max Vertical: 38.5"

    Only a select few players can match the versatility of in-game and non-game leaping that DeMar DeRozan displays.

    He was the first Raptor to bring back a sense of "Air Canada" to the Toronto Raptors since Vince Carter's departure, and his flights have been stunning.

    If you fancy in-game dunks rather than exhibitions, enjoy DeRozan's demolition of Timofey Mozgov.

    If you want dunk contest material, feast your eyes on his sky-scraping reverse windmill.

7. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Height: 6'3"

    Max Vertical: 36.5"

    There isn't an NBA team that hasn't endured the wrath of Russell Westbrook's athleticism.

    He has a nightly routine of hopping over everyone en route to the rim. It makes many sequences downright unfair for whoever is facing the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Westbrook is also one of the few players who truly springs upward for his shot and releases at the apex of the jump.

    The distraction of Kevin Durant comes in handy, too. When the Sacramento Kings focused too much on Durantula, Westbrook dropped a sledgehammer on them.

6. Shannon Brown, Phoenix Suns

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    Height: 6'4"

    Max Vertical: 44.5" (Via ESPNLA.com)

    Whenever Shannon Brown dunks, it's a dramatic takeoff.

    The Phoenix Suns slasher looks as if he's on an invisible turbo escalator, and the ball is slammed before anyone has time to react.

    In the open floor, he's a quick-strike weapon not to be trifled with.

    He's tough to contain whether he's hopping off two feet or one. Brown is always lurking, ready to arrive like a blur for a put-back dunk or alley-oop.

5. Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Height: 6'1"

    Max Vertical: 40"

    In the category of "Little Guy Leapers," Eric Bledsoe is giving Nate Robinson a run for his money.

    In fact, he gives Los Angeles Clippers starting point guard Chris Paul a challenge every time they practice and scrimmage.

    Bledsoe can scrape the rafters in a blink, and no rim is safe when he's in Lob City mode. One of his best moments was a pair of plays against the Sacramento Kings, when he skied for a backboard block and finished a crowd-jolting alley-oop.

4. Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls

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    Height: 5'9"

    Max Vertical: 43.5"

    The NBA's only three-time Slam Dunk champion is 5'9" with shoes on.

    Chicago Bulls point guard Nate Robinson is in tip-top shape from a physique and power standpoint, and as a result, he can flat-out bounce.

    His jumping resume includes hurdling Spud Webb and Dwight Howard in dunk contests, along with blocking 7'6" Yao Ming.

    Lately, he's been in the business of defense, including swatting MarShon Brooks like a seven-footer would.

3. LeBron James, Miami Heat

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    Height: 6'8"

    Max Vertical: 40-plus" (via ESPN.com)

    While Dwyane Wade has lost a little explosiveness over the last couple years, LeBron James is as vertically gifted now as he's ever been.

    He utilizes his vaulting for shot-blocking almost as much as he does dunking.

    When it comes to in-game jams, the Miami Heat icon isn't too creative. He usually relies on the sheer altitude and power of his classic tomahawk throw-down.

    Before the game, however, his much-publicized showcases are considerably more inventive.

2. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Height: 6'10"

    Max Vertical: 35.5"

    Even though he's the most anticipated leaper in the NBA and everyone has such high expectations of him, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin continues to raise the bar.

    His rookie year was a dunk-fest, and a riveting one at that.

    But I've been more impressed by how he's upgraded his midair adjustments. While floating in midair, he's now able to avoid defenses better, including changing hands or double-pumping.

    And when there's no defense, it's party time at Staples Center.

1. Gerald Green, Indiana Pacers

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    Height: 6'8"

    Max Vertical: 39"

    His Slam Dunk Contest victory was six years ago, but Indiana Pacers swingman Gerald Green has proved recently that he's still the best basketball leaper in the world.

    For starters, there was his 2012 mind-boggling windmill with the New Jersey Nets.

    Then, there was the practice footage of his head completely above the rim.

    To top it off, his noggin cleared the rim again in the 2013 dunk contest.

    Case closed.

     

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