Since Bill Simmons from the Ringer.com has already coined the term Battle for the Planet All-Star team (I might be paraphrasing slightly), I thought I would apply a slightly different twist to it. Don't worry Bill, I'm not aggregating your content, but rather paying tribute to you. The concept here is simple. In Bill's version he picks the guys he would want battling the aliens if the future of life on our planet were at stake. In my version, instead of fighting aliens for the planet, we are facing Donald Trump seizing power to become America's All-Time President in a manner similar to being All-Time QB at recess. He has concocted a bleach-based solution to give himself everlasting life and also found an infinite spring of bronzer somewhere deep in the Andes to enhance his power. The only way to prevent this is to win a basketball game against the ghouls he summons from the US senate, led by team captain and reigning Most Valuable Ghoul Mitch McConnelI. I'd say the stakes are about the same as the aliens firing the Don't Look Up meteor at us if not worse.
The criterion here is simple. My selections are based on who I would want out there in this game right this minute if they were 100% healthy. That's it. Past performance, injury status/history and future projections matter not in this 1 game winner-take-all battle for America. Without further ado.
It's completely indistinguishable to me who the best player in the world right is right now between he and Giannis. Its so close that if I had a gun to my head and had to decide, "I think I'd just pull the trigger" to quote Cousin Sal. How the best player in the world can look like he is one terrible leather jacket and a cigarette away from starring in a snuff film is beyond me. I don't think it's hyperbole to say he might be the best passer of all time -- the best passing big man ship has long, long since sailed. Remember when people were cautious to even say that 2 seasons ago? Open your god damn eyes people. He's 3rd in the league in assists as a Center at 8.9, but that tells so little of the overall story. Yes, his feel for the game is extraordinary, but it's his physical size at 7 feet that lets him make passes that even Lebron in his prime couldn't dream of. If he truly wanted to chase numbers like the BS assist totals of Westbrook or Trae Young of the recent past, God only knows how many he could actually average. His default DNA is to involve and uplift his teammates. He truly wants them to succeed. You can't quantify that in some advanced metric, you have to actually watch the games and study the human components within them to separate out the false idols like Westbrook and Young. He won't win his 3rd MVP in a row this season because voters want storylines and sex appeal and his team just won't be good enough in the end -- but that's not his fault. He's as good as he's ever been. His on/off plus minus numbers are silly. He doesn't just play for the Nuggets, he is the Nuggets. As good as Murray and MPJ are, they just aren't going to be consistently good enough or healthy enough to help get Jokic to the promise land. I can only hope that Jokic gets the opportunity at some point in his career to make a Shaq/Kobe, Lebron/Wade, or Curry/Durant type of connection with another player on his level. For now we will just have to enjoy watching the unadultered basketball bliss that he is on a nightly basis.
Giannis is the biggest no-brainer to put on this list, even though he might not be the best player in the world. He probably is though being that I'm extremely biased towards the passing and unselfishness of Jokic. He is literally what you would design a basketball player to be in a lab both physically and intangibly. What's going to vault him into the all-time top 10 (I said what I said) list though is not the freakish physical gifts or the skills he has at his size, it's everything else between his ears and in his chest that has allowed him to obtain those skills. When things are as easy physically for you on a basketball court as they are for Giannis, there is so little motivation to keep working and improving on the nuanced aspects of the game like he has. Every year he gets a little bit better at everything, and adds new wrinkles to his game. If only Anthony Davis gave 10% as much of a shit as Giannis. Davis is a more talented basketball player, but he is a mental midget between the ears and doesn't care enough to take care of his body so that he can be out there a reasonable number of games when it counts. Giannis is as sure a bet there is on a nightly basis. He's the best thing to happen to Milwaukee since they caught Jeffrey Dahmer. I sports love the shit out of him so much it hurts.
I would be hard pressed to not want the ball in his hands if I had my testicles in a mini-guillotine and it was a cosmic certainty I would become a eunuch unless a basket was scored on the next possession. I should probably have Tatum here, but when Mitch McConnell goes into his patented "jowls defense" in crunch time and his neck gibblets expand to the size of a circus tent, Durant will still be able to get his shot off. He's obviously a little different upstairs than some of his peers. Why he left paradise to go to the Nets and bet on Kyrie Irving and James Harden God only knows. That decision cost him any chance of joining the the top 10 of All-Time group which he was squarely headed towards. He's still a walking bucket though who at 34 is continuing to put up MVP level stats. Kind of like the next guy on our list.
If anyone could still make 3s with John Wick throwing knives at them and the basket moving like you got raffle tickets after every make, it'd be this guy. Some guys put up stats, other guys change the league. Many of the players on this list have leveraged freakish raw physical talent into becoming dominant players, yet Steph is actually the best there has ever been at the entire point of the game -- shooting the basketball. Yes, it's fun to see Giannis take 3 strides from half court and score and Zion destroy the basket with his forehead, but at it's core basketball is a game of skill and virtuosity. When Curry has it going, nothing else in the building matters or seems more inevitable. This is an entirely subjective statement, but when Curry is in NBA jams He's on Fire!! mode, I'm not sure I've ever enjoyed watching an athlete more. It's just fun.
I'm pretty sure he would still be better than half the league if he were forced to play with water skis on and continually ate Costco hot dogs with his left hand the entire game. Marvin Bagley? Really Sacramento? For Dallas to have gotten this guy at (essentially) 5 is beyond unthinkable. Ayton is solid, Triple J can do some things when he's not fouling out, and Trae Young at least looks good on paper. But Christ on a bike people. This was an easy one. Sadly, he's slowly wasting away in Dallas surrounded by a marginal roster full of a whole bunch of guys that you wouldn't even notice if they changed teams. His numbers are stupid but that's not why he's on here. No one in the league controls the pace of a game better than him, however excruciatingly slow it is at times. Everything bends to his will. Hopefully Dallas gets it's shit together before they end up making him this generation's Barkley.
If I were to change Tatum back into the starting lineup and revise my article, none of you would ever know right? I say this knowing full well that right this instant as I write this he might be the best player in the world. Leaving him out of any starting five feels more wrong than letting Subway Jared coach a 12 and under swim team. How can I do this? This guy just plays so hard on both ends of the floor. It seems insane all these years later that evaluators could have looked at him and Markelle Fultz and decided that Fultz had more upside. We all saw the fits he gave Durant in last year's playoffs, and if he's going to hit threes and get to the line like he has this year I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with him. He has played so well that people barely even remember who Nia Long is any more. Best I can tell he seems like a good dude who's not a dummy, which matters a lot to me. Count me all the way in on him.
Embiid is an impossibly large human being. If anyone could join the alien team and not be noticed it would be him. Giannis looks like his kid brother standing next to him. The NBA is so incredibly deep with talent right now that even players the caliber of Joel Embiid can get lost in the shuffle if they miss a few games and news cycles with injury. Between his early career major injuries and also having to play with Ben "I need a sucker and a balloon after the dentist" Simmons, we've been robbed of several years of his prime playing career. Due to his extreme size and skill, he can take and make shots no one else in the world can. He would already have at least one MVP right now if he could play 72 games a season. Unfortunately for him, he's now saddled with James Harden which will preclude him from bringing home any team-based hardware.
If you seriously think that he still doesn't belong here, you should be tied to a chair and forced to watch Ben Simmons shoot 3- pointers and free throws until your eyes bleed and/or the basket enters a domestic violence survivor program from nearly being beaten to death. I'm not quite sure where he ranks in terms of the game's current top 10, I just know he's in there. If you tell me you'd rather have guys like Trae Young or Karl Anthony-Towns than Lebron James on a team that only has to play 1 game , you're dead to me. He's still GREAT. He just made 2 giant blunders with the Lakers roster: betting on Anthony Davis' long term health and commitment and also thinking Russell Westbrook was the answer to anything other than the question of "Who's that guy in the red rubber T-shirt?" It's totally fair to skewer Lebron the GM for these moves, but LeBron the player is still awesome in year 20. Year Twenty.
I think Vegas would probably still favor Booker in a game of H.O.R.S.E. against Russell Westbrook after a gallon of Carlo Rossi and forced to wear a Mexican drug cartel kidnapper hood with his hands bound. Still a 5-6 favorite if they change out the basket to an $8 Walmart plastic kiddie pool with the bottom cut out for Russ during his turns. Buckets, buckets and more buckets, it's god damn beautiful to watch. He has everything in the bag, and his defense is way better than he's given credit for. He's for sure headed for 30,000 plus points barring injury. As soon as he breaks free from whatever Kardashian succubus he's with he will truly be unstoppable.
Christ Almighty himself couldn't stop Zion from getting to the basket. There are plenty of guys in the NBA that can embarrass someone, but Zion is the only guy capable of catching a Murder 1 charge if you get between him and the rim. I would rather be stuck in a room for 3 hours listening to Grant Williams with no weed than standing flat footed at the dotted with Zion coming at me full steam. I don't know if he takes the game seriously or if his body will hold up long term -- that isn't what we are judging here. As far as pure basketball channel changing fentanyl goes though, for me it's heat check Curry and then Zion doing......anything? You just don't want to miss it if he is the first player to ever tear down a basket with his teeth. If 2 coaches had the entire NBA lined up against the wall at recess and were picking teams for 1 game, are there 10 players picked ahead of him? There sure as shit shouldn't be. I've stepped on a couple nails in my life, but I've never had a shoe commit suicide because it couldn't stand the force of my athleticism. He has.
Just in Case
Believe it! I would rather have SGA after he mistakenly drank a Gatorade spiked with a handful of Xanax and Ambien than any version of Trae Young or Karl Anthony-Towns. Unfortunately he has to play in OKC which can't decide which year it is they would like to get a real coach and try to start winning some games. The fact that the Clippers gave up all those picks and SGA to get Paul George is starting to look like The Great Train Robbery. It's time to start trying and stop stacking and tanking Mr. Presti -- You've already got That Dude.
I have to hold my nose and follow my own rules here of picking players who are magically 100% healthy. As long as someone remembers to pick Anthony up before the game, he should have no problem getting there. Just please don't forget his juice box and binky. I throw tons of shade at this guy because he has (had?) GOAT type physical gifts and skills, but his body is made of peanut brittle and packing peanuts and he gives nowhere near enough of a shit for a player of his talents. He fooled Lebron, and despite the recent dick tease tear he's been on this season I have zero confidence he will be out there healthy when it matters. For 1 game though? Yeah, he can get on the plane.
I think Kawhi still plays basketball. Can someone check on this for me? I feel like Kanye West was still a black guy and Jonah Hill was still fat the last time I actually saw Kawhi play. He had the NBA in the palm of his hand following his stint in Toronto, but fuck me this guy just never plays. I assume he's still awesome though. It's just so unusual for a guy who has that kind of dog in him on the biggest stages under the brightest lights to not seem to care if he actually plays basketball or not. I can't make sense of it, but if get a 100% healthy Kawhi for 1 game I don't have to.
He's absolutely on the basketball heroin squad with Curry and Zion. Yeah he could shoot better. Yeah he is a little fragile. He could play a lot better defense. But man is he fun to watch and boy does he give a shit. He actually wants to be in Memphis. Why I don't know, but he does. Memphis is a solid organization with a good roster and coach, but Memphis' return to being a contender is largely because of this guy. Everybody can see the trampoline level bounce and around the basket wizardry which might only be 2nd to Kyrie Irving. What can't be quantified is his leadership and infectious energy. Nobody would give a good damn about Memphis outside of Chris Vernon if Morant wasn't on this team. Dude is a Ferrari, only question is whether or not he ends up being a salvage title with his style of play. Let's hope not, because holy shit is this guy worth the price of admission.