Team USA Basketball: How 2012 Starters Would Match Up with 1992 Dream Team

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIJuly 29, 2012

Team USA Basketball: How 2012 Starters Would Match Up with 1992 Dream Team

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    Olympic basketball changed forever with Team USA and the 1992 Dream Team.

    It was the first time the U.S. sent pros to compete in the Games, and the players didn't disappoint. They grabbed the gold in Barcelona, thrashing opponents by a whopping 43.8 points per game.

    Controversy has swirled around the current Team USA regarding their chances of beating the '92 team. Particularly, comments by Kobe Bryant and reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James have brought the issue up for debate.

    Comparing eras is difficult, but comparing these two teams in terms of position-by-position matchups is a bit more reasonable.

    Here is how Sunday's Team USA starting lineup against France stacks up against the Dream Team's all-Hall quintet. 

    These matchups account for the stage each player was at in their careers entering the 1992 and 2012 Olympics.

Point Guard

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    Matchup: Chris Paul vs. Magic Johnson

    Breakdown: Paul just finished his second season as a first-team defensive player. He would make up a lot of what he lacks in size against Magic with his ability to guard on the perimeter.

    Both players are magnificent with the ball in their hands, and can score at will when their team needs it.

    It's hard to count Paul's lack of postseason success against him considering his past supporting casts.

    However, he is entering his eighth year, and if he's the best point guard in the NBA; he should have more playoff experience and success on his resume.

    Magic, meanwhile, is a three-time NBA Finals MVP and has a stunning postseason record. Magic averaged 11.2 assists per game for his career, but 12.5 per game in the playoffs.

    Both of those stats are NBA records.

    At 6'9", Magic's height advantage would be too much for Paul to overcome despite his exceptional on-ball defense.

    Paul still has time to prove himself as an NBA champion, but at this point in his career, he hasn't shown enough to prove he could stack up against Magic..

    Russell Westbrook's athleticism would be the only hope the 2012 team would have at the point guard position to take on Magic.

    Even then, Westbrook is too inexperienced, and Magic would manage to pick him apart, too.

    Advantage: Dream Team

Shooting Guard

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    Matchup: Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan

    Breakdown: The world has never seen anything like MJ on a basketball court. Six-time NBA champion, including two three-peats.

    Jordan is heralded as the greatest player of all-time, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone arguing against Bryant as the No. 2 shooting guard in history.

    Kobe has five NBA titles to his credit, and both have the common factor of being coached by Phil Jackson in all of their championship runs.

    This would be the most exciting matchup between two relative equals in terms of career accomplishments, skill sets and competitive attitudes.

    To the point when this matchup would have occurred, Kobe would have had two more rings, but also a lot more mileage on his legs.

    As incredibly consistent as Kobe has been—he nearly won another scoring title this past season—Jordan is the greatest ever. Period.

    Advantage: Dream Team

Small Forward

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    Matchup: Kevin Durant vs. Larry Bird

    Breakdown: Although Kobe vs. MJ is the most intriguing, this small forward battle is the most debatable duel.

    Combine Durant's agility and athleticism with his wingspan of 7'5", and he would give Larry Legend some kind of monster to deal with even when he's playing offense.

    Context is also important when breaking down this matchup. Durant hasn't even hit his prime yet and is already a three-time NBA scoring champion with an NBA Finals appearance.

    In 1992, Bird was saddled with nagging back problems and was at the tail end of his career.

    The Dream Team was Bird's ride into the sunset, as he retired shortly after the team's record-shattering performance in Barcelona.

    CBSSports.com NBA blogger Royce Young points out how Durant is this USA team's biggest weapon in London. He also refers to Durant's frame in shoes, where he stands at a towering 6'11."

    Bird was a good defender, but neither he nor anyone on the '92 team would be able to bother Durant's shot while tending to all the other offensive talent on the 2012 roster.

    Durant is not only the team's biggest weapon as it pushes for a gold medal this summer; he would be the biggest asset against the Dream Team as well.

    This may stir controversy, and Bird would have undoubtedly benefited from the players around him, but Durant would have had this version of Bird for lunch.

    Advantage: Team USA 2012

Power Forward

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    Matchup: LeBron James vs. Charles Barkley

    Breakdown: Sir Charles would have a heck of a time talking trash to LeBron, but at least The King would have a ring to back himself up if this matchup were to occur today.

    It seemed like everything finally clicked for LeBron in this year's NBA Playoffs. When he decided to be more assertive and attack the rim more frequently, he was unstoppable.

    LeBron would probably have a little more to say than, "Hi, Chuck" if they met on the court in their primes.

    Oh, and the best player at getting to the rim in the history of basketball is far more comparable as a passer to the Dream Team point guard Magic Johnson than Barkley.

    Barkley's physical style would have served him well, and he is without question one of the best rebounders ever.

    LeBron's combination of strength, speed and agility, though, would have offset the only area Barkley was superior to him in. Offensively, Barkley would be smothered, too.

    Also, if Barkley were dragged out to the perimeter and forced to defend LeBron off the dribble, Chuck would be exhausted by the end of the game.

    As if LeBron, accused "punk move" maker, didn't have enough ammo to fire back at Barkley with.

    Advantage: Team USA 2012

Center

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    Matchup: Tyson Chandler vs. Patrick Ewing

    Breakdown: The current New York Knicks center would take on the franchise's best center of all-time. This head-to-head clash is the tip of the iceberg of the '92 team's biggest advantage.

    Ewing was an all-around great player, who put up 21 points, nearly 10 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game in his 17-year career.

    While Chandler is one of the most athletic and best defensive centers in the game today, he doesn't have near the offensive game that Ewing had.

    He may be able to hold his own on the defensive end, but Chandler wouldn't be able to neutralize the impact Ewing would have on the game with his own offense.

    The only thing working in Chandler's favor would be former New Orleans Hornet teammate Chris Paul at point guard.

    The two developed a renowned rapport, and Chandler was the beneficiary of easy dunks off of brilliant pick-and-roll lob plays.

    Paul and Chandler's built-in chemistry is a plus, but it wouldn't be enough against Ewing, who was a stout defender in his own right.

    Advantage: Dream Team

And the Winner Is...

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    The Dream Team has the upper hand in three of the five positional matchups.

    While current starting lineup would give the Dream Team a scare, the 2012 team would run into trouble matching up with the frontcourt.

    Either Anthony Davis or Kevin Love would have to slide over to the 4 to take on Charles Barkley or Karl Malone if LeBron James went out to cover Magic Johnson.

    Love would bring so much versatility on offense, but isn't a great defender. Davis hasn't even played in an NBA game yet.

    Oh, and David Robinson would substitute for Ewing at center. No one on the current, perimeter-oriented team would have an answer for him, either.

    Depth of the '92 bigs would be the tipping point if these two teams squared off, despite the close competition between the starters.

    The 2012 squad would rely on its superior athleticism and make the contest more of a shootout, but the lack of size on the roster would ultimately prove costly.

    This Team USA would either require an unprecedentedly motivated Andrew Bynum or some sort of minor miracle to win.

    Final score projection: Dream Team, 120, Team USA, 108