In a league full of show-stopping athletes who can practically 360 dunk at will, it’s refreshing to sit back and appreciate the players who excel with such tranquility in their game. The way they dribble, shoot and pass â€“ it’s just so calm and smooth.
Being smooth is an all-around characteristic and goes beyond just having a buttery jumper. These players rarely play out of their pace, never look fazed and are unflappable in clutch moments. There’s a graceful flow and elasticity that makes everything they do on the court seem natural.
That’s not to say those who don’t fit that description and aren’t included on this list are inferior because production comes in very different styles. LeBron is the NBA’s best player but he’s more brute strength than elegance. Westbrook and Rose are phenomenal athletes but they’re not necessarily graceful in the traditional sense.
Here are 15 of the smoothest current NBA players right now.
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Though it felt like his accomplishments went unnoticed, Holiday was an All-Star last year for a reason. The NBA is filled with high-flying athletic guards but the former UCLA athlete is a controlled floor general whose quickness is matched with poise and an understanding of the game. Holiday won’t blow by defenders with his acceleration but he doesn’t really want to either. He excels in contact and has exceptional body control, whether finishing over a defender at the rim or converting a contested elbow jumper. His plethora of finesse moves â€“ all of which look like he’s controlling them with a string â€“ are so good but he’s never in a rush and thanks to his 6-4 frame, a few steps feels like its gliding to the basket when attacking.
Duncan is the greatest power forward that’s ever lived. He’s not the most athletic or physically imposing. But his extreme intelligence and mastery of the fundamentals have allowed him to produce significantly even at age 37. His game is simple and effective: He analyzes the defense, looks for discrepancies in their scheme and uses his trademark jab step and bank shot combo (among other scoring moves in his repertoire) to convert. On defense, he’s rarely out of position and uses impeccable timing to cause havoc on the defensive side. Duncan knows he can outsmart a defender so when it’s time to execute, it looks graceful because it is graceful.
As far as efficient scorers go, Martin has the resume to show his underappreciated worth. He’s a crafty scorer with a penchant for creating open shooting lanes to get his oft-kilter jumper off. Because his shot is so unorthodox, his pump fake is absolutely lethal, causing defenders to react from a simple flinch and making his drive to the basket that much easier. Explosiveness isn’t really his game but he’s speedy in transition and is an excellent finisher.
Since he’s days at Arkansas, Johnson has been a player with moderate athleticism but possesses a perfect form jump shot and great physical size. He can score in a multitude of ways: pick and roll situations, post-ups and perimeter jumpers. Johnson is an above-average ballhandler who’s capable of bringing a few defenders down to their ankles if necessary, and plays under control when looking to penetrate. He’s always calm and controlled, which allows him to maintain balance when elevating for a shot and/or defending a quicker opponent.
Realistically, any of the rotational guards and forwards on the Warriors could’ve been eligible for this list but Thompson is just too good. The lesser-known Splash Brother is one of the league’s premier shooting talents, shooting over 51 percent from three-point range this season. He’s also worked harder off-ball this season, using pin-downs and screens to get open looks instead of continuously spotting up on the perimeter. That aspect can also be attributed to the addition of Andre Iguodala, whose role as the situational ballhandler allows Curry and Thompson to look for open spots without the basketball. But Klay has always had a nice feel on the court and now its translating defensively as he’s quietly become one of the best wing defenders in the NBA.
In three short years, Paul George has gone from a defensive specialist to a legitimate MVP contender. The 23-year-old has always been exceptional guarding the basketball but now he’s become a lethal scorer, averaging over 24 points per game this season for the 10-1 Pacers. Against the Knicks on Wednesday, George showed off his full collection of offensive weapons: hitting perimeter jumpers, posting up Carmelo in the paint and coming through in the clutch for Indiana in overtime â€“ and doing so with a smile on his face. George’s confidence is beaming as the maturation in his game has been meteoric and this is only the beginning.
There’s a subtle brilliance to Harden’s game that makes him so dangerous. He doesn’t have the explosiveness of his All-Star peers but he’s quick enough to beat defenders off the dribble and create his own shot. Harden has a balanced, polished offensive game â€“ one equipped with nifty interior finishes and remarkable perimeter shooting. The basketball flies off his hand with the slightest flick of the wrist and if given a head of steam in the open court, he’s arguably the league’s deadliest player not named LeBron. The scariest part is he’s practically jogging half of the time.
For his career, Nash is averaging 49 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range and 90 percent at the charity stripe. Statistically, that makes Nash one of the best shooters the NBA has ever seen. He’s comfortable shooting the ball from anywhere on the court, and his one-foot runners and floaters in the paint are just a few tricks he’s had up his sleeve during his career. However, his greatest skill is undeniably his distributing and for 17 years, he’s dropped dimes with an ease and consistency seldom seen before. He’s never had exceptional quickness but he never picks up his dribble and his steady patience allows for plays to develop, leading to open shots for teammates.
Irving is a growing NBA star and he has both the physical tools and size to fulfill his potential. He’s absolutely mesmerizing handling the basketball (his Shammgod dribble is a sight to behold) and it often leads to creative and elegant finishes at the rim that leave us shaking our heads in awe. Coming out of Duke, some wondered if he had the athleticism to compete against the Rose, Westbrook and Walls of the NBA. But he makes up for it in craftiness and a knack for scoring both inside and from the perimeter. And he’s making it look far easier than his aforementioned contemporaries.
Crawford is a showman with the basketball in his hand. A lethal ballhandler, his ability to create open shots off the dribble is magician-like and thanks to a 6-10 wingspan, he can score at will in multiple ways. Occasionally Crawford gets caught up trying to go isolation too frequently but the hesitation dribbles and change of direction quickness is undeniable. Not to mention, his drop-step, behind-the-back dribble is legendary.
One of the best offensive players of our generation, ‘Melo scores the basketball as easy as breathing. With a quick release and natural fadeaway on his jumper, defenders are helpless when it comes to challenging the attempt. He can post-up in the paint and have his way with opponents due to his imposing size, and his explosive first step gives him an immediate advantage off the dribble. Anthony isn’t the fleetest of foot but the threat of his perimeter jumper causes defenders to push up, allowing him to get by with a swift hesitation move. And though it feels like he’s moving in slow motion, there’s a subtle patience to his game that works. This fluidity has yet to effectively transition to the defensive end, but we’ll enjoy what he has to offer on the offensive end for right now.
There hasn’t been a more productive scorer in the NBA since Durant arrived in the league six years ago. He has tremendous length â€“ 6-9 with a 7-4 wingspan â€“ with a rare ability to handle the basketball with remarkable skill for his size. Often compared to George “Iceman” Gervin, Durant glides around the floor looking for his sweet spots but in reality, every spot is his sweet spot. His range is unlimited and since he’s able to convert efficiently from both the perimeter and in the paint, he’s virtually unguardable. Don’t be surprised if we see a few more 50-40-90 seasons from KD.
Starting to see that trend? The most electrifying, athletic guards don’t always equate into the best guards. And Paul is living proof of that. He has the killer crossover that transitions perfectly into a smooth jumper. He has the floater in the paint and graceful finishes at the rack. He’s consistently in the top-3 in assists every season, and about a quarter of those â€“ just off alley-oops â€“ are worthy of SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays. And I can’t forget his basketball IQ that’s leaps and bounds above other NBA players. There’s an organic feel and hunger to the way Paul plays basketball that makes him a joy to watch.
Will Kobe return from his injury and be the Black Mamba that we’ve grown to love and hate? Who knows. But I’m not betting against him and you shouldn’t either. Diminishing athleticism is something every athlete on this list will inevitably experience, especially after injury. However, even as NBA “old” age sets in, Bryant’s production has yet to dwindle â€“ he’s averaged over 25 points every season since turning 30 years old â€“ and his now mature game makes everything he does seems so fluid. From his shooting form to his subtle moves to create separation, Bryant is poetry in motion.
The NBA’s newest superstar epitomizes smooth. Curry is known for possessing one of the prettiest shots in all of basketball, but it’s the effortlessness of each one that makes him such a phenomenon to watch. Curry lacks the explosiveness of his point guard peers, but he’s deviously quick and there isn’t a shot within 35 feet he can’t create and make. Floaters, high backboard layups, one-legged sideways runners and fadeaways â€“ Curry has it all. However, he’s far more than just a shooter. What often goes unnoticed is his playmaking and supreme ballhandling where he completes crossover combos at a drop of a dime while never playing out of control. Couple that with his ability to make any pass ambidextrously and accurately with minimal effort, and he’s breathtaking to watch.
Who is the smoothest player in the NBA?
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