Dwight Howard's Lakers and the Best Teams (on Paper) in NBA History
Did you ever wonder where this team, now featuring six current or former All-Stars, stands against some of the other most loaded rosters in NBA history? I did.
So I did some research, dug out some stats and ranked the 10 greatest teams, on paper, in the history of the league.
10. 1983 Philadelphia 76ers
Hall of Famers: Moses Malone, Julius Erving
Key Contributors: Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones
This team featured one of the 15 greatest players of all time at the height of his powers as well one of the game's most influential players pretty damn near the top of his game.
This 76ers squad rode the power of one of Malone's most dominant seasons, as his 23.5 points and 15 boards per game led to a near-perfect playoff run. They dropped one game in the Eastern Conference playoffs before sweeping Magic and Kareem's Los Angeles Lakers in the famous "Fo', Fo', Fo'" series.
The rest of the roster does not jump out at you on paper, but did more than enough on the court. To go with Dr. J's 21 and seven, Andrew Toney had just under 20 points per game. Maurice Cheeks paced the team with heady guard play and playmaking defense (more than two steals per game).
Efficiency was the name of the game for this team, as the Sixers' entire starting five shot better than 50 percent from the floor.
9. 1971 Milwaukee Bucks
Hall of Famers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson
Key Contributors: Bobby Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin, Greg Smith, Bob Boozer
This Milwaukee Bucks team makes the cut simply based on the firepower of their two superstars; unless you are an avid NBA fan, you probably have not heard of the four other guys.
However, when your two best players are two of the 10 greatest of all time, you make my cut. From everything I have seen and read, Oscar Robertson was Jordan before Jordan. An intense competitor, Robertson would make some teammates better with his fire, while others wilted under his glare. He also happened to always be the best player on the court—at least until he was paired with Abdul-Jabbar.
As for Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, he is, for my money, the second-greatest player of all time. He was so good that I believe there should be more debate as to who was the greatest of all time between Jordan and him. Really study their respective resumes some time—it's closer than you think.
Sorry for the side note. Back to this team.
Abdul-Jabbar averaged 32 points, 16 boards and three assists (they did not record blocks at the time) in the most dominant season since the days when Wilt Chamberlain was the only player taller than 6'9" in the league. Robertson put up 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds. The underrated Dandridge averaged 18 and four, and McGlocklin and Smith rounded out a starting five that all averaged more than 11 points per game.
Two of the best ever to lace them up and five players scoring in double digits? Yep, this team's got a spot on my best-ever-on-paper teams list.
8. 2004 Los Angeles Lakers
Key Contributors: Derek Fisher, Devean George, Rick Fox
Kobe and Shaq were still in their respective primes. They picked up two Hall of Famers and still had most of the same role players who helped them win three championships in a row.
A fourth Larry O'Brien Trophy was a done deal, right? Wrong.
This team is the definition of a paper champion. With Shaq, Kobe, Malone and Payton—four of the best to ever do it at their respective positions—this Lakers team was supposed to blow the opposition away.
Instead, it never really clicked.
Kobe and Shaq were at their bickering worst. Payton was not yet ready to believe his job was that of an impact role player. Malone, the consummate pro who could have held this combustible unit together, got injured during the playoff run. The rest of the role players (Fisher, George, Rick Fox and Horace Grant) were fed up after years of Kobe and Shaq in-fighting over alpha-dog status.
After an underperforming 56-win season, the team had enough sheer talent to make it to the NBA Finals, where they faced the underdog Detroit Pistons. Without a surefire Hall of Famer on the roster, the Pistons exhibited the value of team play and defeated the Lakers easily in five games.
This Lakers team is the poster child for general managers who think randomly throwing stars together guarantees an NBA championship.
7. 2008 Boston Celtics
Hall of Famers: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce
Key Contributors: Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, James Posey
The Boston Celtics' Big Three were all very near their prime. They also were close enough to the end that ego and alpha-dog battles would not come into play.
These guys were all ringless and well into their 30s, so there was no time for that nonsense. Danny Ainge did a spectacular job not only flipping a lottery team into a contender, but also filling the rest of the roster with serviceable veterans who could fill a role.
James Posey was a gritty defender with a penchant for hitting big threes. Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown hopped aboard late and played vital playoff minutes. Eddie House was always good for a three off the bench. And Tony Allen was and still remains one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the NBA.
The two homegrown incumbents, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, came into their own during the season. Rondo has grown into a wizard with the ball in his hands, is a playmaker on defense and easily could be the fourth Hall of Famer from this squad. Perkins is a human tree trunk and is one of the best post defenders in the league.
But it all came down to how the Big Three would play together and, most importantly, how they would perform in deeper rounds of the playoffs than any of them had seen. They squeaked by two hard-fought seven-game series before rounding into form with two six-game series wins in the conference finals and NBA Finals.
This is one of my favorite teams that wasn't one of "my" teams. It's a shame the stars didn't align for another ring, as KG's and Perkins' blown ACLs robbed them of their best chances.
But for this season, it all went right and got some grizzled vets their elusive first rings.
6. 1996 Chicago Bulls
Hall of Famers: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman
Key Contributors: Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper
Obviously the headliners here are Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. We could go on and on about the accomplishments and accolades of Jordan, but together the duo formed the most dominant perimeter defense in league history.
Most teams are lucky to have one player who can shut down the other team's best scorer, the '96 Bulls could shut down two. What often gets overlooked here, though, is the supporting cast. Built completely in the fashion of Red Auerbach and Bill Russell's Boston Celtics, every player filled a role.
Dennis Rodman was the NBA's greatest rebounder since Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. He was such a great defender that he drove Karl Malone, otherwise a class act in the NBA, to near-fist fights on the court.
Steve Kerr was one of the great three-point shooters in the history of the NBA. And as if there was not enough firepower on this roster, Harper (four times a 20-plus points per game scorer) swallowed his pride to come play a role as 20 to 25 minute-a-night guy.
Kukoc was a mutli-faceted sixth man off the bench and money from deep. Luc Longley, well, he was great at what he did: stand at 7'2", clog up space and get in the way on the rare occasion that a player made it past Pippen or Jordan on the perimeter.
Outside of Jordan and Pippen, not the sexiest on-paper roster, but this was one that could take anyone on any day on-court.
5. 2013 Miami Heat
Key Contributors: Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's performances against the Indiana Pacers these past playoffs are the best I have ever seen from two teammates. I will forever look at that series as the turning point for the duo and, more specifically, James' career.
With Chris Bosh out, the Miami Heat had laid two stinkers and were staring a second-round exit in the face. Then James busted out a Wilt Chamberlain-esque performance of 40 points, 18 boards and nine assists, while Wade chipped in 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
"WaBron" found each other so seamlessly, it was like a glorified practice against the second team. For the rest of the playoffs, whenever the Heat's backs were against the wall, they were able to channel their inner Game 4 for the momentum-swinging (and often game-sealing) play or two. I don't expect the duo to ever look back.
And now they add Ray Allen, the game's greatest three-point shooter? Not fair.
The only concern with this team is how they will handle Dwight Howard in the NBA Finals. Yes, I'm already marking down the Heat and Lakers as the Finals combatants—and you should, too.
4. 1972 Los Angles Lakers
Hall of Famers: Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich
Key Contributors: Jim McMillian, Happy Hairston,
Many players would argue this team featured three of the greatest 15 players of all time.
Count me as one of them.
Sure all three were past their prime, but the name recognition was enough to scare most teams. Besides, West and Chamberlain were about as past their primes as Kobe Bryant was last season.
And guess who was the leading scorer of that team? The underrated Gail Goodrich, the original (and better) version of Manu Ginobili. This team featured two big men averaging high double-doubles, with Chamberlain rounding out a 15-point, 19-board season to go with Happy Hairston's 13 and 13.
With two Hall of Fame guards, a Hall of Fame forward, a Hall of Fame center and a power forward (Hairston) who averaged close to 15 and 10 for his career, you would be hard-pressed to find a more balanced roster.
Just for good measure, coming off the bench in a significant role was future Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley.
3. 2013 Los Angeles Lakers
Hall of Famers: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard
Key Contributors: Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison
If Michael Jordan is the perfect 10 model of a shooting guard, Kobe Bryant is a 9.5. Bryant may be slightly past his prime, but is easily a top-three player in the NBA.
Nash is 38 years old and allegedly can't guard Bieber, but he's still the best three-point shooting point guard in the history of the NBA. He also is still one of the game's elite passers, as he was second in the league with 10.7 assists per game last year on a subpar Suns roster.
The complementary strengths and weaknesses of Howard, Bryant, Nash and possible Hall of Famer Gasol could make this team as good on the court as it is on paper.
There is no better eraser of defensive mistakes in the NBA than Howard. That is why the addition of Nash will not kill this team against a Russell Westbrook or a Chris Paul. Offensively, the two-time NBA MVP takes both the scoring pressure as well as ball-handling duties off Kobe.
This is a double positive, as Bryant can be his own worst enemy when the pressure of the offense falls solely on his shoulders. With Nash running the show, the ball will find its way into Howard's hands a lot more often than with Kobe making all the decisions. This will lead to more efficient offensive basketball, plus less wear and tear on Kobe's body.
The knock on Gasol has always been that he is soft. Now he is paired with a defensive force that is anything but. Besides, you could not ask for a better offensive pairing in the frontcourt to go with Howard than a seven-footer with the finesse of Gasol's.
Just for good measure, with all these scorers on the floor, Howard (who has never been a natural with the ball in his hands) is not forced into being the primary option he never truly was and can get the majority of his points off dunks, lobs and put-backs. With the decreased offensive responsibility, look for Howard's already gaudy rebound and block averages to increase.
As if the Hall of Famers weren't enough, the Lakers have two former All-Stars forming an offensive/defensive plateau at small forward. How good is this team that this is where the potential weaknesses lies?
Artest is still as combustible as ever, and I am worried about Jamison's status as a sixth man on a contender. He has been an inefficient lead scorer for terrible teams for the majority of his career and was a bust of an impact trade asset with LeBron James' Cavs team.
Still, if you are worried about the fit of your fifth and sixth players (again, both former All-Stars) then you have a pretty loaded squad.
2. 1987 Los Angeles Lakers
Hall of Famers: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy
Key Contributors: Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Michael Cooper
It is easy to just look at Magic and Kareem, two of the five greatest players of all time, but this team had it all.
Magic had his best season, with silly per-game averages of 24 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. Kareem was nearing the end, but was still probably the best center in the game, while Worthy had one of his better years.
This team featured seven players averaging double figures. With Magic running the show, this might have been the most efficient offensive roster in the history of the NBA. Five of their top eight rotation players shot better than 50 percent from the field and the team averaged 118 points per game.
This team's production matched its on-paper prowess; the '87 Lakers went on to win 65 games and only dropped three in their playoff run.
1. 1986 Boston Celtics
Hall of Famers: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton
Key Contributors: Danny Ainge
The original Big Three of Bird, McHale and Parish anchored a team some would call the greatest of all time, on-paper or on-court.
With five Hall of Famers, it's hard to argue otherwise.
Paced by Larry Bird's 26 points per game, this team featured five players averaging double figures. Their sixth man was Bill Walton, arguably the most skilled big man in the history of the game. In his prime, Walton won the Portland Trail Blazers an NBA title in 1977. After injuries ravaged his career, Walton reinvented himself as a 20 minutes-per-game monster off the bench.
Between Bird, McHale, Parish and Walton, the bigs averaged 70 points, 35 rebounds, 14 assists and six blocks per game. This has to be the best and most versatile frontcourt in the history of the game. Bird did a lot of point-forward work, but the team also featured Dennis Johnson (16 points, six assists) and Danny Ainge (11 and five) pacing the backcourt.
This squad had three-point shooting in Bird, Ainge and Scott Wedman. It had some of the most skilled seven-footers the game had/has ever seen. With Bird and Johnson providing the clutch factor, this truly may have been a roster with no weaknesses.
The '86 Celtics are without a doubt the greatest roster the game has ever seen on paper.
Thanks for reading. You can follow Alexander Diegel on Twitter.
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