The Ankle-Breaking Kings to Watch for During 2018-19 Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2018

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 24: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors defends Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 24, 2018 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Anyone who says you have to stop getting hyped about the NBA season once it begins is a liar. Amping yourself up about basketball is a year-round commitment.

To continue fulfilling that obligation, we're running through every player who belongs on ankle-breaking watch for 2018-19. This is not a list of the league's best ball-handlers, though most of them do make a cameo. These dudes are just more likely than others to take advantage of the highlight-factory opportunities that befall them.

Long-term reputations factor into inclusions, but callbacks to broken-bone, frozen-body wizardry are limited to last season. Players have been separated into tiers based on how often we figure to see them fracture people's feet and create Hogwarts-worthy separation from defenders—and because tiers are fun.

   

Every Now and Then-ers

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Devin Booker has room for growth in this department. He doesn't seek to break ankles. It just kind of happens. A Suns team with better spacing should allow him to beef up this reel.

   

DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors

No one knows how nimble DeMarcus Cousins will be following his return from a ruptured Achilles. Beyond that, we can't be sure Golden State will give him the leeway to dance like he did in New Orleans and Sacramento.

The Warriors do not fear turnovers, so we're betting they allow Cousins to freelance periodically. And if he's even 75 percent of himself, he'll retain the lively gait that contradicts his behemoth build and we'll still be treated to the occasional half-court disco. 

   

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

In previous years, Anthony Davis' best face-ups looked like happy, out-of-control accidents. Over the past two seasons or so, though, his attacks have mirrored controlled chaos. Don't be surprised if he makes the leap to an ankle-breaking prince or king by the end of 2018-19.

   

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

LeBron James prefers to humiliate defenders with no-frills burst and a dash of finesse, as if that even makes sense. But he has a flair for the dramatic when he's feeling himself.

Maybe he'll bust out more flash while maybe playing much faster with the maybe-underrated Lakers.

   

Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets

Make sure you don't miss the boat on Caris LeVert. He has an elusive first step, a lightning-quick handle and, now, extra control over the Nets offense. He's going to break some bones—and maybe a few hearts.

   

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard doesn't wreck ankles with conventional style or frequency. Difficult looks are his bread and butter, and he leverages that no-fear shot map into beelines without too much razzle-dazzle. 

Still, the separation he manufactures against even the lankiest defenders is something else. When his wrists turn on the jets and he jumps back on a dime, magic happens.

   

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

CJ McCollum's half-court assaults are more methodical than manic, but poise and precision can be killers. He's no stranger to putting players on their butts and almost out of their shoes.

   

Dion Waiters, Miami Heat

The good thing about Dion Waiters fancying himself the best player of all time is that his anarchic aplomb translates to a handful of crafty crossovers and slaying spins.

In other words: Viva la Dion Waiters ego! 

   

Up-and-Comers

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

Donovan Mitchell doesn't receive enough credit for the way he blends nuance with improvisation. He is smarter than you believe, slicker than you think and faster than he seems. Dwyane Wade-with-a-better-step-back-range comparisons are right on the money.

   

Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets

Jamal Murray has invited Diet Damian Lillard comps for a reason. He doesn't roll out his entire ball-handling package as often as his contemporaries. He doesn't have the ball in his hands 24/7/365, and like Lillard, he's more likely to settle—by design—for a jumper than juke his way to the rim. 

That's fine. He has the paddleball handles to torch peeps in space. He just needs to indulge that executioner's instinct on a more regular basis.

   

D'Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

D'Angelo Russell is proof that slow-motion dribble hesitations can claim victims, too.

  

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Shaking Corey Brewer is one thing. But few players have the back-and-forth twitchiness required to bring an All-Defensive First Team stopper like Robert Covington to his buttocks.

Jayson Tatum is one of them.

Look for him to expand his treasure chest of tricks as a sophomore. If the first part of the season is any indication, Boston will give him the freedom to experiment even though Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are back in the fold.

Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Who even is Luka Doncic anyway?

   

Princes of Ankle-Breaking

Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

At 6'9", going on 7'3", Kevin Durant is abnormality's anomaly. He has the handles of a guard mixed with the gait of a wing and size of a center. 

Watching him work isn't always a popcorn-eating affair. His length makes even the most difficult moves appear run-of-the-mill. Sometimes, it takes teleporting behind a fellow MVP candidate like Giannis Antetokounmpo to remind us that Durant isn't just tall and long:

He's impossibly slippery.

   

John Wall, Washington Wizards

Someone so damn quick should not have the coordination to practice witchcraft in traffic.

Also, on a related note, John Wall clearly never got over Reggie Jackson's five-year, $84.8 million contract: 

   

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbrook is what happens when a force of nature is given the brainpower to perceive and invent. The father of "Why not?" also incites envious inklings of "How?" and "WTF?"

Inelegance is ingrained into Westbrook's game. His one-man dance-offs can get exhaustive and sometimes detrimental. But he's so much more than infinite horsepower and an ungoverned shot selection.

   

Kings of Broken Ankles

Jamal Crawford, Phoenix Suns

Please don't waste your time trying to figure out what the Suns are thinking. Just be happy that 38-year-old Jamal Crawford hasn't yet taken his last ridiculously difficult, ill-advised, late-shot-clock 18-footer following extensive yo-yoing or evaporated his last set of ankles.

   

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry would be the leading cause of Jones fractures if he took as much pleasure in humiliating big men and other slow-footed defenders as Chris Paul.

   

James Harden, Houston Rockets

James Harden has turned gather steps into a defensive hazard.

Just ask the ghost of Wesley Johnson:

   

Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics

Kyrie Irving doesn't need to shake-and-bake and cross opponents into oblivion. He does it strictly for sport—a game separate from the actual game. 

When it comes to breaking ankles, he's playing chess. Everyone else is playing tic-tac-toe.

   

Chris Paul, Houston Rockets

"Yes, hello, Adam Silver? Yeah, hi, I'd like to report some conduct detrimental to the livelihood of certain basketball players and can't remember the number for 9-1-1.

"Chris Paul tried to kill Milos Teodosic. Yeah, I know, he'd make a great co-lead in a Miami Vice movie that doesn't suck.

"Oh, Paul also sent Steph back into 2009:

"And he retroactively killed Ivica Zubac's childhood:

"And he might have ended Jalen Jones' NBA career:

"And honestly, if you can, you should probably pre-emptively arrest him for the attempted murder of everyone who ever will try to defend him in open space."

   

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets

Kemba Walker's handles are nasty, he knows it, and he loves to show it. Every face-up possession is an acid trip in waiting.

What he does while meandering inside and outside the three-point line is art—even when his shots don't go in:

   

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.

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