Positionless basketball has been all the rage in the NBA for the past few years. The concept requires all five players on the floor to do multiple things– score inside and out, rebound, defend, run the break, etc. But truth be told, NBA teams have always valued versatility, even though the older eras may have been too rigid regarding roles and positions. This article lists 15 of the most versatile players in NBA history, divided into active and current NBA players.
What Makes a Player Versatile in the NBA?
In the NBA, versatility is a coveted trait that sets certain players apart from the rest. A versatile player possesses a diverse skill set and can proficiently adapt to various roles and positions on the court. The coach may put him in different sets, and he knows what to do and gets the job done.
That being said, one key aspect of versatility is the ability to excel in both offensive and defensive aspects of the game. Offensively, versatile players can score from various positions on the floor, whether it’s shooting from beyond the arc, driving to the basket, or posting up in the paint. They are also adept playmakers, capable of setting up teammates with precise passes and creating scoring opportunities.
On the defensive end, versatile players showcase the agility and instincts to guard multiple positions effectively, making them valuable assets to their teams in different matchups. If he is primarily a big man, he could stay in step with the guards and make it difficult for them while also being a capable rim protector.
Moreover, versatility extends beyond scoring and defense. Players who can rebound effectively, initiate fast breaks, and contribute as a secondary ball-handler are highly sought after. Additionally, having a high basketball IQ allows versatile players to make quick and intelligent decisions in different game situations, making them valuable assets for any team.
15 Most Versatile NBA Players in History
If a player possesses the skills mentioned above and does them on a high level, he’d get the recognition and the bag he deserves. Sometimes, though, some of them have all the talent but just couldn’t quite get it together. They have all the tools to be all-time greats but fall short of expectations. Without any more fuss, here are the most versatile NBA players of all time, starting with five still active.
Current Versatile NBA Players
1. LeBron James, SF/PF, Los Angeles Lakers
Is there any doubt about who comes out on top of the list of the best all around NBA players? Look up in the dictionary, and chances are, you’ll see a photo of LeBron under the word ”versatility.”
There is undoubtedly no other hooper who can play at least four positions at an elite level quite like King James. He has been a point forward for most of his career, but he could fill the gaps as a guard and a big in a jiffy. In fact, Bron led the league in assists in the 2019-20 season, his first year as a full-time point guard. And then, on February 7, 2023, James surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, playing primarily as a power forward.
2. Draymond Green, PF/C, Golden State Warriors
Green is a role player extraordinaire, one that could do so many things on offense and defense. He is primarily the Warriors’ de facto point guard in the half court, as he’s a master of setting up the Splash Brothers for open threes.
On defense, the guy has the basketball IQ equivalent of Albert Einstein. He directs traffic on the back line and constantly communicates with his teammates. As a former Defensive Player of the Year, Green is so good defensively, thanks to his toughness, quickness, and ability to guard all five players.
3. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF/PF, Golden State Warriors
Andre Iguodala is nearing the twilight of his career, but during the Warriors’ dynasty run, he was the key that unlocked Steve Kerr’s death lineup. He can guard multiple positions, is an excellent passer and rebounder, and can hit open shots. This varied skillset allowed him to make history as the first Finals MVP to win the award without starting all finals games. He tallied 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, four assists, and 40% shooting from deep, and most importantly, he held LeBron to 35.1% shooting as his primary defender.
4. Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF/PF, Golden State Warriors
Wiggins is playing the championship Iggy role for the Warriors, playing at least three positions for Steve Kerr. He is not as good a playmaker as Iguodala, but he’s longer and more athletic. The physical tools allow Wiggs to be a more versatile defender and a better rebounder and scorer. In their 2022 championship run, Wiggins averaged 18.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks, while playing excellent one-on-one defense against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Here’s a video of Andrew Wiggins shutting down the Jays in isolation situations on pro basketball’s biggest stage.
5. Jeremy Sochan, PG/SF/PF, San Antonio Spurs
There are more seasoned players than Sochan, but the potential is already there. He guards everyone– from Damian Lillard to Anthony Davis– and can do a lot of things on offense. Think about this: If Gregg Popovich allowed Sochan to run point for stretches, that means he trusts the kid’s decision-making. Factor in Sochan’s motor, and Pop’s got a damn versatile piece moving forward.
Legendary Versatile NBA Players
6. Magic Johnson
Considered by many as the best point guard of all time, Magic was also famous for filling in as center in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s absence. He proceeded to put on a show– 42 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists– on the way to a Finals MVP award as a rookie! At the tail end of his career, Johnson primarily played power forward, averaging 14.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 6.9 dimes.
While Michael Jordan commanded most of the limelight in the Bulls championship runs, Pippen was a horror to play against in offense and defense because of his skill set. Scottie can play small forward, point guard, all the way to power forward, thanks to his frame and length. What’s more scary was that Pippen was even better on defense, wreaking havoc on passing lanes, picking point guards up 94 feet, and could protect the paint with his long arms.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Scottie Pippen is one of the best two way players in NBA history and among its most versatile.
8. Kevin Garnett
KG played small forward early in his career but transitioned into a big man later. He could slide between power forward and center seamlessly, but he can also become a facilitator because of his incredible passing skills.
Garnett was also one of the few big men in his time that could hang with guards defensively without giving an inch. On offense, he can catch and shoot, post up, and operate in the lane without much difficulty because of his lengthy release and frame. As a testament to his otherwordly versatility, Garnett averaged 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, five assists, 2.5 blocks, and 1.5 steals in his lone MVP year in 2004.
9. Larry Bird
Bird played to win, and to do that, he was willing to play multiple positions. He can set the table for his teammates like a point guard, can look to score like a wing, and bang with the big guys inside with his 6-foot-9, 230-pound frame. Larry Legend could just do everything– pass, score, shoot, rebound, and even defend. Despite his reputation as a cold-blooded scorer, Bird made three All-Defensive teams and averaged almost two steals a game in his career by masterfully playing passing lanes.
10. Toni Kukoc
Kukoc’s versatility was very underappreciated by casual fans. He was one of the few in his era who could play all five positions on offense, while being an intelligent team defender. If Kukoc played in today’s NBA, his skills would have been more prominent, and he could legitimately be a superstar. Over his career, mostly coming off the bench, Kukoc averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and a steal per game and was a vital cog in three Bulls championship teams.
11. Boris Diaw
Speaking of the best all around NBA players who are madly underrated, Boris Diaw was one of them. Diaw came into the league as a wing but played power forward and center later on while still having the passing skills of a point guard. In the Spurs’ championship run in 2014, Diaw averaged 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 0.6 steals on 40% shooting from three and a 50% clip overall.
12. Lamar Odom
Odom was one of those players who had the tools to be an all-time great but just didn’t have the mentality for it. Even so, the 6-foot-10 power forward/point guard played for two Lakers championship teams. He was often the X-Factor that could virtually make Los Angeles invincible. Odom could initiate the break after rebounds, pass, clean the glass, score, and defend multiple positions. When he was named Sixth Man of the Year in 2011, LO averaged 14.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, three assists, 0.6 steals, and 0.7 blocks while shooting 53% from the floor and 38% from 3.
13. Andrei Kirilenko
Transport a prime Andre Kirilenko in today’s NBA, and he could legitimately be in the first-team All-NBA and All-Defensive team conversations. That’s how good this guy was. Playing point guard, small forward, and the big men positions, AK47 was a defensive terror who could also hold his own offensively. To emphasize how insanely versatile Kirilenko was, he once averaged 15.3 points, eight rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals, and 3.2 blocks in a season!
14. Gerald Wallace
Another superb athlete in the AK mold, Wallace does not have a varied offensive game but was a devastatingly good defender. Nicknamed “Crash” because of his penchant for hitting the floor on his drives to the basket, Wallace was a one-man wrecking crew in transition who stuffed the stat sheet with the best of them.
He averaged 18.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.1 blocks in his lone All-Star season in 2010 and even did better in some categories in other years. Wallace needs to be more than just a dunker in today’s game, but his combination of versatility, motor, and activity is not often witnessed, even in the NBA.
15. Josh Smith
Smith was an incredible athlete from the get-go, but he was way more than that, especially in his days with Atlanta. He primarily plays both forward positions, although he can also be a hub on offense because of his passing skills and a small-ball center because of his rim protection. In the 2011-12 season, J-Smoove averaged 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.7 blocks. Looking back, it’s a travesty that his guy did not even make one All-Star team.
Benefits of Being a Versatile Player in the NBA
You can be a one-trick pony in the NBA and still succeed. Look at J.J. Redick, Reggie Evans, Jamal Crawford, or Al Jefferson., who carved long NBA careers because they were elite at a single skill. However, you will likely be even more successful if you have a deep bag of skills. It helps if you are not limited only as an offensive player but also do a decent job on defense.
If anything, having versatile players directly contributes to winning. Having multiple all-around players is a nightmare to guard, and the opposition must pick their poison and choose a way to die.
Versatility allows players to seamlessly adjust their playing style depending on the flow of the game or the specific needs of their team. This adaptability makes them valuable assets in various game situations, contributing to their team’s success.
Lastly, versatile players can influence the game at both ends of the court. They contribute, not only to scoring and playmaking on offense but also excel in defensive assignments, making them complete and well-rounded players. As a result, the best all around NBA players often produce the sexiest numbers across different statistics.
What is the Most Versatile Position in Basketball?
If you notice the mold of the players listed above, most of them are natural small forwards. What sets them apart is their size and skill– they are often big enough to handle power forwards and centers and skilled enough to handle the ball and facilitate. In basketball, it’s easier to be big and play a traditionally “small” position, not the other way around.
Of course, there are exceptions (Josh Hart and Gary Payton, Jr. comes to mind), but generally speaking, it’s just not the norm.
Wrapping Things Up: 15 Most Versatile Players in NBA History
Throughout the history of the NBA, only a select group of players has shown real versatility in their careers. Their diverse skill sets allowed them to be effective in whatever position they played and successfully navigate different basketball situations.
With these considered, who are the most versatile players in NBA history? Of course, LeBron James and Magic Johnson top the list. Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, and Kevin Garnett are among the Hall of Famers who are some of the most versatile NBA players of all time. The list also includes retired stat-stuffers in a tier lower than the superstars, as mentioned earlier. These are Lamar Odom, Toni Kukoc, Andrei Kirilenko, and Boris Daw, to name a few. As the NBA continues to evolve, the impact of these individuals serves as a testament to the enduring value and excitement that versatility brings to the game of basketball.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.