If the NBA has any advantage over other sports leagues, it is that so many of its members are such freakish athletes. On top of this, the game of basketball has been tailored to show off the incredible athletic ability of men like Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, and Michael Jordan. As such, I thought it would be cool to create a list naming 8 current NBA players who look like athletic freaks, and 7 other with "towel boy" physiques. The athletic abilities of players obviously decline as they get older, so the analyses on this list are based on the players when they were in their athletic prime.
There is currently an obvious talent discrepancy between the NBA Eastern and Western conferences. But the athletic prowess in both leagues that this list illustrates should lead to a more balanced NBA future. If you need evidence of the incredible athleticism of the players on this list (or lack thereof), I highly suggest a quick YouTube search of highlights of these talented players. All stats mentioned in this article are taken from NBA.com. If you can think of any freak NBA athletes that didn't make our list (or maybe those who aren't so athletic), feel free to mention them in the comments.
15 Athletic Freak - Giannis Antetokounmpo
By a freak error I almost left Giannis Antetokounmpo off of this list of most athletic NBA players. This would have been a huge mistake because Giannis isn't just the most athletic player currently in the NBA, he may be the most athletic person to ever play for the National Basketball Association. He is such a freak athlete that his nickname is literally "The Greek Freak." His basketball acumen has finally started to catch up to his amazing athleticism, and it has resulted in him having an MVP-caliber season for the Milwaukee Bucks. This progression will be important for Giannis' future. Up until now he has been able to coast on his pure athletic ability, but sometime down the road he will have to learn to play without being able to physically dominate his opponents.
14 Towel Boy- Manu Ginobili
Our next entry is a perfect example of how amazing athletic ability isn't always necessary to having a productive NBA career. Despite being one of the most unathletic players that I've ever watched, Manu Ginobli has had a lengthy career, and may just have played his way into a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Manu's toughness and ingenuity have defined his NBA career, a lucky break for a player that I think I could beat in a series of athletic contests. To be fair, Manu is a foreign born player from Argentina, a place where shooting ability and technical ability are valued more than pure athletic prowess. Rather than being over-matched by his NBA opponents, however, Manu is just savvy enough to get off defensively (and offensive ability has never been a problem for this sharpshooter). As Manu's career finally draws to a close, the NBA loses one of its best, yet least athletic players.
13 Athletic Freak - Russell Westbrook
There has been talk this season about Russell Westbrook's inability to win a title, but that should not hamper his ability to make this list. Westbrook has been an All-star caliber player for a number of years, but last season he exploded on to the scene and set the record for the most triple-doubles in a single season. He would not have been able to accomplish this were it not for his competitive drive and otherworldly athleticism. Despite his size, he always seems to be in the perfect position for a rebound, and his ability to dish out assists to his teammates is second to none. He, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony haven't always meshed this season, but I have a hard time believing that a player as talented and athletic as Russell isn't capable of making some waves in the Western Conference playoffs.
12 Towel Boy - JJ Redick
This may be my anti-Duke bias coming out, but I am consistently surprised that JJ Redick has become such a productive NBA player. Redick may be one of the greatest college basketball players of all time, but the guy should have been over-matched by NBA level talent. Instead, Redick has used his smarts (and deadly shooting ability) to maintain a level of productivity that few expected. The only place where his lack of athleticism truly shows is on defense, where he is constantly over-matched by more athletic guards. If teams can put him in the proper situations like the 76ers have done this season, however, Redick can be a crucial component of a team that's seeking to compete. Actual basketball prowess aside, at times Redick looks downright goofy on the court, and I find myself wincing every time his limited vertical prevents him from throwing down a dunk.
11 Athletic Freak - Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo has become something of a joke among NBA commentators, but that should not undermine how much of an athletic freak he truly is. I remember when Rondo was in his prime with the Celtics, he looked so athletic on the court that there was a serious discussion about whether he could beat NFL speedster Chris Johnson in a footrace. Rondo, of course, took this a step further. He said that he could be CJ2K in a race while he was dribbling a basketball. As Rondo gets older, I am curious to see how (and if) his game progresses. He has never had much of an outside shot, so it will be interesting if he derives the skill set to remain in the NBA after his athletic gifts begin to regress.
10 Towel Boy - Chris Paul
Now Chris Paul may be more athletic than his alter-ego Cliff Paul (featured above), but that doesn't make his athleticism on par with most of his NBA teammates. Paul is probably the greatest point guard of my generation, but he's never been the most athletic player in the league. In fact, I think the argument can be made that Paul's lack of athleticism is part of the reason for his postseason struggles. Paul's ability to facilitate and see the floor may allow him to dominate in the regular season, but at some point in the playoffs, it is important that your best player is able to drive to the basket and manufacture his own points. Paul has become a secondary player this year with the Houston Rockets, and hopefully this will allow him to finally get over that NBA Finals hump.
9 Athletic Freak - LeBron James
In the great debate over whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the greatest player in the history of the NBA, something that is routinely ignored is how otherworldly of an athlete LeBron is. Jordan may have the edge based solely on basketball acumen and clutch mentality, but it's hard to argue against a physical freak like LeBron. In his prime, LeBron could drive to the hoop at will, and he would have been hugely successful even if he had no outside game whatsoever. Even now, LeBron consistently makes plays on offense and defense that most other players could only dream of making. As LeBron gets older, his physical gifts and conditioning will be crucial in ensuring that he can maintain his MVP level of play.
8 Towel Boy - Kendrick Perkins
Now you may be asking yourself: "Kendrick Perkins obviously doesn't have any actual basketball skills, so how did he have such a long NBA career if he wasn't athletic?" I don't have a complete answer to that, but I would argue that Perkins' sheer size, combined with his tough guy attitude, made him an asset to a variety of NBA squads. As far as pure athleticism goes, Perkins leaves a lot to be desired. The big man was never very adept on the offensive end, and even his defensive prowess has declined in recent years. Luckily, athleticism was never a big part of Perkins' game, so as long as his body doesn't deteriorate to Yao Ming levels, he should be able to bully opposing centers for a handful more years. This is in no part, however, to his athletic abilities.
7 Athletic Freak - Anthony Davis
Before I start this entry, I have to admit that I absolutely love Anthony Davis. Coming out of Kentucky he was projected to revolutionize the NBA center position. While he hasn't exactly done this (Davis has actually been moved to power forward since the Pelicans traded for DeMarcus Cousins), he has certainly been exciting throughout his NBA career. There are very few big men who are as freakishly athletic as Davis. He was perhaps the greatest college shot blocker ever, and even in the NBA, there are long stretches where he physically dominates his opponents. The Pelicans were finally able to match Davis with an All-Star level teammate halfway through last season, so this year will be an important test for him. If the Pelicans fail to rise up the NBA ranks, the team may try to exchange Davis for a wide array of prospects.
6 Towel Boy - Lonzo Ball
I debated putting Lonzo Ball on this list for the simple fact he already gets trashed enough on sports websites. But if this list is to truly encompass the most (and least) athletic players in the NBA, he had to be featured. There has been a lot of criticism of Ball this season for his NBA shooting woes, but his troubles as a shooter would not be so pronounced if Ball was able to fall back on his athleticism. There are a lot of NBA players (especially young players) whose outside shot has not quite developed, but unlike Ball, those players can use their athleticism to contribute to their teams in other ways. Ball doesn't have this fallback, and I am surprised that more scouts weren't worried about his lack of athleticism when he was a touted NBA Draft prospect.
5 Athletic Freak - Kyrie Irving
I moved to Boston this past year, just as the Celtics were negotiating their blockbuster deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This deal saw All-star point guard Kyrie Irving join the Celtics in exchange for Isaiah Thomas (an All-star in his own right), the Brooklyn Nets' 1st-round pick, and a few lesser players and prospects. Celtics fans were initially outraged by how much the team gave up to get Irving (and they did give up a lot), but I knew how transformative this move was for the local basketball team. There are few athletes in the world who can be as dominant as Kyrie Irving (just ask the Golden State Warriors), and he has the kind of athletic ability that can't be defended against. Almost at the halfway point in the NBA season, it is apparent that the Celtics got the better end of this deal (at least, as far as this season is concerned).
4 Towel Boy - Kyle Korver
It has been interesting to see Kyle Korver's progression as an NBA scorer. A prolific three-point shooter, Korver was limited early in his career, because he could not get open without assistance from his teammates. He has since learned to move without the basketball, making him a significantly more dangerous player. The reason why Korver is so limited to his three-point shot, is because he doesn't really have a lot to offer in the athleticism department. It isn't that noticeable on offensive possessions (thanks to his shooting prowess), but it really comes out when he is asked to defend more athletic guards. Korver is a small part of the Cavaliers pathetic defense this season, and he is one of several players that will have to improve defensively for them to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions.
3 Athletic Freak - DeMar DeRozan
Compared to more exciting (or at least more explosive) teams like the Cavaliers and Celtics, the Toronto Raptors have become the forgotten team in the NBA's Eastern Conference. While the team may be unable to unseat these other Eastern Conference giants, their matchup will probably be one of the most exciting series of the playoffs. A big reason for this is the incredible athleticism of the Raptors' shooting guard, Demar DeRozan. DeRozan is the key to a balanced Raptors team, and he is one of the few players on the Toronto squad who can match up with the athleticism of players like Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown. Very few people are giving the Raptors a chance to make the NBA Finals, but if they do, it will likely have been on the back of a spectacular show of athleticism by DeRozan. If you have some free time, I highly recommend finding a highlight reel of DeRozan's greatest plays.
2 Towel Boy - Steph Curry
The point guard for the Golden State Warriors, Steph Curry, is clearly one of the best players in the NBA. He was recently selected as the Captain of the Western Conference All-Stars team, and he is the biggest reason (sorry, Draymond Green) for the Warriors' recent string of championships. Curry is an extremely smart player, and he may be the best pure shooter in the history of the NBA. He is not, however, the most athletic player in the league. In fact, Curry's lack of athleticism is one of the biggest reasons why he has been undervalued throughout his career. Curry was overlooked by many major college basketball programs and instead attended Davidson. Then, he was selected behind several less talented players in the NBA Draft. His lack of athleticism hasn't stopped Steph from becoming one of the true faces of NBA basketball.
1 Athletic Freak - Kevin Durant
When people think of Kevin Durant, they think of his amazing shot and his scoring potential; they probably do not think of his pure athletic ability. This is a mistake, however, as Durant is one of the most athletic players in the entire NBA. Durant is a natural physical specimen, with his athletic frame and incredible wingspan making him almost unguardable by NBA defenders. Opposing small forwards have lamented that Durant dribbles like a point guard, looks like a center, and shoots like a shooting guard. The things he is able to do with a basketball are simply amazing, and they are all based on his special physical gifts. Unlike some of the other players on this list, however, Durant's physical gifts aren't likely to deteriorate with time. This incredible ceiling is one of the things that has made him the most touted NBA prospect to come along since Lebron James.
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