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10 toughest players to guard in the NBA

Undoubtedly, offense is the glamourous half of basketball. Crafty handles, 40-inch vertical leaps and fadeaway jumpshots are what the average basketball fan is looking for when he’s watching the game, rather than zone defense and shot-clock violations. The NBA’s best offensive players are so good, it’s virtually impossible to defend them in a one-on-one scenario. When playing isolation offense, they can blow aside defenders making them look silly. When in transition, they can get the ball through the hoop in a hurry.Opposition teams devise their defensive schemes in order to keep these guys quiet, and they know their best efforts might be in vain. On their night, these players are more than capable of netting 40 points. Some can dish out a dozen dimes. Some can punish teams from the perimeter, and some cannot be stopped from slashing into the paint. The following players have been omitted for a variety of reasons:Kobe Bryant: Perhaps the best clutch player of the league even at his advanced age and after all the mileage his body has gone through, Kobe misses out on account of being too inefficient this season. You just don’t associate a 37.9% shooting clip with an unguardable player.Dwyane Wade: Like Kobe, he’s no longer the force he once was. Even with his 23-points-per-game average thus far this season, he seems to be less of a threat than, say, 3 seasons ago.Derrick Rose: Yet to make a return to his destructive best, the 2010-11 MVP needs to get his shooting touch back to get past the players on this list. Kevin Love: A reduced role in the Big 3 at the Cavaliers means he is no longer the same nightly threat to put a double-double on the box scores. Misses out on account of being underused alone.John Wall: Although he is arguably the best point guard of the Eastern Conference right now, he needs better than a 29.4% 3-point shooting percentage to break into our top 10.Dirk Nowitzki: It’s a tough call to exclude the NBA’s greatest overseas player ever, but I’m doing so on account of his lack of playmaking prowess. Let’s take a look at the NBA’s most unguardable players. Keep in mind that this list is not necessarily a best scorers’ list.Disclaimer: The opinions based in this article are of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Sportskeeda.

#10 Kyrie Irving

If you were to wake up in the morning to find the NBA transformed into a streetballers’ league, you ought to back Kyrie Irving for MVP. He’s got the best handles in the league, and that’s a statement that looks quite bold on the surface when you remember that we’re calling him better than Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Steph Curry.

Once you dig deeper, you realize that he’s only been off the spotlight because he hasn’t played for a winning team. Irving showed off his impeccable handles in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge 2 All-Star Weekends ago, and earned the MVP award in the All-Star Game last season.

Kyrie has become a notorious exponent of the crossover. Along with his handles, Irving is averaging over 20 points per game and is an ever-present in Cleveland’s Big 3. With much of the playmaking load taken off his shoulders taken off by LeBron, along with lower exposure on the defensive end of the game, Irving is having perhaps the best season of his career in the best squad he’s ever been afforded the chance to play with.

Although his 3-point percentage has dipped below 35% for the first time in his career, he forces enough fouls to get to the free-throw line, from where he averages nearly 85%. He has continued his pre-eminent dominance in clutch time this season. Come playoff time, he would represent a nightmare matchup to any point guard in the East.

#9 Blake Griffin

The man who effectively ended interest in the Slam Dunk Contest on the All-Star Weekend by dunking over a car, Griffin is the most ferocious dunker in the league, bar none. The Internet world is richer because of his posterizing dunks on hapless centers.

But to call him a dunker and to leave at that is an unforgivable folly. It’s not possible to log nearly 23 points, grab 8 rebounds and throw out 5 dimes on a night by being just another dunker. Griffin is becoming the complete package on the offensive end, having made huge leaps since his rookie season to polish a number of facets of his game.

He has a much-improved jump shot since then. He has learned to post up and his footwork enables him to create separation and throw up hook shots, floaters and bank shots. He earns a lot of fouls and is prolific enough to convert those opportunities from the free throw line.

His staple, of course, is his off-the-ball work. He’s one half of Lob City down in LA, making efficient cuts to meet Chris Paul’s lobs and finish with a flourish. He is also adept at powering through the half-court to deliver hammer blows on the hoop. Makes for a very, very impressive sight.

#8 Chris Paul

Widely regarded as the best point guard of this generation, CP3 is a devilishly slippery and cunning customer on offense. Although he isn’t a flat-out scorer like most of the other players on this list, that’s because he chooses to keep the Clippers’ offense on point with his playmaking.

His footwork, dribbles and body feints are nightmarishly tough for opposition point guards to read and defend. He is adept at using his body to get out of double-teams and tight situations on the floor. Once he’s double-teamed, he’s a bookies’ bet to set up open teammates.

Although he doesn’t go on incandescent scoring streaks often, Paul is more than capable of taking over scoring responsibilities, and does so with regularity in clutch time. When his teammates are out of ideas and Jamal Crawford isn’t on his A game, it’s Paul who steps up to the plate and makes things happen.

He is known to have games when he isn’t impeccable, but these come few and far off each other. His impact as a pure point guard on the offensive end is unmatched in the entire league, and multiple All-NBA selections only drive home this notion further.

#7 Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook is the most destructive point guard in the league when on top form. His energy levels in offense make it impossible to keep him quiet throughout the course of a match, as he can hurt you in a number of different ways.

He’s lightning quick, both with his first step and the subsequent ones. Once he’s blown by a defender, the latter can forget trying to catch up with Oklahoma’s No. 0 and perhaps focus on covering other players. He’s immensely explosive and can create pathways to the hoop through heavy traffic in the paint.

His energy also comes in useful in forcing points in transition scenarios, as he can force a turnover and then exploit it by running down the open court to finish with aplomb. The most explosive player in the league not named Blake Griffin, he’s scored a number of monster dunks of great variety through the course of his career, including alley-oops, tomahawks, reverse jams and the like.

Westbrook’s jumpshooting is a bit erratic, but it’s reliable enough to keep opposition defenders wary. A quick release combined with the elevation he gets on his jump makes it nearly impossible for opposition point guards to stop him from executing shots.

The truth of the matter is that the only known way of containing Westbrook is to hope that he is having an off-day, which is not a very common occurrence these days: Westbrook currently has a league-leading 31.0 PER through 21 games of the campaign.

#6 Anthony Davis

2 seasons ago, when Anthony was drafted by New Orleans as the first pick of the 2012-13 season draft, they knew they had an uncut diamond on their hands. Even they, however, may not have guessed that this uncut diamond would rub shoulders alongside LeBron James and Chris Paul for MVP honours in just his third season. Or that he would have a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of over 30, even about 35 games into the campaign.

What makes Anthony so uniquely undefendable is that he is a literally guard playing in a center’s body. He had a growth spurt in high school which forced him to change position from 1 or 2-guard to power forward, and now to center. So he retains the handles and shooting touch he attained in high school, and now, 5 years after switching position, he’s learnt to post up, make the right cuts off the ball and dominate the interior.

What with his passing vision and skill, his energy on court, his speed in transition and flat-out athletic ability, Davis is now making a name for himself as an offensive phenomenon, progressing from a defense-first player to a complete one.

The scary bit for 29 other teams in the NBA is that Davis isn’t even close to a finished product. He is several years removed from what is considered to be an athlete’s prime, and one can only imagine the leaps and bounds by which his offensive repertoire will have grown in that time.

#5 Carmelo Anthony

This is what Paul Pierce said a few days ago about Melo:

“If I had to single one guy out who is the most difficult player to guard in the league, it would have to be Carmelo. He’s a unique blend of being big, strong, and athletic while also having a world-class shooting touch and a natural ability to get to the rim. That’s what sets him apart — every facet of his game is elite.

Some great players will have one or two particular skills that make them special. But Carmelo can do everything, which puts you in a baaad situation as a defender. A lot of guys might shoot better from certain areas, so you try to force them elsewhere on the floor. Carmelo doesn’t have a spot on the floor where he can’t consistently hit shots.

In my opinion, his combination of physicality and shooting touch is unmatched in the NBA. You can’t take one second off when you’re matched up against him.”

You don’t get truer than The Truth on matters like this.

#4 Stephen Curry

In the 2012-13 season, Stephen Curry knocked down 272 3-pointers at a 45.3% clip, converting 3.5 looks on an average. There are a number of amazing facets to this statistic, firstly, of course, that this broke Ray Allen’s single-season record for 3-pointers made in one season.

What makes it even more amazing is that out of players to make more than 3-pointers per game in all of NBA history, Curry has the greatest shooting percentage, and also the greatest number of converted shots. And all of this he has achieved playing as a point guard creating the majority of those looks for himself, not as a spot-up wing who gets 2 or 3 open shots every game.

Nor has he showed any signs of slowing down. Curry knocked down 261 triples last season at a similar rate. He is already recognized as one of the greatest shooters to ever play in the NBA, at the ripe old age of 26. But to call Curry a shooter is to do a big disservice to his all-round offensive ability as a point guard. Steph has some of the best handles in the league, and he has crossed up some of the best defenders in the league.

He has used these handles to facilitate teammates to a great extent, and is averaging over 8 assists a game for the past 3 seasons. As undoubtedly the more important half of the Splash Bros alongside Klay Thompson, Curry has led the Warriors to the league’s best record thus far this season and looks primed to carry them on a deep run in the playoffs. Currently, he has to be acknowledged as the best point guard in the league on form.

#3 James Harden

He may not be the most efficient player in the world and his defensive lapses have been comical at times, but The Beard is the leading scorer in the league this season for a reason. He’s got this amazing combination of speed and strength which is unmatched by any 2-guard in the league. His speedy first few steps allow him to blow by the first defender and his strength allows him to get through the clogged paint to finish at the rim.

When he’s not able to hoist up a shot, Harden is the master of earning trips to the charity stripe (he gets over 8 free throws on a per-game average). A skilled ball-handler of the highest order, he is able to cross up defenders or step back to drill a reliable jumpshot, either mid-range or a 3-point shot.

He draws enough double-teams from teams to be able to facilitate Dwight Howard in the interior or an open player on the perimeter. His role as the Houston Rockets’ offensive hub in his third season in Texas has only grown in importance with each passing year, and he is currently the best all-round 2-guard in the league, all things considered.

#2 LeBron James

Is there a more fearsome sight in basketball for a defender than LeBron James bearing down upon him in transition, on the way to finishing the move off with a tomahawk? I certainly don’t think so.

He’s been so excellent, so unstoppable for so long that some of his brilliance has been dulled in the eyes of the average fan. For those who might think he’s ranked a bit high on this list, consider this: LeBron has been a top-5 scorer of the league every season for the last 10 seasons.

Even on an off-night, any defender would have his hands full in trying to just contain LeBron to 20 points: there’s no hope of keeping him shut down all game long. His brute strength and footwork allow him to get past most defenders one-on-one, and when teams throw double teams at him, he uses his top-notch passing skills to set up teammates (he averages 6 assists per game over his career).

Earlier, teams tried to shut him down by clogging the paint and forcing him to take mid-range jump shots (San Antonio in the NBA Finals in 2007 spring to mind), but LeBron has evolved to add a greatly efficient post game and jump shooting, which means teams have to focus on keeping him out from all ranges now, so he’s become an even tougher proposition to deal with.

#1 Kevin Durant

Durant shoots a fadeaway jumper against the Timberwolves, 2013-14

If there were any questions regarding his level of play on his return from injury this season, Durant has answered them in as emphatic a manner as is possible. After all, it’s always a mistake to count out the 26-year-old reigning NBA MVP, who also happens to be the leading scorer in the league for 5 consecutive seasons (although Carmelo Anthony did win the scoring title in 2012-13, Durant scored more points that season too).

Often described as the closest thing to Larry Bird seen in the last 20 years, Durant has an astoundingly soft shooting touch for someone so tall as him. So much so, that for the last 3 seasons, he’s averaging nearly 50-40-90. If there’s any type of shot that’s ever been attempted in the NBA, Durant has converted it too, be it baby hooks, sky hooks, floaters, fadeaway jumpshots, the tomahawk one-handed dunks, the alley-oops.

On top of his great shooting touch and skill on the post and in the interior, Durant has excellent speed and athleticism and is a real beast alongside Russell Westbrook in transition. He possesses the most complete offensive scoring repertoire in the league, and yet he’s incredibly unselfish – he averaged over 5 assists per game in the regular season in 2013-14.

LeBron James, probably the best defender at the small forward position in the league, admitted that Durant cannot be stopped by a single defender at his best. That’s as unstoppable an offensive force as you can become in basketball.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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