Some guys have all the hops.
These athletes aren't to be confused with the NBA's best players. In some cases, they are. And in most cases, they're well known. But not always, because it's not about that.
Superstars aren't the only ones who can rock rims, demoralize defenses and jump higher than Michael Jordan on a pogo stick. Role players, burgeoning prospects, glorified benchwarmers—they can be freakishly athletic too.
Imagine compiling a team consisting of only those players, the ones we judge solely by their athletic ability and not necessarily their stat lines. Imagine what that roster would like.
Never mind, you don't have to.
Westbrook's combination of athleticism, speed and, yeah, recklessness has him seated as the league's most explosive point guard (sorry, D-Rose). The way he goes coast-to-coast, slices through traffic and takes flight is nothing short of astounding.
Floor generals aren't supposed to clear imaginary obstacles with such effortless verticals. They're supposed to pass, dribble and direct teammates—all of which Westbrook does. But he also does things that make you scratch your head and wonder if he's human.
Where are his wings? Or his cape? Or the puppeteer that's pulling the strings up in the rafters?
He's that high of a flier.
And it makes you wish that he, like LeBron James, would just partake in the damn dunk contest already.
The Golden State Warriors are one lucky team.
Just about every aspect of Andre Iguodala's game is underrated, his athleticism included. Those sharp lateral movements he makes on the defensive end often pain me to watch. The thought of doing them myself is enough to make me cringe. It's like his legs are made from some sort of malleable steel.
As for his vertical reach, forget about it. When he leaves the ground, something grand is about to happen. He clears wide-stretching gaps like they're steppingstones, all the while climbing through the air on his imaginary ladder.
Iggy is deceptively strong too. His agile slashes instill in us the urge to ignore his brawn, to accept that he's more lanky than strapping, the way shooting guards/point forwards are supposed to look.
But he's not like most wings. He's lean yet strong. Explosive yet composed. Wonderfully unpredictable yet incredibly calculated.
He's the most athletic 2-guard the league has this side of 2010.
Since I'm not an idiot, I give you LeBron James.
There isn't anyone in the NBA whose athleticism rivals that of The Chosen One. Absolutely no one possesses the superhuman-like powers he does.
Limits don't exist within LeBron's world. The things he can do on the basketball court and in the air are unprecedented. He's the most physically gifted specimen the league has ever seen.
Want LeBron to play center? You got it. Point guard? Sure. Want him to destroy a helpless Jason Terry? No problem. Leap frog the moon? Bench press your house? Post a series of triple-doubles, win two NBA championships, then smooth-talk his way through the postgame pressers? Done, done and done.
Athleticism has never (ever) reared so many different heads in one player.
Another obvious choice.
Nothing about Blake Griffin's athleticism is subtle. Looking at him, you can tell he was born to rock rims, breathe thinner air and hurdle modestly priced sedans.
The Los Angeles Clippers aren't paying him to shoot threes or play defense (ever); they're padding his bank account so that he'll catch lobs and humiliate defenses from above.
It's almost unfair how physically superior he is. Anything thrown in the vicinity of the basket will be flushed.
The poignancy he generates each time he lifts off is impressive as well. Opponents don't even bother trying to throw off his flight path anymore. Dissuading his off-ground course is one of the more impossible tasks in the NBA today.
So while we poke fun at his various weaknesses, just remember that Griffin can jam harder, jump higher and touch more stars than you can.
Andre Drummond is an athletic freak, more so than Dwight Howard. Roll Superman and DeAndre Jordan into one—that's Drummond.
Considered a high-risk prospect coming out college, Drummond silenced his critics by frequently turning regular-season games into dunking exhibitions. He flew through the air like an overly athletic point guard but shook baskets like Shaquille O'Neal.
Just as mind-boggling as his offensives hops are his shot-blocking talents. His 7'6" wingspan allows him to come out of nowhere and swat field-goal attempts, as if they were nothing more than a fly without wings. I imagine him as someone who could pick a quarter off the top of a backboard and play a quick seven rounds of heads-or-tails before he returns to the ground.
Most centers, even the ones deemed "athletic," barely look like they can turn their head. Their size seems to get in the way of their mobility, even if only slightly.
Drummond defies that stereotype more than any of his peers. Like a hybrid big man, borne out of the best physical attributes known to man.
Power, explosion and motility, meet Andre Drummond. He owns you now.
Though I wrestled with including Nate Robinson here, Eric Bledsoe seemed like the way to go. Who am I to slight a mini LeBron?
Everything about Bledsoe is just impressive. At 6'1", he's tall enough to where teams won't underpay him the way they do Robinson. But he's also small enough to where people spill their (insert beverage of your choosing) watching him lift off.
Bled's verticals and excessive wingspan allow him to play much bigger than listed. Like Robinson, he's the perfect blend of strong and agile. Watch him withstand blows on his way toward the basket, but notice that he can dart to and fro without the slightest bit of muscle mass slowing him down.
When Bledsoe takes flight, look out below. When he turns on the jets, watch your six.
When he's on the court, just plain watch out.
While I was hoping to include someone on the roster who could shoot the three better than Rose is known for, I couldn't leave him out. He and Westbrook could go inch-for-inch in a dunking contest.
Rose is nimble, quick and explosive. He's everything you look for in an athletic zealot and more.
Three-point specialists be damned.
Ross gave me a reason to watch the Toronto Raptors. Whenever he was on the court, I eagerly awaited which side of the rim he would assault next. That he won the dunk contest didn't hurt his case either.
Toronto has something special in him. Think DeMar DeRozan but with the potential to have a better jump shot.
People tend to forget that Durant is ridiculously athletic. Maybe he can't clear tall buildings, but explosion and celerity come into play too.
He can lodge a full-on vendetta against the rims as well as anyone, and that he's able to slash through opposing defenses despite the absence of an upper body is incredible.
J-Smoove will join this team on the condition he never take jump shots. And that he keeps wrecking opposing centers the way he did Brook Lopez above.
Often berated for his demonstrative persona, people must understand it's all a part of the package. Smith's volatility makes him the ruthless rim-rocker and shot-blocker that he is.
Anger-management therapy will be available, though.
When Green is on the court, he normally disappoints. He's not a particularly potent scorer, and his shooting and defense are only OK.
When he puts on the jetpack and soars toward the rim, that's when you have to be on the lookout for something special and, dare I say, gravity-defying.
Jordan almost made the cut because I know you saw what he did to Brandon Knight, but you can't ignore Howard here.
Superman can run the floor with the most hasty of wings and creates some serious space between his feet and the floor for someone his size.
Also, unlike Westbrook, he actually has a cape. That has to count for something.