50 Most Gifted Athletes in NBA History
Over the years, the NBA has been home to a number of extraordinary gifted athletes, and while many of them are some of the league's greatest ever, others may not be..
Players like Michael Jordan and LeBron James are not the only kind of athletes that can be classified as the NBA's most gifted ever. They in fact are, but other athletes, like 5'9" Nate Robinson who has three slam dunk competition victories under his belt, are players that can be considered the most gifted.
Athleticism, leaping ability, versatility and speed are all criteria for a gifted a player. These are aspects of the game that some players have excelled at. They are aspects of the game that have changed over time in regards to what we watch because of innovative athletes.
So where do high-flyers like Vince Carter and Julius Erving rank?
And how about prolific passers like Rajon Rondo and Magic Johnson?
Let's take a look at the 50 most gifted athletes in NBA History.
You can follow Dan Favale on Twitter @DannyFavs2033.
No. 50: Muggsy Bogues
Photo courtesy of champaignschools.org.
The 5'3" Mugsy Bogues spent 14 seasons in the NBA, an accomplishment at his size in itself, averaging 7.7 points and 7.6 assists per game.
Why is he one of the most gifted athletes of all time?
Bogues' ball-handling is magnificent. His hands were so quick. And don't take this slide's word for it. Check him out in Space Jam and you will get a little preview of what he can do.
And did I mention he was only 5'3"?
No. 49: Josh Smith
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Josh Smith, the 2005 NBA Slam Dunk champion, may come as a surprise to many as making this list, but the truth is that he is seriously gifted when it comes to mid-air antics.
The 6'9" Smith has averaged 14.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in seven years as a pro. Even for his size, Smith has a sick vertical leap. His mid-air maneuvers have even drawn comparisons to some of the antic Vince Carter made famous.
Smith is far from being one of the greatest players ever to play in the NBA, but you were warned this list wasn't about that. He is truly one of the most underrated high-flyers the game has ever seen.
No. 48: Karl Malone
Photo courtesy of theurbandaily.com.
Karl Malone is one of the most prolific big men in NBA history.
In his 19 years of action, Malone averaged 25 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. He is one of the best all time pick-and-roll executors, and he was extremely quick for his size.
Additionally, while he maintained the height and weight of a power forward/center, Malone had the hands of point guard. Very few big men can defend and steal the ball the way Malone could. He was a force on both ends of the floor.
Furthermore, he had better verticals than most his size. He was not afraid to leave the ground.
Malone is one of the most consistent players to ever take the floor. He only averaged below 20 points per game in two of his 19 season. And in the 1989-1990 season, we saw Malone average over 30 points per game.
Malone was no just ordinary 6'9" forward running around the court; his verticals, agility and quick hands prove otherwise.
No. 47: Baron Davis
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At only 6'3", Baron Davis has some of the sickest hops that the NBA has ever seen.
Over his 12 year career, Davis has averaged 16.5 points, 7.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game. His vertical reach is incredible for someone his size, especially in his early years in the league.
That being said, Davis still gives us a prolific flight to admire every now and again.
And it's just enough for him to make this list.
No. 46: David Robinson
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David Robinson is one of the best big men in general to ever play in the NBA.
In 14 NBA seasons, Robinson averaged 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, three blocks and 1.4 steals per game. In terms of defense, he is definitely in the top ten of all time.
Robinson had extremely quick hands for a big man, and an enormous wing span that allowed him to him to averaged as many as 4.5 blocks per game in a single season. He was also more than capable in the low-post, and averaged over 10 rebounds per game in more than half of his 14 seasons.
What really set the "Admiral" aside from the rest of the big men?
Take a look at the above picture. The 7'1" Robinson had some serious mid-air action in his game. His size did not require him to leave the ground too much, but he did it anyway.
No. 45: Harold Miner
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Harold Miner only spent a short time in the NBA, in which he averaged 9.2 points and 2.2 rebounds per game, less than mediocre stats.
However, Miner, the 1993 and 1995 NBA Slam Dunk champion, truly proved to be one of the most gifted high-flyers the NBA has seen. At 6'5", Miner is not exceptionally small, but reaching the rim is still no small feat. And the way in which he did it is even more substantial.
Miner retired in 1996 as a result of reoccurring knee injuries, yet had left his mark on the court, well I guess in the air, after only four seasons of action.
No. 44: Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo is one of the sickest passers that the NBA has ever had, and he seems to bust out new ways to show off his incredible court vision every year.
In his five years in the league, Rondo has averaged 10.7 points, 7.6 assists and two steals per game. He is as quick as they come and has the most incredible jump step you will ever see.
What keeps Rondo from being higher on this list?
Many are still intrigued so see if he can develop a Steve Nash like reputation of being able to make everyone around him better because up until this point, he has always had Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and/or Ray Allen to dish out to.
He is certainly one of the best passers the game has ever seen still, it just remains to be seen how truly gifted he really is.
No. 43: Deron Williams
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They don't seem to make point guards like Deron Williams anymore.
Williams is strong and powerful, yet agile at the same time. In six years with the NBA, he has averaged 17.2 points, 9.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game. He is not only elusive for someone with his strength, but also for point guards in general.
Williams is one of the most athletic players in the game today,and his added muscle, as you can see here, does not prevent him from lifting off every now and again. He really does have impressive verticals for someone at 6'3".
Williams has a plethora of gifts that just keep on giving.
No. 42: John Wall
Photo courtesy of nbcprobasketballtalk.files.wordpress.com.
How is John Wall even on this list after only one season?
I answer the previous question with another question: Have you seen anyone with as much speed as this kid? The answer is no.
In his rookie season, Wall averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He proved himself to be one of the most elusive players the NBA has ever seen.
Not to mention this photo shows the 6'4" Wall is not afraid of heights.
No. 41: Kevin Garnett
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During his 16 years in the NBA thus far, Kevin Garnett has made the high-leaping, two-handed overhead dunk his trademark, and an effective one at that.
Currently, Garnett is averaging 19.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game for his career. At 6'11", dunking naturally comes easy to him but he still has some pretty impressive verticals for someone his size.
And those long arms of his enable him to block a jump shot from the free-throw line while he is still under the basket.
Okay that is a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.
No. 40: J.R. Rider
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J.R. Rider had a very solid nine year NBA career, averaging 16.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, and making a name for himself as one of the league's highest flyers ever.
Rider had such range in turn of vertical leaping ability, that it often seemed like he could actually fly. He won the 1994 NBA Slam Dunk Competition, and jams like the one pictured above were routine even in regular season games for the 6'5" guard.
Questionable on-the-court antics aside, Rider was one of the most athletically gifted players to ever play the game.
No. 39: Scottie Pippen
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Michael Jordan may not have won as many championships had Scottie Pippen not played alongside him.
In his 17 year career, Pippen averaged 16.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and two steals per game. He is easily one of the most versatile players to ever play the game.
Pippen's talents are often overlooked, but not today. He could score, pass, rebound and defend. He was also capable of playing multiple positions on the court, and his knowledge of the game was outstanding.
And let's not forget that Pippen has some pretty crazy hops to his game. The 6'8" Pippen is pictured above dunking on the 7'0" Patrick Ewing, and while it is not as high-flying a dunk as he was capable of, it takes incredible athleticism to pull of what we see here.
Pippen is one of the most underrated gifted athletes the NBA has ever seen.
No. 38: Isiah Thomas
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Isiah Thomas spent 13 impressive seasons in the NBA, all of which he spent with the Detroit Pistons, averaging 19.2 points, 9.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game.
Thomas was a magnificent point guard with incredible court vision. He also had a strong vertical leap to his game for someone who was 6'1". And his ball-handling skills were mind-blowing.
Too bad he is not as gifted in an NBA front office position as he was on the court.
No. 37: Gerald Wallace
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In ten seasons in the NBA, Gerald Wallace has career averages of 13.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, and has made a name for himself as one of the premiere level role players.
Wallace is also an incredible dunker, and high-flying expert. He loves to leave the ground just inside the free throw line and finish with authority.
If you have ever watched Wallace play, you know that calling him gifted is an understatement.
The man's verticals are freakishly inhuman.
No. 36: Steve Francis
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The 6'3'' Steve Francis had an incredible vertical leap for someone his size, and this prolific ability helped him make a name for himself as one of the NBA's premiere dunkers.
In his nine year career, Francis averaged 18.1 points, six assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. The rebounds are especially notable because of how impressive they are for someone his size. This is due largely in part to his ridiculous verticals.
Francis could soar with the best of them. Francis arguably could be even higher on this list, but he did not stay consistent for too long, thus pushing him this far down.
We will never forget his high-flying escapades though.
No. 35: Andre Iguodala
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The 6'6" Andre Iguodala is easily one of the most athletic and versatile players in NBA history.
In seven seasons in the league, Iguodala has averaged 15.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game, making a name for himself has a tenacious defender and high-flying expert.
Iguodala cuts through the air like it is nobody's business, and whenever he leaves the ground, he seems to finish.
And finish hard.
No. 34: John Starks
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In thirteen improbable NBA seasons, John Starks emerged as a prolific high flyer, which is saying something considering Michael Jordan dominated the air space during that time.
Starks averaged 12.5 points and 3.6 assists per game for his career, but these stats do not do his gifts justice.
What does give justice to his athleticism?
How about the picture above, which shows the 6'5" Starks' famous dunk over Jordan.
I would call the person with the ability to do something like that tremendously gifted, wouldn't you?
No. 33: Charles Barkley
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While Charles Barkely has been making a name for himself off the court as of recently, he made a name on the court as one the most athletic and versatile players ever.
In 16 seasons, Charles Barkley averaged 22.1 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game.Barkley was both an offensive and a defensive threat. He played tough on both ends of the floor and was not afraid to sacrifice his body to get the job done.
Barkley's most impressive in-game attributes though was his rebounding. He averaged 10 or more rebounds in 15 of his 16 season, and was one of the most physical board crashers there ever was.
He also had a knack for leaping high into the air and coming down with an groundbreaking jam.
Regardless of whether he was flying through the air, or dribbling on the court, Barkley always delivered.
No. 32: Elgin Baylor
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On his career, Elgin Baylor averaged 27.4 points,13.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
Baylor played before they kept track of blocks, and such stats would have only improved his reputation. He was a terrific scorer, and in the 1961-1962 season, he averaged 38.3 points per game.
And let's not forget his love for the air. Baylor has been compared to modern day players, in terms of mid-air acrobatics, like Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant. At 6'5" he seemed to crave the thrill of the air more than the hardwood of the court. I mean, he even liked to jump while he was passing.
Few players possessed as much athleticism as Baylor. He was simply as gifted a scorer and dunking pilot as they come, and one of the most overall gifted players in NBA history.
No. 31: Chris Paul
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While still young, Chris Paul has established himself as one of the most talented athletes to ever take the floor for the NBA.
In his six years with the league, he has averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists, 2.4 steals and 4.6 rebounds per game. He has a John Stockton like awareness on offense and is one of the best defensive point guards in the league.
Paul can score from anywhere on the court, and he is even more dangerous as a passing threat. Like Steve Nash and Stockton, Paul seems to know where everyone on the floor is at all times. And his ball-handling skills are some of the best the NBA has ever seen.
Point guards who are strong both defensively and offensively are hard to find.
And that makes Paul a commodity, and a gifted one at that.
No. 30: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated the low post for exactly two decades in which he averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and two blocked shots per game.
Abdul-Jabbar made the jump-hook shot legendary, and used it often to further his dominance in the paint. He also was a very good defender, using those long arms of his to block shots, sometimes in bunches.
Abdul-Jabbar was also extremely versatile. He could run the floor and score in transition, and also could assume any role that was needed of him.
Additionally, despite being 7'2", he was not afraid to get higher up in the air to dunk the ball or grab rebounds.
Abdul-Jabbar's accomplishments often to not get the recognition they deserve, but he truly was one of the best low-post scorers in the game, and one of the most overall gifted players in NBA history.
No. 29: Gus Johnson
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In Gus Johnson's 10-year NBA career, he averaged 17.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, extremely impressive for a 6'6" wing player.
Johnson had an incredible leaping ability and was an emphatic dunker. In fact, he broke three backboards during his career, setting the stage for Darryl Dawkins later on.
Johnson had mid-air range unlike anyone else during his era, so much so that he was even effective at contesting shots, though the NBA did not record blocks as an official stat at that juncture. So all we have to go on right now is his incredible rebounding numbers and high-flying dunking ability.
And that's more than we need.
No. 28: Larry Nance
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Larry Nance had a very illustrious career, averaging 17.1 points, eight rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game spanning over 14 seasons.
At 6'10", Nance had a leaping ability uncommon for someone his size. Most players that tall barely jump off the court to dunk the ball, but with Nance, the higher off the ground, the better.
Nance made an everlasting mark on the league when he beat "Dr." Julius Erving in the 1984 slam dunk competition. Sure, Erving was older at that point, but he was still a master at dunking the ball.
And Nance's acrobatic abilities were able to dethrone him.
No. 27: Darryl Dawkins
Photo courtesy of nytimes.com.
Please forgive the black and white photo, but Darryl Dawkins gift for explosive power had to be justified.
In 14 seasons, Dawkins averaged 12 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. His numbers do not do his athleticism justice though.
At 6'11" and 251 pounds, Dawkins was one of the best dunkers in NBA history. He had a knack for backboard shattering jams that no one will ever match. He was not just a big man feasting off of easy low-post dunks though, he could generate some height for his size.
You know, the kind of height that gives you the ability to put enough pressure on the basket so that it shatters into thousands of pieces.
No. 26: Amar'e Stoudemire
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In his eight years in the league, Amar'e Stoudemire has averaged 21.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game while making a name for himself as one of the most prolific, athletic forwards to ever play the game.
At 6'10" Stoudemire has a nasty vertical reach. He simply soars to the basket when he sees an opening, resembling an early Shawn Kemp. And while he has knee problems now, he can still take flight with the best of them.
No. 25: Shannon Brown
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In five years with the NBA, Shannon Brown has proved to be one of its most athletic players ever.
Brown's career averaged 6.9 points and 1.7 rebounds per game less than impresses, but his limitless verticals make up for them. He has a vertical reach that rivaled Kobe Bryant's mid-air prolificness.
Brown, at 25, is still young, and we may not have seen the best him of just yet.
He may just keep flying higher and higher.
No. 24: Connie Hawkins
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Connie Hawkins was one of the very first high-flyers in the NBA.
Between his NBA and ABA career, Hawkins flew his way to 18.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He seemed to spend just as much time on the court as he did in the air, and if there was a dunk contest back in his day, he would certainly won one.
No. 23: Wilt Chamberlain
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For his career, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game, and though the game was different during his time, his athleticism was undeniable.
In the 1961-1962 NBA season, Chamberlain actually averaged 50.4 points per game, which is astounding. He also holds the record for most points scored in a single game with 100.
Chamberlain was incredibly dominant in the low-post. The 7'1" center used his agility and coordination to walk over every player of his day. And when simply walking didn't satisfy him, he took to the air and displayed his dunking abilities.
His accomplishments can be belittled, but they cannot be dismissed, and he was clearly one of the NBA's most gifted players of all time.
No. 22: David Thompson
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Over the course of his career, David Thompson averaged 26 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
Thompson is widely considered one of the best dunkers to ever play in the NBA, and at 6'4", such a classification is very impressive. His leaping ability was simply incredible.
And do not take his ability to dunk as the sole proof. Remember, he averaged 1.2 blocks per game for his career, and the man was a guard.
Incredibly gifted does not begin to describe Thompson.
No. 21: Patrick Ewing
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The 7-foot Patrick Ewing was one of the most athletic centers to ever play the game.
In his prime, Ewing was elusive and prolific. He averaged 21 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots per game for his career.
Ewing was extremely versatile. He was quick for his size and light on his feet, yet he possessed a substantial amount of power as well.
And let's not forget his mid-air abilities. Sure, he was 7-feet tall, but he had a terrific vertical leap that allowed him to make mid-air adjustments.
Before his knees gave him problems, he was the most athletic player at his position.
Ewing could score, rebound, block and run; he could do it all. To call him one of the most gifted players in NBA history simply does not do his skills justice.
No. 20: Tracy McGrady
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Is that Tracy McGrady in the top 25 of this list?
You bet it is. While his career was marred by injuries, McGrady established himself has one of the most gifted players in league history. And just to help keep the illusion, McGrady is pictured above during his glory days.
In 14 NBA seasons thus far, McGrady has averaged a combined 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is one of the better rebounding guards to ever play the game, and has a leaping ability that rivals his cousin Vince Carter's.
McGrady, at his peak, was incredibly elusive. His ball-handling skills were incredible and then there was that incredible leaping ability we talked about as well.
Although his career did not go how the NBA world would have liked, he is by far one of the most gifted athletes to ever play the game.
No. 19: Russell Westbrook
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Russell Westbrook has a Derrick Rose type game and thus is easily one of the most gifted players to ever be in the NBA.
In only three seasons, Westbrook has averaged 17.8 points, 7.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He has quick hands, agile feet, and is not afraid of heights.
At only 6'3" Westbrook is one of the more prolific dunkers in the NBA. Do not be surprised if he wins a slam dunk contest in the near future.
No. 18: Derrick Rose
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The NBA's 2011 MVP, Derrick Rose, has proved to be one of the most gifted players to ever play the game in only a short time.
Rose, in only three seasons in the NBA, has put up a combined average of 20.9 points and 6.7 assists per game. He is one of the most elusive players in the league, and at only 6'3" he has an incredible vertical reach.
Whenever Rose lifts off, you know that something incredible is about to happen.
No. 17: Dwyane Wade
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Dwyane Wade is one of the most elusive ball-handlers and prolific dunkers to ever play his position.
In his eight seasons in the league thus far, he has averaged a combined 25.4 points, 6.3 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. He is as versatile as they come, and while LeBron James commands most of the attention on the court, Wade is a not-too-distant second.
Wade has an incredible court vision and seems to find the open man no matter what set the defense is in. Additionally, he is one of highest flying shooting guards to ever play the game. When he takes off, fans wait for something amazing to happen.
And it usually does.
No. 16: Walt Clyde Frazier
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Some may be surprised to see Walt "Clyde" Frazier this high on the list, but he was the most athletic point guard the game ever saw.
Frazier averaged 18.9 points, 6.1 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game for his career. He was an incredible asset on both ends of the floor, especially in terms of rebounding for a point guard.
Frazier could dribble in and out of traffic like no one else, and his ball-handling skills were astounding. And he had a modern day John Wall like quickness about him.
Classifying Frazier as a gifted athlete is an understatement.
No. 15: Kobe Bryant
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Kobe Bryant has averaged 25.3 points, 5.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game for his career so far and has established himself as one of the most athletic players in the game.
Bryant can score from anywhere on the court, whether it is dribbling through in-the-paint traffic or hitting the fade away from the outside. At least twice per game it seems that he knocks down a severely improbable shot.
Additionally, Kobe is one of the best dunkers in the game right now because of his incredible leaping ability. He drives to the basket hard, but slams it even harder. Vertical limits do not exist for him, and it is an aspect of his athleticism he rarely gets recognition for, although he did win the 1997 Slam Dunk Competition.
Bryant has often been compared to Michael Jordan, and such comparisons are not unfounded. He is as versatile as the come and is adept at both ends of the floor.
Bryant's talent seems to come so natural to him. He makes complicated dunks and jump shots look easy.
Such characteristics make him one of the most gifted players in NBA history.
No. 14: Shawn Kemp
Photo courtesy of sportige.com.
Try not to laugh at Shawn Kemp's inclusion on this list, especially this high in the rankings.
Kemp was known as the most agile big men of his era at one point. And while his career tapered off sooner than expected, he still managed to average 14.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game over the course of 14 seasons.
What was most impressive about Kemp was his leaping ability for someone 6'10". Players his size were never known for their jumping abilities.
But Kemp was. And this prolific leaping ability of his makes him one of the most gifted players in NBA history.
No. 13: Blake Griffin
In only one NBA season, Griffin can already be considered one of the most gifted players in NBA history.
Not since LeBron James have we seen a rookie who has as much potential as Griffin. Last season, he played in all 82 games and averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. He absolutely dominates the low-post.
Griffin is an incredible dunker as well, evident through the fact that he won the 2011 Slam Dunk Competition. He makes regular season games seem like a dunk competition with the frequency in which he executes them.
Yes, Griffin has only played one season, but he has not even tapped his full potential.
And the fact that he already dominates the low-post in terms of scoring and rebounding without doing so easily makes him one of the most gifted players in NBA history.
It also doesn't hurt that he sailed over a car win this year's slam dunk competition.
No. 12: Magic Johnson
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Magic Johnson could play all five positions on the court and defined the word versatility.
Johnson averaged 19.5, an unheralded 11.2 assists, and 7.2 rebounds per game for his career. He was one of the games best passers, which is even more impressive considering he was 6'9". Johnson was also one of the best penetrators to ever take the court.
For 13 years Johnson was absolutely athletic "magic" on the court.
No pun intended.
No. 11: Shaquille O'Neal
This selection may turn some heads, but the newly retired Shaquille O'Neal was one of the best athletes in the history of the NBA.
Shaq averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks during his 19 year career. The 7'1", 325 pound O'Neal had a quickness about him during his prime that no one would expect from someone his size.
He was coordinated and consistently dominated the low-post for nearly two decades. And despite his weight, he managed to find a way to run up and down the court every season, many of which involved him playing nearly 40 minutes per game.
Shaq may be best known for his size, but some of us will remember him for the point guard like quickness he displayed while in his prime.
No. 10: Jason Richardson
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Jason Richardson may not be a future hall of famer, but will always be remembered for his incredible high-flying abilities.
In 10 years, Richardson has averaged 18 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. His main purpose on any team he has played for is to provide instant offense, many of which came in the form of earth shattering dunks.
Richardson is the proud owner of two NBA Slam Dunk Competition championships. And if there was a contest that measured a player's vertical leap straight up, he would have won more than a few of those too.
No. 9: Nate Robinson
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Call me crazy for putting Nate Robinson in the top ten, I don't care, especially since I considered putting him even higher.
Since he entered the league, Robinson has averaged 11.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. No, those numbers are not jaw-dropping, but we cannot neglect to recognize his incredible athleticism, especially in terms of his leaping ability.
Robinson has won three slam dunk contests and he only comes in at 5'9". If that isn't gifted, then I have no idea what is.
No. 8: Spud Webb
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During his 12 year career, Spud Webb averaged 9.9 points,5.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game, numbers that are less than overwhelming, yet the 5'7" guard is one of the best dunkers the NBA has ever boasted.
When Webb took flight, it seemed like he might go straight through the roof of any arena he was in. Having that type of vertical leaping ability, the kind that propels you to win the 1986 Slam Dunk Competition, is just not natural at his height.
But it is awesome.
No. 7: Clyde Drexler
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Clyde Drexler spent 15 amazing seasons in the NBA, averaging 20.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists and two steals per game combined.
Drexler played a complete game, from the offensive end to the defensive end, and he was an exceptional passer and scorer. He also had a pair of the quickest hands the NBA ever saw, both in terms of ball-handling, and defense.
And we cannot forget how he could soar. Drexler could leap and dunk with the best of them. When he took off, sometimes it seemed like he would not come down.
Averaging two steals per game over 15 years is no small feat, and this coupled with his prolific scoring maneuvers and his high-flying antics make him one of the most gifted players in NBA history.
No. 6: Dwight Howard
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Dwight Howard has emerged as one of the most dominant big men to ever play the game, and he is doing so unconventionally.
Howard has averaged 18.2 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game for his career, most of which has been spent carrying the Orlando Magic on his back. Howard is the league's best defender at this point, and has even developed himself into an dominant low-post player.
At 6'11", Howard is incredibly strong, even for his size. His physique has become the pillar of fitness for the NBA, yet his powerful stature does not keep him from being one of the quicker centers the game has seen.
Howard can run the floor and cut through paint with ease. He is a great pick-and-roll executor, and will be the most sought-after free agent in 2012. The most impressive aspect of his game though may be his leaping ability.
Rarely do we come across big men who can take flight like Howard can (see 2009 Slam Dunk Competition), which is a true testament to his talents.
His athleticism seems to know no bounds, making him one of the most gifted players the NBA has ever seen.
No. 5: LeBron James
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Love him or hate him, and most these days tend to hate him, LeBron James is one of the most talented athletes to ever play in the NBA.
LeBron, up until this point of his career, has averaged 27.7 points, seven assists and 7.1 rebounds per game. He is a triple-double threat every night, and is one of the best in the game at both ends of the floor.
James is also a threat from anywhere on the court. He has further developed his outside game, and his inside game is second to none. He is also as high as flyer as they come; James' vertical leaping ability is more than impressive.
LeBron may have a long way to go championship wise before he can create a legacy like Michael Jordan, but in terms of athleticism, he has already demonstrated to be at least nearly as gifted.
James may be able to further extend his legacy if he decides to finally bring his talents to the Slam Dunk Contest before he retires.
Just a suggestion.
No. 4: Dominique Wilkins
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Over his 15 year career, Dominique Wilkins averaged 24.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
Wilkins made a name for himself as a high-flyer, completing dunks that no one had seen before at the time. He seemed to float while in the air, and it is this attribute that helped him become a two-time Slam Dunk champion.
In addition to his sick hops, Wilkins was an incredible scorer and solid defender. He excelled at every aspect of the game. And maybe we should mention his incredible leaping ability once more.
Such attributes make Wilkins one of the most talented athletes to ever play in the NBA.
No. 3: Vince Carter
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Today, Vince Carter is a shell of what he once was, but it is what he once was that makes him one of the most gifted athletes the NBA has ever seen.
For his career, Carter has averaged 22.2 points, four assists and 5.2 rebounds per game. Carter's athleticism is incredible, and he may be the best finisher the NBA has ever seen.
In his prime, Carter did 360-degree windmill dunks on a daily basis. He spent more time in the air than on the court, and he seemed to be able to score on command.
Early on, Carter even drew comparisons to Michael Jordan. Unfortunately, Carter's career has been marred by a number of injuries, but such setbacks do not undo what he has done and shown us, especially while in the air, over his 13-year career.
No. 2: Julius Erving
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During his impressive 14 year career, Dr. J averaged 23.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.9 steals per game, as complete a stat sheet as we will ever see.
Erving was quick, so quick he could drive past anyone almost on command. His most impressive attribute though was his incredible leaping ability. He is by far one of the best dunkers the NBA has ever seen and made the free-throw line dunk famous even before Jordan.
Erving's game was simply incredible. He could score, defend, rebound and pass consistently. And it is this consistently complete game, combined with mid-air his impressive mid-air maneuvers that makes him one of the most gifted athletes in NBA history.
No. 1: Michael Jordan
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When talking in terms of the most gifted athletes in NBA history, Michael Jordan is certainly a name that comes to mind, most like more so than anyone else.
On his career, Jordan averaged 30.1 points, 5.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game. There wasn't a single season he averaged below 20 points, and in the 1986-1987 season, he averaged 37.1 points per game.
Jordan could score, defend and rebound. He could do it all. His mid-air acrobatics have become timeless and with two slam dunk competition victories under his belt, he may be the best dunker to fly through the air.
His Airness is widely considered the greatest player to ever take the court, and he is without a doubt the most gifted athlete the game has ever seen.