Now that's entertainment
The five most fun players to watch? Start with Ginobili
Posted: Tuesday March 18, 2008 11:15AM; Updated: Tuesday March 18, 2008 6:35PM
As the playoffs approach and the NBA heads into its debate season for individual awards, we sometimes forget that this is still about entertainment. With that in mind, here are my picks for the all-entertainment team -- the five most fun players to watch:
The Spurs' Manu Ginobili heads the list.
He has led, won and excited on every international stage -- Europe, the Olympics and the NBA. Now, the man isn't smooth. He doesn't glide and is all elbows and knees when he goes to the basket, yet he is one of the most difficult players in the league against whom to play. He throws around his body with abandon and is just awkward enough to keep all defenders confused. The fact that he is left-handed, yet uses his right hand almost as often, gives him even more advantages.
Ginobili can get in the lane against any defender, and once there, has a barrelful of moves to get off acrobatic and creative shots in traffic and over bigger defenders. He will flop in a heartbeat, but that doesn't mean he isn't tough. You knock him down, he gets right back up and comes back at you just as hard the next time. (The 6-foot-6, 205-pound guard is just as fearless on defense. He is one of the best in the league at drawing charges and just being annoying and bothersome.) He probably takes as much punishment as any player, yet seldom loses his cool or lets opponents think they got the best of him.
If the NBA had a one-on-one tournament and everyone participated, he'd make the final four, for sure. And it isn't blasphemous to think he could challenge Kobe Bryant or LeBron James for the title.
Sure, he's out of control at times and often drives coach Gregg Popovich crazy, but that's just who and what he is.
LeBron James -- There's probably never been a player in the league with his size, strength, athleticism and versatility. The only players you can compare him to are Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson, but he is so much bigger than Robertson, a more explosive scorer than Johnson and far more athletic than both of them. He leads the league in scoring, yet he could very well be the best passer in the game. He's the only player averaging at least 30 points, and his 8.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists are career highs. It seems only a matter of time before he has a legitimate shot at averaging a triple-double for the season. After all, he's still only 23.
Kobe Bryant -- Eighty-one points in one game. That just about says it all. You watch to see if he is going to do it again, or even go for 100. He has a lot of Michael Jordan's mannerisms and most of his moves to go with that same cutthroat mentality.
Steve Nash -- He's probably the most clever player in the league, a great passer with either hand and a master of the bounce pass, and no one runs a better screen-and-roll than he does with Suns teammate Amaré Stoudemire. He sees all angles and reads defenses like Tom Brady. He also has those subtle, annoying moves where he leans into defenders to get calls, as well as one of the most believable flops. If all of that isn't enough, every time he shoots -- from anywhere -- you expect it to go in. He's a combination of Bob Cousy, Pete Maravich and Isiah Thomas.
Baron Davis -- Few players look and act like they are having as much fun playing the game as Davis does. He is also perhaps the most underrated player in the league. He can do everything. Nash and Chris Paul get the credit for being the best point guards in the league, but Davis is just as good. The Warriors' point guard is capable of taking over a game at any time with his streak shooting, and he'll dunk over a 7-footer in a heartbeat.
Just in case you were wondering, my all-time all-entertainment five is Pete Maravich (never make the simple pass when a fancy one will accomplish the same thing); Magic Johnson (the master at making everyone else look like an All-Star); Michael Jordan (simply the best there ever was); Larry Bird (you knew he would do something to make you gawk every game, like make a shot from behind the backboard); and George Gervin (finger rolls and jumpers from a man so cool that he had to be called Ice).
David DuPree covered the NBA for nine seasons for the Washington Post and 23 seasons for USA Today. His column will appear weekly at SI.com.