The original 1992 Dream Team set the gold standard—both literally and figuratively—for Olympic basketball. Recently, Kobe Bryant made headlines when he claimed the 2012 Dream Team could beat Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and the rest of the 1992 group.
This set off a week of reactions—both from ex-players and just about every sports columnist everywhere. While there are some that believe Kobe is correct, popular (and correct) sentiment is that the team with 11 Hall of Famers (including the best player of all time) would win.
However, it may have served Kobe better to make the comparison four years ago as a member of the 2008 US Olympic team. While the 2008 squad received a scare in the gold medal game against Spain, who had a formidable roster of its own, a position-by-position breakdown shows that the 2008 team holds an advantage if matched up with this year’s group.
With that in mind, here is the positional preview for this hypothetical world matchup. Get your tickets now.
*All stats and facts are provided by basketball-reference.com.
2008—Jason Kidd, Deron Williams and Chris Paul
2012—Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook
Who would win?
It would be easy to look at Chris Paul and Deron Williams being on both teams and assume the point guard matchup is solely determined by Russell Westbrook versus Jason Kidd. But it’s not that simple.
In the season before the 2008 Olympics, then-New Orleans Hornet Chris Paul averaged more points, more steals, more rebounds and a full 2.5 more assists per game than this year’s Los Angeles Clipper Paul.
As for Deron Williams, his statistics are virtually a wash. The two major categories with significant differences—points and assists—are split (more points this year, more assists in 2007-08).
As any sports fan will tell you, statistics never tell the whole story. But, based on these numbers and the fact that we are talking about younger and fresher versions of the same players, it’s hard to argue that 2008 doesn't have at least a slight advantage.
As for Kidd versus Westbrook, it becomes somewhat of a personal point guard preference. Do you prefer a point guard with a score-first mentality, a la Westbrook, or someone like Kidd who looks to set the table for everyone else?
For a team loaded with stars, Kidd is the choice. Neither Westbrook nor Kidd would be the primary scoring option for their respective Dream Teams, and few point guards in NBA history would be better equipped to run squads like these than Kidd.
Throw in the fact that Kidd nearly averaged a triple-double in 2007-08 (approximately 11 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds per game), and the advantage goes to 2008’s team.
2008—Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Michael Redd
2012—Kobe Bryant and James Harden
This is the position where the 2008 team has the clearest advantage. The 2012 version of Kobe is still great, but with four years less of grueling minutes on his not exactly spring-fresh legs, there is no doubt the 2008 version of Kobe was superior.
As for Wade, he was at the height of his basketball powers from 2005-10. That stretch, in which the 2008 Olympics fell right in the middle, saw him win a championship and average about 27 points a game.
In fact, in the final game against Spain, shooting guards Bryant (20 points, six assists) and Wade (27 points) were the primary reasons USA came home with gold around their necks.
Sure, Michael Redd doesn't exactly scream Dream Team at you, but Kobe, Wade and Redd in 2008 surely bests 2012’s Kobe and James Harden.
2008—LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Tayshaun Prince
2012—LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala
If shooting guard is where the 2008 team has the largest advantage, than small forward is 2012’s biggest win. In case you missed the NBA Finals, there is nobody on planet earth that is better at basketball right now than LeBron James.
And, I’m sorry to say Cavs fans, but that would include the 2008 version of the same man.
As for the other repeat small forward, statistically speaking, Carmelo Anthony circa 2008 was better than the 2012 New York Knick—but not by nearly enough to close the hefty gap between these two groups.
Kevin Durant is just beginning to rise to his eventual super-stardom. While Tayshaun Prince made a name for himself as a formidable defender—a trait that could certainly come in handy in a game featuring so many stars—he really doesn't hold a candle to Durant.
Throw in Iguodala for good measure (who edges out the nonexistent fourth small forward on 2008’s team), and the small forward advantage really isn't even up for debate.
2012 is on the board.
2008—Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh
2012—Kevin Love, Anthony Davis
While I think that Kevin Love is the best individual player out of these four, the total package of Boozer and Bosh gives 2008 the slightest of edges.
As a Bulls fan, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to remember a time when Carlos Boozer was a bona fide force. But back in 2007-08, the Utah Jazz forward averaged over 21 points and 10 rebounds a game, while shooting over 54 percent.
There was no "big three" in 2008, but Chris Bosh played the role of big one effectively in Toronto. He mixed his ability down low with a reliable mid-range jump shot and averaged over 22 points a game, without the benefit of a LeBron or Wade drawing the defense away from him.
As for the 2012 roster, it is a fairly safe bet that Anthony Davis will be a force one day. But give me the proven commodities almost every time. The combination of the second- and third-best power forwards available here edges out the package of the best option and the rookie.
Had this been Blake Griffin, the conversation may have been different, but 2008 gets the power forward tally by an unfortunate meniscus tear.
Sorry Kevin Love—it’s not your fault.
On paper, this is a sizable advantage for the 2008 squad. Howard is a physical specimen who outscores and out-rebounds Chandler by sizable margins.
Throw in the fact that Howard may be the best defensive player of this generation, and Chandler appears outmatched.
Now if the question was "who would I rather have on my NBA team?", Chandler has a fighting chance. He is a pro’s-pro who shows up every day and provides leadership and a respectable box score.
Best of all, he won’t handicap your franchise with two years of monotonous and ridiculous on-again, off-again trade demands.
But when debating who is better for a Dream Team scenario, it is Howard without a doubt. Howard wasn't the best player on the 2008 roster, so the fact that he is somewhat of a fourth-quarter liability with his free-throw shooting and lack of formidable offensive skills doesn't hamper the squad in the same way it has for the Magic.
So, at the end of the day the positional breakdown gives the 2008 roster a four-to-one victory. Granted, I realize that this is an imperfect way to predict a winner—after all, there aren't any rules that say the 2012 squad couldn't have small forwards Durant and LeBron on the floor at the same time.
But, it is interesting to keep in mind as the national media debates who would win in a showdown between this year’s team and the original Dream Team, that the 2012 group may not even be the best Olympic team in the last five years.
Don’t worry Kobe, you win either way in this matchup.