The NBA All-Letter Team Tournament

Who would win a March Madness-style tournament if all active NBA players were grouped based solely on the first letter of their first names?

People love hypothetical scenarios based on arbitrary parameters. It’s why horoscopes are so popular. The same holds true for sports – especially during a pandemic with no actual sports happening.

So many what-ifs pervade social media channels and talking-head shows until we find something enticing enough to interrupt the discourse. The idea for making the best ACTIVE five-man NBA teams based only on the first letter of first names came from @NinjaBands on Twitter. This phenomenal exercise gets the gears turning and challenges you to create your conjectural squad:

I would already run through a wall for Team P, and you probably will have an irrational rooting interest for whatever group represents your nominal faction. But what letter puts out the best team, you ask? To solve that putative statement, we must create teams for every letter, seed them based on probable success, throw them in a bracket and then stage a win-or-go-home tournament.

To start, all 533 active players get classified into letter groups. Once broken down, it’s time to make the premier starting five. Since it’s 2020, the rigid positionality of the past is merely a social construct and doesn’t confine us here. Liberties can be taken. Case-by-case determined whether opting for better players over traditional roster orientation made more sense or balance over talent worked best.

Of course, not all letters are created equal. Some overflow with high-quality options, while others offer bare cupboards. The players by letter broke down as such:

A: 30, B: 24, C: 31, D: 66, E: 14, F: 6, G: 17, H: 5, I: 9, J: 85, K: 39, L: 15, M: 47, N: 15, O: 4, P: 12, Q: 2, R: 25, S: 20, T: 43, U: 1, V: 5, W: 10, X: 0, Y: 2, Z: 6

In order to give teams a minimum of 12 players to choose from, the lacking letters merged, forming magnet teams. The four magnets are as follows: FUH, IO, QVXZ, WY.

The NBA All-Letter Teams:

Here are all 19 squads with their subsequent seed in parenthesis and team captain in bold. Hopefully, your grapheme tribute is more Katniss than Primrose:

Team A (15) – Avery Bradley, Andrew Wiggins, Aaron Gordon, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond. The first letter of the alphabet does not make for the best team. But it does make for an awkward, oversized and clunky lineup.

Team B (4) Ben Simmons, Bradley Beal, Brandon Ingram, Bojan Bogdanovic, Bam Adebayo. Having Simmons in tow grants Team B flexibility. Without needing a traditional point guard, they can opt for Ingram’s length, Beal and Bog for some much-welcomed sharpshooting, and Bam’s embodiment of basketball poetry.

Team C (7)Chris Paul, CJ McCollum, Caris LeVert, Christian Wood, Clint Capela. The C’s put out one of the most balanced teams out there. CP3 manning the wheel with three scorers and a perfect lob man make them a tough out.

Team D (5)Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Draymond Green, Domantas Sabonis. Ironically, not much D here. They’d have to score 150 to win but they certainly could do it.

Team E (17)Eric Bledsoe, Eric Gordon, Evan Fournier, Ersan Ilyasova, Enes Kanter. The most used letter in the English language apparently doesn’t occur much at the front of names in the NBA’s current upper-crust.

Team FUH (16)Fred VanVleet, Frank Ntilikina, Furkan Korkmaz, Harrison Barnes, Hassan Whiteside. FUH as in, “Fuh, we’re gonna get scraped.”

Team G (9) – Goran Dragic, George Hill, Gary Harris, Gordon Hayward, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The backcourt’s a little long in the tooth, but with Giannis, you always have a shot.

Team IO (18)Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, OG Anunoby, Otto Porter, Ivica Zubac. IO, the second-tier vowels, won’t be long for this world.

Team J (2) – Ja Morant, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Joel Embiid. J had the largest player pool by far and its vast options produced a lineup with four All-Stars and a rookie phenom. Even its JV squad of Jrue Holiday, Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown, John Collins and Jaren Jackson Jr. would do better than the first string of most letters.

Team K (1) – Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Karl-Anthony Towns. Wow, break up the ’27 Yankees. Not only is K absolutely stacked, it also had the hardest omissions across the board. The snubs of Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis would make for a top seed in their own right. Apologies to the other floor generals, but Lowry gets the nod for supreme thiccness and charge-taking prowess.

Team L (3) – Lonzo Ball, Lou Williams, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge. All passing, all the time. Close your eyes and imagine the no-looks whirring around the court, finding open creases for easy baskets. It’s beautiful.

Team M (10) – Mike Conley, Malcolm Brogdon, Marcus Smart, Montrezl Harrell, Mitchell Robinson. I can’t decide if they’re three spots too high or too low. Can they shoot? Meh. Can they score? A little. But their defense will ruin opponents’ wills to live as they subsist exclusively on their hopes and dreams.

Team N (11) – Norman Powell, Nicolas Batum, Nemanja Bjelica, Nikola Jokic, Nikola Vucevic. Not the most seamless of fits or best mix of players. However, there are worst things in the world than being anchored by The Brothers Nikola.

Team P (6) – Patrick Beverley, Patty Mills, Paul George, Paul Millsap, Pascal Siakam. None of these guys really fit the conventional definitions for their positions. But you know what? Convention is for suckers. They’re just five basketball players fusing into an amoeba of grit and skill.

Team QVXZ (13) – Quinn Cook, Victor Oladipo, Zach LaVine, Zion Williamson, Zach Collins. The goth table in the high school lunchroom of letters. The troika of Oladipo, LaVine and Zion would make them a League Pass darling, but the quintet as a whole doesn’t have quite enough juice to go far here.

Team R (12) – Ricky Rubio, Russell Westbrook, RJ Barrett, Robert Covington, Rudy Gobert. The good: Two All-Stars, rim protection, a facilitator, athleticism aplenty. The bad: Spacing, and a lack thereof. The ugly: Oh. Oh, no.

Team S (8)Stephen Curry, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Spencer Dinwiddie, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams. Get Jim Boeheim on the horn, Team S needs to run the 3-2 zone, stat. Despite a three-guard attack, they still have plenty of length, plus the hulking pillars of Ibaka and Adams to secure the interior.

Team T (14)Trae Young, Terry Rozier, T.J. Warren, Tobias Harris, Tristan Thompson. Sure, the backcourt is a sieve. The frontcourt though? Also a sieve.

Team WY (19) – Wayne Ellington, Will Barton, Wesley Matthews, Wendell Carter, Willie Cauley-Stein. Somebody had to be the worst. While being the bottom seed sets them up with a near-impossible road to glory, they have a chance if their shooters all catch fire at once, NBA Jam-style.

The NBA All-Letter bracket, rules and results:

This boils down basketball to its essence. Lose, and your party of five leaves the court. Winners move on until one remains. All normal NBA rules apply, but since we’re operating in a hypothetical vacuum without benches, it assumes no injuries or fatigue.

The NBA All-Letter championship showdown:

The tournament flows chalky for the most part. The 10-over-7 and 5-over-4 stand as the only upsets and even those barely count. Once it gets down to brass tacks, the top two seeds, both titans featuring scintillating five-man units with stars at every spot, clash in the finals.

Ultimately, Team K emerges victorious. They’re just *this much*  better overall and their considerably superior defense propels them to hoist the inaugural Alphabet Cup.

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