11 Great NBA Players That Can’t Dunk

Dunks are one of the most exciting shots in the NBA. It shows the athleticism, creativity, height, and power of the best basketball athletes in the world. So, in a league filled with tall and athletic players, are there even players that can’t dunk?

According to Basketball-Reference, some of the NBA players who never dunked in a game include Steve Nash, Fred Vanvleet, Isaiah Thomas, Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Patty Mills, TJ McConnell, Steve Novak, Jason Kapono, Troy Daniels, and DJ Augustin.

Now, let us look at why these players can’t dunk, or can they?

NBA players That Can’t Dunk

When we say, ‘can’t dunk,’ it does not mean they cannot do it. There may even be videos of them dunking on YouTube. The “can’t dunk” tag means they never successfully made or even attempted dunking the ball during the game.

NBA Players are some of the best athletes in the world. We already talked about how only 450 players get a regular spot in the whole NBA each season, so you may think that it is almost impossible to find NBA players who can’t dunk, mainly because the average height of NBA players is 6’7″.

Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash, All-Stars Fred Vanvleet and Isaiah Thomas, and even Steve Novak, who is listed at 6’10”, are some of the most prominent players who never recorded a successful dunk.

Reasons Why Some NBA Players Can’t Dunk

Lay up

We have now established that when we say some NBA players can’t dunk, they simply never recorded any in-game dunks in their respective careers. Here are some reasons why some NBA players remained “grounded.”

1. They are too short

The basketball rim is 10 feet high, so it is only normal for small players to have difficulty dunking the ball. It is also rare for NBA teams to include shorter players in their rosters, so it is normal not to see players not dunking. But that is not the end of the story about why some players can’t or don’t dunk.

2. They can’t jump high enough

Another physical limitation for players not being able to dunk is they can’t jump high enough. There is also a stereotype that “white men can’t jump,” as depicted in a movie with the same title.

I’m not entirely sure of the accuracy of that statement, but the majority of the people on the list of NBA players who can’t dunk are Caucasians.

3. They are conserving energy

Dunking can be physically exhausting, especially for shorter players. In an interview with Fred Vanvleet, he said he can dunk, backed up with videos showing he could.

However, he also noted that the energy and effort placed on the jump could be used elsewhere. And since he is now one of the primary scorers and ballhandlers in the Toronto Raptors, he can use his conserved energy on other aspects of the game.

4. They are not presented with the opportunity

Isaiah Thomas is the shortest player on the list, but he has proven he can dunk. He even attempted to dunk during a game but was unsuccessful.

Unfortunately, he is now far from his prime and will now have difficulty returning to the NBA or even attempting another dunk.

11 NBA Players who Never Dunked in an Official Game

1. Steve Novak (6’10”)

Steve Novak by Keith Allison

Novak spent 11 years in the NBA and is the tallest player listed on this list. His height makes it almost impossible to believe that he can’t dunk. But since he played mainly beyond the three-point line, he didn’t have the opportunity to take the ball to the rim.

2. Jason Kapono (6’8″)

Jason Kapono with Miami by Keith Allison

Kapono spent nine years in the NBA, and his height also tells us that he can undoubtedly dunk at one point. However, he is also a designated three-point shooter, similar to Novak. And as role players, they can only take a few shots and have to make it count.

3. Troy Daniels (6’4″)

Troy Daniels by Sandro Halank

Troy Daniels is an NBA journeyman who spends seven seasons on seven teams. Though he made a dunk in the G League, it doesn’t count as an NBA dunk.

4. Steve Nash (6’3″)

Steve Nash by scott mecum

Steve Nash is one of the less athletic players in the league who won the NBA MVP, not once but twice. And even though his only recorded dunk was in high school, it never stopped him from playing the game his way.

5. Ricky Rubio (6’3″)

Ricky Rubio by Erik Drost

Rubio was first noticed in 2008 with the Spanish Team in the Beijing Olympics. Though he can do flashy passes, his unreliable jumpers became his limiting factor. Like Nash, he is also not as athletic as the other point guards in the league.

6. TJ McConnell (6’1″)

T.J. McConnell by Keith Allison

McConnell is another role player on the list who spends most of his time as a backup point guard for the Indiana Pacers. His height and athleticism became his limiting factors for dunking.

7. Fred VanVleet (6’1″)

Fred VanVleet by Keith Allison

Fred VanVleet is an all-star point guard whose NBA story is as inspirational as anyone. He is also one heck of a player and even had a time when he would dunk during games in high school. But according to him, dunking is physically exhausting for his height, so as long as his shots go in, he’ll take it.

8. Patty Mills (6’1″)

Patty Mills by Keith Allison

Mills is an NBA veteran who spent most of his years with the San Antonio Spurs. And given his height of 6’1″, not being able to dunk is not something that will limit his game. At 33, his athletic years are already long gone, and he will end his career with no listed dunk.

9. DJ Augustin (5’11”)

D.J. Augustin by Mogami Kariya

One of the few players below 6 feet to enter the NBA. Though he can’t dunk, his playmaking and three-point shooting are areas he excels.

10. JJ Barea (5’10”)

J.J Barea by Keith Allison

Barea played an essential role during Dallas Maverick’s championship run in 2011. So, while dunking and athleticism are not his areas of strength, he can still contribute with scoring and passing.

11. Isaiah Thomas (5’9″)

Isaiah Thomas by Keith Allison

Isaiah Thomas is the shortest player on the list. However, his game minus the dunking became his specialty as he was dubbed the King of the 4th Quarter in his brief stint with the Boston Celtics. He was even included in the MVP conversation in 2017.

Who’s the Tallest NBA Player That Can’t Dunk?

Steve Novak is 6″ 10 and considered the tallest NBA player who can’t dunk. Though there was a time when he dunked the ball in high school when he was already standing at 6’8″ in exchange for an ice cream cone that was already a long time ago.

However, he became a role player, limiting his minutes and shots upon entering the NBA. Because of that, his attempts were limited to three-point shots, with the occasional layups.

The Importance of Dunks in the NBA

Dunks are just a variation of layups, which is the most efficient shot in basketball. So, players who can dunk are making sure that their shot will go in.

Another importance of dunks in the NBA is their showmanship. NBA players are entertainers, and nothing is more entertaining than players jumping high and throwing the ball down with authority.

Can you Succeed in the NBA Without Dunking?

Absolutely! Many NBA players who are not as athletic still succeed in the NBA because the game of basketball is not only about flashy dunks and high-flying stunts. Steve Nash is the prime specimen of the best players who can’t dunk.

Even though he is standing at 6’3″, there is no evidence of him dunking in the NBA. However, that was never an issue as he won two NBA MVP awards, several all-star and All-NBA selections, was a Hall of Fame Inductee, and was included in NBA 75th Anniversary Team.

Fred Vanvleet and Isaiah Thomas also have relatively successful careers in the NBA without ever having to dunk the basketball. They both were selected as all-stars at least once.

Current Players Who Can’t Dunk

Four of the 12 listed NBA players who can’t dunk are still active. They are Ricky Rubio (Cleveland Cavaliers), TJ McConnell (Indiana Pacers), Fred Vanvleet (Toronto Raptors), and Patty Mills (Brooklyn Nets).

Out of the four, only Vanvleet is still younger than 28 years old, so we may never see any of them dunk until they retire.

WNBA Players Who Can Dunk

The WNBA is the women’s counterpart of the NBA. And unlike in the other league, most WNBA players can’t dunk for a simple reason – they are not tall enough, with only an average height of around 6’0″.

However, some are tall and athletic enough to dunk the ball. Here is a list of the WNBA players to dunk the ball in an official game.

1. Lisa Leslie (6’5″)

2. Michelle Snow (6’5″)

3. Candace Parker (6’4″)

4. Sylvia Fowles (6’6″)

5. Brittney Griner (6’9″)

6. Jonquel Jones (6’6″)

7. Liz Cambage (6’8″)


Dunking is one of the most exciting shots in basketball, but it is not a determinant of success in the league.

While many dunking basketball players can only dream of getting into the NBA,  some NBA players, on the other hand, can only dream of dunking the ball.

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