6. Joakim Noah
The Chicago Bulls’ emotional leader has long, flowing, wavy hair that acts as a metaphor for his generous spirit. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, excellently referred to by some as “The Lion King,” is as goofy as he is relentless, with his locks matching the insane energy he brings to the floor. With Derrick Rose’s most recent knee injury hitting Chicago hard, we’ve had the silver lining of watching Noah run the Bulls’ offense again. And seeing his mane bounce around in a bun is almost always a sign that we’re in for some fun.
5. Dennis Schröder
The Atlanta Hawks have been basketball’s best team this season, alongside the Golden State Warriors. They’ve done it with depth and an amazing, taut, selfless system that sees hardly any drop-off when substitutes jump in for starters. Sophomore Dennis Schröder, from Germany, has been part of Atlanta’s vaunted second unit as the backup to All-Star point guard Jeff Teague. He’s also quite the NBA eccentric as an admitted skateboard addict, and he has a touch of endearing gold in his hair. The youngster known as “Baby Rondo” will be charming fans for years.
4. Iman Shumpert
The Cleveland Cavaliers made a big trade earlier this season, sending Dion Waiters away and bringing in some loot from the New York Knicks. A resurgent J.R. Smith has paid major dividends, and a subsequently acquired Timofey Mozgov has worked miracles in the paint. But Cleveland also upgraded big time in the style department with their flurry of player movement, because they brought Iman Shumpert’s towering, crisp flat top onto the roster. Shumpert is a hounding perimeter defender, with the veritable monument that grows from his follicles making for a difficult obstacle to shoot or pass over.
3. Elfrid Payton
One of the season’s most exciting rookies plays for the struggling Orlando Magic. While winning may be at a low point in central Florida, personality is certainly not. Elfrid Payton’s madness of a hairstyle, in tandem with the cocky Victor Oladipo, has made for one of the most entertaining backcourts in recent memory. How else to describe Payton’s style? Like Noah’s, he must hope that it becomes even more symbolic of his playing style than it already is; an unpredictable, cagey defender who can turn a simple inbounds play into a sudden scrum, Elfrid should aspire to create stormy confusion as consistently as his locks do.
2. James Harden
James Harden’s indelible beard has long been imprinted in the imagination of the NBA. As an upcoming star with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he turned heads with his unusual style off the court before impressing onlookers by what he was doing on it. Eventually, though, his singular footwork and creativity in the open court came to define the offense of the Houston Rockets, and the imitation strap-on beards that Thunder fans once wore so proudly began to seem like a dooming omen, as Harden now thrives through an MVP campaign and OKC fights for their playoff lives.
1. Nerlens Noel
The winner of our hair-off plays for a club that seems to value economic victories more than basketball victories — the Philadelphia 76ers. Nerlens Noel is having a superb rookie season beneath the moralist roar about whether what Philly’s doing is okay or not. A rim-protector who could very well be one of the game’s best in a few years, Noel has sky-high hair that makes him almost impossible to forget. Nerlens is just 20 years old, and already the seventh most effective paint-clogging center, with a defensive real plus-minus of 3.17. Just imagine how big that number will get when he grows into his towering 'do.
— John Wilmes