My high school basketball coach, John Wiley, used to tell us that on the basketball court, “you should be lying constantly.” He wanted us to understand that by constantly feinting and faking, you can put your opponent out of position, gain an advantage and achieve success. Whether it’s getting open, getting to the basket or even something as fundamental as setting a screen, deceptive action is key to every aspect of the game.
Sometimes a deceptive move is a simple as a quick change of speed and change of direction (think Derrick Rose). Or deception can come in attention to detail: making sure a shot fake perfectly mimics one’s shooting motion, or raising a hand before both setting and slipping screens. That’s the kind of deception being rewarded in this post. Not Shane Battier’s deceptively important defense, or Kendrick Perkins deceptively low Adjusted Plus Minus.
In short, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about:
For the purposes of this award, I focused almost exclusively on offense. Thus, there are more well-rounded and important players who did not make this specific list (notably Deron Williams, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant). However these teams were named using an excessively scientific process; doubt the results at your own peril.
Without further ado, allow me to unveil the first ever NBA All-Deceptive Teams:
PG- Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
Rondo’s quickness of foot and mind allows him to control the game and his opponents like few other players. Though he’s not an explosive leaper, he manages to finish a high percentage of shots around the hoop because he uses fakes and footwork to create good angles. Articulating precisely what Rondo does is beyond my capacities, so suffice to say he gets the 1st Team honor ahead of some very worthy competition because of plays like this, this, this, and this:
SG- Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
The proliferation of the Euro Step across the NBA landscape can be traced back to one man. Manu Ginobili’s unconventional footwork has been befuddling defenders for a decade in part because the diversity in his offensive game makes it impossible to “take away his strength.” As was written in Michael Lewis’s 2009 New York Times Magazine article on Shane Battier, Ginobili “has no imbalance whatsoever in his game — there is no one way to play him that is better than another. He is equally efficient both off the dribble and off the pass, going left and right and from any spot on the floor.” This means defenders must always respect his fakes, which perfectly mimic his actual moves. And good luck keeping him away from the ball, he’s also a nightmare cutting to the hoop and to open spaces on the court. No great player seems to get more open more often than Manu.
SF- Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
Pierce has long been renown for his Old Man Game, even before he was an old man by NBA standards. Now, even after losing a step or three, Pierce remains one of the league’s toughest covers because he simply owns the elbow-extended (that area next to the corner of the free throw line, about 17 feet from the basket). And, because Pierce shoots a fallaway from that position, in order to contest the shot defenders must jump forward. At least a couple times a game, Pierce will use that to his advantage like so:
Say what you want about whether Pierce initiates contact on that move, the man sweats guile. He’s even deceptive about how badly he’s injured!
PF- Luis Scola, Houston Rockets
Were there a Most Deceptive Player award, and if I had a vote in said hypothetical award, I would cast it for Scola. Even through the TV, I find myself following his fakes like the duped cameraman on a good playaction fake. The Argentinean big man doesn’t just create the space he needs to score with his shoulder/head fakes and elegant footwork, he clears acres to makes scoring a picnic. Once he gets his defender where he wants him, Scola possesses an exceedingly advanced array of one handed scoops, hooks and flips that keep more athletic defenders from recovering.
In addition to being a tough cover in isolation, Scola also exhibits an exquisite feel off the ball, especially out of the pick and roll. His timing on slips, rolls, and pops is second to none.
Here he is carving up the vaunted Lakers front line:
C- Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers
One last foreigner rounds out the First Team. Because Gasol has tremendous size, many have confused his fakes for weakness. We want our big guys to be bullies, not artists. In Gasol, we have a bit of both. Aside from deft footwork, excellent shotfake technique and great overall feel, Gasol really separates himself as a passer. Out of the post, Gasol uses fakes and look-aways to help open up the cutting lanes for his teammates. His on-time dimes are the result of his incredibly advanced ability to read and manipulate the help defense.
PG- Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
One could write a few thousand words about all the nuances in Nash’s game. Here, I’ll focus on two. Nash finishes wrong-footed from both sides of the rim, and with either hand. This keeps rotating big men from timing up and blocking his lay ups. Also, Nash is the best in the league at what I call the “footwork J.” Isolated against a big man on the perimeter, Nash rocks his shoulders forward and quickly moves his feet as though to drive, before rearing back and lofting a soft jumper over the helpless Goliath. If the defender doesn’t bite, Nash just scoots to the rim. Combine that with the behind the back and no look passes, and you can understand how a guy like Nash can still get anywhere he wants on the court at age 36.
SG- Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets
As Rob Mahoney put it, “it starts with the shot.” Martin has one of the lowest release points in the NBA, which is typically thought of as a negative. He also has one of the most accurate strokes in the game, which is an indisputable positive. Because the ball must travel such a short distance from his triple threat stance to his release point, even the slightest fake can draw an enormous reaction from his defender. Couple that with his excellent quickness and mastery of triple threat footwork and you have a guy who is very, very difficult to cover. Enhancing his triple threat attack, Martin is a great study of the game, allowing him to exploit the tendencies of his opponents both on and off the ball.
SF- Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
Anthony possesses all of the advanced isolation scoring moves detailed so far, but where he distinguishes himself is in the moves he makes after the first line of defense. Melo always takes aggressive lines to the hoop, which allows him to beat help defense to the spot, or counter the help before it is set. Unlike most of the players on this list, Anthony is in many ways a power player, so his fakes are designed to give him the inch he needs to muscle his way to his favorite spots.
PF- Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
For my money, he has the finest perimeter upfake of any big man in the league. It helps that Chris Bosh is the quickest power forward off the dribble in the league and shoots accurately from twenty feet. Bosh shows his defender the ball with a genuine, quick fake in which he brings the ball all the way to his shot pocket near his left eye–and his man all the way off his feet. Bosh is also very clever off the ball, and the Heat rely on his reads as the screener in pick and rolls to make their half court offense hum.
C- Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Great balance and feel both facing up and with his back to the basket give Horford the ability to execute a variety of advanced post moves with grace and power. Undersized for a center, Horford uses his nimble feet to elude his foes with his signature whirling spin move.
PG- Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
Paul is elite in so many ways, and he’s able to break down just about any opponent in part because whenever dribbling, Paul is always low, on the balls of his feet, and with his toes pointing towards the rim. Because he’s perpetually ready to drive, every slight feint is a threat to attack. Being so low to the ground has its advantages, namely that Paul mixes up defenders with his killer crossover, inside outs and hesitations like no one else. In a tight space, Paul can always shake his way to daylight.
SG- Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Like Ginobili, Wade takes extremely long strides on his basket-bound blitzes, and even at full stretch he possesses the special ability to radically change direction. The long strides put a tremendous amount of pressure on the on-ball and help defenders to react aggressively to his every move, often at their own expense. Wade has slowed just a fraction, but he still has the best hesitation dribble this side of Monta Ellis, and clears more room with his stepback than anyone in the league. Just ask OJ Mayo. And while Wade hasn’t yet unseated Pierce and the Celtics from their position as beast of the East, he did steal Paul’s patented upfake-lean in move.
SF- Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
That Durant, at 6-10, can pull of his swooping crossover against even the best NBA defenders is remarkable. His handle has improved greatly since he first entered the league, and he uses his nasty crossover to penetrate or create space for his jumper. Durant knows how to use his moves to create easy opportunities, too. He’ll be at the top of the league in freethrows made and attempted for the rest of his career because he’s so adept at faking his opponent out of position then drawing the bump.
PF- Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
With the game on the line, do you trust anyone more than Nowitzki to get himself a good look? Because his release point is so impossibly high, defenders are forced to crowd Dirk as much as humanly possible. This was once a fairly effective defensive tactic, but these days Dirk’s footwork and shotfake make meals out of overly aggressive defenders. For best headfake in the league, Dirk gets the nod.
C- Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Too good for too long to leave out. Once Duncan retires, they should put a little 21 on the left side of the court, mid block extended, eighteen feet from the hoop.
Honorable Mentions: Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams, Stephen Curry… Brad Miller.
Not Even Close: Joel Anthony.
Got your own list? Leave it in the comments!