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Ranking The 10 Most Unstoppable NBA Plays: Kevin Durant's Jump Shot And LeBron James's Transition Attack Destroy Defenses

Ranking The 10 Most Unstoppable NBA Plays: Kevin Durant's Jump Shot And LeBron James's Transition Attack Destroy Defenses

Scoring is down across the NBA. Recent rule changes eliminating “non-basketball moves” by players on offense seeking foul-drawing contact have made it harder for the league’s superstars and role players alike to get buckets.

Still, two handfuls of players have mastered at least one play type to the point they’re nearly unstoppable. These ten players have survived the association’s new regulations and flourished in the face of change.

Below we break down the NBA’s 10 most un-guardable offensive actions, roaming from LeBron James’s genius in the open court to Trae Young’s mastery of the pick and roll and Stephen Curry’s pull-up bombs from deep.


10. Kyrie Irving’s Step Back Jumper

Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving has played only 12 games in 2021-22 because he’s unvaccinated while playing in NYC, one of the few cities that requires all players to be immunized before undertaking indoor activities. Irving’s lack of court time hasn’t stopped him from dominating on offense.

Uncle Drew is averaging 23.6 PPG and 4.7 APG on 37.1% from deep. There isn’t a single player in the league who can crowd Irving on the perimeter. He leverages his combination of top-10 footwork with the tightest handle in the association to destroy defenders in one-on-one situations. If you’re an NBA fan, this isn’t news. However, the fact that he hasn’t skipped a beat after sitting out the first half of the year makes it into the headlines.

Here are the numbers:

Irving is taking a total of 9.5 pull up attempts per game and connecting with an eFG% of 49.6%

Going deeper he’s making 43.9% of his off-the-dribble mid-range jumpers and 39.4% of his step-back three-pointers

Let those statistics sink in for a moment. Irving is shooting nearly 44% off mid-range step-back jumpers, probably the most challenging shot in the game. And he has the range to go beyond the arc and connect almost 40% of his step-back three-point shot attempts. If any other player took roughly 10 off-the-dribble jumpers per game, he’d find himself glued to the end of the bench while his coach yelled, “Pass the damn ball!!!!”

Per PBPStats, Irving ranks first on a Brooklyn Nets squad that features two former MVPs in Kevin Durant and James Harden in unassisted two-point shots at 14.63 points per 100 possessions, further proving his step-back jumper is special.


9. Luka Doncic’s Drives

Credit: USATSI

Credit: USATSI

Luka Doncic is ruining the rim in 2021-22 off his slashes down the lane. He’s third in the NBA in drives at 21.3 per game, and he’s also third in the league in field goal percentage (minimum 10 drives per game) on his rack attacks with a very impressive 57.8%. Overall, he’s scoring 11.7 points per game of his ventures into the restricted zone.

Doncic isn’t top in the league in points scored off drives; that honor goes to Ja Morant. He’s also not first in field goal percentage-off cuts toward the net. Giannis leads the field in that category (more on him later).

What separates Doncic from the other great drive artists in the NBA is his ability to somehow switch gears two or even three times on one play while throwing in subtle shoulder fakes or look-offs at teammates on the perimeter. He’s not an explosive athlete, but man is he smart. He knows how to throw off the most physically gifted lockdown defenders in the NBA through sheer guile. 

The Mavericks superstar point guard averages 3.5 free throw attempts per game off his drives (second in the league), creating an embarrassment of foul problems for opposing big men and wings and making the difficult job of trying to coral him in the lane nearly impossible. And if you double-team him, he’s one of the most gifted passers in the world with a 44.9 pass percentage of his drives versus only a 6.8 turnover percentage.

Doncic’s ability to draw in multiple defenders or feast off single coverage when he gets into the lane poses a massive problem for opposing defenses and is virtually impossible to game plan against.


8. James Harden Working 1-On-1

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James Harden is tops in the league in isolation plays in 2021-22 at 7.6 per contest. Going deeper, 31.8% of his offensive possessions are one-on-one, by far the highest in the league. And he’s scoring 1.06 points per possession as a one-man show (3rd in the NBA, minimum 3 isolation plays per game).

Harden, 32, has lost some of the wrecking-ball juice he had in past seasons when he punished players with multiple chest bruises simply for trying to guard him off his rim assaults. Still, after all the fuss about his lack of free-throw opportunities in October and November, he has a 20.2% free throw frequency when he works out of isolation play types, making up for his slight loss in athleticism.

There are only 11 players who average 4.5 one-on-one possessions per contest in today’s modern NBA. Teams prefer to run several pick and roll sets, screen curls, or different horn variations on offense. So, head coaches don’t spend a lot of time practicing how to stymie one-on-one players because against nearly every NBA squad, it’s a waste of time, and that’s what makes The Beard so dangerous. Opposing teams know what he’s going to do, but they haven’t built up the instincts, the react-without-thinking capabilities, to shut him down.

James Harden’s isolation game isn’t pretty, but it’s one of the most effective plays in the league.


7. Joel Embiid From The Post

Joel-Embiid

Post-play is out. Three-point shooting big men are in.

Ummmmm. Not so much.

Joel Embiid is tied with LeBron James for second in the league in scoring at 29.1 points per game. 31.6% of his scoring has come from the post where he is pouring in 1.10 points per possession, and he’s drawing a foul over a quarter of the time (25.9% to be exact).

Embiid mixes a steady flow of face-up pump fakes outside of the key to get defenders off balance before using a quick first step for a 7-0, 280-pound center to blow by his man. And if opposing centers lie back, he’ll dribble into them before exploding with a spin move in either direction for a bucket.

Per NBA.com’s common matchups tool, Embiid has ruined nearly every top defensive center in the league throughout 2021-22.

Have a look:

Against Anthony Davis: 69.2% from the field

Against Karl-Anthony Towns: 62.5% from the field

Against Ivica Zubac: 100% from the field

Against Rudy Gobert: 50% from the field

Against John Collins: 75% from the field

Against Nic Claxton: 64.3% from the field

Those head-to-head numbers aren’t purely off post-up attempts. Embiid also has a solid mid-range and long-distance game. Still, they show nobody can stop the 76ers big man because of his ability to work effectively out of the post at a high volume (Embiid averages 8.5 post-up possessions nightly, Jonas Valanciunas is second at 4.8 per game); nobody in the league comes close to matching.


6. Trae Young In The Pick And Roll

Trae Young

Trae Young leads the NBA in pick and roll attempts as the ball handler at 14.6 per game. He also tops the league at points scored out of the pick and roll with 13.4 nightly.

Trae Young is a master at changing pace during pick and roll actions, dribbling slowly out on the perimeter as his screener (usually Clint Capela or John Collins) run out to build a wall, before out-of-nowhere putting on the jets and blowing by his defender and the big man rim protector at the same time. Suppose both defenders in the action lay back. In that case, Young works them both with ease, putting the man guarding him in jail once he’s passed him while at the same time keeping the back-pedaling forward or center off balance before either blowing by them for a layup or lofting up a feathery floater.

There are two aspects of Young’s pick and roll game that truly set him apart and make him unstoppable:

When Trae Young’s perimeter defender goes under the screen, cutting off Ice Trae’s path to the rim, he has a smooth pop game. Young is hitting 49.2% from 16 feet to the arc, and he’s connecting on 37.8% from deep for the season.

Trae Young is the best passer out of the pick and roll in the NBA. He’s the third in the league in assist points created at 23.3 nightly, and he’s first in assists at the rim, lofting up 6.79 per 100 possessions. Trae Young puts at least three pick and roll lob passes per game on a platter, inches above the rack, for teammates Clint Capela and John Collins to calmly guide through the net.

Trae Young’s combination of dribble skills, perimeter shooting, and passing make him nearly impossible to stop on pick and roll actions.


5. DeMar DeRozan’s Mid-Range Jumper

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar has zigged as the rest of the NBA has zagged. While the rest of the NBA has turned to a James Harden-like brand of at the rim or beyond the arc offense in an attempt to increase their effective field goal percentage, DeRozan has doubled-down on his no-man’s-land mid-range jumpers.

This season the former USC standout is taking nearly 60% of his shots from 10 feet to the three-point line, and he’s connecting on a massive 54.4% in between 10 and 16 feet and 46.6% from 16 feet to the arch.

DeRozan is a trickster with the ball in his hands mixing left and right spin move toward the rack, rocking his defender on his heels before pulling up for a sweet J, but often he doesn’t need to do much, because in today’s NBA defenders don’t expect a player to pull up from one-foot inside the arc and launch. And launch is what DeRozan does. And no matter how pure his long-range two-point jumper remains and how often he connects from one step inside the three-point line, defenders never crowd him because he’s a load in the lane as well.

Overall, DeRozan leads the league in unassisted two-pointers with a whopping total of 634 points, over 100 more than second-place Trae Young at 502 unassisted points off two-point shots.

DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range game is for real, and he’ll be a load in the 2022 playoffs for the Chicago Bulls.


4. Stephen Curry’s Pull Up Three-Point Shot

Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry has made 123 off the dribble three-point jumpers this season.

123!!!!!

Curry has made more pull up long-distance bombs than nearly every three-point specialist’ beyond the arc totals for the season:

Bojan Bogdanovic: 121 total threes

Luke Kennard: 121 total threes

Carmelo Anthony: 116 total threes

Grayson Allen: 114 total threes

Tyler Herro: 111 total threes

Lonzo Ball: 110 total threes

Andrew Wiggins: 109 total threes

You get the point.

How do you stop a player who has a 52.3 eFG% on his off-the-bounce long-distance bombs, yet has the speed and handle to blow by you if you crowd him beyond the arc and has excellent passing skills if you decide to double team him?

Answer: You can’t stop Stephen Curry. All you can do is try to slow him down and hope he misses.

You’ve heard it all before, but it’s worth repeating. Stephen Curry is the best shooter ever, and he’s morphed the game into something new with his gravitational pull from 30-feet from the basket.

Curry’s already won three titles, and this year he has an excellent shot at taking home his fourth chip.


3. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Rim Attacks

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Giannis is a 6-11, 242-pound runaway diesel trunk (think Keanu Reeves in Speed) going to the rack. He blends a combination of height, speed, strength, and athleticism that only LeBron James comes close to matching, and when he gets even a slither of space on the perimeter, he takes two giant steps through the lane and flattens the rim.

Giannis is tops in the league in field goal percentage on drives (minimum 10 drives per game) at 59.6%, and despite only attacking the rim 12.0 times per contest, he’s sixth in free throw attempts at 3.2 per contest.

Giannis does nothing fancy on the perimeter to blow by his defender. He typically takes one massive step, getting his hips by the player guarding him. When the Greek Freak gets into the lane, he mixes in a sweet Euro-step with excellent ball control to shuttle by secondary defenders or opposing rim protectors.

Giannis’s drive game is an unstoppable force of nature.


2. Kevin Durant’s Jump Shot From Anywhere On The Court

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant leads the league in points per game at 29.3. He’s a 6-10 power forward who moves like a guard and has a 7-5 reach (two inches longer than Giannis for comparison). He’s an offensive wizard, who’s probably the best pure bucket getter we’ve seen since Wilt Chamberlain ran the court.

Knowing all the facts about KD is one thing, but seeing his 2021-22 shooting numbers is something altogether different. Durant’s shooting chart is staggering:

3 to 10 feet: 50.9%

10 to 16 feet: 51.8%

16 feet to 3P: 57.4%

3P: 37.2%

Durant isn’t hitting those ridiculous shooting percentages (57.4% from 16 feet to the arc!!!!!) off tasty dimes from teammates James Harden or Kyrie Irving. He averages 20.3 field goal attempts per game, 11.1 come from pull-up two-pointers, and 2.5 are off pull-up three-pointers. Overall, KD is tied for second in the league in off-the-dribble points, with DeMar DeRozan at 11.5 per game.

Kevin Durant is out with a sprained MCL in his left knee and has played only 36 games this season. That doesn’t matter. His 1000s of hours ratting it up in the gym have led to one of the greatest shooting seasons (if not the greatest) the NBA’s ever seen.


1. LeBron James’s Transition Attack

LeBron James

LeBron James is like a 12-year-old boy’s cartoon rendering of a basketball superhero come to life. When LBJ gets into open space, he pushes his giant 250-pound body like a speedy point guard towards the rim.

In 2021-22, LBJ is second in the league in transition possessions at 6.0 per game. He scores 1.30 points per attempt, a ridiculous number, especially when compared to Giannis, another freakish athlete who’s only pouring in 1.14 PPP.

LeBron James goes downhill like a runaway boulder crashing down a mountain. How do you stop a one-ton mix of granite and limestone free-falling end over end? You don’t. You have only two choices: you foul him at the rim and hope the ref swallows his whistle because he’s out of breath from chasing a sprinting LBJ the length of the court, or you get lucky, and James somehow misses a gimme at the rack. Neither option is optimal, but that’s why King James, in transition, is the most challenging play to defend in the NBA.


10 Unstoppable Plays

All ten players on our list above feature some of the best offensive moves the NBA has ever seen.

Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, and Kevin Durant rely on their excellent off-the-dribble jumpers to rain in buckets. Joel Embiid is one of the last post-up masters in the world, and Luka Doncic is excellent at driving to the rack. James Harden still works isolation play types better than any other NBA player, and Trae Young is a pick-and-roll illusionist.

At the top of our list rests Stephen Curry with his pull-up three-pointers, and Giannis and his drives to the rack. Finally, LeBron James in transition is the most difficult play in the NBA to contain.

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