Constructing the All-Time NBA Team
This hypothetical scenario is nothing new or an original thought of mine. If you need a frame of reference, picture the movie "Space Jam". Imagine a group of incredibly skilled and athletic aliens came down from space threatening earth. The only way to save the human race; a seven-game series of basketball. NBA length and rules. Games called by NBA refs.
A little childish? Maybe. But it sets up an interesting debate. Who would we put on that team? It's a much different and more difficult question than simply the best 12-15 players of all time. You have to consider personalities, team play, and different specialties of players. Once again, this is not a list of the best 12 players of all time.
Here's how we'll set it up. Just like an NBA roster, there will be 15 players—12 active and 3 reserves—who could be activated in case someone in the top 12 got hurt. The team will be broken down by a starting five and then a sixth man through 12th man. Consider that the way most teams are built there is a sixth man and then the remainder of the bench consists of role players, there's really no such thing as a "ninth man". For the sake of this slideshow I will name bench players seventh man, eighth man, etc. simply to project what I feel their minutes should look like.
If you asked 50 people to design this team you'd probably get 50 different teams. Here's my take. Be sure to click on some of the links for highlights.
Note: When taking a player I will take them at what I consider to be their 3-year peak. That's where the stats will come from in case they seem a little off to you.
Notable Guys Who Didn't Make the Team
Here's a few guys generally mentioned in the best ever talks who I didn't put on my team for various reasons.
Wilt Chamberlain: Wilt was so good because he was so physically dominant compared to the guys playing at the same time as him. In the modern game—which for the sake of this article I'm assuming—Wilt would still be great but he would by no means be averaging 50 points a game or anything close to that. He's ineffective beyond six feet from the hoop and his consistent lack of effort and huge ego—ask Bill Russell—would scare me. He might be the best center ever, he just doesn't make sense on this team.
Kareem Abdul-Jabar: This was the toughest cut for me. Kareem was an incredible all-around player who enjoyed a lengthy career. But Kareem didn't forcefully impose his will the way some of the big guys I put on the team did. Kareem was skilled and a physical specimen, but at the end of the day he could be stopped and bullied by the right guy. I think I found those guys.
Karl Malone: This one came down to numbers. Malone was always a great scorer and rebounder but he didn't do those things better than the bigs who made it ahead of him. And Stockton isn't on the team either, so that alone hurts Mailman's value here.
Charles Barkley: This choice is turrible! Chuck proved he could dominate on a team of stars in the 1992 Olympics. But his defensive struggles are enough to keep him off this team, and his space-eating style of play in the post wouldn't work with the other bigs I chose.
Chris Paul: An incredible all-around point guard who will surely be considered one of the top 5 PGs by the time he's done. Like Malone, the numbers just got him. There are better players at his spot this team could use.
Scottie Pippen: Nine out of 10 people would probably put Scottie on a team like this, and you can certainly make a case. He's an extremely versatile defensive player. But once you see the defensive stoppers on the perimeter of this team, you'll wonder where Pippen's minutes would be. There wouldn't be much need for his defense, and his offense definitely doesn't stack up to the others.
Here's the three guys who would be in street clothes unless someone got hurt.
Kobe Bryant: I may be damning myself when I say this, but there's no way Kobe is a top-10 player ever and he wouldn't belong on a team like this. He's a great perimeter scorer and defender but not to the level of the guys ahead of him. It would actually not be out of question to think throwing Kobe into a role player's shoes would actually hurt this team. Still, if one of those elite perimeter guys got hurt, Kobe would be the first one to call to pick up the all-around slack.
Kevin Garnett: Garnett's ability to completely dominate the game on both of ends of the court could prove valuable if one of our main bigs went down. Not only is he a great shot-blocker and help defender, but his communication on that end of the court would make every guy better. He's also got and incredible jumper from anywhere inside the three-point arc and passes the ball as well as any 6'11" guy ever. It was really hard to keep The Big Ticket out of the top 12.
Isaiah Thomas: Thomas' dynamic scoring and playmaking ability, added to his mean streak and toughness, would make this team better just by sitting on the bench. He'd almost play the role of an enforcer in hockey. And no matter what anyone will tell you, every team needs a guy who will go to war for it. It's not like Thomas is a slouch as a PG either.
12th Man- Elgin Baylor
3 Year Peak: ('60-'63) 35.3 ppg, 17.3 rpg, 4.9 apg
What He'd Add Off Bench: Athleticism, Perimeter Rebounding, One-on-One Mid-Range Scoring
Obviously the era in which Baylor played contributed significantly to his gaudy statistics, but that doesn't take anything away from his accomplishments or place on this team. After Russell and Wilt—and frankly, you could argue before Wilt—he was the best player of his time. He was way ahead of his time. A freakish perimeter and post athlete in a league dominated by slow, white, skilled big men.
Baylor could truly do it all. Everyone is so quick to compare LeBron James to MJ but in reality his on-court play falls somewhere between Baylor and Magic Johnson. Elgin wouldn't play a ton of minutes on this team but he would be one of those energy guys good for a couple of truly spectacular plays every game. His off-balance jumpers helped open up coaches' minds to letting their perimeter guys take shots that weren't completely wide open.
Baylor is one of the most forgotten about NBA stars of all time, but don't think his placement on this team is because I feel bad. I'd seriously take this guy on my active 12-man roster.
In case his stats alone don't amaze you: Baylor, a member of the Army Reserves, was called upon for active duty during the 1961-1962 season. He was stationed in Washington and a member of the Minneapolis Lakers. Baylor was only allowed to go play on the weekends and didn't even practice during the week. All he did that year was average 38 points per game, finish third in the MVP voting, and set a still-standing Finals points record with 61.
11th Man- Jerry West
3 Year Peak: ('69-'72) 28.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 8.9 apg
What He'd Add Off Bench: Perimeter Shooting, Passing
Another Laker legend, I'd take the later version of Mr. Clutch because despite slightly lower scoring numbers—and I mean real slightly—he was a much better playmaker and that would serve this team perfectly as a combo guard off the bench. He could function as a backup point guard and a perimeter shooting specialist.
One thing to consider when looking at West is he played without a three-point line, but still a ton of his shots came from well beyond where the arc is. He would have averaged a least 8 more points a game if there was a three-point line.
West was also a really underrated athlete who could get up higher than any other 6'2" white guy ever. Teaming with Elgin Baylor, Jerry's ball-handling, shooting, and basketball IQ on the perimeter formed one of the most dangerous combos the NBA has ever seen.
With only one championship and no MVP award, West never really got the historical accolades he deserved. Simply put, he is one of the best players of all time and well-deserving of being on this team as a backup guard. Mr. Logo has a special place in NBA history.
10th Man- Kevin Durant
3 Year Peak: ('09-'12) 28.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.0 apg
What He'd Add Off Bench: Perimeter Shooting, Post Scoring, Defensive Length
Kevin Durant has developed into a great all-around player the last few years. He's never going to be Scottie Pippen, but he has learned how to use his length on defense, and that has forced his opponents into a lot of turnovers. He's also rebounding and setting up others better than ever. But let's not kid ourselves, it's Durant's scoring that gets him on this team and would hypothetically get him decent minutes.
What can't Durant do on offense? He's one of the deadliest deep shooters the league has ever seen. He's even more deadly when you consider he's nearly impossible to block on the perimeter due to his 6'9" height and 7' 4" wingspan. He's a very good athlete that causes issues when attacking the hoop, and his post game is improving every day. Even if Durant lost all his athleticism, he could still average 20+ a game by simply posting up and shooting jumpers.
Durant's dominant scoring run has actually been a little overlooked historically. He's one of the most dynamic scorers the league has ever seen, and barring major injury there should be nothing stopping him from joining Kobe, MJ and one day LeBron in the prestigious 30,000 point club.
Every team needs that guy who can come in and win you a game with his scoring off the bench. It's safe to say Durant would have no problem filling that role for this team.
9th Man- Bill Russell
3 Year Peak: ('57-'60) 17.2 ppg, 23.3 rpg, 3.3 apg
What He'd Add Off Bench: Defense, Rebounding, More Defense, More Rebounding
What can I say that hasn't be said about the ultimate NBA champion? He's simply the greatest post defender, rebounder and winner the league has ever seen. Who cares if he didn't score a ton? He scored efficiently and didn't shoot a lot because his teams didn't need him to. Much like this team wouldn't need him to.
Russell could be a valuable asset to this team without taking a single shot. And that woudn't even be the case because he ran the floor better than any big guy ever and something tells me this team would be on the break a lot.
They didn't even track blocks during Russell's time but if you think Dwight Howard protects the rim please do yourself a favor and watch some Bill Russell highlights. Not only did he block everything, but as Bill Simmons so eloquently said, he aimed his blocks to teammates to start fast breaks as opposed to swatting them into the fourth row, pounding his chest, and staring into the camera. Every big man could learn from Russell.
A great passer and the ultimate team player, Russell belongs on this team no matter how you draw it up. I almost threw him in the starting lineup, but at just 6'9" he may be a bit short to start at center for a team with so many dominant options at the position.
If you disagree and can't think of a reason for Bill to be on this team, well, I can think of 11 of them. They don't name the Finals MVP trophy after a guy for nothing.
8th Man- Oscar Robertson
3 Year Peak: ('61-'64) 30.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 10.6 apg
What He'd Add Off Bench: Literally Everything
The ultimate combo guard, Robertson makes it over the three reserves for the following reasons: He could give you the playmaking production of Isaiah Thomas, the scoring ability of Kobe Bryant, and the rebounding numbers of Kevin Garnett. He could give you the production of those three legends all while taking up just one roster spot.
We all know by now that The Big O is the only player in NBA history to average a triple double for an entire season. That doesn't begin to tell the whole story of why he should be on this team though. He was a big and strong point guard who used his physical prowess to make plays at a position that was long thought of as just guys who dribble around and set up plays. In many ways he's the mold for all these big, athletic scoring point guards we see today—guys like Rose, Westbrook, Wall, etc.
Robertson's ability to stuff the stat sheet would make it hard for whoever is coaching this team to keep him off the court, even with some all-time greats yet to be named on the roster.
7th Man- Hakeem Olajuwon
3 Year Peak: ('92-'95) 27.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.8 bpg
What He'd Add Off Bench: All-Around Post Play (scoring, rebounds, blocks)
The most polished post player of all time, Hakeem the Dream would surely find minutes on this team. He'd be the perfect fit for the top post guy off the bench because his precise and balanced footwork would allow him to play both the 4 and the 5.
Was he the best scoring big man ever? No. Was he the best rebounder? A definite no. Was he the best defender? He was not. But he was arguably top five in all of those categories. You have to be pretty darn good to get picked ahead of Jordan, Barkley and Stockton in the 1984 draft and not be considered a disappointment.
Hakeem was also a pretty good free-throw shooter, which would allow him to play late in games instead of the starting center on this team.
6th Man- Larry Bird
3 Year Peak: ('84-'87) 27.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 7.0 apg, 51% FG, 42% 3PT, 90% FT
What He'd Add Off Bench: Mismatches, Perimeter Shooting, Rebounding, Playmaking
Just look at those numbers and consider the fact that at 6'9", Bird could play both forward spots at a high level. Now tell me he is not the ideal sixth man for a team like this.
The Hick from French Lick was the most purely skilled basketball player of all time. He got more out of his limited athletic ability than anyone. He was an absolutely incredible shooter whether it was from the line, beyond the arc, or some crazy off-balance one-handed shot around the hoop. He's the best passing forward ever, not to mention his nearly double-digit rebound average. The only players who ever had/have a chance at pulling a "Big O" and averaging a tripe-double are Bird, Magic and LeBron.
Larry often gets flack for his defense, and while his athleticism somewhat limits him on that end of the court he was tenacious and not afraid to scrap—look at clips of him fighting the entire 76ers team.
Also, Larry Legend is truly a basketball legend. He's the only guy to win MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year.
Starting PG- Magic Johnson
3 Year Peak: ('81-'84) 17.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 10.9 apg, 2.4 spg
Magic is a walking mismatch at the point guard spot. While he's one of the best pure assist-men of all time, he gets the starting nod here for so much more than that. It's about the way he got those assists. Using his size, athleticism and ball skills to drive to the hoop, he often brought three defenders onto him, which opened up a slew of scoring opportunities for his teammates. Magic didn't have to find the open man, he had to choose which of the multiple men he got open to pass to.
The defensive struggles that tend to be brought up with him wouldn't matter here. With his size he could guard 1-4 and the other two starting perimeter guys on this team are so good defensively they could just throw Magic on the least-intimidating perimeter player.
Magic played with other stars throughout his career and showed on multiple occasions he had no problem taking a backseat. Then again, if he needed to hog it and go for 30 he could with ease and efficiency.
Johnson would give this team a leader and game-changer at the point guard position.
Starting SG- Michael Jordan
3 Year Peak: ('87-'90) 33.7 ppg, 6. 8 rpg, 6.8 apg, 2.9 spg
Not much explanation needed here. The greatest basketball player the world has ever seen is an obvious choice for a starter's spot. What would be so scary about Jordan here is that with all the surrounding talent, all Jordan would really have to worry about is scoring and defending, ultimately his two greatest strengths.
Sure, early in his career MJ showed off his fair share of selfishness, but his transformation into the ultimate team player and winner is one of the great athletic progressions ever seen. But there's a reason I would have chosen a fairly young Jordan for this team. We would want all of his athleticism? Who cares if he really didn't pass too much—and it's not like 6.8 assists per game is bad? With Magic, Robertson, Bird, West and the next guy coming up there really wouldn't be much need for Jordan to create for others.
Oh yeah, he'd also be the dude I'd want taking the last shot.
Starting SF- LeBron James
3 Year Peak: ('09-'12) 26.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 6.0 apg, 1.6 spg
Arguably the best athlete in the history of the sport belongs in the starting lineup no matter who the other four are or what style the team appears to play. After MJ, this is the easiest selection. With guys like Jordan, Bird, Durant, Robertson and all of the big men taking shots, LeBron could exert his energy and focus on defense and playmaking. He could be the MVP of this team averaging only 15 a game or so.
That's one of the reasons LeBron has developed into the best defensive player in basketball since joining the Miami Heat. Wade and Bosh help ease the load on offense so King James doesn't have to physically wear himself out attacking the hoop as hard as he can every possession like he did in Cleveland.
All doubts about James' winning ability have been thrown out the window, as he just had perhaps the most dominant all-around season that any NBA player has ever had. Need proof? Watch Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Celtics.
LeBron's offensive efficiency is off the charts. He plays within the game plan and rarely makes an ill-advised pass or shot. Michael Jordan might be the best basketball player of all time, but if there was a hypothetical fantasy draft and every NBA player ever was eligible, I have a feeling a lot of GMs would choose James with the first pick.
Starting PF- Tim Duncan
3 Year Peak: ('01-'04) 23.8 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.7 bpg
Sorry Mailman. Sorry Chuck. Sorry KG. Sorry Dirk. As great as those guys all were they aren't at the level of Tim Duncan, the best power forward the game has ever seen and another fairly easy choice to start on this team.
Duncan's greatness relies on plays that don't get on the "SportsCenter" Top 10. Footwork only matched by Hakeem. Smart, positional rebounding only matched by Russell and Dennis Rodman. Help defense and rotation only matched by Russell. Tim Duncan has everything you could ask for out of a big man, and during his prime he still had some pretty athletic plays to boot.
With David Robinson on the downside of his career the Spurs made a controversial move by completely tanking to draft Duncan, who was considered a post prospect along the lines of Hakeem and Shaq.
Guess what? It worked.
The Spurs won that lottery, and four championships later they look like the best organization in professional sports. Sure, Gregg Popovich is a great coach and the Spurs have always had a great supporting cast, but don't get it confused. Duncan was the centerpiece of the last dynasty we saw in the NBA. We'll see if LeBron has anything to say about that.
Duncan wouldn't have to play huge minutes and with a certain center taking up a lot of space in the paint he could dominate offensively from the high post. Imagine The Big Fundamental receiving a pass from Magic/Robertson on the high post with LeBron/Jordan/Baylor cutting to the hoop or Bird/Durant/West moving around on the perimeter waiting for a kick-out pass. That would be a sight to behold and a nightmare for anyone trying to defend it.
Starting C- Shaquille O'Neal
3 Year Peak: ('99-'02) 28.6 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.6 bpg
The most controversial choice in the starting five. Hear my case.
The question for this spot shouldn't be who's the best center of all time. The question is, if you could have 25 minutes a game out of any center ever going his hardest, who would you take? I'd take Shaq without hesitation.
O'Neal's only real weaknesses are his stamina and free-throw shooting. Those wouldn't be factors on this team. With Russell and Hakeem on the bench Shaq wouldn't have to log those 38-plus minute games that plagued him. Whenever he was in he'd be fresh, and a fresh Shaq is the most dominant center the league has ever seen. And as far as free throws it's very simple, take Shaq out in the last three minutes of a close game and put in Hakeem.
The Big Diesel used strength, length, sheer size and a surprising amount of basketball skill to become the most dominant player in the league post-Jordan and pre-LeBron. Shaq won his lone MVP trophy for the 1999-2000 season. Here's what's crazy: He should have won one for the 1994-95 season and the 2004-05 season. Seriously look it up; it's a complete joke that David Robinson and Steve Nash ousted Shaq those years.
Use that as a measuring stick and keep in mind in the other years in between those Shaq was ALWAYS a top-10 player and more times than not he was in the top five. What I'm getting at is O'Neal's reign at the top lasted 10 years. Jordan is the only other guy who can say that.
Most will put Shaq behind Russell, Kareem, Hakeem, and for some not so bright people even Moses Malone on the all-time center rank. But that doesn't matter here. With the depth on a team like this I only need 25 minutes of 100 percent hustle from my center. Split it up and give him 4-5 six-minute shifts game. He'd dominate more than any other center in that situation.
Thanks for reading the presentation. I encourage debate and would love to answer some angry thoughts in the comment box. For updates and more articles follow me on Twitter @ZakKondratenko.
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