Forget the playoff race; this is the only power ranking that matters
Last July, the NBA set up shop in Orlando to close out the 2019–2020 season in an isolated zone at Walt Disney World. Within that bubble, the 22 teams competing for a championship had a wealth of amenities at their disposal, from fishing and films to bowling and boating. But while the coronavirus forced the rest of us to self-groom our quarantine hair situations, the bubble ballers enjoyed one of the most clutch perks of all: not one, not two, but three on-campus barbershops, all open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Even still, watching the tournament-style bubble games, you could see which players took advantage of the six staffed barbers (Lonzo Ball) and who didn’t (Harrison Barnes, who deliberately placed his own facial hair at the mercy of his team’s performance). With the NBA back to a more conventional model, the capacity for hair care and fresh cuts is back to something approaching normal — but halfway through the season, the gaps between the good, the bad, and the straight-up tragic cuts aren’t any less prominent.
The NBA remains a treasure trove for Black experimentation, so it’s only right that LEVEL puts players’ pelts under scrutiny for a second straight year, ranking the truly outstanding braids, beards, fades, ’fros, and whatever the hell is happening on Patrick Beverley’s head. Before we get it poppin’, let’s lay out the ground rules.
Team by team, I examined each NBA squad’s starting lineup, bestowing upon each player a numerical grade based on the aesthetic quality of their follicles. Additionally, one bench player was graded and factored into each team’s consideration. The average of these figures represents each team’s overall hair score. (This is in-game only, which means that folks who only keep their shit crisp for rest nights or the banana boat still get dinged.)
Critical considerations and admissions of bias
To define our parameters, “hair” refers to more than just what’s on the scalp; every player gets checked from the neck up. While beards are a crucial part of the package — and in some cases may have tipped players to a higher letter grade — I’m most interested in what’s coming off the top of the dome like a freestyle.
Each player was graded strictly on the basis of execution. Genetics be damned — this is a qualitative assessment of what players are doing with whatever they have to work with. I didn’t downgrade a player for thinning hair or an ever-growing forehead. Instead, I considered how he addresses such circumstances with his cut, lineup, and facial hair choice.
Of course, given the cyclical and transitory nature of tonsorial trends, certain styles have become so commonplace in the league that secondary considerations were in order: Whether a player’s hair is moisturized, how their hair interacts with other head accessories, and whether beards actually connect could determine who’s the cream of the crop and which team floated down the list like so many tufts of discarded hair. Abrupt fades or weirdly shaped arches faced penalties, while the sharpest lineups were praised.
That being said, diversity is both prized and rewarded. If a player had a number of different styles in the course of a season — whether for hair health or presentation purposes — his score is likely to be higher than a player with a static style. At the same time, consistency is important, so players who’ve shown wild variance on a game-to-game basis were docked.
30. Miami Heat (79.5)
2020 ranking: 28th (78.8)
I can appreciate Jimmy Butler’s (82) bushy, difficult-to-parse ’fro evolving into a natural loc’d look that’s equal parts sage and absurdist. But when the most unique or intriguing hair choice on a roster is Kelly Olynyk’s (79) greasy, pulled-back mess, you know something’s terribly, terribly wrong.
29. San Antonio Spurs (80.83)
2020 ranking: 11th (85)
The Spurs brand is unsexy, non-flashy, very not cool. So it’s no surprise the squad’s hairstyles are among the bottom of the barrel. Demar DeRozan’s (90) braids and the many variations they’ve undergone (twists! plaits!) have been a bright spot this season. On the more tragic end, Dejounte Murray (77) cutting that gorgeous ’do from last season contributed to the team’s drastic fall-off.
28. Orlando Magic (81)
2020 ranking: 16th (83.8)
Nikola Vucevic’s (80) hairstyle seems to exist with the sole purpose of accentuating the quadrilateral that is his facial structure — there’s something that’s not quite right about those angles. Al-Farooq Aminu’s (82) continued hair growth is a shining light; Terrence Ross’ (80) braid-to-’fro transition, which is a touch too tall alongside an already-messy beard, is as much of a letdown as this team’s losing record.
27. Dallas Mavericks (81.6)
2020 ranking: 12th (84.6)
Last year, I was definitely sipping the Luka Doncic (83)/Kristaps Porzingis (81) Ovaltine. Luka’s coif and undercut have remained sharp, while KP’s channels the Proud Boys. Seth Curry’s departure all but sealed this team’s fate in the doldrums of this list.
26. Atlanta Hawks (81.66)
2020 ranking: 21st (82.6)
The Hawks are nosediving — which sucks, because there’s only so far left to go to the bottom. New recruit Clint Capela (85) stays with a fresh cut, but that blond patch is nearing the end of its shelf life. Kevin Huerter (75) has what might just be the most run-of-the-mill ginger aesthetic of all time. Luckily, star player Trae Young (84) has invested pretty heavily in restoring his once-thinning hair, proving those NBA checks hit the scalp a little different.
25. Detroit Pistons (82.16)
2020 ranking: 30th (75.4)
There are only two hairstyles of note for Motor City’s hometown squad: Jerami Grant’s (90) ever-flowing locs and Saddiq Bey’s (83) wayward hairline with a hit-or-miss taper. Grant’s look is totally working for his budding stardom and maturation phase in the league, while Bey’s hair is kind of… endearing? Those curls aren’t quite shapely nor symmetrical, but I can see the vision.
24. New York Knicks (83.66)
2020 ranking: 27th (79)
The Knickerbockers messed around and earned themselves a mid-season winning record, thanks in large part to the inspired play of Julius Randle (88). While the all-star forward’s hair isn’t particularly creative — as much as I love the braids, they’re pulled a little tight — he’s an outlier in the team’s surprising pivot to locs. Nerlens Noel (83), Derrick Rose (80), and Reggie Bullock (83) lead the charge with thick dreads that, in the case of the latter, have congealed into tentacled monsters that recall Robbie Sinclair. I don’t hate it.
23. Charlotte Hornets (83.83)
2020 ranking: 26th (79.6)
Gordon Hayward (97) still has the league’s best hair on a European transplant. (Sorry, Ricky Rubio.) And rookie LaMelo Ball’s (90) curly mop atop a baby face is an utter delight. But Cody Zeller (72) — who seems totally chill about his evaporating hairline — skews the numbers to keep this North Carolina crew toward the bottom. Come home, White man.
22. Phoenix Suns (84)
2020 ranking: 24th (81.8)
Outside of Devin Booker (91), the Suns’ starting five is remarkably normal when it comes to haircuts. But Cameron Johnson (92) comes up big with bench support, sporting a static ’fro that probably shocks the shit out of his teammates and opponents alike on the court, but looks dope on a television screen.
21. Denver Nuggets (84.33)
2020 ranking: 8th (86.4)
Thus far, team centerpiece Nikola Jokic (74) has taken the “IDGAF Award” this season, continuing to let his strands do whatever the hell they want. The Joker is flanked by two Nondescript Hair all-stars, Will Barton (84) and Michael Porter Jr. (80), and Monte Morris’ consistently underrated taper (90).
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (84.4)
2020 ranking: 20th (82.8)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The Timberwolves have really stagnated in the last couple seasons. They’ve maintained their exact position in these rankings as last year, thanks to the hair heroics of Karl-Anthony Towns (92), whose Duke Starting Five cut and full beard consistently pull off double-doubles. Meanwhile, hair god Ricky Rubio’s (93) flow has reached a tantalizing length.
19. Washington Wizards (84.5)
2020 ranking: 17th (83.4)
Finally, a list where the Wizards aren’t dead last. While I wasn’t entirely on board for Bradley Beal’s transition to straight-backs last season, this year, he’s diversified his plaits, which look particularly dope beneath a headband. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook (87) has opted for a fitting military-style cut, and Rui Hachimura (82) makes me want to go against everything that I and Solange believe in and just bury my fingers in his poof.
18. Chicago Bulls (84.66)
2020 ranking: 19th (83)
Zach LaVine (89) still leads the Bulls in terms of symmetrical tapers (with some waves in there for good measure). But who knew that Coby White (90) — whose hair can sometimes look like a sweaty bit of dysfunction during gameplay — has a truly gorgeous coif when it’s fresh and pulled back.
17. Toronto Raptors (84.83)
2020 ranking: 29th (78)
Fred VanVleet (90) has maintained edge-up excellence over the last few years, sporting a Jalen Rose-level sharpness on a game-to-game basis. But the team’s new blood is carrying its share of the weight, too. Aron Baynes’ (87) pomp and rugged reddish-brown beard is brought together by a flawless taper fade, while DeAndre’ Bembry (95) has gone from the micro-braided look to thick twists, each style looking better than the previous.
16. Sacramento Kings (85)
2020 ranking: 25th (80.8)
De’Aaron Fox’s (77) big chop is easily this season’s biggest hair casualty. Never again will we get to see that spiky ’fro with a single twist bouncing in front of his face as he splits a defender — at least not for the next three years or so, hair gods willing. Still, the Kings are on the come-up, as if Fox just cut off all his shit and passed it down to Marvin Bagley III (90).
15. Boston Celtics (85)
2020 ranking: 6th (86.8)
For much of last season, Jaylen Brown (85) sported an uneven mess coupled with a shaky hairline. Thankfully, he cut that shit down to a manageable length and grew his beard out to cover most of the real estate there. Jayson Tatum’s (88) full beard, grown-out crown, and regularly refreshed taper are worthy of respect, too. But the real surprise of the C’s is Daniel Theis (83), whose buzz-cut-goatee situation sorta makes me think he’s got a thing for the sistas.
14. Brooklyn Nets (85.16)
2020 ranking: 15th (84)
The Nets play the classics well. Though they lost the bountiful magnificence of Jarrett Allen’s iconic ’fro, they hit pretty much every NBA hair category with average efficiency: Kyrie Irving’s (81) low-cut right into the beard is a no-frills look that conveys just how serious the all-star takes his artistry. KD’s (75) crumbly hair is definitely a hit for the “Ball Is Life” practitioners. (Does it have to be your entire life?) DeAndre Jordan (87) holds it down for the dread-heads. But the year’s blockbuster trade also brought in the NBA’s most famous facial hair fashionista: James Harden (91). The beard is like the NBA’s itchy security blanket — you can always count on him scoring high as hell on this list.
13. Memphis Grizzlies (85.2)
2020 ranking: 9th (86.4)
Grayson Allen’s (76) prepubescent hair flip aside, the Grizzlies have a solid lineup bolstered by second-year star Ja Morant (97), who’s kept things fresh with braided and dreaded looks. With Justise Winslow (85) and his blond dreads seeing more play time, don’t be surprised if the Grizz crack the top 10 next season.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (85.33)
2020 ranking: 14th (84)
I’m digging the shorter look on Giannis Antetokounmpo (92) this year, complete with a much cleaner shape-up than he rocked during last year’s MVP run. He’s kept a strong chin strap going where there used to be mostly peach fuzz, so he’s rewarded for growth. Additionally, Jrue Holiday (90) has a supernatural flow to his braids this year, also keeping his face clean with a trim, professional goatee. Off the bench, D.J. Wilson (90) sports a blond French twist style that’s fun to see on the court — at least when he gets playing time.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (85.83)
2020 ranking: 4th (87.8)
With all of the Thunder’s turnover since last season, it’s a wonder the squad didn’t tumble even further down this list. But between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s (96) signature plaited braids, George Hill’s (90) razor-sharp fade, and bench guard Isaiah Roby’s (90) buoyant, well-manicured curly ’fro, this team can stand on some strong follicles.
10. Houston Rockets (86.33)
2020 ranking: 7th (86.6)
In the muck of a historically terrible Houston Rockets season stands an oak tree with a gravity-defying Afro coming to swoop in and save the team’s reputation. Christian Wood’s (91) rise as the big man of the future coincides with the return of the giant ’fro as the style du jour for centers in the league. New additions John Wall (88) and Victor Oladipo (90) have contributed their own fresh cuts to the mix as well, with the former varying his beard lengths while the latter has kept his baby face clean with a ’fro-hawk. Even though they’re getting run out of the gym most nights, the squad gives spectators something good to look at.
9. New Orleans Pelicans (86.5)
2020 ranking: 2nd (89.4)
While losing Jrue Holiday hurt the Pelicans in the hair department, Brandon Ingram’s (90) braids have picked up the slack. Same for Steven Adams (87), even if his hair has become a bit more drab as the years pass. Zion Williamson (82), it seems, has been less expressive with his mane than he was last season, leaving the creative parts of his rookie year behind and focusing on hoops and hair fundamentals.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (86.5)
2020 ranking: 18th (83)
Braided brothers Paul George (94) and Kawhi Leonard (96) lead the charge, while Serge Ibaka (85) took his team’s name to heart with a very short bald fade and goatee that accentuate his status as the NBA’s premier musclehead. While I can’t be too sure what’s going on with Patrick Beverley (78) — I’m no hair doctor — it sure does look like dude needs to step his oil game up.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (86.5)
2020 ranking: 3rd (88.8)
It’s been inspiring to watch CJ McCollum’s (83) high-top fades grow with his on-court production. But that thing is getting too tall; to paraphrase the great André 3000, take that thing two (clipper guard) sizes down. Still, the Blazers have a balanced lineup of solid looks, from twists (Robert Covington ) to cornrows (throwback Carmelo Anthony ) to classic fades (Damian Lillard ). Center Jusuf Nurkic (92) leads the way with a floppy fade and reddish beard combo that’s gloriously Viking.
6. Indiana Pacers (87.5)
2020 ranking: 23rd (81.9)
Malcolm Brogdon (85) has stepped up as a leader — not just in terms of ball-handling but also by getting his shape-up in order. Domantas Sabonis (90), with his long mane and big beard, is looking more and more like Wolverine by the day, in the best way possible. Justin Holiday’s (87) plaits give me life.
5. Utah Jazz (87.66)
2020 ranking: 22nd (82)
On a nightly basis, the shape of Donovan Mitchell’s (82) abstract art Afro could go from limpish porcupine to moisturized and coily. It matters little, though, thanks to bench player Jordan Clarkson’s (95) blond braids packed underneath a headband, which added nearly more than one point to his team’s cumulative hair score. Props are also in order to big man Rudy Gobert (93) for not succumbing to his long-head genetics by opting for a high fade and strong beard combination with the curly side part for good measure.
4. Golden State Warriors (87.8)
2020 ranking: 5th (87)
When it comes to hair, Steph Curry’s (88) season started out shaky, with cornrows that stretched his forehead into fivehead territory; the squad’s leader let them go, presumably after experiencing a very sore scalp. Elsewhere, Kelly Oubre Jr. (81) sports an orange-burst ’fro that ranges from phenomenal fluff to glorified Brillo pad. But rookie James Wiseman (96) shows the struggling shooter how it’s done, rocking an excellent Afro with trimmed sides that looks graceful speeding across the court — and angelic gliding above the rim.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (88.2)
2020 ranking: 1st (90)
Last year, Anthony Davis’ (95) glorious unibrow raised the Lakers above all other competitors. But one quiet trade really damaged the L.A. squad at their root: the loss of JaVale McGee. Marc Gasol’s (82) ho-hum Euro ’do and Dennis Schröder’s (85) overcommitment to a blond patch of yesteryear also dragged the team down by its hair. But LeBron James’ (87) resilient fade and beard, AD’s slightly lengthier but steadily crispy fade, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s (92) braids all help the Lake Show show out.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (88.83)
2020 ranking: 10th (86)
The Sixers benefit from a steady growth of hair across their starting lineup. Joel Embiid (91) is having an MVP-like season, topped off by a glistening tapered ’fro and strong beard connection. Ben Simmons (93) and Tobias Harris (87) both grew their crowns out to curly aplomb, and the former maintains one of the league’s crispiest lineups. I’m not the biggest fan of Dwight Howard’s (89) historically hit-or-miss dreads, but you can’t knock a guy for continually trying to switch things up. And red hair dye takes some guts — even for Superman.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (90.66)
2020 ranking: 13th (84.2)
JaVale McGee’s (96) sausage-link twists. Collin Sexton’s (93) transformation into a Black Super Saiyan. Jarrett Allen’s (95) immaculate ’fro. The Cavs are the standard-bearers for hair health and aesthetics in the league. Kiss the ring.
Read more: The Official NBA Hair Power Rankings