After Kobe Bryant calmly stated that he thought this vintage of Team USA could beat the Dream Team, fans everywhere started to straight up lose their minds.
Michael Jordan laughed out loud.
Larry Bird said they probably could beat the Dream Team – considering he hasn’t touched a ball in 20 years.
But finally, Charles Barkley laid down the gauntlet:
“Other than Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anybody else on that team makes our team.”
If you have ever read any of my basketball columns, especially this one, you know that I would probably disagree. So let’s slow down and reasonably make some judgments here.
Who would make the Ultimate Dream Team cut out of the 24 combined players involved in this discussion?
Before I go on, let me make two brief comments concerning last night’s outstanding effort by Team USA against the Dominican Republic.
1. The win was impressive
For all of the haters excusing the victory as “a meaningless win against an incredibly weak opponent,” let me remind you that last night’s Dominican Republic squad had more All Star/All-NBA Team appearances than every team that the Dream Team played COMBINED.
A 54-point victory over a team with multiple NBA players is every bit as impressive as anything the Dream Team did.
2. Team USA 2012 plays great D
This year’s team may not have much size, but the ferocious defense they played last night was breathtaking. The DR only shot 28% in the first half and finished the game with more turnovers than field goals.
Let’s just admit right now that Magic Johnson, Chris Mullin, and Larry Bird would have all been competing for “worst defender on the team” if they were playing for this year’s Team USA.
And now, onto the Top 12.
First, a few parameters for how I’m making my choices.
As I said in my article earlier in this week, if the Dream Team had featured all of its players while they were in their primes, then this discussion would be pointless and a waste of time. However, that simply wasn’t the case.
Magic and Larry Legend are two of the top five players in NBA history. That doesn’t mean that they were even two of the twelve best players in the NBA in 1992.
In order to pick the team fairly, we not only have to completely ignore anything that happened after 1992, but we also need to take things that happened in 1987 with a grain of salt. After all, this year’s team could put together a pretty good team if it only cared about legacies. I’m sure adding the greatest power forward of all time (Tim Duncan) to the mix would add some name recognition to the roster. That wouldn’t make the team any better right now.
Please don’t let that last paragraph go unnoticed.
We are about to compare guys like Karl Malone and Kevin Love. Just look at how ridiculous that sentence sounds. But remember – we aren’t comparing their careers. Is 2012 Kevin Love comparable to 1992 Karl Malone? Now that is a compelling argument.
One final thing: we are picking the team for today’s game. Obviously, the game has changed a lot over the years, as players have gotten more athletic and the positions of players themselves have even changed.
One key change is that the game has slowed down greatly. In 1992, the NBA average for points per game was over 105. In 2012, no single team even averaged that many. Remember this when you are looking at Chris Mullin’s stats.
Another interesting change is the overall style of play. How many NBA teams even play with two big men anymore? Sure, there are a few like the Lakers and Grizzlies, but most teams play some sort of “stretch-4” that can shoot 20-footers and handle the ball a little bit. Since players can no longer “hand-check” on defense, speed/quickness is much more important than size and strength.
The No Doubters
The following five players don’t need to be discussed. In fact, I’m just going to go ahead and list them because saying anything more about them would just be a waste of time.
- Michael Jordan
- Kobe Bryant
- LeBron James
- David Robinson
- Patrick Ewing
Jordan and Bryant make it because they are by far the two best shooting guards available.
Robinson and Ewing make it because as good of a defensive player as Tyson Chandler may be, Robinson and Ewing were simply better…and they also can play offense.
LeBron is an obvious choice to anyone who doesn’t live in Cleveland.
The Should-Be No Doubters
(But I will defend the choices anyway because for some reason, these guys don’t get as much love as they should.)
In my opinion, these next three guys shouldn’t have to be discussed, but I will give a quick explanation for them anyway.
- Scottie Pippen
- Kevin Durant
- Charles Barkley
Scottie Pippen is not only the greatest wing defender of all time, but he could also run the point for your team and rebound for you if needed. I’m not sure why Pippen is so universally underrated, but it should be known that he was easily the third best player on the original Dream Team (behind Jordan and Barkley) and was also a huge part of Michael Jordan’s career success.
Kevin Durant, right now, is a better scorer than anyone on the table – including Michael Jordan.
In 1992, Jordan averaged 30.1 ppg while shooting 52% from the field but only 27% from three (he shot an atrocious 4 of 19 in the Olympics). This past year, Durant averaged 28.0 ppg while shooting 50% from the field and 39% from three. However, Jordan’s Bulls averaged 110 ppg while the Thunder only put up 103.
Even though Jordan was a much better all-around player in 1992 than Durant is in 2012, Durant can score in more ways, more efficiently, and against more players than 1992 Jordan could.
Barkley was the leading scorer on the Dream Team and really came out of Barcelona as it’s biggest star not named Magic, Jordan, or Larry. Not only was he one of the best rebounders ever, but he was also a great scorer who had developed a nice outside jumper at this point in his career (he shot a ridiculous 7 of 8 from downtown in Barcelona). Barkley gives us depth down low and on the wing, and is a lock for the team.
The Final Four
At this point, the team is two-thirds of the way complete. You only really need two centers as long as you have some more size from your other forwards, so Tyson Chandler is out of the mix.
It’s also safe to say that Andre Iguodala, Christian Laettner, Deron Williams, and Blake Griffin just aren’t good enough at this point in their careers to gain further consideration.
Larry Legend, as great as he was, was simply a different guy in the Olympics. He only shot 33% from downtown and was resting his back much of the time. He would never play another NBA game again, and since career achievement doesn’t matter for this team, he also misses the cut.
That leaves the following players to choose from:
- Clyde Drexler, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Magic Johnson, and John Stockton from the Dream Team.
- Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook from this year’s squad.
Currently, we have 2 centers, 2 SGs, 2 SFs, and LeBron/Barkley who can both play either forward spot.
We could go many different directions for the final four slots. Common sense says you need two PGs, another wing scorer, and another big man down low. Even though I would be tempted to only take one PG because Pippen and LeBron could both play Point-Forward, let’s just keep it as simple as possible.
Point Guard Comparison
1992 John Stockton
- 15.8 points, 13.7 assists, 3.5 turnovers, 3.0 steals.
- Stockton was elected the 2nd All-NBA Team and the 2nd Team All-Defense.
- Note: The 1992 Jazz averaged 108 PPG.
1992 Magic Johnson
- DNP – HIV.
- During the Olympics, Magic averaged 8 points, 5.5 assists, 1 turnover, 1 steal, and shot 46% from Three.
2012 Chris Paul:
- 19.8 points, 9.1 assists, 2.1 turnovers, 2.5 steals.
- Paul was elected to the 1st All-NBA Team and the 1st Team All-Defense.
- Note: The 2012 Clippers averaged 97.5 PPG.
With all due respect to Magic, he wasn’t as good as either of these guys in 1992. But even if you think I’m kicking Magic to the curb just to get another 2012 guy on the team, let me make the case for Chris Paul over John Stockton.
In a head to head comparison, Stockton averaged more assists per game, but Paul beat him in literally every other category.
In 2012, Paul scored more, turned the ball over less, and was a better defender (he made the Defensive FIRST Team) than Stockton was in 1992. He also did this on a team that scored more than 10 points a game less than Stockton’s ’92 Jazz.
The fact is that Stockton’s peak just wasn’t that great. While his overall career resume will probably never be approached by another point guard, he was routinely out-dueled by opposing point guards from year to year in the playoffs.
Stockton’s teams were bounced in the first round an astonishing nine times, and his legacy can be defined by all those 2nd and 3rd All NBA Teams he made while only making the 1st Team twice. Rarely was he ever considered to be, without a doubt, the best PG alive.
Chris Paul, on the other hand, has held that title for the last several years. When he has been healthy, he has been a lock to lead the league in steals and assists. In 2012, he took the Clippers to the second round of the playoffs. This should make his case by itself!
Paul has done more with less – he has never teamed up with a Hall of Fame power forward or played for a Hall of Fame coach – than Stockton had in 1992.
John Stockton and Chris Paul win the point guard slots – but CP3 is our starter.
Big Man Comparison
1992 Karl Malone
- 28 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3 assists, 0.6 blocks.*
- Percentages of 53/18/78.
- Malone was elected to the 1st All-NBA Team.
- Note: The 1992 Jazz averaged 108 points per game.
2012 Kevin Love
- 26 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2 assists, 0.5 blocks.
- Percentages of 45/37/82.
- Love was elected to the 2nd All-NBA Team.
- Note: The 2012 Timberwolves averaged 97.9 points per game.
This might be our toughest call.
Again, comparing Kevin Love to Karl Malone outright is a joke. But was 1992 Malone any better than Kevin Love is today? Malone averaged two more points, but his team also averaged ten more points a game than the Timberwolves. Past that, he had the luxury of playing the entire season with his brilliant point guard; Love played without Ricky Rubio for half of the year.
As far as rebounding goes, Love is actually a better rebounder than the Mailman. In fact, Kevin Love’s career average of 12.0 rebounds per game equals the best season Malone ever put up.
Defensively, neither guy is blowing you away.
The real difference is in three-point shooting. Remember, in the international game, you need your big men to be able to knock down the outside shot. Malone was money from 17 feet, but Love made more threes in 2012 than Malone ever made in his entire career.
When you add it all together, the fact is that 2012 Kevin Love makes a lot more sense for the team than 1992 Karl Malone. Wouldn’t Jordan, LeBron, and Durant rather have Kevin Love outside spacing the floor as they drove to the basket? Wouldn’t the entire team utilize Love’s rebounding/amazing outlet passes more than Malone’s massive biceps?
Kevin Love edges out Karl Malone for our last big man slot.
Wing Scorer Comparison
1992 Clyde Drexler
- 25 points, 6.7 assists, 6.6 rebounds.
- Percentages of 47/34/79.
- 114 made threes.
- Drexler was elected to the All-NBA 1st Team.
- Note: The 1992 Trailblazers averaged 111 points per game.
1992 Chris Mullin
- 25.6 points, 3.5 assists, 5.6 rebounds.
- Percentages of 52/37/83.
- 64 made threes.
- Mullin was elected to the All-NBA 1st Team.
- Note: The 1992 Warriors averaged a staggering 119 points per game.
2012 Carmelo Anthony
- 22.6 points, 3.6 assists, 6.3 rebounds.
- Percentages of 43/34/80.
- 68 made threes.
- Carmelo was elected to the All-NBA 3rd Team.
- Note: The 2012 Knicks averaged 97.8 points per game, but Carmelo only played 55 games due to injury.
2012 Russell Westbrook
- 23.6 points, 5.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds.
- Percentages of 46/32/82.
- 62 made threes.
- Westbrook was elected to the All-NBA 2nd Team
- The 2012 Thunder averaged 103 points per game, but only played 66 games due to the Lockout.
2012 James Harden
- 16.8 points, 3.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds (31 MPG).
- Percentages of 49/39/85.
- 114 made threes.
- Harden was elected the 6th Man of the Year.
At this point, we are looking for specialists. In reality, this guy will be our 12th man. He won’t be playing much behind Jordan, Kobe, Pippen, Durant, LeBron, and Barkley.
Drexler had the best overall year of any of the five guys. Not only did he score efficiently, but he also filled up the stat sheet and was a legitimate threat from downtown. However, as I mentioned before, we are building this team for today’s game. And as the USA learned in 2004, it’s not necessarily the smartest thing to just take the 12 best players. You have to build a team.
What does Drexler do that those other six that are already on the team can’t do? Nothing, right?
What we really need is a sharp shooter. In my mind, it comes down to Chris Mullin and James Harden.
Even though Mullin’s stats are artificially inflated because of the fast-paced team he played on, Harden still comes out on top when it comes to shooting. Not only did Harden shoot a better percentage than Mullin and Drexler from downtown, but he also made 50 more threes than Mullin and the same amount as Drexler in 15 less games.
Harden is also much more physically gifted than Mullin and will be able to defend more players and positions than the Warriors’ Hall of Famer.
James Harden and his beard round out our squad.
The Ultimate 1992 + 2012 Dream Team Roster
That gives us the following lineup:
- Chris Paul
- Michael Jordan
- LeBron James
- Charles Barkley
- Patrick Ewing
Sixth Man/Instant Offense:
- Kevin Durant (He and Barkley could be switched in a heartbeat.)
- Scottie Pippen
- Kobe Bryant
- David Robinson
- John Stockton
- Kevin Love
- James Harden
- His Beard
In all actuality, Team USA 2012 did pretty well and rounded out half of the team.
Laettner, Bird, and Magic just weren’t good enough in 1992 to make the squad. The Mailman wasn’t as good for the international game as K-Love, and Mullin just barely missed out on the spot to James Harden’s beard and three-point shooting.
Clyde the Glide was the toughest omission, but it works out for the best this way. Well, unless you were looking for another awesome shoe story.
In that case, go ahead and shave the beard.