Statistics never lie – but you can use them to tell whatever narrative you want.
All of us have been on one side or the other of the previous statement at some point in our lives. Either we have plucked an obscure stat out of nowhere in order to win an argument, or we have cringed as our opponent did the same thing.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Numbers can be a great aid for developing opinions. However, we must always make sure that we are reading them correctly.
There is a famous example of this involving murders and ice cream.
Statistics show that ice cream sales sky rocket during the summer months. Meanwhile, the murder rate also increases as the days get longer. If one were to conclude that ice cream sales directly cause people to kill each other, he or she would be using the numbers incorrectly.
Still, facts are facts.
While drawing the proper conclusions can be somewhat difficult, that doesn’t mean we should avoid the discussion.
With that in mind, let’s once again revisit an argument that has been flaring up repeatedly for several weeks now.
The Dream Team v Team USA 2012
At this point, the conversation is almost tired, almost meaningless.
No matter what transpires over the next few days, it’s more than likely that your mind is made up. Either you love the current version of the US Olympic Basketball team, or you are loyally devoted to Michael Jordan and the Dream Team.
From game to game, fans on both sides have rushed to hyperbolic, Skip Bayless-like reactions in order to support their already made up minds.
After the walloping of Nigeria, Dream Team haters gleefully re-instigated the smack talk. Just two days later, after the US barely got by Lithuania, Dream Team lovers made sure their opponents ate some crow.
You know where I stand on the issue.
I have tried to avoid rushing to judgment after any one game, and instead have waited for a little larger sample size in order to re-evaluate my opinion. I believe that no matter which side you favor, the game would be very close.
After six games of action, nothing has transpired that would change my mind.
Let’s look at some facts together. As you read, feel free to dispute the conclusions that I have drawn. Just remember: facts are facts…and some of you Old Timers probably won’t like them.
Facts and Conclusions
Indisputable Fact: 9 of the 12 players on the Dream Team had made an All-NBA Team the previous season in 1992. That is exactly the same number of All-NBA Players on this year’s squad.
Conclusion: Unless you feel that the NBA in 1992 was considerably better than the NBA in 2012, it’s hard to make a case that the Dream Team would blow this team out.
Of course, the Dream Team has a huge edge when it comes to name recognition. Past that, two of the three guys on that team that did not make an All-NBA Team in 1992 were named Magic and Bird.
We can probably all agree that those two would be valuable on any team at any age. Still, the fact remains that Magic and Bird were well past their primes in 1992. Larry Legend would never play another NBA game, and Magic had been retired for a whole year when he came back to play in Barcelona.
Personally, I don’t believe that the NBA was any better in 1992 than it was in 2012.
Were post players better back then? Of course. But the NBA, as a whole, was nowhere near as athletic as it is today.
Was the defense tougher? Well, with the hand-checking and rough play that was allowed, the answer is theoretically yes. But with the increased attention to film study, creative defensive schemes, and better athletes at every position, the scoring has actually dipped dramatically since 1992.
The game has seen huge changes across the board – but you would be hard pressed to convince me that the game is considerably WORSE today than it was in 1992.
- The Dream Team beat its opponents by an average of over 43 points per game. This year’s squad, through six games, has won by an average of 37.
- The 1992 Olympics featured exactly ten players that played in the NBA at any point in their lives. 20 years later, over 40 NBA players are representing their countries.
Conclusion: Against MUCH tougher competition, this year’s squad has been similarly dominant.
Obviously, this year’s team has two games left – and most people are predicting both games to be close.
But let’s say the US struggles and only beats Argentina by 15 on Friday before winning a close 8-point game on Sunday afternoon against Spain. That would still leave their margin of victory at a staggering 30 points per game – an impressive feat considering the competition.
Dream Team lovers want to discount this point entirely. The prevailing thought is, “If this team was really as good as the Dream Team, then the level of competition shouldn’t really matter.” Really though, they are just holding up this year’s team against an impossible standard.
In 1992, foreign players just felt “privileged” to stand on the same court as their heroes. Players repeatedly asked for autographs before and after the game. The Dream Team experience will never be topped, and it took place in a different time.
Well, times have changed.
Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, and Manu Ginobili have all made multiple All-NBA teams. Many of the 40 NBA players have played with LeBron, Kobe, and Durant before. There is no longer a shock factor.
It’s no longer a “once in a lifetime experience” to play with these guys. The awe is gone. These teams aren’t scared of the USA any more.
Anyone who watched the Argentina game three nights ago saw an Argentinian team that cheap-shotted the United States to death. Last night, Australia opened up the second half with a barrage of threes and a load of energy.
Both times, this USA team responded – and blew out its opponent.
In the grand scheme of things, 30-point victories over All-NBA players are just as impressive as 43-point wins over guys that are just “happy to be there.”
- The 1992 Dream Team – with David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and Karl Malone – was dominant inside.
- The 2012 team is equally as dominant from the outside.
Conclusion: Depending on the set of rules the two teams were playing under, each team could have a clear advantage.
One of the ideas that has been beaten into the ground over the last few weeks is that this year’s team is just too small.
Tyson Chandler is the only true center on the team, and Coach K has been relying on small forwards to defend big men and rebound. It would be implausible to think they could defend the original Dream Team that way.
As true as this is (and it is true by the way; fellow lovers of today’s game…stop trying to deny this), this year’s squad is equally as dominant from the outside.
The point guard mismatch is almost comical.
To insinuate that a washed up Magic Johnson and an injured John Stockton could stay with Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or even Russell Westbrook on defense is just ludicrous.
Could Jordan and Scottie stay with this year’s guards? Of course. But they can only guard two guys. The game has changed. Speed matters much more today than size.
Even if you think the Dream Team could stay with this year’s PGs by playing a lineup of Scottie, Jordan, Mullin, Barkley, and a Big Man, that still doesn’t cover for the biggest mismatch in the entire matchup: three-point shooting.
In 8 games, the Dream Team made 54 threes, good for 40% from outside. After only 6 games, this year’s team has already made a staggering 96 threes while shooting 45%.
If three pointers are the great equalizer in basketball, wouldn’t it be irresponsible to argue that this year’s team would have absolutely no chance against the Dream Team?
Let’s just go ahead and agree that the Dream Team would kill this team down low. It wouldn’t be implausible to think that they might outscore this year’s team by 20 or 30 points in the paint alone.
But this year’s team is averaging 48 points per game from long distance. The 1992 team barely averaged 20.
Feel free to keep criticizing this team for its lack of size. Just remember to recognize its other-worldliness from the perimeter.
The comparisons can wait until later – let’s appreciate and cheer for this team for what it is right now: TEAM USA!
As fun as it is to argue an outcome that is impossible to decide, I fear it has caused many Americans do react to this year’s team in an unfortunate way. Because of their love for the Dream Team, some people are almost hoping that this year’s team chokes.
In reality, the two teams are more similar than we ever could have imagined coming into the games.
MJ and LeBron
1992 Michael Jordan was the best player in the world. He cruised through the Olympics, leading his team in steals and finishing second in assists. He completely controlled the games without needing to score.
2012 LeBron James is doing the exact same thing. In only 30 minutes last night, he recorded the first triple-double in Olympic History.
Barkley and KD
1992 Charles Barkley was nipping at Jordan’s heels. He led the team in scoring while also pulling down the third highest number of rebounds. He even showcased his three point range, shooting a scalding hot 7 of 8 from long distance during the games.
2012 Kevin Durant is replicating Barkley’s performance so precisely that it’s almost eerie. Both players averaged 18 PPG, and Durant is second on his team in rebounding. The Durantula is also lighting the world on fire from outside, already making 24 threes in six games.
Magic and Kobe
1992 Magic Johnson was the elder statesmen on the team. While it was clear that his game was in decline, he remained the vocal leader and fought for every inch of respect from his teammates.
2012 Kobe Bryant is at a similar point in his career. Despite struggling for much of the tournament, Kobe has been the most outspoken player on the team. In fact, his stubbornness to remain on top has almost hurt Team USA at some key moments.
Still, Magic flashed moments of brilliance in 92, just as Kobe did last night when he scored 20 points in the second half.
The comparisons go on and on.
The Mailman and Kevin Love
1992 Karl Malone announced himself to the world as a force to be reckoned with by outrebounding his rival – the Round Mound of Rebound.
2012 Kevin Love has been equally as dominant down low – pulling down 20 offensive rebounds and outscoring everyone not named Carmelo or Durant.
Mullin and Carmelo
1992 Chris Mullin shot lights out from three point range (54%) and confirmed his reputation as one of the premier scorers in the league.
2012 Carmelo Anthony has shot 53% from deep while once again showing us why New York was so willing to gut its team in order to get him.
I don’t know who would win a fictional game between the two teams. If pressed, I might agree that an in-his-prime Michael Jordan wouldn’t allow his team to lose.
But the facts indicate that it would be a lot closer than a lot of people think.
But none of that matters right now. The comparisons can wait.
Right now, we all have one job: to cheer on this team to Gold.