Each week, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith and I have been going back and forth, procuring lists according to a topic of the other's choosing. This past Tuesday, Scott asked me for five 'surprising' predictions for the 2020 season, and even gave a few of his own examples in the process. It was then up to me to come up with five things I hadn't heard people talking about yet still remained in the realm of possibility for this coming season. You can read the predictions that I'm sure will inevitably get me into trouble here.
That's the premise of this series, which I'm continuing today. The list part, that is. Not the trouble part. This time, it's my turn to give Scott a topic and instead of giving him something more quantifiable, I want to tailor it toward current events. The NBA is attempting a restart of their season, cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. To do so, 22 teams have quarantined themselves inside Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports campus as they begin practices and training camps to get ready for game action.
With basketball on the brain, I thought it might be kind of fun to do an exercise with our current players. Say, in an alternate universe the fate of the NBA season rested on calling up basketball players' NFL counterparts as substitutes. Hey, they're world-class athletes with transferable skillsets.
Much like people question whether or not LeBron James could have continued on with a viable football career as a tight end after being the number one football prospect in the state of Ohio (according to James himself) during his high school career, a case can be made for several NFL players – including the Bucs' Mike Evans – to have had success in the NBA. In addition to his athletic prowess on the football field, the Pro Bowl wide receiver was also a standout basketball star in his hometown of Galveston, Texas, and received a host of scholarship offers to play on the hardwood instead of on the field.
So there, I've given you one player, Scott. And I'll allow you to include him, but to reiterate, the challenge is this:
Today's Topic: Who would be the Bucs' starting five if you were to start a basketball team with the current roster?
You've seen the mini-basketball hoop in the locker room and you've seen guys take their shots. Now, let's see who has impressed you (because NBA basketball and mini-hoop pickup games are totally the same thing).
Scott: If I didn't want to do the research, I'd just say give me the tight end room and take on any five you want to throw at me from the rest of the roster. Yes, that would leave me without Mike Evans, but Rob Gronkowski, Cam Brate, O.J. Howard, Tanner Hudson and Codey McElroy would give a nice big lineup. All of them have basketball backgrounds to varying degrees, though I'm not sure who would be the primary ball-handler.
Just so this Give Me Five list isn't a single paragraph long and actually has some variety, I'll limit myself to just one of those five tight ends, as you'll see below. McElroy, who actually played at Oklahoma State as a walk-on during his unusual college sports odyssey (he told me and Jeff Ryan a very entertaining story about that on a Salty Dogs podcast), perhaps should be the pick but I'm really working on this squad's entertainment value.
One thing to know about me before I start: I enjoy basketball and the NBA but I would call myself a casual fan. I never played organized basketball growing up, just pick-up, so I wouldn't say I know the ins and outs of the sport. I'm not Bill Simmons, so I'm probably going to get some of the terminology wrong. So instead I'm going to have a little fun with this. I doubt I will end up with the five best basketball players on the current Bucs' roster, and there are a lot of new players on the team who we haven't even met yet. But this squad is going to have no problem drawing attention.
So, with apologies to Ndamukong Suh, T.J. Logan, Arike Ogunbowale's brother and all the other hardcourt standouts in the Bucs' locker room, here's my starting five:
5. WR Mike Evans
Well, duh. My eyes quickly caught Evans' name as I started to read Carmen's challenge, and I was terrified she was going to make him off limits because it was too obvious of a choice.
And obvious, it is. Mike Evans had NBA dreams as a prep star and it's lucky for the Buccaneers that his passion for football was even greater. I see Evans as a 6-5 wing player who would constantly be attacking the basket on offense and crashing the boards on defense. He'd have a physical game, just like he does in the NFL. Carmen already gave you the rundown on his high school accolades, so I won't repeat them here, but I'm going to count on Evans to be my squad's leading scorer.
4. TE Rob Gronkowski
Yeah, this is going to be a very physical squad. At 6-6, I guess Gronkowski would be a little small to be an NFL center, but that's what he's going to have to play here. He says he could dunk in high school – though it wasn't necessarily as easy for him then as NBA stars make it look – and now I think he would be looking to throw down some vicious dunks with all of his 250-260 pounds behind it.
Gronkowski said he patterned his game after Blake Griffin. We all know that Griffin can finish at the rim and provide highlight-reel dunks, but his three-point shooting has improved markedly in the Detroit portion of his career. I'm hoping that's what my team will have in Gronkowski, who apparently loves shooting around on off days and having three-point competitions. If he can drag opposing big men outside to guard a reliable three-point shot, that could open things up for my other big men.
Again, I'm middling on basketball lingo – did that all make sense? Either way, this team is already going to be fun to watch.
3. OLB Anthony Nelson
Had to get some representation from the Bucs' defense on this squad. Nelson was a prep star in Iowa, a team captain who won all-conference honors, led his team to a conference title and averaged 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. I guess I'd put him at the other forward spot, though perhaps he and Gronkowski could be interchangeable.
The Bucs felt like they got a steal when they nabbed Nelson in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, though a couple injuries kept him from really unlocking his talents as an NFL rookie. They felt he had the quickness, speed and agility to consistently get around the edge. That sounds like it could translate to the basketball court as he attacks the basket from the low post.
2. WR Tyler Johnson
And now the Buccaneers' rookie class gets a representative. With all these big men – and if we need reinforcements we can call on the aforementioned Suh, McElroy, Brate, Howard and others – I need a ball-handler. I'm hoping that's what I have in Johnson, who as a high schooler was best described as an "athlete."
When Johnson arrived at Minneapolis North High School, the Polars' sports teams weren't exactly lighting up the district. Johnson helped change that, on both the grass and the hardwood. (By the way, yes, the MNHS nickname is the Polars; the logo is of a Polar Bear.) As the starting quarterback, he led the football team to a state championship game appearance. He took it one step further in basketball, winning a state title. He was ranked as the number-two "athlete" in the state.
Now, I have to admit that I don't know for certain if Johnson was a point guard on his high school team, but the fact that he was the quarterback makes me believe it's a good guess. He threw 36 touchdown passes during that run to the championship game; I'm thinking his passing in basketball will be on the money.
1. QB Tom Brady
I told you I was going to have some fun with this, but I was also a little concerned about leaving the Bucs' new quarterback off this squad. I think I've heard once or twice that he is perhaps, somewhat, maybe a little bit competitive. I know he'll soon be 43, and there haven't been a ton of 40-plus NBA players, but we're talking about a guy who has maintained a legendary level of attention to his health and well-being. Most of the 40-plus NBA players, past and present, have been big men but the Nets just signed 40-year-old guard Jamal Crawford, so I think this is possible.
Here's what I know about Brady and basketball: I believe he played a little in high school, just a couple years ago he insisted he could still dunk, and I saw a video where he was in a pickup game with Michael Jordan and swished a very silky-looking 20-footer. That's a pretty thorough scouting report; welcome to the team, Tom. I'd let Brady play the two and hopefully be my team's outside marksman. He was actually on Jordan's team, so hey, if MJ wants him on his squad, so do I.
But I'm especially excited about pairing Brady with his gridiron pal Gronkowski. I'm banking on the chemistry they have always shown on the football field translating to the basketball court. In addition to draining some threes, I'm going to need Tom to fire off a few pinpoint passes to Gronkowski inside. Maybe the two can even mix in some alley-oops!
So, there it is Carmen. This is the point in a Give Me Five article at which you get to offer your comments on my choices. I'm expecting some pushback on this one, but I don't care. This is the team I want to see on the court.
Carmen's Thoughts: I'll be honest – on first scan I was very skeptical about putting Brady on here. I ended up very much liking the reasoning, though. And far be it from me to contradict any of Jordan's decisions. That's more than good enough in my eyes.
That being said, I know you didn't want to pick a team made up entirely of tight ends, but no O.J. Howard on this list is a real loss. Howard averaged a double-double in high school as a three-sport athlete at Autauga Academy in Alabama, according to his former high school coach in a USA Today article I found. His build and athleticism that make him so good on the football field are obviously transferable in and out of the paint but hey, I respect the decision in the end.
I commend you for going with an unproven rookie, as well. I don't know anything about Johnson's basketball ability but I can see him being a point guard. Maybe it's because of his position on the defense, but I could also see Antoine Winfield Jr. sliding into that role too, for whatever reason. I think this list needs a representative from the defensive back room in general.
You're absolutely correct about one thing, though. The team you chose may not end up being the best, but it would sure be entertaining to say the very least. I'd watch that