Ranking the Fastest Players in the NBA Playoff Race

Grant RindnerContributor IIIMarch 10, 2013

Ranking the Fastest Players in the NBA Playoff Race

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    No matter how talented a player is defensively or in the half court, sometimes there is simply no substitute for speed. 

    The ability to flat-out sprint past opponents might be underrated in an NBA that is becoming more and more athletic every year, but it is a huge asset, especially for teams fighting for a playoff spot.

    At this point in the 2012-13 season, teams understand exactly what they have in their rosters, and several of them have players with outright blinding speed. With baskets so hard to come by in the postseason, the ability to outrun opponents in the open floor or break down a defense off the dribble cannot be understated.

    As teams fight and claw for postseason position, having a player capable of turning on the burners and attacking an opposing defense is a luxury every team would like to have.

    You may not be able to teach speed, but you can certainly appreciate it. Let's take a look at the fastest players trying to make noise in the playoffs.

    Statistics accurate as of March 9th, 2013.

10. Raymond Felton (New York Knicks)

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    Since coming out of North Carolina, Raymond Felton has always been a deceptively quick point guard. He is a decent outside shooter and midrange scorer, but where he really excels is at blowing past his defender using his speedy first step. 

    At 6'1", he isn't going to post anyone up or play much above the rim, but his speed makes him a tricky cover for opposing defenses.

    Felton lost some of that explosiveness during his infamous 2011-12 season with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he has rounded into shape well for the New York Knicks.

    On the year, Felton is averaging 14.8 points and 5.9 assists on 40.8 percent shooting, relying primarily on his ability to penetrate to make an impact.

    Felton has the ability to explode past defenders and find his way into the paint, either dropping off the ball to a big man or attacking the basket himself.

    In transition, he can put on the burners as well as any guard and speed his way to the hoop. Felton may have more mileage than most of the players on this list, but the Knicks point guard remains one of the quickest in the NBA.

9. Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics)

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    One of the few Boston Celtics who could remotely be considered fast, Avery Bradley has come on strong playing more minutes at point guard in Rajon Rondo's stead.

    An elite defender and a capable scorer, what makes Bradley such a nuisance on both ends of the floor is his speed and his motor. 

    In 2012-13, Bradley is averaging 9.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and two assists per game.  

    The 22-year-old is an absolute blur in the open court, capable of going coast-to-coast and attacking the rim. In the half court, he is a great cutter with excellent timing; he consistently finds a way to slip past the defense and sprint to the rim.

    This slashing ability offsets his shaky but improving outside jumper. Where his quickness makes its biggest impact, though, is on the defensive end.

    Bradley's ability to cover ground quickly allows him to pressure opposing guards full court and make it difficult for them to make it over the timeline. He is constantly working and is impossible to get around off the dribble due to his lateral quickness. 

    He may not be the most explosive player on this list, but Avery Bradley is certainly one of the speediest players in the postseason chase.

8. Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)

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    Finally healthy after ankle injuries hampered him in 2011-12, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry has shown people just what he can do with a talented supporting cast around him.

    Already one of the best shooters in the game, Curry complements his textbook stroke with a phenomenal handle and ability to speed past his defender.

    At 6'3" and 185 pounds, Curry does not rely on his strength or length to score, but he has an explosive first step that allows him to blow past his defender and attack the basket.

    His 22.1 points and 6.7 assists largely reflect his ability to play both on and off the ball, sprinting around picks to free himself for jump shots while also using his quickness to collapse the defense and create opportunities for his teammates. 

    In transition, Curry can race down the floor as fast as anyone, often stopping to launch an open three-pointer before the defense even realizes what is happening.

    Although he can sometimes be a liability on the defensive end, Curry's quick hands allow him to come up with steals easily. 

    At just 24 years old, he is the perfect youthful, athletic point guard for this promising Golden State squad.

7. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)

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    Currently sitting at 29-32 and in 10th place in the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers are barely in the postseason conversation. The fact that they still have something left to play for is a testament largely to the brilliant play of speedy rookie point guard Damian Lillard.

    Lillard, the sixth overall selection in 2012, is averaging 18.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists—and earning serious consideration to be the 2013 Rookie of the Year. 

    Capable both of scoring effectively and facilitating unselfishly, Lillard uses his speed to wear down opposing guards.

    He has a lightning quick crossover and can use his off the dribble game to open up the floor for his teammates. Lillard uses screens well and knows when to turn on the burners and leave his defender in his wake. 

    He is equally dangerous in transition, where he is capable of going end-to-end in an instant and hammering home an emphatic dunk. Lillard perfectly fits the mold of the hyper-athletic point guard who is quickly becoming the norm in today's NBA.

    Though Lillard is still learning the ropes of the NBA to a degree, he is playing with a poise and a knowledge well beyond your average rookie guard.

    Add his basketball IQ to his phenomenal baseline-to-baseline speed, and you have a player who should be an All-Star for years to come.

6. Monta Ellis (Milwaukee Bucks)

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    A backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis may not make a ton of sense on paper, but the Milwaukee Bucks have ridden their dynamic guard tandem to a 30-29 record and an eight-game lead over Toronto for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.

    While both guards are explosive, Ellis earns the nod here as one of the quickest players with a horse in the postseason race.

    A prototypical volume scorer, Ellis is averaging 18.8 points, 3.9 boards and 5.7 assists but shooting 17.4 shots and 23.9 percent from three-point range to get his points.

    Though his jump shot is streaky, Ellis is constantly a threat to score because of his ability to penetrate and create his own shot off the bounce. He has a lethal crossover and is capable of absolutely blowing past even the strongest of perimeter defenders. 

    He is not a pure point guard because of his tendency to look for his own shot first, but Ellis is more than capable of handling the ball because of his quickness and penetration ability. His threat of driving opens up the floor for the entire Bucks offense.

    As a 2-guard, he is capable of moving quickly off of screens and making it nearly impossible for his defender to keep up with him for a full possession.

    On defense, he has the ability to come up with steals and speed to the hoop for an easy layup before anyone can catch him.

5. Jeff Teague (Atlanta Hawks)

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    Since bursting onto the NBA scene with his strong play against Derrick Rose in the 2011 playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks' Jeff Teague has steadily turned into a quality attacking point guard.

    Teague is doing his part to help Atlanta back to the postseason without Joe Johnson, posting 14.7 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from beyond the arc.

    In many ways, Teague plays a similar style to Raymond Felton or Avery Bradley, only he has an extra gear in the open court. When Teague grabs a rebound or receives a good outlet pass, he is practically impossible to stop because of his athleticism and body control.

    His offensive game is predicated upon his ability to get into the lane and scramble the opposing defense. There are few players who can stay in front of Teague when he is engaged and not settling for outside shots.

    The 6'2" Teague is able to see open lanes extremely well and use his lethal first step to get into the paint consistently. Even when his jumper is not falling, Teague is dangerous because of his ability to run the floor with this young, athletic Atlanta team. 

    On defense, Teague is extremely tenacious, hounding the ball and using his speed to stay in front of his man.

    He's still improving as an all-around player, but Jeff Teague's flat-out speed remains one of his biggest assets.

4. LeBron James (Miami Heat)

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    By any standard, LeBron James is fast. But when you factor in the fact that he is 6'8" and 250 pounds, you understand just how incredible is James' ability to move on the court. 

    He may not have the flat-out speed of some of the league's elite point guards, but LeBron with a head of steam is a nightmare to stop because he is both strong and agile. 

    For the season, James is averaging 27 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game in what many are considering the single best season of his stellar career.

    Because of his ability to handle the ball, James is always a threat to take the ball coast-to-coast and hammer home an emphatic dunk before the defense even has time to set up.

    Miami's stingy defense is capable of forcing plenty of turnovers, and when James sees a loose ball, he immediately sprints to the other end of the floor, awaiting an easy alley-oop pass.

    There is not a player of his size in the NBA who can move nearly as well as James, who seems simply omnipotent on the court because of his ability to transition seamlessly between offense and defense.

    One minute he can be shutting down a top-tier scorer, and the next he can be at the rim, finishing a three-point play opportunity. Name another player in this league capable of doing that.

3. Eric Bledsoe (Los Angeles Clippers)

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    Spotting Chris Paul doesn't exactly give Eric Bledsoe ample opportunity to show off his blinding speed, but make no mistake that the L.A. Clippers backup is more than capable of wowing crowds with his quickness. 

    Bledsoe's averages of nine points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists are not staggering, but they come on just 21.1 minutes per game. As a starter, those numbers jump to 14.2 points, 4.8 boards and 5.3 dimes with 1.3 blocks and 2.5 steals per game. 

    In transition, Bledsoe is simply a blur. He has a tight handle and makes few mistakes in transition. When Bledsoe builds up momentum going to the hole, there is no way to stop him. Add to that his great leaping ability, and you see just how much of a highlight-reel threat he is.

    Defensively, Bledsoe's speed makes him one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire league. He sticks tight to his man, making him work for every shot and preventing any kind of paint penetration.

    He may not be the strongest player at 6'1" and 195 pounds, but his sheer aggressiveness and quickness makes him capable of absolutely shutting down both guard positions for Los Angeles.

    Make no mistake, Bledsoe will soon be a starter in this league and when he is, expect to see the effects of his staggering speed far more often than as a rotation player for Los Angeles.

2. Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)

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    Whenever Russell Westbrook settles for a contested jump shot, there is always a sense of disappointment from spectators. That is because Westbrook's speed and athletic ability is simply staggering, and any time he is hell-bent on going to the hoop there are simply no players who can slow him down.

    One of the most athletic players ever to man the point guard position, Westbrook is always capable of using his quickness to attack the rim. Because of his explosive first step and ability to change directions instantly, defenders are hard-pressed to shut down Westbrook both in transition and in the half court. 

    His penetration is essential for Oklahoma City's offense, as he is capable of finishing through contact at the rim or kicking the ball out to an open teammate for a high percentage look.

    Although his stature is more suited for a point guard, Westbrook can move so well without the basketball that he is capable of also playing the off-guard spot in smaller lineups. A slashing Westbrook is practically impossible to stop because of his explosiveness. 

    He gambles a bit too often on steals defensively, but when Westbrook manages to come up with a steal, he is guaranteed at least two free throws because of his breakaway speed. 

    Westbrook may not utilize his speed on both ends as often as he should, but there is no denying that his quickness makes him an absolute human highlight reel and a perennial All-Star guard.

1. Ty Lawson (Denver Nuggets)

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    If you've ever seen Ty Lawson play, you know it is difficult to make an argument that he isn't the fastest player in the entire league, let alone the 2012-13 playoff race. When Lawson takes off, there is simply not a player who can catch up to him.

    Manning the point for a Denver Nuggets team looking to make some serious postseason noise, Lawson is averaging 16.8 points, 2.8 boards and 7.8 assists after starting the season rather slowly.

    He can shoot the outside shot and make traditional half-court plays, but where Lawson excels is in his ability to simply outpace anyone else in the NBA. 

    Once Lawson decides to go to the hoop, it is practically impossible to stay in front of him. The 5'11" point guard has a bevy of moves that allow him to take the ball to the basket and finish with ease. 

    When he sees a transition opportunity and goes into turbo gear, he can go end to end so fast that an easy layup is a foregone conclusion. As if his own play wasn't enough, his Nuggets have a number of athletic wings and big men who love to run the break and play in the open court.

    Defensively, the diminutive point guard does a good job of staying in front of his man, fighting around screens and denying penetration thanks to his speed.

    Every player in this countdown is incredibly fast, but in a baseline-to-baseline foot race, none would touch Ty Lawson.