NBA 2011: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and the All-NBA Lockout Team
Imagine for a second that our worst case scenario comes true and there is no 2011-12 NBA season.
Believe me, I do not want to think about it either, but we need to start preparing for the worst. My suggestion: Gather as many old VHS tapes of NBA games as possible, along with a copy of Space Jam, and weather out the oncoming storm. Better to be over than under-prepared.
In this nightmare scenario, we will have over 400 formerly employed NBA players searching for work. Granted, most of them will play overseas, but the fact of the matter is, we will not see more than one or two stars (with the exception of charity type games) on the same floor for a very long time.
But what if a billionaire, New Jersey's Mikhail Prokhorov being the most likely candidate, decided they were going to put together the best team money could buy by taking the top two locked out NBA players at each position, throwing some money at Phil Jackson to coach and putting this $50 million proposal on the table:
If you can beat my top 10 team, $50 million is yours.
Chris Paul: Starting Point Guard
Most NBA fans narrow their top five point guards to this following list (no particular order):
A reasonable case can be made for any of these five players, so let me explain why Paul rises above the rest.
Westbrook does not yet have the maturity of the other four on this list. You saw his streakiness and emotional outbursts during the playoffs. Paul always plays with a cool head and lets the game come to him.
Statistically, Rajon Rondo is a better distributor than Chris Paul. Is this because Rondo has Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to pass to? That's certainly a factor, but throw Rondo onto the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he would still find a way to get north of seven assists a game.
The difference between Paul and Rondo is the way defenses approach them. You will never see defenses giving Paul a wide open jumper the way they do with Rondo. On a top 10 in the world team, I can not allow defenses to leave one of my guys open with no consequences.
With Derrick Rose, I know I'm getting a score first point guard. That's fine; Rose is one of the best in the league at getting to the rim. With Deron Williams, I know I have a great leader of the traditional pick and roll, John Stockton/Karl Malone type of offense.
With Paul, I get a little bit of everything. He can play up-tempo, he can thrive in the half court offense working with an elite power forward (David West) and he's able to give me 25 points when I need it or put together a 12 point, 12 assist type of night when I need a distributor.
All in all, if I have $50 million on the line, I want to have Chris Paul orchestrating the offense.
Kobe Bryant: Starting Shooting Guard
Kobe Bryant's positioning in the first team All-NBA ranks is losing a bit of momentum each year.
The issue first surfaced five years ago when Dwyane Wade carried the Miami Heat to an NBA Title. A few people began to whisper that Wade, not Kobe, might be the new king of the shooting guard position.
After Kobe won his back-to-back rings, the conversation changed from is Kobe still the best shooting guard to how close is Kobe to Michael Jordan. However, in somewhat of an underground movement, Wade continued to gain momentum, resulting in several articles listing him at the top of the depth chart predating the 2010 season.
The argument is completely fair and deals more with their difference in age than anything else. Do I take a 27-year-old Kobe Bryant over a 27-year-old Dwyane Wade? Absolutely I do. Do I take a 33-year-old Kobe over a 29-year-old Wade? That's where it becomes tricky.
I think this is the final year for Kobe's reign at No. 1. He has a lot of miles on those legs, and it began to show through fatigue and gnawing injuries during last season. Still, with the exception of Dirk Nowitzki, there is no other player in basketball who I would rather place the weight of the game on their shoulders than Kobe Bryant.
LeBron James: Starting Small Forward
Criticism of LeBron James's decision is already outdated and will become an annoyance to hear whenever the next NBA season arrives.
He's in Miami. He's still the best player in the world. Deal with it.
I can understand if you are not a fan of LeBron James, but what I can't tolerate is allowing that bias to make the ridiculous claim that he does not belong in this starting lineup.
His competition is against Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. I firmly believe this is the best top three the league has ever had at the small forward slot. LeBron just happens to have the edge.
This one is interesting because you have Kevin Durant as the two time reigning scoring champion, LeBron James as the most dominating physical force that can power his way to the rim and then, what's often forgotten, Carmelo Anthony, who just so happens to possess the most ways to beat his defender in the entire NBA.
In terms of outside shooting, LeBron James, although he has vastly improved from years past, does not compare to Carmelo and Durant. On the flip side, Kevin Durant can still be bullied and pushed around to the point where he cannot get off his shot. Carmelo is the most complete of the three as a scorer because of his ability to post up smaller defenders, take bigger defenders out on the perimeter and shoot a high percentage from all over the court.
The difference between LeBron over the other two players is his high IQ as a passer. Defenses have to clog the paint to try and prevent LeBron from attacking the rim, but also have to be aware of spot up shooters who LeBron will always find out of the corners of his eyes.
If LeBron could develop a more consistent outside shot, along with some low post moves, I think he would be the clear favorite as the best offensive threat of these three players. As it is today, his ability as a passer pushes him slightly past Carmelo.
This is the real separation. LeBron is becoming one of the best perimeter defenders, if not the best, in the NBA. In the past, you've had guys like Bruce Bowen or Ron Artest wear this crown, which made sense because they were defensive first specialists. LeBron can take his opponent out of the game with his defense and still hold enough energy to posterize dunk on him at the other end of the floor.
It is this complete package of offense and defense that solidifies LeBron's starting spot.
Dirk Nowitzki: Starting Power Forward
The 2011 NBA Finals said it all.
Dirk Nowitzki is on the same level as Kobe Bryant in terms of closing out big games. Kobe has more examples of it in his career, but as of right now, Nowitzki is in the same conversation.
Nowitzki always had a great outside shot and was a master of the off-balance looks. The difference between his 2011 self and say 2006 is his willingness to be aggressive and attack the basket. Like Carmelo Anthony, Nowitzki can beat all types of defenders in several different ways.
Dwight Howard: Starting Center
No player in the NBA has a stronger grip on their No. 1 ranking than Dwight Howard at the center position. The step between Howard and the next tier is almost a drop of NBA to college.
Howard can not be matched physically. He's developing an attack of fine tuned post moves and he is a threat to grab 15 or more rebounds nearly every time he steps on the floor. On defense, he blocks and alters every shot that comes into the paint.
The hardest challenge for Howard will be bridging the gap between his good offense and his Hall-of-Fame level defense. If he ever does this, the world of centers are in a whole lot of trouble.
Derrick Rose: Backup Point Guard
If for some crazy reason a starting five of Paul, Kobe, LeBron, Dirk and Howard were not able to put points on the board, what better boost off the bench to have than Derrick Rose?
Rose has the handles of Allen Iverson in his prime and the force of LeBron just downsized into a 6'4'' body. You could make a case that LeBron James or Kevin Durant should have been the MVP last year, but it's hard to argue that Rose shouldn't have been at least in the top two or three vote getters. Rose's MVP season was not a fluke, and I'm sure he'll have another one, along with an NBA Title, to put in his trophy case someday.
But why not go with a distributor like Rajon Rondo or Deron Williams? Doesn't this top 10 team have enough scorers already?
Derrick Rose is a better passer than we give him credit for. If you look at his playing career, even back to Memphis, he has always been the guy relied on to be the main scorer. In Chicago, he has Keith Bogans and Joakim Noah running alongside him, who are by no means great offensive threats, and Carlos Boozer can be fairly up and down.
We have not seen Rose play with a superstar cast before, and I think the result would be a more well rounded point guard who is still capable of taking the game over from a scoring perspective in a way Williams and Rondo can not match.
Dwyane Wade: Backup Shooting Guard
Like I said in the Kobe slide, Dwyane Wade's time at number one is not far away.
Before the collapse in the 2011 NBA Finals, Wade was playing at his 2006 level. He was scoring in the 30s and proving to be the go-to, alpha male on the squad. Don't forget that he had a little injury arise later in the series and never was able to get back to his first four game level.
What is impressive about both Wade and LeBron James is they are continuing to average their high numbers even though they are sharing the ball with each other. To figure this out in year one of the campaign should scare the rest of the NBA for the years to come.
Carmelo Anthony: Backup Small Forward
I expect this will be the most controversial pick of my top 10 Team.
Basically, I am choosing between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Both are dangerous offensive weapons. Both are franchise players. Both are matchup nightmares for opposing teams.
Durant is longer and taller than Anthony, but Anthony has him beat in body mass. I would not feel comfortable having Durant go down to the low block and post up a big man, whereas Anthony has made the back to the basket attack a huge part of his game. Pesky shooting guards seem to be able to fight with Durant and push him around. Carmelo still gets to his spots.
Hidden behind stellar performances by Durant and Dirk Nowitzki in the 2011 Playoffs is the 42 point Anthony game, where he nearly took a team of Knicks scrubs (remember Amare and Billups were injured) past the Celtics in Boston. If you get a chance, re-watch that game, and you'll see why I confidently put Carmelo on this squad.
LaMarcus Aldridge: Backup Power Forward
If you look at the makeup of my team so far, it lacks a true, back to the basket power forward. Sure, there's plenty of scoring already and LeBron, Wade, Carmelo or Rose can get to the basket as easy as any big man, but I want a guy I can dump it into and expect guaranteed points.
The best traditional power forwards in basketball are:
Chris Bosh is the right choice if you want a face to the basket guy who will hit almost all of his open jumpers. Gasol and Randolph are best used in controlled, half-court offenses. Amare Stoudemire gives you an explosive power forward who can create his own shots.
Why I choose LaMarcus Aldridge is the mixture of talents he has. First and foremost, he's back to the basket, and with his wingspan, can always get his shot over any big in the league. He can carry an offense, as he's had to do the last few years in Portland, but doesn't play out of himself, forcing plays and making mistakes. He also gives you athleticism needed for an up-tempo offense.
Joakim Noah: Backup Center
I wanted to anchor my team with a defensive specialist. The choices to choose from at center are:
Noah is the best rebounder of the bunch. Chandler can raise the team's defensive IQ several levels, as we saw in Dallas. Perkins is the only player physical enough to go man-to-man on Dwight Howard.
What separates Noah is his creativity on offense. Noah is a great passer rather than a dead end. Noah can lead a fast break, which is something I could never imagine Chandler or Perkins doing. He would fit in well with this team and be willing to do the dirty work that allows the others to shine.