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5 best NBA on-court actors who deserve an Academy Award, ranked

NBA watchers know that it’s Oscar season. The world is still aglow from the Academy Awards. In what has been a strange year to say the least, it’s been a comfort for audiences and fans to be able to celebrate their favorite actors and actresses at one of the biggest entertainment events of the year.

But sports fans should celebrate too — and in the game of basketball, there are a ton of incredible actors for all of us to celebrate. No, they’re not starring in series or the latest film: These maestros are the true virtuosos of on-court acting. Baiting fans, other players, and even refs is its own (annoying) art form, and in honor of the Oscar season, we’re counting down the five greatest NBA on-court actors. Ready, and…action:

NBA Academy Award Contenders:

5. Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

There are NBA players who flop and sell contact in order to earn their money (more on that later), and there are those who just do it to annoy people. Marcus Smart belongs in that second category, and boy does he have a talent for it. His resume isn’t as long as other names that you’ll see on this ranking, but his peak performance might just be the highest of everyone on this list. Just look at this:

Bravissima, Mr. Smart. Get someone to CG some explosives in the post, and we have a natural fit for the next big action NBA star. There was literally no reason for this flop, but we’re so very glad a stunt man of Marcus Smart’s caliber is playing in this league.

NBA Player Acting equivalent: Tom Cruise

4. Draymond Green

Draymond Green is here because of his passion for the craft of acting in the NBA. He doesn’t sell super hard like Marcus Smart, nor is he really very subtle with his performances. Green instead makes his money on vocal performance.

After a flop, you’ll be able to see him physically and verbally chase after NBA officials. He knows that the call won’t be reversed, so he’s just trying to stir up as much trouble as possible. Green has what in the business is called the gift of gab. He’s not very subtle, but man does he like to talk. Moreover, he’s a feared and respected defender outside of the flops, so he adds a lot of gravitas to his performances just by his aura alone.

NBA Player Acting equivalent: Edward Norton

3. LeBron James

You know, for someone who isn’t really the best free throw shooter in the NBA (70.3% this season), LeBron James really likes to sell contact, even when there is none:

This isn’t even the worst of it. As far back as 2016, there were analysts who were already doing retrospectives on LeBron’s illustrious acting career. He’s been in the NBA, and playing this game, for a really long time, and his talent immediately gets him all the calls that he wants.

Think about this: LeBron James has never averaged less than 5.5 free throw attempts per NBA game. For him, that’s not nothing, especially since he’s much more of a shooter and facilitator now. His career is long and absurdly prolific, and as a candidate for overall GOAT status, James has proved to be very versatile in his skillset outside of acting too.

NBA Player Acting equivalent: Sir Christopher Lee

2. Joel Embiid

If you’re looking for the perfect NBA marriage between Draymond Green and Marcus Smart, meet Joel Embiid. He is the flopping child of both of them, plus so much more.

At 7’2 and nearly 300 pounds, Joel Embiid should be one of the most immovable players in the NBA. And yet:

Look at that performance. It’s all of Marcus Smart’s flair, with just a hint of subtlety, mixed with all of the trash talk that we love so much from Draymond Green’s performances. Embiid is one of the NBA’s greatest players and its greatest heel, and you see all of that in that highlight. Throw in the fact that he sold it in the waning seconds of a close game, and this is an all-time performance.

This specific highlight actually earned Embiid a historic warning from the league, and he has a history of turning in performances like these. If not for one more actor on this list, Embiid would be a shoe-in for this year’s NBA Best Actor Award.

Just like the Philadelphia 76ers, Embiid has built a reputation for himself of being just shy of true glory. Who does that sound like?

NBA Player Acting equivalent: Leonardo DiCaprio

1. James Harden

You knew who would top this NBA list.

James Harden has perfected the art of efficient scoring. His three main courses are three-pointers, layups, and free throws, and he draws a lot of them. In fact, despite his scoring average taking a mighty dip this season in the presence of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, The Beard is still sixth in the NBA in attempted free throws, with 7.5. He is only outpaced by a mix of solo offensive engines and paint specialists (Giannis, Zion, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and Jimmy Butler).

Harden’s acting style is by far the most subtle out of all these brilliant thespians. He doesn’t flop or do anything spectacular, and he is one of the most savvy players in the NBA at baiting refs. Much has been made of his technique to sell contact, and it’s been debated as a legitimate strategy for scoring guards.

The Beard is an absolute chameleon when he acts, even when the calls don’t go his way:

You’re lying to yourself if you didn’t believe even just a little foul-worthy contact took place. And that’s because James Harden simply loses himself in his performances. He’s not spectacular — he’s just the best, most reliable actor in the NBA right now.

NBA Player Acting equivalent: Tom Hanks