The Dream Team Would Dominate Team USA 2012, Right? Not So Fast…

Arvydas Sabonis. Detlef Shrempf. Toni Kukoc. Drazen Petrovic. Dino Radja. Oscar Schmidt.

Those were the six best players in the 1992 Olympics – other than the guys who donned the Stars and Stripes.

Over the years, the legend of “The Dream Team” has grown to unfathomable heights. After last month’s documentary, it’s almost Un-American to say anything bad about those “heroes” who traveled to Barcelona and showed the world how to play basketball.

As it stands, the Dream Team is, in fact, the greatest collection of talent a team has ever assembled. However, our love for its players has caused us do overrate them on the basketball court.

Remember: Christian Laettner played on the Dream Team  … just how good could it have been?

Dream-y Christian Laettner.

Forgotten Facts About The Dream Team

All joking aside though, because of our love for Magic, Jordan, Bird, and the rest of those guys, we tend to forget a few significant facts about the greatest team ever assembled:

1. Magic and Larry were old

Not only were Larry Bird and Magic Johnson past their primes, they were significantly past their primes. Larry Legend would literally never play an NBA game again and Magic hadn’t played a competitive game in over a year.

2. No point guards

Besides a past-his-prime Magic, Team USA basically had no point guards.  (The “great” John Stockton – I won’t bother getting into a conversation about how overrated he is – only played in 4 games and averaged less than 8 mpg in those games.)

3. Little down low

Just like this current USA basketball team, The Dream Team was severely lacking in depth down low.

4. Poor outside shooting

Just like past versions of Team USA, The Dream Team was also severely lacking in outside shooting. If Charles Barkley (7 for 8) and Chris Mullin (14 for 26) hadn’t shot 62% from long range, Team USA would have shot less than 33% from three. Larry Bird (33%), Clyde Drexler (24%), and Michael Jordan (21%) all took turns hoisting up three-point bricks from a distance that was much shorter than it was in the NBA.

Of course, none of that mattered in 1992.

When you are playing the likes of Oscar Schmidt – supposedly one of the greatest basketball players who has ever lived, even though he can’t be found on the first page of Google until you add “basketball” to his name in the search engine – it all adds up to rout after rout after rout.

The Dream Team won its games by an average of almost 44 points. It wasn’t just Angola who was in trouble – as Sir Charles had famously quipped – it was everyone.

Over the years, the world has gotten better and better, and the Olympics have gotten closer and closer. The tighter games combined with the lack of Jordan, Larry, and Magic have caused us all to hold the Dream Team up with an even greater awe.

But how would the Dream Team fare against our current version of Team USA?

It’s much closer than you would think.

How Would The Dream Team Stack Up Today?

Ignore everything you have heard about this year’s squad.

  • They are not too small.
  • They are not missing too many key players.
  • They are not in trouble against a Spain team which has several NBA players.

Does Spain have some size? Sure. The Gasol brothers and Serge Ibaka are good players. Jose Calderon and Rudy Fernandez also play for NBA teams. Add this to the fact that they are much more used to playing the international game, and Team USA definitely has its work cut out for it.

But just because the games might be close doesn’t mean this Team USA team isn’t great.

This team is awesome.  

Of the 15 All-NBA spots from last season, 9 of them are made up of Team USA players. Interestingly enough, that’s the exact number of All-NBAers that the original Dream Team included. The idea that it was made up of the 12 best players on earth at the time is simply untrue.

Another 4 of the All-NBA spots are made up of guys who are either hurt and can’t play (Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade) or not quite good enough to make the team (Rajon Rondo and Andrew Bynum).

Tony Parker and Dirk Nowitzki are the only non-Americans on this year’s All-NBA team. There were ZERO non-Americans on the list in 1992.

Don’t let your love for the Dream Team cloud your judgment on the current vintage. In my opinion, this year’s team would absolutely give the Dream Team a run for its money.

Let’s pretend that they could play – and that they would matchup under today’s rules.  What would be the end result?

(Special thanks to this random page that included all of the stats – including minutes played – for the original Dream Team.)

Let’s assume that the Dream Team would keep it’s same starting five of Magic, Jordan, Barkley, Bird, and Ewing.  USA 2012 is a little tougher to project, because I have absolutely no idea who will start. But for argument’s sake, and because it’s my article, I will pick who I think should start: Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James.

How would the starters fare against each other?

Point Guards: Magic Johnson vs. Deron Williams

Remember, this is 28-year-old-in-his-prime Deron Williams against 32-year-old-hasn’t-played-a-competitive-game-in-over-a-year Magic Johnson.

In case you think I’m overplaying Johnson’s past-his-primeness, just remember that he only played 6 of the 8 games and the only 2 players on the Dream Team that played less than him were John Stockton and Christian Laettner.

Of course, both Magic and Williams’ roles on this team are simple: distribute the ball and knock down open jump shots.

Let’s be clear – if Magic played today, he would be one of the top five distributors in the game.  However, Williams is clearly the better jump shooter (Magic had shot 32% from three in 1991 – and that was his career best), and defensively, well, let’s just say Magic was never much of a defender even when he was young.

Just because I would like you to keep reading, I will go ahead and declare this matchup “a wash” due to Magic’s greatness.

The good news for the Dream Team is that when Magic went out, Scottie Pippen would come in and play kind of a point-forward for them. That helped to level the matchup as well.

  • Advantage: Even

Wings: Michael Jordan & Charles Barkley vs. Kobe Bryant & Kevin Durant

This is actually one area where it’s the USA 2012 team that wishes one of its players was in its prime.

Michael Jordan’s peak was better than Kobe’s peak, and at this point in his career, Kobe is past his peak. A 29-year-old Michael Jordan would wipe the floor with the 33-year-old Kobe Bryant.

As much as I love Kobe, it’s hard for me to even find one spot in which Kobe has an edge here. I guess we could go with outside shooting, (30% for Kobe in 2012 compared to 27% for Jordan in 1992), but even there, it’s clear that neither guy is much of a threat from long range.

Meanwhile, Jordan was terrorizing other teams defensively, racking up an amazing 37 steals in 8 games. He also finished second on the team (behind Scottie Pippen) with 38 assists. Even if Kobe played his best basketball, The Dream Team would win the matchup hands down.

Fortunately for USA 2012, they have Kevin Durant.

Please understand, I’m not convinced that a 23-year-old Kevin Durant is better than a 28-year-old-in-his-absolute-prime Charles Barkley. However, their roles on each team is clear: both guys have been asked to score, and let everyone else handle everything else.

Consider the fact that Sir Charles, one of the greatest rebounders in NBA history, averaged fewer than five rebounds a game in Barcelona. Why? Because he was leading the team in scoring.

So if scoring is each player’s objective, doesn’t the edge go to Durant? Especially considering both players are guarding each other?

Of course, Durant would have a few issues guarding Barkley on the block, but to think that Barkley would even be a bother for Durant on the defensive end of the floor is just preposterous. We saw how electric Durant could be in international ball two years ago. Now, he is stronger and a more consistent shooter.

As great as Sir Charles was in 1992, Kevin Durant and USA 2012 have a clear edge in the scoring department.

Overall, The Dream Team wings are better because of Michael Jordan. On the flip side, let’s pretend that Durant has one of those scary “I can’t believe how amazing of a scorer he is” 45-point efforts against Barkley.  Not out of the question, right?  USA 2012 could conceivably break even in the matchup.

  • Advantage: The Dream Team

Bigs: Larry Bird & Patrick Ewing vs. Carmelo Anthony & LeBron James

Carmelo Anthony has problems. He thinks he’s better than he is, and he is often a pretty selfish player.

That being said, he is a much better player in international ball than many people remember. His ability to stretch the floor from the Power Forward position is vital, and he’s an underrated rebounder as well.

Unfortunately for the Dream Team, one of USA 2012′s best players happens to play opposite of one of the Dream Team’s biggest holes.

While an in-his-prime Larry Bird would have wiped the floor with Carmelo, this version of Larry Legend is stuck trying to distribute and hit outside shots – and as I mentioned before, he’s even struggling to knock down shots at this point in his career.

Larry Bird’s back problems had left him as a shell of a former self by 1992.

In reality, Carmelo would probably crowd Bird on the outside and hope to take away his passing lanes. With absolutely no hope of blowing by Carmelo, Bird would likely have to serve as a decoy offensively.

On the other end, in-his-prime Carmelo abuses Bird at every turn. If Bird were to try to guard him out on the floor, Carmelo would blow by him with ease. If he gives Carmelo space, Anthony is more than able to hit the outside jumper.

The Dream Team really just hopes that Bird can sort of contain Carmelo until the Mailman enters the game.

As for the Center position, you might be thinking that the Ewing/James matchup gives the Dream Team an edge. Are you sure?

Of course Ewing seemed like a physical freak back in the day, but his measurements actually show that he was only 7’0″ tall and 240 pounds. That’s right, he’s giving up 20 pounds to LeBron.

All year long, LeBron has shown that he can guard big men. He’s not only held his own but actually excelled guarding the likes of Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Zach Randolph, and even Roy Hibbert on occasion.  Of course, none of those guys possesses the repertoire of low post moves that Ewing had, but at the same time it’s not at all out of the question that LeBron could hold Ewing to 14 or so points a game.

On the other end of the floor? Yikes.

Let’s not waste any time discussing whether or not Patrick Ewing could guard LeBron James.

To be frank, I think USA 2012 has a huge edge down low, at least as long as the starters for both teams are in the game.

  • Advantage: USA 2012

Key Bench Players

Of course, these groups of players would probably not play with each other very often. More often than not, one or two players would sub into the game and play with the starters. However, if each team wanted, it could definitely sub in 5 guys at once and still trot out a solid team.

This is where the Dream Team seems to have a clear edge … if you simply look at the names involved. However, USA 2012 creates some pretty glaring mismatches at times.

Chris Paul v Scottie Pippen

As much as I love Chris Paul, I think Scottie Pippen would eat his lunch. He was just too good of a defender, and too long and athletic for Paul to give him problems.

  • Edge – Dream Team

Russell Westbrook v Clyde Drexler

The Drexler-Westbrook matchup would be among the most entertaining we’ve ever seen. Most people would give Drexler the edge based on name alone, but I’m not so sure.

1992 Drexler averaged 25 points and 7 assists. 2012 Westbrook averaged 24 and 6. 2012 Westbrook also made 82 more threes than 1992 Drexler – in ten fewer games.

Let’s just pretend each guy is supposed to fill that “instant energy/offense” role off the bench. You aren’t asking Westbrook to be a PG, you are asking him to be the greatest version of Jason Terry ever created. Do you still give Drexler the edge?  I don’t.

  • Westbrook/Drexler Edge – 2012

Chris Mullin v James Harden

In my opinion, the Chris Mullin/James Harden matchup would be key for USA 2012.

Mullin has an inch on Westrbook, but Harden has 20 pounds on Mullin. You can’t really do the matchup justice by comparing stats because Harden came off the bench and played ten fewer minutes a game in 2012 than Mullin did in 1992. However, what surprised me was the outside shooting.

Not only was Harden better, he was considerably better. In 1992, Chris Mullin made 64 threes on 37% shooting. In 2012, Harden made 114 threes on 39% shooting.  Oh yeah, Harden also played fifteen fewer games than Mullin as well.

  • Harden-Mullin Edge – 2012

Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler v Karl Malone and David Robinson

The Dream Team has a clear edge down low off the bench.

Malone and Robinson are both Hall of Famers while Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler are still crafting their resumes. However, if you try to ignore legacies and only compare each player in his year, the matchup becomes more even.

Believe it or not, Kevin Love had a better year in 2012 than Malone or Robinson had in 1992. Love averaged 26 and 13 while also knocking down 105 threes. Remember, bigs need to be able to stretch the floor in international ball today.  To put that in perspective, together, Robinson and Malone made 110 threes…in their entire careers.

Of course, they were no slouches in 1992. Malone averaged 28 and 11 while Robinson averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds, and a staggering 4 blocks per game. However, Tyson Chandler was named the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year for a reason.

While the Dream Team wins this matchup, don’t let legacies influence how the matchup would look in one game.

  • Love/Chander v Malone/Robinson Edge – Dream Team

So…Would USA 2012 Beat the Dream Team?

To be honest, we probably don’t do the Dream Team much justice by simply going down the list and comparing one player from each side against each other. We have to ask, “How would it really work in a game?”

Let’s just say that good teams only give 8 or 9 guys legitimate minutes in big games. That means that John Stockton, Christian Laettner, and Karl Malone will be riding the pine for the Dream Team while Andre Iguodala, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love will do the same for USA 2012.

Over the course of the game, USA 2012′s starting lineup is a little bit better than the Dream Team’s starting five, but the Dream Team has a slight edge off of the bench. So down the stretch, what is each team’s best five?

In my opinion, Larry Legend and Magic Johnson would go to the bench for the Dream Team. That leaves them with Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan, Chris Mullin, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing.

(Feel free to argue about Chris Mullin. All I know is that he played more than any player not named Michael Jordan on the Dream Team. Jason Whitlock thinks it was racially based; I think they just needed his outside shooting. Whatever. You can decide for yourself.).

On the other side of the floor, Team 2012 has some options. They could either go with their starters, or play Russell Westbrook at the point if he was playing well (read: not playing insane). I think they leave their starters in.

The Dream Team backcourt would soundly whip the 2012 guards up and down the floor. Pippen and Jordan would rack up steal after steal, and Jordan would undoubtedly begin to take over the game offensively.

On the other hand, Mullin and Barkley are no match for Durant and Carmelo. Carmelo could slide over and guard Barkley on the block, giving USA 2012 a decided size advantage. Obviously, neither Mullin nor Barkley could guard Durant or Carmelo one-on-one.

2010 LeBron would single-handedly choke away the game for USA 2012. Fortunately for them, 2010 LeBron no longer exists. The Game-7-Celtics LeBron shows up and dominates Patrick Ewing – a guy with more “choke” stories than you might think.

So who wins it in the end?

Even though USA 2012 holds the advantage in 3 of the 5 matchups, the answer lies in how you answer this question: who is the best player on the floor?

Is it 1992 Jordan?  Or is it 2012 LeBron?

(Image via ATLNightSpots.com)

What do you think?

If the Dream Team played Team USA 2012, who would win?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Either way, be honest with yourself.  It was a lot closer than you originally thought, right?

*****

 



About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.

Comments

  1. tony the stat master says:

    I love the ending…LeBron or MJ…nice.

  2. Dan lee says:

    Joke of an article. Again trying to cause controversy to get readers. Got bored on the second paragraph..

  3. Thats what you think. Ever heard of the greatest game no one saw? You should watch it before you write. That way you would have been better informed. And Oh, its not just about the physical ability that will win games. Those guys back then, They let the other teams score because it was almost shameful if they wiped them out just like that. You should re watch the Barcelona games. And you almost forgot that Le Bron’s pack didn’t win in Greece… with those bunch of amateurs you call.

  4. Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving….

  5. “Just like this current USA basketball team, The Dream Team was severely lacking in depth down low.” – YOU’RE KIDDING RIGHT? Patrick Ewing and David Robinson are among the two best centers to ever play basketball, and you didn’t even mention Karl Malone, one of the greatest power forwards ever…your story is rubbish, plain rubbish

    • This is a fair comment. I should have spent more time on it in the story.
      Many people keep saying that the current Team USA team has a huge flaw – they don’t have enough depth down low. All they have is three guys – Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin.
      Well, if only having three guys means you aren’t deep enough down low, then the Dream Team qualifies too. Unless you count Christian Laettner, they only had three guys as well – Robinson, Ewing, and Malone.
      Of course, on the surface, those three look MUCH better than this year’s three. But going with the theme of my article, you have to compare those guys in 1992…not their entire career. If you do that, this year’s team doesn’t look so bad. Tyson Chandler is the defending Defensive Player of the Year, and Kevin Love’s stats this past season were better than any of the Dream Team players’ in 1992. Fair point. I hope this explains it further.
      Again, you will notice that I still gave the Dream Team the edge down low…it’s just not as big of a mismatch as you might think by simply looking at the names.

  6. Fun article, and interesting argument!
    I hope USA 2012 brings home basketball gold, but some things in the article stood out to me as incorrect.
    1) Your list of Dream Team “starters”: Jordan was the only player to start all 8 games, Magic started 5, and no one else started more than 4.
    2) Magic “past his prime”: while technically true, we’re talking about one of the greatest players EVER that had led his team to the NBA Finals only a year before the Olympics (1991 Finals).
    3) James Harden’s outside shooting “considerably better” than Mullin? Mullin averaged 25.6 points a game in 92 vs Harden’s 16.8 this year. Think defenses might’ve been keying on Mullin a little more than the Thunder’s 3rd best scorer? Maybe enough to account for the “considerable” 2% difference?
    4)”Carmelo could slide over and guard Barkley on the block, giving USA 2012 a decided size advantage”: Barkley built a Hall Of Fame career going up against “decided size advantages” EVERY GAME. The only place a size advantage against Barkley ever existed was on paper.
    5) “How it would really work in a game”: Easy. USA’12 would play similar to USA’08 with FAR TOO MANY ISOLATIONS. The Dream Team would throw Jordan or Pippen on whoever dreamed of getting hot. USA’08 averaged almost 19 assists per game, and I hope USA’12 breaks 20. They’ll still be almost 10 behind the Dream Team (29.9 assists per game)!
    While the USA’12 team has players that can do ANYTHING on a basketball court, the Dream Team had players that knew EXACTLY WHAT HAD TO BE DONE & WHEN TO DO IT, and while they might not have been as gifted or as close to their prime as USA’12, make no mistake, they could still get it done.

  7. Lacking down low.. I stopped reading after I read that part. Dumbest statement Ive probably ever read in my life.

    • Lacking in depth – they only had three guys. Either this current team is fine with 3 guys, or the Dream Team was also a little thin in that area. You can’t have it both ways.

  8. Fun exercise and no right answer. Clearly, the 2012 team could win any game against 1992 as they are both great. I do think that you may remember a few of the 1992 guys past their prime and put them in silly match ups that Chuck Daley would not.

    “The Dream Team was severely lacking in depth down low:? Umm, Barkley, Malone, Robinson, Ewing, a few mins from Bird and in a pinch Magic (42 pts and 15 boards in 1980 NBA finals replacing Kareem at C as a rookie).

    In 1992, Robinson (23 ppg, 12 rpg, 4.5 bpg and 5th in steals) was first team all NBA, the NBA defensive POY and would perhaps be the 3rd best player on either team.

    Also in 1992, Mullin and Drexler were 3rd and 4th in scoring and both were first team All NBA. Mullin also shot 45% from 3pt range in 1992-1993 (2nd in NBA).

    Jordan, Pippen, Robinson, Ewing and anyone would be a great defensive team could play zone and with international goaltending rules. I don’t see the 2012 team being anywhere near as good defensively.

    If I were to pick an 8 or 9 man rotation from both teams, I would pick at most 3 guys from 2012 and possibly only 1…

    1: Stockton (maybe Magic or maybe play MJ some here to spell Stockton)
    2/3 MJ and can’t go wrong with any 1 or 2 of (Mullin, Drexler, Pippen, Kobe or Durant)
    3/4 Barkley/LBJ
    4/5 Malone
    5 Robinson/Ewing

  9. Not sure why Barkley isn’t a big for you. All Four dream team bigs were in/near their prime although maybe Ewing had lost a little and Barkley phoned in his last year in Philly (great for anyone else)?

    Kevin Love’s 2012 stats seem perhaps a bit better than Barkley or Ewing in 1992 but don’t his stats seem a tad worse than Robinson or Malone that year (e.g. WS/48 or PER)? I think we would agree all four of these guys had better statistical years in 91-92 than Tyson Chandler (great D but mediocre O) or Blake Griffin.(opposite). Wouldn’t you take the 4 Dream Teamers ahead of Love and certainly ahead of the other guys if you were picking 4 bigs? If not, who would you leave out.

    You are right in that Kevin Love’s stats are very good and surprisingly good. It is not his fault, but he is the only really strong option on a poor team, so it is hard to judge him relative to Bosh or Garnett.

  10. Who is better between Jordan or Lebron really? Comparing the years going into the Olympics? 2012 Lebron better then a prime 92 23? You are nuts! Micheal Jordan all day! I cannot believe you are asking this question. Talk about prisoner of the moment I guess you forgot who Micheal Jordan was. Jordan would wipe the floor with prime Kobe. Softer defense but Lebron is on MJ level? Your are trippin my friend.

  11. Do you read what you write? I hope you don’t coach children’s basketball because we’d lose a generation.

    The lineups are ignorant.

    It would be:
    2012: Williams, Durant, James, Anthony, Chandler.
    Dream: Johnson, Jordan, Pippen, Barkley, Ewing.

    Pairing James and Ewing is easily the strangest comparison I’ve ever seen in this conversation but congrats to you for pulling it off. Next, let’s look at the Chris Paul/Karl Malone matchup.

    So to answer your question, yes, it would be close and I’d concede a slight edge to the 2012 team, assuming you were coaching the Dream Team.

    However, I must say that I appreciated the statistic where you removed 21 of 34 3-point makes and attempts from the 1992 team average to “prove” a point. That, sir, is great analysis.

    Next time also work on your research and arguments. Here’s just one example: “Malone averaged 28 and 11 while Robinson averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds, and a staggering 4 blocks per game. However, Tyson Chandler was named the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year for a reason.”

    You didn’t give us Tyson Chandler’s stats. Is it possible that his 2012 stats pale in comparison? Yes. It’s not even close. Seems to me you fell into what you were accusing everyone else of doing. Just looking at the names and awards – the legacies.

    Do your homework next time. In the meantime, I’d suggest you keep Chuck Daly as your assistant so this hypothetical matchup doesn’t get too ugly.

  12. Robert Talbot says:

    Are you serious John Washburn? Stockton an overrated pointgaurd? He is the all-time assist leader! What do you want your point gaurd to do? I know you’ll come back with his weak defense, like everyone does and how slow he was. Do I also have to tell you he is the all-time steals leader as well? Tell me how a so-called bad defender can have that title? Then you go into how many minutes he played as if there wasn’t a reason. You forgot to mention he was coming off a broken leg he suffered by Jordan in a dream team practice. How many players on the 2012 team would even stay on the team if that happened. The answer is 0!

  13. schooling_idiots says:

    This washburn guy knows nothing. Dream team can platy inside and blow out 2012 team. They can play outside and blow them out.
    teams better than 2012
    1992,1996 and 2008

  14. If Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard and D-Wade were healthy then yesss USA 2012 team would have a chance but they didn’t so the Original 92′ Dream Team would take it plus they had a great coach in Chuck Daly. Dream Team 11 Hall of Famers, 23 Championships combined, the Greatest player to ever play the game of Basketball in Michael Jordan. Come on get real here!!

Speak Your Mind