With the Eastern Conference rosters being announced a week ago, today they announced the Western Conference to give us a full list of the 30 teams and players available in the upcoming NBA Jam game for the Nintendo Wii (as well as a watered down version bundled with NBA Elite for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3). Each team consists of at least 3 current players (some feature 4), as well as at least one legend, or, in the case where a team has no legend in its history, the team’s mascot! Well I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I see a list of rosters and players, I instantly want to try and figure out who I think the best teams will be.
Before we can decide who the top dogs in the game will be, first we must think about what makes a good NBA Jam player and what makes a good 2-player combo out on the court. Your prototype NBA Jam player is a guy with a high dunk rating, either a high rating on blocks or speed + steals, and has at least decent ratings in the other categories. If a player lacks any steal or block value, he better have a serious inside/outside shooting game to make him worth a spot on the court. In NBA Jam, Atlanta’s Josh Smith is basically everything you are looking for in a player. He should have top ratings in dunks, blocks, steals, power, and should have one of the top speed ratings for a big guy. Smith’s game should translate to NBA Jam better than almost anyone who didn’t take their talents to South Beach this off-season. Another thing to note is that small players (players who are visibly smaller then everyone else) take a hit in their value because they easily get injured, can’t block anyone, and only a handful can dunk. If you are putting a small guy on the court, he better have very high speed + steal ratings and/or can bomb 3-pointers like no one’s business.
Now that we have an idea of the type of player you are looking for, what does that mean for a 2-on-2 game? Is finding a team with 2 Josh Smiths and putting them out there together the way to go? Possibly, but not all the time. Fielding a 2-player combo with an elite scorer and a defensive wall has long been thought to be one of the best ways to pick your squad. I cannot stress the importance of having at least one big player with a high blocking rating, or one with high speed + steals. It is easier to score points than it is to stop points from being scored on you, so having an advantage on the defensive side is huge. A team with 2 players with mediocre offensive ratings but very high defensive ratings can clog the paint/push players down and make it very difficult for the opposition to score.
One last thing to be mentioned about what makes for a good team: since injuries during the game will make your players less effective, you will often find yourself substituting a player for a quarter or two. This means that the best teams need to have at least a third player who can hold his own out there and not take to much off the table while one of your main players is sitting out a quarter. Having multiple players on your team that you are willing to put on the court is also great for matchups.
Now that we have a basic outline for a good team in NBA Jam, here is my early prediction of the Top 5 Teams in the game (mascots not included).
Team: Atlanta Hawks
Player Combos: any 2 of J. Johnson, J. Smith, D. Wilkins
Why: As stated earlier, Josh Smith is everything you are looking for in an NBA Jam player. With his speed, he should be a beast on both sides of the court, and should be your most chosen player while playing as the Hawks. The reason they cracked my top 5 is because pairing him with Joe Johnson seems like the perfect NBA Jam two-man team. Johnson has a great inside-out game and should have high ratings in 3pt, pass, steals, clutch and power. Anything that Smith can’t do, Johnson can, and they should compliment each other very well. As for throwing Dominique Wilkins into the mix? ‘Nique was known for 3 things in his NBA career: 1) Battling Jordan in the ’87 and ’88 slam dunk contests. 2) Dropping 47 in the Boston Garden in a Game 7 vs. Bird and the Celtics in one of the greatest games ever played. 3) Throwing down the most thunderous in game dunks of all time. His nickname is the Human Highlight Film and I am 80% sure the whole premise of the original NBA Jam was built after watching one of his games.
Team: Orlando Magic
Player Combos: D. Howard + V. Carter/R. Lewis
Why: Since NBA Jam is all for fouling, and doesn’t take into account free throws or players taking games off, Dwight Howard and Vince Carter seem like a dream team for NBA Jam. Howard should have max rating in dunk, power, and blocks, and will be a defensive force. Stick him under the hoop and he should get a ton of blocks and leave opponents frustrated as hell. Teaming Howard up with Vince Carter will give you a nice offensive attack with Carter, who should have high ratings in all the offensive categories. A combination of Howard and Rashard Lewis will give you two tall players out there, with your offense coming from Lewis who can make 3s and get to the hoop. Beware of this combo if your opponent goes small ball on you with speedy players who can strip the ball from you and score easy buckets. This team got an additional boost from me due to a recent trailer showing game play of Shaquille O’Neal in an old school Magic jersey, so I’d say there is a very good chance he is an unlockable character for Orlando.
Team: Boston Celtics
Player Combos: K. Garnett/K. McHale + L. Bird/P. Pierce/R. Allen
Why: Boston’s team is loaded, you can throw SO many different 2-man combos out there that would be effective. Most of the time I’m taking either Kevin Garnett or Kevin McHale as my defensive anchor, and flanking him with one of the offensive machines in Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, or Ray Allen. Any of those combinations would pose a serious threat to opponents, but I am not totally against going with a team like Bird and Pierce, who can both do a lot of things well and would be a good combo. If I’m feeling a little crazy, the team of Larry Legend and Ray Allen in a massive 3-point barrage could throw opponents off-guard and have them wondering how they just got down 15 in a minute. A truly versatile team here.
Team: Miami Heat
Player Combos: Any 2 of L. James, D. Wade, C. Bosh
Why: Unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard of LeBron James, his hour long ESPN special, and how he is taking his talents to South Beach to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This trio is making sports reporters nationwide go bonkers with how great they can be, and in video game form when you only have to play with just 2 of those 3, I see no reason to think otherwise. I have no doubt LeBron will be the best active player in the game, with possibly a few legends and suped-up hidden characters being the only ones that could touch him. With his speed and power ratings, he should be a huge threat on both sides of the court. Pairing James with Bosh would be a handful for anyone to score consistently on, as Bosh should have a high block rating and those two together should have any opponent scared to try and dunk on them. This is where the Heat get real good. While a James + Bosh combo could be great, LeBron is big enough and should have the high ratings where he can play the big guy role of your combo, and pairing him with Dwyane Wade will cause problems for anyone they go against. Wade should have high ratings in just about everything and I have no doubt James + Wade will be the most used combo in the game. A fast break, as soon as you get the ball, go to the hoop with either player game plan should prove very, very difficult to go against.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Player Combos: All 6 available players are usable. Seriously.
Why: The defending NBA champions get 4 active players (K. Bryant, P. Gasol, R. Artest, L. Odom) and 2 legends (E. Johnson, J. Worthy) that are all great players and can be swapped interchangeably. The main combo has to be Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson though, with either Kobe or Magic teamed up with Pau Gasol not far behind. Kobe and Magic together could rival LeBron and D-Wade for best duo in the game and I can see them being a handful for anyone. Swapping one of them out for Gasol is no drop-off in my opinion, when you consider Pau’s defensive skills giving you a nice boost defending the hoop. The other 3 players all have some unique qualities about them that I think translate well to the NBA Jam game. Ron Artest should have a max power rating and very high steal and blocks, and he should be out there menacing the other team any time they have the ball. He will be able to push around almost anyone on the court and that’s always a good thing. Lamar Odom is a big man with some little guy skills about him, so he should give you a nice all around game if you choose to put him out there. The other legend on the team, James Worthy, is like the 80′s version of Josh Smith. He can do everything in NBA Jam well and should prove to be a decent substitute when your team needs it. Overall, the Lakers versatilty along with the big 3 of Kobe, Magic and Gasol make the Lakers an incredibly scary team, no matter who you put out there against them.