Top 20 Smartest NBA Players

There are certain qualities that every NBA coach and general manager is looking for in a player, and those qualities are often described in terms that are used so frequently that they begin to lose meaning. One of the qualities NBA teams covet in a player is a high basketball IQ, which is a term that is so frequently misapplied that it is downright maddening. Any time an executive, coach, teammate or member of the media wants to heap additional praise upon a player they can simply apply the “High Basketball IQ” label. The fact that it is not easy to quantify IQ relative to basketball makes this a label that is difficult to argue.

While many players have had the basketball IQ label applied, there are a number of players in the league who are legitimately intelligent and would likely score exceptionally well on a traditional IQ test. The league has long been a magnet for intellectuals like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Bradley, and even some of its goofiest personalities are insightful and keenly interested in subjects that go beyond basketball. Bill Walton, for example, is just as likely to discuss philosophy and theology as thoughtfully and intelligently as he would when discussing his better-known passions, like basketball or The Grateful Dead.

These 20 players are all still active and currently on NBA rosters, and each one has demonstrated impressive intelligence in one way or another. While a significant portion of the league’s players left college early to join the NBA, many have achieved a great deal academically despite the athletic demands placed on an NBA-caliber player while still in college. Even some who did not finish their degrees have nonetheless shown an aptitude for complex subject matter or have endeavored to better themselves intellectually throughout their careers.

Rather than attempting the fool’s errand of ranking these players according to their intellect or academic achievements, the following 20 players are listed according to their stature in the NBA. Their intellectual pursuits and achievements are so diverse and disparate that ranking them in any other way would be like comparing apples to aluminum siding (as one of these players would likely point out, the phrase, “comparing apples to oranges,” is a silly one: both apples and oranges are edible fruits that grow on trees and are rich with vitamins, fiber and carbohydrates).

20 Cole Aldrich

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

19 Andrew Nicholson

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

18 Tyler Zeller

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

17 Kelly Olynyk

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

16 Matt Bonner

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

15 Jeremy Lin

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

14 Mason Plumlee

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

13 Thaddeus Young

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

12 Rajon Rondo

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rondo is coming off a season in which he destroyed his reputation significantly and while the new Sacramento Kings point guard has dogged questions about his perimeter shooting and his ability to get along with teammates and coaches, the only questions with regard to his intelligence have been related to a concern that he may just be too smart for his own good.

11 Dante Exum

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

10 Danny Granger

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

9 Brandon Knight

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

8 Victor Oladipo

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

7 Gordon Hayward

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

6 Manu Ginobili

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

5 Pau Gasol

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

4 Chris Bosh

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

3 Chris Paul

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

2 Russell Westbrook

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

1 Tim Duncan

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

A generational talent that motivated several teams to tank their seasons in 1996-97 just for a chance to get him, Duncan is one of the last four-year college players to be taken first overall in the NBA Draft. Duncan, who attended Wake Forest, graduated from the university with a degree in psychology and is considered one of the most cerebral players of his generation.

While most players try to play with great ferocity or even anger, Duncan is much more methodical and has even waxed philosophical on the benefits of mellowness, saying, “[Mellowness is] essential. Trying to stay cool and collected when things are going in all different directions around you -- if you can keep that even keel, you're not affected by the good or the bad as much. It's a great quality to have."

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Top 20 Smartest NBA Players