Olympic Men's Basketball: Comparing the Dream Team to the 2012 US Team

Aashish SharmaCorrespondent IAugust 9, 2012

Olympic Men's Basketball: Comparing the Dream Team to the 2012 US Team

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    Ever since Kobe Bryant made headlines with a bold statement that the 2012 US Men’s basketball team could beat the Dream Team—also known as the "Greatest Team Ever Assembled"—there has been some backlash from the latter party. Michael Jordan told the media that he laughed off Kobe's comments. Magic Johnson took to his Blackberry, tweeting:

    "The 1992 Dream Team had 11 HOFs, 23 champ rings & the greatest player of all time in Jordan. No chance this years team would take us." - @MagicJohnson

    However, Olympics teammate, LeBron James defended Kobe when he told reporters that he agreed with the Black Mamba's assessment. He explained that a competitor will never want to lose and will never admit that they can lose to another team, regardless of its greatness. 

    That raises the question: could the 2012 US Men's team beat the Dream Team? Well sure, anybody can get beaten once. Just ask the Dream Team when they lost to the college select team. The real question is whether or not the 2012 team—which includes Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and many others—be considered a better or at least comparable team to the 1992 US Men's basketball Team. Let's take a look and find out.

Point Guard

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    All player stats are from NBA season directly preceding the Olympic games

    1992 US Men’s Team:

    Magic Johnson* - 19.4 PPG, 12.5 APG, 7.0 RPG, .477 FG%

    John Stockton - 15.8 PPG, 13.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, .482 FG% 

    *Magic Johnson sat out the 1991-92 NBA Season. His stats are from 1990-91. 

    2012 US Men’s Team:

    Chris Paul - 19.8 PPG, 9.1 APG, 3.6 RPG, .478 FG%

    Deron Williams - 21.0 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.3 RPG, .407 FG%

    Russell Westbrook - 23.6 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.6 RPG, .457 FG%

    Magic Johnson became a member of the Dream Team less than a year after discovering he had contracted the HIV virus. After making the decision to immediately retire in November 1991, Johnson did not play professional basketball again until the summer of 1992 in Barcelona. Although Magic's much anticipated return to the game was a sight to see, his impact was minimal. Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the end of his incredible 13-year career.  

    Although John Stockton was selected to the Hall of Fame in 2009 he can still be considered somewhat underrated. For those who watched the NBA TV documentary "The Dream Team" you will remember the part where Stockton roamed the streets of Barcelona unrecognized. He even talked to an American basketball fan for about a minute before she realized he was a player. 

    Since 2005, Chris Paul has been the standard for NBA point guards. He is one of he leagues most complete players with his skills including scoring in the lane, shooting from the perimeter, facilitating the offense, and playing stellar defense. He has already drawn comparisons to the previous generation of great point guards including Magic Johnson and John Stockton.

    Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook are not far behind him. While not as good as Paul defensively, Williams holds his own in terms of scoring and ball distribution. Westbrook on the other hand, is known for his extreme athleticism and ability to make jaw-dropping dunks while lighting up the score-sheet. 

    Simply put, the three of them are not a force to be reckoned with.

    Advantage: 2012 Team

    Sure, this may seem a little crazy—Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Russell Westbrook over Magic Johnson and John Stockton? Blasphemy! However when taken into context the current squad boasts a younger, and as a result, more talented group of point guards. 

    Yes, Magic Johnson and John Stockton (on paper) made up arguably the greatest backcourt of all-time in 1992, but it is hard to ignore the depth and athleticism of the 2012 team at point guard.

    In other words, Magic made the team at a bad time in his career. He was a shell of himself and was far removed from the greatness that had defined him just a few years prior. Had he never contracted HIV and still been in his prime, there is absolutely no question the Dream Team would have had the advantage here.  

Shooting Guard

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    1992 US Men’s Team:

    Michael Jordan - 30.1 PPG, 6.1 APG, 6.4 RPG, .519 FG%

    Clyde Drexler - 25.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 6.6 RPG, .470 FG%

    2012 US Men’s Team:

    Kobe Bryant - 27.9 PPG, 4.6 APG, 5.4 RPG, .430 FG%

    James Harden - 16.8 PPG, 3.7 APG, 4.1 RPG, .491 FG%

    Andre Iguodala - 12.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 6.1 RPG, 4.54 FG%

    Kobe has established himself as one of the most elite shooting guards to ever play the game. Since entering the league in 1996 he has drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan for his abilities and even his mannerisms. The endless debate over which player had the better career (Jordan by far) is best saved for another article. Ultimately any team would benefit from having either Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant in their prime. It is important to note however, that Jordan was 29 years old when he played for the Dream Team—four years younger than Kobe is now.

    Then there's Clyde Drexler, another all-time great at his position. He had a monster year before joining the Dream Team, averaging 25 points per game while dishing out 6.7 assists and grabbing 6.6 boards. As good as James Harden and Andre Iguodala are on their respective teams, this really is not even close.    

    Advantage: 1992 Team

    No contest. The duo of MJ and Clyde Drexler is easily better than the combination of Kobe Bryant, James Harden and Andre Iguodala. Anyone who thinks otherwise is delusional.

Small Forward

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    1992 US Men’s Team:

    Larry Bird - 20.2 PPG, 6.8 APG, 9.6 RPG, .466 FG%

    Scottie Pippen - 21.0 PPG, 7.0 APG, 7.7 RPG, .506 FG%

    Chris Mullin - 25.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, 5.6 RPG, .524 FG%

    2012 US Men’s Team:

    LeBron James - 27.1 PPG, 6.2 APG, 7.9 RPG, .531 FG%

    Kevin Durant - 28.0 PPG, 3.5 APG, 8.0 RPG, .496 FG% 

    Carmelo Anthony - 22.6 PPG, 3.6 APG, 6.3 RPG, .430 FG%

    Larry Bird left basketball at the top of his game. For a player who averaged 24 points, 6.3 assists, and 10 rebounds for his career, it's amazing that he was able to average almost identical numbers in his last season. However, Bird's physical play took a toll on his body. Had it not been for the back problems he faced later in his career, he could have played another two to three years. 

    Arguably the greatest small forward in Chicago Bulls history, and the franchise's second best player overall, Scottie Pippen was a reliable force on the Dream Team. Along with Larry Bird and Chris Mullin, the 1992 team was stacked at the three-spot

    The 2012 team has an embarrassment of riches at at small forward. Their corps consists of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. The first thing that stands out is the higher scoring averages by the 2012 team. That's not surprising considering James and Durant have combined for four scoring titles.

    Although the 1992 US Men's Basketball team had a remarkable group of small forwards, it's hard to argue against a group that includes LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony all in their prime. 

    Advantage: 2012 Team

    LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world and Kevin Durant will soon be a close second. For that reason the 2012 team has a more elite group of small forwards than the Dream Team.

Power Forward

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    1992 US Men’s Team:

    Karl Malone - 28.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 11.2 RPG, .526 FG%

    Charles Barkley - 21.6 PPG, 3.8 APG, 10.4 RPG, .552 FG%

    Christian Laettner (NCAA) - 21.5 PPG, 2.0 APG, 7.9 RPG, .575 FG%  

    2012 US Men’s Team:

    Kevin Love - 26.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 13.3 RPG, .448 FG% 

    Anthony Davis (NCAA) - 14.2 PPG, 1.3 APG, 10.4 RPG, .623 FG%

    This doesn't even need an extended explanation. Neither Christian Laettner nor Anthony Davis had a full NBA season under their belts before joining Team USA. Enough said.

    The argument now becomes Karl Malone and Charles Barkley versus Kevin Love. As great a player Kevin Love has transformed himself into, he is still way to young to even be in the same conversation as the former two. He is on the path to becoming an all-time great (barring a slew of injuries or a spontaneous decline) but this is no debate.

    Karl Malone is the second-greatest scorer in NBA history, and Charles Barkley is an 11-time NBA All-Star known for his ability to dominate the glass. 

    Advantage: 1992 Team

    As stated earlier, this doesn't need an explanation.

Center

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    1992 US Men’s Team:

    Patrick Ewing - 24.0 PPG, 1.9 APG, 11.2 RPG, .522 FG%

    David Robinson - 23.2 PPG, 2.7 APG, 12.2 RPG, .551 FG%

    2012 US Men’s Team:

    Tyson Chandler - 11.3 PPG, 0.9 APG, 9.9 RPG, .679 FG%

    If there's one thing the 2012 US Men's Basketball team lacks, it's size. Tyson Chandler is the lone center on Team USA, on a team that has just three big-men. It doesn't help that he's being compared to Patrick Ewing and David Robinson, who were both in their prime.

    Like the comparison of power forwards, this is also not even close. Two of the greatest centers the game has ever seen, Patrick Ewing and the Admiral, have combined for nearly 45,000 points, roughly 21,000 rebounds, more than 5,000 blocks and 21 All-Star selections. 

    Advantage: 1992 Team

    While Chandler shot nearly 68 percent from the field during the 2011-12 NBA season (which is an incredible feat), the names Ewing and Robinson are too legendary. 

Head Coach

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    1992 US Men’s Team:

    Chuck Daly - Ranked by NBA Enclyclopedia as one of the top ten head coaches in NBA history, Daly had a marvelous career. Although he had brief stints with the Philadelphia 76ers (assistant) and Cleveland Cavaliers, his legacy is defined by his time as the head coach of the "Bad Boy" Pistons (1983-1992). The Detroit Pistons reached the postseason nine consecutive seasons under Daly, winning back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. Chuck Daly was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994. 

    2012 US Men’s Team:

    Mike Krzyzewski - Coach K served under Daly as an assistant on the Dream Team. Since then he has gone on to create his own legacy as one of the greatest men's basketball coaches in NCAA history. Krzyzewski became the head coach at Duke in 1980, winning four NCAA Tournament championships, as well as a laundry-list of other remarkable feats. A five-time ACC Coach of the Year, Coach K was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. 

    Advantage 2012 US Men's Team:

    As beloved as Chuck Daly was, the advantage has to go to Mike Krzyzewski. He has been coaching college basketball for over 30 years and has the hardware to show for it. Coach K is an astounding 927–289 (.762) in his career (854 wins with Duke). Already in the pantheon of all-time great coaches, he could one day be considered the greatest ever.  

Margins of Victory

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    1992 US Men’s Team:

    Largest margin of victory: 68 points 

    Smallest margin of victory: 32 

    Average margin of victory: 43.75 

    Median margin of victory: 43 

    2012 US Men’s Team (as of quarterfinals vs. Australia):

    Largest margin of victory: 83 points*

    Smallest margin of victory: 5

    Average margin of victory: 37.33

    Median margin of victory: 33

    *Largest margin of victory in USA Basketball history

    A simple eyeball test will reveal the Dream Team was far more consistent in terms of their margins of victory.

    Although the current US team bests the 1992 team for the largest margin of victory by coasting to a mind-boggling 156-73 win over Nigeria, they fall short in every other category.

    During the 1992 games in Barcelona, Team USA blew out every team it faced with its closest game being decided by a whopping 32 points. Despite sitting at 5-0, the 2012 squad barely squeaked by Lithuania on August 4, en route to a 99-94 win. 

    The average margin of victory between the 1992 and 2012 teams does not vary significantly with roughly five points of differentiation. However (2012) Team USA's 83-point thrashing of Nigeria last week skewed their average slightly, which is why median margin of victory was also calculated.

    The median margin of victory is a lot more indicative of the Dream Team's success, demonstrating the frequency of games that were won by approximately 40 or more points.  

    Advantage: 1992 Team

    Although the 2012 team's median margin of victory is a very respectable 33 points, it does not quite stack up to the Dream Team's 43.   

Hall of Famers

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    1992 US Men’s Team Hall of Famers (11):

    Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin

    Twelve players represented the United States men's team during the 1992 games in Barcelona—eleven went on to become Hall of Famers. And yes, you guessed it, Christian Laettner was the odd man out. Very few teams in the history of sports can boast virtually an entire roster of Hall of Fame players. After all, there is a reason the 1992 team is often referred to as the greatest sports team ever assembled.

    2012 US Men’s Team Future Hall of Famers (6):

    Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Deron Williams

    It is so difficult to speculate who among the twelve members of the current US Team will go on to become immortalized in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. There are the two obvious candidates—which we will get to in a moment—but for the most part this prediction so-to-speak, is based mainly on speculation and analysis. 

    Only Kobe and LeBron (if their careers ended today) can be considered true "locks" for the Hall of Fame. They are heralded as the greatest basketball players of this century. And when it is all said and done, they will be considered two of the five greatest players of all time. 

    Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul are certainly on their way to enshrinement, but they all need to sustain their current level of play for another 4-5 years before any of them can be considered absolute locks.

    28-year-old Anthony (17,273 career points) and 23-year-old Durant (11,185 career points) are considered two of the best pure scorers in the NBA. Barring significant injuries each of them can be expected to eclipse the 25,000-point (or even the 30,000) mark by the the end of their careers.

    Chris Paul, on the other hand, has already established himself as an elite NBA point guard. Since entering the league in 2005 he has been selected to the All-Star team five times. Although Paul had a brief string of knee injuries during his time in New Orleans, he has been relatively durable. At age 27 he has amassed nearly 5,000 assists, averaging 9.8 for his career.

    Similarly, Deron Williams has made a significant impact during his seven years in the NBA. He has totaled roughly 4,700 assists in his career with the Utah Jazz and New Jersey Nets and is also known for his ability to score, averaging just over 17 points per game.

    Advantage: 1992 Team

    The logic to this one is simple; eleven Hall of Famers to six potential Hall of Famers. 

So Who's Better?

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    According to an article on Complex Sports, Accuscore—a sports simulation software—ran 10,000 simulated games between the 1992 team and the 2012 team. As many suspected the Dream Team was favored to win but not by much. The simulations revealed that the 1992 US Men's Basketball team won just 53 percent of the 10,000 games, and by an average margin of just one point. So was Kobe right? Well, let's recap our evaluation of both teams. 

    Point-check: 

    Point Guard - 2012

    Shooting Guard - 1992

    Small Forward - 2012

    Power Forward - 1992

    Center - 1992

    Head Coach - 2012

    Margins of Victory - 1992

    Hall of Famers - 1992

    Dream Team Total: 5 

    2012 Team Total: 3

    The Dream Team won three of the five position battles, with a better overall corps of shooting guards, power forwards and centers while the 2012 version features better point guards and small forwards. The 2012 team also gets the victory in the "Head Coach" category with Mike Krzyzewski beating out Chuck Daly for the honor. However the Dream team pulls away by trumping the 2012 team in margins of victory and the number of Hall of Famers. 

    The fact of the matter is the 2012 Olympic US Men's Basketball team is loaded with talent. However on paper, it doesn't even seem to be as good as the 2008 team that took home the gold in Beijing.

    Kobe Bryant is four years older than he was during the 2008 games, and his current squad is without several key contributors such as Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard, and Chris Bosh. Kobe's bold statement before the games may have carried a little more weight had these three players suited up for Team USA.

    Taking everything into account, from players to coaches, to margins of victories and Hall of Famers, finally emerges the moment of truth (drum roll please). Yes, as most expected, the Dream Team is the more elite group of basketball players. Not to take anything away from the current squad, but they just lack the depth (and size for that matter) that was present in 1992.

    Hopefully Team USA goes on to beat Argentina on Friday, August 10, to advance to the Gold Medal Game. And if they do bring home the gold once again, they can pride themselves on being among the greatest US Men's Basketball teams.

    After all a team that boasts names like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul to name a few should have something to be proud of. But the title of "Greatest Team Ever Assembled" is reserved for one team and one team only: the 1992 Dream Team.