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Top 10 NBA Ball Handlers of All-Time: Players w/ Best “Handles” EVER

No basketball team at any level can be great without at least one great ball handler. When you don’t have one, it’s like college basketball coach Herb Sendek once said: “it’s like having a running back play quarterback, and no matter how well your line blocked, the ball isn’t going to get where it needs to go.”

Although you could move a few of these players around, or substitute a couple of our honorable mentions into the top 10, these players could never be accused of failing to get the ball where their teams needed it. On the contrary, they’ve often dazzled fans and opponents with how well they get the ball to where it needs to be.

Best Ball Handlers in NBA History:

This video of the best ball handlers is pretty sweet! OK, here’s our list of the best ball-handlers ever:

Honorable mention: John Stockton:

best ball handlers john stockton

John Stockton’s skills would never be described as flashy by anyone, but the NBA’s all-time assist leader has to be on this list. Not only was Stockton the best the game has ever seen at finding his teammates to set up easy baskets, but he took care of the ball.

You can’t average 10.5 assists a game without taking some chances, but Stockton still managed to average less than three turnovers a game. That’s the mark of a man who was almost no flash, but plenty of substance. When you get those kinds of results, it doesn’t matter how little flash there is to your game; you’ve got to get some respect.

#10: Chris Paul:

best nba ball handlers ever chris paul

There’s a reason people immediately got excited about the Los Angeles Clippers when CP3 joined their lineup, and it’s because of how well the guard combines style and substance to devastate opponents. Whether it’s knifing through a defense to create his own shot, or finding a teammate for an easy finish, Chris Paul is one of the most difficult guards to contain if you’re a defender. Much like Stockton, he relies more on substance and intelligence to get the job done, and that deserves a lot of credit.

#9: Isiah Thomas:

best ball handlers all time isiah thomas

If speed was what you needed, Isiah Thomas was who you wanted in your lineup. The Pistons’ guard was a running and jumping machine who adapted his game to become what Detroit needed him to be when they began to compete for titles. Thomas wasn’t as flashy as his career continued, but that was more of a case of him choosing substance over style to allow the Pistons’ Bad Boys to dominate the league in the late 1980’s. When he was at his best, though, he could really make a defender look foolish with his dribbling skills.

#8: Muggsy Bogues:

best ball handlers all time muggsy

At 5-foot-3, the diminutive guard had to be a great ball handler because it was the only way he’d be able to compete with the giants he went up against every night. Compete he did, and he often made them look silly in the process.

Bogues turned his lack of size into an advantage, as bigger players couldn’t keep up with his dribbling skills or his vision on the court. He didn’t rack up assists the way Stockton did, but he really took care of the basketball. Speaking of handling the ball, Bogues is the all-time career leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, boasting a career ratio of slightly over 5. You don’t get to those kinds of numbers without being a great ball handler.

#7. Jamal Crawford:

best ball handlers ever crawford

When you play for as many teams as Jamal Crawford has during his NBA career, that’s either a sign that you’re struggling with your skills or that your skills are in high demand. In Crawford’s case, it’s definitely the latter. He’s competed for six different teams because he’s an expert at moving around the court and making defenders look silly with his ball-handling skills. He can stop on a dime and shift between hands before a defender has any idea what’s happened, usually allowing him to create an open look at a 3-pointer.

#6. Jason Williams:

best ball handlers jason williams

White Chocolate would be higher on this list of the best ball handlers of all time if he wasn’t such a feast-or-famine player. When he was at his best, his “handle” was insane; doing things with the basketball that nobody else could. He made passes that were nothing short of ridiculous to set his teammates up for some easy baskets.

But too often, he got a little too flashy for his own good and would set up his opponents for some easy baskets by trying to make the spectacular move when a simple one would have done the job. Still, when he was on, nobody was as much of a master with the rock.

#5. Bob Cousy:

best ball handlers ever NBA history - Celtics Bob Cousy

Take a look at any video or article about top ballhandlers in NBA history, and there’s a good chance that you’re going to see people asking “Where’s Bob Cousy?” in the comments. There’s a good reason: the Celtics’ point guard was a magician on the court, finding teammates with brilliant passes that made the impossible look easy.

Plus, Cousy’s vision and shot selection led to wins and championships, as the Celtics rode his skills to become a dynasty in the 1960s. Because he played before the NBA became what it is, Cousy is often overlooked by younger fans. That can’t continue. His ball handling skills and his passing vision were second to none in his era, and he’s easily one of the best dribblers in league history. (*You can also get a coupon for $10 off those sweet Chuck Taylor’s from Finish Line here!)

#4. Stephen Curry:

best ball handlers ever steph curry nba

Stephen Curry is perhaps the biggest name in the league besides LeBron James. You know that the ball is coming his way as often as possible. In most cases, teams design their entire defense around slowing him down. And yet they still can’t contain Stephen Curry, in large part because the guard is so good at creating his own shot. Yes, his range is one of the deepest the NBA has ever seen, but he’s also incredible with his ball handling skills; creating that separation that gives him the fraction of a second he needs to get a great look at the basket.

#3. Kyrie Irving:

best ball handlers ever kyrie irving

Whether he’s starring in his own right or helping LeBron James shine on a nightly basis, Kyrie Irving has a well-warranted spot on this list. Since coming into the league, he’s been the one constant the Cavaliers have always had and has done whatever they’ve asked of him with the ball.

He’s quick enough to get around just about anyone and has the touch to finish off a move from wherever he needs to when he’s in the paint. James might get the lion’s share of the attention in Cleveland, but the opportunities created by Kyrie’s ball handling makes James look even better. (and he has a sweet shoe deal!)

#2. Pete Maravich:

best ball handlers nba history maravich

Imagine Pistol Pete on a team that had a supporting cast. Instead, Pete Maravich often had to do everything himself because he just didn’t have anyone else who could produce at the level he could. The results were often special, as Maravich regularly posted 40 and 50-point outings despite opposing defenses focusing almost all of their efforts on keeping him under wraps.

His fakes and ball-handling maneuvers were a trademark all the way back to his college days, and the only thing that ever stopped the Pistol on the court were his knee problems. Gone long before his time, there probably never will be another Pete Maravich, who did things with the ball that haven’t been seen before or since. (*You can use a Foot Locker coupon towards Old School Adidas like Pistol Pete wore!)

#1. Allen Iverson:

best ball handlers all time nba allen iverson

Without Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers of the late 1990’s would probably have looked like… the Philadelphia 76ers of 2014-16. The Answer became one of the best to ever grace the court when it came to creating space.

He was so good at handling the ball, the NBA even attempted to crack down on palming in an effort to even things up… but Iverson was good enough with the rock that even if he were palming the ball, his hands were too quick for him to get caught. No matter how people felt about him, they didn’t dare look away when the ball was in A.I.’s hands. (*Iverson wore some sweet Reebok’s, which you can get at finishline.com (get coupon)

Other honorable mentions: Best dribbling skills / ball handlers ever:

kyrie irving cavs dunks

Kyrie Irving Bio: A Hungry & Humble Phenom w/ a Sweet Shoe Deal!

Kyrie Irving Bio: 2011, the year that Kyrie Irving arrived in Cleveland as the No. 1 draft pick, was the beginning of a new era in Cavaliers basketball. Irving’s arrival came at the perfect time for the recent power of the Cuyahoga, (The County where Cleveland is located, named after the mighty Cuyahoga indians) as it followed one of the darkest seasons in the Cavaliers’ 45-year history.

Not only had Cleveland lost LeBron James to Miami in free agency the year before, (when he took his talents to South Beach) but the Cavaliers had completed an embarrassing 19-63 campaign that saw them lose 22 consecutive games, a drastic fall for a team that was a perennial championship contender as recently as the previous season.

In Kyrie We Trust!

kyrie irving amatuer playerInto the void stepped the consensus top amateur player in 2011, the Australian-born Kyrie Irving. Though hampered by an injured big toe that allowed him to play just 11 games in his Duke career, the guard’s phenomenal skills were obvious, possessing the vision to find a teammate on the fly, the agility to get into position, and the marksmanship to nail an open look at the basket.

Gradually, Kyrie Irving helped build the foundation to resurrect the Cavaliers from one of the league’s worst teams into a true contender for the title. The Cavaliers recognized what they had when after two seasons they inked him to a five-year, $90 million contract extension ($18 million / year) in 2014.

Their faith was almost instantly rewarded. When James returned to Ohio, Irving had created the atmosphere that allowed the league’s best player to take the Cavaliers over the hurdle that stymied his first tenure in Cleveland.

In two seasons alongside Kevin Love, Cleveland’s Big Three produced 110 regular-season wins, two Eastern Conference championships and the real pinnacle: bringing the city of Cleveland its first championship of any kind since 1964 by dethroning the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.

Kyrie Irving Top 10 Highlights

Kyrie’s Father, Drederick Irving “Hunger & Humility”

kyrie irving dadKyrie’s Mother passed away when he was only 4 years old, so the responsibility of raising Kyrie fell on his dad, Drederick’s shoulders . Throughout his son’s life, Drederick was never willing to let Kyrie settle for less than was possible for him to achieve, both on and off the court.

For the guard from West Orange, N.J., hunger and humility are values that his father Drederick instilled in him at a young age.

Whether it was in the classroom, in the home, or in the gym, Drederick always made sure that Kyrie set a reasonable goal for himself, a value that Kyrie still practices and plans to pass on to his daughter as she grows up. Often, he writes down both his goals and inspiring quotes to help guide him throughout the season and throughout his life.

kyrie irving shoes bio

Photo Credit: Nike.com

Kyrie Irving: It’s Gotta’ Be the Shoes!

kyrie 3 irving shoes blackA large part of Irving’s success in resurrecting the Cavaliers has been having the right shoes on his feet. There might be no position where shoes are more critical to success than a guard in the NBA because of the need for quick thinking and decision-making; and that’s before throwing in the nasty crossover dribbles that make a guard like Kyrie Irving so difficult for opposing defenses to stop.

When trying to knife through a defense to create a shot for either himself or a teammate, Irving often has to maneuver through a small window, with no more than a split-second to make his decision on which way to take the basketball before the defender realizes what he’s doing and cuts him off.

Executing such a move requires a lightning-fast first step and complete trust in your shoes’ ability to hold their ground in response to the force placed on them. You might say Kyrie’s shoes are the literal foundation of his success.

Kyrie Irving Sneakers from Nike: The Kyrie 3 – “JBY” and “H + H”

kyrie irving shoes jby hhThe Kyrie 3 shoe grants that freedom of motion with its pair of traction pods, giving the wearer total control over when they stop and where they stop. In the NBA, that can be the difference between creating a basket and creating a turnover.

“This game is separated by very finite moments where you have to get your shot off,” Irving said. “My shoe speaks to that. Being able to stop on a dime and cross over and go another direction, I can’t wait for players to try it.”

The Kyrie 3 highlights Irving’s unique style and personality in ways that go beyond his skills on the court. Each shoe is adorned with abbreviations of two of the quotes that have shaped his life from his earliest days:

  1.  JBY for “Just Be You” : “JBY, just be you is the motto I live by every single day because I’m happy to be an individual. I celebrate it. I think that everyone should celebrate their individuality” – Kyrie
  2.  H + H for “Hungry and Humble : “Hungry and humble is something my Dad gave me as a kid that I most likely will give to my daughter, whether she plays sports or not. It’s always staying hungry for more and never being satisfied. Acknowledging the present moment, what you’ve accomplished, and then thinking about what’s up ahead and how you’ll prepare yourself for that. Then of course the humility part. It’s supposed to go unnoticed, your humility. You’re supposed to be humble, you’re supposed to show respect to other human beings, to anyone. You respect other people’s journeys, and also you respect your own” – Kyrie

The shoes also have the roman numerals, “VIII” and “XIII” (the same numbers that are tattooed on his wrist) as a reference to his late mother’s birthday & death. Also, on the sole you’ll see the names, Azurie and Elizabeth,” the names of his daughter and wife.  Click to view larger:

Tip: If you’re looking for the latest Kyrie shoes, Foot Locker and Finish Line have the best selection online and almost identical pricing:

*You won’t ever find coupons for the newest Kyrie shoe release anywhere, but you might find kyrie shoes on sale, or get free shipping. Promo codes might work towards older styles, like the Kyrie 1 or kyrie 2.

Kyrie Irving’s Million Dollar Shoe Deal With Nike

kyrie irving shoes bioSpeaking of shoes, you can’t talk about Kyrie’s NBA contract without mentioning his shoe deal with Nike. Kyrie got his own signature shoe deal with Nike, and in 2014 they released the Kyrie 1.

So, how much money is Kyrie’s shoe deal worth? Shoe deals are a little complicated, but here’s an estimate of what Kyrie’s shoe deal is worth:

  • Kyrie is one of the faces of Nike Basketball, an endorsement worth about $5 million a year
  • 5% royalty on all shoe sales is standard. When the Kyrie 1 launched in December 2014, Nike sold over $7 million worth of Kyrie 1’s in just the first month after launch!
  • Add incentives & bonuses: Whenever a basketball player inks a signature shoe deal, they get bonuses based on performance. As of 2017, Kyrie is already a 3x All-Star, All-NBA, and 2016 League champ, so add bonuses to the annual total
  • Free shoes – Add in a lot of free pairs of shoes and Nike swag!
  • As the bulk of his $11 million in total endorsements, I’d estimate Kyrie’s total Nike deal is worth about $8 million a year, with the shoe deal alone being worth around $3 million annually. That’s a nice boost to his impressive current net worth

Kyrie’s Impressive Stats & Career Highlights: “Always Staying Hungry”

Irving’s dedication to success and hitting his goals have been evident in his consistency with the Cavaliers. Through his first six seasons in the league, he has never averaged fewer than 18 points per game, and his free throw percentage, a mark of concentration and mental fortitude, has never been below 85.5 percent, an average that usually ranks in the top 25 in the entire league.

Other career highlights include:

  • kyrie irving biography2010 McDonald’s All-American (high school)
  • 2010 Jordan Brand High School All-American (high school)
  • USA Olympic Gold Medal (2016)
  • 3× NBA All-Star (2013–2015)
  • NBA All-Star Game MVP (2014)
  • All-NBA Third Team (2015)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (2012)
  • NBA All-Rookie First Team (2012)
  • NBA Rising Stars Challenge MVP (2012)
  • NBA Three-Point Shootout champion (2013)
  • USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (2014)
  • FIBA World Cup MVP (2014)
  • NBA champion (2016)
  • Kyrie Irving’s full stats – espn.com

More important to Kyrie Irving than his individual stats has been the continued upward trajectory of his team. With the Cavaliers again among the NBA’s elite franchises, Irving seems poised to continue the success that has made him one of the NBA’s most exciting and productive competitors for years to come.

Photo Credit: Cleveland.com