With the NBA season suspended indefinitely due to COVID-19, sports writers from all over the world are searching for content to create during this pandemic. When I was a kid, my favorite part about sports video games was the ability to create your own perfect, unstoppable athlete. Whether it was a 99 overall running back in Madden and NCAA Football or a 99 overall point guard in NBA 2K, there insurmountable advantages you had the ability to create with a controller fueled my sports fantasies for over a decade. So, I have decided to create the perfect NBA player for the 2020-2021 season:
Playmaking/Leadership: LeBron James
In all honesty, I have a lot of LeBron James bias. Being from Ohio, I grew up alongside LeBron’s rise to NBA greatness. You could put LeBron in any of these slots. He is the most-versatile and adaptable player we have ever seen, playing in at least three different eras of the NBA and thriving in all of them. There is no better playmaker than LeBron. One of the greatest scorers and passers in the league’s history, LeBron, even at age 35, is still the best basketball player on the planet. Though his days of being a sure-fire number-one choice in terms of who you would want to build a title-contender around have passed, no other player on Earth can keep up with him.
Jumper: Kyle Korver
This might look like a reach, especially since most folks would probably choose Stephen Curry in this slot, but, trust me, it’s not. He has one of the all-time highest career shooting percentages for a non-center, and he holds the record for the highest three-point percentage in a single season. Plus, he has a gorgeous jump shot. He is currently fourth-place all-time for three-point shots made, and he is an incredible bench presence. Give me his HOF shooting badges over Curry any day.
Size/Athleticism: Giannis Antetokounmpo
I think this choice is a no-brainer for anyone. How many players are 6-foot-11 and can play like a guard? One, and it’s Giannis. The next closest player with a somewhat-identical range of athleticism is LeBron, but he doesn’t space the floor like Giannis. Having Giannis’ size also makes it difficult for a defender to size-up against. A large percentage of the threes and fours in the NBA struggle keeping up with Giannis right now—and could you imagine how lethal Giannis could be if he had Kyle Korver’s jumper?
Finishing: Mitchell Robinson
Probably the most questionable choice out of the seven, but, don’t be fooled, Mitchell Robinson is no joke. On paper, his stats are not optimal. Even in 2K, he never gets higher than a 13 or 14-point clip. But, he is not just an incredible defender. His finishing skills are top-tier, and he is still a young, developing player. Of course, other players like Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden have more finesse when they finish around the rim—but you don’t need finesse to be consistent. Before the league suspension,
Robinson was leading the NBA in field goal percentage at 74.2 percent—an incredible number, even for a big man.
Clutchness: Kyrie Irving
My Ohio bias is sneaking out again, but how can you not go with the guy who hit the clutchest shot in NBA history (you know the one, in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals)? Of course, Damian Lillard’s shot against the Thunder or Kawhi’s buzzer-beater against the 76ers are more recent examples of clutch-shooting, but Kyrie continues to show us game-after-game that his command of the court reaches from the beginning of the game all the way to the final buzzer—and not many players can claim that feat.
Defense: Kawhi Leonard
This one was the toughest pick, because players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis also exist. Yet, I am not entirely sure there is a better pure defender than Kawhi. A 2-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and 3-time All-NBA Defensive First-Team, Kawhi lives up to his “Claw” nickname. What makes Kawhi special is he is one of the best franchise centerpieces in the NBA today, because he is a true two-way player. Giannis and Davis are both good defenders for their heights, but Kawhi can defend big men just as well—even at a half-foot disadvantage.
Potential: Luka Doncic
No player has a higher ceiling in the NBA than Luka Doncic. In just his second season, he is putting up nearly 30 points a game and his defense is getting better. His 2018 draft counterpart, Trae Young, could be considered here, too, but Young’s all-around game has a long way to go. Luka and Giannis have quickly dethroned LeBron as the top choices for franchise centerpieces, but many believe Luka to be the best pick for a single player to build a team around. I don’t think we will see another player any time soon have a bigger player progression than Luka. He is already a dominant scorer and is quickly learning how to be a successful two-way player like Kawhi.
I would like to extend my deepest armfuls of gratitude to the NBA arena workers who dedicate their careers to making games enjoyable for the fans day-in-and-day-out.
If you would like to help support those workers, Bay-Area poet Alan Chazaro and I put out Mid 90s Kamikaze, a book of poetry about Shawn Kemp. All proceeds go to the Golden State Warriors’ community fund, which gives money to the arena workers without jobs during this pandemic.
You can get the book and donate here: https://gumroad.com/l/KHuQH