Power Ranking the NBA's Highest Basketball IQs

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2012

Power Ranking the NBA's Highest Basketball IQs

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    So, what exactly is basketball IQ, and how can we quantify this mysterious principle of the NBA?

    For starters, we could ask one of the greatest to play the game for his take.

    The way I see it, basketball IQ can never be exactly quantified. However, it can be described and generalized. That being said, here is a vague list of things to look for when creating your own IQ Power Rankings.

    1. Player's ability to adapt to any situation

    2. Player's understanding of when and where to step up their game

    3. A player's longevity

    4. A player's ability to analyze an opposing defense or offense quickly and determine the best course of action

    5. A player who can take what the opposition is giving them and turn it into an advantage

    6. A player who maximizes their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses

    Even more than this goes into determining a player's basketball IQ, but this is a good place to start. Be sure to let us know who makes your lists.

10. Rajon Rondo

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    By career's end, Rajon Rondo could be damn near the top of this list. His ability to read defenses and locate the open man in a split second are remarkable.

    It is often thought that most of Doc Rivers' talk about Rondo being the smartest player he has ever coached is a lot of posturing. However, the most recent postseason performance has allowed for more legitimacy to be placed on Rondo's game. 

    No one in the NBA, outside of LeBron James, is more apt to filling up a stat sheet than Rondo. He is the NBA's closest thing to a triple-double threat on a nightly basis. His current string of double-digit assist games is already hitting historic significance. 

    The NBA's reigning assist leader uses his basketball IQ to take advantage of opponent weaknesses. He is a true student of the game and enters knowing what the opposing guards can and can not do.

    This is why you'll often see him posting up weaker players instantly and penetrating at will against those who can't move their feet laterally. 

    He is also attuned to his own strengths and weaknesses. For all that gets made about his shooting difficulties, has there ever been a problem where Rondo was shooting unnecessarily and harming his team? 

    His career field-goal percentage sits at a pretty 48 percent, and he takes a very reasonable number of shots per game. Rondo minimizes his weaknesses remarkably well for a player still maturing his game.

9. Dirk Nowitzki

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    So much of succeeding in the NBA is adapting, and it is also a key component to a player's basketball IQ. 

    Dirk Nowitzki has adapted as much as any player in the league over the past 14 years. His ability to adapt has allowed him to be an elite NBA scorer for a decade and a half, and has led to 12 postseason berths for the Dallas Mavericks franchise. 

    His biggest adaptation: the one-legged fade-away.

    Dirk's basketball IQ understood the direction the league would be going over the course of his NBA career. Faster, stronger and more athletic players would be reigning supreme in the league before long. Since Nowitzki's makeup doesn't exactly fit that bill, how did he go about winning an NBA title in 2011, after more than 10 years in the league? 

    He did it by adapting to his surroundings and much like an animal has a defense-mechanism for protection, Nowitzki's jump-shot allows him to remain among the NBA's scoring leaders.

    He has used information gained from his IQ and in-game experiences to create a shot that is largely unstoppable. 

8. Jason Kidd

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    Jason Kidd has paved the way for NBA fans to respect players like Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo. He became one of the league's most innovative guards and was able to maintain that stature throughout his 18 NBA seasons.

    Some people were just born to be basketball players, and watching Kidd has always felt that way. At 6'4" and hovering around 200 pounds during his career, he had the build of a new generation of point guards. A generation that maybe never really happened. Kidd was so unique during his peak years that no one could really match him.

    However, for all his physical attributes, few players could manage a game like Kidd. There is a whole lot more to the importance of utilizing immense skill and God-given traits than some players let on. 

    Kidd always knew what he needed to do for his team to win. Having the skills to do all those things is only half the battle. Knowing when and how much of the different aspects of the game to affect is the other half, and that is the half Kidd really excelled and excels at.

    His 16 playoff appearances in 18 years are what landed him here over a player like Steve Nash, who, while immensely skilled, never really found a way to minimize his weaknesses.

    I suppose that is an easy thing to put on, since Kidd's weaknesses were severely limited anyway. His one weakness was his shooting, but after three seasons in the league, Kidd righted that.

    His basketball IQ was at work again, as he honed in on something that needed improving, put in the work and got himself to a point where it was no longer a big problem.

    Kidd's spot on this list, while fairly high, may be one of the most assured positions I chose. 

7. Dwyane Wade

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    Over the course of his NBA career, Dwyane Wade has had to adapt. Not only to teammates, but to struggles and situations.

    Wade wasn't born with the ability to get to the free-throw line, but it certainly seems that way sometimes. From the day he stepped into the NBA, Wade has not averaged less than five freebies a game. Throughout the middle chunk of his career, or pre-LeBron James, Wade was getting the line around 10 times a night.

    It takes a very high basketball IQ to draw five shooting fouls over the course of a game night-in and night-out. In 2006, Wade saw only one way his Miami Heat were going to best the Dallas Mavericks. Thus he made the decision to get to the line early and often.

    With some minor help from the officials (depending how you see it), Wade averaged more than 16 free throws per game over that six-game series. In the decisive Games 5 and 6, Wade went to the line a combined 46 times.

    Fast-forward to Wade's current embodiment. By all accounts, his body is banged up (a result of all those fouls). Wade's IQ has humbled him enough to allow him to take a side-seat on the path to James' first ring.

    Wade realized the way the league was shaping up and helped facilitate a plan for two other All-Stars to join him in Miami.

    Whether you love him or hate him, Wade's basketball IQ has been off the charts for some time now, he just displays it in more creative ways. 

6. Paul Pierce

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    How does a player overcome not being as physically gifted as some of his colleagues or combat the deterioration of their athleticism? Look no further for an example than Paul Pierce.

    Pierce's basketball IQ lies in his ability to maintain an elite level of play after years of punishment. His game is not predicated on athleticism, but deceptive power and knowledge of the flow of a game.

    Lost over the course of his early career, is the fact that we have been watching one of the most innovative offensive minds in history. Now that he has the hardware (NBA finals MVP) to back up his reputation, we can admire the entire body of work that is Paul Pierce.

    Pierce has an ability to study opponents in-game. His repertoire is teeming with offensive maneuvers and over the course of a game, he'll learn what is working and what isn't.

    Like Wade, he possesses an uncanny ability to get to the free-throw line, but not by athleticism. Pierce's game calls for an absurd amount of ball-fakes and jab steps that are just dizzying. 

    The up-fake is so commonly overlooked in the NBA, when power games are admired. Pierce's basketball IQ taught him long ago that he wouldn't match up with where the league was going, so he created an identity that exists outside league norms.

    This is what allows him to be the best scorer on one of the NBA's elite teams, well into his mid-30s.

5. LeBron James

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    The NBA's best current player finds himself here due to his vast range of abilities.

    On top of being incredibly strong, durable and talented, LeBron James' game is predicated on making teammates better.

    A common misconception is that James was able to lead those Cavaliers teams on deep playoff runs despite the talent of teammates. More so it was that James made those teammates into a passable NBA roster with his basketball IQ.

    James, for everything he is praised as, is still an underrated passer. Much like Ichiro and home runs, it is often thought that if he chose to do so, James could lead the NBA in assists on a regular basis.

    Winning his first NBA title in 2011-12 had a lot to do with the strength of his teammates' outside shooting. However, even that stems from James' ability to draw in defenses.

    When this happens, James still has the court awareness to locate the player with the best chance of scoring. This is what makes the potential of him and Ray Allen so scary. 

    Many think that with Allen leaving one of the NBA's best distributors behind in Boston will harm his game, but in reality there may be little to no drop-off. 

4. Kevin Garnett

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    Sometimes in basketball, defense is viewed as a skill of brute strength and athleticism. While both these aspects play into being able to stop an opponent from scoring, defense at the NBA level is actually much more.

    Kevin Garnett has treated the art of defense like a symphony during his career, and he is the greatest conductor of this generation.

    Garnett's early career can be easily marked by sheer ability. He was a force the NBA had never seen before and no one knew how to handle him. However, as he grew as a player, his IQ expanded and his vast experience now allows him to lead one of the league's top defenses for the past five years, running. 

    His defensive presence means so much more than merely protecting the rim or guarding the pick-and-roll. Garnett on defense is a maestro, and truly a privilege to watch.

    Even more of his basketball IQ is unseen, off the court. Garnett is a notoriously hard worker at practice and famous for holding others to his elite work ethic.

    Boston didn't take that leap in 2007-08 just because they combined three stars, and that isn't the reason they have maintained status as a contender since. They are there because of the collective basketball IQ of Garnett and Paul Pierce.

3. Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant has been able to combine longevity with elite play better than anyone in the past decade-plus.

    At 34, Bryant has already played longer than the player he is most closely examined with, Michael Jordan. Bryant is currently entering into NBA season No. 17, while Jordan played only 16 years. 

    Bryant's game may not appear to have changed a whole lot over these past 16 years, but rest assured, it has. He has had to change to adapt to different styles of teammates (Shaq to Pau Gasol), as well as the changing times and rules. 

    In 1996-97, the NBA was a vastly different beast, and few players have been around long enough to both see and be a part of the changing landscape of the new century and beyond. 

    Bryant's ability to keep the Lakers a Western Conference power through the changing eras in the league is almost unimaginable. In terms of his own keys to having a high IQ, Kobe's diverse grouping of offensive and defensive weaponry has allowed him to adapt consistently. 

    For the past 16 years, there has been no one more equipped, physically or mentally, to take advantage of an opponent than Kobe Bryant.

2. Tim Duncan

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    Now, here is a player who has been demonstrating a stratospheric basketball IQ for nearly two decades. 

    Over the past five or six years, no one in basketball has shown a better understanding of their position within a team than Tim Duncan. His immense skill has long since started to dissipate, but the change has been so extremely minimal, it is almost unnoticeable.

    In 2011-12, Duncan turned 36 years old and what happened? The San Antonio Spurs kept right on winning. Pieces have changed around him over his 15-year NBA career, but the Spurs haven't. That is a testament to Duncan's mind.

    In his first few seasons, Duncan quickly learned how to defer to David Robinson and how to supersede him in any given situation.

    When Robinson retired, it was time for Duncan to take on a slightly different role. One he accepted with open arms but did not hostilely defend. He understood the flow of the game without Robinson and quickly led the Spurs to a title, winning Finals MVP on the way. 

    Duncan's humility as a player, almost as much as his talent has allowed for the Spurs to routinely throw up win percentages in the high .600s throughout the past decade-plus. Year-in and year-out, Duncan's Spurs keep winning. 

    They keep winning because basketball IQ is contagious, and everyone who plays in black and silver catches it from Duncan.

1. Chris Paul

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    One does not become the starting point guard for Team USA without having a great basketball mind.

    Chris Paul is on the short (very short) list of the NBA's elite floor generals. His career averages of 19 points and 10 assists per game speak for themselves, but they hardly scratch the surface of who Chris Paul is as a basketball player, or a basketball brain.

    The latter is Paul's equivalent on the court. He is just a big basketball brain that happens to be able to dish out dimes and hit jumpers. 

    Paul has a rare ability to learn throughout an NBA game, and towards the end of that game figure out exactly what is needed for his team to emerge victorious. For this reason, he can appear to play opossum occasionally and turn on the jets in crunch time. Paul boasts the greatest situational awareness of anyone in the league.

    Just in the past year, he took a team with a .390 winning percentage and turned it into a team with a .606 winning percentage. He was also able to will the Clippers to the second round of the postseason for the first time since 2006.

    Paul has made up for being a tad slow on the defensive end by being a great team defender. That is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but fits here.

    Paul has developed a sense of what he can do on the defensive end and what he can't. This leads to less glaring mistakes that hurt his team. 

    When it comes to satisfying my requirements for a high basketball IQ, Chris Paul is as close as it gets to perfect.

    So, who tops your list?

    Toughest Omissions: Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Love