Over the past few months, defensive specialists like Lonzo Ball and Marcus Smart shared their experience on the toughest players they’ve ever had to guard. The most recent star to present their list is Heat superstar Jimmy Butler.
Here is the list, per The Players’ Tribune.
LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
I didn’t want to talk about LeBron here. I really didn’t. I wanted to give some other guys some shine. But you can’t have a 5 Toughest list and not have LeBron on it. He’s still the best all-around player in the league. He literally does everything well. He can shoot. Pass. Attack the rim. Defend. You need a bucket? LeBron’s got you. You need a rebound, a steal or a block? He’s got you. Whatever you need, whenever you need it. Bron’s got you.
Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets
Probably one of my favorite players to watch. He’s so shifty and crafty with his dribble, like he’s got the ball on a string. Crossover, behind-the-back, spin move, going right, going left — however he needs to do it, he always gets where he wants to go. And he’s so precise that you would think he practices all these different combinations of dribble moves. But he’s really just making it up as he goes along. It’s stupid. And he toys with guys. Like, he’ll have you beat, but instead of taking the bucket, he’ll pull it back and reset, like, No, no, no. Not yet. I’m not done. I got something else for you… it’s disrespectful.
Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
I don’t really remember a lot of the one-on-one matchups I’ve had against KD. I mean, I’m 30 now. I’m getting old. My memory is losing itself. But one thing I do remember was watching him my rookie year when he was in OKC. I was on the bench, watching him run the floor, and it looked so … effortless. And what was most impressive was that he dictated the pace of the entire game. Everyone else was at his mercy. And that’s the mark of a great player. In this league, with so many talented and athletic guys on the floor, for one guy to be like, I’m in control here. We’re going to do what I want to do and play at my speed…. It’s pretty ridiculous.
Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
Steph is a generational talent in that he can legit shoot the ball from anywhere on the court. I mean, how do you guard a guy when you’re sprinting back on defense like, I can’t let him get to his spot! Then you realize that it doesn’t matter because wherever he is, he’s already at his spot. Because he can shoot — and hit — from anywhere. He has the ultimate green light, too, and he doesn’t abuse it. He’s not out there just jacking up shots. He’s super calculated. Sometimes he barely even crosses half-court and pulls it. And for anybody else in the league, that’s a bad shot. But for him, it’s a good shot. It’s routine.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Everything he does starts with his step-back. He’s legendary for it. Some people say it’s a travel. I say if the ref doesn’t call it, I’m all for it. Find a way to stop it, travel or not. But his whole attack is built off that step-back. He hangs the ball out there and teases you with it, and then he waits for you to make a move. He’s reading you. Whatever you decide to do, he’s got a counter for it. Because if you give him too much space, he’s gonna take the step-back, and probably make it. If you get too close to him — if you try to get up into him and take the shot away — he’s either going to lean into you and draw a foul or blow right by you and take it to the basket.
Curry, Harden, Irving, and Durant all appear on similar lists by Smart and Ball — and it makes sense, too. These guys are widely recognized as the best scorers in the game. Between them, combined, they have countless All-Star appearances, multiple MVPs, and multiple Championships.
As far as Butler’s list, it (surprisingly) lacks a few notable names, like Giannis, Kawhi, and Damian Lillard.
But, honestly, when it comes to scoring, it’s hard to bets the starting five he assembled.