NBA: The 8 Players You Can Build a Championship Team Around
There are only eight players in the NBA that are worth a max contract right now. I call these eight players "true superstars," because they are the only players in the league with a chance to guide their teams to an NBA Championship in the next couple of seasons.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of dozen players being paid like superstars, and that is the biggest reason we are in Day 121 of this NBA Lockout. The players can't accept the simple truth that there are only eight superstar players, and the owners aren't smart enough to stop giving max deals to players who are only All Stars, not superstars.
Carlos Boozer isn't worth a max deal. Chris Bosh isn't worth a max deal. Gilbert Arenas isn't worth a max deal. Rashard Lewis isn't worth a max deal.
I could go on, and on, and on.
There are only eight "superstar players" in the NBA right now, and those are the eight players that should be signed to a max contract.
Fact: You Need a "True Superstar" If You Want to Win a Championship
Without a legit NBA superstar on your roster, your chances of winning an NBA Championship are somewhere between slim and none. The only team from 1980-2004 to win a title without a bona fide Hall of Famer was the 2004 Detroit Pistons.
So one team won an NBA Championship in 25 seasons without a superstar player!
See for yourself. From 1980-2003, there were only eight NBA teams that won an NBA Championship. Every team on this list had a "true superstar," a first ballot Hall of Famer on their roster.
Here is a breakdown of a 10 year period (1980-1989), when only three teams won a championship:
Boston Celtics (1981, 1984, 1986): Larry Bird
Los Angeles Lakers (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988): Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Philadelphia 76ers (1982): Julius Erving and Moses Malone
Here is a breakdown of 1989-2003, when only five teams won a championship:
Detroit Pistons (1989, 1990): Isaiah Thomas
Chicago Bulls (1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998): Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
Houston Rockets (1995, 1996): Hakeem Olajuwon
San Antonio Spurs (1999, 2003): David Robinson and Tim Duncan
Just look at the names—Bird, Magic, Dr. J, Isaiah, MJ, Hakeem, Duncan and Shaq.
That's it! If you didn't have one of those eight players on your roster from 1980-2003, you were not winning an NBA Championship.
The Barkley Rule: You Don't Have to Win a Ring to Be a Superstar
So having said all of that, you don't have to win a championship for me to consider you a legit NBA superstar player. In my opinion, if a player gives you a chance to win a championship, then he belongs on this list.
Because as we just discussed, over a 24 year period, only eight star superstars won a ring!
During that same period, there were great players like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton and Karl Malone that all came up short. These guys were Hall of Famers, but they kept getting knocked out by the same player, Michael Jordan.
If you watched those games though, you know how hard the Bulls were pushed by the Suns in 1993 and by the Jazz in 1997 and 1998.
My point is that only one team is getting sized for rings every year, so you can make my list without having a ring. You just have to be the kind of player who could potentially compete for a championship.
Simply putting up numbers, making an All Star game, or having your own shoe do not make you a superstar player in my book.
The Honorable Mentions
Here is a list of guys who didn't make my list. I know some people are going to disagree with me on a couple of these players, but I just don't see any of these players leading a team to a championship anytime in the next four to five years.
The "Over the Hill" Guys:
Kevin Garnett—He used to be a top five player in the NBA, a no-doubt-about-it superstar, but those days are behind him. KG is no longer capable of putting a team on his back and leading them to the promised land.
Tim Duncan—He will go down as one of the greatest players of all time. His best days are behind him, and it looks like the Spurs' window has closed.
The "Not There Yet" Guys:
Deron Williams—Of all of the guys on my honorable mention list, D-Will is the closest to being a superstar. He is a dynamic point guard, he is a big point guard and he is a great defender. I really like his game, he just comes up a little short of being a "true superstar" in my opinion. Maybe he will get there, but he is just not there yet.
Blake Griffin—He is a beast. I love his game. However, right now he is just a highlight player whose game is incomplete. I think he has a chance to be a top five player in the NBA if he keeps developing. I think of all the guys on my honorable mention list, Griffin is the closest thing to a "lock" to be a superstar in the near future.
Kevin Love—He is the "anti-Griffin" in terms of highlights, but few in the NBA can rival K-Love's production. Could he put up those numbers on a good team, as that team's best player? I'm not sure he could do that yet, so that has K-Love on my honorable mention list.
John Wall—I see him breaking out in the next couple seasons, and he could vault himself into superstar territory in today's point guard-friendly NBA. For now, like Griffin, he is just a dynamic young athlete on a bad team.
Carmelo Anthony—Anybody who thinks Anthony belongs on the superstar list doesn't understand basketball. He is a below average rebounder, he is a terrible defensive player and he is a ball hog. Sure, Anthony puts up a lot of points, but that's because he has one of the highest "usage rates" in the NBA (over 32%). I think he is a stat sheet stuffer, but he is not the kind of player you can build a championship team around.
A lot of people might think Durant is just a more slender version of Carmelo, but I would strongly disagree. First of all, Durant is a much younger player, so his best is yet to come. Second, Durant has taken the Thunder to a better record every season he's been in OKC.
People forget, the Thunder were really terrible when Durant was a rookie. Over the last two seasons, he has taken the Thunder to the playoffs (lost to eventual champion Lakers in a great series) and the Western Conference Finals (lost to eventual champion Mavs in a great series).
The next step for Durant is to make it to the Finals, and possibly win a championship.
Durant is the youngest scoring champ in league history. Sure, he has a high usage rate (30%), but he is a very efficient scorer, with a true shooting percentage of 58.9%.
Simply put, there isn't another player in the NBA like Durant. He isn't just a good scorer, he is the best scorer in the NBA!
If you disagree, then ask yourself this question:
If you are a Knicks fan, wouldn't you trade Carmelo for Durant straight up right now?
Of course you would, because Durant is a better player. He belongs on this list. Kevin Durant is a superstar.
Derrick Rose is the youngest MVP in league history. People forget, but the Bulls were the worst team in the NBA just three years ago. Rose led the Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the Heat last season.
Rose is the best athlete of all of the great young point guards in the NBA. He is a dynamic scorer who has vastly improved his jump shot. He is a great defender.
My only knocks on Rose are a very high usage rate (32%) and a relatively low assist rate (7.7).
In my opinion, this says more about the talent, or lack thereof, around Rose than it does about Rose. I think this is a young player that is going to improve dramatically over the next four to five years.
If Chicago will surround him with decent talent (Carlos Boozer? Come on!), then I think Rose will win at least two championships in Chicago.
Derrick Rose might be the MVP, but for at least another year or two, Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA.
Think about the roster that Paul has to play with. Is there another great player in the NBA that has to play with less talent? The Hornets are owned by the NBA, so this is a team in full "cost-cutting mode."
His most talented teammate, David West, missed all of last season with an injury.
Tyson Chandler, who just anchored the Mavs defense as they won the NBA Championship, was traded by the Hornets in a cost-cutting move two years ago.
In 2007-2008, when Paul had decent help around him, he led the NBA in win shares (17.8) and win shares per 48 minutes (.284). He has led the league in assists and steals twice, and when he's healthy, he is a 21-22 point-per-game scorer.
So Chris Paul is the type of point guard that can score at a level close to Derrick Rose, but he can also create for his teammates like Steve Nash does for his. He is also a dynamic, disruptive defensive player.
Chris Paul is going to leave New Orleans. He deserves to play on a better team, a team that is actually trying to win. If he gets that chance, there is no doubt in my mind that Chris Paul is the kind of player that could lead a team to an NBA Championship.
In a previous NBA article I wrote, I got a ton of comments that Kobe was no longer an elite player. I'm sorry, but I just don't agree with that thought process.
Kobe is one season removed from winning an NBA Championship, people!
I'm just not ready to start nailing Kobe's coffin shut yet. He is getting older, and that championship window is closing, but we're not there yet. I think his knee will cooperate a lot better, and we will see a more "vintage Kobe" this season.
I think Kobe has two more years where he might be able to lead the Lakers to a championship. After that, he is going to need a lot of help and be more of a complimentary player to get the job done.
Kobe's scoring average has declined in five of the last six seasons. Part of that is to be expected, because Bryant is racking the miles, the Lakers have added talent (Gasol) around Bryant, and some of their younger players (Bynum) have stepped up.
So "The Black Mamba" is in slow decline, but I still believe he could lead the Lakers to another championship. Because he has a chance at that sixth ring, he deserves to be on this list.
Dirk is the guy holding the championship trophy. He put on a virtuoso performance in last season's playoffs, and there is no doubt that he was the reason the Mavs won that championship.
Dirk has twice led the NBA in win shares and player efficiency rating. He showed no signs of slowing down last season with a true shooting percentage of 61.2%.
The only knock on Dirk, much like Kobe, is his age. However, Dirk is actually getting better at this point in his career. With an owner that isn't afraid to spend money, there is no doubt about it that the Mavs are going to be a contender as long as Dirk can play at this level.
I think Dirk has a two to three year window to get a second championship ring, and because of that, he belongs on this list.
There is nobody like Dwight Howard in the NBA. There is nobody that big, that fast, that strong, that can jump that high, etc., etc., etc.
I was a big critic of Howard's for years because I didn't see him improving. I saw a guy with a ton of talent, but who was averaging 20 points or less per game. I thought Howard could be this generation's Shaq or David Robinson—a big man who put up 25-30 points per game while dominating the interior.
Finally, Howard looks like he could be that player, and much, much more.
Howard is capable of averaging 13-15 rebounds per game every season, and unlike Shaq in his prime, Howard actually cares about rebounding. Howard also averages 2.5-3.0 blocks per game.
If he becomes a 25 point-per-game scorer, Howard will become a player that is dominating both ends of the floor. Every playoff series will be all about how the other team is going to account for Howard.
So can Howard win an NBA Championship?
While Chris Paul plays for a team that is owned by the NBA and in cost-cutting mode, Howard plays for a team run by GM Otis Smith, and the Magic spend money like a drunken sailor.
Howard can win an NBA Championship, but it won't be in Orlando. Their roster is a complete joke. Just like when LeBron left Cleveland, nobody will be able to blame Howard for leaving Orlando.
Let's just hope he skips the whole "Decision" part. If he leaves Orlando with class, I'll gladly root for Dwight Howard to win a championship. I think he is going to win a ring, and that is why I have him on my list.
I think Dwayne Wade is the second best player in the NBA. He has taken the title of "best shooting guard" away from Kobe, by virtue of being younger and more athletic. Wade can take a game or a series over from an offensive or defensive standpoint.
Wade also has a ring.
You could make the argument that Wade is actually better than teammate LeBron James, simply because of Wade's performance in the playoffs. While I do think Wade has performed better than James in clutch situations, I still think that James is the better overall player.
Wade led the NBA in usage percentage during the 08-09 and 09-10 NBA seasons. Obviously, with James in the lineup, his usage percentage dropped. If Wade and James can learn how to move without the ball and run a real NBA offense, the Miami Heat are going to win multiple championships.
The only question will be, how many? If I had to bet on it, I'd say two or three. If a player has that kind of championship window, then he belongs on this list.
LeBron James is the most talented player in the NBA. Like Dwight Howard, James has no equal among the other players in the NBA at his position. James is simply bigger, faster, stronger, more explosive and can out-jump any perimeter player in the NBA.
The only knock on James is his playoff performances. Can James really lead a team to the NBA title, or is he just a freak of nature that puts up stats?
James has led the NBA in win shares in each of the past three seasons, and he has led the league in player efficiency rating in each of the last four seasons. James is a walking triple-double on a good night, and he is a lock-down defender.
There is no doubt that James can lead a team to a championship. In my opinion, it's just a matter of time. He has been so close on three or four different occasions.
I think this is the year that James finally gets that championship ring. I think James has a two to three year window to get a championship. After that, Durant and Rose are going to own the league for a little while.
The Proof Is in the Pudding
If you don't believe me, look at the last couple of seasons:
In 2011, it was Dirk vs. LeBron and Wade in the Finals. Rose and Durant came awfully close, both making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 2010, it was Kobe vs. Garnett and the Celtics. The Celtics knocked out both LeBron and Howard on their way to the Finals.
In 2009, it was Kobe knocking out Dwight Howard in the Finals. Again, LeBron came really close in the Eastern Conference Finals. In fairness to Carmelo, he did take the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals.
In 2008, it was Garnett and the Celtics beating Kobe and the Lakers. LeBron had an epic playoff performance, but came up short once again in the East.
The proof is in the pudding. If you didn't have Dirk, Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Howard, Rose or Durant at any point during the last four seasons, you didn't have a shot at a championship!
I think the same will hold true for at least the next season or two, with Chris Paul being added to the mix when he finally lands on a team not run by the NBA.
These are the only players that have a chance to lead their team to a championship in the very near future (2-3 years), so they are the only players that are "true superstars" worthy of a max contract.
I'd like to give a hat tip to basketball-reference.com for all the stats. If you are a basketball fan, that is a terrific website.