Illustration: Bryce Wood/SI

The new star pairings after this summer’s movement has us dreaming of a new “NBA Jam” game. 

By Khadrice Rollins
July 18, 2019

If there was ever a time for “NBA Jam” to be recreated for all of us to have a reason to rush to the arcade, it would be now.

With all the movement this offseason, the NBA has more amazing duos than it’s had in a while. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have any reason to plan on Midway creating another version of the classic, so all NBA Jam ideas are just food for thought. They can’t be real, but if they were, it would be the most amazing thing since NBA Street Vol. 2.

But for those of us who prefer to live in fantasy worlds that dabble in reality, I’ve decided to rank all of the imaginary NBA Jam squads that we’d have for the 2019-20 version of the game.

If you have any issue with the ranking or a particular player getting snubbed from a team, just know that I don’t care in the slightest.

It’s not my usual NBA Power Rankings that I did for The Crossover all season, but it will suffice until I return closer to the start of the season.

30. Hornets — Terry Rozier and Nicolas Batum

Maybe Terry Rozier actually is elite like his agent said and this will be 100% wrong come November or December. But for now, I’m going to assume the career backup (outside of his great 2018 postseason of course) and the 30-year-old who just averaged 9.3 points per game will be the worst team in this game.

29. Cavaliers — Kevin Love and Collin Sexton

This might be the only team in the game that would be better in a two-on-three situation. I’m not sure how much Sexton will set Love up and I’m not sure how much damage Love can do after all the injuries, but if this was Minnesota Kevin, they would be a bit higher because I do trust Sexton to connect on spot-up threes.

28. Grizzlies — Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

JJJ was one of the best rookies last season and Ja is sure to be one of the top newcomers this season. But they are a combined 38-years-old so they naturally have to be this low just because.

27. Bulls — Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen

Adam Pantozzi/NBA/Getty Images

This squad is going to be a problem from the three-point line. They aren’t Steph and Klay or anything, but they will give you fits. They won’t play any defense, but these two will fill it up when the ball is in their hands. And the opposition will also fill it up when the ball is in their hands.

26. Knicks — RJ Barrett and Julius Randle

If RJ can make just a few jumpers, it will allow Randle to just be bull and go through his defender’s chest whenever and however he pleases. But RJ making shots needs to be a thing that happens. He can’t treat this like Summer League. This is much more important.

25. Magic — Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic

For those of you out there who don’t watch the Magic, which is most of you, trust me, this is a solid pairing. They will be big bodies to deal with and nobody will like having to bang with them in the paint. And they will score more than most expect.

24. Hawks — Trae Young and John Collins

In five years, these two will almost certainly be in the top-10 of this fictional ranking of NBA Jam teams. But right now, they are still super young and Trae Young is too bad a defender to think that won’t be an issue. But the oops Trae sends John’s way and the unnecessarily deep shots Trigga Trae is going to pull would make them fun as hell to play with.

23. Thunder — Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari

There’s a really good chance that one if not both of these guys won’t be on this team by the end of the season. But for now, you are looking at one of the scariest pick-and-pop duos imaginable in this context.

22. Kings — De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield

These two might be my favorite young duo outside of Philadelphia even though Buddy Heild is old enough to already be a seven-year vet in the NBA. Marvin Bagley III might actually prove to be a better choice than one of these two over the course of this upcoming season, but for now, we’re going with the backcourt pairing. They’re a little small and not quite experienced enough to have a ton of faith in them in this setting where one will almost always have to guard somebody 6’10” or taller. But if they get hot and play as hard as I expect, I wouldn’t want those problems.

21. Suns — Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

At the end of this season, this pair could have the chance to skyrocket up this list. Devin Booker is going to score whenever and however he feels like. Ayton is going to give out some work in the post as well. But there’s still plenty of room to grow and become more dominant on that end for both of these dudes and I expect to see that growth. But for now, they are still the Suns and played on the team with the second-worst record in the league.

20. Wizards — Bradley Beal and John Wall

Size and the fact that John Wall is coming off a wild injury keeps this squad a bit lower than most would probably think. Yes, there are some other players on this list who are ranked higher and will also miss the whole season, but they didn’t miss all of last season too. But either way, Bradley Beal is going to be better than anybody expects in real life and each time you play this fake game.

19. Celtics — Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum

I have no clue if this team will have better chemistry than if we subbed out Kemba for Kyrie Irving, but either way, I’ve got questions on how much the lead guard can be expected to play lock-down defense on the perimeter. But I have no concerns on whether or not these two will make contested jumpers until the sun comes up. I’m sure that will happen.

18. Pistons — Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond

This spot almost belonged to Reggie Jackson, but Blake can do enough on-ball that it makes sense to go Twin Towers with the two All-Stars from Detroit. There’s no way their opponents can expect to grab a rebound at any point. And there’s also no way of knowing exactly how much of Blake’s skillset you need to be afraid of. He might show off all the moves he’s worked on throughout the years or he might just put a shoulder in your chest and wear you out with physicality while Drummond does the same to the other player.

17. Pelicans — Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson

This team might be ranked a bit too high, but I don’t care. In a two-on-two setting there is too much space and too few defenders to think Zion is going to have a lot of trouble. And Jrue Holiday is going to do what he does regardless of his teammate. So expect to have defenders on your ass at all times against this team and plan to be put on at least one poster, but possibly as many as 10. Or you might just get bullied for the ball by either one of these two. They will both just snatch the ball from your hands then dunk it. You’ve been warned.

16. Heat — Jimmy Butler and Justise Winslow

These two are going to switch anything they feel like on defense and spend time setting each other up however they feel like on offense. In real life this partnership should be absurdly fun to watch. In a video game setting, it should create a ridiculous amount of alley-oops. If only there was just a smidge more size to deal with some of these bigs.

15. Raptors — Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam

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If you read The Crossover’s Power Rankings even just one time last season, you know what team I will be using most in this fictional video game created just for the sake of this post. These two combined for 52 points on the road in the closeout game of the Finals to lead the Raptors and they will be playing with lots of energy. And even if that doesn’t translate into the game, you will feel the energy when I yell “SIAKAM” after each bucket Pascal produces.

14. Mavericks — Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis

Now this one can be fun. Has there ever been an NBA Jam squad that was this European? There will be a lot of shooting and lots of comparisons to every other white basketball player ever. Doncic might get beat off the dribble a handful of times, but these two will make up for any defensive mistakes once they get the ball in their hands.

13. Timberwolves — Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins

I was really close to giving this spot to Robert Covington, but he was hurt too much of last season, so we get KAT and Wiggins here instead. Either way, this is KAT’s team and he just needs somebody else to defend and knock down open shots when they appear. But to be fair to Wiggins, he will also create his own shot when the opportunity presents itself.

12. Spurs — DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge

They’re not going to shoot any threes, but their mid-range game is going to be the coldest out there. This squad’s biggest issue is going to be when other teams start raining threes, but as long as they keep connecting on those 15–18-foot jumpers, they should keep their opponent on edge. Or maybe not, since this game is all about dunking anyway. 

11. Jazz — Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert

Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

If you think Rudy Gobert changes the game with his defense when there’s five people on the other team, wait till you see what he does when there’s only two. Donovan Mitchell will have a lot of pressure on the offensive end, but it will also be pretty easy for Gobert to rebound any misses when needed.

10. Pacers — Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner

If you somehow find a way past Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner will he waiting in the paint. And if you navigate around Turner and set his man up for an attempt, Oladipo will have recovered and be ready to punch a shot from out of nowhere. And when you’re done letting them kill you on that end, they will fill it up on offense.

9. Trail Blazers — Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum

They aren’t big, but they can hit you with daggers from anywhere. A floater at the rim. A mid-range step-back. A 37-foot bomb to crush your soul and literally force your franchise to start over from the beginning. Stay alert—’cause they will shoot it, and possibly bruise your ego with each make.

8. Nuggets — Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray

There’s no defense for this pick-and-roll. Now, these two might not play too much defense themselves, but they will always have—response to the opposition’s buckets. Be prepared for lots of slick passes. Like, lots and lots of slick passes.

7. Bucks — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

So. Many. Arms.

Well, it’s the same number of arms as every other team, but the length of these arms is just wild. And with all the space of two-on-two, it’s basically going to be impossible to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo. And if Khrushchev Middleton gets hot, well, you might just want to give up.

6. Rockets — James Harden and Russell Westbrook

How much fun should two MVPs be? This squad’s biggest issue is a lack of size. But they will make up for it with how hard they hit the glass, and James Harden should hold his own defending in the post. And when Harden or Russell Westbrook drives, the defense needs to be most afraid of the pass to the cutter.

5. 76ers — Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

I know, one of them doesn’t shoot jump shots. I get it.

But the other one is named Joel Embiid. And since Al Horford isn’t on any of these other rosters to defend him, that means there is nobody in this game who can defend him. And Embiid and Simmons will be quite the defensive duo themselves, tipping virtually every pass and collecting all the rebounds.

4. Warriors — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

What they lack in size they make up for in shooting.

Like, they could easily shoot every shot from behind the arc and be completely fine. The ability to trade twos for threes unlike any other pair in the history of basketball means these two have to crack the top five. But not having Draymond to sure up the defense keeps them out of the top three.

3. Nets — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving

This squad might be too smooth for its own good. When one of them isn’t hitting you with a pretty crossover to set up a pull-up J or drive to the rim, the other will be hitting you with a pretty crossover to set up a pull-up J or drive to the rim. Virtual Kevin Durant will have a lot of pressure on the defensive end, but when your opposition is dealing with weak ankles because of all the dribble moves they’ve been trying to defend, the two-time Finals MVP should be able to hold things down on that side of the ball.

2. Clippers — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George

Do you understand how hard it’s going to be to dribble against these two? Like seriously. The most basic thing you can do with a basketball will be a near-impossible task against this team. And then add in they can both hit tough contested shots and drive to the rim and rise up on anybody.

1. Lakers — LeBron James and Anthony Davis

There’s only one duo in the NBA that has two of the seven highest-rated players in “NBA 2K20” and arguably two of the top five players in the league.

Assuming LeBron is actually trying on defense in this video game scenario, this is at worst the third-best defensive group and at worst the second-best offensive tandem with the Splash Bros. as their only competition. 

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