You wanted basketball? Well, you got it … kind of. We’ve taken a step beyond watching NBA players play video games against each other, and will now get to watch them shoot on their home baskets in a pro version of the popular backyard basketball game HORSE, featuring stars from the NBA and WNBA, along with a few retired future Hall of Famers.
Televised on ESPN, the tournament is sure to draw viewers thirsting for any kind of competition during the coronavirus sports hiatus. It’s tricky to rank the players, however, since HORSE is obviously a much different game than full-court, five-on-five basketball. Will Trae Young’s range allow him to make shots others can’t? Will Chris Paul’s veteran wiles give him a competitive edge? Will Zach LaVine use his athleticism to complete 720-degree layups since dunking is prohibited?
We won’t know until we see it, but we took a stab at Power Rankings for all eight competitors. As a general rule we have to assume any current player, who was going through shooting routines every day before the shutdown, is going to be sharper than a retired player who gets on the court every once in a while. But going through the players made us realize that this tournament might actually be pretty fun.
First, here’s how to watch the first round, a list of the matchups and the competition rules.
How to watch
NBA HORSE Challenge Opening Round (Quarterfinals)
When: Sunday, April 12 at 7 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN app
NBA HORSE Challenge Semifinals/Championship
When: Thursday, April 16 at 9 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN app
Opening round matchups
- Trae Young vs. Chauncey Billups
- Tamika Catchings vs. Mike Conley
- Zach LaVine vs. Paul Pierce
- Chris Paul vs. Allie Quigley
NBA HORSE Challenge Presented by State Farm participants will be divided into two groups of four, with the winners of the first two games in each group meeting in the semifinals. The winner from each group will move on to the championship round. ESPN will present the four quarterfinal games on Sunday. The semifinals and the championship game will air on Thursday, April 16, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
A coin toss at the start of each game will determine who shoots first, with the more senior player calling heads or tails. Players must describe each shot attempt, specifying the type of score they intend to make before taking a shot, such as a bank shot or swish. Dunking is prohibited. The first player in each game to accumulate the letters “H-O-R-S-E” after failing to match five shots is eliminated.
1. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Young gets the nod in the top spot simply by virtue of his ability to make shots from well beyond the 3-point line. He sinks them regularly in NBA games, so you’d have to imagine he’s pretty automatic with nobody guarding him. He also may have already tipped his hand regarding his strategy when he tweeted out “Half Court Shots Only” shortly after the news of the competition broke.
On top of his shooting range, he has tremendous ball control and touch around the basket, so it’s hard to imagine him being thwarted by any sort of crossover or behind-the-back moves before a shot.
2. Chris Paul, Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul has several things going for him in a game like HORSE. First, if you’ve ever watched him play in a relatively quiet arena, you can hear him shout “layup” with the ball in mid-flight while swishing mid-range jumpers. The shot from either elbow is absolutely automatic for him, and will be a nice fallback if trick shots aren’t falling.
Second, he’s competitive as hell. If there’s any player who will stubbornly and annoyingly continue to take easy shots to ensure he keeps his turn, it’s Chris Paul. If he gets the first shot, it may never be your turn. He’ll wait for you to lose concentration as you slowly accumulate letters until he wins. The only thing preventing him from being No. 1 on this list is the fact that he rarely takes shots from well beyond the 3-point line, and that’s the area his opponents have to target.
3. Allie Quigley, Chicago Sky
NBA fans may not be familiar with Quigley, but she is simply a knock-down shooter. She won back-to-back WNBA 3-point contests in 2017 and 2018, including a ridiculous 29-point round in 2018, and has picture-perfect shooting form.
She’s a career 40 percent 3-point shooter, including 42 percent or more in each of the last three seasons with the Chicago Sky. Quigley is also adept at putting the ball on the floor and shooting off the dribble, so it will be hard to find a shot she won’t be able to match.
4. Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
The news that dunks are prohibited took LaVine down a few pegs, but he’s still a formidable opponent given his combination of shooting prowess and athleticism. He’s hit 38 percent of his 3-pointers this year on considerable volume, and we don’t need a refresher on his unparalleled bounce and dexterity. It depends on how much he wants to use it, but LaVine could conceivably take advantage of his athleticism in creative ways, like doing a 720-degree turn before shooting a layup, going around his back in the air before shooting a jumper, or executing an up-and-under reverse like this one:
He shoots better off the dribble than at a standstill, however, so that could hurt him in terms of matching the knock-down set shooters in this competition.
5. Mike Conley, Utah Jazz
Conley is ranked last among active players, but he has one distinct advantage over pretty much everyone on the list: He’s ambidextrous. Conley is just as proficient with his right hand as with his dominant left, which opens up all sorts of possibilities in a game of HORSE. He prefers to shoot his floaters with his right hand, so when he calls “opposite hand” before one of his shots, it actually lowers the degree of difficulty for him, but probably not for his opponent.
Conley is also a career 37.5 percent 3-point shooter, so he has a nice arsenal of weapons.
6. Paul Pierce, Retired
Pierce last played in the NBA in 2016-17, which means he’s not as far removed from competitive basketball as the other retired players in the competition. His game was always low to the ground, so a decline in athleticism probably won’t stop the 42-year-old from consistently knocking down set shots. He’s always been savvy, so you know he has some wild trick shots in his back pocket, too. The biggest reason to back Pierce, however, is that we’ve already gotten a sneak peek at what could be his home court. Let’s just say the rims look somewhat … forgiving.
7. Tamika Catchings, Retired
Catchings is one of the best women’s basketball players of all time, evidenced by her recent selection to the Basketball Hall of Fame, but she’s not as much of a pure shooter as some of the other players in the competition. She shot 35.5 percent from the 3-point line and 41.5 percent from the field over the course of her 15-year WNBA career with the Indiana Fever, which could hurt her if this just becomes a jump-shot contest. She’s a competitor, for sure, but a lot of her success as a player came from doing things that you can’t really take advantage of in a game of HORSE.
8. Chauncey Billups, Retired
Yes, it’s weird to list “Mr. Big Shot” last in the Power Rankings of a shooting game, but his first round opponent has a lot to do with that. Through the luck (or unluck) of the draw, Billups drew Trae Young in the first round, which means he could have a hard time advancing in the competition. Billups was a career 39 percent 3-point shooter, but he hasn’t played in the NBA since 2014 so rust could certainly be a factor. We certainly know he’s capable of hitting the deep ball, though.
If he was going up against anyone but Young he might have a better chance, but as far as this tournament goes, we should probably call him “Mr. Long Shot.”