The StatsBomb Superstar Combined Five-a-Side and Basketball Team
What does a football analytics company do on slack on a Thursday afternoon when there are no games to speak of? Why talk about basketball of course. Well, not just basketball. The question that arose was who would you pick to compete in a combined basketball and five-a-side match. That is, first the teams played football, then basketball, then if they split those two matches, they'd have a shootout to as a tiebreaker to determine the overall winner.
Ultimately we decided to make draft lists. So, four StatsBomb experts (I use the term extremely loosely here) made their top ten lists of who they'd like to run out on the the court/pitch for such a hypothetical competition, complete with their reasoning. So, down below you'll find the lists of CEO Ted Knutson, StatsBomb South head honcho, Ali Elfakharany, CCO, Shergul Arshad and general man about analysis town, Euan Dewar. You should feel free to find all of them on twitter and tell them why they're wrong. Also feel free to figure out your own teams and tell us why you're right.
And now, without further ado, the lists.
The risk with this draft is that you go all one-sided to NBA or football/soccer and can't compete effectively in the other sport. The tiebreaker is soccer-based but even so, I wanted to put out a balanced lineup that could give us a chance in either sport. I also resisted the desire to try and pull Steve Nash out of retirement, but it did cross my mind.
1) Joel "The Process" Embiid
Joel Embiid can literally do anything he wants in the athletic arena. And not only that, he will obsessively work until he becomes insanely good at whatever skills he needs to learn. Since this tournament is short term, we might even keep him healthy for the whole season. Type 'Joel Embiid soccer' into YouTube in case you have any doubts.
2) Giannis "The Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo
I think a lot of people will have Giannis as their number 1, and it just makes sense. He's definitely in the top 5 NBA players in any particular year and he's at least had some exposure to juggling the ball. However, having seen enough clips of him interacting with a soccer ball, I'm fairly comfortable that Embiid is the better number one overall.
3) Steph Curry
In terms of a single skill set, Steph is the most influential player basketball has ever seen. His gravitational pull warps the court in a way no one in soccer does except maybe Messi. He's probably not going to be super effective as a two-way, two-sport player, but he will affect what happens on the basketball side of the competition like no other.
4) Luka Doncic
There was some discussion in our Slack channel that Doncic's skill set would not necessarily be electric in this competition. I disagree, and he would make for one of the more effective two-way guys from the NBA side of things.
5) Kylian Mbappe
This is my number one pick from the world of football. He's one of the two best players in the world the last two seasons, has amazing ball control, and electric acceleration. He's also a bit bigger than Messi, which makes him potentially less of a liability on the defensive side in hoops, and he loves basketball.
6) Neymar Jr.
I know this is weird that I am picking Neymar above Messi, but bear with me for a second. When he ever-so-briefly cared - when Messi was out for half a season at Barcelona - Neymar was the next Messi. His production was out of this world and he looked like the second coming of Superman, except with a bit of Brazilian flair. He also likes basketball, and if the other drafters in this hypothetical tournament let me put these two together, we have a chance to dominate the soccer portion of the competition without sacrificing too much.
7) Lionel Messi
He's a pure defensive liability on the NBA side of things, but whatever. However, I'm only making this pick if I don't get Mbappe/Neymar.
8) Russell Westbrook
Our head of technical scouting Nikos Overheul pitched this and I think it's a good one. Russ is insanely athletic, and I feel like he could be a major contributor on both ends of the floor in both sports.
9) Marc Gasol
I wanted to pick Pau, but he's 39. Marc is 35, nearly as good as his brother, and perfectly capable of contributing in soccer and hoops. OTOH his aerial dominance might be more pronounced if we had 11 v 11 with the ball in the air more often.
10) Paul Pogba
Has the size and athletic ability to compete well in both sports. Actually likes basketball. Has some unexplained ongoing health issues in recent seasons, but is currently Rai-habbing well and those are expected to clear up at his next club.
Despite the fact that the tiebreak is football-related, my train of thought was to mainly pick basketball players for a couple of reasons:
- Football is more popular globally so it’s easier to find base level football skills
- Basketball is more unique physically and so it’s harder to find basketball physique!
- Big basketball players might make good goalkeepers for the shootout
- Absolute domination matters for mental purposes
- Most StatsBomb folks don’t know basketball as well as I do
Without further ado, my list:
1) Joel Embiid
The Process is the perfect fit for this sport.
A 7’2 foot center with the best low post moves since Hakeem, who is also a magnificent trash talker that grew up in football-crazy Cameroon? Sign me up.
Jojo will dunk all over these tiny footballers, and trash-talk them so badly all their penalties will look like that famous Sergio Ramos penalty that ended up orbiting the moon. And he may foul out the entire team before we even get to the shootout.
Joel is also the most entertaining guy in sports, and he’ll make sure we have no problems selling this event out. Just think of all the Spanish/Portugese he’ll learn just to mess with Cristiano and Messi.
If you need visual evidence, a quick Youtube search will show his spot-kick prowess,
and him driving poor Andre Drummond crazy with his antics.
2) Giannis Antetokounmpo
The reigning NBA MVP and probable best player in the world is another obvious pick. African heritage but born and raised in Europe sounds like a football star (Zidane, Mbappe) and a quick Youtube search shows the Greek Freak has some serious football skills.
Giannis will bring his trademark enthusiasm and competitiveness to the team, and will probably spend the entirety of the competition mean mugging all these soft European football players.
3) Romelu Lukaku
6’3 and heavier than Russel Westbrook – will be able to keep up physically in both sports.
4) Luka Doncic
Luka’s IQ, footwork, and skill ability translate beautifully between both sports. He will reign threes on the football players all while looking very relatable athletically, and then bust out a couple of penalty saves with training from his countryman Samir Handanović
5) Pau Gasol
Friends with a lot of football players
6) Zlatan Ibrahimović
6’5, a kung-fu background, supreme ball skills and the OG football trash talker.
7) Antoine Griezmann
Obsessed with the NBA and seems to have a 3 point shot
A very tall and skilful football player with connections to other sports
9) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
10) Cristiano Ronaldo
My assumption is that a team of all-footballers/all-basketball players would decimate any opposing team that has even one player who is not playing their preferred sport. The basketball players aren't going to suddenly all turn into Ronaldinho, the football players aren't all going to start hitting three-pointers against NBA-level defence (or even in an empty gym). If this didn't have the penalty shootout aspect I would have gone with solely NBA players.
My thinking is that it's extremely hard to imagine footballers lucking in to even a few buckets against a team of NBA players, but a team of NBA players maybe nicking a goal in a 5-a-side, I think that's easier to imagine. Think of Lebron James trucking some dude off the ball and then finding Russell Westbrook with a pass who zooms down with it and scores. Not super likely, but you can see it happening right?
Only there is a penalty shootout involved here, so I'm punting the basketball side and going with only football players. Penalty-taking is a relatively simplistic skill in raw terms - you have much less to consider than you do in open play. But it is still a skill where you can see differences in execution across various levels of talent. NBA players, while immensely gifted, are still miles off of elite footballers in performing football actions. Therefore I want the best footballers so we can crush them in the football match, knowingly get our arses handed to us in the basketball game, and then breeze through the shootout. The more weak links we have (i.e, NBA players) in that segment the worse off we'd be.
1) Lionel Messi
Obvious choice. Ironically, he may actually be a weakness in the shootout given recent penalty history, but I am assuming that wouldn't be a huge problem in this scenario.
2) Jan Oblak
To truly tighten the noose, a wall of a goalkeeper is also needed. Instead of picking a goalkeeper with a noted penalty-saving record (alhough I will do later) I'm going with probably just the best shot-stopper around. Trusting too much in penalty-saving sample sizes when selecting for this seems foolhardy. Also maybe he can get a layup, who knows.
3) Virgil van Dijk
Has all you need in terms of awareness and physical traits to shore up the defense, all while being lovely in-possession too.
4) Kylian Mbappe
5) Arturo Vidal
My one fear in the football match is that a given NBA player of the requisite size could just ease smaller footballers off the ball (especially if this is FIFA Street rules). WIth that in mind, a big enforcer is needed. VvD fills a big chunk of this need. Vidal is past his prime but still has plenty of skill and, importantly, is a combative bugger with the build to back it up.
6) Josip Iličić
Why not make the whole plane out of Messis?
7) Idrissa Gueye
Could also absolutely tear shit apart.
8) David de Gea
Slumping as of late but no reason to believe as of yet that it's a permanent drop-off. Probably still unbeatable in this environment.
9) Robert Lewandowski
If I were to go with a purer-striker it'd have to Lewy.
10) Simon Mignolet
Apparently he has a good penalty-saving record on a bigger sample size than most other goalkeepers. Maybe that means something. If not, well I feel he is owed some slack for all the abuse he has received over the years.
The Greek Freak grew up in Athens and played both soccer and basketball. The combination of innate knowledge of both sports, speed, plays "small" like a point guard and thus could star as a striker in a 5 a side football.
2) Luka Doncic.
For almost all the same reasons as Giannis. In a 5 a side module I would employ a diamond shape with a keeper. Giannis at the top of it, Doncic one of the two "flankers" along with number 3
Embid claims he has mad soccer skills and I need a beast who can anchor my defense in soccer too,
Christian Pulisic. Played hoops and would really up the services to Giannis as well as trail the attack. Skilled enough to track back, plus growing up in America he had plenty of indoor/5 a side football, which other countries can lack.
5) David DeGea.
I'm not a fan of the guy in general, but a quick search on google and he can throw down dunks and would play in my frontline of Giannis, Doncic and DeGea.
In 5 a side I need a keeper expert. De Gea makes many bad decisions on a big net, but giving him a small net? I'll take him
5 a side in hoops, I start a back court of Doncic and Pulisic with Embiid, DeGea and Giannis in the frontcourt. With the matchup problems Luka and Giannis cause, I can anchor my strategy around having them score and also rim protect with Embid and play inside. In soccer, De Gea is my key to preventing any matchup woes, I rely on the size and strength of Embiid in the back, the creativity of Doncic and Pulisic in the middle and the insane matchups Giannis would cause
The Next Five
All reports show me that a healthy Pogba had some hoop game too. I also need one defensive minded player at the back of my next five a side.
Strength in the post could help box out some of the bigger guys he'd be sure to face in basketball. In my "next 5" he'd be the lone striker
YouTube shows him canning threes, and if he can supply Lukaku with a few balls, that's great too. Plus he and Pogba can whine together.
9) Lebron James.
I'm putting him in goal for soccer. I realize he has played almost no soccer to rave about, BUT he is the smartest player I have ever watched, a matchup nightmare and has quick reflexes. In the basketball 5 on 5, I need a superstar to take over whilst the three footballers struggle
10) Pau Gasol.
Given the list started with three footballers, I need another beast for basketball. I also need a bit of size. Edging Goran Dragic (my #11) I choose a man who was schooled in the Macia of basketball, FC Barcelona's very own Pau Gasol.
Header image courtesy of the Press Association