When you think of some of the best players, where would you expect them to reside? It turns out that there is a lot more to California than just the girls (askKaty Perry. Two former regular-season MVPs, an MVP runner-up, one of the most clutch players we have ever seen, and a two-time Finals MVP all come from the West Coast.
As for their competition, LeBron James leads a star-studded class of Ohioans. Three blossoming stars and a three-time champion look to lead an underdog team against the stars of California. If you take the players born in California and pin them against the players born in Ohio, who would come out on top?
Team California Roster: Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard
Team Ohio Roster: Stephen Curry, CJ McCollum, Terry Rozier, Caris LeVert, LeBron James
Damian Lillard vs. Stephen Curry
Lillard hails from Oakland, California. Some of the toughest players we have seen in professional sports have come from the city of Oakland, so it’s not surprising to hear that Lillard was born there. Lillard led the league in clutch points last season and has undeniable range. This offensive matchup would be a true back-and-forth masterpiece.
Fun fact about Curry. He was born in Akron, Ohio, which is the same place as LeBron James. Curry is a three-time champion, two-time regular season MVP, and a two-time scoring champion. With the way Curry is playing right now, he is in contention to land another MVP trophy, as well as get the Golden State Warriors back on the dynasty train.
Russell Westbrook vs. CJ McCollum
Westbrook was born in Long Beach, California, which is where Long Beach State University resides. Former Last Chance U star Joe Hampton attends the university. Outside of those fun facts, Westbrook and Lillard would be able to trade off ball-handling duties. Westbrook would take more of the responsibility though since Lillard has a better outside shot.
Speaking of outside shots, Lillard’s Trail Blazers teammate CJ McCollum is from Canton, Ohio., where the Amateur Sports Hall of Fame resides. McCollum has proved to be one of the better three-point shooters. With Curry and McCollum on the floor, the Ohio team would have plenty of players to space the floor.
James Harden vs. Terry Rozier
Harden has always had a little bit of Hollywood in him. After all, he was born in Los Angeles. Harden remained on the West Coast when he attended the University of Arizona before being drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder, which had Seattle roots before moving to Oklahoma. Now, he is an East Coast All-Star for the Nets that has led the league in scoring three times, while also winning an MVP.
Rozier comes from Youngstown, which has a very deep sports history. Youngstown State is where former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel became president of the university. Rozier has been a consistent player for the Hornets last three years. Rozier would probably have to play more defense than offense in this series, but he has the ability to score for 20 on any given night.
Paul George vs. Caris LeVert
George was born in Palmdale, which doesn’t have a rich professional or collegiate sports history. George does share the same birth town as Rockets center Christian Wood. On the court, George is a former MVP runner-up and All-NBA selection. George has been leading the Clippers without superstar Kawhi Leonard and has the team playing into the playoff conversation.
LeVert hails from Columbus where the Blue Jackets (hockey), Buckeyes (Ohio State football team), and Sycamores (a prestigious high school football team from Bishop Sycamore) all play. LeVert is a former 20-point scorer in the league that was used in the trade package for the Nets to acquire James Harden. Before Harden came to town, LeVert averaged 18.7 points per game.
Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James
Leonard, like Harden, comes from Los Angeles. When he went to college, he didn’t go too far away when he attended San Diego State University. Leonard played for the Spurs and Raptors, winning two Finals MVPs, before making a homecoming to the Los Angeles Clippers. When healthy, Leonard is a top-5 player in the league. Had he been healthy in the playoffs, the Clippers might have made the NBA Finals last year.
As for LeBron, the storybook kid from Akron did the unthinkable by leading the Cavaliers to their first championship in team history in 2016. LeBron’s back and forth with Cleveland is well documented. LeBron won multiple MVPs, led the Cavaliers to five total appearances in the NBA Finals, but could only win one title. With that said, LeBron and Leonard have already been displayed as the two played for separate Los Angeles teams, so it would be another must-watch television event this time around.
Team California Advantages
Having Westbrook handle the ball duties is an advantage because who on Team Ohio is going to stop him from getting into the paint? With Lillard, Harden, and even Leonard, Westbrook has plenty of shooters to space the floor. Westbrook will draw double teams left and right. Lillard has an unbelievable advantage to get wide-open shots. Harden can switch with Westbrook as well. You realistically have two triple-double caliber players on the same roster, and that doesn’t even include what George brings to the table.
Team Ohio Advantages
The backcourt duo of Curry and McCollum will keep this game interesting because both can hit outside shots. It would be the best outside shooting duo that LeBron has ever played with. We have seen what LeBron can do with much less. The combination of LeBron and Curry owns six MVPs and seven championships, so you can never count out what they can do on the court together.
Who Would Win?
While we can hope that this series goes to seven games, it wouldn’t. The star power on Team California would be too much to stop. For starters, Westbrook, Lillard, and Harden are three of the best dribble driver players in the league. The constant switching of Team Ohio would force them out of rhythm. On a good night, Lillard and Harden can score 30 points easily with their respective teams. With the heavy rotation of the guards, there would be open shots everywhere.
As for George and Leonard, these are two All-Defensive caliber players. Even if Leonard doesn’t score in big bunches, holding LeBron to 20 to 30 points would be realistic, but he would wear him down. LeBron would have to do more to keep up with this team offensively and the same goes for Curry. This duo could score 70 points combined, but the matchups are tilting in California's favor.
Let’s just do a simple rundown. Curry and LeBron could likely go point for point with Lillard and Leonard. However, do you see McCollum keeping pace with Westbrook? What about Rozier with Harden? Do you think LeVert can keep pace with George? These three matchup swings are in favor of California for three simple reasons. The three players on Team California are better and own the resumes to prove it.
Even in today’s current NBA landscape, you have to have a supporting cast to win at a high level. Even at Curry’s highest level in Golden State last year, the Warriors missed the playoffs. Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green are just as good as Rozier and LeVert, so it’s hard to believe that Curry could lead Team Ohio with LeBron against five future Hall of Famers.
In the end, Team Ohio might win one game because of the competitive spirit, but this would be a series won by Team California. The team has the overall better smaller lineup. They have better defenders, rebounders, and can keep pace with the outside shooting. It all comes down to star power and Team California has much more of it.
Series Result: Team California vs. Team Ohio 4-1
MVP: Damian Lillard