The NBA’s 10 Smartest Players

10.28.13 4 years ago 6 Comments
Chris Paul

Chris Paul (photo. Daymon Gardner)

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” – Michael Jordan

There is an important lesson in that quote: physical skills get a player so far, but the mental aspect of the game takes the player to the finish line and beyond. Basketball IQ cannot be measured, and it doesn’t show up in a stat sheet. Yet the value of a player’s basketball IQ is endless and is the most powerful intangible in basketball.

While there are many definitions of basketball intelligence, the definition provided by HoopsU is clear and concise to interpret:

“Basketball IQ is having the ability to utilize the fundamentals of the game at a high level, understanding their teammate’s skills and be able to implement all of this knowledge on the basketball court.”

Let’s take a look at the top 10 players with the highest basketball IQ in the game today.

Honorable Mention: Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love

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Kevin Garnett has used his experience on the defensive end to expand his basketball IQ over the past several years. What made the Clippers want to make a deal with Boston to acquire Garnett over the offseason wasn’t his numbers that he fills out on the stat sheet. It was for the intangibles that he immediately brings to a team. One of his greatest intangibles is his basketball intelligence and how he uses it to impact his team. That’s what the Nets received in their successful trade with Boston this summer.

Let’s break down his numbers from last season with the Celtics. Garnett averaged 7.8 boards per game and 2.3 assists per game. He had a 14.4 assists percentage and a 15.5 rebounds percentage, to go along with a turnover ratio of 9.1 and a value added rating of 261.0, per ESPN.

According to, when Garnett is on the court, the Celtics’ defense benefits with a net defensive rating of -9.4. KG’s defensive IQ is off the charts. He can read what the opponent is going to do by drawing on his experience and defensive prowess, and instantaneously adjust in order to make a stop.

Garnett is very vocal and adjusts his teammates on the court as he envisions. His work ethic ranks among the best in the league and he is known to be the first one on the court and the last one to leave. His pick-and-roll defense and ability to protect the rim have only improved as his basketball IQ has expanded. Brooklyn has to be very content on what KG brings to the stat sheet, but even more happy with what he’ll bring to the team as far as intangibles and basketball intelligence.

Andre Miller is one of the most underrated basketball players in the NBA, and has been for years now. A player can’t be that non-athletic and durable, yet have consistent success without a high basketball IQ His reaction time, awareness and passing skills that stem from his intelligence are all underrated in the league as well.

Let’s break down the numbers from Miller’s 2012-13 season with the Nuggets. Miller averaged 5.9 assists per game. Miller had a 32.2 assists percentage to go along with a turnover ratio of 12.5 and a value added rating of 150.6, per ESPN.

According to, when Miller is on the court, the Nuggets’ offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is a net -1.4. When he is on the court, the Nuggets’ have a net defensive rating of +0.9. The Nuggets shot an effective FG percentage of 51.4 with Miller on the floor, as opposed to shooting an EFG percentage of 51.7 with him on the bench.

His IQ and presence on the floor are not reflected is his on/off numbers as you must consider that Miller is a backup point guard for Denver’s Ty Lawson. When you watch Miller play, you see a player who understands how to be effective despite not having the skills or athleticism of other players around him. In Denver, he can demonstrate his passing abilities and court vision to create opportunities (especially with lob passes, where he’s the best in the league) for his teammates. Miller might fly under the radar for his skills and abilities, but don’t underestimate his intelligence of the game.

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