Why you should care
Because fantasy sports just took on a whole new meaning.
It has become an all-too-familiar embarrassment for opponents of the Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love grabs a rebound, spins and fires a long two-handed pass to streaking teammate LeBron James for a dunk or layup. They are the Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski of the NBA. While the New England Patriots’ quarterback–tight end combo has totaled more than 70 touchdowns, Love and James have provided regular highlight clips since joining the Cavaliers prior to last season.
So that got us at OZY thinking about which NBA players would be studs in the NFL. Love and James are easy picks — Love, a 6-10 power forward, is one of basketball’s best passers and James, at 6-8 and 250 pounds, has the upper-body strength and agility that could make him a star at tight end, like the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski.
How about Russell Westbrook at strong safety? After all, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard is one of the most gifted athletes in the world today, and possesses both the agility and lateral quickness to stick with small slot receivers, as well as the size (6-foot-3, around 200 pounds) and vertical leaping ability needed to cover big, bulkier tight ends. Point guard John Wall of the Washington Wizards, generally thought to be the NBA’s fastest player, would make a solid cornerback. And San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard, whose hands measure a whopping 11.25 inches from thumb to pinkie, would be hard to stop at wide receiver — imagine Odell Beckham Jr. with an extra eight inches of height and 30 pounds of muscle.
A lot of guys would do well because of the quick twitch muscles you have to have, but I don’t think they’d do well because of the physicality.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green of the defending champion Golden State Warriors has the strength and agility to be a great defensive end. In fact, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Green played that position throughout middle school and high school, though he told OZY in a locker room interview, “It was fun while it lasted, but I have no desire to play in the NFL.” Green added that plenty of his NBA brethren were capable of starring in the NFL, though few would subject their bodies to that kind of punishment. “A lot of guys would do well because of the quick twitch muscles you have to have, but I don’t think they’d do well because of the physicality.”
Several NBA players did well in major league baseball, such as Danny Ainge, who was a starting infielder for the Toronto Blue Jays from 1979 to 1981 before becoming an All-Star guard for the Boston Celtics. The most famous, of course, included Michael Jordan (who took a year’s break from basketball in 1994 but managed a paltry .202 batting average and never made it past the minor leagues) and Bo Jackson, who became a star simultaneously in football and baseball until a 1991 hip injury left him hobbled. Current NFL quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Russell Wilson were drafted by baseball teams, yet there have been only two players who’ve been in both the NBA and the NFL — and none in the past 60 years.
Ronnie Lott, a Hall of Fame defensive back for the San Francisco 49ers and two other NFL teams in 1981–94, says he’s surprised that more basketball players who fail to make it in the NBA — and end up playing overseas — don’t give pro football a try. He tells OZY that NBA players “have all the skills” to succeed in the NFL, and recent NFL rules against hits to the head have made football a little less scary. “The question has always been can they mentally get through the violence,” says Lott. “The aggression of football and the aggression of basketball is starting to blur.”
But would NBA players used to starring in warm, well-lit arenas be willing to get down and dirty in the trenches as NFL linemen in the middle of a Midwestern ice storm? Would Blake Griffin, the 6-foot-10, 251-pound Los Angeles Clippers forward whose rim-rattling dunks make him a regular in ESPN highlight clips, be willing to trade those moments for the relative anonymity of the linebacking corps? Would the Spurs’ Tony Parker feel comfortable reacting to plays as a free safety rather than creating them as a point guard? Perhaps not. As rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein of the Sacramento Kings tells OZY: “Everybody wants to be the quarterback. I’d either want to be the quarterback or the kicker — you get paid a lot as kicker, and you score a lot of points.”
OZY’s Picks for Best NFL Players From the NBA:
QB Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
RB Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
FB Marcus Smart, Celtics
TE LeBron James, Cavaliers
WR Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
WR Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
OT Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets
OG Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
C Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
OG Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
OT Anthony Bennett, Toronto Raptors
DE DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
DT Jared Sullinger, Celtics
DT Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder
DE Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
LB Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
LB Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans
LB Paul George, Indiana Pacers
CB John Wall, Washington Wizards
CB Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
FS Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
SS Russell Westbrook, Thunder