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The Perfect NBA Skill Package – Part 3: Ball-handling &Dribbling

*This is Part 3 to my series on the perfect NBA skill-set.

First, I chose overall skills, next I’m diving into each skill and breaking down the best/most iconic players for each move/style.

In case you missed it – here were parts 1 & 2:

Quick re-hash of my malleable set of rules:

What are the rules? How am I going to do this? 

First rule is THERE ARE NO RULES! (jk, some rules).

  1. Any NBA players past or present are eligible. Video evidence helps, because while I’m sure George Mikan had some awesome post-moves – I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t seen the footage, but I’ll be sure to ask the next member of “The Greatest Generation” I come into contact with (several months from now, for safety purposes). 
  2. I’m only using each player once. I understand plenty of NBA legends deserve to be mentioned for a couple or a few moves here, but it’s more fun to spread the wealth. 
  3. You’ll see for this post, I divided up into sections, with an overall top pick of a particular skill-set. In upcoming blog posts I plan to break down each category of moves and skills.
  4. This is totally biased and up to your own interpretation. Feel free to share your own version of a similar list. Or just roast mine – that’s welcome, too. 

Ball-handling & Dribbling:

Overall: Steph Curry

After a lot of thinking, it might be bold, but I think Curry has a fair claim to this top spot in terms of ball-handling and dribble moves. Curry’s ability to shoot is probably properly rated, he’s likely to go down as the best shooter of all-time when his career is over. But, it’s his ball-handling that makes him such a dangerous threat offensively. Curry’s more built than he used to be, but by no means does he have an ability to out-muscle defenders that aren’t fresh out of college.

It helps that Curry plays in this era, perfectly catered to his skills. First, the flurry of 3-point shooting that came with advanced analytics has a huge part of vaulting Curry into the top 25 of all-time. Also, he plays without the hand-checking that made guys like Isiah Thomas really work and earn moving the ball up the floor. Curry’s ball-handling is top-notch, and forces defenders to pick their poison when playing against him. Plan to smother him defensively? You better be prepared to get burned with a dribble-move, followed by a lofted layup for an easy 2. Give him any lick of space in preparation to read and react to a dribble move, and he’ll throw in a little step-back or hesitation move to give a few additional inches and drop a rainbow 3.

Curry’s ability to handle the ball honestly feels underrated among today’s fans. Seeing clips of him just weaving and dribble through myriads of defenders is too commonplace for us. While others had to operate differently in other eras, Steph’s full-fledged arsenal ball-handling skills and general elusiveness are the best I’ve ever seen.

Honorable mention to Isiah Thomas, Pete Maravich, and Allen Iverson. 

Crossover: Allen Iverson

 

Iverson’s crossover is as iconic of a move as they come. The above video of AI’s crossover on MJ back in 1997 is so classic. The best part of that clip for me, is that even with AI crossing up MJ and hitting the ensuing jumper, Jordan basically totally recovers and almost gets a piece of Iverson’s shot! Very relevant clip with The Last Dance at it’s mid-point. 

The unheralded component of Iverson’s crossover that makes it the best to me, is the hesitation. His “hesi” move in general is probably the best in the game as well. Adding that sort of elite element to the crossover just makes him totally unpredictable when he would start sizing up his defender.

Honorable mention to Deron Williams, Jamal Crawford (that behind the back crossover!!!), and Kemba Walker (among others).

Spin-move: Kyrie Irving

One of Kyrie’s signature moments during his tenure in Boston. I can’t write much more about Kyrie without going on a Celtics-related rant so I’ll let the video do the talking.

Honorable mention to almost any big-man who can somewhat handle the ball and do a spin-move while going downhill towards the hoop. Basically an unstoppable move – the world of pickup basketball included (minus the elbow extension used by many). I’ll cite Blake Griffin as my example here

Honorable mention to Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker for their respectively nasty mid-to-late-2000s spin moves.

Euro-step: Manu Ginobili

Manu is the first guy I think of when envisioning a well-executed Euro-step into a layup in traffic, with good reason. James Harden may have been the player to bring recent infamy to the move, and accusations of travel violations. But one must remember this, Ginobili walked so Harden could run. 

Ginobili’s grace and precision in executing the perfect Euro-step is pure art. I’ve practiced the move quite a bit myself, but can seldom pull it off mid-attack in an actual game / session of pickup hoops.

Honorable mention to D-Wade, Giannis, and Harden for their own formidable euro-steps.

Behind-the-back: John Wall

It’s tough to pick just one for a move that’s in almost every player’s arsenal like going behind the back. So many NBA guys use it well, making it tough to find who’s the best. D-Wade has a Top 10 play from like 2006 I used to emulate in my driveway as a kid. In that move, Wade turned a behind the back move into a beautiful reverse layup. I couldn’t find the nostalgic clip of Wade, so instead, I picked John Wall for this one.

Wall’s athleticism and power cannot be understated. Being away from the game for a while has besmirched his reputation, and how fans view him. Granted, his contract is literal nightmare fuel for NBA GM’s. He signed it early!! This current season (2019-2020) is actually just the first of his 4-year SuperMax (!!!!).

I’m sorry – back to his dribbling moves. The behind the back is one of those subtle deceptive moves. To the naked eye, it may not seem critical to the play, but in actuality it is. It’s the final piece that causes a defender to hesitate and mistime their countermove. Wall pulling the move off in traffic, for a huge finish is why he’s a great candidate to take the throne for this one. I can’t wait to see Wall in good health and back in action, pulling off more un-guardable dribble moves like this.

Honorable mention to D-Wade (for the millionth time on this blog).

Step-back Jumper: James Harden

Kinda cheating here, because this was also part of the shooting section. But, when thinking of elite dribble moves, it’s just impossible to leave off the step-back.

Is it a travel? Personally, I don’t think so. While I’m a fan of Harden, there’s no denying the hilarity of memes at his expense. I understand if you have a problem with this one, but let’s be real, when you think step-back, isn’t Harden the 1st guy you think of?  If not, the above video is a quick reminder of why he should be. (Lowkey one of the most disrespectful moves of the NBA’s last 10 years. This is the Jose Bautista playoff bat flip equivalent of a step-back.)

Honorable mention to Damian Lillard and one of the coolest winner-take-all playoff moments of my lifetime. 

I wanted to add in a few honorable mention categories for non-superstars who excel at a few random areas. Recency-bias is definitely a factor – but feel free to comment or @ me on twitter on why Muggsy Bogues wasn’t the best low to the ground dribble machine:

Behind the Back Crossover: Jamal Crawford

Just a bananas move from the 3-time NBA 6th Man of the Year. It’s not talked about enough how this dude was still playing at a super high level well into his late 30’s. The behind the back crossover is his signature move, for the man nicknamed J-Crossover.

Touch-and-go in Traffic: Trae Young

Could have named this one several different items, but I think Trae Young deserves mention for a spot here as an up-and-comer. He’s got a small frame, yet the elusiveness and skills to maneuver between defenders and get to the cup, dish out, or bury a jumper. Dangerous!

Trick Crossover: God Shammgod

The iconic move by Providence College product, God Shammgod, has re-emerged semi-recently. This is a TUFF dribble move to pull out in a game by any daring ball handlers looking to embarrass their defender.

Between the Legs: Rafer Alston

Who doesn’t love Skip 2 My Lou!?! Alston brought a lot to the table when he moved on from And1’s Mixtape tour for the NBA. His trolling between the legs is my personal favorite of his vast repertoire. His street style dribble moves might not be pertinent to this post, but worthy of note here as well.

Next skill up: Dunks and layups. Buckle up for the next one – no one’s safe from posterization.

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-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166

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