by Nicholas Jones
What does it mean to be the best basketball player? Many professionals in basketball analytics and statisticians have general ideas on who is considered the best, but they are far off. For a player to be the best, he or she would have to be perfect in the six primary elements of the game. Those elements are ballhandling, size, shooting, speed, conditioning, and IQ. These things matter when understanding the direction that basketball is going. As time goes on, so does the evolution of technology and players’ physical abilities. It seems as if every year, there is always someone who is one step closer to being the perfect basketball player.
The first important element of basketball is ball handling. This means how well a player can control the ball. This skill generally varies from player to player. There are five positions in basketball, which are point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. There is a standard size of player according to the position that is played, which correlates to the level of ball handling they may have. Because the point guard is the smallest player and has the ball for the most amount of time, they tend to have the best ball handling skill. The perfect basketball player would need to have the ball handling skill of the best dribblers in the world. When defining the best ball handlers in the world, a few names come up. Allen Iverson(6’0”), Kyrie Irving(6’2”), and Jamal Crawford(6’5’’) are the NBA’s best ball handlers to date. Allen Iverson came into the NBA with a patented handling style. It was very low and quick. His crossover move could get him past any defender there was, even Michael Jordan. Kyrie Irving’s handling is like no other. HIs ball handling skill has impacted his game to the highest to the highest caliber due to the fact that he has complete control of where he wants the ball to go. This combined with his ability to react on a dime to a defender’s decisions has made him one of the deadliest
offensive players outside the three-point line. At nearly forty years of age, Jamal Crawford is still demolishing anyone who steps in his way while trying to get to the rim. His loose style of handling seems unorthodox from other players due to a streetball nature which comes with it, but there is much thought and control over everything he does. It would almost be foolish to think anyone could guard him because of his age and type of ballhandling. Although Larry “Bone Collector” Williams has never played in the National Basketball Association, almost every NBA player has heard of him. He did not get the nickname “Bone Collector” for nothing. This stems from the universal basketball term “breaking ankles” which refers to an offensive player being able to make opponents lose their footing or even stumble while trying to defend. These players have been deemed the best ball handlers in the world for the single fact that they can keep the “ball on a string” as if it were a yoyo and have made a countless number of defenders victim to their handling skill. The combination of skill between the players who have been named would be essential to the perfect player’s game.
The second important element of basketball is a player’s size. A player’s size ultimately affects the success they will have in the game. As stated previously, point guards are the smallest, while centers are the largest on the court. The smallest player to ever play in the NBA is Tyrone Curtis “Muggsy” Bogues. Standing at 5’3” and 134 pounds, he averaged 7.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 7.6 rebounds throughout his 14-season career. To make up for his size, Muggsy was a master at getting the ball where it needed to be. His height allowed him to be elite at getting through two defenders at once, pushing the ball extremely fast up the court, and passing the ball. His height has allowed him to be one of the all-time leaders in assist in the NBA. The tallest player in NBA history is Manute Bol. Standing at 7’7” and weighing 200 pounds, he averaged 2.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and .3 assist over his 10-season career. In comparing weight to height, Manute was very light for his height. This made it easier to block shots and move quicker than most centers, but there would be a lack of presence when he faced more physical
and built players. The perfect basketball player would need to be in between those sizes to have a perfect, optimal size. Every once in a while, comes along a” generational player,” such as Zion Williamson. Standing at 6‘6” and an explosive 285 pounds, Zion has dominated basketball since high school, and made college athletes look like children while in his one year of participation at Duke University. He is considered a freak of nature due to the fact that he weighs as much as an NBA center but has one of the highest vertical jumps ever recorded. This may seem like the perfect physical combination, but it has its drawbacks. Zion’s physical size creates so much force and pressure on his body, it is dangerously stressful on his body, which many physicians believe will take a toll on him in the long run. Because 6‘6” is such an average height in the NBA, the perfect player would need to be above that height, under the weight, but have the explosiveness of Zion Williamson.
Speed and Conditioning
The next two elements of basketball are speed and conditioning. An NBA player runs over two and a half miles per game on average. As of 2019, one of the fastest players in the NBA is Donovan Mitchell, whose record is 3.01 seconds to run the ¾’s sprint. When combining brute speed with the ability to attain same speed up and down the court constantly, that is a reflection of the level of conditioning. Conditioning is the highest level of work output a player puts out at a constant rate. One of the most conditioned players to ever play is Wilt Chamberlin. He stood at 7‘2” and weighed 280 pounds. This would make him one of the largest people to play in the entire history of the sport. In this modern era of basketball, it is common for larger players to take more breaks on the sidelines due to physical drawbacks dealing with body weight and stress put on the body from playing. There is also a such thing as load management where certain players are restricted to minutes of playing due to having enough rest. Players could go from just playing half a game to skipping two to three games at a time. The extraordinary thing about Wilt Chamberlin was that even though he was very large, his conditioning and endurance was exceptional. In his 1961-62 season, he averaged 50 points per game, playing 48 minutes per game. This
was also the same season where he scored 100 points in a single game. A season like this had never been done before and has yet to be done again. Even until the ages of 35 and 36, he often played the entire game. To accomplish a season such as this, today, a player would have to play the every single game, with no breaks except for time outs, while beating every defender up and down the court to score while having the pressure of losing every game due to the fact that he or she would have the ball in their hands the entire game. When defining and breaking down the perfect player in reference of conditioning and speed, a person would have to not only attain the speed of Donovan Mitchell, but continue to play at that speed with the same level of endurance as Wilt Chamberlin played while having the same dominance over the game as he did.
The fifth element of basketball is shooting. The ability to shoot has been recognized since the game has been created. As time has gone on, the evolution of shooting in terms of proper form to best shooting percentages have changed. Arguably two of the best shooters ever are Reggie Miller and Steph Curry. Reggie Miller played from 1988 to 2005. In those seasons, his two-point shot percentage was .516. This meant over half of the shots that he took from inside the three-point line were going to go in. His three -percentage was .395. At almost forty percent over his whole career, this makes him one of the greatest three-point shooter of all time. His free-throw percentage was .888, meaning 8 out of every 10 shots were going to go in at the free-throw line. Steph Curry is currently in the NBA and career stats are at forty-seven percent from two-point field goal range, forty-three percent from three-point field goal range, and ninety percent from the free throw line. His shooting has led him to three NBA Championships in five years. In being that he is accomplishing these things at such a quick rate is amazing. He has become a household name in being that every kid wants to shoot like him. Every player wants his “unlimited range” and shooting ability. Both of these players have put up thousands of shots in their career off the court. Shooting for hours at a time has led them to be the two deadliest shooters
the world has ever seen. The perfect player would have to mirror this and be able to shoot at a drop of the dime off of ball screens, double teams, “stop and pops,” and any other awkward positions while keeping pinpoint accuracy on the target.
The last element of the game is a testament to the devotion of time to the game. Basketball IQ is only learned with time and experience. It is the ability to read the game and extract details which will help the playing ability. It is almost as if Basketball is a class and the players are learning everything about it in the way of studying different outcomes, strategies, personnel, and playing styles. This is demonstrated by watching hours of film over every player and coach in the league. It is no question that LeBron James has the best IQ in the NBA. He is praised for his ability to not only read the game in such a way that it elevates his own game but elevates his teammates’ game as well. This ability has come to him with time since being in the NBA since he was 18. LeBron has spent 18 years in the League, learning and growing every year in his favor. The perfect player would have to inherently have the knowledge and IQ of a Legend such as Lebron James, while continuing to grow cognitively as the game evolves at an exponential rate.
When truly understanding how perfect a player would have to be in each element of the game and the evolution of players who have come to the NBA, one player comes to mind. It is Kevin Durant. Standing at 6’10” and weighing 240 pounds, Durant is taller than every guard, while weighing less than every center and can handle the basketball better than most players in general. Having a 7’5’’ wingspan makes the game much easier as well. He is able to get to the rim at will, while rising over any defender for a monster dunk or fluent shot. Because he is a slimmer player, he is able to move more fluently and play for longer periods of time. Out of his many great attributes, bis best trait is his ability to shoot. Many would think of him as a ball handling post, who can shoot from literally anywhere on the court. That
combined with his knowledge of being a two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP reflects his sums of experiences. Not only is he unguardable, he is one of the league’s best defensive presences. If you are looking for the perfect basketball player, you can find no one closer than him.