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Ranking the 10 Best Athletes in the NBA

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2014

Ranking the 10 Best Athletes in the NBA

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    DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James are two of the best athletes in the entire NBA.
    DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James are two of the best athletes in the entire NBA.Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    It's been said that the NBA has the best athletes in the world, and it's a tough notion to argue with guys like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and Dwight Howard dominating highlight reels.

    Virtually every player leaguewide has some combination of speed, size, strength and leaping ability, but when it comes to the most gifted athletes around, some simply have it all—or are so renowned in one category that they make up for shortcomings in other areas.

    When thinking about the game's best athletes, it's true that a few are also known as the game's best players. The two don't have to be mutually exclusive, so luckily for those not in MVP or championship contention, individual highlights are worth more than team success in this scenario.

    The NBA is where amazing happens, and while there's no one defining characteristic when naming the league's best athlete, some are simply a step ahead of the rest on an entertainment level.

     

    *Rankings and statistics are current as of March 10 at 1:30 a.m. ET.

10. DeAndre Jordan

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    When thinking of the NBA's best athletes, there's no shortage of players who come to mind. Guys such as John Wall, Andre Iguodala and Paul George could easily make this list, and youngsters such as Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo will continue to prove their athletic value in the coming years.

    The list goes on and on, but tell that to Brandon Knight, who has experienced the athleticism of DeAndre Jordan firsthand, as evidenced in the video above.

    The undisputed stars of the Los Angeles Clippers are Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but Jordan earns praise as a key member of the supporting cast. He's finally starting to turn his raw athleticism into something more, but we can't ignore that he has more dunks than anybody leaguewide, according to CBSSports.com.

    Jordan has historically been known as an underwhelming defender, but you can't argue numbers. In 2013-14, he's pulling down a league-leading 13.9 rebounds and he's recording a career-high 2.4 blocks—the fourth-best number in the league.

    Jordan is also posting a career high in minutes at 35.7 per game, and while his improvements are commendable, we honor his athleticism here with top-10 recognition.

9. Eric Bledsoe

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    Derrick Rose is eliminated from contention on this list because of injury, but Eric Bledsoe makes the cut, as it's been reported by Paul Coro of AZcentral.com that the point guard is nearly set to return to action.

    When thinking about the Association's best athletes, many have a tendency to forget Bledsoe. Most people think of Rose or Russell Westbrook as the game's most physically gifted floor generals, but what's important to note is that Bledsoe isn't just part of the ultra-athletic point guard era—he's contributing to it.

    When Allen Iverson's jersey was recently retired at the Wells Fargo Center, the expression "pound for pound" was instantly revived, as in, "pound for pound, he's one of the greatest of all time."

    Well, at 6'1", 195 pounds, Bledsoe might be pound for pound the most athletic player in the league today (Nate Robinson also comes to mind).

    Bledsoe's combination of sheer speed and incredible leaping ability is impossible to ignore. He deserves to be on everyone's top 10, and it's plays like this that make it easy to see why.

8. Kenneth Faried

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    At 6'8", Kenneth Faried is undersized at the power forward position. He doesn't possess the same skill set as today's stretch 4s, but what he lacks in size and shooting ability, he more than makes up for in athleticism.

    Despite not being anywhere near 7'0" (relatively speaking), Faried uses his ferocious energy and quickness off the jump to average nearly a block per contest. If his chase-down swat on Dion Waiters (seen above) doesn't impress you, check out his denial of Russell Westbrook—one of the best athletes in the game.

    Offensively, don't ignore Faried's ability to soar above the rim. It would behoove him to continue developing his jumper as well as his low-post arsenal, but when he throws it down over defenses, it's easy to see how fans can look past his limitations.

    Simply put: You don't earn the nickname "Manimal" without being a freak of an athlete, and this guy will continue being a fan favorite as long as he puts forth 100 percent effort and gives us reason to watch SportsCenter each and every night.

7. Josh Smith

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    Josh Smith may not be having the season he hoped for in his first campaign with the Detroit Pistons, but if there's anyone who can produce on sheer athleticism, he might be it.

    Despite shooting a career-low 41.5 percent from the field, he's scoring 16.4 points per game while pulling down 7.1 rebounds in the process. Don't forget, though, that defense is where Smith can truly make his mark, as he's averaging 1.5 blocks per night and was the youngest player to reach 1,000 blocks back in 2010, via ESPN.com.

    In case you've forgotten, Smith first hit the scene in 2005 with a showcase at All-Star Weekend. The baby-faced rookie paid homage to Dominique Wilkins, jumped over a sitting Kenyon Martin and walked away with the Slam Dunk Championship at just 20 years old.

    Smith hasn't always been the most popular of players in certain circles, but fans from one coast to the other should feel fortunate that he's only 28 years old. There's plenty more highlights to come, and at 6'9", 225 pounds, his athleticism makes him one of the most unique power forwards in the game.

     

6. DeMar DeRozan

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    DeMar DeRozan may not be as physically strong as some of the other players on this list, but he has one claim to fame that most don't.

    He helped make "Mozgov'd" and "posterized" synonymous with an incredible throwdown during the 2012-13 season.

    DeRozan is the kind of player who in years past has been forgotten by fans outside of Toronto. He's always been an incredible athlete, but unless you followed the Toronto Raptors or stumbled across them on League Pass, you probably didn't see enough to create any significant memories.

    Now in his fifth year, the 6'7" guard is gaining notoriety as an All-Star, and his recent production as a go-to scorer has helped bring attention to the fact that he's one of the best athletes in the NBA today.

     

     

5. Gerald Green

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    When it comes to Gerald Green, it's all about the dunks.

    At 6'8", 210 pounds, the guard won't impose his physical will upon opponents the same way LeBron James does. However, his leaping ability is a completely different story, as he's without a doubt one of the best dunkers in the league today.

    The dunk seen in the video above demonstrates how high he can get above the rim, but let's not forget about what he's done more recently:

    Don't forget, either, about what he did to the Utah Jazz, courtesy of B/R's Joe Flynn. Few players are as entertaining through the air as Green, which is why he makes the cut in his seventh season.

4. Dwight Howard

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    The No. 1 criticism regarding Dwight Howard's game has always been a lack of low-post weapons. Limited to an occasional baby hook and a plethora of put-back dunks, the big man has never established himself as someone who can fool opponents with a variety of back-to-the-basket moves.

    For most players, this would mean a career full of disappointing stat lines and time on the bench. For Howard, it's been an opportunity to display just how dominant he can be as a brute force above the rim.

    According to CBSSports.com, Howard has the second-most dunks in the NBA, trailing only DeAndre Jordan. The big man is also shooting the third-best field-goal percentage, has the fourth-highest rebounding average and is a top-10 shot-blocker.

    The scary part about Howard's athleticism is that it's still not quite what it used to be, and if you ask him, he still has room to improve.

    "I think it is coming back," Howard said, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "I’m just happy with where I am today. It’s going to get a lot better. I’m looking forward to that."

     

3. Blake Griffin

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    Blake Griffin isn't as physically gifted as you might think, which makes his athleticism that much more impressive. 

    At 6'10", 251 pounds, the 24-year-old has established himself as one of the best power forwards in the NBA. The problem is that despite having a solid combination of size and strength, his length is unimposing, as his 6'11" wingspan (courtesy of ESPN.com's Jovan Buha) leaves something to be desired.

    In case you haven't noticed, Griffin hasn't let that slow him down. His limitations as a rim-protector are well-documented, but so is his willingness to jump over virtually any given player on any given night. 

    Consider what he did to Kendrick Perkins and Timofey Mozgov as evidence. You can also ask the Golden State Warriors about his three alley-oop finishes in a row back in 2013.

    Griffin is also willing to put his body on the line, leaving little question that he's one of the best athletes in the game today.

2. Russell Westbrook

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    Russell Westbrook is arguably the most athletic player to ever play the point guard position, and that's not an exaggeration. 

    Through Westbrook's six years in the league, he's been the epitome of explosive. He's taken the floor general position and helped turn it into not just one of the most important aspects of basketball, but one of the most exciting as well.

    Out in transition, Westbrook puts two things on display: speed and power. He also brings composure (most of the time), but watch this finish over Stephen Curry and you'll see his strength above the rim on full display.

    Although the 25-year-old is often overlooked because of teammate Kevin Durant, you can't take away from how he's able to produce on a nightly basis. He's taken criticism in the past for his willingness to shoot alongside the game's leading scorer, but one thing that can't be argued is that he's a top-tier athlete in arguably the most athletic league on the planet.

1. LeBron James

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    Not even a broken nose can slow down the best athletes in the NBA, and LeBron James is no exception.

    James has worn a mask on his face during two stints throughout his playing days, and while his most recent showing resulted in 61 points against the Charlotte Bobcats, his first gave us one of the best dunks of his career.

    We could sit here and talk about LeBron's numbers, but the evidence is in the footage. How about his key block against Tiago Splitter in the finals? Or how about when he turned rookie Ben McLemore into a devistating poster?

    Do you need to see his dunk on Jason Terry to be impressed? How about when he jumped over John Lucas III to finish the lob against the Chicago Bulls?

    The scary part about James' athleticism is that he makes everything look easy. He does things that most human beings can only dream of, and he just keeps getting better as his career progresses.

    There's a reason we question almost every summer whether or not he could play in the NFL, but one thing is undeniable: James is the best athlete in the NBA, and nobody will take that title away any time soon.

     

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