One of the biggest criticisms of NBA players and NBA games has been the focus on isolation games. But think about this—remember when Iverson crossed Michael Jordan and everyone went crazy? How about going way back to the Wilt-Russell matchups, or Kobe-Lebron today?
NBA players make the unthinkable look effortless and what makes it even more impressive is that they are doing it against the best players in the world.
Watching Dwyane Wade match Lebron James shot for shot as they both go for 40 is what makes the NBA great. The way Lebron cups the ball as he swoops in for a dunk, or the way Wade contorts his body to get his back to defenders, will be lasting images of this NBA Era, much like Michael Jordon's tongue as he soars or Shaq hanging on the rim after a two-handed power jam.
When Michael Jordan was in his prime, you couldn't stop his turnaround or fadeaway jumpers. Once Shaq dropped stepped into the lane, he was going to dunk on everyone's head whether you liked it or not.
With the NBA as full of talent as it has ever been, there are plenty of go-to moves that are practically unguardable. No surprise, most of them belong to super-stars.
In no particular order, I put together a list of 10 of the most difficult-to-defend moves in the game today:
1.) Tony Parker's Floater in the Lane
With lightening speed and great vision, Parker gets to the rim as fearlessly as any six-footer in the game. He will finish high off the glass or right at the tin.
Parker worked tirelessly to improve his outside jumper, meaning teams have to stay in his face on the wing. Once he gets by a defender with that explosive quickness, he can finish at the rim—but if a defender steps up he can go up over the top with unreal touch.
Inside 12 feet, Parker is essentially money with that teardrop. Making it even more difficult to defend, Parker has Duncan to drop the ball to and Ginobili to kick it to on the wing.
If Parker gets in the paint, he can beat you all by himself.
Floater Runner-up: Chris Paul
2.) Dirk Nowitzki's Step-Back Jumper
No seven-footer in the league can shoot like the big German.
Nowitzki's game has come a long way since he came into the league to become a more complete offensive player. More than just a catch-and=shoot player, Nowitzki can now pull up off the dribble, post, or fade—without getting a hand in his face due to his size.
But the shot that really makes Dirk tough is the step back. It is part pull-up, part fade—and with all the head and shoulder motion Nowitzki uses on his bevy of fakes, there is simply no way to get a hand in his face.
Making matters worse for defenders, Dirk can pull this jump-shot out of his pocket from anywhere on the court, and loves to do it from the three-point line on an angle. No big man can stay with his quickness to get a hand in his face, and no perimeter defender is big enough to contest shots even if he can get there. That is what makes Dirk and his repertoire of jumpers so tough.
Step-Back Runners-up: Carmelo Anthony and Michael Redd
3.) Dwyane Wade's Spin
All you really have to say is "Flash." Watching the Olympics, we are reminded just how devastating D-Wade can be, as he has been the best player on a roster full of the best players in the world.
In 2006 against the Mavericks, Flash was absolutely unguardable, and his ability to get to the rim and finish is unmatched. D-Wade loves to pull up from the elbow, he can go right or left—and once he gets by you, forget it.
When defenders do converge after the inevitable blow-by, Wade will change direction, pivoting and spinning around or through defenders to get to the cup. He will flip in a lay-up, throw down a dunk, or lob a floater for the deuce—but be sure when Wade goes to the spin he is looking to score.
A couple times in the Olympic Exhibition season, we saw Wade beat three or four Euro defenders to get to the rim. He looks to be back 100 percent—and that has to put a little fear into NBA teams. More on D-Wade in a minute.
4.) Allen Iverson's Hesitation
He's been called pound-for-pound the toughest player in NBA history. Certainly a Hall of Fame-caliber talent offensively and defensively, Iverson's legacy will always be his ability to rock the boat with the dribble and get anywhere on the court. His cross of Michael Jordan has become legendary and his "And 1"-type handle has made him a regular on Sportscenter and Youtube.
As Iverson's handle has weakened to some degree, his crossover has evolved. He'll take his defender to the right, bring it back through his legs, offer and up-fake as though he plans to shoot, getting his defender to commit—then he'll blow back by the defender. We'll call it a hesitation cross because he will cross over, but it's not a straight cross.
Iverson may not the The Answer he once was, but even in Denver at 33, AI has the quickness and handle to get where he want, and was one of just three players to be in the top 10 in both points and assists last season.
5.) Kobe Bryant's Fadeaway Jumper
The best player in the world has a plethora of offensive tricks to go to. Perhaps the league has never seen an offensive player who complete with his ability to shoot from anywhere, get to the rim, and facilitate when necessary.
With his tremendous length extending far beyond his 6'7'' frame, perimeter defenders have trouble contesting Kobe's shots. Kobe loves to get into the lane from the top of the key, pull up over his defender, and shoot while fading away.
Impossible to defend because of his quickness and explosive leaping ability, Kobe will hit this shot even if an opponent can somehow get a hand in his face. Bryant will often take contact with his shoulder as he pulls up, and has the strength to make the shot plus the foul.
No player can score in more ways than Kobe Bryant. Kobe does not really have a true go-to move, but his fade is Jordanesque, and the Black Mamba will use it anywhere on the court.
6.) Manu Ginobili's Euro-step
In 2007, the San Antonio Spurs were one Manu Ginobili ankle injury from heading in the Finals. A sixth man in name only, Ginobili has developed into an outstanding overall player. Clutch late in games, an ice-in-his-veins shooter, and a tenacious player at both ends, Ginobili has become a favorite in San Antonio and makes the most-hated list for opposing fan-bases (his egregious flopping has something to do with that).
Because defenders have to respect Ginobili's shooting, Manu will shot-fake opponents to get by them. Once help comes, he uses his free steps to maneuver around and through defenders on his way to the rim. He covers a ton of ground without the dribble, and sets up his defenders for the move.
Part of what makes this move so interesting is that Europe tends to be less lenient on steps than the NBA, but Manu's move is not a travel in either league. If he can stay healthy, Ginobili will become the go-to scorer on the Spurs, given Duncan's age and Pop's distrust of Parker.
Euro-step runner-up: Dwyane Wade
7.) Carmelo Anthony's Jab and Dribble
Fran Fraschilla believes 'Melo to be the best player in the world in a FIBA game. His combination of quickness, height, strength, and scoring ability makes him the perfect Euro-4 man.
No power forward in the league can stay with Anthony outside, and very few small forwards can guard in on the block where 'Melo often takes smaller defenders.
What really makes the former Syracuse stud so devastating is at 6'8'', he will face up his defender, and throw in a number of fakes and jabs to get the defender guessing. Then, with one of the quickest first steps in the game, he will go right by his opponent. From there he can get all the way to the rim and finish, or pull up and knock down an uncontested jumper.
With his ability to play inside and out, there might not be a tougher matchup for a defender than Carmelo Anthony. He can spray from range or post up, which makes his dribble game unguardable.
Jab and Dribble Runner-up: Deron Williams
8.) Kevin Garnett's Turnaround Jumper
Kobe Bryant could very well be tops on this list, as could D-Wade. But what makes Garnett so tough is his ability to separate.
Wade and Bryant normally hit contested turnarounds. KG will post up his man on the left baseline, working him with the dribble. Then, he'll set the defender up with a fake turns the baseline, then a fake back to middle, completely disorienting his man.
With his opponents frozen, Garnett will turn back baseline and hit what amounts to an uncontested jumper. At 6'11", the Big Ticket can shoot off one, two, three, or even no fakes, and hit it without much contest from the defense.
Garnett can be tough inside, but has feasted more on outside jumpers as he gets older and no longer has the kind of explosiveness and strength inside he once has. No one plays the game with more intensity, and his sudden off fakes are as sharp as ever.
Turn Around Runners-up: Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade
9.) LeBron James' Shoulder Block
When LeBron James wants to get to the cup, he gets there. At 6'8'' and 260 lbs., with just five percent body fat, King James presents a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. His jumper remains streaky and his free-throw shooting is questionable at best, but his unquestionable strength is finishing.
LeBron will take his man off the dribble, lower his shoulder and either turn the corner on his man for a dunk, or pull up for a floater or jumper in the lane. James has a particular knack for lowering his shoulder, raising up for a jumper, and getting whacked on his way up. If he had any kind of form or consistency with his jump shot, he would be finishing for and-one's the way Kobe does.
Whether he belongs on the block or at the top of the key remains to be seen, but James has only scratched the surface of his offensive potential. Right now he dunks, he dunks, and he shoots sometimes. With his size, strength, and quickness, once James puts his shoulder down he's getting to the endzone like a fullback.
10.) Dwyane Wade's Up-and-Under
Dwyane Wade as many free-throws as any player in the NBA, regularly finishing in the top five in terms of both makes and attempts. Part of the reason is his predilection for throwing shot fakes and jumping through defenders.
As a rookie, that wouldn't have worked, given his inconsistent shot. But as Wade has matured, opponents have to respect his jumper and run at him. Once he gets his man in the air, D-Wade seems to have a knack for throwing up shots and having them fall.
Somehow his desperate heaves go in more than anyone else to the point that is seems as if he practices them regularly. A true up-and-under move has always been a low-post move to get a dunk underneath. Guys like Dwight Howard are working on it, but most of the raw power down low is undeveloped with Howard, Bosh, Stoudemire among others.
No one shot fakes for free-throws like Dwyane Wade. With two healthy knees, a seemingly improved shot from range, and a new chip on his shoulder, expect an attacking Wade all season long.
Up and Under Runner-up: Paul Pierce