The “Hustle and Show” mentality is a staple of every era in the NBA’s history.
Today, we’re shining the spotlight on 32 players that live and breathe grit and showmanship. Some of them are featured in our Series 3 Hustle and Show drop, and the rest are known for their defensive and offensive excellence throughout the league.
Editor's Note: Our annual Hustle and Show set returned in 2023, peep the latest tribute to the NBA's best hustle players and showmen.
Without further ado, here are the individuals who earned their way into the 2021-22 set with their tendency to either put their body on the line or show out when the spotlight is brightest (and in some cases both).
The “Grit & Grind” era Grizzlies would have welcomed Dillon Brooks with open arms: his indirect homage to them features a constant, in-your-face style of defense that can really wear you down.
From the moment the ball is tipped, Brooks is frantically working to get his opponent out of rhythm…and it usually works. If you can earn your stripes as a feared defender in Memphis, you’re doing something right.
Marcus Smart is the prototype for anyone you’d classify as a “hustle player.” While there are a lot more layers to his game than that, Smart’s calling card came from getting under opponents’ skin and being disruptive through energy and effort.
No matter the matchup or size disadvantage, Smart’s wired with an old school mentality - always looks for the toughest challenge and won’t hesitate to sacrifice for his team.
When you think of some of the game’s best young stoppers, Philly’s Matisse Thybulle is one of the first names that comes to mind. A proven defender at every level, he dominated as a versatile shutdown guy in college, both winning the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Naismith Defensive Player of Year (top college defender in the country) during his final season at Washington.
Thybulle thrives as a switchable perimeter defender who constantly blitzes passing lanes (career 1.6 steals per game), sells out for loose balls, locks up one-on-one assignments and protects the basket. His high motor doesn’t allow for many breaks when trying to get a bucket against him.
It’s a shame Myles Turner hasn’t yet earned an All-Defensive selection despite leading the NBA in blocks in two of the last three seasons. Checking the stat sheet often doesn’t do justice to Turner’s tremendous impact by simply altering or affecting routine looks - but when you actually do take a look, he’s far and ahead of the pack as a pure shot-blocker.
Through 39 games in 2021-22, Turner has 112 blocks (2.9 per game), 28 more than the next closest player. His activity, ability to utilize his length and willingness to go after every shot places him in a different class.
Devin Vassell has quickly found his footing as a vital defensive specialist under Coach Gregg Popovich. Though creating steals and converting them into points is Vassell’s primary skill, he’s gained a reputation of making things difficult for top scorers through relentless energy and a nonstop motor.
Kevin Garnett • Minnesota Timberwolves (Retired)
Kevin Garnett is synonymous with bringing intensity - his confident attitude is more of a lifestyle than anything else. The ability to disrupt an opponent’s flow through trash talk, pure domination offensively or shutting them down defensively puts KG amongst the greatest strategists we’ve seen: he imposed his will by outworking and outsmarting opponents, periodically wearing them down.
Gerald Wallace • Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets (Retired)
Gerald Wallace’s nickname (“Crash”) tells you all you need to know about what he brought to the table. During his peak years with the Charlotte Bobcats, the former All-Star had a season where he averaged 10 rebounds per /night and another in which he averaged nearly eight rebounds with more than two steals and two blocks per night: an uncanny stat for a 6’7 forward.
Andrei Kirilenko • Utah Jazz (Retired)
Andrei Kirilenko (otherwise known as AK-47), like Wallace, was a similar, two-way stat sheet stuffer. He popularized the “5x5” - at least five points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks - accomplished the feat on three separate occasions during his career. Whenever Kirilenko was tasked to shut you down, it wasn’t going to be an easy night.
Patrick Beverley just doesn’t give his matchup a break…it’s just that simple. When someone welcomes the idea of throwing you off your game by invading both your air and mental space, it’s difficult to perform at the highest level. A gutsy mentality as an on-ball defender is ingrained in Beverley’s DNA.
Draymond Green is a rare player who’s able to set the entire tone for his team’s defensive framework on a nightly basis. Accepting the responsibility of guarding bigs who outweigh him, while staying just as effective against players with a speed advantage, makes the three-time champ indispensable.
A maximum effort from Green is second nature: his versatile skill set makes an impact in every statistical area.
Jimmy Butler’s journey to become an All-NBA talent shaped the incredibly effective, two-way play we see from him today. As a rookie back in 2011, Butler saw limited action, but took his time and picked up a lot of “role player” tendencies, including defending multiple positions and taking advantage of his minutes without a steady dose of shot attempts.
His time fighting for a spot in the league, then later evolving into a marquee playmaker allows for a uniquely relatable, hard-working mindset that’s embraced with open arms by the Miami Heat.
Jimmy’s teammate, Bam Adebayo, is cut from the same cloth: a reason behind some of their success since joining forces as teammates a couple of seasons ago. Bam is no stranger to mixing it up on defense and in the paint.
For an All-Star center, his effort reflects someone trying to make the team - Bam doesn’t back down, will guard anyone and isn’t worried about putting himself on the line to help Miami win.
It seems like there’s three or four Alex Caruso’s out there at all times. His defensive stops are normally game-changers: Caruso’s rare in the sense he has multiple options (dunk, pass or three) to convert after creating an advantage with a huge block or a steal.
Gary Payton II could be labeled as a “dynamic hustle player” since his relentless pressure as a harassing defender is complemented by big-time athleticism: the most routine steal, slam or block has a different sort of feel aesthetically.
Jarred Vanderbilt is quickly on the rise as a hyperactive defender (avg. almost two steals and a block per night) and rebounder: he goes after every single 50/50 ball, positions himself well for charges and maintains a high level of energy at all times. His hustle play earned both a starting spot and prime standing as a #1 lockdown threat in Minnesota.
In the air, Miles Bridges might be the best modern example of “incredible power meets explosive vertical ability.” There’s a few key reasons that make Bridges a commodity amongst a similar field of other-worldly athletes in the league:
- Finishing with authority, usually with his off-hand (right hand)
- Fearless mentality despite who’s in the paint
- Flair for the dramatic (windmills, tomahawks, 360s)
Not many players consistently produce more spectacular moments.
If you’re looking to impress your friends with an up & coming dunker, Portland’s Greg Brown III is a name to watch. Despite only 15 appearances so far as a rookie, he’s already wowed the masses with an in-between the legs dunk in a game - an absolute rarity on its own.
The only thing is, it’s the second time Brown III’s pulled off the slam since this past Summer League. If this is just an appetizer of what’s to come, there’s no telling what we’ll see in the near future.
A legendary Dunk Contest participant, Aaron Gordon has a deep bag of tricks in the air. Though he makes his most noise in transition, playing alongside reigning MVP Nikola Jokić means the opportunity for a special play could happen at any point, without any set up at all.
Whether it’s over the top, off a strong cut or after a miss, Gordon’s looking for an emphatic slam.
Dynamic scoring talent will never go out of style - LA’s Malik Monk fits the mold as a microwave-type of bucket-getter who can tilt the scoreboard in a short amount of time.
Monk’s points come from a naturally athletic framework that leads way to hanging jumpers, deep triples and double-clutch slams.
The self-proclaimed, “greatest big man shooter of all-time,” Karl-Anthony Towns has the elite outside skill to complement his uncommon scoring & playmaking abilities from everywhere inside the three-point line.
When Towns has a lane towards the basket, he throws down a vicious slam or makes a slick move that showcases some of his guard skills.
Since entering the league as the #4 overall pick back in 2015, Kristaps Porziņģis has racked up his fair share of awe-worthy plays.
Whether sending back shots (with authority) or flying in for a putback slam, KP’s likely going to end up with a highlight by the end of the night.
Steph Curry’s play style is the epitome of “effective showmanship” - every difficult and creative maneuver he’s able to pull off is calculated to a tee. Crossover combos, scoop shots/twisting finishes in the lane and an endless arsenal of deep threes: all executed with elite efficiency (career 47% shooting over his 12-year career).
Steph’s also known for a celebration or two (or three!) - if the shimmy makes a cameo, you know he’s in one of his unstoppable rhythms. Not many players embody “must-see TV” quite like the former two-time league MVP.
It seems like Ja Morant tries to “out-do” his own showmanship with each spectacular performance. One night, he’s soaring through the air for a ridiculous, one-handed throwdown or alley-oop with his head parallel to the rim. Another night, he might send your shot into the stands or (actually) grab it out of mid-air. Or he might just combine both while sprinkling in a dazzling dribble display.
LaMelo Ball’s feel for the game is pure: it seems that every time he has the ball in his hands, he’s coming up with the next move on the fly
Improvisation makes for an exciting brand of ball: other-worldly dimes, trick layups and heat-check triples all make recurring appearances.
Witnessing Kyrie Irving treat some of the NBA’s top defenders like stationary cones is a sight to behold. He’s able to navigate like he’s avoiding hazards in an obstacle course, each successive bounce chained into another, then another…then another until he sets up a perfect jumper or innovative finish around the rim.
Nikola Jokić: the best passing center of all-time? The 2021 MVP can already stake his claim as such - whenever you watch Jokić and the Nuggets play, his ability and involvement as an elite shot creator creates an enjoyable, free-flowing environment featuring a variety of no-look feeds and coast to coast scoring.
Chris Paul has ultimate control as a ball-handler, which is why it’s fun whenever he decides to put a little extra on a typical pass or move.
CP3’s mastered the art of subtle flair: before you can properly react, he’ll set up a quick, behind the leg dribble into a jumper or drop a perfect feed (with or without looking) to an open teammate.
Trae Young makes the Atlanta Hawks appointment-worthy viewing on his own. Nothing Young does on the court feels forced, his game is an instinctive byproduct of countless work to become an elite scorer & distributor. There’s just so many available options at his disposal - whether he’s lobbing it up for an alley-oop, breaking someone down with a nice hesitation dribble or cashing a heat-check three, Young puts on a show while racking up crazy numbers.
LeBron legitimately has 19 seasons worth of elite material that belongs on his career highlight tape. There isn’t a better example of a player with LeBron’s level of skill and showmanship but with the ability to express it however he sees fit, whenever he chooses to do so: an endless supply of signature moves.
Playing NBA2K must be the closest thing to what it’s like to be Zach LaVine on offense. Aside from his unrivaled athleticism, LaVine gets into incredible scoring zones where he’s able to carry an entire offense for long periods at a time. It takes no more than a step for LaVine to gain an advantage for a three or driving slam. If it’s the latter, a flashy highlight jam is normally the result.
No matter the circumstance of the game, Facundo Campazzo will make things exciting: he might just break out a couple of head-turning passes (behind the back, over the head, between his legs) just for the fun of it.
Oklahoma City’s got a bright future with Josh Giddey leading the way as a featured passer. Generating buzz will be an easy sell for fans: OKC’s talented rook already resembles an elite playmaking talent capable of pulling off any type of slick dime.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of NBA Top Shot or Dapper Labs.