Knockout is always a fun basketball variation to play if you want heightened drama and fast-paced shooting and rebounding antics.
After I wrote about how fun it would be to add Around the World to NBA All-Star Weekend, I figured that the NBA could also benefit by adding a huge Knockout game with some of the most prolific and accurate free throw shooters in basketball.
The excitement would be off the charts, knowing that all of the players participating were so skilled at hitting their free throws that any miss would likely allow the person behind them to sink their foul shot and eliminate the poor victim.
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For those who’ve never gotten to experience the anxiety attack which is Knockout, the game is played by starting single file behind the free throw line. Two balls are in play. The player who shoots first has to make the shot before the person shooting after them does. A player’s first shot has to come from the free throw line, but if they miss, they can retrieve their rebound and shoot from anywhere.
After they make their shot, they pass it to the next person at the free throw line, and then they shoot and repeat the process. The previous shooter goes to the back of the line. If a player behind the first shooter makes a shot before they do, the player who shot the ball first is eliminated. Play continues until one person is left.
The game combines shooting, rebounding, agility, and timing. If you really want to be a jerk, you can hit another player’s ball to make them run and chase it, increasing the chance that the guy behind that person can make their shot before the guy who has to run across the court to retrieve his ball.
NBA players as participants in this game would be so much fun to watch. I wanted to look at the free throw statistics in the league to determine which players would make this competition the most compelling game it could possibly be.
Like with my Around the World idea, I settled on 8 participants. It’s just a good number for any type of competition. I sought both quantity and quality from free throw shooters. Each participant averaged 4 or more free throw attempts per game during the regular season. From that field, the 8 best free throw percentages were chosen. No player selected shot less than 86% on their free throws this past season.
These are the premier free throw shooters in the NBA, and there was even some overlap from the Around the World game in terms of players chosen.
Next: Reggie Jackson
Apr 24, 2016; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) is defended by Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Jackson was the final participant to make the cut, and as a result of that has to be the dreaded first person to shoot. He ranked last in this field in free throws per game attempted with 4.3, last in free throws made per game with 3.7, and last with a .863 free throw percentage. The scrappy Detroit Pistons’ point guard is a likely candidate to be the pesky player in this game, using any technique necessary to stay alive. He’ll trash talk, try to distract shooters, and send his opponents’ ball flying off into the distance all in the name of obnoxious self-preservation.
Next: Danilo Gallinari
Feb 23, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari (8) drives to the net against Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay (8) in the first quarter at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Gallinari has a favorable draw here. He had the 2nd worst free throw percentage at .868 of any competitor, so he gets to shoot 2nd and be the first player with an opportunity to eliminate the guy in front of him. Gallinari was famously the centerpiece in the Carmelo Anthony trade a few years back, and this competition can be his chance to raise some eyebrows again around the league. Gallinari had a career season with the Denver Nuggets this year, averaging 19.5 points per game. If more fans paid attention to the lowly Nuggets, Gallinari would have a higher profile that he currently does. 6’10 power forwards with smooth shooting touches don’t grow on trees. His ability to get to the line is terrific, as he averaged 8.2 free throw attempts per game and 7.1 free throws made per game during the regular season.
Next: Isaiah Thomas
Apr 28, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half in game six of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a shame that Thomas will likely never be able to claim the distinction of being the greatest basketball player of all time with his name, but Thomas can hold his head up high that he’s leading the charge to bring the Boston Celtics back to relevance. His free throw shooting has been impressive, too. He averaged 6.6 attempts per game, 5.8 makes per game, and shot free throws at a .871 percentage. His quickness will benefit him in chasing down any potential shots he misses. The running that can take place in this game certainly favors point guards over big men.
Next: Kawhi Leonard
May 12, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) brings the ball up the court against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Andre Roberson (21) during the first quarter in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s the first carry-over from the Around the World lineup. The concern with Leonard heading into the league was that he couldn’t shoot, but now he’s secured a position in two hypothetical shooting contests. Leonard averaged 4.6 free throw attempts per game, 4.1 made free throws per game, and shot free throws at a .874 percentage. An excuse that sometimes gets floated around as to why huge centers are poor free throw shooters is because their hands are too big, and it affects the trajectory of the ball on free throw shots. Leonard certainly puts that theory to rest with those gargantuan mitts of his.
Next: Damian Lillard
May 11, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston (34) during the second quarter in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Lillard has played this entire season with a chip on his shoulder, proving to the world that even the mass exodus of his fellow starters on the Portland Trail Blazers wouldn’t stop him from making the Trail Blazers a playoff team. Lillard is a fantastic shooter, especially from the charity stripe. He averaged 6.2 free throw attempts per game, 5.5 made free throws per game, and had a .892 free throw percentage. His propensity for clutch baskets makes whoever’s shooting in front of him a fairly easy target. Leonard had best be careful to make his shots, or Lillard will strike.
Next: Chris Paul
April 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball against Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Paul has the honor of shooting behind his cast mate from those creepy State Farm commercials. Eliminating Lillard won’t be as easy as taking candy from a baby, although Lillard’s face is put on one in those horrifying ad campaigns. Paul being the “patriarch” of the Hooper’s home is surely a psychological tool he can use to go along with his great free throw shooting. During the regular season, Paul averaged 4.4 free throw attempts per game, 4.0 free throws made per game, and a .896 free throw percentage. He’s one of the favorites in this contest, and out to prove that there really are “good Clippers” laying around that Hooper household.
Next: Kevin Durant
May 12, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) brings the ball up the court against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Along with Leonard and Paul, Durant is another participant moving over from Around the World. Knockout is the far more exhausting game than the stationary Around the World, so a large part of the effectiveness of players in each competition would be based on which game is held first. Knockout being played first would ensure that energy levels are at their peak for the very active Knockout. Durant can decrease his cardiovascular workout by making his free throws, which he’s a good bet to do. He averaged 6.9 free throw attempts, 6.2 free throws made, and shot at a .898 percentage from the line in the regular season.
Next: Stephen Curry
May 9, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots a jump shot in overtime against the Portland Trail Blazers in game four of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
Curry is the 4th player to be chosen for both Around the World and Knockout. He gets to go last in this game due to having the highest free throw percentage at .908, and has to be considered the odds-on favorite to win. He shot the mythical 50-40-90 during his MVP year, and seems to be establishing himself as the greatest shooter who has ever played in the league. Curry also has the athleticism to draw fouls, as he averaged 5.1 free throws per game during the regular season and 4.6 made free throws per game. Going last, he gets to size up his competition before finally getting a chance to wreak havoc on the field.