It’s been a bleak slate of headlines over the last month since the NBA season was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak. The opening weeks of the suspension were cluttered with positive COVID-19 tests, and the last couple of weeks have been filled with uncertain speculation over the league’s potential return. Some have expressed significant pessimism if the 2019–20 season will return at all. Those who believe we’ll get games back don’t have much confidence, and currently, the details on any proposed plans are few and far between. This week should have marked the lead-up to a thrilling playoffs. Now it’s uncertain whether we’ll have any playoff games at all.
We finally received a dose of good news on April 4 when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski announced the formation of a H-O-R-S-E competition on live television. But even the rosy Woj Bomb was met with derision. Sure, H-O-R-S-E isn’t exactly the most thrilling event, but without even a drip of live sports, any basketball is good basketball. Chris Paul and Trae Young are legitimate stars. It will be a delight to see Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups try to turn back the clock. If the production value is high enough, fans will likely be happily surprised by the H-O-R-S-E event.
Besides, the introduction of a H-O-R-S-E competition is exciting for far more than the event itself. ESPN (or TNT) could follow a similar path for numerous events, delivering what is essentially a quarantine All-Star weekend. We might as well also include a dunk contest, three-point shootout and skills competition while we’re at it. With nothing but time to kill, the NBA has no choice but to get creative.
Let’s dive into our top candidates for each potential quarantine competition.
Zion Williamson: This is a no-brainer. No rookie has captivated the league like Zion since LeBron James, and Williamson was producing highlight-reel dunks on a nightly basis before the COVID-19 suspension. His vertical and hangtime is elite compared to his peers. Those skills are downright insane considering his size. We’ll likely see Zion in a dunk contest in the 2020s. But why wait? Let’s watch Zion dunking on national television sooner rather than later.
Ja Morant: Morant is the Rookie of the Year by all accounts, and he could seal the deal with a dunk contest win over Williamson. The Murray State product is a spectacular and fearless dunker, and being a short player never hurts in these competitions. Targeting youth is always the best path for an exciting dunk contest.
Vince Carter: Carter received a sendoff of sorts on March 11 before the NBA’s suspension, with fans (and potentially Carter himself) unsure if the eight-time All-Star would play again when games return. Having a true farewell for Carter via the dunk contest would be fitting. He’d face an uphill road against Williamson and Morant, but perhaps he could recreate an iconic 2000 dunk. That’s some perfect hiatus entertainment.
Steph Curry: This is probably the most obvious selection on our list, but any three-point shootout without Curry wouldn’t quite feel right. And besides, it’s not as though we’ve really seen any of Curry in 2019–20. He’s played just five games due to a wrist injury, and Curry was also injured over All-Star weekend. With the Warriors out of the playoff picture, we’re owed at least a brief peek at Curry’s sweet stroke in the spring.
Brook Lopez: It’s hard to imagine placing Lopez in any shooting contest a decade ago. The Stanford product was a low-post brute for much of his career, never making more than two threes in a season from 2008–16. But Lopez has undergone a significant evolution over the last half decade.
Lopez has made 517 threes in the last four seasons, shooting a solid (albeit unspectacular) 34.5% from beyond the arc. It’s not the numbers that make Lopez an appealing candidate, though. Watching his massive frame catapult triples is mesmerizing, with a staggering confidence and competence in what should be a serious fish-out-of-water situation. Lopez is unlikely to win any shootout, though he’d likely perform far better than expected.
Damian Lillard: It’s a bit of a shame that Lillard’s career is occurring in lock-step with Curry. In another generation, Lillard would get more attention as one of the greatest three-point shooters of all-time. He has five straight seasons with 200-plus threes. Only Curry and James Harden have more triples since 2013–14. Lillard is also armed with otherworldly range (just ask Paul George), a skill that would have also translated well to the H-O-R-S-E competition. Perhaps we’ll see Lillard splashing threes in the coming weeks.
De’Aaron Fox: Russell Westbrook and John Wall used to battle for the league’s fastest player belt. The new rivalry is likely between Fox and Ja Morant. Fox is perhaps the most thrilling athlete in the NBA, and watching him burst through the obstacle course would be a delight. The three-point portion may slow him, though.
Ben Simmons: Simmons needs about three steps to get from half court to the rim, so he should fare quite well in a potential skills competition. And despite Simmons’s fear of the three-point line, he may bang home his first triple, if only to troll the Sixers’ fans.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Let’s put James Harden’s theory to the test. Can the soon-to-be two-time MVP do more than just run and dunk? Of course. But winning the skills contest would send a real message to The Greek Freak’s emerging rival.