The greatest players of all time worked hard to get to the highest level of competition. Without dedication and commitment to their craft, the best players will never reach legendary status. But the best players are also gifted athletes. It is hard for a player without gifts to reach status because they are beyond any ordinary human beings.
It is time to rank the top 10 most gifted players in NBA history. Some are gifted with their size, while others are gifted with their athleticism or God-given gifts on the basketball court. Here are the most gifted players of all time with some inclusions that may or may not surprise you.
Russell Westbrook - Speed And Athleticism
The modern-day triple-double machine is incredibly gifted and deserves an honorable mention. Westbrook's athleticism is extraordinary and he is the most athletic point guard we have ever seen. Standing 6'3" and weighing 200 lbs, Westbrook is a ball of muscle that can explode off his feet at an instant. Even as he surpasses 32 years old, Westbrook is impossible to stay in front of when he gets ahead of steam.
The only reason Westbrook doesn't qualify in the top-10 of all time is because of his intangibles. Westbrook struggles with his shot at times (30.5% career 3-point percentage) and also lacks the basketball IQ when compared to other all-time great point guards. Still, Westbrook is a future Hall of Famer and his athleticism is his greatest gift.
10. Allen Iverson - Ball-handling, Skills, Quickness
The greatest little man to have ever played the game, Allen Iverson was incredibly gifted. He was only 6'0" and weighed a shocking 165 lbs, yet was so dominant on the court. Iverson was not gifted with size but he still managed to win an MVP Award, 4 scoring titles, and reach the NBA Finals with his entire team on his back. Iverson holds a career average of 26.7 PPG, which ranks 7th of all-time.
Iverson's gifts came in the form of exceptional ball-handling ability, raw basketball skills, and incredible quickness. Players can practice dribbling their entire lives but will never have the crossover that Iverson had. He made it look so natural, while his quickness was his best physical trait that helped him get to any spot he wanted on the floor.
9. Larry Bird - Shooting, Confidence
Larry Bird didn't look like much when he appeared on tv, but after the game, everyone in the building knew who the man was. Bird was as real as it gets, as both a competitor and a basketball player. He was perfect with his shooting, a trait that even the best shooters today can't compare. Bird was effortless with his jumper and he almost always got it off in the clutch.
Behind his gifted shooting ability, very few players had the confidence of Larry Bird. The 3-time MVP is arguably one of the top ten best players of all time, and he was an exceptional leader. Bird knew he had a perfect jump shot and it was his confidence that made him an unstoppable player and leader. As one of the GOATs of the 1980s, Bird was a gifted NBA player and also a gifted personality as the face of the NBA.
8. Magic Johnson - Size, Court Vision, Leadership
It is obvious that Magic Johnson is the greatest point guard ever and will never be surpassed in that regard. Magic was simply special, and it is hard for anyone to ever eclipse what the all-time great Lakers star achieved. The 5-time NBA champion won 3 Finals MVPs and 3 MVPs with the Lakers, and his incredible gifts were the reasons why.
First of all, Magic was a 6'9" point guard. That is incredibly rare, especially when a lot of centers are of similar height in today's game. Magic's size helped him see above everyone on the court and that is when his next gift comes in: his court vision. Magic was a special passer because he knew where everyone would be at any given moment. Lastly, Magic was one of the best leaders of all time. He was a natural leader and team player, and that is what put the icing on the cake for the best point guard to ever do it.
7. Shaquille O'Neal - Size, Strength, Mobility
No surprise, Shaquille O'Neal appears on this list as one of the most gifted human beings who ever lived. The 7'1" center weighed 325 lbs and was the most dominant force in modern history. O'Neal had no answer on the court, no matter which defender was guarding him. Shaq would often force the ball into the net at the expense of helpless bigs who were constantly in foul trouble.
But even when Shaq was one of the largest human beings to ever walk the planet, he was surprisingly mobile. O'Neal could run the floor well, handle the ball with ease, and could leap to grab rebounds. His mobility made him very scary to defend against and there is no wonder Shaq captured 3 straight championships and Finals MVPs with the Lakers.
6. Kobe Bryant - Footwork, Skills, Killer Instinct
O'Neal's greatest teammate ever, Kobe Bryant was a gifted specimen on the basketball court. In many ways, Bryant had to overcome some challenges. Firstly, he had small hands for a 6'6'' shooting guard who loved to shoot the ball. Secondly, he grew up overseas in Italy where soccer is the predominant sport. Of course, he entered the league in the shadow of Shaquille O'Neal.
But we would soon find out that Bryant was a gifted player. He had the best footwork of any player not named Hakeem Olajuwon and used that to terrorize defenses in the post and on the perimeter. His footwork, and overall skill level, gave Kobe every move and counter move that confused defenders. Perhaps no player outside of Michael Jordan had the pure skills that Bryant had, although that is also a testament to his hard work. Lastly, Bryant had a killer instinct that could not be denied. Even if Bryant had to grow into a leader, he was always a clutch player and one of the all-time great killers on the court.
5. Stephen Curry - Shooting
When people think of Stephen Curry, they think about shooting. And that was Curry's greatest gift, something that no player will ever surpass. Curry's special shooting makes him the most unstoppable player in today's NBA and the game has changed thanks to the 6'3" point guard. Even if Curry is slender without real force in his play, his shooting neutralizes any weakness he brings on the court.
While it is true that Stephen Curry worked harder than most players at his position, his shooting touch cannot be taught. His quick release and perfection from anywhere on the court mean he can blow teams out by himself from the three-point line. Curry's career averages of 43.3% from three and 47.7% shooting from the field is a testament to his greatness as a marksman.
4. Kevin Durant - Height, Shooting
Kevin Durant is arguably the most unstoppable scorer in NBA history. Golden State Warriors and Durant's former head coach Steve Kerr claimed that Durant is the most gifted player of all time, and he does have a point. The only player similar to Durant in terms of height and skillset is George Gervin, a Hall of Famer. But Durant is a much more dominant player than Gervin.
Durant captured 4 scoring titles, an MVP, and 2 NBA championships in his career. The way Durant scores is just demoralizing because there is nothing an opposing coach or defense can do to prepare for him. If you play perfect defense, Durant just shoots over you. If you sag, his shooting will destroy you. Of course, his quickness means he can blow past defenders too. We have never seen a player with Durant's height and shooting before and that makes him one of the most gifted players ever.
3. LeBron James - Athleticism, Basketball IQ
LeBron James could have played any professional sport. At 6'9" and 250 lbs, The King has the perfect build to dominate the game of basketball. He has the size to dominate in the paint, and the quickness to dominate the perimeter. It is no wonder LeBron could carry any team to the NBA Finals because he could affect the game in all areas of the floor. James is the greatest attacker of the basket we have ever seen, and a true locomotive around the basket.
But even with LeBron's incredible physical gifts, his basketball IQ is off the charts. In fact, it might be his greatest trait. LeBron, after Magic Johnson, is the best passer of the ball we have ever seen. He memorizes plays before games, keeps his teammates involved, and is the ultimate team player. LeBron's physical gifts and court vision place him 3rd on this list right behind his idol, Michael Jordan.
2. Michael Jordan - Athleticism, Intangibles, Killer Instinct
Michael Jordan is recognized as the greatest player who ever lived. Looking at his track record, it is hard to argue that. He played in arguably the toughest era in NBA history, yet won 10 scoring titles and 5 MVPs. Jordan also won 6 NBA titles and 6 Finals MVPs, along with a Defensive Player of the Year Award. No player has the number of accolades that Jordan amounted to in his Hall of Fame career.
Jordan worked harder than any player in NBA history and that is why he is on the Mt. Rushmore of professional athletes regardless of sports. In fact, Jordan might be the greatest athlete in the history of team sports. As perfect as Jordan's work ethic was, there is no denying he had gifts that couldn't be taught. First of all, Jordan had incredibly large hands. He could pick the ball up with a few fingers and used that gift to dominate defensively as well.
Next, he is the most athletic shooting guard ever. Jordan could jump out of the building, and by his moniker His Airness, he did it often. Jordan also had perfect intangibles, by always playing the game perfectly without lacking in any area. Of course, Jordan's killer instinct and desire to be the best is his rarest trait. Alongside Tom Brady, no athlete in American sports possesses the winner's mentality that Jordan had and that is why he's the GOAT.
1. Wilt Chamberlain - Size, Athleticism, Length
As great as Michael Jordan was, there is no denying that Wilt Chamberlain had extraordinary gifts. Wilt was 7'1" and 275 lbs, but his incredible length and athleticism made him the most unstoppable stat sheet stuffer we have ever seen. Wilt was gifted with the size that 99% of the population don't have, but also incredible athleticism and length. Chamberlain could run the floor, jump higher than most players at his position, and could move his feet exceptionally well. In a nutshell, he is the greatest "large athlete" ever.
But when Wilt lifted his arms up, it was hilarious to see him destroy his opposition. After all, Chamberlain once scored 100 points in a single game and also grabbed 55 rebounds in a single game. The fact that he played in an era of smaller players made Wilt's gifts even more apparent. No player in NBA history had the mix of size, athleticism, and length that Wilt had, and that makes him the most gifted player ever.