This is a little bit of old news at this point, but Kobe Bryant let it be known that he thought the current version of the Dream Team could beat the original Dream Team. My initial thought was to scoff at him completely; it’s one thing if he wanted to compare the team that was planned for the Olympics, but now that Rose, Dwight, et al there seems to be a sizable gap. Rather than just dismiss it summarily, thought, I decided to take a deeper look at it:
The 2012 team is made up of (grouped by position) Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Kobe, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis and Tyson Chandler.
(Of note, I’m looking at it from the point of view that were the 2012 players available in the pool picked for the Olympics in 1992, who would make that team. This is a short hand way to figure out which team was better as I don’t have the general wherewithal to break down playing styles right now.)
Now let’s break down the 1992 team. At the top of the heap, you have Jordan. He’s the best player ever and at his peak. He’s obviously still on that team. Bird and Magic, at least in terms of fame, rank just a notch below Jordan and regardless of their respective skill levels at the time (clearly on the downslopes of their career) their fame makes them absolute musts for the team. Those three are safe without a second thought about it.
I’d argue that from a fame standpoint (not even accounting for skills) that Lebron and Kobe rank up there too. So they would make the team too, sheerly for the sake of “spreading the NBA brand.” Remember, the original Dream Team was there to spread the NBA product more so than to win the gold for America. We’ll get to who they bump off the roster shortly.
So the remaining pool from the 1992ers consists of Malone, Barkley, Stockton, David Robinson, Ewing, Pippen, Mullin, Laettner, Drexler ranked in order of their perceived abilities at the time (e.g. Pippen a few years later would have ranked much higher). From that batch you have Malone and Barkley who were two power forwards at their absolute peaks. Kevin Love is a fantastic player but he isn’t quite up to par with these guys. Yes, his shooting would be nice in the international game, but he has yet to prove himself to be one of the top 20 players of all time as there two were.
Stockton, also, was at his peak. This is where comparing across generations gets a bit dicier. Instinct says the skinny dude in the short-shorts would be no match for CP3, Deron, or Russell. We are, however, used to seeing those three operate in the hand check free NBA of today. Things are horribly skewed toward PGs. So in the 1992 landscape, Stockton wouldn’t be at such a perceived disadvantage. Plus, keep in mind that just about any basketball fan would put Stockton in the top 30 of all time. Just because he doesn’t look like a prototypical basketball player doesn’t mean he’s inferior. Plus, his range would be a welcomed perk of the international game. I will, however, keep CP3 in my back pocket for now. I really like him as a player and think his game would translate well to that time. Westbrook, as much as I love him, strikes me as the player whose game would translate the least.
Then we have the Robinson and Ewing big man pairing. It’s not even worth mentioning Chandler or Davis (at this point) in the same sentence as them, which is why I broke it into two sentences. In any case, keep in mind that David Robinson is criminally underrated. He lost two prime years of basketball development time to serving in the Navy. He put up a 29.8/10.7/4.8 while shooting over 50% from the field; oh and he threw in an extra 3.3 bpg and 1.7 spg. He was tremendously talented and never got his due thanks to Olajuwon and Jordan. Ewing was probably overrated during his playing career because his ceiling was set absurdly high, but I’d argue now that he’s a bit underrated. He was coming slightly off his peak-peak years by 1992, but was still a 7-foot force to be reckoned with; I harp on these two now for the sake of the end of this post…keep reading.
1992 was really the year Scottie started coming into his own. It wasn’t quite his peak, but he managed to put up a 21.0/7.7 rpg/7.0 while shooting over 50% from the field. Very Lebron-esque (27.1/7.2/6.9 for sake of reference). Scottie also has the added benefit of being one of the greatest defenders ever. Lebron, again, for comparison sake is a very good defender, but he’s not yet on Scottie’s level. Pippen managed to walk the line perfectly between locking down his man while also playing free safety when it was defensively sound. Lebron has the tools to match Pippen on the defensive end, but drifts too readily (though Lebron has the added ability of being able to competently defend some PFs). In any case, a younger Pippen definitely makes the team over Iguodala (Pippenish D, mediocre O), Harden (good O, no D), and Anthony (inefficient O, bad D).
Now Mullin is one I don’t fully get. He was a good scorer, but he benefited from playing with those RUN-TMC Warrior teams awhile also playing 40+ minutes; this only served to inflate his offensive stats. To me he was maybe 95% of Tracy McGrady. Or perhaps Vince Carter with a flat top, but no dunks. He’s the first cut from the 1992 team.
I think Mullin represents a pretty good cut line. Drexler made the team because Isaiah was banished by Jordan and because he was sorta-ish MJ-super lite. The Laettner selection made sense at the time. He was Mr. College Basketball, but with hindsight he doesn’t make the cut either.
That gives us three definite cuts in Drexler, Mullin, and Laettner. I would replace them with Durant, Lebron, and Kobe. How convenient! The positions line up. I do like Stockton over CP3, but if it were your team and you picked CP3, I wouldn’t begrudge that selection. That leaves us with a team composed of 8.5 1992 players and 3.5 2012 players. If you had the full complement of (American) players available it would be a bit different, but as Kobe said, this team could beat 1992 which judging by this exercise seems doubtful.
I’ll also throw in that if the two teams were to match up, the current team, without Howard, would have no answer for Robinson and Ewing down low. Chandler’s greatest skill as a defender isn’t in the post, it’s rotating and snuffing out pick and rolls which is doubly important in today’s hand check free game. His defensive strengths aren’t matched up well, at all, with Ewing or Robinson. Plus, he’d a liability on offense.
With handcheck rules in place, Stockton (great defender), Jordan, and Pippen would completely lock down the perimeter. The 2012 team’s greatest strength would be it’s crop of PGs but I think they would be minimized by the rules of ’92 and the aforementioned perimeter defenders. It would be an unbelievable matchup to watch, but I think the 1992 team would take it pretty handily. Plus, do you think there’s any chance Jordan lets his team lose to Kobe? Him and Pip might just make him their Toni Kukoc and humiliate him on the court.