If you were a superstar athlete and grew up playing high school basketball anytime after 1990, you probably didn’t have to play a ton of basketball outdoors and at your neighborhood park. That’s why some of today’s greats have holes in their games that players of yesteryear didn’t have. From coming up in a less coddled age, old school players learned to shoot on shoddy rims, withstand 90 degree temperatures and actually take it to the post.
Starting with Kevin Garnett, who led the comeback of the straight-out-of-high-school player, the ramification of the prep-to-pro (and one-and-done) pipeline is that the NBA is filled with players who’ve forgotten the lessons of the outdoor playground crucible. Here are a few players who could use a streetball refresher course and little less NBA coddling.
James Harden - The Cherry Picker
By now, we’ve all seen it. In fact, it has now become a phenomenon. James Harden’s “no defense video,” went viral on YouTube to the tune of almost 1 million views. There’s one moment in the video when Harden’s asking for the ball to be passed into him before his man’s shot even went through the hoop, because Harden knew that his defense was so poor that there was no way the guy could miss that shot.
As respected as Harden’s offensive game would be on the streets of Harlem, the south side of Chicago or Inglewood, even the And1 team would have to ask Harden to play a little more defense than he currently does in the NBA. If he played defense as poorly as he does now at Rucker Park, he’d become that dude to steal on. Everyone would want the ball when Harden is guarding them, and at some point he would have to make a stop to keep from being that guy.2 of 9
Kevin Garnett - Cheap Shot Artist
It’s hard to associate the highest paid man in the history of the NBA with anything involving the word cheap, but KG clearly likes to pick on people smaller than him. Not known for cheap shotting someone like Shaq in the neck, but instead of busting Channing Frye in the man region, KG has earned a reputation as someone who only picks fights with people who clearly don’t fight.
Consequently, on the courts, KG would learn real fast that there’s no one who doesn’t fight in streetball. Sure, there are people who don’t want to fight, and who certainly will avoid a fight. But you can’t play streetball regularly and become that dude to steal on. KG would mistakenly drop some Honey Nut Cheerios line on that quiet guy who’s an outside shooter and he’d discover that streetballing locals don’t wait by the bus postgame; they pop the trunk.3 of 9
Roy Hibbert - “Yo, pass me the ball. They can’t hold me."
You know that guy who thinks that nobody on the court can guard him? Don’t get me wrong, those players exist, but then there’s the guy who calls it when that sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth. I can’t be the only one that has noticed that every time Hibbert makes a shot, he immediately turns to his teammates and tells them that he can’t be stopped. Funny enough, he did that during most of the playoffs, despite clearly being within the realm of containment. Everybody on the court loves a big guy in the middle that bangs down low; just not one who bangs his chest the one-out-of-five times it works.4 of 9
Josh Smith - Mr. Never Not Open
Smith loves taking that 18-foot jumper from the wing, and consequently, teams love giving him that jumper. At some point, Smith will realize that this is not a coincidence. Perhaps a trip to an outdoor court or two will remedy Smith’s love with the long two-pointer. Sure, in the NBA Smith is a highly paid player and his teammates are going to make sure he gets his touches. But in a pick-up game, people would just stop passing Smith the ball on the wing. It doesn’t take but two or three ugly looking jumpers to convince the guy running point that the only way he’s passing Smith the ball is if he’s on the block or in the high post. Outdoor games only play to 15 points at most, there’s no leeway in that low number of points to allot for too many of Smith’s customary bad shots.5 of 9
Klay Thompson - The Awesome but Passive Player
I love Klay Thompson, heck, I love his daddy doing sports radio even more. But for the sake of the basketball gods, the boy defers to Stephen Curry way too much. Yes, Curry is considered the better player, but Klay is more durable, plays more minutes, can get to the rack and is a much better defensive player. Not to mention, Curry’s main skill is shooting threes, and from a percentage standpoint, Curry ranks 8th…to Klay’s 9th.
A dose of streetball may get him to that point faster. People get tired during that sixth or seventh game of the day, and they have to rely on the best player on the court to generate some buckets. If I played with Klay and was in my last game of the day, I’d be telling him to take his man every time down the court.6 of 9
Dwight Howard - Turnover Machine
No, Dwight doesn’t need to get tougher, nor will the asphalt of New York or D.C. or L.A. solve his post-up game issues. But the guy turns the ball over way too much for someone who plays strictly in the post. It’s more acceptable to turn the ball over if you’re responsible for running the offense, but among strictly post players, only DeMarcus Cousins had more turnovers this season, and Lord knows we’re not picking on Cousins in them streets.
“Pass the damn ball, Dwight!” That’s what everyone would be yelling at him when he gets double-teamed in an outdoor game. Nobody wants to pass the ball to a guy who is only going to immediately give the ball back to the other team–especially not if that guy is on the block. And with all those foul calls that Dwight is looking for when the ball gets slapped out of his hands, he would most assuredly learn that the hand is a part of the ball, because the guy in the streetball game who took it from him would yell that at him as he went end-to-end for a layup.7 of 9
LeBron James - “Y’all want to take a break?”
I mean no disrespect to LeBron, but the man’s body did fail him in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. And if you think Twitter and Facebook were mean to him, imagine him tapping out of a street game because of the heat…at a park in the south side of Chicago? There’s no one meaner than athletes who sense weakness, and they would prey on that like it was their job. Hell, they’d stop the game just to make fun of him.
I grew up playing basketball in Texas, where we would literally dribble and jog to the court three miles away from us, and play during the summer at 1 p.m., when it was much hotter and humid than it was in the AT&T Center that night. LeBron’s an admittedly durable player who’s logged major minutes in the playoffs and the Olympics in recent years. But playing in those posh environs won’t keep LeBron ready for the Spurs conspiracies like playing outside. I recommend he take his talents not to South Beach, but to Broward County, where he can play in Udonis Haslem’s old neighborhood. That way, he can rest assure that no one will mess with him, lest they want to suffer the consequences of answering to UD.8 of 9
None of these guys
NBA Players who don’t need to learn the lessons of streetball:
Kobe Bryant: Kobe looks like he plays basketball anywhere there is a net—hence the completely rewired lower half of his body.
David West: Even the toughest of streetballers would be afraid to play with West, who has muscles coming out of his ears and ain’t afraid to use ‘em.
Stephen Curry: If ever there were your prototypical And1 player, it’s Curry, who only needs an inch to get off a deadly pull-up three.
The San Antonio Spurs: Turning off the A/C in Game 1 was their version of taking it to the streets.