You’re in a bar casually drinking Proper Twelve with Connor McGregor, you know, as you do. Then, all of a sudden, old mate Connor spills (chucks) his drink on an apparently large NBA player and dashes out like a cartoon character right before the angry big guy turns around. Now your last thoughts before an inevitable fight are either, ‘I’m going to die quick,’ ‘I’m about to be slowly beaten to death,’ ‘Let’s just try and go down swinging’ or ‘Hey, I might just get lucky here.’
If it’s not already clear, Isiah Stewart of the Detroit Pistons exists at the end of the spectrum of ‘I’m going to die quick,’ but how does every other NBA team stack with their own little Isiah Stewarts. Let’s see how many teams in the Association have a true enforcer on the roster and how many have “hoooold me back” guys.
‘I’m going to die quick’
Los Angeles Clippers – We know Marcus Morris might try and fight anyone. But I also know Serge Ibaka might kill someone. Hands down the scariest celebrity chef on the internet, Ibaka once strangled Marquese Chris like Homer strangles Bart. He also fought Brook Lopez and nearly fought James Johnson and Matt Barnes. Serge really knows how to pick them.
Utah Jazz – I don’t think Hassan Whiteside really cares about his career or going to jail. Well, at least, I know his career is not that urgent to him. Plus, the temper of Whiteside puts him up a tier. I predict if he did land just one solid right hand, facial reconstruction surgery would be guaranteed.
Memphis Grizzlies – Remember when Jarren Jackson actually said sorry to Demarcus Cousins for elbowing him? Exactly, because soft stuff in the NBA is not what we remember. So then why choose someone like Steven Adams, who has been relatively calm over his long career? Because apart from his history, everyone knows Adams could chokeslam two 7-footers at once. Most often described as “a brick wall.” The youngest of 18, Steven’s male siblings average 6’9” – you don’t survive such a household without being a badass.
Dallas Mavericks – Kristaps Porzingis has been caught on tape bloody in the streets of Latvia. Although I just can’t really be afraid of a dude nicknamed ‘Unicorn.’ But someone who can break a rim without even jumping? Boban Marjanovic is my guy. Boban might be the only guy who can crush your face with his bare hands. Actually, he definitely can do that. Do yourself a favor and check out Reddit -> BobanHoldingThings and tell me he wouldn’t have the power of most fictional villains. Has anyone else here sparred with John Wick?
Los Angeles Lakers – No cameras around, no one refraining him back, at least Russell Westbrook will make it quick. You might think you can be relaxed around him, but any second he can turn crazy. Actually, Hannibal might be too polite to be compared to The Brodie.
Brooklyn Nets – James Johnson is a black belt in Karate, has a 20-0 kickboxing record, and has also fought in official MMA matches. Is there much more to say? If he wanted to, Johnson could probably fight an entire roster of players and leave as the only one standing. He would be the most feared contender in a Royal Rumble, where the entire ring of wrestlers would band together to eliminate him but would all fail miserably. If more NBA fighters fought YouTube boxers, Johnson would be the underlying favorite. Safe to say, he’s pretty good.
Milwaukee Bucks – Bobby Portis was suspended for 8 games for punching his own teammate and breaking his face with a single punch. Enough said.
‘I’m about to be slowly beaten to death‘
Philadelphia 76ers – Joel Embiid is willing to get kicked out of a game as the best player to fight any 7-footer he deems necessary. Two weeks ago, he accidentally punched Lonzo Ball, and we were all concerned for Ball’s life. So what would he do if he was trying to hurt him on purpose? Embiid fears no one, has the scariest physique since Shaq, and has a foreign accent. That just ticks all the boxes for me.
Sacramento Kings – Alex Len was one of the last ‘lets draft this guy with a lottery pick for no other reason than high height.’ He simply cannot play the game of basketball but can and will fight. At one point, he was ready to punch CJ McCollum, so we know the height difference won’t attract any sympathy from Len’s side. Knowing nothing of Len’s upbringing other than being born in Ukraine, I imagine he was punching trees as training by the time he was seven. Maybe I’m wrong, but I really doubt it.
Phoenix Suns – Everything about Jae Crowder screams ‘UFC fighter’ while still looking like a ballplayer who also does security on weeknights. He has had about four altercations with LeBron, but it’s not the ‘little guy fights big guy to make a name’ shtick – Crowder just gets under people’s skin. He doesn’t drag anything along, no fake stair downs, no going after them when there are finally people separating. Jae means business.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Patrick Beverley’s antics have already been analyzed in great detail, but in a fight, I want damage, not theatrics. That’s why I’m riding with one of the biggest forces in the league, Karl-Anthony Towns. Built like a taller version of Wladimir Klitschko, Towns would be unstoppable unless wrestled down to the ground. But good luck trying that. Even if you stepped in his reach fast enough to attack, you’d have to aim up for when Towns would inevitably swat you down like a real-life Hulk. More than size and strength, K.A.T is a legit tough guy.
Indiana Pacers – T.J Warren might have had his moments against Jimmy Butler. Torrey Craig never seems to back down from a stare-down. But honestly, who wants to stand in front of an angry Myles Turner. Every time Turner blocks a shot, like Wilt Chamberlain, he aims to smash it off the glass or down so hard that it goes out of bounds. The relation to this is that when he is pummeling your face, his fists are going to go through you like bullets. He somehow looks bigger than only 6’11’, while also heavier than 255 lb. Not going to be a fun night if he’s angry at you.
Orlando Magic – Did everyone else know that Robin Lopez played for Orlando Magic? Because I did (but I really didn’t.) Either way, the guy who wrestles mascots for kids’ entertainment would be a brutal fighter after a few drinks or completely sober. Unlike most people on this list, Lopez will legit throw hands if he wants to. Just ask Serge Ibaka. Lopez also joins Ron Artest, Charles Oakley, and Rasheed Wallace for craziest eyes when turned angry.
Washington Wizards – Your best bet against a guy like Montrezl Harrell is to find the nearest weapon, whether that be a bar stool or bottle, and hit him before he climbs on you and ends your life. He might call you a ‘bi**h a** white boy,’ like how he did to Dončić, and that’s exactly the right time to make your move. Warning: It might backfire, but either way, there really is no getting out on top against a guy like that. Trez somehow never seems happy when he’s on the floor unless he’s either overpowering his opponent or in an altercation with someone like Derrick Rose, Alex Len, Jakarr Sampson, or Miles Plumlee. Either way, you don’t want to be on that other side.
‘Let’s just try and go down swinging’
Atlanta Hawks – When first thinking about this, John Collins seemed like the easy number one pick. It does take some courage to stand up to Embiid. But I couldn’t dismiss Danilo Gallinari as a complete wild card. It was too tempting to ponder over what moves he would throw. So far all we know is that he punched someone overseas, which is more to say for a lot of other people on this list. At least on camera.
Miami Heat – Few candidates on this team but I’m going with Udonis Haslem. Maybe it’s nostalgia for the past or maybe it’s the fact your gut tells you he has fist fought up to 20 teammates at training or in the locker room without the media ever finding out. But someones gotta show some love to the oldhead. He played three minutes last season and still managed to get ejected – that matters on a list like this.
Boston Celtics – Marcus Smart seems like the guy who stays back to diffuse a bomb while everyone has left the building with 60 seconds left. Misrepresented as soft for his flops, Smart will fight anybody at any time. In fact, watch him join a boxing match like Deron Williams once his career is done and dusted. Either then or if Ime Udoka lets him go on a Las Vegas trip in the middle of the season like Phil Jackson did with Dennis Rodman.
Memphis Grizzlies – Jonas Valancinuas seems like the most practical option here. But like with all of Valancinuas’ fights, he seems to only show his anger when everyone has stepped in between him and his opponent. Fighting him would most likely be a quick jab then him asking all his friends to ‘hold me back.’ You know who packs a softer punch but will explode on you? Brandon Ingram. I’m taking crazy and immaturity over toughness and sensibility any day.
Charlotte Hornets – In terms of fighting, Kelly Oubre Jr. reminds me most of Brandon Ingram. Both have similar builds, both have a similar tolerance for crap but Oubre Jr. stands out for being a little bit more on the ‘I’m going to choke you until five guys drag me off for which I will then choke those five guys’ scale. I still remember when Oubre Jr. speared Kelly Olynk in his first playoff series against Boston. The only thing is Oubre Jr. is not a young stud anymore and I’m not going to be surprised if does that in his next game. I would be slightly more shocked in Ingram’s case. Well… maybe.
New York Knicks -If this was for players you wanted to fight or at least believed you could stand the best chance against, Kemba Walker would frontline that race. But because we’re looking for the opposite, Taj Gibson reigns supreme. So far he’s flipped off a referee, charged at a referee, and kicked a player when he was down, and that’s just the guys he wasn’t even fighting. As his age continues to get the better of him, I think he’s trying to slot into a ‘franchise tough guy’, especially for a lasting coach like Tom Thibadeau. For someone who statistically peaked their rookie year, Gibson has earned the title of old-man enforcer to make up for his lack of skills. Plus bonus points because I think he would throw a belly flop into a street fight like a WWE wrestler from the top rope.
Houston Rockets – Kevin Porter Jr. tried to protect his teammate, Sterling Brown, from assault and succeeded. He has also thrown a tantrum when his locker was moved. Earlier than that he was kicked off his USC Trojans team in college for ‘personal conduct issues’. Coming from a problematic past, Porter Jr. is obviously content with being in the eye of the storm. He would be the one friend who won’t leave an insult alone, even if it’s you two vs ten of them – which is exactly not who you want to be on the other side of when a fight goes down.
Golden State Warriors – Draymond Green gets the nod because he will fight anyone. He fought LeBron in the 2016 NBA Finals when he was one flagrant foul away from a suspension and an eventual playoff collapse. He fought Kevin Durant while they were teammates, losing out on more potential championships. He will fight 7’3’ Kristaps Porzingus or 6’4’ Bradley Beal. If a police officer was standing beside you, he would still try to throw that punch.
San Antonio Spurs – Dejonte Murray… wait huh? Most don’t know this but Murray was a legit gangster. So much so that NBA teams were scared of drafting him. Raised in a troubled home and led to the streets at a young age, Murray spent time in a juvenile detention center. He might not show it with theatrical stare-downs and blown-up pushes, but when people press him like James Harden once did, Murray won’t back down.
Toronto Raptors – To pick a Raptor, I wanted someone with a little more creative flair who also was not from the U.S.A. That man is O.G Anunoby. Remember when he suplexed Dennis Shroder in the middle of a game? Imagine what he would do to someone like you or I? It could range from being thrown out of a window to a one-inch punch. Either way, the fight won’t go down the way you expected although your fate was already sealed. Plus he gets bonus points for being the gazillionth guy who didn’t back down to one of the Morris twins.
‘Hey, I might just get lucky here’
Denver Nuggets – Facundo Campazzo is first on my list. Okay here me out on this: I know Will Barton likes to fight on the court. Bol Bol might beat you up by standing in a different room. But I have a feeling Campazzo might throw some random ninja spinning kicks on you. In the middle of the fight, he might run up a wall and backflip kick you through the window like he was auditioning for a matrix movie. He may even have the powers of some Mortal Kombat characters. Can you prove otherwise? Didn’t think so.
Chicago Bulls – Whenever someone flexes where they’re from, it usually carries very little significance. Unless you’re from Compton, then you’ll raise some eyebrows. DeMar Derozan gets the nod here.
Oklahoma City Thunder – I’ve seen college kids with more muscle than half the Thunder team. But then there’s Luguentz Dort. He possesses all the intangibles for a legit fighter. Undrafted rookie who locked up the league’s best players proves fear won’t factor in. Great size and strength mean he can inflict real damage. The only problem is he seems too nice. And on a list like this, that’s actually a bad thing.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Although Collin Sexton had a trash-talking reel before he even entered the league, I’m looking for a street-fighter, not a promo artist. Kevin Love and Jarrett Alan would look to complain instead of fight, Rubio just gets pushed around and Dean Wade looks more like your local supermarket cashier than a basketball player, let alone a fighter. So by the process of elimination, I’m going with Isaac Okoro. A lot of big-name NBA fighters don’t start making that name for themselves until after their fourth or fifth season. That’s when they’re no longer at the bottom of the food chain. Just watch Okoro become that guy.
Portland Trail Blazers – There are clips from Dennis Smith Jr.’s early high school days squaring up to players. Clearly, that obviously translated into the NBA with names like Kyrie Irving and Nemanja Bjelica all facing an unfazed Dennis. For some reason, I feel like Dennis would have an entourage around him waiting to jump in. But strictly one on one – you better hope you get the first punch.