Ballhandling not only allows someone to get wherever they want on the court, but dribbling moves open up lanes for passes, and they help players get their shots off when they otherwise may have trouble. While point guards are often the best dribbles in the world due to their dexterity and agility, you’ll see a taller player with insane moves, as well. The evolution of ballhandling coincides with the progression of skills and talents within the NBA, so ranking the best ballhandlers ever gives us a good look at the artistry and inventiveness of the sport in general.
1. Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving not only looks like the best ballhandler in the world with just a second glance at his game, but he objectively has more moves than anyone else on the floor. The ball moves with Irving’s hands like it’s connected to his flesh, an extension of his humanity and his basketball enterprise. Spinning, between the legs, through other people’s legs, and so many more tricks lie inside the most expansive bag of tricks in the NBA!
2. Steph Curry
Steph Curry’s dribbling gets constantly disrespected because it only gets thought about in the context of his shooting ability. Curry leverages his tight, otherworldly handle to launch bombs from another zip code every quarter, but he often adds a little bit of extra sauce just to entertain the crowd whenever he feels like it. Sometimes Curry’s handle even mesmerizes and frustrates his coaches!
3. Pete Maravich
Pete Maravich laid the foundation for every dribbler who came after him, and not many have lived up to his greatness. The Pistol’s ambidextrous handle yo-yoed through defenders from the 1970s who must have thought they were trying to stop an extra-terrestrial from scoring. Maravich understood basketball was a game, and he allowed everyone to dream and have fun while watching him!
4. Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas’ ballhandling offset some of the dirty theatrics the Detroit Pistons engaged in throughout the 1980s. Zeke’s small frame kept him low to the ground, and his center of gravity balanced his ballhandling through a forest of towering competitors. Without his dribbling skills, the Bad Boys simply wouldn’t have won two NBA titles.
5. Allen Iverson
Allen Iverson dribbled with more street swag than anyone in history. Kids from all over the world wanted to be like The Answer! With a killer crossover and a fearless desire to embarrass his defenders, A.I. even famously tripped up Michael Jordan in his heyday!
6. Earl Monroe
If anyone could hold up to a comparison against Pete Maravich in the 1970s, it was Earl Monroe. The Pearl had herky-jerky dazzle in his game that perfectly complimented New York City. Winning a championship with the Knicks while entertaining the Madison Square Garden crowd was icing on the cake.
7. Jason Williams
Jason Williams wasn’t the All-Star caliber guard that most of the other great ballhandlers on this list were, but he garnered a cult following. “White Chocolate” attempted ill-advised dribbles and passes, somehow turning them into spectacular feats of artistic basketball expression. The elbow pass in the 2000 Rookie Challenge remains his seminal moment.
8. Jamal Crawford
J-Crossover blended a loose handle with a thirst for ingenuity to play nearly two decades in the NBA. Crawford’s dribbling always made it look like he was going to lose the ball, but that’s right where he wanted the defense. His long arms made his crossover much wider than any other player’s dribble moves in league history.
9. Steve Nash
Steve Nash was the master at turning his dribble into a bounce pass or a behind-the-back dish to Amar’e Stoudemire and a variety of other teammates. Nash’s history playing soccer and hockey before getting to the NBA surely made his handle even better than it would have been otherwise.
10. Rafer Alston
Rafer Alston’s handle appeared so prodigious to the NBA that he maintained the nickname “Skip 2 My Lou” from his days playing on the AND1 tour. Alston translated his electrifying handles into professional success for a decade and even structured his game until he became a mainstay on teams like the Houston Rockets.
11. Chris Paul
Chris Paul’s passing and vision get all of the attention, but a player CP3’s size wouldn’t find much success without an otherworldly handle. Paul never performs a wasted move, instead opting for precise, calculated dribbles that result in a dime to a teammate or a mid-range dagger at the buzzer.
12. Tim Hardaway
Tim Hardaway possessed perhaps the most deadly crossover of the 1990s. The UTEP Two-Step allowed Hardaway to careen through the defense, leaving opposing guards speechless and without any way to stop him. Hardaway’s skills combined with Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin in the 1990s to aid the Golden State Warriors in their playoff runs.
13. Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd’s methodical, yet surgical dribbling wasn’t going to make as many highlight reels as his passing and finishing, but much like Chris Paul, Kidd’s handle was a fundamental key to unlocking the rest of his game. As he got older and became more of a shooter, Kidd’s dribbling skills remained intact on fast breaks and transition plays.
14. Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo’s gigantic hands let him grip the ball and manipulate his handle and passes in ways other point guards may have struggled to replicate. Fakes, deception, and behind-the-back moves were all part of Rondo’s repertoire when he headed out onto the basketball court for the Boston Celtics and several other teams.
15. James Harden
James Harden dominated the NBA in the mid-2010s with isolation basketball. The between-the-legs handle he accessed at the top of the key before every foray into the paint or step-back jumper at the three-point line should never be forgotten. It may not have always been pretty, but Harden’s handle was effective.
16. Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy pioneered dribbling as a weapon for point guards to get where they want on the basketball court. Although his handle looks routine in the 2020s, the added context of the 1950s and 1960s helps fans see how instrumental Cousy was for the Boston Celtics. Without Cousy showing the way, who knows what the position would look like?
17. Nick Van Exel
Nick Van Exel’s speed separated him from other elite ball handlers in the 1990s and early 2000s. Playing for the Lakers and the Nuggets, Van Exel consistently blurred the lines of ball handling to score at will, no matter how quick the defender was.
18. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson’s handle in the open floor enabled him to play point guard at a power forward height and frame. Magic wasn’t going to cross you over very often or end up on TV for dribbling theatrics, but nobody at the time could bring the ball up the court at 6’9”.
19. Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard’s clutch shooting and outlandish range have made him one of the NBA’s best players in the 2010s. His tight handle adds to the recipe for success, forcing his defenders out of the way before he bombs a three-point shot from the logo.
20. Nate Archibald
Tiny Archibald’s handle must have felt inexplicably out of reach due to his short height and how low he dribbled for the Boston Celtics and Kansas City Kings in the 1970s and 1980s. Archibald’s handle was the main tool he used to lead the league in points and assists in the same season in 1973.
21. John Stockton
John Stockton’s no-nonsense dribble, combined with his vision and hands, led the Utah Jazz to the playoffs nearly every year during the 1990s. Stockton’s dribbling is just one part of his point guard persona, one that coaches still envy to this day.
22. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan’s offensive skills made him the best player of all time when he retired. Dribbling was a major part of what made MJ so hard to stop, with a solid crossover, athletic shiftiness, and creativity on the ball.