The Top 10 Ballhandlers Since 2000

By: 09.25.12

Rafer Alston, Dime #34

In the new issue of Dime Magazine, we took a look at the best – and worst – the game has offered since the turn of the century. From the players to jerseys to sneakers to teams to even trends, you can relive the past 12 years by scooping up the new issue currently on newsstands nationwide. In those pages, you’ll find the following feature…

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Dunking was always glorified, and while Pistol Pete captivated audiences during the 1970s with his infamous ball tricks, if given the choice, everyone would’ve always picked having nasty hops over an ill handle. But nowadays? We’re not so sure. Everyone wants to break some ankles. Here are the 10 NBA guys who’ve done it the best over the past dozen years.

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10. RAFER ALSTON
The story goes something like this: during the summer of 1999 at Haverford College in Philadelphia, And1 brought some of their NBA endorsers – guys like Darrell Armstrong, Larry Hughes, Raef LaFrentz and Rex Chapman – to a gym to film commercials. In the green room that day, the NBA guys went crazy playing and replaying a tape of grainy footage, incoherent audio and one skinny kid who was abusing people on the court. When all the players finally met that kid – Rafer Alston – they treated him like royalty. Up to that point, the “Skip Tape” was used as entertainment in the company’s offices. It would later spark a revolution.

Without Skip 2 My Lou, who knows if we’re even making this list? Ballhandling is entertaining, but Alston helped take it to another realm. Yes, Steve Francis was just as nice with the rock, and broke people off almost every night in the league. Yes, Baron Davis was one of the sickest combinations of speed, power and handle we’ve ever seen. Yes, Jason Williams and Allen Iverson basically played streetball in the NBA. But Skip was different. Skip was the first to successfully merge streetball and the NBA, the first player to ever really be a professional at both.

In the NBA, Alston often busted out his patented spin move, and unveiled so many ball fakes, we’re surprised he didn’t break necks. He played 11 years in the NBA, and even started on the 2009 Eastern Conference champion Magic. Through it all, he was a symbol.

Whether you believe the influence of street culture on the game was a good or a bad thing, you can’t deny its impact. Skip was one of the originators of all that.

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Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo (photo. Christian Kozowyck)

9. RAJON RONDO
Hands. It starts with the hands. Those things are like saucers with suction cups, Raptor claws without the shredders at the fingertips. Over the past year, it became clear that Rajon Rondo is the best passer in the NBA, which is an enormous part of ballhandling. Last season, he led the NBA with 11.7 assists a night. Steve Nash was the only player even close. Playing on a veteran team that didn’t push the ball as much as he’d like, Rondo still found opportunities in the open court to unleash his incredible agility.

[RELATED: The Top 10 Plays Of Rajon Rondo’s NBA Career]

The Celtic isn’t about taking people off the dribble with the intent to score. Yes, he does have the crossovers, the spins and the behind-the-back moves that are staples of a guard’s one-on-one breakdown game. But Rondo specializes in the unique. His ball fakes are legendary. His passes off the dribble are on another level. His entire game is impossible to replicate.

Rondo’s most famous move, dribble straight at the rim before faking like he’s going to lay it in, and then reverse pivoting as the defender jumps at air, is prettier than Nia Long. How many others in the league can pull it off? It’s hard to say. No one else even bothers to try it.

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Stephon Marbury

Stephon Marbury (photo. Chad Griffith)

8. STEPHON MARBURY
Before Starbury headed to China, lost interest in the NBA, and then just went crazy on us all to the point that noted nutcase Eminem was dissing him in raps, the dude had a handle that could’ve navigated a Wall Street stock exchange room.

You can’t go on for a few paragraphs about Starbury’s handle without mentioning when he put Yao Ming on his ass with a crossover. Okay, so the move wasn’t anything special. It was only a simple left-to-right cross. But the Great Wall of China dropped to the floor faster than a Rudy Fernandez flop.

[RELATED: The Night Stephon Marbury Dropped Yao Ming With A Crossover]

Marbury nearly became the second player in NBA history to have career averages of 20 points and eight assists, and when he was younger, the man had every pass you needed, and could get to any spot on the floor. Some players use the handle as entertainment. They’ll use it to please the crowd. Others might just rock back and forth in place and never go anywhere with it. Marbury used it as a weapon, and defenders rarely picked his pocket because he kept the ball below his knees. Without a reliable jumper, he used it to get into the lane at will.

Marbury finished in the NBA with an entirely different legacy than we anticipated – a selfish, hotheaded gunner who could never win – and even if he’s rediscovered his human side while staring in China, we refuse to forget how he once owned cats off the dribble.

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Nike Basketball Innovation: Deron Williams

Nike Basketball Innovation: Deron Williams (photo. Nike)

7. DERON WILLIAMS
Remember a few years ago when there was a legitimate conversation about Deron Williams being the best point guard in the world? He regularly torched Chris Paul when they matched up; he took a very average Utah team to the Western Conference Finals in 2007, and then peaked as a 19/11 player the following year. Then he was traded out of the blue to New Jersey (now Brooklyn) and we all sort of forgot about him.

Thankfully, no one has forgotten about that hair – not the NBA’s proudest moment – or that crossover. That joint is filthy. It’s 104-temperature sick. It’s pure cancer.

Williams isn’t necessarily slick with the basketball. He has to move his whole body with it. But that’s part of what makes his handle so nasty. He’ll feint with his head like he’s going one way, lean his whole body in that direction, and then yank it back. We haven’t seen anything so nasty since The Human Centipede.

[RELATED: Deron Williams Will Stay With The Nets]

Williams has never played with an elite finisher or scorer, so he must finish many opportunities himself. That works for him – he was always a willing scorer, and last season, he averaged a career-high 21 points a night. He turns the ball over a little more than we’d like, but still, that crossover causes pain all over the league. Imagine if someone actually got him a legitimate running mate?

“Most of the time,” Williams once said about getting into his crossover off the pick-n-roll, “because the lane’s clogged up, I just clear out the whole floor and make everybody go low.”

From there, it’s time to cook.

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Jamal Crawford

6. JAMAL CRAWFORD
Crawford’s initial inspiration came from Tim Hardaway, who was such a killer with the rock in his prime we nearly put him on this list despite morphing into a knuckle ball-shooting backup who barely played by the turn of the century. Crawford says he learned from Isiah Thomas too, even all the way up through their time with the Knicks – Crawford as the player, Thomas as the GM – when Isiah would occasionally make appearances at practice.

Crawford has a gift, and no player in the league is more universally known for their handle. Seriously, take away his crossover, and what do you have? He probably becomes just another decent player lost in time. But because of his gift, kids love him so much they convinced the developers of the NBA 2K series to give him his own signature dribbling package.

[RELATED: The Top 5 Crossovers In The NBA]

Crawford’s ankle-tweaking moves are so well known they even break rules. Normally, you can’t give yourself a nickname (unless you’re Kobe, and even that was pushing it). That’s somewhere between taking a charge on LeBron and challenging Jerry Stackhouse to a fist fight in the “Things you shouldn’t do if you’re an NBA player” list. But now Crawford uses it as his Twitter name, and not a damn thing is said about it.

We also can’t forget the “Shake and Bake” move the current Clipper invented out of nowhere to turn Kirk Hinrich and Deron Williams into statues. It defies all description. Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton, Jr. glamorized their own “Shake and Bake” move, but Crawford’s version can’t be imitated.

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