NBA Power Rankings: The 20 Speediest Players in NBA History
In today's NBA, every team has a need for speed.
Basketball has turned into a guard-oriented game, where "traditional" big men are not as coveted as they used to be.
Let's face it. No coach fears the Miami Heat because of Chris Bosh and Mike Miller dominating the inside-outside game.
No, what they fear is that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two of the fastest players in the history of the NBA, will run all over their defense.
As the game of basketball has evolved, so have the players. The pace of the game has continued to speed up behind quick players looking to gain an edge on their opponents.
Yet, what exactly makes a player speedy?
Is it purely how fast he can run from one end of the court to the other? Does it matter if he is dribbling a basketball while doing so?
What about a quick first step? Acceleration is critical for a player to beat his defender and slash to the basket.
That's the beauty of speed. It's a primarily subjective topic. You can use your eyes and determine which player looks like he's hyped up on caffeine compared to the rest.
The following list comprises 20 of the quickest and fastest players who proved difficult to guard.
Some are from the past. Many are from the present. That can be attributed to improved training and conditioning.
Still, at the end of the day, these 20 players would break even the best defenders' ankles, and leave them in the dust en route to the basket.
Craig "Speedy" Claxton
In a list of the "speediest" players, how can you not start with Speedy Claxton?
While Claxton never overwhelmingly lived up to his nickname, he did play a crucial role in helping the San Antonio Spurs win a championship in 2003.
Not many players could replicate the quickness and court-savvy of a young Tony Parker (hint: he's later in this list).
Claxton filled in admirably, notching nearly six points in just 16 minutes of play that season. He also contributed 2.5 assists, and two rebounds, all while shooting better than 46 percent from the field.
That high shooting percentage, of course, came from high percentage shots created through his quickness.
Unfortunately, Claxton was injured for a significant part of his career, meaning fans did not get to see the speedster in action for long.
While he's one of the few players on this list who will probably never reach the Hall of Fame, at least he has an unforgettable nickname.
Yes, I know, John Wall has never played an official NBA game with the Washington Wizards.
Still, from watching him play at Kentucky, it's clear he's going to be one of the fastest guards in the pros for years to come.
Even watching him in the NBA Summer League, against competition closer to the level of the NBA, he was like a man among boys, and earned himself honors in the process.
Experts have compared Wall to Derrick Rose and Chris Paul coming out of college (hint: you might see those names again). Both are lightning-fast, while Rose is a strong athlete and Paul has superior court vision.
I'll tell you what I envision: A star in the making.
In the NBA's current state, it takes strong guard play to win games.
Consider Washington set for the next few years.
If you see a guy who is barely six feet tall playing in the NBA, it's safe to assume that he is fast.
Or in the case of the 6'0'', 165-pound T.J. Ford, very fast.
According to a poll of 271 NBA players in February 2007, one out of every four players chose Ford as the hands-down fastest athlete in the league.
No one else was even within six percentage points of the then-Toronto Raptor.
While Ford is still quick, it's safe to say the T.J. circa 2007 was the fastest version.
Ironically, his two best seasons were in the years immediately before and after 2007-2008. The year before he averaged 14 points and eight assists, and the year after he averaged 15 points and five assists.
Regardless, throughout the period Ford got to the basket at will, which showed in his 45 percent shooting from the field.
Clyde Drexler earned the nickname "The Glide" because of the way he seemed to move effortlessly across the floor.
Of course, it took a lot of effort on defenders' parts to shut down the star shooting guard of the Portland Trailblazers and Houston Rockets.
Since Drexler never had a truly dominant shooting game, he would often compensate by driving strong to the basket.
With his speed, his 6'7'' frame, and his tremendous leaping ability, he remained effective despite his opponents knowing he was going to take them off the dribble.
Look no further than Drexler's field goal percentage in the late 1980s. From 1986 to 1990, he shot at 50 percent efficiency.
That's going to be a trend among guards who get to the hoop a lot. Meaning they are fast enough to beat their defender.
Not surprisingly, Drexler is currently in the NBA Hall of Fame and was named to the league's 50th anniversary team.
Edward "Fast Eddie" Johnson, Jr.
Most people don't remember who Edward Johnson Jr. is, because the speedy guard fell out of favor with the NBA so quickty.
Johnson represented what was wrong with the NBA in the late 1970s and early 1980s. To put it simply, he had drug issues.
Since he did not resolve those issues, in 1987 the league was forced to kick him out, ending his 10-year stint in the NBA.
His life only got worse recently, when he was permanently put behind bars for burglary, sexual battery, and molestation of an 8-year-old girl.
Suffice to say, Johnson's quickness on the court is not the first reason people remember him.
But he was quite the speedster, and helped turn around the Hawks franchise and leading the team to the playoffs almost every season during his tenure. He made two All-Star teams.
Kenny "The Jet" Smith
No list of speedsters is complete without Kenny "The Jet" Smith.
This, of course, is about the pre-TNT analyst version of Smith. Nowadays, the fastest thing about "The Jet" could be his talking.
Smith had a productive career playing for a handful of teams, primarily the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings.
Smith, weighing in at 6'3'', 175 pounds, was not afraid to use his speed to get to the basket and cause havoc on the defensive end. In his 737 career games played, Smith had 759 steals.
His shooting percentage also reflected his ability to get to the rim. For he career he shot 48 percent from the field, including a couple of season in the early 1990s, where he shot 52 percent.
For those too young to remember Smith in his glory days (myself included), it's time to think of "The Jet" beyond when he is parked behind his TNT desk.
Chris Paul is one of the top two point guards in the NBA today. He has everything a coach would want in his signal caller.
Speed is definitely one of those attributes.
When Paul gets out on the fast break, he is arguably more dangerous than any shooting guard because he has such fantastic court vision. At the same time, he is athletic enough and crafty enough to finish on his own.
With his quickness, he can make all those decisions so fast the defense can't even react.
Though he has been surrounded by trade rumors and negativity this summer, he's still considered one of the good guys in the league.
And though he has battled through injuries as of late, he is still considered one of the fastest players in the NBA today.
Maybe it's because he's playing with three veteran players.
Maybe it's because he has so much length.
Or maybe it's because Rajon Rondo is really fast.
Whatever the case may be, Rondo has burst onto the NBA scene since the (original) Big Three arrived in Boston. The young, gritty point guard has given the Celtics' backcourt a youthful boost through his quick guard play.
In fact, it sometimes seems like Rondo is a one-man fastbreak.
That's probably because he is so disruptive in the passing lanes, stealing the ball twice per contest over the course of his career. That allows him to lead the fast break or just score uncontested.
Want more proof Rondo can get to the rim? Explain how a notoriously poor shooter can average a 49 percent mark from the field over his four-year career.
That's the evidence that the 6'1'' guard can run with the best. It doesn't hurt that he's a leading candidate to make the Team USA squad this offseason.
If you only know Kevin Johnson as the mayor of Sacramento, then you have a lot to learn about NBA history.
K.J. was an instrumental component in the Phoenix Suns' strong performance in the early 1990s, particularly 1992-1993, when the team posted a 62-20 mark and made it to the NBA Finals before getting beaten by the Chicago Bulls.
Johnson had a rare combination of speed, court vision, and pure scoring ability, perhaps best represented by Paul in the NBA today.
Johnson was one of only three players to ever average 20 points and 12 assists in a season, and is also one of three players to average 20 points and 10 assists over a span of three years.
Johnson retired in 1998, but returned at the end of the 1999-2000 season to fill in for the injured Jason Kidd. Though he no longer had his speed, he still proved to be a threat and helped the Suns win.
The expression on Isiah Thomas' face was probably shared by his opponents when they saw Zeke sprinting down the floor.
Thomas was small but quick, like many of the players on this list. He had a fiery personality and ran the point better than nearly any player in history. Thus he's one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time.
Thomas relied on his quicks to get to the basket and score, though he was able to be effective without his speed, such as when he torched the Lakers for 25 points in a quarter while playing with an injured ankle during Game Six of the 1988 NBA Finals.
Thomas was equally disruptive in the passing lanes and still remains the all-time Detroit Pistons leader in steals.
Though he has not gotten off to a fast start as a coach or executive in the NBA, his quickness and prowess on the court are unparalleled.
Nate "Tiny" Archibald
Nate Archibald redefined the guard position during the early stages of the NBA, thanks largely to his blazing speed.
To this day, he remains the only player in NBA history to lead the league in both scoring and assists per game, which he did in 1973.
Needless to say, much of the Kansas City Kings' offense ran through "Tiny."
For good reason, too. All accounts of his playing days suggest he was leaps and bounds faster than the competition, and he would often be able to simply blow past defenders at will to get to the hoop and score.
Or, as his numbers prove, he could pass to an open teammate.
Sounds a bit like LeBron. Except there's nothing tiny about James.
No list of great, fast guards is complete without the greatest player of all time.
Michael Jordan's motor came as much from his will to win as his pure physical abilities.
In the early stages of his career, he would use his sheer speed and size to dominate opponents, which shows in the gaudy numbers he put up in the late 1980s.
Yet even as he got older, and even after retiring once, Jordan was considered among the quickest players in the NBA.
In a 1997 Sports Illustrated, one representative from each NBA team had to weigh in on who has the quickest first step in the game.
Even as MJ was on the cusp of turning 34, he still edged out the young Allen Iverson.
Perhaps that was not an accurate polling, since much of it likely rested on reputation.
Still, his Airness was just as magical with his feet on the floor as he was when he left the hardwood.
Yet, even the greatest Chicago Bulls player of all time can be surpassed in speed...
That's right. Derrick Rose is the fastest player ever to wear a Bulls uniform.
In the halfcourt game, he hardly has to make a fake, and suddenly he's past his defender. Even in the scrimmage against Team USA competition, Rose made it look easy to get to the basket.
And in the open court? Forget about it. He can throw the ball down on the offensive fastbreak, and swat balls from behind a la LeBron on the defensive end.
Speaking of James, Rose is often called a smaller version of LeBron. In many ways, it's true physically. I'm not going to get into the personalities.
To think Rose is only 21 and still has time to blossom is an exciting prospect for Bulls fans, and fans of speed everywhere.
Tony Parker could have probably been joined by longtime teammate Manu Ginobili on this list, but Parker just had the ball in his hands so much more frequently.
When he did, he was ferocious. He used his speed to blow by defenders and get in the lane, which then gave him the option of scoring himself, shoveling the ball to Tim Duncan, or kicking it out to Ginobili or Bruce Bowen.
His consistent and relentless cutting earned him the NBA Finals MVP in 2007, and rightfully so.
Though the 6'2'', 180-pound point guard is only 28, he does seem to have lost a step since his defining performance in the 2007 Finals.
Still, he's widely regarded as a fearless slasher, and has the capability of making a dazzling play or two that will enchant fans and remind them why he managed to marry Eva Longoria.
Continuing with the international theme, Leandro Barbosa could not have found a better team to play for than the Suns.
Though he's now on the Toronto Raptors, Barbosa found a home in Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system with Steve Nash at the helm.
In recent polls of NBA players, the Brazilian's name constantly ranks among the highest when asked who's the quickest player in the game.
What's different about Barbosa compared to many of the aforementioned speedsters is his ability to knock down three-pointers.
Generally, players like Rondo and Rose have used their speed to get high percentage shots, thereby circumventing their poor shooting range.
Barbosa is a career 40 percent shooter from distance, and perhaps because of the system he was in, combining that with his speed worked to his advantage.
Barbosa could race down the court and set up beyond the arc while Nash pushed the tempo. Other players, like Joe Johnson and Raja Bell, have been effective in this role as well.
Although, neither had quite the pure speed that Barbosa had, and still has today.
Devin Harris is certainly quick. How quick though?
Well, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, he is the fastest man in the world with a basketball in his hands.
During the Eastern Conference All-Star's practice in 2009, Harris apparently dribbled from baseline to baseline in 3.9 seconds, which is the best ever recorded.
That's not bad, but how many people believe that Paul, Rose, or Rondo could top that if they wanted to?
I'm guessing quite a few.
Still, congrats to Harris for shattering an obscure record. In game situations, he is equally as fast. At 6'3'', he is long and athletic for a point guard and uses that to his advantage.
There's not much to say about Aaron Brooks' speed. You just have to watch the guy play.
It looks like he's running circles around the opposition. Literally.
The first time I ever got a good look at Brooks was during the playoffs two seasons ago when the Rockets were battling the Lakers (this was before Artest and Ariza swapped teams).
Brooks came into the game, and no one could guard him.
I imagine that's what Archibald looked like back in the day. Brooks effortlessly blew right past the Los Angeles defense.
The 6'0'' point guard utilized his speed and new confidence this past season, scoring nearly 20 points per game.
Allen Iverson is probably the shiftiest, most agile player ever to play in the NBA. He had a playing style that was unique to him alone.
Yet, agility is not the same as speed, and though Iverson had plenty of the latter, it would be a stretch to call him the fastest ever.
Still, his first step and acceleration upon entering the league were like nothing ever seen before. People were left to wonder how this small 6'0'' shooting guard was able to torch opponents for 30 points every night.
The answer (no pun intended) was he caught defenders off-balance, and made them pay by either blowing by them or stepping back and hitting a jumper.
Unfortunately for Iverson, he lost a bit of explosiveness as he got older, and currently is seeking employment. The issue with him has always been that his style of play is so unique that he can't really fit in as a role player.
He will still go down as one of the 76ers' greats, and as one of the fastest basketball players ever.
Being a fast six-footer like Brooks and Iverson is great.
Being a lightning-quick 6'9'' forward is borderline unfair.
At this point in LeBron's career, there is not a single player in the NBA that can guard him one-on-one. Ron Artest? Too slow. Paul Pierce? Ditto.
Kevin Durant? Not strong enough. Kobe Bryant? Not big enough.
I firmly believe that because LeBron is such a physical force and can muscle his way to the basket so effortlessly, he could easily score more than 100 points in a game if he wanted to.
That's just in the halfcourt game. In transition, James is a monster. Players fear starting a fastbreak against LeBron since he has gotten so good at swatting away layups from behind.
It helps that it only takes James three or four strides from halfcourt to get to the basket.
The only speedier player in the NBA today than LeBron is his newest teammate, Dwyane Wade.
In transition, James is probably slightly faster because he has longer strides.
But Wade gets the edge in the halfcourt game, where James' length could actually be a disadvantage.
There's a subtle difference between being quick and being fast, and Wade dominates LeBron in the former category. They don't call him "The Flash" for nothing.
Wade is a unique physical specimen as well, standing at 6'4'' and weighing 220 pounds.
He has the intimidating physique of James while also small enough in stature to mimic some of the best qualities of speedsters like Iverson and Brooks.
The Flash has proven time and time again that he can get to the basket when his team needs a basket. He's second only to Kobe in scoring in the clutch.
He is 48 percent from the field in his career compared to 29 percent from three-point range, so like Rondo and Rose, he has utilized his speed to make up for a mediocre three-point shot.
There's only one person on the planet who could completely shut down Wade offensively.
Wonder why Wade wanted James to join him in South Beach so much?