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