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A Game of Twenty-One Featuring NBA Players

May 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) fight for the rebound during the first quarter in game one of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
May 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) fight for the rebound during the first quarter in game one of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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Twenty-One is a highflying tip-in game which features skillful inside scoring and impeccable rebounding, with some free throw fundamentals thrown in just to keep things interesting.

This game has a lot more variations than Around the World and Knockout, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of how my friends and I play it.

Basically you come up with a predetermined order for shooting (we usually do it by first name) and the person who goes first shoots from the free throw line until they miss. Each free throw made counts as 1 point.

When a shot finally misses, the person who’s next in line to shoot has to rebound the ball and shoot while in the air, and can only allow the ball up to 2 bounces from when the previous shot attempt lands. A made field goal counts as 2 points, or 3 points if the ball careens that far away from the hoop. The person who made the shot then goes to the free throw line and shoots until they miss, adding a point for any made free throw. Play continues.

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If a player can’t get to the ball before it bounces twice, another player tosses up the ball and the person whose turn it is gets another chance to shoot it. Double-touches by a shooter aren’t allowed.

If a person “tips in” the previous shot without a bounce off the rim and makes the shot, then not only does that person get points for a made shot, but they also steal all the points that the previous shooter had, and the previous shooter goes back to 0.

What gets more strategic is when your score gets closer to 21 points. If you somehow go over 21 points, whether it be through stealing or making a field goal when you’re already at 20, you go back down to 13. That’s why the worst position to be in is if you miss your free throw at 20, because you’re guaranteed to go back down to at least 13 at some point.

Shooting keeps going in the same order until a player gets to exactly 21 points. In an NBA setting, this game would be best suited for skilled rebounders who can nimbly grab missed shots off the rim and finish inside.

A midrange touch on balls that skid out of the paint off wild rebounds doesn’t hurt, but I’m thinking that this game is going to be won and lost primarily on good hands around the basket off missed shots and the ability to hit free throws consistently.

I looked at the numbers of the best rebounders in basketball, and how good they were at free throws. Each of the participants in the theoretical NBA version of this game all averaged 8 or more rebounds per game and shot free throws at a percentage better than 76%.

I decided on a lineup of 8 players, much like my Around the World and Knockout games. My hypothetical NBA All-Star Weekend is getting a little crowded at this point, but it’s better to have an excess of festivities than not enough. This lineup would make for an exciting game of Twenty-One, with thunderous dunks and clutch free throws made.

It’s a game of severe trash talking and intimidation. Nobody ever gets eliminated, but there’s no greater feeling that tipping in a rebound that steals all the points from the player in front of you. There’s always time for redemption, too, because you can easily get back in the game with one great tip-in followed by great free throw shooting.

Next: Enes Kanter

May 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter (11) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) fight for the rebound during the first quarter in game one of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kanter gets to go first based on his first name being alphabetically ahead of all other competitors. Kanter is probably the best offensive rebounder in basketball right now, and averages 8.1 totals rebounds per game. His draw to go first puts him in a fantastic position to win. He has a free throw percentage of .797, and while he won’t have an opportunity to show off his rebounding skills until the cycle goes completely around, Kanter can pad an early lead with free throws. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, though, because unless you can make 21 free throws in a row, you’re a likely target to get robbed from.

Next: Jonas Valanciunas

May 7, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) and Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) both reach for a loose ball during the first quarter in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Toronto Raptors’ backcourt garners most of the headlines, they wouldn’t have had their most successful season in franchise history without the interior play of Valanciunas. Unfortunately, Valanciunas looks like an underdog in this game. His 9.0 rebounds per game looks formidable, but his potential to rack up points at the free throw line looks limited compared to the rest of the competition. His free throw percentage of .761 is the lowest amongst competitors. Valanciunas will have to utilize his fantastic inside scoring ability on tip-ins to have a chance at winning this contest, which will be dependent on Kanter’s shots.

Next: Karl-Anthony Towns

Apr 13, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) backs up to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans forward James Ennis (4) in the second half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Rookie of the Year winner looks like one of the favorites in this competition. He’s the only player within the field that averaged double digit rebounds per game while shooting free throws above 80%. Towns grabbed 10.5 rebounds per game and had a .811 percentage from the line. His athleticism and range only add to his ability to dominate this game if given the right circumstances from Valanciunas. Towns suddenly finds himself as the most intriguing piece of a talented team up in Minnesota, and if the Rookie of the Year Award wasn’t a signal to the rest of the league that he has officially arrived, then a win in Twenty-One will do just that.

Next: Kevin Durant

May 16, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the fourth quarter in game one of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Thunder defeated the Warriors 108-102. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This looks very familiar. Durant is the only player who has made all of my hypothetical games. The fact that he could be competitive in Around the World, Knockout, and Twenty-One just goes to show what an incredibly well-rounded player he is. His 8.2 rebounds per game are hardly his biggest asset in this contest, though. His .898 free throw percentage nearly assures that he’ll rack up a bunch of points each time he’s able to make a field goal and go to the charity stripe. Towns had better not serve him up an easy rebound off the rim, or this game can end in a hurry.

Next: Kevin Love

May 4, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) shoots over Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) during the first quarter in game two of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Durant got the nod to go before Love when the last name is put into play, and Love has to anxiously wait for Durant to miss any free throws whenever he goes to the line. Although he may end up waiting a long time, Love has the skills to capitalize on his chances. After averaging 9.9 rebounds per game and shooting free throws at a .822 percentage, Love should be considered one of the favorites in this game. His ability to hit shots from nearly anywhere on the court makes him a huge threat to score off any strong bounces off the rim.

Next: LaMarcus Aldridge

May 6, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) shoots the ball over Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) during the fourth quarter in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

One of the relatively less prolific rebounders in this competition, Aldridge is still able to hold his own amongst the elite rebounders in the league. Aldridge averaged 8.5 rebounds per game, but his best tool in this competition will be his free throw shooting. He shot a percentage of .858 from the line, which is better than any of his competitors besides Durant. Aldridge is adept at making turn-around midrange jumpers, which is necessary in a game where rebounds can bounce wildly off the rim. Being toward the back of the line, he can wait for others in front of him to accumulate points before pouncing with a ferocious tip-in to steal.

Next: Pau Gasol

Apr 5, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Pau Gasol (16) dribbles in the first quarter as Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) defends at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Gasol brings a combination of rebounding prowess and shooting range to this competition. He can not only re-direct ricochets off the hoop back in the net, but also hit shots away from the hoop. His 11.0 rebounds per game lead the field, and his .792 free throw percentage is very impressive. He’s quietly one of the favorites in this contest. Like Aldridge, he can use going later in the cycle to his advantage. His championship pedigree certainly doesn’t hurt his chances, as high pressure free throws probably don’t faze him anymore after coming up so big in clutch situations for those Los Angeles Lakers’ championship teams.

Next: Zaza Pachulia

Apr 23, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia (27) shoots as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) defends during the second quarter in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Quietly one of the best rebounders in the NBA, Pachulia is relegated to going last due to his unique name. This is an unfortunate position for him to be in. The cycle loops back around to Kanter, who’s so talented at grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring inside that even if Pachulia is able to accumulate points, he’s always a huge risk to lose them all to Kanter. Pachulia grabbed an impressive 9.4 rebounds per game, but his .768 free throw percentage is only better than Valanciunas in this field. Pachulia is in for a tough game with Kanter lurking behind him.

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