The Two Smartest NBA Players in the Game

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Published: December 5, 2009

When judging who the smartest player in the NBA today is, it’s easiest to break down the award into two different ones. On-court and off-court intelligence are very different, useful skills for winning in the NBA.

First let’s look at the which superstar has handled himself the best off the court throughout his career:

Tim Duncan

The Big Fundamental has shown he that he’s beyond capable on the court, but for now let’s ignore that. It’s the things he does off the court that have allowed him to be mentioned as possibly the greatest PF ever to play the game.

He’s been called a lot of things on the court throughout his NBA career on court, but without his off the court decisions he would never have been as successful as he is.

At some point Tim must have realized this.

First off Tim doesn’t say bad things about his teammates or his coach, something Lebron, Kobe, and Shaq should have taken note of.

He offered to take a 11 million dollar cut in salary over two years because as he said, it would help the team to win. It’s not often in sports you see a guy with four rings taking a pay cut in hopes of winning another.

I think it’s important to note that players that win titles have generally been considered among the best ever, while players who were unable to do are rarely even included in the discussion.

For twenty minutes I tried to find some dirt on Duncan, something I had missed throughout the last decade. I came up with nothing.

The worst thing he has done in his NBA career is getting a 25,000 dollar fine. Subsequently the ref who was responsible for Duncan’s fine, Joey Crawford, was suspended indefinitely. You don’t mess with Tim Duncan.

Choosing to stay in college for four full years, he holds an honors degree in psychology and created the Tim Duncan Foundation to raise general health awareness and fund education and youth sports.

Wake Forest psychology department chairperson Deborah Best was quoted: “Tim was one of my more intellectual students. Other than his height, I couldn’t tell him from any other student at Wake Forest.”

It’s his off court intelligence that has allowed him to be known as one of the great players of all time.

On the court is a different story. Sure Duncan has been among the smartest on the court as well, but there is one guy who stands out as being head and shoulders above the rest (figuratively speaking).

Chris Paul

When one thinks of a basketball genius, Chris Paul’s name has to come to mind. Standing at only six feel tall he needs to do things that taller players don’t even think to do. What makes him so smart?

The two and one

When there are 50 seconds or less left in any quarter, Paul takes full advantage. If possible, he manages the game so that the Hornets get a shot off with thirty seconds left on the clock.

This allows his team to almost always get two shots off, while the other team is stuck shooting just one. It might not seem like a ton, but that little move gives the Hornets one additional shot, worth a bonus of approximately of 1.2 points each time he does it.

The cut in front

While dribbling down court he does something that I’ve rarely seen in my 20 or so years of watching the league. He speeds in front of a player on the opposing team, cuts in front while dribbling, and then just stops. If the opposing player isn’t athletic enough, or paying close enough attention they run into him and are called for a foul.

Done once this might not seem like much, but when he does it ten times a game it helps out. From my experience he draws one or two additional fouls per game like this.

This move is capable of being used in other situations as well. Last night with three seconds remaining in the half, Paul received an inbounds pass near the Hornets’ baseline.

In two seconds he made it all the way to half court and then inexplicably (at the time) slowed down. He cut in front of a Timberwolves’ player and stopped running, instead hoisting up a shot he had no intention or possibility of making.

The Timberwolves player was unable to avoid contact with Paul and as a result CP3 shot three free throws to end the half, making them all. This isn’t something that any other player does with any sort of regularity.

Up by one, ball in hands, ten seconds left

This is yet another example of Chris Paul taking full advantage of the NBA rules. Although he’s only been successful with this a few times, it remains in his arsenal.

the obvious move for the other team in this situation is to foul so Paul shoots two free throws, leaving it a one possession game. Not in CP3’s world.

Most players in this situation just take the foul, and the two free throws. Paul however, sees this as a perfect opportunity to get an additional free throw. He knows the foul is coming so when he’s hit he just jacks up a shot from WAY downtown.

The first time he did this, the refs weren’t quite sure what to make of it and consequently they only gave him two free throws. He plead his sensible case, but they didn’t budge.

Next time in this same situation before play had started he walked up to the ref and told him of his plans to shoot the ball while being fouled. This time, with the ref aware of his intentions, Paul was fouled while shooting a 60 foot three pointer. He was awarded three free throws which he made all of, essentially closing out the game.

The flop

Now let me just throw it out there. I’m not a huge fan of this move. Luckily for CP3 it doesn’t matter what people think about it. Flopping has gone on in the league since it’s inception. Drawing fouls is beneficial to your team and CP3 is among the best at it.

Although I’m completely unable to find stats on fouls drawn (anyone?) I’m pretty sure that CP3 is among the league leaders over the last two years.

Now I know all I’ve talked about is sneaky moves to gain small advantages, but when you look at the sum of them, the contributions are pretty significant.


Let’s look more at on court play-

He’s led the league in steals and assists for a number of years, while keeping his turnover rate remarkably low proving his court vision to be the best in the league.

His rebounding numbers are great for a player as small as he is, showing his instincts are off the charts. Last year he averaged 5.6 per game, second among point guards and behind only six foot four, Jason Kidd.

His 1.42 points per shot and 50 percent shooting mark from the floor last year exemplify that his shot selection is among the tops in the league, too. You know he wasn’t dunking it like the few guys ahead of him.

Feel differently? Let me know.

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