Ranking the 10 Most Athletic Freaks in the NBA
Insane wingspans, freakish hops and breathtaking speed are just a few of the qualities that can be attributed to the NBA's most dynamic athletes. But with so many exemplary players, which have separated themselves from the pack with explosive displays of athleticism?
The resumes of qualified candidates are packed with show-stopping blocks, dunks and crossovers, but in the end, there were 10 players who distinguished themselves from the pack due to their unique blend of skills.
It wasn't easy narrowing the field down, but this list ultimately reflects the vast array of athletic talents that the NBA has to offer.
Honorable Mention: Andre Iguodala
Like several other athletic freaks, Andre Iguodala's designation as such is buoyed by his ferocious performances on the defensive end. Other than LeBron James, there's arguably no more daunting assignment for opposing wings than to see Iguodala as their primary defender.
Iguodala's defensive aptitude for the game is stunning, and if you're not convinced just check out this piece from Matt Moore of CBS Sports.
Aside from his defensive tenacity, Iguodala is best know for some impressive slams, whether they be in transition or the half court. Possessing impressive jets and agility, Iguodala is one of the league's most feared players when moving towards the basket with a head of steam.
10. Nate Robinson
Many of the league's most dynamic athletes are of the larger variety, which is why I feel it's appropriate to give credit to one of the most physically gifted little guys the Association has ever seen.
Nate Robinson may be an inefficient and oftentimes infuriating game manager at point guard, but there's no denying the vertical leap that has made him one of the game's more polarizing players. There's a reason the 5'9'' Robinson is a three-time Slam Dunk Contest champion, and it's because he can leap out of the building with a vertical that's over 40 inches.
Having moved on from the Chicago Bulls, Robinson now rocks powder blue and gold for the Denver Nuggets. With high-flyers like Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee surrounding him, it will be fun to see what sort of high-flying magic Robinson can pull off in the high altitude.
9. Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade may be 31 years old, but just because he's on the wrong side of 30 doesn't mean Wade isn't capable of producing acrobatic highlight-reel plays that are cause for double-takes.
Since entering the league in 2003, Wade's athleticism has mesmerized in a variety of ways. Whether he's been hanging in the air and hitting circus shots or posterizing opposing big men (sorry, Anderson Varejao), Wade has found creative ways to score the ball thanks to his freakish raw abilities.
He's also put his athleticism on display in the form of one of the game's most technically sound eurosteps, which the fleet-footed Wade has made one of his signature moves over the past 10 seasons.
8. Kawhi Leonard
Perhaps his inclusion is a but of a surprise, but Kawhi Leonard's raw physical attributes make him a no-brainer. For starters, there's Leonard's 87.75'' inch wingspan, which roughly calculates to 7'3''. For a 6'7'' small forward, that sort of length is unmatched.
What makes Leonard an even more devastating wing defender is that he has massive mitts. According to the Sports Science video seen above, Leonard's hands are massive at 11.5'' wide. According to DraftExpress, Leonard's hand width is the third largest in their database.
Not only does Leonard possess the ideal proportions for a perimeter player in today's NBA, but his leaping ability isn't half-bad either. Just ask Mike Miller.
7. Paul George
It's not often you see players beat LeBron James off the dribble, but that's exactly what Paul George proved he was capable of doing during the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. As seen in the clip above, George uses his quick burst to blow by James and eventually throw the hammer down over Chris Andersen, who is left helpless in a jumping match with the 23-year-old phenom.
The crazy part is that George's progression last season was so rapid that, should his development ramp up again in 2013-14, there's no telling how dominant he could wind up being. With all of the raw athletic abilities that are requisite to become a superstar-caliber wing, George looks like as sure a bet as any to become the league's next feared perimeter talent.
And don't look now, but if George's shooting stroke becomes more consistent, there's no telling how high his ceiling will wind up being.
6. Dwight Howard
At center, there's no player who can swing a game defensively quite like Dwight Howard. That is, assuming he's healthy.
Not only did Howard lead the league in rebounds per game last season (12.4), but he's the active leader in defensive rebounding percentage (29.3), per Basketball-Reference, thanks to his massive reach and muscular build.
Those qualities have also helped Howard finish top-five in blocks per game six times over the course of his nine-year career, and ranks third among all active players with an average of 2.2 blocks.
And when discussing elite finishers off the lob, Howard's name has to be considered at the top of the list. Howard didn't have quite as many opportunities to throw down big alley-oops with the Los Angeles Lakers as he did with the Orlando Magic. He should have plenty of opportunities to make some stunning highlight-reel plays in the Houston Rockets' high-octane attack.
5. JaVale McGee
JaVale McGee is an athletic freak of nature, and there's simply no other way to slice it. Granted, McGee isn't going to fill it up from a scoring standpoint, but there's no player I can remember who regularly snatches the ball out of midair before reaching its peak and can turn it up the floor to create transition opportunities for his team.
And get this: McGee averaged two blocks in 18.1 minutes per game last season. That mark ranked eighth in all of basketball, and he was merely playing in a rotational role. According to Basketball-Reference, had McGee played 36 minutes per game last season, he would have averaged a staggering 3.9 blocks. That would have bested Serge Ibaka's league-leading mark (3.03) by nearly a full block.
The good news for McGee and the Denver Nuggets is that the imposing big man is slated to earn starter's minutes under Brian Shaw, which will propel McGee into the spotlight after years of impatiently waiting on the bench.
4. Derrick Rose
Had he played a portion of last season, Derrick Rose would be ranked higher on this list. However, the No. 4 spot puts Rose in fine company, and should he return at peak form in 2013-14, will contend for one of the top spots next year.
Rose plays at such a frenetic pace that it's difficult for other point guards to keep up with him, and when you consider the onus he places on his knees to cut and spin around opponents, it's easy to see why he was cautious during the rehabilitation process.
Combine Rose's speed with his insane ability to change direction, and the Chicago Bulls have one fearsome player on their hands. Rose's quick feet also help on defense, as seen here. With good closing speed, Rose is able to double-team bigs in the post and use his big hops to get up and block shots.
3. Russell Westbrook
Say what you will about Russell Westbrook's propensity to take questionable shots, but no one can shake up the pace of a game quite like the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard.
Westbrook accelerates to top speed in the blink of an eye and uses his top-flight velocity to bolt through the paint and throw down an array of violent slams. Similarly impressive, Westbrook has the ability to stop and start more abruptly than any other player in the league.
His pull-up jumper is a perfect example. Westbrook has found that the best way to free up space when a defender is hounding him is to provide the illusion that he's going to use his speed to drive hard to the basket, but will instead stop on a dime and release a quick jumper before the defender can contest the shot.
2. Blake Griffin
Gravity-defying in-game dunkers like Blake Griffin are celebrated for the athletic achievements they accomplish above the rim, and there's no denying that the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest champion is the best the Association has to offer today.
If you're on defense when Griffin comes barreling down the floor on the break, be advised that there's a good chance you'll be dunked on. Not only does Griffin's strength allow him to finish at the rim emphatically, but his leaping ability allows him to take off from insane launching points and hang in the air before throwing down some vicious slams.
Not convinced? Check in with Timofey Mozgov, Kendrick Perkins or Pau Gasol and ask them what it's like to see Griffin soar over their heads.
1. LeBron James
LeBron James is so big and so strong that he stopped Tiago Splitter's forward motion with one hand in the NBA Finals.
At 6'8'' and 250 pounds, James is unquestionably the greatest athlete we have in the league today. The man runs like Russell Westbrook, jumps as high as Blake Griffin and is strong enough to bang down low and defend all five positions.
There are few players who are capable of matching up with James for a full 48 minutes, but even those who are eventually wear down due to the reigning MVP's unmatched combination of size, speed and strength.