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Cheap Seats: The NBA Player You’d Pay to See

Which NBA player would you pay to see? In this week’s Cheap Seats, the Basketball Insiders’ interns debate.

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Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done behind the scenes. But now that the current group has been around for awhile, we’re giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on the NBA. Each week, Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler will discuss a topic related to the league in Cheap Seats.

This week, the interns discuss which NBA player they’d pay money to see:

Paul George

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – these are some of the players NBA fans would definitely pay to see play. James is the NBA’s all-around best player, Durant and Anthony are two of the best scorers, Paul is the best point guard and Griffin is the most exciting dunker. But I’ll pass on these great players, and pay to see Paul George play.

George came out of college without much hype or fanfare surrounding him. In fact, George’s name was lost in a list of names that included Evan Turner, Wesley Johnson, Gordon Hayward, Al-Farouq Aminu and Xavier Henry. Four years later, Turner, the No. 2 pick, is on the trade block for the tanking 76ers, Johnson and Henry are on veteran minimum deals with the Lakers, Hayward is a solid piece in Utah and Aminu still cannot shoot consistently. George, however, has improved elements of his game each season, committed himself to being a defensive stopper and is now one of the 10 best players in the league.

George really made a name for himself in last year’s playoffs against the Miami HEAT. He was asked to slow down LeBron James; no big deal for the 23-year-old out of Fresno State, right? In Game One, after hitting an incredibly difficult three-pointer to tie the game, George let James blow by him for the game-winning layup. George did not go away quietly though. In Game Two, at the end of the third quarter, George managed to drive past James and throw down a monster dunk on Chris Anderson, who fouled him. George made his free throw and completed the three-point play. In response, James ran the ball down the court with five seconds to go and hit a long pull-up three pointer over George. LeBron said a few words to George, and the two exchanged a high five as they returned to their benches.

It was clear that George had earned the respect of the best player in the world. James would later say, “We’re just two guys trying to do what it takes to help our team win. He’s really good. He’s going to be a great one.” George would lead the Pacers to a win in Game Two, but the HEAT would win the series in seven games. Though the Pacers lost, it was a major step for the gritty team, and established George as their franchise player.

This season, George has cemented his status as an elite two-way player, a rare type of superstar in this league. He is the go-to player on offense, and is usually asked to guard the best wing player on opposing teams. Other players in the league who do this include James and… well, that is pretty much it. But remember, James was a high school phenom, he was always supposed to be one of the best players in the league. George was supposed to be solid, but never pegged as a potential superstar.

However, through hard work, and self-confidence, George has increased his scoring each year from 7.8 points per game, to 12.1, to 17.4, to 22.6 this year. After losing to the Pacers on November 20, 2013, Carmelo Anthony said, “He’s [gotten] a lot better offensively. All it takes is confidence in this league. I think George, that’s what he has right now, and it’s growing day by day, game by game, and you can see that when he’s out there on the court.” Anthony scored 30 points, but George held him to shooting just 10-28 from the floor. George managed to score 35, including nine of Indiana’s 14 points in overtime.

In his fourth year, George has taken the leap that other great players have taken. Compare the stat lines of these three players in their fourth year in the league:

Player A (PER 36): .457 FG%, .355 3PT%, .733 FT%, 6.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.3 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks, 24.1 points.

Player B (PER 36): .440 FG%, .365 3PT%, .852 FT%, 6.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 22.3 points.

Player C (PER 36): .476 FG%, .319 3PT%, .698 FT%, 5.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.8 turnovers, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 24.1 points.

These players are Tracy McGrady, LeBron James and Paul George. Try to match these players with their stat line. You may get it right, but you may not, and that is what is amazing about George. In four years, he has managed to achieve similar levels of play to two of the best small forwards in the last two decades.

Player A is McGrady, who was an amazing player and could score the ball effortlessly. In McGrady’s fifth-year, he increased his scoring average to 29.3 points per 36 minutes. It is scary to think that George may be primed to make another leap in scoring similar to McGrady. What distinguishes George from McGrady, however, is that George is asked to be a lockdown defender in Indiana. In fact, many fans might think of George as a defender rather than an elite scorer. While George can score in a variety of ways, he commits himself to a team philosophy centered on defense. And it’s working. At 39-10, the Pacers have the best record in the league with George as their leader.

Player C is James. LeBron is an unbelievable talent, who may go down as the greatest player of all time. Similar to McGrady, LeBron was so highly regarded as a prospect that he skipped college and entered the draft straight out of high school. NBA rules now require players to spend one year in college before entering the draft. George spent two years at Fresno State, and was not the sort of prospect that would enter the NBA straight from high school anyway. Yet George can hold his own against LeBron statistically, and in a playoff series. With the Pacers and HEAT currently ranked atop the Eastern Conference, it is likely that George will get a second shot to out duel the best player in the league, which all NBA fans should look forward to.

Yes, George has struggled in early 2014 and shot 5-22 against the Portland Trail Blazers last night. It doesn’t matter. With roughly four minutes to go in overtime against the Blazers, George fought for an offensive rebound off a Danny Granger miss, and stole the ball from Robin Lopez, who had secured the rebound. George then missed an open three pointer, but got the offensive rebound and eventually would run baseline to get open for a dunk off a George Hill assist. Then, while up three, Indiana turned to George to seal the game. George smoothly took a step back jumper with 20 seconds to go and buried it.

This is why George is such a great player. Even when he isn’t scoring efficiently, he is still making plays defensively. This is not a criticism of players such as Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony. They are almost unstoppable on offense. But neither player is considered a lockdown defender, and neither commits themselves to the defensive side of the ball like George does. George is not a better player than Durant, though he is arguably better than Carmelo. But this is not about paying to see the best player in the league. That title is held by LeBron James. This is recognizing the all-around elite play and commitment to defense that George displays, which many of the best players in the league never do. James is one of those few players, but he was expected to do that. George was not, and it makes him that much easier to appreciate as a player. As proof, George earned the Most Improved Player award last year, and could potentially win it again this season, which is a testament to his commitment towards improving his game.

Still need convincing that George is worth the price of admission? Then check out this dunk he threw down against the Clippers on January 18.

In a league that focuses mainly on scoring, Paul George commits himself to defense like only a handful of players have in recent memory. He is the number one scoring option, and the lockdown defender on the team with the best record in the league. George works harder on defense than he does offense, and that is what places him among the NBA elite.

That is why I would pay to see Paul George play.

– Jesse Blancarte

Stephen Curry

There are two players in NBA that are going to put fans in the stands no matter when or where they play, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is ascending in that direction and may very soon have to be included in the must see category with James and Durant.

Curry doesn’t possess the size or athleticism of James or Durant, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA today. The strongest attribute in Curry’s game is his lethal jump shot. He can be absolutely deadly from beyond the arc.  As a catch and shoot player he is nearly unstoppable. What makes Curry’s’ shot so difficult to guard and so entertaining to watch is his lightning quick release. He needs only the slightest bit of room from his defender to have enough space to get his shot off.

What separates Curry from other great outside shooters, is his ability to create his own shot. Curry isn’t one of those shooters that can only score by running off screens to shake his defender or spotting up and waiting for his teammates to penetrate the defense and find him.

His jump shot may be his greatest strength, but it is certainly not his only strength. Curry’s ball handling is brilliant to watch, he is able to create space and find open shots off the dribble at will.  The Warriors also run a lot of high pick-and-roll sets with Curry at the top of the key, which leaves his defender in a very adverse position; if the defender decides to go over the screen to prevent the three Curry will dribble to the elbow and knock down a mid-range jumper, but if the defender cuts off the dribble Curry will step back and drill a three-pointer.  Once Curry finds a rhythm and has a feel for how he is going to be defended, he can start to fill it up quickly.  He is the type of player that can put up 10-15 points in a quarter without even breaking a sweat.  Curry this year has had games scoring 44, 43 and 38 points, and last season dropped 54 points on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Maybe the most impressive way that Curry scores the ball is at the rim. He has an array of moves inside the paint and deft touch off the backboard. His ability to score at the rim is what makes him nearly impossible to defend.  There are not many players, if any, who at Curry’s size, have his ability to shoot from the outside and can drive down the lane and score over seven-footers.  He can finish with either hand in the paint and has mastered the floater.  Some of his finishes are awe-inspiring, and Curry is somehow able to consistently navigate through opposing big men and finish at the rim even when it seems he may be taking a very difficult shot.

As if Curry’s ability to score and handle the ball weren’t enough, he is becoming one of the better passers in the NBA. This season Curry is averaging 9.1 assists per game, which is good for second best in the league behind only Chris Paul. Curry draws a significant amount of attention from opposing defenses night in and night out, as he should, with much of the opposition’s defensive attention focused on Curry it allows him to find open looks for his teammates.  Being the deadly outside shooter that Curry is, oftentimes more than one player will come to contest his shot and similarly when he drives the defense knowing that he can score in the paint in a variety of ways will collapse. When either happens, it allows Curry to locate an open teammate for an easy look.

Curry is a supremely talented player; he can singlehandedly lead the Warriors to victory every night.  Any given game he can score 40 plus points and knock down three after three.  At the same time, he doesn’t force his shot. If the defense commits to stopping him, Curry will go out and drop 13 or 14 assists.  His combination of shooting, ball handling and passing is unmatched in the league today.  He uses all three of these strengths to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.  Curry has become one of the most entertaining players in the league, edging closer and closer to being included with Durant and James in the NBA’s can’t miss category when you have the chance to go see them play.

– John Zitzler

Anthony Davis

In just his second season in the league, Anthony Davis has made huge improvements in several statistical categories, and if he continues this pace, he’ll be on track to join elite company.

Davis already has more double-doubles in 41 games this season (23) than he did in 64 games last season (20). A big contributing factor to that is the Pelicans are relying on him more this season, as his minutes have jumped from 28.8 minutes per game last season to 36 minutes per game this season. The Pelicans are simply relying on Davis more this season due to the injuries that have plagued them. Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith have all missed games this season due to various injuries; there is no timetable for Anderson to come back, and Smith will miss the rest of the season after undergoing knee surgery.

Through Davis’ first 41 games, he is averaging 20.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, and should he continue that pace, he’ll be the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in the 1999-00 season to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game for an entire season.

Despite all of Davis’ improvements this season, he still wasn’t voted into the All-Star game during the original ballots, but given the injury to Kobe Bryant, Davis was announced as Bryant’s replacement in the game.

Part of what makes Davis so fun to watch is his 7’4 wingspan and ability to block shots. Davis currently leads the league in blocks with 3.24 per game, which is miles ahead of Serge Ibaka, the next closest player with 2.55 blocks per game. Davis has had 10 games with at least five blocks, including seven during his 22-point, 19-rebound effort against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 26.

Davis’ performance against the Magic is a perfect example of the challenge teams face when trying to plan against playing him. Davis used his superb athletic ability against the slower Magic bigs, a skill that is often only matched by a handful of bigs in the league. On one play in particular, Davis spent most of one possession guarding the basket, then E’Twaun Moore got the ball in the corner and attempted a shot, but Davis used his athletic ability to race out to the three-point line to block Moore’s shot and force the Magic into a shot clock violation.

“It’s hard to imagine getting much better than 20 and 10, but I think he can do it,” teammate Ryan Anderson told SiriusXM Radio.

The way Davis can run both sides of the floor is exactly why he is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Davis’ defensive play is almost reminiscent to that of Dwight Howard, when Howard won three-straight DPOY awards. The obvious difference to that argument is Howard’s bulk over Davis and the additional three rebounds per game Howard posted during his run. Conversely, Davis wins the blocks battle as Howard averaged 2.4, 2.8 and 2.9 blocks per game, respectively. Davis’ steals are also on target with Howard’s, as Davis is averaging 1.4 per game and Howard averaged 1.4 the final year he won the award. Those three years Howard won the DPOY award were arguably Howard’s best years of his career.

Davis isn’t like the average big man in the league, as his offensive possessions would indicate. According to Synergy Sports, Davis is scoring the bulk of his points on transition, cuts, pick-and-rolls and put backs. Due to Davis’ lack of bulk, his post-up possessions are at the bottom of his scoring options and isn’t something that he needs to rely on. Bottom line is Davis does most of his damage using his athleticism on transition and cutting toward the basket.

The fact that he’s not even done with his second season yet and is already posting these types of numbers is only going to solidify his place among the league’s best players in the coming years.

– Cody Taylor

Which NBA player would you pay to see? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

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