The NBA has long evolved since the days of James Naismith’s peach baskets. Now, the game involves cheerleaders, music, lights, and live entertainment during timeouts, halftime, and between quarters. The level of entertainment that the NBA has grown into includes no look passes, crazy gravity-defying dunks, and players that can cross over and break a defender’s ankles.
The And1 craze in the NBA has passed, but ball handlers in the NBA are still loved. The best handles doesn’t mean the best passer or point guard in the league, or else Magic Johnson and John Stockton would always be at the top of the all-time list. The best handles refers to the players who can get out of traps, break down defensive match ups, and just dribble out of anything thrown at them.
This list goes through the best ball handlers in recent times in the NBA. This shows love to crossovers, broken ankles, and deflated egos. Who can forget Steph Curry’s spinning crossovers on Gary Neal in the 2013 playoffs, Kyrie literally making Brandon Knight fall in the Rising Stars Challenge or Allen Iverson crossing over on Tyron Lue and stepping over him after he knocked the baseline jumper.
10. Kenny Anderson
Anderson, although not the first team to appear on people’s minds, was one of the best ball handlers to come out of New York City. Growing up in the projects, Anderson was known in the neighborhood as THAT guy who would be at the court in the middle of the night working on his game.
Anderson had his biggest highlight in college against Bobby Hurley. Coming down on a fast break on the left wing, Anderson essentially gets bear hugged by Hurley but is still able to cross over, dribble behind his back, and finish the layup. In the NBA, he scared opponents with lethal crossovers, no look passes, and handles that could get through any kind of defense. Truly a street ball legend in the NBA.
9. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving is one of the young superstars in the NBA today. After only playing eleven games at Duke, Kyrie was selected first overall by the Cavs in the 2011 draft and Kyrie put the whole league on alert when he won the 2012 Rookie of the Year Award. But this isn’t why Kyrie is feared by other players in the league.
Kyrie’s crossover has been seen on international screens, as he completely broke Brandon Knight’s ankles in the 2013 Rising Stars Challenge. Along with the crossover, Kyrie has been a part of Pepsi’s Uncle Drew commercials, where he acts as an old man coming to the court to teach young guys how to play the game. Kyrie’s crossover will be in the NBA for a long time to come.
8. God Shammgod
Although Shammgod only played 20 games in the NBA, he has been recognized by all his peers as one of the best ball handlers they’ve ever played against. Coming out of New York, Shammgod created his own crossovers and was regarded as one of the best street ballers ever to come out of the city.
Although his basketball skills weren’t enough to keep him in the NBA for long, his handles have left a legend in his name. NBA players today still use the Shammgod crossover, and marvel at his ability to get through any defense while keeping his dribble alive.
7. Penny Hardaway
Penny is constantly regarded as the best big point guard ever to play the game. He wasn’t a point guard that some say LeBron is, but he legitimately handled the rock on 90% of the Magic’s possessions and on fast breaks. With Shaq in the middle, and three point threats like Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott on the wings, Penny was given all the room in the world.
Penny was one of the rare big guards that could handle his own against smaller guards like Muggsy Bogues and not worry about being stripped. Although his career didn’t end on a highlight, he was a four-time All-Star and paved the way for big guards like Tracy McGrady to handle the rock.
6. Tim Hardaway
Many of our younger readers will only know Tim Hardaway Jr. of the current New York Knicks. But the original Tim Hardaway was one of the most spectacular point guards to ever grace the hardwood. His killer crossovers was the original crossover to inspire a whole generation of players to come. As the point guard for the popular Run TMC of the Warriors, Hardaway fed Mullin and Mitch Richmond countless assists.
His one-on-one skills became renowned in the NBA, where analysts referred to his crossover as the UTEP 2-Step, Hardaway’s legacy remains from his time with the Heat and Warriors as one of the quickest and lethal point guards of his time.
5. Allen Iverson
Iverson’s first big play was against Michael Jordan, where he crossed over at the top of the key and then drained a jumper as Jordan tried to recover and contest the shot. It was even more impressive as Iverson stood at an even 6 feet and Jordan had 6 inches over him.
Iverson made a career of being one of the best scorers of all-time, and it was only aided by his deadly crossover. Similar to Tim Hardaway, Iverson’s crossover was lethal because of his speed and agility when making the play. Iverson’s crossovers have been long-documented and have seen many victims suffer from broken ankles because of it.
4. Rafer Alston
Rafer played for the famed And1 tour while he was known as Skip 2 My Lou. During this time, Alston’s handles were out of this world, and he was able to bring street ball into homes across the world, inspiring young players to try all of his moves.
When Skip came to the NBA, he left most of the street ball antics. Alston was never able to bring the street ball game that made him so famous to the NBA successfully. Instead, he became another generic point guard in the league. But for those who know him as Skip 2 My Lou, he will always be remembered as the best street baller ever to transition into the NBA game.
3. Isiah Thomas
Twelve-time all star, two-time NBA champion, and 1990 Finals MVP, Isiah Thomas is one of the most legendary players to ever play the game. He accomplished these feats with a rugged game and a temper that would anger any opponent that went up against the Bad Boys. But before the defensive-minded Pistons came into existence, Thomas was one of the best ball handlers in the league. He last played in 1994, so he just snuck onto this list.
His crossovers were among the first to make players fall on their backside and not be able to get up. In fact, Thomas’ most memorable crossover was on Danny Ainge where he crossed over Ainge and made him fall back, and waited for Ainge to come back only to do it again. Ainge’s ego must have been hurt forever, while Thomas’ reputation continued to grow in the league as a lethal point guard.
2. Jamal Crawford
Crawford is by far the best ball handler in the NBA in today’s game. The crossovers, the handles, and the jumper all combine to make Crawford the best ball handler in the league. As the career leader in four point plays in NBA history, Crawford makes it look easy as he crosses over defenders and then pulls up while they try to recover and contest his shot.
The reason why Crawford’s handles are so incredible? After a lengthy career, in the summer of 2012, Jamal Crawford finally started practicing his jumper. Before this time, Crawford “played off raw talent.” This means that he played in summer leagues and just schooled anyone who tried to defend him, and then would bring that game to the NBA.
1. Jason Williams
With a thriteen year career under his belt, Jason Williams retired as arguably the best ball handler ever to play the game. Nicknamed White Chocolate¸ Williams combined his love for street ball with the NBA game perfectly and turned into one of the most lethal ball handlers ever to play the game.
As a rookie, Williams helped lead the Kings to the playoffs with his stellar passing and incredible dribbling. Unlike many of the players on our list, Williams’ handles turned into an assist, as they constantly led to his teammates getting easy buckets. With his behind-the-back fake passes, and passes launched off with his elbows, White Chocolate was always looking out for his teammates while dropping defenders.