NBA ‘s Most Exciting Players
By Paul Benedict
It practically went unnoticed on Sunday, but for anyone that was paying attention, Shaun Livingston returned to the Clippers and played a fantastic game (10 pts, 9 asts including a phenomenal no-look bounce pass across half the floor to Quinton Ross for a lay-up). It was the first time this season I had a chance to check this kid out, and if you haven’t yet, make sure you do first chance you get because the afro-sporting point guard is a star in the making that already is good for 2 or 3 “hi-five” plays a night. Anyways, watching Livingston and being so excited to witness him play got me thinking–who are the most exciting players in the NBA? At first I wanted to make a list of the ten most exciting guys, but deemed it too difficult. Then I thought I’d create a list naming players that many of you don’t get to watch, but who are great sources of basketball excitement. And finally, I was like screw it–I’ll go ahead with the top 10 list, being as objective as possible (which isn’t easy because different things excite different people), and I’ll make a short list of 10 under-the-radar players that you should watch out for in case you get a chance to see them. Now I know a piece like this is a great source for debate, so I strongly encourage you to argue against some of my choices, offer up some players of your own, or even to come up with a personal list–I’d love to read what our readers think. Enjoy…..
10 Exciting Players That You Might Not Know About
(In No Particular Order)
Tony Allen, Boston Celtics
Abundant energy, outstanding hops, and makes his presence felt on both ends of the floor.
Antonio Daniels, Seattle SuperSonics
Plays with tremendous passion, and while he isn’t the flashiest of players, his fundamentals are so solid (tops in the league in Asst/TO ratio) that he’s worthy watching closely. Also a real character guy.
Maurice Evans, Sacramento Kings
Took up Gerald Wallace’s role as the dunker who wowed the crowd during garbage time early on this season, but has since been a fixture of the team’s bench thanks to his athleticism and energy.
Dahntay Jones, Memphis Grizzlies
Had been hidden on Memphis’ bench ever since being drafted, but has seen plenty of run as of late with injuries to the team and has made a real statement with his play. A respectable shooter who can jump with the best of them and also play some Bruce Bowenesque smothering defense.
Kendrick Perkins, Boston Celtics
Already developing a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the league (you see that flagrant on Desmond Mason?!). If you like old- school 80’s rough-house basketball, Perkins is worth checking out.
Michael Ruffin, Washington Wizards
There’s a reason why Eddie Jordan often subs this guy in for Antawn Jamison during key possession down the stretch–he plays with reckless abandon on defense. His offensive game is atrocious, but it’s nice to watch a guy play who’d be willing to take an elbow to the jaw if it meant better position on the block.
Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
If you ever watch SportsCenter, then you probably already know about him. His ability to elevate could make him one of the premiere dunkers in the league for years to come, especially if he walks away with the Slam Dunk Crown on Saturday.
Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers
On the IL right now, but stay tuned, you’ll hear plenty from “Sideshow Bob” when he returns in March. Athletic, mobile, and fearless–Varejao should be a fixture by LeBron’s side for years to come.
Earl Watson, Memphis Grizzlies
Was out of the spotlight in his UCLA days despite being the engine that drove the team, and now backs up Jason Williams, despite arguably being more effective than J-Dub (sorry Hannah). A great passer, a real hustle player, and a terrific defender–look for him to start elsewhere next season.
Chris Wilcox, Los Angeles Clippers
Not getting as much burn lately as Kaman and Brand man the frontline, but showed flashes of how effective his power game can be in the early stages of the season. Right up there with Stro and Amare as a power dunker. When he throws it down–everybody knows.
The NBA’s 10 Most Exciting Players
Honorable Mention: Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Baron Davis, Steve Francis, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Ben Wallace
10. Stromile Swift, Memphis Grizzlies
Stro stands out on this list as the only player that is not a superstar, and that’s essentially the main reason he’s the lowest here. But if you’ve seen some of the highlights this pogo stick has made this season, including the dunk (over Yao) and block of the year (swat to halfcourt leading to Bonzi Wells breakaway dunk), then you’ll understand why I keep a watchful eye on the TV every time Stro is on the court. He’s good for at least two Tivo-worthy dunks a night and only 3 other players in the league can make such a claim (Amare, LeBron, and Josh Smith). I’m not sure Stro will ever become a stud in the NBA, but assuming he leaves the Grizz at the end of the season (he’s an unrestricted free agent) and lands with a team that can exploit his explosiveness (the Lakers? Wizards?), then he should settle in as a mainstay on this list.
9. Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz
AK47 is not the kind of player that you would notice right off the bat if you were watching a Jazz game and didn’t know who he was. But by the first TV timeout, I can guarantee you’d be saying, “Who the hell is that Ivan Drago look-alike and how does he contest every shot within 10 feet of him?!”. Kirilenko is a maniac on defense–he can block shots like Ben Wallace, pick pockets like Allen Iverson, but what really makes him stand out is his incredible ability to cover the floor sideline to sideline. Each night out he’ll make at least one play where he comes off his man at the 3-point line to provide some weakside help D and he’ll end up pinning a driving lay-up by an opposing guard. He might not show up in the highlight reels as much as the other guys on this list, but anyone that truly appreciates the game of basketball can agree that Andrei Kirilenko is thrilling to watch.
8. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
I wonder how many players watch Steve Nash and say to themselves, “man, how much fun would it be to play with this guy?”. Not only is he always looking to create for his teammates, but he perpetually gives them incredible looks at the basket. You think of a guy like Jermaine O’Neal, who for the better part of this season has almost entirely had to shoulder the scoring load for the Pacers, often facing double teams and being forced to pull out every move he’s got just to get some points on the board for his team–you could argue that nobody right now works harder to score than O’Neal. Then you got Amare Stoudemire–how often is he struggling to score? With Steve Nash running the show, Amare just needs to keep his eyes open and he knows his point guard will get him the ball in the right spot for an easy 2. And when you couple these playmaking skills with his tireless energy and infectious demeanor, it’s easy to understand why Nash is one of the most exciting players in the league.
7. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
KG isn’t the consummate highlight-reel player, but because of who he is, he’s a joy to witness. Before Garnett, nobody his size could do what he can do–now there’s a few, but still not a single player out there has the combination of size, talent, and versatility that KG does. Garnett also maintains a level of intensity every single night out that no other player can equate. When was the last time KG mailed it in for a night or took a backseat as his teammates lead the ‘Wolves to victory? Garnett comes to play every time he touches the floor and it’s always at the highest of levels. There’s a reason why he’s nicknamed “The Big Ticket”.
6. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Everyone tends to laugh at the Larry Bird comparisons Dirk gets these days, but can anyone else besides Dirk light it up like Larry Legend once did? There’s 4 guys I mentioned earlier that are good for a couple of SportsCenter dunks a night, but nobody else in the league except maybe Kobe is capable of 4 or 5 “WOW” shots each night out. Whether it’s a 20-foot turnaround fadeaway with two guys on him or a stop-and-pop 3-point bomb while running on the break, Dirk constantly has you thinking, “he can’t possibly make this shot…holy @#$! he did!”.
5. Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers
AI is simply a one-of-a-kind player that blows people away with his tireless energy, fearless attitude, and remarkable talent. People his size aren’t supposed to get to the basket the way AI does–they’re not supposed to want to. But Allen Iverson will cross you, split you, spin by you until he’s thrown to the ground–but not before he’s dropped in 2 plus 1. And what does that equal? 3 baby. And nobody can stop #3.
4. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
You might not like Kobe as a person, but you have to respect this cat as a player. It bugs me when he draws the comparisons to Michael Jordan because I don’t want there to ever be another MJ. Still, some of what Kobe does is indeed Jordanesque–the dunks, the competitiveness, the ability to beat anybody one-on-one, and the possibility of him taking over a game at any time. But Kobe has to lose points for his personality–his cocky swagger on the court to go along with the humiliation he’s caused himself off the court make him more exciting to root against, than to root for.
3. Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns
It’s been almost a decade since we’ve seen a power forward (yes, I know he plays center for the Suns, but we all know he’s really a 4) that truly embodied the “power” sense of what we expect in a 4. Unfortunately Shawn Kemp peaked too early and the flaws in his game were exposed when he started blowing lines during his free time. Amare not only boasts the explosiveness of Kemp (including the ability to make the basket cringe every team he leaps off his feet with the ball in his hands), but at 22 we’re witnessing the development of a legend in-the-making who happens to have a very likeable personality as well. What I think is most exciting about Amare, is that when he touches the ball, he’s in instant attack mode and that often leads to thunderous, posterizing dunks.
2. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
I know I might get some flack for this selection (specifically from Ant), and considering Ginobili isn’t a superstar in this league, I might deserve it. I don’t care. Ginobili does a lot of the things that make basketball so exciting–he’ll dazzle you with an around-the-back lay-up as he finishes a fastbreak; he’ll blow by you with his deceptive quickness and then shove it down your center’s throat as rises to slam it home; he’ll crash into the scorer’s table while diving to save a loose ball–in the first minute of the game; he’ll beat his man backdoor on a key possession down the stretch only to wrap the ball around his defender’s back to give to Duncan for an easy dunk; and he’ll also catch fire and take over a big game every now and then. Manu Ginobili does all of the little things that make some role players so enjoyable to watch, and then occasionally he’ll go beyond his element to make a spectacular play and leave you asking yourself– “How in the world?!” It’s almost like rooting for an underdog every time you watch him play because it just doesn’t seem like he can do some of the things he does, yet he continually rises above and leaves you utterly breathless.
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Every time you watch LeBron James, you’re witnessing history in the making, and that is the reason why LeBron James is the most exciting player the NBA. Nobody could ever imagine that LBJ would have this kind of impact at 20 years old, not even the people that knew he was destined for greatness. Yet LeBron continues to exceed expectations, heck, that’s an understatement–he continues to make the unthinkable seem possible. And as we watch this kid, we still remind ourselves that he’s just 20 years old and that the ceiling to how good he can be is unfathomable. And his game–I like to think of it as 1/3 Magic, 1/3 Jordan, and 1/3 of something we’ve never seen before and may not have seen just yet. As LeBron James continues to excite us all with his jaw- dropping dunks, his pinpoint no-look passes, and his outstanding sense of how to lead his team to victory, we have to remember that the King has just entered the building and the elevator to success he’s on seems to have no end. Enjoy the ride.