(Note: this post has absolutely nothing to do with Tennessee. It's just something I wrote first on Facebook, but also wanted to post here in case anyone is interested in commenting. Consider it weekend filler:)
Q: "What do you do on Friday nights in Ceres?"
A: I sit around and think about stuff like this.
With all the recent blasphemy that Dirk Nowitzki is better than Larry Bird and today, from the mouth of Scottie Pippen, that LeBron James could be better than Michael Jordan, interesting questions about which generation of basketball was best are also being raised. This to me is a far more interesting conversation: are we in a new golden age of basketball right now, or were things truly better in the childhood I remember?
So, here’s the exercise: one fantasy team from each of the last three decades, plus a fourth comprised of the very best players right now. No one can appear on more than one team. And each player is represented in their prime: so you get the ’93 version of Jordan that scored 41.0 ppg in the NBA Finals – which, by the way, is why no one else is Michael Jordan – and you get this week’s version of Dirk Nowitzki.
Instead of listing a full 12-man roster for each team, I’ve trimmed it down to a rotation as if it were an actual team. Which means you can’t just look and see which team has the best nine players – the bench guys are worth less than the starters. This also means you have to keep players at the positions they played; the 00’s team can’t put Garnett, Duncan, and Shaq on the floor at the same time.
This exercise borrows heavily from Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball in ranking players, though in some cases the arguments are too close to call, so I’ll just leave it up to you. There may be better ways to determine which generation of basketball was better…it’s just more fun to do it this way.
Starters: Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Bench: Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy, Moses Malone
Coach: Pat Riley
Not only does the 80s team have the three best players in the history of basketball not named Jordan or Bill Russell, they’ve got size: Dr. J is the smallest guy in the lineup at 6’7". With Magic and Bird you have superior passing, though one weakness is that Bird is the only great shooter on the floor. In crunchtime you play a little inside-out game with Kareem and Larry Leg and let Magic figure it out. And if you want more offense, put Nique in for McHale and slide Bird over. Possible weakness would come with McHale trying to defend some of the more athletic big men today.
Starters: Stockton/Payton, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Barkley/Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon
Bench: Stockton/Payton, Clyde Drexler, Barkley/Malone, David Robinson/Patrick Ewing
Coach: Phil Jackson
Your choice at point guard – you want defense you go with The Glove, you want a guy who will set up Jordan and the post players brilliantly you take Stockton. Same with Barkley/Malone, which is one of the great basketball debates and I’ll let you figure it out. All four of those guys make the team, but you have to choose between The Admiral and Ewing for the backup minutes behind Olajuwon. This team has Jordan, so yeah, look out. Pippen gets to continue to be an excellent complementary piece on this team, Olajuwon could score on any of the other centers, and you’ve got a strong secondary scoring option at power forward. The downside of surrounding MJ with four other great players is his ego.
Coach: Gregg Popovich
I think Iverson is a much more dynamic player, but on a team like this you may want Jason Kidd taking the majority of the PG minutes and then put Iverson in to do the scoring when Kobe needs a blow. Kobe goes on this team because his prime is past; while he might still be one of the five best players in the game right now, he’s not better than Wade or LeBron right now so he goes here.
I know I’m a homer, but if you consider Kobe a shooting guard and you put LeBron’s prime in the current decade, then Paul Pierce is the best small forward of the previous one. Better than Vince Carter, better than Tracy McGrady, more longevity, more big shots, and the ring that none of his contemporaries at the position have. This is no longer a conversation.
I’m not so much of a homer to think that Garnett is in the same conversation with Duncan. And here’s the most important thing with this team: we see Shaq today as the big guy who can’t even run up and down the court without hurting something. Shaq 2000 was a beast the likes of which have never been seen before or since. After Jordan, he’s the single biggest gamechanger on any of these teams. Add in Ray Allen when you need that money three, and the generation that was thought to be less than the one before it and the one playing right now may have better overall talent.
Coach: Doc Rivers
I realize Steve Nash is not the overall player that Chris Paul and Derrick Rose are – and you can only have two of them – but for my money, I’d make Nash the starter and bring Paul off the bench until Rose proves he can do something other than score really well. This team suffers inside when Howard comes out of the game – and if you’ve got a better suggestion than Gasol inside, I’m all ears – but if you do start Paul or Rose, you’ve got by far the most athletic group on the floor of any of these four teams. Could be a couple of defensive holes on this team compared to the others.
So…which team would win in a seven game series against the others? Were there players I left out? And which generation of basketball is best?