LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dunks against the Atlanta Hawks in the first half at State Farm Arena on December 15, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Spring Split playoffs for League of Legends begin this weekend for multiple regions. While it is undoubtedly the most popular esport in the world, League can be a bit daunting for beginners. There are over 140 champions and just as many items, so its a massive undertaking to dip your toes into the game. By breaking down League of Legends positions, you get the basics of what everyone is supposed to be doing at a given time. So we figured one of the best ways to explain positions is to compare them to NBA players. Most of the players here are retired or well-established, so their games are fully analyzed and well-defined. So if you know a bit of basketball and want to know a little more League here is where you can begin.
We’ll break it down by League position then an NBA player that could most match that position. However, there are variables to all things in League. There are some Top Laners that are more like Marksmen, some Junglers that are more like Top Laners etc. So with that in mind, we’ll be operating from a more traditional team setup in League: Top Lane, Jungler, Mid Lane, ADC/Marksman and Support.
Top Lane: Hakeem Olajuwon/Shaquille O’Neal
Top Lane is your big man in the paint. Sometimes it can feel like an island up there but when it comes time to fight you’ll need someone to soak up that damage for the more fragile champions. It’s similar to prolific centers in the NBA. They aren’t the most graceful, but those vital points and offensive rebounds add up. Your Top Laner will often go unsung, but when they pop-off, its the stuff of legend.
Champions like Garen, Darius and Nasus charge the front lines protecting their teammates with tons of armor and health. While others like Riven or Fiora rely on deft movement or combos. Think of the difference between Shaq and Hakeem Olajuwon. Shaq is known for his strength and low-post dominance. And Hakeem’s footwork, movement, and head fakes bamboozled opponents in the ’90s. Both would be great Top Lane champions.
Jungler: Richard “Rip” Hamilton/Reggie Miller
One of the most difficult roles to grasp in League is that of the Jungler. These trixy champions roam the map killing neutral monsters and waiting for the chance to strike unsuspecting Laners. A Jungler’s game is usually built around quick movement and deception. They dash in, hop onto opponents and dash back to safety. It’s not unlike a Swing-man or Wing Forward in the NBA. Players that operate on the fringes of the offense dashing around off of screens and pick & rolls, taking shots from mid-range. Think of the Jungler as the League of Legends positions that “moves without the ball” the most.
A Jungler is like a Reggie Miller, Rip Hamilton type. At times, they seem to be aimlessly running about the court expending all sorts of energy. But in a flash, number they catch, shoot and rack up 20+ points out of nowhere. Like a good wing player, a good Jungler will constantly leave their opponents off balance. The moment you are over-adjusting for a potential dive from a Jungler is when you lose the ability to farm and are probably behind in the game.
Jungle champions like Kayn and Warwick good examples of this, you may go six or seven minutes not seeing them at all and then BANG double kill in bot lane.
Mid Lane: Tim Duncan/Lebron James
Because of pro players like Faker of SK Telecom T1 and Caps of G2 Esports, most people think your Mid Laner should be the “best” player on the team. And it makes sense because at some point the game WILL go through Mid Lane. So you’d want your most talented and aware player to be there. They have to fight their opposing Mid Laner, watch for Junglers on two sides instead of one and also farm minions like everyone else. Its a lot of information to process. But at the end of the day you really just need your Mid Laner to be the most mistake-free player on the Rift.
The superstar model of Mid Laner most emulates Lebron James where entire teams are made or broken by his very presence. I think of Faker’s Leblanc and shiver at the thought of anyone having to play against it. But another model is Tim Duncan, a man so bland he is referred to in Basketball circles as “The Big Fundamental”. But Duncan’s also won five NBA championships and three MVP awards. His game wasn’t prone to extravagance but it wasn’t prone to mistakes either, and that’s what a good Mid Laner should be. Solid, unflappable and ready to make a big play at any time.
Mid Lane is usually run by magic champions like Ahri or Viegar. But there’s also a litany of mobile, close-range fighters like Yasuo, Zed, and Katarina. Mid Lane has a very wide net of champions to chose from, but if you don’t have the fundamentals down prepare for your rivals to “run it up Mid”.
ADC/Marksman: James Harden/Steph Curry
Offense, Offense and guess what MORE OFFENSE. The Attack Damage Carry or ADC is the role for your primadonna types. They are usually fragile, long-range champions that specialize in putting down lots of damage. I can think of no other NBA players other than Steph Curry and James Harden. Curry, in particular, revolutionized the NBA and single-handedly ushered in a new era of perimeter dominant Basketball. The meta shifted.
ADC’s usually have weak defensive options and take a while to get strong (its called “Scaling”). Because of this they operate in the Bottom Lane alongside the Support player. ADC’s have the potential to dominate when teams start roaming the map in groups. Just like when teams over-commit to defending down low or the wings, a pure scorer like Harden or Curry take games over.
Varus, Caitlyn, Ashe and Jinx are champions that thrive off of range. In the case of Ashe and Jinx, they have abilities that can shoot across the ENTIRE map. Others like Xayah and Miss Fortune live for crowd control and slowing enemies down before the kill. If you love the mid to late 2010’s era of the NBA, then ADC is the position for you.
Support: John Stockton
The Support player has the bad rap of coming off like a passive observer of the game. When you look at stat lines they often don’t have a lot of Creep Score (the number of little minions you’ve killed) or champion kills. But the Support is VITAL to the survival of the ADC and the Bottom Lane. Support champions are all about facilitating kills and protecting their teammates. They usually have abilities that heal or power-up their allies. Sometimes, they even grab teammates and throw them away from danger. But critically, they have tons of options for feeding their buddies some kills.
I think of John Stockton when I think of champions like Thresh, Pyke and Blitzcrank. They have moves that yank in foes and immobilize them so the ADC can get easy kills. In the same way Stockton fed Karl Malone over 36,000 career points, a good Support will feed their ADC and Jungler. Other Support champions like Braum have more defensive options but if there were League of Legends positions that could most replicate the alley-oop, it would be the Bot Lane duo of ADC/Support.