Every NBA Team's Most Unstoppable Weapon
Every team has them, although some clearly more than others. Those game-changing weapons that can tilt the odds in a team’s favor by being counted on for that devastating play or matchup.
Some are absolutely unstoppable, making no difference regardless who is guarding them or what team schemes opposing coaches throw at them. Others are accountable "go-to" plays that teams pick up easy points from, but can be counteracted with a lockdown defender, double-team or simply adding a defender to stop the ball.
No matter the “weapon,” it is a fixture that teams find consistency in and game-plan around. It can be anything from play in isolation, a jumper, pick-and-roll, transition play or even an afterthought like post defense or rebounding. Some weapons are more significant than others, but we tried to compile what we felt was the biggest exploitation for teams right now. Some of these choices were difficult and a close call, but here are our picks for each NBA team’s most unstoppable weapon.
Note: We did not factor in rookies, pending free agency or new team acquisitions from trades during the 2011 NBA draft prior to the beginning of the lockout.
Atlanta Hawks: Joe Johnson Iso
The Hawk’s "go-to" man for the past six seasons has put up 21.3 points per game during his tenure in Atlanta. When the Hawks need points, Johnson is the man they isolate on a consistent basis to pick them up. He doesn’t beat defenders with quickness or explosive athleticism, but rather a deadly spot-up jumper and the ability to back down smaller defenders.
He’s a crafty scorer when he wants to be, but lately has tended to settle for the jumper too often, shooting a lowly 29.7 percent from beyond the arc this past season. His ability to create and draw defensive attention helps free up his teammates and has allowed him to average a respectable 4.5 assists per game for his career.
Boston Celtics: Ray Allen Jumper
The fundamental mechanics and deadeye consistency of a textbook jumper for a future Hall of Famer has to be one of the NBA’s unofficial “Seven Wonders of the World.” Allen is a career 39.9 percent three-point shooter for his career and averaged a career-best 44.4 percent from beyond the arc for the Celtics this past season.
He is very active off ball, running off screens to get open looks at the top of the arc. When he’s isolated or coming off a pick-and-roll, his quick trigger allows him to beat the D from contesting his look. He’s not the same scorer he was in Milwaukee and Seattle, but he has become the NBA’s best pure shooter and still managed to average 17.1 point per game in his four seasons in Boston.
Charlotte Bobcats: DJ Augustin Pick-and-Roll
The 2010-11 season was Augustin’s best in Charlotte as he has begun to emerge as a franchise-caliber point guard. Having started just 13 games in his first two seasons as a Bobcat, Larry Brown and Paul Silas entrusted the youngster with all 82 games as a starter and he produced 14.4 points and 6.1 assists per game.
A good portion of those points and assists came off his pick-and-roll with Boris Diaw and Kwame Brown setting screens for him on the perimeter. This gave him a lane to burst into for an easy bucket, space for a quick jumper after making the turn off the screen or gathering the attention of the D to kick out to the screener for an easy jumper or on the roll to the basket. He has the ability to score off of isolations and coming off ball screens, but he’s a great pick-and-roll point guard with a great grasp of when to score and to distribute.
With Kemba Walker in the mix, that Bobcats backcourt gains another pick-and-roll threat.
Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose Drive
In just his third NBA season, Rose became an absolute matchup nightmare and virtually un-guardable to any defender who wanted to try to limit him. With the ball in his hands, he can really do it all in terms of being able to score in transition, isolation, pick-and-roll and even become more respectable as a shooter coming off ball.
The common denominator is all of these situations is when he sees that glimmer of lane space and takes it, using that explosive burst to blow by his man and utilize that athleticism to hang and finish around the basket. He has also developed that patented one-handed floating jumper that only he can pull off by leaping above the D and guiding it into the basket. The reigning MVP boasts one of the most unstoppable weapons with his ability to penetrate and finish at the rack.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Baron Davis Iso
This one was a stretch as Davis only played in 15 games for Cleveland after the trade deadline, but with the Cavs winning only 19 games as a team, there wasn’t much to choose from. B Diddy has always been one of the league's more underrated upper point guards in the league, but age is catching up. Even with Father Time against him, he’s a great individual player who can be plugged into nearly any scheme and produce (was held back by heavy play-calling in LAC by Dunleavy), but really thrives when he can run the show with freedom as he did in Golden State.
Despite being on the heftier side most of his career, Davis is an explosive athlete with deft handles who can break down anyone who dare guard him. His ability to push the tempo, in addition to immaculate court vision and passing ability, make him a weapon in transition as well. One on one though, Davis is a confident scorer who can get hot and bait the D with his scoring ability, which allowed him to put up an admirable 13.9 points and 6.1 assists in only 25 minutes per game in Cleveland. With Kyrie Irving entering, Davis' future effectiveness in Cleveland looks limited.
Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki Post-Up
The White Mamba is one of the league's best post-up players, exploiting his seven-foot size in the post and on the perimeter. Dirk’s ability to face up from the perimeter, use a high release point on his shot in addition to a great deal of arc make any of his shot attempts nearly un-blockable and unstoppable. It’s one of the more unorthodox shots that defies logic with one leg hoisted into his body, but is mastered by Nowitzki at such a high level that it can’t be stopped.
He has become a more physical player in recent years, showing a willingness to back down the D and finish with authority at the rim. Even when the opposing team sends another man at him in the post to force him to give it up, it's rarely enough to affect his composure shooting the ball. The only way to prevent it is to send another defender to double early, otherwise the defense is at his mercy from 25 feet and in.
Denver Nuggets: Ty Lawson in Transition
Coming from North Carolina, you have to be able to push the ball up the floor at a high rate and thrive in an uptempo offense. Lawson was perfect at UNC for the job as he helped lead them to an NCAA title and seems to be a great fit in Denver as their point guard of the future. He’s in his element in transition where he can get out in the open floor and make decisions.
He’s one of the quicker guards in the league and with his compact build, has the burst and body to get to the rim and finish there. He also has exceptional body control and shooting touch, allowing him to stop and pop from the perimeter if the defense tries to take away his driving lane in transition. He’s also very aware in the open floor and can find the trailer on the break if they’re there without hesitation.
The Nuggets had so much faith in Lawson’s ability that they dealt Chauncey Billups and Raymond Felton, giving more playing time to Lawson to speed up his maturation and ability to run the team. With his ability to knock down the NBA three better than 40 percent, he could really be a weapon with the quick transition three like Billups has been known to be throughout his career.
Detroit Pistons: Rodney Stuckey Fast Break
There wasn’t much unstoppable about Detroit last season, but Stuckey out on the break was unbeatable with the opportunity. His quick acceleration and open-floor speed made him blur with the ball on the Pistons break after a turnover or rebound. You get the ball in his hands and let him do the rest with his ability to speed past the defense and finish at the rack.
However, with the addition of Brandon Knight, they will likely move Stuckey to off-guard. He had a strong season for the Pistons at the point though, putting up 15.2 points and 5.2 assists while starting 52 games at the point.
Golden State Warriors: Monta Ellis Iso
In the past couple seasons, Ellis has become a fringe All-Star because of his ability to flat-out score. He has been a perfect fit for that free-flow Warriors offense, putting up 24.8 points per game in the past couple seasons as a full-time starter. His explosive speed and quickness is among the NBA elite, allowing him to beat nearly any backcourt defender to the rim.
He can score in any way, knocking down shots coming off ball, from off the pick-and-roll and pushing the tempo in transition. When the Warriors isolate for him, they expect points by any means possible. His quickness enables him to get anywhere on the floor in a hurry and his midrange game is solid.
Going one on one, Ellis a tough defensive assignment because of his devastating first step, agility and body control. Monta Ellis is generally thought of as a scorer and been tagged "selfish" by some, but almost unfairly as he has averaged 4.2 assists for his career and 5.6 just this past season. It’s just too bad his trick shots aren’t a factor because you could probably count him as near unstoppable in that regard.
Houston Rockets: Kevin Martin off the Ball
Kevin Martin is one of the NBA’s best players without the ball in his hands. His ability to come off of screens and knock down the spot-up opportunity with great consistency make him a must-guard at all times. Martin is hitting 38.1 percent from three for his career and his ability to lose his defenders coming off screens is a big part of that.
Whether it be coming off a down screen or leading his defender from one end to the other, K-Mart frequently makes good spotting up from beyond the arc. Another of the NBA’s more underrated players, he put up 23.4 points per game as the Rockets' "go-to" threat in 2010-11. He’s on the brink of becoming an All-Star with his conditioning and ability to play without the ball in his hands as major reasons.
Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger from Three
The Pacers star is money from deep, hitting 38.5 percent of his career looks from range. It’s a good thing too considering he has put up 6.3 three-point attempts per game as the leading scorer for Indiana. They will try to get him the ball anyway possible, but Granger is a swingman who can create his own looks as well as make good on those created by Frank Vogel’s play-calling.
He’s an excellent spot-up shooter that can knock down the open look off of rotation, knock down the catch-and-shoot coming from a down screen off the ball or just pull up in the face of his defender. He’s a smart player though, and good shot selection is a big reason why he makes good on his opportunities from three. It’s an underrated quality in the NBA, but Granger doesn’t force many shots under pressure and is fairly selective about his looks, but makes the most of when he’s open.
Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe Bryant Jumper
While noticeably on the decline, Bryant is undoubtedly one of the league’s ultimate offensive weapons. He may have lost a step and doesn’t have the same explosiveness that he used to, but he has adapted his game like the great ones do to become a force from the perimeter.
The Lakers star for the past decade has become a player who catches the ball with his back to the basket from about 18 feet out and does work. Kobe likes to back down his man and throw a few jukes to get his defender off balance so he can either take a fading turnaround jumper or just pump-fake to get his defender in the air to draw the foul.
As long as he can produce at the level his, Kobe will get his 20 shot attempts per game, most of which will come in isolation with the scenario above. Hate him or love him, there’s no denying Bryant is one of the league’s greatest players in history and he still continues to produce like one at age 33.
Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin Alley-Oop
Get used to seeing this a lot. The Clippers' momentum-changer of the future is the lob to Griffin, which will be nearly unstoppable unless a team can take out the pass before it gets there. With the Blake Show’s combination of explosive leaping ability to go up and get the ball above the rim and the brute strength to finish it off, Griffin will be tough to stop when he’s airborne.
In the halfcourt, the easiest way to get him the ball is rolling to the basket after setting a screen if his defender shows on the ball-handler and there is no help defense after the screen. In transition, he has the speed to get out and beat the D down the floor. Count on coach Vinny Del Negro getting innovative in the future on getting Griffin the ball above the rim in true highlight fashion—even Amar’e approves.
Memphis Grizzlies: Zach Randolph Post-Up
Randolph is a perennial "20-10" guy capable of putting up those numbers on a nightly basis. You feed him the ball in the post and expect him to go to work with that big body. He knows when and how to throw his weight around, but he is also very post savvy and very skilled in the paint. His face-up jumper must be defended on the perimeter or he will make you pay.
Randolph is "the man" for the Grizzlies down the stretch, especially with the absence of Rudy Gay. Another player in the NBA who is underrated, Z-Bo became a bigger name after dismantling the top-seeded Spurs in the paint and leading the Grizz in a spirited series versus the Thunder.
Miami Heat: LeBron James Iso
This could have a gone a number of ways, as Dwyane Wade is extremely tough to guard off of the pick-and-roll and Chris Bosh has a nice face-up game in the post. However, LeBron is one of the league's biggest mismatches because of his combination of size, strength, athleticism and skill.
Once he picks up his momentum on the drive, the defense is best served clearing out or being dunked on. His perimeter shooting stroke has improved drastically over his NBA career and his pull-up jumper is a weapon if you give him space. His production dipped slightly in his first season with the Heat, but the last time I checked, 26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and seven assists are still incredible, MVP-caliber numbers.
LeBron has been near unstoppable most of his career, unless you count the fourth quarter of the 2011 NBA Finals.
Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings Iso
In terms of pure talent and skill, Jennings is an incredibly gifted ball-handler and passer. Where you really see his skills is when the Bucks clear out for Jennings and let him work on his defender. He has the ability to break down his man off the dribble and exploit the defense based on whether they play him as a driver or shooter.
He needs to be better playing with the pick-and-roll, and getting his teammates involved by and large. As is, Jennings is the best weapon the Bucks have offensively and can be counted on going one on one to get buckets.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Love Rebounding
The 2010-11 season was a big one for K-Love, as he had 55 straight double-doubles, became the first player since Moses Malone in 1982-83 to average over 20 points and 15 rebounds, as well as having a 30-point, 30-rebound game.
Love is “exhibit A” of how and why un-athletic big men can succeed in the league. While he is by no means an “above the rim”-type player, he makes up for his athletic shortcomings in numerous other ways. At 6’10”, 260 lbs, he’s a big body with a great understanding of how to use his body for leverage in the paint to anchor himself for prime position. He is naturally very strong with great length (7’0” wingspan) that allows him added reach for the ball and the strong hands to secure it.
He has a high basketball IQ that gives him a great feel for where the ball is going, in addition to the motor to go get it. He routinely boxes out his man (if not two) in the paint and wants it more than the other players. Don’t be surprised if Jared Sullinger has a similar type of impact in the league (maybe with not as gaudy stats) when he arrives in the NBA.
New Jersey Nets: Deron Williams Pick-and-Roll
When it comes to running the pick-and-roll, there’s no question that Deron Williams is one of the best because of his ability to read the defense immediately. If the defense shows over the top, he’s quick to find the screener for the easy pick-and-pop spot-up, which is where Brooke Lopez has been dangerous for the Nets. If the defense drops under the screen and his man switches, there’s no question that he’s comfortable pulling up from three or for a perimeter jumper if given the space.
If he has the lane to drive after making the turn, then Deron has the quickness to burst into the paint and finish strong, or at least pull in the attention of the defense to drop it off to a man at the basket or kick out to another teammate for an open jumper.
One of the main reasons Williams is an elite point guard is his ability to make quick reads on pick-and-roll defense and make the defense pay for how they defend it.
New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul Pick-and-Roll
The pick-and-roll accounts for about one out of every five total plays in the NBA, but when you watch the Hornets it seems like it’s more like two of every five because of CP3. Running it with David West, Paul picks up an easy assist if the D covers him because of West’s ability to knock down the perimeter jumper. If the defense switches, then Paul can exploit the matchup against a big man by pulling up, taking a teardrop runner, flat-out driving by them or even just dropping it off in the paint.
Paul plays so well under control off the dribble that it’s tough to force him into a tough situation. Even if he doesn’t score off the pick-and-roll, most of his isolations and the Hornets' off-ball plays revolve around Paul coming off as a means to get the defense out of position. Another big piece to them running it with Paul is his great decision-making, as his career assist-turnover ration is remarkable at 3.97 to one, where most upper elite point guards relative to Paul only average around three to one.
New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire Perimeter Jumper
This is the only duo involved for a team, and it's tougher to say which is harder than the other really. Anthony is one of the premier NBA swingmen who thrives on the perimeter because of his consistency to make shots, get to the basket, create and get hot from the field. When isolated, the defense is at his mercy because his midrange game is so honed in.
He makes a good deal of shots coming off down screens to the high perimeter, but Anthony’s midrange game is a killer for the defense. While he played only 27 games for the Knicks after midseason, Anthony was hot behind the arc, draining 42.4 percent of his looks.
When Amar’e takes the J train straight to the Garden, he’s a tough big to stop. The Knicks love to get him on the high post, usually at one of the elbows, and let him operate. More often than not, his man underestimates the space he needs to knock down the jumper and Amar’e makes them pay.
STAT has become a perimeter weapon who can stretch the floor for the Knicks, but he can also become overly confident in his jumper and become less aggressive attacking the basket, where he really thrives. Nonetheless, the perimeter game for the Knicks is usually what sets up their offense in the halfcourt and opens things up in the paint for them. Amar’e knocking down shots forces the defense to play up, which allows him to exploit his superior athleticism and get to the rim.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant off the Ball
Part of what makes the Durantula such a deadly scorer is his ability to get open and high-caliber looks without the ball in his hands. The Thunder run a number of plays for him coming up to the high post where he can get off a quick spot-up opportunity. When the offense is in flow, it allows a ball-dominant player (like Russell Westbrook) to get his points and set up plays off ball for Durant, who can kill teams from the perimeter.
While Durant’s an outstanding one-on-one player, his length and ability to finish at the rim coming off a back screen from the high post is as routine as an alley-oop weapon.
Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard Post Defense
In the NBA, it’s very possible to be a good shot-blocker but not a great post defender. Thankfully for the Magic, Howard is great at both. What makes him so great is that relentless drive to shut down the basket by contesting shots from not only his man, but also the entire team. His 7’5” wingspan is a huge asset in addition to his athleticism, as he can go from one end of the key to the other in a split second to erase the opposition’s shot attempts at the basket.
He is one of the best individual post defenders on the block, using that 6’11”, 265-lb frame and natural strength to anchor him in the paint and hold ground against virtually anyone’s back down. Despite his physical and athletic gifts, Howard’s timing and anticipation are tops in the league for a shot-blocker, and the ones he can’t get to he can at least change. There is no better post defender in the league than Dwight, and maybe no better impersonator in the NBA.
Philadelphia 76ers: Andre Iguodala Iso
Doug Collins is one of the great minds in basketball today and he knows that the way to get points when needed is to isolate the 76ers swingman. Iggy has the explosive quickness to beat his man and finish above the rim, but in crunch time (especially looking at his game-winners) you usually see him pull up from midrange and bury the jumper.
The other "go to" is Elton Brand posting up, but when you need a clutch shot, Iguodala is a prime-time player.
Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash Pick-and-Roll
Nash is one of the great assist men in NBA history and the majority of those dimes stem from the pick-and-roll. Nash is known for being a magician with the ball in his hands in terms of making plays and setting up teammates with immaculate passes, but a big reason for that is his patience. Coming off the screen, he knows where the screener, his defender, the screener's defender and just about everyone else is on the floor and he reads it quickly.
He reads positioning very well, which gives him a good read on timing a pass into the lane for the screener or space for a pull-up jumper off the turn. If the defense switches, Nash still has the quickness to beat the bigger defender or get a shot off in space. Without Amar’e Stoudemire as that screener this year, the Suns really struggled. Unfortunately, no matter how well you run the pick-and-roll on offense, you have to be able to defend it or you run the risk of being crossed up by Justin Bieber.
Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge Post-Up
Not many Blazer fans have a lot of love for LA, but for this one they make an exception. Aldridge has developed into a post weapon because of his adept face-up jumper and the fact that he no longer plays softer than the “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.”
Without Brandon Roy for much of the season, LA stepped up and became the "go-to" guy for the Blazers. He got to the line 5.5 times per game, 1.4 more times than he has in any season in his career and showed greater aggression in the paint. His play with his back to the basket has increased tremendously, but the staple of his game is that face-up jumper, which can look automatic during stretches of games.
Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans Iso
Evans is a smooth scorer who can break down defenders with his handles and finish at the rim with great strength. His NBA body is an asset in the paint, as he can muscle his way into the lane and finish with regularity. While his perimeter jumper is still spotty, it’s a respectable weapon that can force the defense to play up on him when he gets going.
Going one on one, he’s a crafty player who has a nose for scoring and creating. By no means a true point guard like Sacramento wanted to use him as. Jimmer Fredette should help take pressure of him, assuming he ends up being that “true point guard” fit for them.
San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker Drive
You wouldn’t think that a 6’2” point guard would be capable of leading the NBA in points in the paint, but there have been a few seasons where Parker threatened. Tony P is incredibly quick with the ball in his hands and when you get him in the lane matched up one on one, you are at his mercy. He is a master of the teardrop floater in the lane over the defense.
With an aging San Antonio lineup, at the spry age of 29, Parker is the man who can make plays for them down the stretch because of his ability to improvise headed to the hoop. Despite his reputation as one of the better point guards in the league and ability to create, he has never been an outstanding distributor with a career assist-to-turnover ratio of only 2.3 to one.
Toronto Raptors: Andrea Bargnani Iso
He may not strike you as a traditional center, but Bargnani can stretch the floor for your team if you put him there. In the mold of those skilled European big men (Dirk Nowitzki, Danilo Gallinari, Jorge Garbajosa, Donatas Motiejunas) who tear teams apart from the outside in, Andrea does most of his damage on the perimeter where he can dial in from distance.
He catches the ball in the high post the majority of the time, often at an elbow, where he will either take a face-up jumper or just drive if his man plays up. At 7'0", he’s a tough assignment because of his ability to shoot over smaller players and to outmaneuver the bigger ones. He loves to face up and try to create space by jabbing with the triple threat, and if given a few feet of space, will oblige with the jumper.
Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson Post-Up
Another big man who is a perennial 20-10 waiting to happen, Jefferson is a very skilled post player that can abuse defenders in the paint. At 6’10”, 280 lbs, he’s a load that mauls the D with his crafty moves, patience and soft hands around the basket.
Despite his size, it’s always a little surprising to see him play as a finesse big man who rarely gets to the free-throw line, as he only had 3.5 attempts per game last season for the Jazz. With his combination of size and skill, Big Al is tough to stop, but you have to wonder if he is their man long-term with Enes Kanter now in the mix.
Washington Wizards: John Wall Fast Break
Jordan Crawford emerged as an excellent rookie scorer for the Wizards, but John Wall is their franchise player at the moment and he makes good with regularity in the open floor. There is no question that his end-to-end speed is in the NBA upper elite, making it nearly impossible for a defender to chase him down from behind.
If a big man can get him a quick outlet pass in the backcourt off of a rebound, Wall can accelerate up to his top speed in no time and finish at the other end of the floor in what seems like two seconds tops. It seems like Wall plays mostly at one gear, but that gear is so fast that he is near unstoppable on the break and the Wizards have begun to build along the style of adding transition finishers by drafting Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton.
Wall is a keeper and with his style of uptempo play and great conditioning, don’t expect him to hit many walls in his NBA career.