Defined as any move where ball-handlers switch the ball from one hand to the other while maintaining their dribble, the crossover is an effective move in basketball in that it helps ball-handlers separate themselves from defenders. The move enables ball-handlers to quickly change direction, and when done properly, it can cause defenders to freeze as the ball-handler speeds past. Indeed, crossovers are known for being a tool used to humiliate defenders. What immediately comes to mind are AND-1 mixtapes, wherein talented ball-handlers vex their defenders with deft crossovers. However, in the NBA, where teams are full of talented defenders, players have made careers on their crossover abilities.
As the title of this article implies, the crossover is an art. Simply switching from dribbling with one hand to dribbling with the other will probably not, in the prevailing basketball vernacular, "shake" a defender. In every good crossover, there is panache, shiftiness and an element of surprise. Just like conventional art, the different ways in which a crossover can be performed allow players to put their signature on the move. Tim Hardaway would cross the ball between his legs before crossing back to his original hand, whereas Rafer Alston would head-fake, spin and end up dribbling the ball in the other hand as he sped by defenders.
In most cases, players who are high-volume dribblers—namely, point guards and shooting guards—have been the most effective with the crossover. No one, for instance, ever expected Shaq to cross his defenders. But a small player like Allen Iverson needs a good crossover to excel in the NBA.
This list looks at the top 10 “crossover artists” in NBA history. These players’ respective career earnings have been listed. Of course, every NBA fan has his or her favourite crossover artist, so let the indignation begin.
10 Rafer Alston - Career Earnings: $28,129,531
Affectionately called “Skip to My Lou,” Rafer Alston grew up on the storied basketball courts of New York City. His tremendous ball-handling abilities earned him his sobriquet. Over 11 years in the league, Alston averaged 10.1 points and 4.8 assists per game. Though his numbers will not jump out at anyone, experts and fans alike fondly remember his skilful ball-handling, as he was able to use his crossover to effectively penetrate defenses.
9 Stephon Marbury - Career Earnings: $151,115,945
Like Alston, Stephon Marbury honed his skills on the tough New York City basketball courts. At 6'2", the Coney Island native would use his superior dribbling abilities to penetrate defenses and get to the rim. Over his 13-year career, Marbury averaged 19.3 points and 7.6 assists per game. His teams never had much success, but he will be remembered for his wicked crossover and his ability to finish in the paint.
8 Chris Paul - Career Earnings: $95,982,896
Chris Paul has an underrated crossover only because he does so many things well. A good defender, talented passer and clutch shooter, Paul can also string crossovers together to make his defenders look silly. Now that he plays on a good team with talented post players, Paul does not have to use his crossover like he had to in Oklahoma and New Orleans. But his numbers this season are MVP-caliber, as he is averaging 19.6 points and 11.2 assists per game.
7 Steve Francis - Career Earnings: $103,501,131
Steve “The Franchise” Francis was a potent scorer throughout his career, averaging 17.4 points per game over his 9-years in the NBA. His early years in Houston were his best, as he dominated his matchups on a nightly basis, using his sweet crossover to get to the rim. The casual NBA fan will remember Francis’ performance in the 2000 NBA Dunk Contest, but his ability to shake defenders was his most valuable asset.
6 Steve Nash - Career Earnings: $137,235,620
A two-time MVP, Steve Nash has always played with a little “razzle-dazzle.” During his consecutive MVP seasons—2004-2006—Nash decimated defenses with the high pick-and-roll. He has a singular ability of using the pick-and-roll to isolate big men on the perimeter before exploiting their slowness with deft crossovers. Though injuries have undermined his last two seasons in L.A., he has averaged 14.3 points and 8.5 assists over his career.
5 Jason Williams - Career Earnings: $55,663,447
One would be hard pressed to think of a player who played with more style than Jason Williams. Affectionately known as White Chocolate, Williams played fast-paced, highly entertaining basketball in Sacramento and Memphis before easing up on the throttle in Miami. Over his first seven years in the league, though, Williams was a human highlight reel. His most memorable crossover came against Gary “The Glove” Payton, when he hesitated, faked as if going left, and crossed to his right, leaving Payton frozen. His style came at a price, as he was never an efficient player, shooting under 40% for his career and becoming a turnover machine during bad stretches.
4 Jamal Crawford - Career Earnings: $79,646,497
The ways in which Jamal Crawford uses his behind-the-back crossover to separate from defenders are among the most entertaining things to watch in the NBA. Whether he uses it to pull up or drive to the basket, Crawford has one of the NBA’s best crossovers. Over his 14-year career, Crawford has averaged 15.5 points per game. He has bounced around the league, but as long as he can keep scoring, he will have a job in the NBA.
3 Derrick Rose - Career Earnings: $56,582,336
Since Derrick Rose entered the league, he's left fans agog over his ball-handling abilities. His combination of speed with Jordan-like athleticism has enabled him to get to the rim at will. Rose also has one of the league’s nastiest crossovers. Rose’s fans probably remember the time that he broke Andre Miller’s ankle, causing him to fall to the floor. Unfortunately, injuries have plagued Rose’s last two seasons. Rose will be back, though, and hopefully he will continue to dominate defenders with his ego-deflating crossovers.
2 Tim Hardaway - Career Earnings: $46,661,390
Over his career, Tim Hardaway averaged 17.7 points and 8.2 assists per game. During his early years in the league, he was part of one of the NBA’s most exciting trios with Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond. His is famous for his crossover, which TV analysts called the “UTEP two-step,” since he played college ball at UTEP. Hardaway was unique in that he combined style with efficiency, paving the way for many crossover artists a generation later.
1 Allen Iverson - Career Earnings: $154,494,445
The space separating Allen Iverson from Tim Hardaway at the top of this list is very slim. However, two facts cement Iverson’s place at the top. First, Iverson was tiny. At only 6’0 tall, Iverson could not have excelled without his devastating crossover. By virtue of his ability to exploit defenders with his moves, he averaged 26.7 points per game over his career. Second, to be the best, you need to shake the best, and Iverson did that in his rookie season when he crossed Michael Jordan. Isolating Jordan at the top of the key, Iverson gave him a few speculative crosses, faked left, and crossed over to his right. Jordan, of course, almost recovered to block the shot, but Iverson still knocked down the long two, giving fans in Philadelphia a preview of what was still to come.
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