The Perfect NBA Skill Package – Part 1: The All-Around picks
Recently, there’s been a trend of MLB pitchers and fans piecing together their best repertoire of pitches from players present and former. See Cardinals’ ace, Jack Flaherty’s respectable (but NOT perfect) list:
5 pitch arsenal
choose from any pitcher ever
FB – Chapman
SL – jose Fernandez (calling it a SL)
CB – Waino
CH – Pedro
where my pitchers at?
— Jack Flaherty (@Jack9Flaherty) March 31, 2020
Great idea, whoever originated it. Even better way for the MLB to promote fans and players talking about baseball. Getting players to share with fans who they see as the best at a certain pitch was neat as well. I only saw a few list Greg Maddux’s pinpoint accurate fastball as their pick, which surprised me. I know everyone loves a 100+ MPH fastball, but c’mon, Maddux was painting corners with ease!
Anyway, after constructing my perfect pitching repertoire, it led me to wonder what about the NBA’s version of this list? Like an 18th season of Grey’s Anatomy, it’s happening, whether you asked for it or not.
What are the rules? How am I going to do this?
First rule is THERE ARE NO RULES! (jk, some rules).
- Any NBA players past or present are eligible. Video evidence helps, because while I’m sure George Mikan had some awesome post-moves – I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t seen the footage, but I’ll be sure to ask the next member of “The Greatest Generation” I come into contact with (several months from now, for safety purposes).
- I’m only using each player once. I understand plenty of NBA legends deserve to be mentioned for a couple or a few moves here, but it’s more fun to spread the wealth.
- You’ll see for this post, I divided up into sections, with an overall top pick of a particular skillset. In upcoming blog posts I plan to break down each category of moves and skills.
- This is totally biased and up to your own interpretation. Feel free to share your own version of a similar list. Or just roast mine – that’s welcome, too.
All-Around: Larry Bird
Honestly starting off with a total homer pick by me here – Steph Curry probably deserves this title, but he’s going to be on another section’s overall top skillset, so don’t be too upset. BUT, in the defense of Larry Bird, at his peak, he was the most lights out shooter to play the game. Today’s era of teams shooting exorbitant amounts of threes per game makes his numbers tough to compare with guys like Steph, Klay, Ray Allen, etc. Regardless, Bird was the face of the league with Magic preceding the reign of Michael Jordan, and deserves one of these prestigious spots.
For Pete’s sake, back in 1986 Bird shot half of a game against the Trail Blazers with his left-hand! He finished with 47 points (with 10 of his 21 made field goals with his left hand), 14 rebounds, and 11 assists in a Celtics OT win. Why did he do it? Because he was saving his right hand for the Lakers two nights later! The C’s went on to win in LA in the ensuing matchup. I’ve changed my tune and don’t feel bad at all for this pick at all anymore. It’s not even a homer pick, totally deserved.
Please watch at least the 2nd video above – Bird’s magnum opus of shooting a basketball. He wins the 1988 NBA All-Star ‘Long Distance Shooting Competition’ (yes that’s what they called it LOL – thank god for the 3-point shootout rebranding) for his 3rd straight year… WHILE STILL IN HIS WARM UPS. Look at how uncomfortable that warm up shirt / jacket looks? Remember when LeBron intentionally ripped the sleeves of the new Adidas jerseys with sleeves? I’d like to think Bird saw that happen back in 2013 and laughed out loud at LeBron’s complaining. They call him Larry Legend for a reason!
Ball-handling & Dribbling:
All-Around: Steph Curry
After a lot of thinking, it might be bold to put him here, but I think Curry has a fair claim to this top spot in terms of ball-handling and dribble moves. Iverson and Kyrie might be the consensus picks by most here, but I’m not totally on board. When I think of AI, his crossover is the vast majority of what I see in highlights (which is cool!). As for Kyrie, I’m not doing him any favors in crowning him with the best handles after what he did to me emotionally as a Celtics fan.
Steph’s shooting and ball-handling skills are one of those deadly combinations where it frees up so much else of his game. He’s got a bag of tricks, and can hit you with a crossover, or a clean step-back for an open 35-footer. His combo of speed and polish make for one of the most aesthetically pleasing games ever. Let’s imagine you’re trying to defend him in a 1-on-1 situation. The outcome is simple; you’re bound to get burned… BADLY (just ask the 9-time NBA All-Defensive team, Chris Paul).
Dunks and Layups:
All-Around: Michael Jordan
MJ is MJ, and his spot here should be no surprise. His complete game and competitive nature are the core traits that make him the GOAT… BUT, his athleticism and ability to adjust for incredible finishes mid-air are what made him Air-Jordan.
Quick tangent. After watching all of the dunking highlights for this blog threw me into a bit of a rabbit hole. When did we all stop referring to dunks as slam-dunks, and drop the slam? Dunks is quicker and more compact – but I think we lost something by dropping the ‘slam’.
For anyone crazy enough to doubt this selection – just watch this incredible non-dunk finish from the ‘91 NBA Finals:
No further explanation necessary.
All-Around: Magic Johnson
Magic’s size and unparalleled court vision provided him with the ability to distribute dimes on the regular and run the floor with ease as the leader of the Showtime Lakers. Some other individuals certainly come to mind when you think of great passers: John Stockton, Pete Maravich, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Mark Jackson, among others. Magic’s proclivity to make championship winning plays are what separate him from that pack for me. He made the flashy passes seem ordinary, and ordinary passes flashy! Being 6’9” certainly helps, and perhaps a 6’9” John Stockton would’ve been averaging 20 assists per game – but we’ll never know.
When it came down to differentiating these all-time great passers, I tried to envision who I would most want to dish an assist to me in a pickup game. Magic was the easy choice, and the first guy I think of when I think of a phenomenal passer. Magic’s innovation and ability to complete assists in so many unorthodox ways feels special, and unmatched since. It’s evident from seeing how players pass in today’s NBA that his creativity is something that influenced many (if not all) point guards who came after him.
Overall: Hakeem Olajuwon
Had to create a category for big-men here. While post-moves aren’t one of the main 5 categories most basketball players are evaluated on, I had to reward the art of scoring the ball down low. The beauty of post-moves is that they age super well. Most well-executed post-moves weren’t on my radar when I was playing organized basketball as a guard/wing in my teens. Those same moves became MIND-BLOWING when I started playing pick-up basketball in my mid-20s. For anyone wanting to play pick-up hoops as they get older, start watching post-moves now. Why? Because unless you’re 100% of the time the smallest guy on the court, everyone becomes a big-man at some point, regardless of size. As I get older and play with older people, it’s apparent that no one can shoot after a certain point, and post-moves and low-post trickery is an integral part of the game.
Back to the all-around winner of the post-moves category! THE DREAM!!!
Not a ton I have to do here to legitimize or argue this pick. There’s a reason Olajuwon at age 57 is still working with NBA big men to coach them through post-moves… it’s because he was the best! His ‘Dream Shake’ move is one of the toughest moves to actually execute on a defender. From an athleticism standpoint, it doesn’t look that difficult, but I implore you to try his shake move the next time you’re on the low-post playing pickup ball. It won’t work against the average Joe, so imagine how well you’d have to do it to get that move down and execute over 7-foot defenders?!
I gave ‘The Dream’ the edge over Shaq and Wilt Chamberlain because of his polish and embodiment of being a master of post-moves.
Defense & Intangibles:
All-Around: Scottie Pippen
Not the sexiest video package, but for those fans of gritty and hard-fought defensive and loose ball plays, look no further than Scottie Pippen!
Honorable mention to some names mentioned elsewhere on this list, like Olajuwon and Jordan, as well as Bill Russell. To be honest, I almost went with Kawhi here! But, at the end of the day, I love that hardcore, super physical 90’s NBA defense. It goes without saying that this category is a combination of traits and skills related to defense, rebounding, and all-around intangibles. The inclusion of ‘intangibles’ might just be my excuse to create a subcategory where I can slot in Marcus Smart, not gonna lie.
Back to Scottie. I think he was the perfect compliment to MJ, and one of the most underrated players of all time. His versatility defensively is what anchored the Bulls’ on D, and enabled them to go on the runs they did. He had the ability to defend any position 1-5, and did so at the highest level for a longer-than-you’d-expect stretch. His stats aren’t eye-popping, but don’t sleep on his on-ball defense highlights if you’re looking to have your eyes pop!! NBA fans know, those gritty defensive stops and ball deflections aren’t represented well in the stat-sheet (I see YOU, Marcus Smart!!!) – but on a list like this, I salute the relatively unheralded! For those reasons, I have no choice other than to put Pippen as the best all-around defender of all time.
More to come!
Next is going to be a categorical breakdown into each section. For example, in the shooting portion, I’ll give you my picks for the best quick-release 3, free-throw, fade-away, step-back, etc.
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-Mike Gilligan (@BigGilli, and @SmallStateTakes Podcast) – https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/small-state-big-takes/id1432138166