I love cooking. I’ve worked as a kitchen hand and chef for most of the past six years, so it’s safe to say I have a fair idea of what makes a solid recipe (well…for pizza at least, but I got some skillz in other areas also). I also love basketball and the NBA and spend way too much time thinking about what makes a great NBA team.
Naturally it was inevitable the two would one day meet in the vast space that the doctor would call my brain. (To which I ask the doctor, if it’s a brain why is it so stupid at the most critical moments of my life?) After a hard game of pickup ball a few days ago, I went back to my rathole inner Sydney flat to have a pre-work shower and found myself wondering what exactly would the recipe be to make yourself an elite NBA team.
As it turns out, it wasn’t really that hard for me to come up with. So here I present to you, Ash’s Specially Hektic NBA Team Supreme. I accept that some might have different ideas, but for the NBA of 2013, this is what I’ve seen work recently and what I think would lead to the best result for all. Bon appetit!
(Chef’s note: You’ll notice there’s no mushrooms or olives on this pizza. Why? I could give a reason about how they don’t really fit with the recipe and don’t really suit a particular role, blah blah blah. The reality is that I just don’t like either mushrooms or olives, so they have no room on my signature pizza).
1 x superstar perimeter player.
Do I really need to explain this in further depth? This is your core guy. The superstar is the base and cheese of the pizza. Without him, you may as well go home. The only question I can see here is whether you’d rather have a superstar big man than a perimeter guy. If this was the 1980s and Michael Jordan wasn’t an option, I’d be with you. But how many superstar bigs are there in the NBA today? Dwight Howard (and we’re not even sure how good he really is following back surgery and that LA season)…and really that’s it right now. And D12 made the Finals once at his peak. Having a superstar big would be like using buffalo mozzarella instead of regular shredded cheese. Sure it sounds great in theory and can taste really nice, but is it really worth it in the end especially since you’d have to pay even more (given the scarcity of both) and superstar bigs inevitably are just more demanding than perimeter guys (demanding touches, their pet plays, etc) just like mozzarella di bufala is that much harder to incorporate? In this day and age, you’re better served with the perimeter guy.
Modern Comparison: LeBron James
1 x elite second-tier player with a skill set and mentality that compliments the superstar.
This is where it gets interesting. As important as the base and cheese of your pizza is, the sauce can often be what makes or breaks it. If the sauce is too sour, too sweet, too tangy, then boom. Pizza not so good. In the same vein, your team’s No.2 guy has to be someone who compliments your superstar in every aspect. To get the obvious out of the way, he needs to be a top tier player. Someone who could carry a lesser team and allow them to be at least playoff contenders, but is even better served being a second option on your squad. His game has to be one that meshes with your star. There’s no point in having two guys who do the almost exact same thing, just one does it a little better. More importantly, he has to have the right mentality to play with him. This differs from superstar to superstar. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen worked so well because while both were ferocious competitors and would have done anything to win, Pippen knew when it was his time to step back and let MJ be MJ. In contrast, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook work well because Westbrook’s relentless confidence and alpha mindset covers for Durant’s moments of passivity on the court.
Modern Comparison: Russell Westbrook
1 x borderline All-Star big man who’s an elite defender, rebounds and functions in a complimentary manner on offense.
Some basketball purists like to argue that the big man is dead. Which is nonsense. If you’re around 7ft tall and can ball there’s always going to be room for you in the NBA. What has changed are the skills that the league demands from its big men. The old school, back-to-the-basket post player big is dying out. Nowadays the ideal NBA center has to be able to run the floor like a guard, protect the rim like a mother falcon and collect rebounds like J.R. Smith collects big booty models. Sounds easy enough right? Oh, and offensively he has to do a little bit of everything – finish pick and rolls, set screens, get offensive boards, what have you, while knowing he’s never going to be the feature guy. While you can win titles with a margarita pizza – at times the Miami Heat certainly have felt like one – everyone knows that it’s the supreme, the meat lovers, the capri that are the most fun to eat. In this very long and played-out metaphor, the big guy is your ham – sometimes overlooked, but no quality pizza is the same without the familiar comforting flavour of ham just like every team needs their big security blanket.
Modern Comparison: Tyson Chandler
1 x secondary creative player who can get his own shot and create for others.
Unless you have two elite creators like LeBron and Wade, you need this guy – and even if you have that its certainly useful to have one. Your secondary creative player will ideally be a sixth man who has the ability to carry the second unit and run the offense for stretches, while your superstars take a break. He needs to be a real ball-handling option who can run the pick and roll and create shots for himself and others, while also having a submissive mindset (if there’s any way I can say that without being dirty). I chose to compare this role to salami because while it isn’t always the best topping to carry a pizza on its own, it can still provide a great smoky/spicy flavour counterpart to the rest of the pizza just like a secondary creator.
Player Comparison: Manu Ginobili
2 x “3 and D” guys who can cover everything on defense and spread the floor offensively without requiring plays to be run for them.
Now you can say we’re getting into the luxuries. Ideally you can have one of these guys on the court for all 48 minutes, which is why I say you need two on the team. Defensively, they have to be able to handle anything on the perimeter. They need the athleticism to cover Derrick Rose, the length to trouble Dirk Nowitzki and the smarts to stop everything in between. Offensively, their job is to make corner 3s, set screens and cut to the basket. These guys are usually lesser options on offense so they have to be willing to accept their role and not whinge if they don’t see the ball for several series. The 3 and D wing is very much a new age creation of the NBA’s perimeter dominated era, but every team needs at least one. I compare them to capsicum because they’re easy to overlook if you aren’t a hoops purist, but you know damn well when they aren’t there.
Player Comparison: Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler
At least one 40+% 3pt shooter who isn’t a liability on defense.
This guy is easy. His job is to shoot the ball. When other teams are playing zone or focusing on the guys driving inside or drawing double teams in the post, he’s your security blanket. Give him 10-15 minutes per game and enough open looks and he’ll make more shots than he misses, and when he’s hot he can put other teams away with a barrage of 3s. Since most 3pt specialists are not particularly good man to man defenders, he at least needs to be able to play decent team D and not be a complete liability on the other end. If he has a pizza comparison, it’s onion – not perfect for every situation but in small doses on the right pizza can really bring out the best in the whole pie.
Player Comparison: Kyle Korver
1 x big man who plays hard nosed D, never met a soft foul in his life and sets punishing screens.
The enforcer can’t be anything but the chilli. Just like some nice spicy chilli flakes or jalapenos take a good pizza and give it a sick kick, your enforcer is the fire of the team. He knocks driving guards on their butt, bodies up in the post, does all the dirty work and relishes every bit of it. If a team has one of these guys, he won’t come up much on the box score but his flashier team mates and coaches will definitely love and respect what he brings to the table.
Player Comparison: Kendrick Perkins
A couple of rookies or younger players.
A lot of championship-level coaches don’t really trust younger guys with minutes, but I believe that it’s vital to have a couple of them on your team. If nothing else, they provide freshness and energy and they’ll eventually develop into something better than predicted just by virtue of being on a champion team and being around champion players. Not many coaches know the value of youth or how to use them right, which is why I compared them to anchovies, the most acquired taste in the pizza business. Those coaches that do know how to bring rookies along (Gregg Popovich is one that immediately comes to mind) are probably those that can appreciate the value of a well placed anchovy on a pizza.
Player Comparison: Avery Bradley, Jimmy Butler. This year, potentially Steven Adams and Reggie Bullock.
And now we have the basil to complete the pizza. Of course, the great Scal is one who can never be duplicated, merely imitated. But you don’t need the NBA’s greatest talent of all as your 12th man. What you do need is the consummate team player, who’ll bring the energy on the bench, play hard in practice and occasionally liven the home fans up in a blowout. Must also lend himself to a catchy nickname like the White Mamba.
Player Comparison: The one and only.
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