Basketball is a sport that’s synonymous with jumping.
Being able to sky into the air has always been an advantage on the court, and it’s only gotten more important in the age of high-flying dunks, athletic wings, and flashy drives. Even so, verticals range wildly across the NBA.
There have been many incredible jumpers to play in the league, but only a few have truly pushed the boundaries of what’s possible.
The below sections analyze those talented athletes to see which ones could get up higher than anyone else to ever play the game.
The Heights of Hops
A vertical is far from the only measurement that teams look at when evaluating talent. Even so, it’s become more and more important as time has gone on. That’s because, while not every athlete needs to sky through the roof, they do need to get up pretty high.
Being able to jump up adds a lot of dimensions to one’s game. Not only does it allow them to play on another physical plane, but it makes it much easier for them to play defense, dunk, shoot, and score as well.
Where many players would get stuck in the key or not be able to drive through a crowded lane, athletes who can jump high are able to simply rise above the pack. That gives them the ability to shoot shots that are closed off to players who can’t jump as high. The same is true on defense.
Looking at such metrics, being able to jump always comes in handy no matter what position someone is playing or what the situation is going on in the game.
Bigger Each Year
Of course, players with high verticals can also dunk well. That wasn’t always a big part of the game, but focus has shifted to big slams as history has gone on. It’s almost a requirement for just about any serious player these days.
That’s because NBA athletes have gotten more athletic over time, which in turn raised the bar for all rookies. The more players who can get up above the rim, the more players need to match that standard.
In the past, big men dominated the middle, and outside players relied on jump shots. Now, those lines have been blurred more than ever before. Where guards would always be able to dunk, their jumping ability tended to be limited. That’s just no longer true.
The average NBA vertical, which used to sit far below the current mark, is now up to 28 inches. That may not be incredibly high when compared to the best dunkers in the NBA, but it’s quite high taking into account all of the big men who don’t have a lot of leaping ability.
Every wing and guard who makes it to the NBA has a solid vertical. Even players who struggle to dunk, like Steve Nash, can jump 30 or more inches. Still, while that might be much higher than the general public, it’s not impressive for the league. That mark sits at 40 inches.
Above, and Below, the Mark
A 40-inch vertical is what most consider to be truly exceptional. Anyone who can hit that level is able to dunk with ease, and can spring from standing to full height almost instantly. Not all great dunkers can get there, but those that can are undoubtedly in a class of their own.
To give reference for how impressive 40 inches is, there have been plenty of other high-flying dunkers who didn’t have verticals that were anywhere near Jordan’s mark. Dwayne Wade and Russell Westbook had 36 inch verticals, while Kobe had one that measured 38 inches.
That’s not to say those players couldn’t jump. Rather, they had incredible hops and still fell short of that elusive 40 inches. It’s not just a tough mark, it’s something that seems only impossible for most people. That is, of course, except for the great of the greats.
The Truly Unmatched
Seeing the above statistics, it should come as no surprise that many of the highest jumpers have played in recent years. While it’s easy to assume that the likes of Lebron James are in the top jumpers ever, with a 44 inch vertical he’s not even top 10.
In the current NBA, Zion Williamson has the fifth highest vertical with an impressive 45 inches. From there, both Derrick Jones Jr. and Zach LaVine clock in at 46, while Dennis Smith Jr. and Keon Johnson both have the ability to jump to 48 inches.
That mark isn’t just impressive, it’s actually the best vertical ever recorded at the combine. It happens to match the highest jump ever recorded by an NBA player as well, which was set by none other than Michael Jordan all the way back in 1984.
In that year the G.O.A.T. hit the 48-inch mark while trying out for the Olympic team. Though it was not an official measurement, the jump was corroborated by several other players and coaches who witnessed it. He was known for his incredible leaping ability as well.
That’s why he’s long been known as the greatest jumper in NBA history. His vertical has been matched by a few players over the years, but nobody has ever been able to surpass that mark. Seeing how long it’s stood, it’s unlikely that anyone ever will.
Having a high vertical comes with tons of benefits, and is almost a requirement for a modern athlete. Basketball has only gotten more competitive, with players being able to do more and more with each season. A big part of that is their ability to leap through the air.
Just about everyone who plays in the NBA can jump to a certain degree, but only a few players were able to jump 40 or more inches. Even fewer were able to go beyond that. Jordan is one such example. He wasn’t just a good jumper, he could get higher than anyone else.
That’s another way he’s managed to separate himself as the greatest of all time.