Most of the legendary NBA players were all extremely capable scorers and through the years, they have made putty out of highly capable defenders. The incredible athletes that now make up the stars of today's NBA, present their share of match up problems to their opposition. Many of these players happen to be point guards, as the new wave of athletic point guards have become the new face of the league. Many of these players not only lead their teams in assists, but also find ways to use their ball-handling skills and athleticism to find more creative ways to score.
Dirk Nowitski has long been one of the league's toughest players to match up against, but it has become time for him to pass the torch to Kevin Durant, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can still break down defenders with the dribble, but their explosiveness no longer rivals Chris Paul's and their strength doesn't measure up to that of James Harden. Tim Duncan had a nice run as the NBA's elite power forward, but now Anthony Davis is the new face of the big man on the block with his raw athleticism and explosive vertical leap. Kobe Bryant may still be one of the best scorers of all time, but age has made it harder for him to keep up with the likes of Russell Westbrook. These newcomers are the new face of the NBA, scorers with athleticism that makes them impossible to defend.
The following 20 players comprise the current crop of the NBA's hardest players to defend. Some of them might be incredibly athletic, while others might have a repertoire of hard to defend shots. In either case, defenders are well aware of these prolific scorers and their offensive threats. They are just unable to stop them.
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20 Rudy Gay, F - Sacramento Kings
Rudy Gay has always been able to shoot and score, but many people don't realize what kind of athlete he is. Gay entered the 2008 NBA Slam Dunk Contest and advanced to the second round with some memorable dunks. He has a long and strong body, 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, and can drive through the paint as well as shoot from beyond the arc (36.9% on 3-pointers for 2014-15). He can follow up a miss and is a good rebounder, averaging almost 6 rebounds per game for his career. His blend of size and strength makes it hard for small forwards to match up with him, while he also possesses great speed, quickness, and athleticism, to make it hard for stocky small forwards to put a body on him.
19 Jeff Teague, G - Atlanta Hawks
Jeff Teague is the point guard of one of the NBA's surprise teams, the Atlanta Hawks. Many fans do not truly know the value of Teague, but Atlanta does. The Hawks locked up Teague in 2013 with a four-year, $32 million contract that appears to have been a terrific investment. Teague has been improving each season, matching his career best scoring average and assist average so far this year. He has become harder to guard, a better team leader, and is shooting at a 45.9% clip up to this point of the season. Teague is good with the ball in his hands and can hit the occasional three, so defenders have to keep honest and can't give him too much space. This year, Teague gained All-Star recognition for the first time, establishing himself as one of the league's elite point guards.
18 Eric Bledsoe, G - Phoenix Suns
Eric Bledsoe has the complete game, from being able to hit open threes to the ability to distribute the ball or throw down a jam on the fast break. He is strong and athletic, enabling him to cut through the paint with grace and great speed. Once Bledsoe gets any advantage, he can attack to get in the paint or pull up for the open shot. He is a good scorer, averaging 17.2 points per game so far this season, and boasts a 80.4% conversion rate from the charity stripe on an average of about 5-6 attempts per game. Bledsoe has thrived in the uptempo offense of the Phoenix Suns that takes advantage of his ability to play in the open court. If his speed doesn't faze defenders, his power from a solid body of about 200 pounds, will catch defenders off guard. The consistent pressure from him driving or going coast to coast, makes him a tough guard to face.
17 Gordon Hayward, F - Utah Jazz
It still comes as a surprise that there are still players in the league who can be surprised by the skills of Gordon Hayward. Hayward can score (19.6 ppg), pass (4.2 apg), and rebound (4.9 rpg), but still doesn't seem to get the respect he deserves. He is sneaky quick and has great athleticism that allows him to punctuate drives down the lane with serious dunks. Hayward has a good first-step, enabling him to drive through the paint, and has the ability to hit from beyond the 3-point line (37.3% this year) as well. His versatility makes him a tough player to guard. As a scorer, Hayward has good size (225 pounds), that helps make it easier for him to absorb contact in the paint, and has a quick release to his shot.
16 Kobe Bryant, G/F - Los Angeles Lakers
Sure, Kobe Bryant has been battling injuries, and is getting up in age, but he is still one of the NBA's most dangerous players. In part because of his battle with both injuries and age, Kobe doesn't command a better position on this list. This season, Bryant was averaging 22.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, before going down with a shoulder injury. He proved he could still drive through the paint and get to the rim, while also being enough of a threat from the outside to hit his fair share of shots. Bryant was not having a banner season shooting the ball, but was able to put enough pressure on opposing defenders to average almost seven shots per game from the free throw line.
15 Pau Gasol, F/C - Chicago Bulls
Pau Gasol was considered to be a second-tier free agent signing, but he has rewarded Chicago with star power so far this season. Gasol is currently averaging 18.6 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He has been one of Chicago's most consistent players, having rejuvenated his play in his first season as a Bull. Gasol is long and lean, yet carries about 250 pounds on his seven foot tall frame. Gasol has a mixture of European and NBA post moves that added to his athletic frame, make him hard to guard in the low post. He has a good enough outside shot to be able to face up to the basket and can drive drive or pull up for a free-throw line extended mid-range shot. His repertoire of finesse moves and body control in the post make him hard to guard, especially when he beats a defender to one of his favorite spots.
14 John Wall, G - Washington Wizards
John Wall is one of the most explosive young players in the NBA today. His explosive speed ranks him among the NBA's elite when it comes to being able to get up and down the court. Wall might not be the best of shooters, but is a capable scorer. He is good at driving to the basket and getting to the rim with a thunderous dunk or giving it up to teammates for open shots. Wall is hard to guard because he is incredibly quick and is such a good passer that he is hard to double-team. He has good length, at 6-foot-4, and when combined with his explosive speed, the best hope for any defender is that he pulls up for an outside shot. If Wall continues to improve his shot, he has all the other skills necessary to become one of the elite players in the NBA.
13 Damian Lillard, G - Portland Trailblazers
Damian Lillard has gone from promising point guard to one of the NBA's top scorers for the Trailblazers. He's starting to become recognized as one of the NBA's top scorers at point guard. Averaging 20.3 points and 6.1 assists per game, Lillard is having one of the best seasons of his career. He is capable of driving to the basket and getting to the rim, or getting to the free throw line when the defense collapses. Lillard is a career 37% shooter from 3-point range and yet only hits about 43% of his shots from the field. His shooting can be inconsistent, but Lillard has a great first-step, terrific explosiveness, and can finish, when taking it to the rim. Lillard is one of the league's most athletic point guards, in a league full of them. He is a fearless shooter and can find teammates when passing is a better option, making him tough to defend.
12 Anthony Davis, F/C - New Orleans Pelicans
The league's premier big man is now Anthony Davis. He is not exceedingly large, at 6-foot-10 and 220 pounds, but has a way of making his presence in the paint known with his athletic prowess. Davis is one of the most athletic big men to ever play in the post, reminiscent of Hakeem Olajuwon. Just like Olajuwon, Davis has great work ethic and continues to add moves to his repertoire, while also developing more of an outside shot. So far this season, Davis has averaged 24.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game while shooting 54.6% from the field. He is deceptively strong with his long and wiry frame, and has a quick and explosive vertical leap. He is able to beat defenders with his quick feet and great athleticism, making him close to impossible to stop in the paint.
11 Chris Paul, G - Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul is, without doubt, one of the quickest players in the NBA. Reminiscent of Tiny Archibald, Paul stands out just the same with his quick dribble and full court speed. Paul also has a very consistent outside shot. He is averaging 18.8 points and 10.1 assists per game, while shooting 48% from the field and 38% from beyond the 3-point line. He is one of the best shooters to play point guard and has the quickness and athleticism to terrorize defenders in the paint or open court. What really makes Paul one of the most difficult guards to defend is his ability to hit pull-up jumpers or make spectacular passes when he meets resistance in the lane. He also uses his terrific outside shot to fall back on when the defense tries to prevent him from penetrating the key. Paul has the ability to take over a game.
10 LaMarcus Aldridge, F - Portland Trailblazers
LaMarcus Aldridge has become one of the NBA's premier power forwards. He has a solid body with great 6'11", 260 pound size and has a wicked turnaround jump shot. Aldridge has a great shot with range that has started to extend to beyond the 3-point line (37.8% on 3-pointers). He loves to operate in the post and is quick enough to turn on unsuspecting defenders and throw down a powerful jam. Aldridge has averaged 23.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and unlike most big men he can make his free throws (87% from the line this season). Aldridge has play that can oscillate between that of a center and that of a long small forward. It is hard to match up against Aldridge with his height and arms, powerful frame, and terrific body control that helps him hit fade away shots. His extended range on his outside shot is making it that much harder to keep him in check.
9 DeMarcus Cousins, C - Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins is unknown to many fans outside the Western Conference, with a fair amount of fans on the East Coast hearing more about all his antics on the court. Cousins hasn't exactly been a model citizen throughout his career, but he is finally starting to get noticed for his overall play. He is big, 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds, and moves well for his size, but his athleticism makes him hard to defend wherever he happens to be on the court. Cousins can explode to the rim with athletic flair or use his power and size to draw contact or hit a turnaround shot, making him a tough player to guard. It might seem a daunting task, but defenders who remain patient can be rewarded a turnover (4.2 turnovers per game) or even a poor shot (46.8 FG %). Cousins has tremendous raw talent and is continuing to improve his game. Once he cuts down on his turnovers and continues to improve his shot, Cousins will be unstoppable.
8 Derrick Rose, G - Chicago Bulls
It might be hard for Derrick Rose to stay on the court with the way he plays the game, but that doesn't mean he isn't worth the mention. Rose is one of the most physically gifted point guards to ever play the position, but the only question that remains is if he will ever be able to fulfill his great promise. Rose has shown glimpses of greatness, with his explosive scoring and ability to get his teammates the ball in good scoring positions, but his body has not been able to keep up with his quick instincts and feet. Rose can elevate, penetrate into the paint, and finish with dunks or circus shots that leave defenders flat on their feet. Rose is good at finding openings and exploiting weaknesses in defenders or the defense. Last year, his shot was showing signs of improving (34% on threes), but his progress was again put on hold. For now, the injury bug has been able to stop Rose better than any defender has been able to do.
7 Carmelo Anthony, F - New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony might never bring the New York Knicks an NBA Championship, but he certainly has proven he can be a top scorer in the league. Anthony has a solid 6-foot-8, 240 pound frame, and uses all of it to get off his extensive repertoire of shots. He can rise up or fade away, and has body control on the move that seems uncanny for a man of his size. Anthony was coming off a season in which he averaged 27.4 points per game, while blistering the nets from beyond the arc (40.2% on three-pointers). He is currently out for the season, but was averaging 24.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. "Melo" is a unique physical specimen, with a quick first-step that accompanies his powerful body, amazing balance, and long-range shooter's touch. Possibly the hardest part about defending Anthony, is that halting his progress doesn't prevent him from using his powerful body to get off a clean shot. Anthony has long been among the league's leaders in scoring.
6 Kevin Durant, F - Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant is such a scary shooter that inviting him to drive might actually be the best scenario for any would be defender. However, Durant can drive just as well and is capable of getting his teammates the ball, averaging 3.5 assists per game throughout his career. He uses his speed, length, and quickness to get in good position to shoot or dunk the ball. Durant has a career scoring average of 27.3 points per game, hitting 48.1% of his shots, while shooting at a 37.9% clip from behind the three-point line. The scary part about defending Durant, is that he goes about 6-foot-9 with long arms that make him seem taller, and has the ability to release the ball with his arms extended high in the air. Thanks to his high release, he can get off his shots, even when he is guarded by defenders who can take away his ability to drive.
5 Stephen Curry, G - Golden State Warriors
Many people are well aware of Stephen Curry's exceptional outside shot and ability to use his dribble to create space, but some don't realize he plays point. His fast breaks can consist of pull-up three pointers to precision passes into the paint for easier scores. He is a fluid athlete who uses his outstanding quickness to keep defenders honest or create openings for his teammates. This season, he has averaged 7.9 assists per game to go along with his healthy 23.3 points per game scoring average. Curry has the ability to get off his shot with his quick release and high trajectory. He is a pure shooter with incredible touch with his feet firmly planted or his body flying through the air. This ability to shoot is what makes it so hard to shut Stephen Curry down. He has hit 43.6% of his three-point attempts throughout his career. Letting him drive at least prevents the three.
4 Kyrie Irving, G - Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving is a special player whose explosive athleticism gives him the raw potential to be one of the best NBA players of his time. Irving has a silky smooth shot, and has the ability to go on extended shooting runs where everything he launches tends to go in. Irving is having a good season, averaging 21.8 points and 5.3 assists per game on a team whose offense is centered around LeBron James. Thanks to James opening up the offense, Irving is currently shooting a career best 41% from three-point range. Irving uses his quick dribble and pogo-stick vertical leap to create space to get off an open shot. It is this raw athleticism that gives his game explosiveness, making him hard to defend. His ever-improving shot is creating even more opportunities for Irving, as defenders rush too quickly to get a hand in his face. Irving has the complete game and offensive mindset to make a statement during any critical stretch of a game. Keeping him from going to the rim is hard enough, but shutting down his shot is impossible.
3 James Harden, G - Houston Rockets
He has a good enough outside shot, but James Harden gets most of his points the old fashioned way, by driving down the lane. He can still shoot the three, managing to hit 36.9% of his 3-point attempts so far this year, but getting into the teeth of the defense is more Harden's thing. When Harden is driving to the basket, he is able to get most of his assists, and the majority of his free throw attempts (10.1 attempts per game). His size, 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, makes him hard to stop when he gets in the paint, and Harden tops that off with excellent body control, and the ability to convert over 85% of his free throw attempts. Harden moves through the paint with the strength and power of Oscar Robertson with the ability to create opportunities for teammates when he gets a double-team. Harden's physical play that includes an outside shot, makes him hard to defend.
2 Russell Westbrook, G - Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook is easily one of the best pure athletes in the NBA. He drives to the basket with reckless abandon and always seems to establish more in control as the basket draws near. Westbrook is virtually unstoppable when he gets a full head of steam and yet he still manages to find his teammates enough to average 8.7 assists per game. This season, Westbrook is pulling out all the stops, averaging 27.5 points per game to get his share of MVP attention. He can blow by any defender in the open court with his incredibly athletic 6-foot-3, 200 pound frame and has no problem initiating contact with bigger men.
He still has to work on having a more consistent outside shot, however, Westbrook has a better than average mid-range game. He can explode to the basket, pull-up on a dime, or loft up a surprise pass, making him one of the NBA's hardest guys to contain. This season, Durant's absence has made Westbrook even more relentless, making him even more impossible to guard.
1 LeBron James, F - Cleveland Cavaliers
"The King" is still the hardest player to stop. A player of his size is not supposed to dribble and pass the way he does. James has superb body control and can move the ball around with great ease while flying through the air. He is averaging 25.9 points, 7.3 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game, playing alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. He has terrific size, 6-foot-8 and 250 or more pounds, and the ability to really move when he resorts to his dribble. James is also a career 49.6% field goal shooter and has managed to make 34.2% of his 3-point attempts.
What makes LeBron special and impossible to stop, is his ability to carry a team by scoring himself or by finding the hot hand when his shot isn't falling. Add to that his chiseled body that would make him a perfect NFL tight end, and stopping him can be a scary proposition.
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