Here's the scenario: You're at your local YMCA, trying to start a game of pick-up basketball with your buddies. It's you and eight friends; nine guys total. You need one more player for a game of full-court five-on-five. Through some phenomenally strange sequence of events, you're presented with this opportunity: Pick any NBA player to be the fifth member of your team.
There are a few catches, though. This player would have his skills decreased so all his physical advantages (size, speed, strength, vertical, the list goes on) are exactly proportional to what they would be against the average NBA player. Dwight Howard still has the best hops on the floor, but only by the same amount as he would if he were playing against NBA players. (It has to be this way for obvious reasons.)
The losers of this pick-up game have to get their legs waxed and spend an entire night talking with Stephen A. Smith. The winners, if no single player (read: your NBA player) scores more than half their team's points, get season tickets to an NBA team of their choice and a lifetime supply of Chipotle. The NBA player doesn't know that last rule, and you can't tell him. (This rule means a dynamic ballhog scorer will likely prevent the spanking and the Stephen A. Smith, but he will hurt your chances of the season tickets and the burritos.) Play to 21. Gotta win by 2. Those are the ground rules. These are the players, in order, who I'd want on my team.
1. Kevin Garnett KG, with his ability to do just about anything basketball-related from guarding the other team's point guard to grabbing rebounds to scoring in the post to leading the fast break, is the ideal player to build a team around. Give him the ball in the high post, and he's more than happy to hit cutters for lay-ups, too, so you're sitting pretty for that Chipotle. Go with a steak burrito, pinto beans, mild salsa, sour cream, a little cheese, and lettuce. With a Mr. Pibb. Trust me on this one.
2. Steve Nash The game, remember, is full-court, which provides any team with Steve Nash a huge advantage. Because, as we all know, there are no set plays in pick-up basketball, and because of the relatively low caliber of athlete involved in your typical game, defenses are slow to get back. Nash will own the other team if they're that way. He will.
3. LeBron James If he's the LeBron of last season's conference finals, you'll win 21 to 0, but you won't get the tickets or the burritos, because he's scoring all 21 of those points. If he's the LeBron of this season, you're in good shape. If he's the LeBron of last regular season, I'd be worried about the defensive effort you'll get, or whether he'll settle for jumpers all game.
4. Dwight Howard The most imposing low-post force since Shaq's hey-day. Kenny Smith provides color commentary for the game, and it goes something like: "Dwight Howard's havin' a reeaaal big night. Check out the way he dunks right on the man's head. Veeerry intimidating, Ernie."
5. Chris Paul I thought hard about switching him and Nash. If it were a half-court game, I would've done it. He's a better defender than Nash, and more able to take over the game and prevent an uncomfortable series of conversations with Stephen A. Smith where you feel like you're being scolded, if his teammates suck and he needs to score a few points at the end to prevent a loss. But Nash is so much better at running the fast break, and pick-up games often come down to that.
Since the introduction of the rules took so much space, I'm only listing the top 5 today. 6-15 will be coming soon, for those of you who care.