NBA / Jan 13, 2010 / 9:30 am

Top 5 Athletes In The NBA

Dwight Howard (photo. Mannion)

You hear people always say that NBA players are the best athletes in the world. While that claim is certainly debatable, you can’t argue with the fact that the NBA does have some pretty ridiculous athletes. The game has evolved so much in the past couple of decades and it seems like players keep getting faster, stronger and are jumping higher. Their athleticism has gotten so out of hand that an off-the-bounce, between-the-legs cram in a dunk contest is now the equivalent as a double-pump jam.

And it’s not just guys that have been in slam dunk contests. Back when Earl Boykins was a Clipper eight seasons ago, the 5-5, 130 pound guard reportedly could bench 300 pounds and even dunk the ball. With all these crazy athletes in the League made me wonder: Who are the best athletes in the NBA right now? And by best athletes, we’re talking about the most explosive, naturally gifted and naturally built players. Basically, freaks of nature.

1. LeBron James: Do we even have to explain this one? I’m not sure the NBA has ever had somebody as physically gifted as LeBron. At 6-8 and 260 pounds of pure muscle, James is one of the most physically imposing players in the game, yet has the coordination and grace of a point guard. He is also one of the most explosive players the game has ever seen. A lot of times when he dunks in transition, it seems like his eyes are at rim level. Plus, his strength is incredible. Even when he is matched up with NBA starting small forwards, it still looks like he’s an eighth grader playing with a bunch of fifth graders. With his size, speed, strength and coordination, he could jump into the NFL tomorrow and play anything from a quarterback to a running back to a defensive end.

2. Dwight Howard: Dwight Howard is as close to a video game character as you can get. How many seven-footers can you name that have 40-inch verticals? In the 2007 dunk contest, he slapped a sticker the backboard at 12’8″ while catching an alley-oop and dunking it. In the next year’s contest, he put on a cape and literally jumped so high, that he threw the ball down the rim. Looking at his physique, you can tell how strong he is. The rumor mill around the web says Superman can bench press 365 pounds.

3. Josh Smith: The way J-Smoove can explode off of one foot has me convinced that he could be an Olympic long jumper. And the way he can catch and dunk any alley-oop pass makes me believe that he would make an incredible wide receiver. The combination of his freakish hops and his 6-9 and 240 pound frame, makes it almost impossible for opposing players to stop him at the rim. And if you are a small guard, you better have one hell of a teardrop shot when you play Josh or else he’ll just reject it every time.

4. Nate Robinson: Everybody who saw Robinson in last year’s dunk contest, knows how much of an athletic freak he is. Nate’s athleticism makes Spud Webb look like Big Country Reeves. Spud was scrawny, 5-7, 133 pounds when he played, while Robinson is built like a Tonka truck at 5-9 and 180 pounds. Outside of being able to dunk the basketball every which way (he has a 44-inch vertical), Robinson has the versatility and skill to do other things. As a track athlete in high school, he broke the Washington state record in the 110-meter hurdles. Like his father, Robinson also played college football. He was the starting cornerback for the Washington Huskies his freshman year.

5. Shannon Brown: Kobe Bryant has stated that Brown has “go-go gadget calves” and you can see why. Ever since he’s been a Laker, Brown has provided the basketball world with high-flying dunks almost nightly. He is fearless going to the rim, and as Mikki Moore can tell you, he’s not afraid to dunk on guy’s bigger than him. He has a reported 45-inch vertical. His solid build allows him to match up with any two-guard in the league.

Honorable Mention: Andre Iguodala, Will Bynum, Derrick Rose, Amar’e Stoudemire and Blake Griffin.

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  • KnicksFan84

    You know you forgot to mention: Eddy Curry. That dude is so athletic when eating twinkies!

  • mules

    Oh brother…here comes the “NBA players would get killed in the NFL” argument.

    I’d also include Baron Davis & Jason Richardson on this list.

  • Detroit Dave

    Please tell me what in the world has LeBron James done to make you believe that he can plan “any” position from Quarterback to Running back to Defensive End? Let the d!ck riding begin.

  • mules

    Westbrook and Gerald Wallace too.

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    Are these really the 5 best ATHLETES…or just the top 5 DUNKERS?!!?

  • JD

    Shawn Kemp during his prime woulda been at the top of that era

  • freddie’s roach

    i know he’s more injury-prone than the ones the list but D-Wade has to be in there somewhere.

    at his peak: shawn kemp. would have been nice to see him and amare go at it.

  • ¢

    i also nominate Rodney Carney (kid is super quick and has crazy hops)
    and ty lawson (a straight up blur)

  • Dagomar

    Detroit Dave: he was a hell of a football player in high school; there’s no doubt in my mind that he could have had a successful NFL career.

    This list made me think of all the hyper-athletic players who have been injured in recent years and lost their athleticism. Oden, Carter, Amare . . . the list goes on, and hopefully won’t include Blake Griffin. Sad, though. At least one part of being really athletic in the NBA has to include durability. To me what’s most impressive about Lebron, Howard or Smith – perhaps especially Lebron considering the minutes he’s played – is their durability.

  • http://dimemag.com Dime Magazine

    This is Gerald

    Yeah Kemp in his prime would definitely hold his own with anybody I listed. So would a young Vince.

    Heckler has a good point. All the guys I listed are great dunkers. But on top of those guys being explosive, they also have big, strong frames. That’s why I didn’t pick a Jamario Moon

    But are there super athletes that aren’t necessarily very explosive jumpers? Like ¢ says a Ty Lawson? Or maybe a Rondo?

  • justice

    Young Allen Iverson, Eric Gordon

  • Steven C

    Two words: Rajon Rondo. He’s the fastest player in the league, has freakishly big hands that he’s quick to use, is a point guard that can dunk, and did I mention the athletic feat of being the fastest player in the league?

  • Detroit Dave

    @ Dagomer, yeah I know he played High School football and he was damn good too. I think he was All State. But considering that even when he was 16 years old he had the Body of an adult and that most High School teams and have DB’s that don’t weigh over 150lbs I wasn’t that impressed. My argument is that yes I do agree that he is a top 5 athlete but I a lot people say that he can just convert on to the football field. I say hell no.

    Like in the Article when they brag about Dwight Howard being able to bench press 365lbs pounds. It is a great feat. I can’t bench 365lb at all but I’m pretty sure you can go to any Bally’s, Lifetime Fitness or any gym and find atleast 1 guy that can do that. Their is a major strength difference from basketball and football. Just take the combine for example. NFL combines you have to rep 225lbs. In the NBA its only 185lbs. In the NBA there are guys that admittedly do not lift weights at all (Rasheed Wallace). I think you would be hard pressed to find these type of findings in the NBA. LeBron is a pure savage beast but I wouldn’t it be cool to see him compete in an obstacle course against someone with comparable size. (Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis, young Tony Gonzalez) Too bad that would never happen.

  • mules

    on Lebron in the NFL…would they just give him the football at the 50 yard line and run an iso?

  • youdontknow

    what about a guy like Richard Hamilton?

  • Drink the Haterade

    You missed Gerald Wallace. That guy is avg 11.5 rpg. As a small foward and dude is ripped.

  • AdvancedMind

    @ 8
    You must actually be Ty Lawson himself, cause who says Ty Lawson when talking about athletic ability?
    Westbrook and Rose should be up on that list… Rose at 6’3 is faster then the chubby Lawson.

  • AdvancedMind

    Lebron isnt doing shit in the NFL, but if he did by chance make it in the endzone im sure he would have had alot of bafoonery dance’s lined up to help make him look like a complete idiot.

  • Kseuss

    Lebron has great size and with time would be able to play foot ball, but only tight end, wide out, or defensive end. He’s too tall to be a running back, he would eff up his knees, and you can’t simply jump into playing corner back. Athleticism is the combination of strength, speed, power, and explosiveness that makes what they do appear as though they didn’t have to put alot of work into their craft. It simply came to them as a result of being physically able. I think those 5 represent those things.

  • CincyBaller


    Those dudes at the gym who can bench more than 375lb arent 7′ tall with a wingspan of a large building either. Its much easier to get that much weight up if you have the arms of a 5’8 guy because you have to go a much shorter distance to get it up. Dwight is a straight up Monster.

  • clay

    a young brian scalabrine is also up there

  • mules

    Yeah, Scal was a freakishly athletic toddler

  • KanDman

    Wasn’t there a rumor about Rajon challenging Usain Bolt? Anpther speedster would be Leandro Barbosa. What kind of sprinters would Rajon or Barbosa be?”

  • http://dimemag.com Dime Magazine

    @ clay

    haha. Yeah I don’t know how I failed to mention Scalabrin. But the funny thing is, in HS, he was probably a beat and dunking on everybody.

    When I was in HS in Utah, Britton Johnson was a huge deal. He was crossing people up and dunking on everybody. He even made the McDonalds game. But when he made the NBA, I didn’t see him go around anybody.

  • http://twitter.com/therealknowbody GABRIEL BROGDEN

    Wade’s a top athlete, in my opinion.

  • Randomized

    Wouldnt you have to be coordnated and strong to be consitered a good athelete? That rules out Rondo, if you are the worst shooter in the nba, you really cant be that coordnated. He is also not that strong at all, even for a point guard. Can guys like AI even bench 185lbs?

  • AdvancedMind

    lol @ Barbosa, i mean he has to be fast cause ESPN says so..
    T.J Ford is actually fast for real, not just because somebody gave him nick name like “THE BLURR” either.

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla

    Although Lebron is the greatest basketball athlete I’ve ever seen on any level, there are NFL guys who are even greater. Adrian Wilson could mach Lebrons athletic ability. Juluis Peppers and “Super” Mario Williams are both 6’7 285lbs +, and have 40inch verts and run a 4.4 40. They are on Lebrons level or higher. I personally think Julius Peppers would have been a phenominal NBA player in the mold of Charles Barkley/Larry Johnson.

    As for top 5, Josh Smith has fallen to the 2nd tier level of Athletes. He can jump, but not the 40inch jumps anymore, and he was never fast like LBJ or Iggy.

    top 5 in order
    #1, Lebron, no one is close, probably top 10 in the world

    #2, Nate Robinson- freak leaper and sub 4.4 40sec, basically a 5’9 version of Lebron but can move laterally

    #3, Derrick Rose- strong, fast, freaky hops, and has the most amazing body control you will ever see

    #4, Russ Westbrook- Strength, speed, hops, and laterally speed

    #5, Shannon Brown – pretty much a 6’4 version of Lebron as far as speed and hops, very strong too, lacks the laterall quickness of the guys above him

    honorable mention: Mike Taylor, D-Wade, James White, Rodney Carney, Andre Iguadola, Josh Smith, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Tyrus Thomas, Gerald Wallace,

  • srb

    This argument gets so convoluted because of the slight differences between athletic/athlete/in shape

    As much as I hate the Lebron love, he just amazes me how fast he is even at that size. The long strides help, but his top speed has to be one of the best in the league and he hits that on his second step.

  • yoda

    shaq in early days. strong yet fast.

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla

    @srb, I agree, watching what he does on fast breaks when he doesn’t have the ball is out of this world. I think it actually hurts his game to be so athletic. He doesn’t have to have a high IQ because his athleticism makes up for a lot of his mental mistakes. Until just recently (2010) he had no post game. Now i see him posting up more and using his great passing ability, size, and hops to create easier/smarter shots for himself and his team. If he ever truely learns the game of basketball, he’d be unstoppable for the next 10 years.

  • http://dimemag.com Dime Magazine

    @ Chicagorilla

    Great call on James White! Too bad he’s not in the league, but I hear he can couch the top of the backboard. But no Dwight on you top 5?? I think his athleticism would be impressive even if he was a guard.

    BTW are you from the Chi? If so, remember Paul McPherson, now he was an incredible athlete!

  • Name (required)

    What about Monta Ellis, doing everything offensively for the warriors while clocking up huge minutes and showing no sign of fatigue. Remember, marathon runners are athletes as well as sprinters.

  • AdvancedMind

    @ DIME MAG
    Paul was athletic but the most athletic dude i ever seen from Chicago was Ronnie Feilds. Go check his highlights out, 48 inch vert and could dribble and shoot. Actually played with KG on his highschool team and in my opinion was the better player.

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla


    Yeah I’m here in the Chi and hell yes I remember Paul McPherson. It might be on youtube, but he caught David Robinson in a pre-season game on a nasty head@the rim tip-dunk. Paul used to dominate the pro-am tournaments up here. Strong as an Ox, and had the hops to throw down on your 7fter.

    The reason Dwight doesnt’ make my top 5 is because he lacks the speed or quickness those other guys show. Dwight is top 10 for sure, probably #6. Since he lost weight he has shown more hops, but less strength. Still a monster though. 12’8 is crazy. And have you ever seen Dwight’s “Kiss the rim” dunk where he actually kisses the rim!?! Sick.

  • Kevin
  • ShowKase

    So the term “athlete” in this article just means big, strong guy? I think of athlete as someone who could play alot of sports well, not just basketball and football… Isnt Steve Nash supposed to be a beast at like every sport? And he’s older than all the dudes on your list and still ballin. What about J.R. Smith, D-Wade, and Kobe(cuz he is the best player in the league)?

    Also, Dime, does LeBron make every top 5 list yall make? I know one list he wont make: The 5 Greatest Rappers of All-Time. Because we all know who’s on that list: Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, and Dylan.

  • b

    aaron brooks and will bynum need some consideration here

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla

    LMFAO@ showkase,
    Dylan!!!!asdfl;kjasdlfkja sklafjdaklsjdflaksjdfasdjflasdjflkasasjdf

  • http://dimemag.com Dime Magazine

    This is Gerald

    @ Chicagorilla

    I never seen that tip dunk, but definitely believe it, he was amazing at Depaul. Is he still around playing the Pro Ams or anything else? Haven’t heard too much about him in the last few years

    @ showcase

    Come on! Even the biggest of LeBron haters would put him in the top 3 most athletic guys

    As for defining what a great athlete is. I agree it can be kind of vague. Writing this article, I was thinking of guys who have big, strong bodies, but were explosive, fast, coordinated and had natural skill. I once asked Nate about his hops and he says he never did squads or use strength shoes before.

    Steve Nash is a great athlete although he doesn’t dunk. Have you seen his soccer skills?? Then the person who talked about Monta was right too. He can run for days and is explosive as well. So I guess the term “athlete” can be vague

  • http://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    I think CP3 and Deron in terms of speed, strength and even jumpin ability.

    Ron Ron came to my mind in terms of stronger than normal for his size.

  • http://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    @Showkase The top 5 rappers:

    Dylan! LeBron! Humpback Jones, Grandaddy Souf and Plies.


  • http://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    @Showkase The top 5 rappers:

    Dylan! LeBron! Humpback Jones, Grandaddy Souf and Plies.


  • http://twitter.com/PoppiGEE POPPI GEE

    @Showkase The top 5 rappers:

    Dylan! LeBron! Humpback Jones, Grandaddy Souf and Plies.


  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla


    I haven’t been to any of those Pro-am games in a few years. He was in that “King of the Court” tournament that I think Nike/Buger King used to hold yearly. MTV even did a documentry on it.

    As for Nate not working on his legs, recently I was watching a youtube clip of “Air up there” and he was explaining how he doesn’t work on his legs because that builds muscle and makes his legs heavy, he works out on his “core” strength and that’s actually improving his jumping ability. It was in the video with him and Brittney Griner.

  • MSkittle

    Maybe Rudy Gay?

  • Chris

    Ronnie Brewer is freakishly athletic, too.

  • Soopa

    Any love for Steve Nash? Coordination, quickness, footwork. I know its a different type of athlete, i think he is a freak of nature aswell. Plus we need a white dude in the list! lol

  • http://www.WhyCandaceWhySheldon.thatbastard.com Chicagorilla

    @soopa, Nash is a good athlete but not freakish. He doens’t have the strength or speed the top guys have. Great coordination and body control though.

    Chase Buddinger would be a good pick. Got speed, can jump out the gym (head to rim level), very coordinated, just not very strong. To me he is an special athlete. I forgot about him.

  • mules

    ^Joe Alexander could also be the token white dude

  • Ian

    the admiral would be in the argument with kemp.

  • Ian

    cynic so howards weight doesnt help? its easier for a 5’8 150 lbs dude than howard??? yeah right

  • Soopa

    @49 Chicagorilla

    True, he probably isnt a freak. A uniquie basketball talent tho, thats just not the discussion :)

    How about Brent Barry back in the day? Had a free throw line dunk in the contest. Guess he goes under the Jamario Moon catagory of being too skinny. Someone with the nickname “Bones” cant really be on this list!

  • mules

    how about Johnny Flynn?…crazy hops (just ask Mike Rosario), rediculous lateral quickness, good strength and speed, insane conditioning (played 67 minutes in the Syracuse/UConn 6OT game then came back and played 45 minutes the next night to knock off West Virginia)

  • Don

    Monta Ellis easily needed to be on this list. He may be the quickest guy in the league and his hang time is amazing. Watch some highlights and you’ll see an athlete.

  • foxsportswriter

    @28 – I agree with your top 5. Good list.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Jack J

    Chase Budinger no question

  • sh!tfaced

    What?! Another LeBron ass kissing post… lol

  • CoolReems

    WHERE-TF! IS G-FORCE AKA gerald wallace?????aka CRASH???? at least honorable mention.

  • jay

    penny in his prime was pretty sick to be honest before he got hurt..john wall in a year..he got some sick ups! i would even go ai in the late ’90s!

  • http://dimemag B Stance

    Where is DERRICK ROSE???? he never gets any consideration, sometimes he is conservative with his athleticsm but when he uses it he is Top 5 in the league!!!

  • http://heckler@aol.com Heckler

    best athlete of all time is still….

    ….BO JACKSON!!

  • Charles Kirk

    One guy who I feel has very good athleticism is OJ Mayo. He isn’t as athletic as Derrick Rose or most of these guys that had honorable mentions. I don’t even think that he should be on the list. But the guy can jump with the best of them. Check out OJ Mayo on youtube and you will see a 41 inch vert in action.

  • dapro

    I few freakish athletes a lil different than most of yall

    I would say Nash is gifted athlete but not in the traditional sense

    Old School has to be Hakeem, a 7ft that moved like a guard and also played soccer. Name another big that could do what he does,Dwight is an athlete but there a 7ft. that can do what he does. I’d say KG in his younger years was more freakishly athletic because he wasn’t in the weight room he was born with that lanky build but could do it all on the court

    A freak athlete to me is naturally God given ability and talent. Adding muscle to a frame doesn’t strike me a freakishly athletic

  • Charles Kirk

    I don’t know if alot of people know this but Dwight Howard is actually a bit closer to being 6’9. With shoes on he’s about 6’10, 6’11.

  • PatA

    Someone asked where Shawn Kemp is?
    Let’s hope he isn’t somewhere making more babies.

    Shawn Kemp was my favorite player when he was at his peak.

  • will

    Shanon Bown, definetley has these dudes beat in the hops aspect!!! The dude is just shy of a four foot vert!!!

  • charlie


    why athleticism only about jumping, Nash can play every sport and is the most coordinated dude in the league.

  • weng santos

    Barbosa for straight-up speed.

    A young McDyess for the big man with the 40+ vertical.

    Derrick Rose for speed and hops.

    Nash for athletic body coordination. Not kidding. Speed and jumping ability is useless without core agility and proprioception.

  • http://solomonlieberman.com Solomon Lieberman

    Gerald Wallace, Gerald Wallace, Gerald Wallace.


    Because blocking the basketball is one of the hardest things to do in the League, especially when you are 6’7″. It takes speed, footwork, body control, flexibility, hand-eye, strength, vertical — everything.


  • Diego

    All this Nash stuff is utter nonsense. Okay, he is very well coordinated–but we are talking simply about physical athleticism–basically, stength (upper body and leg) and raw speed.

    At the allstar game, Nash may participate in the SKILLS contest, but he is not exactly going to be in the dunk contest. And he wouldn’t put on much of a display in the weight room or at the track–other than likely in a very long distance event.

  • georgej

    If Howard is so athletic, how come he got pwned by pendergraph the other night? gerald wallace is a way better athlete.