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Question of the Day: Pick your basketball skill

August 19, 2009 |  7:56 am

Last weekend, I strapped on the my Nike's (with extra cushy and supportive after market insoles added, just like the pros) for the big Lakers/710 ESPN 3-on-3 tournament down at Staples. Fair to say things didn't go well for team Purple Rain (two losses) or me (twisted ankle, zero votes in the tournament MVP voting). But as I waded through the sea of hoops humanity, filled with players who, like myself, weren't exactly horrible and clearly enjoy the game but who's love of playing is far outstripped by any ability to do it like an NBAer, I got to thinking:

If you could pick one skill you see in an NBA game- passing, ball handling, dead-eye shooting, jumping, shot blocking, rebounding, and so on- and do it like a pro, which would you choose? The rest of your game would still be yours, but in that one area, you'd rock. (Note: I don't know how many dudes (or dude-ettes) with genuine, upper-one-percent, get picked first at the rec but can't play because pickup games a violation of their current contract type skills frequent this site, but if you're one- and you're almost certainly not- feel free to click away, because the following likely doesn't apply to you.)

It's a tough question, at least for me.

I'm a decent enough athlete, or was at one point, but at 5'9" sans hops I touch the rim only with help of a ladder and reject shots with the same frequency as a drunk rejects a drink. So you can imagine the appeal of Shannon Brown hops or Mutombo-esque swatting ability. Except from a practical standpoint, I'm not sure how either of those skills would help me much in my weekly pickup games. Still gotta drive the lane to use the hops, and I don't have Steve Nash handle or Aaron Brooks quicks. Spiking shots with authority is a rush (so I've read), but eventually wouldn't the opposition catch on and limit the one thing I can do? 

Those moments where I could put the talent to use, though, would be epic. Out in front of the break or finishing off a turnover with a big dunk (and I'd be the cherrypickin'est $@#&((&!% you've ever seen), or drawing some serious "Da-Yum!" from the peanut gallery with a strong block off the weakside. Pure joy, even if it doesn't happen as often.

If the goal is to make myself more useful and play better when I step out on the floor with friends or at the rec, ball handling, passing or shooting would probably be better bets. Who wouldn't pick me first if during warm ups I dribbled four balls at once? (Putting me on an even skill level with this 12 year old, just for the sake of comparison. But seriously, did you know some people dribble with their heads up?  I could be that guy!) And there's something really cool about stepping all over the floor and draining J's. Particularly triples. You become the guy who keeps his team on the floor for three or four games at a time.

As it was said about Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption, in here (even if "here" is the local LA Fitness or a big streetball tournament) I would be an important man. How much does it mean to excel in whatever basketball world in which you live?

My choices would be shooting or jumping. Vanity pushes me towards the former, because it's a skill I can use for a while, plug into my game (as it were) right away, and be more effective on those days when I get out on the court to play. Everyone wants to be one of the best guys on the floor, right?

Well... no.  Not me at least. I've gone nearly 34 years being pretty bad at basketball, and things have turned out okay. Being one of the first guys picked up at the rec may be good for the ego, but from an experiential standpoint, does it matter?  I can still go play, and when it comes to winning and losing in athletic endeavors, I still try to play hard and do the best I can, but am relatively unconcerned about winning and losing. I'm there to have fun and get a little exercise.

What I've never done, and never will do without this hypothetical, is dunk. I'm all about the fantasy, so give me jumping ability. Talking to Andy about this question, his answer was the same, and basically thought the whole thing was a no brainer. Who wouldn't take that skill? But he's an atrocious basketball player. I'm not speaking out of turn, he'd tell you the same thing. Can't dribble, can't shoot, never cared about learning. I feel like it matters, though, if you play a little and have a skill set, even if it's spotty.

But maybe he's right- I'm taking the hops, after all. Is it that cut and dried?

(Note: I'm polishing this thing up at Dodger Stadium, sitting next to Friend of the Blog, ESPN's Eric Neel. I put the question to him, and he said "I'd like to pass like Chris Paul." Why? Because at the heart of the game is ball movement and vision. "Everything else is just window dressing." Plus, he said, "If I could pass like Chris Paul, my pickup team would never lose." Proving once again that Eric Neel is far more thoughtful/far less shallow than I, and probably a better guy to choose before me when picking fives. But maybe there won't be uniformity in response from the blogosphere?)

Waffle UPDATE- 4:32 pm PT... WAFFLE ALERT!!!: So I've been reading some of the comments, and have officially decided my initial choice was short-sighted. Jumping and being able to dunk, while super cool, isn't necessarily a "skill," per se. It's an incredibly useful basketball talent, but an unrefined one. And I've seen a lot of bad ballers who can still jump enough to dunk. What Ray Allen or Steve Nash do from the perimeter, though? Obviously there's some God given blessings at work, but that's a skill. I've always said it would be amazing to play one round of golf like Tiger Woods, just to feel what it is to be that freakin' good at anything. Why skip that opportunity in basketball? So give me shooting, or failing that, the super sick passing skills and court vision that comes with it. I want a pro level skill. Upper .0000001% type stuff. I am officially waffling. BK