Ranking the Most Unguardable Players in the NBA

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2014

Ranking the Most Unguardable Players in the NBA

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    The NBA is an offense-driven league, and there are a slew of incredible individual offensive weapons from coast to coast.

    But which ones are the most absolutely unguardable?

    In our quest to find the top 10 most indefensible players in the league, we took into consideration each player's one-on-one skills, how effective they are at creating and making shots in isolation and, for the big men, how productive they are in the post.

    As you might guess, many of the league's brightest stars landed on our rankings. Our list includes speedy, unstoppable guards, powerful forwards and versatile swingmen.

    Where does your favorite player stack up?

     

    *Stats gathered from Basketball-reference.com and Synergy Sports, accurate as of 3/14/14

10. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks, F

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Key Stats: 21.5 PPG, 50% FG, 1.1 PPP on post-ups, 13 and-1's on post-ups

     

    Everyone's favorite German is past his prime, yet he's still good enough to crack our list. The way Dirk Nowitzki plays, he could be unstoppable until he's 50.

    Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but you get the point. His size and shooting skills are a rarity, as he calmly buries jumper after jumper.

    After all, his patented one-footed fadeaway is often referred to as the "Dirk-leg" shot, even when other people are employing it. He can back down defenders, then turn and fade with his length to score.

    The advanced stats back up his case for making our top 10. He scores 1.1 points per possession in post-up scenarios and scores 55 percent of the time, according to Synergy Sports.

    Western Conference challengers have been trying to slow him down since 1998, and they just can't do it.

9. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers, PF

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    Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    Key Stats: 24.4 PPG, 8.5 free-throw attempts per game, 20 and-1's in post-ups

     

    Calling Blake Griffin "a handful" is an understatement.

    He is simply a monster when he attacks the bucket. In face-up or post-up situations, he's as strong and explosive as they come.

    Griffin isn't the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon, and his jump shot certainly isn't where he'd like it to be, but he manages to consistently put opponents on their heels and forces them to commit fouls.

    His low-post footwork is much improved compared to when he entered the league, as he converts up-and-unders and dropsteps much more frequently. Once he gets in position to score, his brawny frame and vertical aptitude take over, capped by a nice touch around the rim.

    Blake's ball-handling has also been impressive, as he's a much better dribbler than most NBA power forwards. He uses his handle to set up post moves or initiate drives from the wing.

    Griffin has earned a total of 59 and-1's this season, according to Synergy Sports. That in itself is a vivid illustration of how unguardable he is.

8. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers G

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 21.5 PPG, 10 30-point games (through March 14)

     

    There's a reason Pepsi picked this guy for the "Uncle Drew" series.

    He's far from efficient, and he's not leading a winning club, but Kyrie Irving nevertheless owns some of the most indefensible moves in the league.

    It's seems like every night he's crossing up another highlight-reel victim or breaking someone's ankles with a step-back jumper. He's got the best handle in the NBA and knows how to systematically break down entire defenses.

    A lot of street-ballers around the world have crazy moves, but Kyrie uses them to score at the sport's highest level. He lights up the scoreboard with amazing shots in the paint, deploying his body and the rim as a shield.

    Irving also has a quick, effective outside jumper, and all he needs is a sliver of daylight to deliver it. His shooting numbers aren't anything to brag about, but that's not an indication of how talented he is in that department.

7. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers, PG

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Key Stats: 18.6 PPG, 11.0 APG, 123 offensive rating, scores on 60.7 of post-ups

     

    Chris Paul isn't an All-NBA scorer like most of the studs on this list, but that's because he uses his unguardable-ness to orchestrate the Los Angeles Clippers offense.

    He has a special talent for using hesitation and footwork to throw defenders off their timing. CP3's tremendous ball-handling skills allow him to go anywhere he wants to on the floor, and even when he's surrounded by multiple defenders, he uses his backside as a shield to enable drives, shots and passes.

    When the Clippers need him to score, he turns from a pass-first floor general into a dangerous assassin.

    Paul fares well in physical games and can score in traffic effectively for someone his size. He's also extremely successful on step-back jumpers.

    Call him a passer. Call him a playmaker. Call him whatever you want. He's simply difficult to corral.

6. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, G

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    Key Stats: 23.2 PPG, 8.6 APG, 41% 3-PT, 115 offensive rating

     

    Armed with the prettiest (and most effective) three-point stroke in the league, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is practically indefensible in one-on-one situations.

    Not only does he have an ultra-quick release, but he has the spellbinding ball skills to create windows of opportunity to get it off.

    After Curry torched Miami Heat for 36 in early January, Dwyane Wade told Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick that there's "nothing you can do" about Curry's offensive firepower:

    He's obviously one of the greatest shooters in this game, and he hasn't even started yet, he's early in his career. There's nothing you can do. It's tough. He's special. And that’s why that team has a shot to come out of the Western Conference, because of his ability to pass with both hands, and the way he shoots.

    Aside from his three-point prowess and ability to create shots on the perimeter, Curry can attack the bucket with overwhelming success. He doesn't finish with power or aerial exploits, but rather with floaters and tricky shots off the glass. When he draws enough defenders, his passing dexterity enriches teammates.

    If you focus too much on staying in front of him, he'll splash a rainmaker from long range. If you overcommit to contesting the perimeter shot, he'll weave his way around you and the rest of your teammates.

    Pick your poison.

     

5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder, G

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 21.5 PPG, 7.1 APG, 7.2 FTA per 36 minutes

     

    Russell Westbrook is basketball's version of the "Fast and Furious," and when he brings his A game, opposing point guards don't have an answer for him.

    Even after multiple knee injuries and surgeries, he's a force when running the point.

    We throw around the term "lightning-quick" a lot. In Westbrook's case, the term is more than warranted, as he's a blur in transition and in half-court scenarios. His first step is explosive, and his next few are gazelle-esque.

    If his blazing speed wasn't trouble enough, his finishing ability and shooting render him uncontainable. Westbrook has a unique ability to stop on a dime and spring upward for a pull-up jumper, but he's more dangerous when he takes the rock all the way to the tin and rises above the competition.

    Sure, he's erratic sometimes, and he doesn't always make the right decisions, but the fact of the matter is the only person who can stop Russell is Russell himself.

     

4. James Harden, Houston Rockets SG

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Key Stats: 24.6 PPG, 61% true shooting, 8.6 FTA per game

     

    In his first two seasons at Houston, James Harden has erupted and turned the Rockets into an offensive juggernaut.

    No shooting guard in the Association owns his potent blend of speed and strength. He can blow by guards on the perimeter with his swift first step, and then bruise through contact in the lane and finish strong.

    He may not be the most efficient shooter, and he commits a sizable chunk of turnovers, but that's partially a reflection of how much Houston uses him, and how much attention he draws from opponents.

    When his man gets caught backpedalng to avoid a blow-by, Harden's perfectly comfortable stepping back and drilling a triple. If defenses collapse and try to clog the paint, he's effective at drawing contact and earning his paycheck at the free-throw line (he averaged a whopping 10.2 foul shots per game in 2012-13).

    With the addition of Dwight Howard and the growth of Chandler Parsons, the Rockets are now a championship threat.

    But it's Harden's unguardable nature that fuels Houston's attack.

3. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks, F

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 28.1 PPG, 42% 3-PT, 0.96 PPP in isolations

     

    Say what you want about his defense or ability to win, but New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony can flat-out get buckets. He's one of the toughest covers of his era.

    When guys like Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant talk about how difficult it is to guard him, you know he's special. 'Melo has been foiling NBA defenses for more than a decade now, and in 2012-13 he finally earned a scoring title.

    He doesn't stand out athletically, yet he frees himself for scoring chances night after night.

    How? Elite footwork coupled with smooth, yet shifty ball-handling skills. His jab-step, hesitation dribble and crossover routinely pay off, along with his lightning-quick spin move and powerful interior play.

    Combining those creative skills with a flawless jumper is the perfect storm for an offensive machine. He may be in the latter-half of his career, but he's still in high demand due to his deadly arsenal.

     

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat, F

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    J Pat Carter/Associated Press

    Key Stats: 26.9 PPG, 65% true shooting, 1.12 PPP on post-ups

     

    King James has been unstoppable for a while now and probably will be for a few more years.

    LeBron has always terrorized foes as a speedy, agile locomotive who can go around, over and through opponents while driving to the hoop. But ever since he upgraded his low-post game and sharpened his jump-shooting skills, he's been a nightmare.

    When we dig into his 2013-14 stats, his low-post efficiency has been quite impressive.

    On more than 200 post-up opportunities, James is averaging 1.12 points per possession and is shooting 58 percent (via Synergy Sports). In today's small-ball NBA, there aren't really any forwards with the combination of strength and agility to stop him.

    With the ability to initiate offense from the point, attack from the wing or collide with the trees in the paint, there isn't a spot on the floor that he can't dominate. Even though he doesn't top our list, you can consider him 1B.

     

1. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder, F

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    Key Stats: 31.8 PPG, 1.12 PPP in isolation, 52% 3-PT in isolation, 1.09 PPP in post-ups

     

    Earlier this season, LeBron James said it himself that Kevin Durant was unguardable.

    "There's nobody that can guard him one-on-one," he told ESPN regarding the prospects of containing Durant. In advance of one of their matchups, King James acknowledged he would need help checking the three-time scoring champ.

    Oklahoma City's main man has relied on his nearly 7'5" wingspan and fluid skills to score in any situation against any opponent. He's too quick, skilled and agile for power forwards, and he's much taller and longer than the average swingman.

    He can ignite and finish forays in the lane against traffic, convert a smorgasbord of mid-range shots and create triples with ease. You name it, he's got it: step-backs, one-hand runners, turnarounds, floaters and vicious dunks.

    While LeBron may be a more imposing physical specimen and is unstoppable in his own right, his scoring repertoire and collection of moves isn't quite as vast as KD's. And that's not a slight to LeBron at all, it's a testament to how ridiculously lethal Durant's offensive attack is.

     

    Dan O'Brien covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.

    Follow him on Twitter: @DanielO_BR