When I was coaching middle school basketball, I had my players do a drill I called the LeBron Bump.
(I learned early on that if I wanted a kid to pay attention to something I was trying to teach on the football field or basketball court, all I had to do was name it after a professional athlete. I’d be like, "OK, dudes. Today we’re learning how to navigate a pick-and-roll," and the kids would be like, "Nah, go on somewhere with that, coach." But if I went, "OK, dudes. Today, we’re learning the Chris Paul Snake Move," then the kids would be like, "Please tell me more, coach." Kids are great. And also idiots.)
But so I had them doing the LeBron Bump.
It was a regular layup drill, but with a defender next to the player shadowing him all the way to the goal. The offensive player would get the ball on the right wing and dribble toward the goal, while the defender would slide his feet next to him with his hands in the air. As the offensive player gathered the ball, he would lean hard into the defender as the defender prepared to jump. The contact served two purposes: First, it would make it nearly impossible for the defender to block the shot. Second, it would — not every time but often enough — convince the ref that a foul had been committed against the offensive player.
Here’s a clip of LeBron doing it against the Cavs when he was with the Heat. Poor Kyrie Irving knows that it’s coming and all he can think to do is try to crash into LeBron to thwart his plans, which of course he cannot because Kyrie is a Prius and LeBron is that big rig from Mad Max: Fury Road:
The LeBron Bump is a sneaky and smart move, and LeBron does it once, twice, three times or more during most games.
I enjoy moves like that — predictable moves that you know a player loves to do. By my count, there are five tiers of predictable moves that NBA players do, sorted by how reliable they are in generating a favorable outcome. Tier I is least reliable of the groups. It goes up from there, each new tier more reliable than the last.
Here are the tiers, along with examples for each:
It Would Be Great If You Stopped Doing That
Reliability rating: Very low.
Description: These are the moves where as the guy is doing it, you’re just like, "Well … shit."
- The Derrick Rose Jump Pass: This used to be a dope thing to watch Derrick Rose do. He would jump, then you’d realize the defense had tricked him into a no-win situation and you’d say to yourself, "Why is he always jumping to pass it? Everyone knows you’re never supposed to jump to pass." But then, in a move wildly disrespectful to Sir Isaac Newton, he would decide to just not come down. He would float in the air for what felt like five or 10 seconds before a proper passing lane presented itself, then whip the ball across the court. The best time was during a 2014 game against the Pistons when he jumped, pump-faked poor Greg Monroe’s ears off his head, then threw it to Joakim Noah for an and-1 layup. Watch:
Two things here: (1) The Joakim Noah Layup is a Tier III move. Anything else Joakim Noah does with the ball in his hands more than an arm’s length away from the rim is a Tier I move. (2) To be honest, The Derrick Rose Jump Pass probably should’ve rated at least one tier higher, if not two tiers higher. But Derrick Rose is kind of a toad now, so all of his stuff feels a little worse than it maybe actually is.
Other notable Tier I moves:
- The Russell Westbrook Late-Game Panic 3: Russy has four different weapons in his Desperado guitar case of guns. This panic 3 (here’s an example and here’s an example and here’s an example) is the worst of the bunch. The others: The Russell Westbrook Fuck You Dunk (Tier V; the most destructive), The Russell Westbrook Fast-Break Pull-up 12-footer (Tier V; the most deadly), and The Russell Westbrook Cannonball Layup, where he just goes crashing into the lane and flips the ball in the general area of the rim (Tier III).
- The Andre Roberson Anything Offense: Roberson is an elite defender. (Earlier this month NBA.com had him as the sixth-best perimeter defender.) He is also a reverse-elite offensive player. (Earlier this month, I had him as the HAHAHAHAHA best offensive player.) Here’s a question: If you were in the NBA, would you rather be (a) an elite defender and a reverse-elite offensive player, (b) a reverse-elite defender and an elite offensive player, or (c) a middle-ground defender and a middle-ground offensive player?
- The Tristan Thompson Pre-putback Dribble: He gets the ball near the rim and then, before he puts it in, he dribbles it once, which is cool because it gives the defenders just enough time to rotate over and block his shot.
- The Tony Allen Layup: He’s First-Team All-Defense, not First-Team All-Layups.
Just Close Your Eyes and Hope
Reliability rating: Low.
Description: When I was in the seventh grade, I went to the corner store with some of my loser friends one day. I’d decided it’d be a good idea to steal several packs of baseball cards, which was dumb for any number of reasons, the dumbest of which was that I didn’t even like baseball. I opened them in the store and then put them in my pocket. A few seconds later, the cashier hollered at me to come over to him. I knew he must’ve seen me steal them, so I prepared myself to go to prison for 10 years, but a teeny, tiny, very small part of me had hope that what had actually happened was he’d seen that one of the packs had a Nolan Ryan card in it and he was going to ask if he could buy it from me. That’s this tier: You mostly know that bad things are coming, but you haven’t allowed all your hope to be snuffed out yet.
Notable Tier II moves:
- The Raymond Felton Floater: (1) How did Felton never have cornrows? (2) Felton is easily my favorite fat point guard right now (I will never count Kyle Lowry as fat), and possibly ever (Sherron Collins didn’t play enough to get the nod). I remember a video on the Knicks YouTube channel where he was being interviewed about his floater and the advice he gave was, "The biggest thing is to get the ball up in the air where it drops down in the rim." :)
- The Jabari Parker Hesitation Pull-up: You will never convince me that Parker doesn’t yell "HEZI!" every time he does a hesitation pull-up jumper.
- The Dion Waiters Basketball Waitersification: Generally it’s a train wreck, like that time he was with OKC and tried to dunk it and lay it up at the same time, or like all of his time with the Cavs. Occasionally, though, it’s transcendent, like Monday night when he put up 33 on the Warriors, including the go-ahead 3 over Klay Thompson to put the Heat up three with less than a second to go, which he proudly (and deservedly) (and perfectly) posed for.
- The Robin Lopez Hook Shot: A very excellent behind-the-curtain basketball video is the one of Hakeem Olajuwon working out Robin and Brook Lopez in 2011:
The five best parts:
(5) The 0:09 mark, when Robin Lopez misses a short bank shot and Hakeem’s left hand falls from his waist like a disappointed dad. (4) The 0:51 mark, when Hakeem pulls up on Robin and swishes a jumper and you’re like, "I bet Hakeem could average 10 points a game if he came back right now." (3) How every time one of the Lopez boys needs to retrieve a ball he jogs after it rather than walks, which is endearing to me for some reason. (2) Hakeem, while working with them on juking a defender, saying, "Let me see the moment of change of direction. That’s important." Then Brook showing him his best version of it. Then Hakeem, smiling, telling him, "Your head is moving but your body’s not moving." (1) The 1:45 mark, when Hakeem is showing them how to catch the ball in the post and then turn to attack. I remember reading an interview in Slam several years ago where Hakeem explained that he would always try to jump whenever he was receiving the ball in the post because it was a way to set up the defender for the move that was going to follow immediately afterward. It’s neat to watch him showing the Lopez boys that move, and then even neater watching them bobble their way through it. Hakeem Olajuwon was incredible and still is.
The Coin Flip
Reliability rating: It’s a coin flip. Duh.
Description: It’s. A. Coin. Flip.
Notable Tier III moves:
- The Paul Pierce Elbow Jumper: The longer he stays in the league past his expiration date, the further down the list this descends. It’s two seasons away from being a Tier I move.
- The Rajon Rondo Fake Behind-the-Back Pass: This one gets a Tier III rating because half the time when he does it I’m worried that rather than fake the pass and then lay it up he’s going to fake the pass and then throw the ball into the stands just because he feels like it.
- The Carmelo Anthony "Fuck Your Triangle" Iso: If Carmelo catches the ball and then puts it behind his head, it’s a wrap, baby. That shot’s going up.
- The LaMarcus Aldridge 18-footer: [FART NOISE.]
- The Andrew Wiggins Spin Move: He’s been doing it at an NBA level since his first summer league, and it has only gotten better and more devastating. I would not be surprised if by, say, 2021 there’s a game where Wiggins hits someone with a spin move so ruinous that it peels the skin from the defender’s body.
Something Good’s Going to Happen
Reliability rating: High.
Description: Largely beautiful and overwhelmingly crushing. If one of these starts to unfold, just run away.
Notable Tier IV moves:
- The Giannis Antetokounmpo (All-of-)Euro(pe)step: All of a sudden his is the premier Eurostep in the league, right? There were a couple of years when Manu’s was unstoppable, but now it takes him like six seconds to unfurl. Dwyane Wade’s was lethal, and it occasionally still is, but it looks almost elementary next to Giannis’s, because Wade can do his only from inside the free throw line and Giannis can do his from half court.
- The Steph Curry Crossover-to-3: A death sentence for everybody who is not Kevin Love, somehow.
- The John Wall Twisty-Turny Layup, and The Kyrie Irving Impossible Layup, and The Kemba Walker Stepback Jumper, and The Tony Parker Tear Drop: (1) Can we all please just spend a little more time talking about how incredible Kemba Walker is? (And can no one please bring up his 3-of-16 in Game 7 of the Hornets’ first-round series against the Heat last year?) (2) I’m sliding Tony Parker in here solely off of reputation and hoping that nobody notices.
- The Porzingis Putback Dunk: I propose a rule change: Going forward, every Porzingis Putback Dunk increases in value by one point. It starts today. His next one is worth one point, then the one after that is worth two points, then the next one is three points, and so on. I would just really love to see a 17-point Porzingis Putback Dunk late in a playoff game.
Like the Sun Rising, Only Better
Reliability rating: That’s a biiiiiingoooo.
Notable Tier V moves:
- The Russell Westbrook Fastbreak Pull-up 12-footer: I will never understand how he does this. He transitions from a dead-on sprint into a perfectly vertical explosion, leaving his sad, sad, sad defender to tumble hopelessly out of position. It’s like if a fighter jet just paused itself mid-flight then shot straight up into space. I don’t get it.
- The Chris Paul Snake Move: He calls for a pick near the top of the key. DeAndre or Blake or some other large human comes running up and sets a screen on Paul’s man. Paul slithers around the screen, but rather than heading straight into the lane he cuts across the front of his man so his man is now on his back. Now it’s Chris Paul at the corner of the free throw line playing four-on-three, which means your team is pretty much cooked.
- The James Harden Extend-o-Arms Drive: He drives into the lane, holds the ball straight out and waits for someone to reach for it, then drags his arms up through theirs. It is as infuriating as it is unstoppable. I hate it and I respect it.
- The Kevin Love Full-Court Outlet: Rebound the ball, throw the ball. Rebound the ball, throw the ball. Rebound the ball, throw the ball. Rebound the ball, throw the ball. Rebound the …
- The Kawhi Leonard "Man, My Grandmama Gave Me That Chain": This is the move where he just straight up yanks the ball out of someone’s hands. I love it because every time I watch him doing it I imagine him saying to himself, "Bitch, you thought."
- The Dirk One-Legged Fadeaway: Dribble. Dribble. Pivot. Knee. Fadeaway. Death.
- The Shaun Livingston Post-up Turnaround Jumper: Here’s a fun stat that’s real: Livingston has never missed a post-up turnaround jumper. Not once. There was one time in a game in 2006 where he shot it and the ball hit the rim as it was going in, but that’s the closest he’s ever come to missing it. I’ve watched this video of him posting up Tony Parker maybe 60 times. He knows before he gets to the half-court line that he’s about to put Parker in the torture chamber. He doesn’t try to sprint into a fast break or cause any sort of chaos among the defense. He just very methodically, in his most serial-killer manner, dribbles up the left side of the floor, turns his back to Parker, waits for Parker to provide a little resistance so he knows what direction to turn, spins, holds the ball at an impossible-to-block height, and flicks it in as Parker fouls him. It’s perfect and perfectly reliable. No move is more dependable.