NBA Dream Matchup: Could USA's 2012 London Basketball Team Beat the Dream Team?

Bruce Chen@bsk1364Analyst IJune 16, 2012

NBA Dream Matchup: Could USA's 2012 London Basketball Team Beat the Dream Team?

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    The documentary of the Dream Team truly illustrated what a large impact the '92 Olympic men's basketball team had on the world and the game itself. This is without a doubt the best basketball team that has ever been assembled...right? Even if they did lose a scrimmage against some college guys...right?

    Since the USA men's basketball program finally took their team seriously again in 2008, the result was USA ending up with the gold, again. The 2012 London squad combines the best of the '08 Redeem team, as well as the 2010 World Championship team. 

    What if we had a time machine? What if we could take MJ in his prime and make him guard Kobe Bryant? What if we could see Scottie Pippen try to shut down Kevin Durant? What if we could see if Deron Williams or Chris Paul could be better at the pick-and-roll than John Stockton? What if we could see a dazzling passing display held by LeBron James and Magic Johnson? 

    Who would win? Let's compare each team's strengths and see who wins out. 

No.0: The Final 2012 London Roster

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    Hold on a second. Before we compare this team to the 2012 team, we're going to have to figure out which six guys are going to be cut from the list of 18. 

    Let's talk mainstays from the 2008 Redeem Team. Since Derrick Rose is out, I'm going to have Chris Paul slide into Jason Kidd's starting role as point guard, with defensive anchor Kobe Bryant as his backcourt mate. Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James' combination of scoring, passing, and overall starpower make them no-brainers. Deron Williams is in too, along with Chris Bosh (big men who can knock down jumpers and pass are significantly more valuable at the international level).

    Also, I don't think Dwyane Wade is going to be on the team. He's iffy at best, his body is clearly hurting from the Finals, and I think he's thinking about his career longevity. He's hit 30 and can't afford to have anything happen to him.

    From the 2010 World Championship team, it's not even a question if Kevin Durant is on the team. Since Dwight Howard is hurt, we need a rim protector and Tyson Chandler pretty much starts by default, and with the bevy of scorers on this team, we just need the Defensive Player of the Year to do what he does. Let's replace Wade with Russell Westbrook, because we need an explosive guard off the bench and Rose and Rajon Rondo are out. 

    As it pertains to international rules, remember, I'm placing special emphasis on guys who are great at moving the ball and knocking down open jumpers. That's why I have Kevin Love making the team over Blake Griffin, whose athleticism will be nullified by the physicality of international play. 

    Now, either James Harden, Rudy Gay or Andre Iguodala will be chosen to replace Tayshaun Prince as the fill-in-the-blanks guy. I'm going to go with Harden because of his chemistry with Durant, his experience on a second unit and because he's the best shooter of the three.

    So we have Paul at the point, Kobe at the two, Durant at the three, LeBron as the four, and Chandler at the five. Carmelo is coming off the bench to be the super-sub, like Wade was in 2008. Williams also gets significant minutes spelling Kobe to play with Paul in two-guard sets. Westbrook, Love, and Harden will earn their minutes as newcomers, and Bosh plays the veteran-support role.

    So who gets that final twelfth spot? Well, I think everyone would collectively puke in their mouths or riot if Lamar Odom ever got picked for this team. As much as I love Eric Gordon, he gives you too much of what we already have on the team with the Oklahoma City triumvirate. 

    We don't yet have a big man backup for Chandler in terms of someone who can protect the rim. That's why I'm going with the 'Brow, Anthony Davis! Come on, this 2012 team needed a token college guy too. 

No.1: Better Offensive Facilitators?

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    I don't want to limit this to 'point guards' because then we can't compare LeBron to Magic or Pippen. This is somewhat unfair because of Michael Jordan blackballing Isaiah Thomas from the team. I personally would have loved to make the comparison between Isaiah and Chris Paul, who is undoubtedly Isaiah's pure point guard reincarnation. He has a little bit of the "Bad Boy" swagger, too. Then again, Rose and Rondo aren't eligible for this discussion, either.

    The Dream Team had Magic Johnson (end of his career, but still playing well), John Stockton, and Scottie Pippen playing point-foward. 

    The London Team will feature LeBron playing the point-foward/Magic role. Paul will be the pure passer on the first unit, and Deron Williams will also see time. Westbrook will pretty much have cameo appearances as an explosive dish-and-drive guy.

    I give the edge to the 2012 London squad, because LeBron, Paul and Williams are all at the peak of their powers, while Magic was on the downside of his career because of the HIV virus, and Stockton couldn't shine Paul or Westbrook's shoes on the defensive end. He would get torched. LeBron's size makes him even more versatile than Scottie was.

    Round 1 Winner: 2012 London team (1-0) 

No.2: Better Defensive Anchor?

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    Tyson Chandler is the reigning DPOY, and is the premier rim defender in the league today other than the injured Howard. He was the difference between Dallas being a perennial first-round/second-round loser and a championship team. Anthony Davis is long, physically brilliant and one of the best defensive prospects we've seen in a decade, and won the NCAA MOP despite shooting just one-of-ten and scoring six points, because he dominated so hard on the glass and the defensive side of the ball.

    Meanwhile, on the Dream Team, really the only rim defender they had was David Robinson. Shaquille O'Neal wasn't ready at the time and Patrick Ewing wasn't really a defender or rebounder as much as he was a scorer. 

    The selections were laid out in '92 like this probably because there weren't a lot of agile, explosive penetrators on teams like Angola or Spain that necessitated rim protectors like Chandler. Nevertheless, Chandler and Robinson would be an intriguing matchup.

    Meanwhile, in the back court, Kobe and LeBron will be their team's main stoppers, and MJ and Pippen for theirs. Gorgeous to watch, but that's impossible to tell who's better. We'll draw on the wing defenders. 

    I'll once again give the edge to the London team.

    Round 2 Winner: 2012 London (2-0) 

No.3: Better Alpha-Dog Scorer?

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    The video above kind of says it all. In 2008, the alpha-male scorers on the team were Kobe, then LeBron, then Melo. In 2012, I believe that the bulk of scoring will be handled by Durant (his game is even better at the international level) and LeBron. Kobe will be primarily used in his press-guard role from 2008, which was the same role Jordan had in 1992.

    This is unfair and would be an easier question if we were talking about 2008, where Kobe was at the peak of his powers. In '92, Jordan had just come off of a repeat title, so he was at the top of his game. It would still be undoubtedly fun to watch these two go at it. Personally, I think in this situation Jordan would shut down Kobe, unless Kobe was just making stupidly ridiculous 22-footers. 

    I think Durant has the potential to be the best pure "scorer" of the main scorers in this game (Jordan, Durant, Kobe, LeBron, Melo, Charles Barkley), but I think Pippen would shut down Durant (he's long and athletic enough too), and nobody on the 2012 Team could stop MJ. I'm not so sure they'd have an answer for Barkley in his prime, either, since he's such a matchup nightmare.

    Winner Round 3: Dream Team (1-2)

No.4: Better Role Players

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    This is a tougher battle than any of the previous slides. The Dream team had Clyde backing up Jordan, Stockton backing up Magic, Malone backing up Barkley, and since Larry Bird was effectively crippled by his back, he was a supporting guy. On that team, I consider Ewing and Robinson both role players, too. Chris Mullins was the shooter of the group. 

    The London squad has Melo backing up LeBron/Durant, Williams backing up Kobe/Paul, Bosh and Love filling in at any big man role needed, and Westbrook and Harden filling in guard roles.

    Let's see. In a five-on-five, minus the big stars, the scrimmage would be pretty interesting. The Dream Team backup's main source of offense would be Stockton and Malone's pick-and-roll, which I don't think the current USA backups can figure out because they haven't been playing together too long and neither Bosh or Love are great pick-and-roll defenders. Carmelo would be the 2012 USA team's main scorer, and I don't think a crippled Larry could keep up with him at all. 

    But I'd have to give the edge in the game to the Dream Team. David Robinson fills in the defensive deficiencies for his side, while nobody on the London squad is a premier defender. While the 2012 squad would just try to run, we remember that nobody was better at the half-court game than the 90's Jazz, and Robinson and Clyde were both amazing athletes who could have kept up with anybody. 

    Round 4 Winner: Dream Team (2-2)

No.5: Big-Game Ability/Clutchness

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    The present-day USA team has two of the three most clutch guys in the series. Kevin Durant was an absolute hero and tournament MVP for the team in 2010. There were no MVPs awarded at the Olympics in 2008, but anyone who watched the game knew that Kobe carried that team against Spain in the second half. 

    Durant absolutely has the clutch gene and comes up repeatedly in big moments. Kobe's resume speaks for itself: he's got two Finals MVPs, five rings and nobody strikes fears in his defenders like the Black Mamba does. Unless, you're talking about the other most clutch guy in the series, of course. 

    Round 5 Winner in an absolute blowout: Dream Team (3-2) 

No.6: Coaching

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    According to the documentary, Chuck Daly was the absolute perfect coach for Team USA because everyone was a star, and everyone had their egos. Nobody was a better manager of big game egos than Daly was, because as Charles said, "If you can coach the Bad Boys, those *expletives*, you can coach anyone."

    He also staffed Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski as an assistant. Coach K, was of course, the bench boss for the 2008 Redeem Team, and will be heading the 2012 London team as well. 

    While Daly was a two-time champion with the Pistons and has NBA success, Coach K is without a doubt the best in the business at the college level. Coach K, like Daly, commands the respect of superstars, as evidenced by Kobe's affinity and respect for him, as well as trying to get him to coach the Lakers after Phil Jackson left in 2004.

    In terms of strategy, it is hard to distinguish who has the edge; since coaches are copycats by nature, most of Coach K's strategies were borrowed or adapted from the original Dream Team blueprint. For example, he utilized Kobe as a defensive stopper and pressurer in the backcourt, which was the same role Jordan played for Daly in '92.

    Both are awesome coaches, but in a comparison of teams with this much star power, I tend to believe the inmates run the asylum, although the wardens still maintain respect when needed.

    Round 6 Winner: Draw, Dream Team (3-2) 

No.7: Better Big Men?

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    Well, the above photo doesn't speak to much other than what the 2012 London team will be missing. They don't have the game's best big man, Dwight Howard, or the next best big, Andrew Bynum. In my opinion, they need neither, as Tyson Chandler fills the role they need just as well since they don't need scoring at the five.

    This is somewhat of a foregone conclusion; the '90's were an era of dominant, dominant big men. The Dream team boasted David Robinson and Patrick Ewing, and didn't even include Shaquille O'Neal or Hakeem Olajuwon. The new millennium has seen the post-up, half court game become but an NBA fossil. 

    If we are technically speaking about who has the better big men, no one who watches basketball would say the 2012 team holds a candle to the Dream Team.

    However, it is worth noting that this might not matter much; if these two squads ever played, the present squad would merely play an uptempo, Oklahoma City or Miami Heat-style offense and render Robinson and Ewing mere rebounders. 

    Round 7 Winner: Dream Team (4-2) 

No.8: Star Trash-Talking, Confidence and It-Factor

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    LeBron is the most polarizing athlete alive, save for maybe Tim Tebow; those two share the title after Kobe Bryant relinquished it after he reformed his post-Colorado image. Immeasurable amounts of star power surround those two, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Durant is more a quiet assassin, and lets his game do the talking. Like LeBron, Durant never says anything in-game that might be an ad homonym.  

    On the other hand, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Magic, and the rest of the Dream Team come from an ultra-competitive environment in which trash talking is the norm, and often encouraged. Would I trust Durant or LeBron to not crack after MJ or Magic score a couple on them, and they start trash talking them? 

    Mental games and head tricks are very much a part of the game of basketball. Barkley wouldn't be afraid to get in any of the 2012 guys' faces. Magic would talk about how soft their generation was. Jordan would make a psychological study of picking one member of the 2012 squad, and methodically destroying his will and confidence to be on the court. 

    Round 8 Winner: Dream Team (5-2)

No.9: Better Shooters?

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    This is a really underrated topic, since the Olympic rules don't favor guys who drive to the basket with their head down and hope to get bailed out. Again, passing, drive and kick, and knocking down open jumpers when you have the chance is paramount.

    While the last two slides didn't seem worth writing because the Dream Team was so much more dominant in both categories, it might be the opposite here. Would you describe anyone on the Dream Team as a great shooter? Larry Bird for sure, but he was on a broken back and would never be able to play more than 12 minutes a game if they were running and gunning it.

    Clyde Drexler? Somewhat. Chris Mullin? For sure, but that only works in theory; in reality, if Mullin was on the court for extended periods of time against the superior athletes of the modern era, he'd have Michael Redd-Redeem Team syndrome in the worst way. By that I mean that whoever was at the two for the London squad (Williams, Kobe, Westbrook) would totally embarrass him defensively.

    On the other hand, the modern team has Kevin Durant (possibly the best pure shooter ever aside from Ray Allen and Reggie Miller once it's all said and done), James Harden (so underrated), and Kobe Bryant (he's been averaging 28 points per game since 2009 basically all on contested jumpers).

    Round 8 Winner: 2012 Team (3-5) 

No.10: Better Token College Guy

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    This is somewhat of a joke considering neither Christian Laettner or Anthony Davis would see the court...unless Tyson Chandler got in foul trouble. For Laettner, every forward on the Dream Team would need to be down, somehow. 

    Davis could be a top-10 player in the league someday. Laettner never lived up to his billing. Ho-hum.

    Round 10 Winner: 2012 London (4-5)

The Verdict

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    The Dream Team wins out here 5-4, although the modern day era USA team makes it closer than one would think. Kobe, LeBron and Durant's crew are better shooters and athletes, and probably play a little better defense. But the Dream Team have the low-post presence, are deeper, and in the last two minutes of a tight game, are mentally stronger and more clutch than the modern crew.

    They are still the greatest team ever assembled in any sport.