Space Jam Done a Little Better: The All-Time NBA 12-Man Roster
Maybe Mike would do better if he wasn't alone out there
Here’s the deal:
Space Jam happens again. We have a bunch of psychotic Martians who have descended upon our planet, adamant that it is theirs for the taking.
Obviously we cannot take them on in a nuclear war. That might not stop some countries from trying, but after a huge mess, we decide to settle it like men would: by challenging them to a basketball game.
Since their team has traveled through space, it’s only fair that ours should travel through time. That’s right, we’re going to build a time machine, go back through the ages, and assemble the ultimate basketball team.
I’m sure a lot of writers on this site have done this before. Starting at point guard, Magic Johnson; starting at shooting guard, Michael Jordan, and so on. But hold on—is it Jordan from 1990 or from 1996? Do you realize that Jordan from 1990 actually punched his teammates during practice? How do you see someone like Kareem responding to that? Do you want an intergalactic melee?
In this article, I will assemble my ideal basketball team throughout the ages, using specific seasons of the players I have chosen. It’s a 12 man roster, with five starters and seven reserves.
(NOTE PLEASE READ: Yes, I borrowed the Martian premise from Bill Simmons, an author I greatly admire and whose quality of writing I strive to emulate. I also decided to pick players from specific years as well based on the way he did his team.)
The idea is not to choose the best players. The idea is to choose the players that best complement each other. You will also notice that almost the entire roster is biased toward players that played from the mid-1970s onward. The reasons for this are simple, and I shall give it to you with an example.
Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 PPG and 26 RPG in 1962. Is there anyone who would not agree that if you were to stick Shaquille O’Neal in his prime, say either 1995 or 2000, that he might not even better those numbers? Russell was the only player who could handle Wilt. Walt Bellamy, supposedly the third best center after those two, was dominated by Wilt to the extent that during one particular game, Wilt blocked Bellamy over ten times during the first half, after telling Walt before the game that he would not get a single shot off.
I’m not belittling Chamberlain, I wouldn’t dream of it. The man is one of my all-time favorite players, bar none. But certain facts cannot be denied. The competition back when he was averaging fifty a game and Oscar Robertson was averaging a triple-double for the season was a lot weaker than it is today. Other than a few unique individuals, players from that age were just not as good as those of today.
It does not show up in the stats, but it does if you watch game tape. No one had a reliable jumper from beyond 22 feet at all. The reason the likes of Chamberlain and Russell were averaging over 20 rebounds a game was that each team was attempting over 100 shots on a regular basis—and missing sometimes over 60 of them.
Players of the more modern age may not put up mind-boggling numbers when compared to their older counterparts but are more well-rounded, understand certain concepts better, and are more athletic and fit. When I finish reading through the team, I would ask that you look back at my explanation and see if it makes sense to you.
So, without further ado, let us begin.
Reserve: 1992 David Robinson
Regular Season Statistics: 23.2 PPG, 12.2 RPG, 2.7 APG, 55 and 70 percent shooting from the field and free-throw line respectively, 4.5 BPG, 2.3 SPG.
Even though Robinson ended his career with two championships and one Most Valuable Player award, he could have done so much more. The potential and talent that he showcased during his earlier seasons made him seem as if he had quite possibly the highest ceiling of any center who ever played in the NBA, including Wilt, Russell, and Kareem.
Just look at those defensive statistics during his third season in the league. There are countless other shots he altered through his mere presence in the paint.
Again, from accounts I have read, Bill Russell was averaging 10-15 blocks per game in his prime. This may seem a bit outlandish, but even if that is true, I think Robinson was bigger, stronger, athletically superior, and more offensively accomplished. Put any one of the players on this team in Russell’s era and they’d win the MVP easily.
Reserve: 2007 Steve Nash
Regular Season Statistics: 18.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 11.6 APG; 53, 46 and 90 percent shooting from the field, three-point line and free-throw line respectively.
Playoff Statistics: 18.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 13.3 APG, 46/49/89 percent shooting.
Nash was coming off back-to-back MVP seasons in 2007, but I still believe this was his absolute peak and he got robbed of another MVP. Although he was certainly a world-class defensive liability by that stage, he led the Suns to the highest level of offensive basketball I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.
Other than Magic, Nash remains the most electrifying player ever on a fast break. If we’re down big against the aliens and need to speed the game up, Mr. Canada is our guy.
And just look at those shooting percentages. Nash is one of the four greatest three-point shooters ever in my opinion, after Ray Allen, Reggie Miller and Larry Bird. There was never a more complete offensive point guard than Nash in NBA history (including the likes of Johnson, Robertson and Isiah Thomas).
With a combination of outstanding vision, scoring efficiency, and flat-out desire to win, Steve Nash is the 11th man on the greatest basketball team ever assembled.
Back-Up Small Forward: 1994 Scottie Pippen
Regular Season Statistics: 22.0 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.9 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 48/35/72 shooting percentages.
This is really ironic. We’re taking the greatest second banana’s only season as a first banana (he did flourish, mind you), and playing him as a substitute. However, take heed of the capabilities of the man whom he’ll be backing up (anyone who knows basketball will know who), and I think this place does him a great deal of justice.
Pippen is the quintessential point-forward. There is honestly nothing this man cannot do on a basketball court, except maybe shoot the three reliably. He could score, rebound, and handle the ball so well that when he was with the Bulls they never had to worry about any combination of guards they played.
The one thing, however, that puts him above James Worthy, LeBron James and Rick Barry for this spot is his defense.
In a few words, Scottie Pippen was the greatest perimeter defender in NBA history. Yes, I said it. Over Jordan, Gary Payton, Ron Artest—anyone. Pippen could shut down just about any superstar in the league playing from 1 to 3, and at 6’8", could probably even handle some 4s. He won’t need to on this team, but that is just a testament to his sheer ability.
Three steals per game, to go with some great performances, ensured he finished third in MVP voting as well as Defensive Player of the Year voting. Both were won by Hakeem Olajuwon in the best season of his career and David Robinson slid into second place. Considering Robinson is the twelfth man of the greatest team ever, and Hakeem, well, you’ll see, I think this is pretty good company for Pippen.
Back-Up Power Forward: 2004 Kevin Garnett
Regular Season Statistics: 24.2 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 5.0 APG, 50/79 field goal/free-throw percentage, 2.2 BPG, 1.5 SPG.
Kevin Garnett was not as good a rebounder as Dennis Rodman. He did not have the post moves of Kevin McHale. He did not have the shooting touch of Dirk Nowitzki. He did not have the flair of Charles Barkley. He didn’t stay good for as long as Karl Malone did.
However, he still gets the nod over all of these as the bench power forward.
Why? Simply because his 2004 season was the most complete and dominant by a power forward in recent memory by anyone with the exception of Tim Duncan, in every area of the game. He led the league in total points scored as well as rebounds. He had phenomenal shooting percentages.
This could be said of the others as well. However, Garnett in his absolute prime was one of the best passing big men I have ever seen. If he got double-teamed, triple-teamed, anything, he would pass out and find the open man. Five assists per game when playing with Sam Cassell is impressive.
On defense, he was an absolute monster, and one of the only players I have ever seen whom players actually fear using the pick and roll against.
And it cannot be said that he didn’t make use of these. He took a terrible Timberwolves team all the way to the Western Conference Finals, and in the process, won the MVP, shut out Chris Webber and the Kings with a massive 32-21 in Game 7, and finally fell to a loaded Lakers team with four future Hall of Famers (no shame in that).
One day, I feel Blake Griffin will surpass him. He has all the qualities to maybe even surpass Duncan.
But until that day, the combination of athleticism, intensity, defense and versatility that Garnett brought to the table in 2004 gives KG a spot on the rocket to wherever this game will be played.
Back-Up Center: 1976 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Regular Season Statistics: 27.7 PPG, 16.9 RPG, 5.0 APG, 53/70 shooting percentages, 4.1 BPG, 1.5 SPG
Kareem could make a case for being one of the top three players ever, but I think a spot on the bench would be good here, considering him and the guy who he backs up will probably play equal minutes.
In any case, I feel that Kareem had his best ever season in 1976. He averaged career highs in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, and managed to win MVP on a 40-42 Lakers team. Considering Kobe was averaging 35 PPG in a career season for the ’06 Lakers, which won 45 games, and still only came in at fourth, that should tell you just how unstoppable Kareem was in that season.
The reason that made Kareem almost a lock for the All-Time team was his signature move: the skyhook.
My sportswriting idol, Bill Simmons, once said that there were a few certainties in sports. You were not stopping Magic on a 3-on-1 fast-break, you were not covering Gretzky with one guy, and a few others. However, the most obvious one was that you were not blocking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook. Ever.
There has been a video going around on Youtube of Wilt Chamberlain blocking the skyhook. But when a single instance of your shot being rejected becomes an Internet phenomenon, I think it’s safe to say that shot is very hard to block.
If it comes down to the last possession, I want to be comfortable that the fate of our planet will be resting on a shot that no one can alter. I want the skyhook.
I want Kareem Abdul Jabbar as my back-up center.
Back-Up Point Guard: 2009 Chris Paul
Regular Season Statistics: 22.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 11.0 APG, 50/37/87 shooting, 2.8 SPG
I’m pretty sure a lot of you are either going to close the tab or bring out the pitchforks by now.
I can hear some of you.
“Really? Really, man, CP3 over Oscar, Isiah, Cousy, Hardaway, and all the others? Do you have any respect for NBA history?”
Look, I considered each and every player and Chris Paul’s 2008-09 season surpasses them all. He dragged a team with people like Peja Stojakovic and Hilton Armstrong starting, A LOT, to the playoffs.
The only real contenders to this spot were Isiah and Oscar, and I will rebuff the arguments for them.
Oscar is easy. Stuff like “In 62 Oscar averaged a 31-13-11! What’s wrong with you?!”
Do you know the differences in the league between 1962 and 2009?
To begin with, there were in average of 81 field goal attempts per team per game in the 2009 season. That same figure for 1962? 108.
That was not a result of anything other than, back then, no team other than the Celtics had a clue what defense was. The league average was 119 PPG per team. That’s ridiculous. Absurd. I’m not belittling Robertson’s averaging a triple double, but if you were to adjust Paul’s numbers to the ’62 season, he averages a monstrous 30-7-15 with 4 steals per game.
That’s not even considering that the league was stacked at the guard position during 2009. While Paul was dealing with the likes of Billups, Bryant, Wade, Williams, Rose, Westbrook, Rondo, Parker, and Kidd on a regular basis, just to name a few, the only guards in 1962 who could dream of handling Oscar were West and Hal Greer, whom he played possibly five or six times a year each.
Let Paul play against Jerryd Bayless and Mario Chalmers for 85% of the season and Rondo and Rose the other 15%, at a tempo 33% faster than 2009, and I think you’d easily see him going for something mind boggling like 32-8-16 with 5+ steals per game.
As for Thomas, you could make the argument that he is indeed the best pure point guard in NBA history.
Two things work against him though.
One, the guy simply could not shoot. His career average was 29 percent from three. He made his living getting to the hoop. We don’t know if the Martians have a 9’5" center who will ferociously block every layup or dunk attempt. Plus, you never know if it comes down to an essential three and Thomas is the only one who is open.
Two, the guy is an idiot, plain and simple.
When you say stuff like, “If Larry Bird was black he’d be just another player," and do stuff like leading your team off the court before the buzzer when you know you’re going to lose a playoff series, you will not be getting along with too many people.
Paul’s ceiling is higher than either of these players, and all factors considered, he will be backing up Mr. Everyone Knows Who as the floor general.
Back-Up Shooting Guard: 2001 Kobe Bryant
Playoff Statistics: 29.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 6.4 APG, 47/33/82 shooting, 0.8 BPG, 1.5 SPG
This was the hardest, and I mean, the HARDEST choice to make.
Look, I always knew it was going to be Kobe. He is the second greatest 2-guard of all time and will hold onto that spot for a very long time. Even if Wade wins five championships with the Heat (unlikely), he will do it playing with the most talented player of the generation, and will never surpass Kobe.
The challenge was picking which Kobe season to use.
As an individual player, he peaked in 2006. There’s no question about that. 35-5-5 with an 81-point game, a 62-point game in three quarters, and somehow making the playoffs with Smush Parker, Luke Walton and Kwame Brown as your starting 1, 3, and 5? The 2006 Kobe could beat anyone in a one-on-one game, probably even Jordan in his athletic prime.
Defenses used to basically not even try against Kobe back then. He could do what he wanted, whenever he wanted.
But that’s the key here, isn’t it? We don’t want him doing whatever he wants. We simply can’t have him taking 30+ plus shots per game when he feels like it, not when he’s playing with the greatest players in NBA history. Forcing a long, double-teamed jumper when he’s got Kareem open on the block or Nash waving his hands at the top of the key will not go down well with his teammates.
Or his coach. If Kobe got benched, you could expect the mother of all locker room bustups.
We don’t need that with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance.
So, take the time machine back five further years.
In 2001, Kobe was averaging over 28 PPG as the second option to Shaq. In other words, he was just as good a scorer as he was later on, and still retained the ‘Scottie Pippen mentality.' That means he had the same talent but not as much of an ego as he did later on.
He needs to defer to the starting guards when it comes down to it. I love Kobe as much as anyone. He is my all-time favorite player, but I think we know that there are still two guards who would rank ahead of him in NBA annals.
But that aside, Kobe’s 2001 season was phenomenal. In the playoffs, he had possibly his best all-round game ever: 48 points, 16 rebounds, 15-29 FG in a blowout of the Sacramento Kings at their own building with none other than Doug Christie (All-Defense player throughout the early 2000s) guarding him.
Next game, Spurs. Next show Kobe put on: a 45-10 with the Twin Towers ‘manning’ the post. I don’t think they were really doing their job, or maybe Kobe was just too good. During the closeout games vs. the Spurs he went off for 36-9-8 and 24-11, in 39- and 29-point blowouts respectively.
His crowning moments of the season came in the Finals. He had 19-10-9 and 26-12-6 in the closeout games (again, both playing as the second fiddle to Shaq). What’s more, after Iverson erupted for 48 in the opening game and ended the Lakers’ 19-game winning streak, Kobe took over guarding him in Game 2.
He simply put the shackles on one of the greatest scorers ever in his absolute prime. Iverson for Game 2: 23 points on 10-29 shooting. Kobe rebounded from a terrible Game 1 with a 31-8-6 line.
Kobe entered his prime in that season in all aspects of the game. He could score, rebound, make plays, and play demonic defense at will.
There can’t be any other candidates for the backup 2-guard spot. Case closed.
Summary of the Bench
So there you have it.
Reserve: 1992 David Robinson
Reserve: 2007 Steve Nash
Back-up SF: 1994 Scottie Pippen
Back-up PF: 2004 Kevin Garnett
Back-up C: 1976 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Back-up PG: 2009 Chris Paul
Back-up SG: 2001 Kobe Bryant
You cannot assemble a better bench, period. Maybe you could pick more talented players, like Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, etc., but they would not fit together as well as these guys, nor would they be able to stand playing second-fiddle to the guys who are about to come.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the greatest five-man unit anyone can ever assemble.
Starting Small Forward: 1985 Larry Bird
Regular Season Statistics: 28.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 53/43/88 shooting, 1.2 BPG, 1.6 SPG
This was a strangely easy choice.
Bird, beginning in 1984, rolled off the best five-year stretch by a forward in NBA history.
Statistically, Baylor beats him by some margin. But if you re-adjust the numbers again to Baylor's era, Bird’s prime translates to an unfathomable 35-13-8. Playing with inferior teammates, he might push the scoring average up to 40, and with all the talent focused at either the guard spots or at center, Bird could have decimated every record in the book had he played back in the 60s.
That’s just to eliminate the arguments of anyone (there probably wouldn’t be anyone sane, but still), who thinks that this guy should not be starting at the three. I’m a diehard Laker fan who hates the Hick from French Lick with a passion, but I will admit that had it not been for a few unlucky breaks (his back breaking down, Len Bias’ death, Magic’s junior sky hook going in, and McHale breaking his leg in the ’87 playoffs), Bird may have been the undisputed greatest of all time.
As it is, his prime was so productive, even Jordan from say '87-'93 could not match the number of ways Bird affected the game from '84-'88.
Danny Ainge was the starting point guard for Boston back then. A decent rotation player, but obviously not championship caliber for a playmaker. Therefore, Bird handled the playmaking duties at most times.
Watching ESPN Classic games, you get the feeling Bird almost saw the game in slow motion. It was like a science to him.
“McHale cuts to the block, but a defender will rotate over. That will leave Wedman open on the right wing, but I think he’d prefer taking a shot on the left. Then I think I’ll have Parish set him a screen so he can cut around to his preferred spot behind me, and then bounce it to him.”
These were the kind of thoughts you could see in Bird’s mind during every play. This ‘sixth-sense’ is something only a few gifted players have had in NBA history: Nash, Isiah, LeBron, Bird, Magic, Jordan, Kobe, to name a few.
But Bird and Magic took it to a whole new level, especially in terms of team play.
Bird presented a matchup problem to just about everyone. He was Dirk before Dirk on the perimeter. A 6’10" forward with a deadly jumper was almost unguardable. Not to mention that unlike Dirk, and a bit like LeBron, he crashed the boards with regularity.
All this to go with his playmaking skills.
What’s most important, however, is his status as the undisputed greatest clutch player in NBA history.
Watch the video I’ve embedded here. I know the main feature is Magic’s skyhook that sank the Celtics, but skip forward to Bird’s attempting a game-winning three.
Yeah, he missed.
I would like you to pause and look at the faces of the Laker bench when the ball leaves his hands.
They were terrified.
When Bird took a shot in the clutch, people just assumed it was going in. There are players who live for the roar of their home crowd. The truly special ones, however, live to silence opposing crowds.
Bird was one of those few. He is our starting small forward, and it’s not even close.
Starting Power Forward: 2003 Tim Duncan
Playoff Statistics: 24.7 PPG, 15.4 RPG, 5.3 APG, 53/68 shooting, 3.3 BPG, 0.6 SPG
Duncan has two monikers that no one would argue.
The most boring superstar ever.
And the most reliable superstar ever.
Duncan’s game basically had no holes, and that’s because it was built around absolutely perfect basketball fundamentals. He has a variety of very simple post moves that everyone sees coming but no one can stop. He knows exactly how to grab a rebound, and makes the simple bounce passes out of a double team to whoever is open.
Boring. Predictable. But yet, consistently boring and predictable.
That has to count for something, does it not? Even though he seems to have the personality of a shellfish at times, Duncan is the undisputed best power forward of all time.
He’s won four championships, three Finals MVPs, and two MVPs. In his prime, from 1999 to 2004, his PPG was never greater than 25.5 or less than 21.7. For nine straight seasons, he averaged between 11 RPG and 12.9 RPG. He shoots exactly 50% for his career.
He was a big man who had mastered every aspect of big-man play that a coach would teach. No one stayed so good on a consistent level for longer.
You could say though, that he did possibly crest in the 2003 title and MVP winning season.
In the playoffs, he had a 20-10 in 16 of 24 games. He closed out Shaq’s Lakers with a 37-16 and then opened with a monstrous 40-15-7 against the Mavericks in the Conference Finals. We thought we had seen his best in Game 3 of that series when he recorded a breathtaking 34-24 with 6 assists and 6 blocks, but the Finals would prove to be even more mind-boggling.
Duncan beat the Nets in six games, winning Finals MVP and averaging a 24-17 with 5.3 blocks in the process.
In Games 1 and 6 of that series, he had two games that could only be described as “how basketball should be played”.
Game 1 was 32-20-6, with 7 blocks and 3 steals.
Game 6, the closeout, where he was basically getting no help (Robinson scored 13, Parker 4), he had a 21-20-10 with 8 blocks. Yes, you read that right. He basically won the Spurs the title by himself and almost recorded an impossible quadruple double in the process.
2003 Tim Duncan was the best power forward season ever, and there’s no two ways about it.
Starting Center: 1995 Hakeem Olajuwon
Playoff Statistics: 33.0 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 53/68 shooting, 2.7 BPG, 1.2 SPG
This is not going to go down well with a lot of readers, so allow me to explain myself.
Yes, Hakeem is starting over Kareem. Yes, the inclusion of David Robinson means I am leaving Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain (I love Wilt, this was not easy) out of the team entirely. Yes, Shaq, possibly one of the most dominant players in history, will not feature either. Yes, no Moses Malone.
Okay, stop now. Let me give you my reasons.
To begin with, I will not deny that Bill Russell is the best defensive player ever and the second greatest player overall on my list after Jordan. However, he dominated games defensively when no one had a reliable jumper from more than 20 feet out. The only center he really needed to try against was Wilt (we’ll get to him soon). Most importantly, he was 6’9". We don’t know if the Martians will have titans on the post, and must prepare for every eventuality.
As for Wilt, it was a tough choice between ’95 Hakeem and ’67 Wilt. In that season, Wilt led the league in rebounds and assists, with a mind-blowing 24-24-8, and 21-29-9 in the playoffs. His passing would have taken the offense to a whole new level.
It’s just when you delve a bit deeper, you realize you do not want any version of Chamberlain on your all-time team.
He demanded the ball. When he didn’t get it, he threw a royal fit. When he decided to hit back at those who called him selfish by gunning for the assists title, he used to pass up easy shots by kicking it out to teammates, and then yelling at them if they didn’t shoot or missed, thereby depriving him of an assist. I’ll leave it to you guys.
Wilt had recorded nine straight triple-doubles that season, with probably a bunch of quadruple doubles. Wilt in ’67 was the only player in NBA history who could affect the game by scoring, playmaking, rebounding, and defense. If he didn’t have the me-first personality that he did, I would not only have made him the starting center, but also the captain.
Back to the main event now. Hakeem, in the two years that Jordan had his baseball adventure, was the undisputed alpha dog of the league.
And during the playoffs, he took it to a whole new level.
There was literally no one in NBA history who could have stopped Hakeem from scoring during the 1995 playoffs. In consecutive rounds, he took down Barkley, Malone, Robinson, and Shaq in the Finals. In sports history, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who humiliated his biggest rivals one after the other in a two month stretch.
Especially against Robinson, he was head and shoulders over the NBA. He had the poor guy, as an announcer put it, ‘bamboozled’. The array of post moves, speed and strength that Hakeem possessed made stopping him akin to the prospect of stopping a freight-train in full flow. His skills cannot be doubted. Anyone who has seen that famous video in which he basically danced around David Robinson time and time again in Game 2, after Robinson had been presented with the MVP right in front of him, will know that this was one of the ten greatest players to ever dribble a basketball.
Starting Point Guard: 1985 Magic Johnson (captain)
Playoff Statistics: 17.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 15.2 APG, 56-89 shooting, 1.7 SPG
Our captain, our playmaker, our inspirational leader, and the guy who will make sure no one grumbles for lack of shots.
Magic Johnson did things on the basketball court that nobody else did, and probably off it too, if you’ve read his biography.
At 6’9, he was built like a small forward or power forward. But his skills, speed, and vision led him to becoming the tallest, and greatest point guard in NBA history.
I don’t know if I should go on about Magic, many have said what needs to be said about the guy’s career. Including his final year of college, he played ten Finals in thirteen seasons, winning six rings. From an individual standpoint, he peaked in the late eighties, averaging 22-7-12 over a few seasons, winning three MVPs, getting to four Finals, and two rings.
But for the purposes of the greatest team of all time, we will select the ’85 vintage of Johnson.
He peaked as a distributor extraordinaire during that season, which is what we need right now. With the selection of talent we have on this team, if Magic played his usual 35-40 minutes per game and handled the rock at all times, I could see him easily averaging 20+ dimes per game. At least. He was the orchestrator of a Laker offense that averaged 127 PPG through the playoffs, as well as being the first small-ball champion.
What else can be said? At his height, he’s a matchup nightmare for pretty much any point guard ever if we want to post up with him.
The one liability is that of course he’s a massive defensive liability at this point. That has to do with the philosophy of those Laker teams, of course, i.e. we score more points than you, end of story.
It’s not a problem, though. Not with the big men behind him to protect the paint from penetrating guards, not with the perimeter defenders like Pippen and Kobe on the bench.
Of course, not with this next guy playing in the starting back-court with him…
Starting Shooting-Guard: 1992 Michael Jordan
Playoff Statistics: 34.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.8 APG, 53-68 shooting, 2.7 BPG, 1.2 SPG
Let me tell you, this was hard.
Again, we all knew Jordan was the starting 2-guard, but which?
If you want a flat out scorer, pick his ’87 season when he erupted for 37.1 PPG, the highest by anyone not named Elgin or Wilt.
If you want a monstrous defender, how about ’88? He was the only guard to win Defensive Player of the Year, averaging 3.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game in the process. Oh, and he scored 35 PPG in the process.
You want an all-around, triple double threat? Move over, here’s ’89 Jordan, who managed 32.5 PPG, 8 RPG, and 8 APG. At one point he had 10 triple doubles in 11 games.
As an individual player, Jordan’s peak from ’87 to ’89 was the best three year stretch we will ever see. Bird from 84-88 may come close, and Wilt’s ’67 season is also pretty impressive, but Michael Jordan during those three seasons was indescribable. I am literally at a loss for words every time I see the numbers. Do you realize that if he played in Wilt’s era he would have averaged a triple double with 45+ PPG? Most authorities on the subject agree that even in today’s game, with no hand-checking and weaker defenses, Jordan would decimate scoring records.
It’s a bit sad that we cannot have the greatest player ever in his athletic prime with us when we go to basketball war with the evil alien invaders.
The reason that applied to Kobe still applies to MJ though. Back then, Jordan was playing with coaches who basically knew one play, “Pass it to Mike.” We’ll see about who’s going to be coaching this team, but I can assure you they are not going to be thinking in those terms.
Therefore, we want a more mature Jordan. One who understands team play and the concepts of deferring at times.
’96 Jordan stands out. He was humbled by his experience in baseball and had embraced his team-mates completely en route to a record breaking 72 win season, with 31-5-4 in the playoffs.
But I feel like we’re sacrificing here. What does it tell you about Jordan that 31-5-4 and the Finals MVP was the worst Playoffs of his career?
I think Jordan in 1992 was the ideal balance between the two. He was still in his athletic prime, and had a kind of arrogance about him at that point of his career which strangely works for him, rather than against him.
You’re probably thinking that this article needs to end soon if you think that arrogance works in the benefit of a player.
Well, let me tell you two stories.
The first was game one of the ’92 Finals. Jordan was coming off back-to-back MVPs. Everyone knew he was the best player in the league. If he was a 100, the closest competitor was a 60. I don’t know why the media started comparing his Finals opponent, Clyde Drexler, to him in a basketball sense. They needed the hype I guess. If I were Drexler, I would sue each and every newspaper in America at that time for what happened next.
The Bulls won the game 122-89. Jordan, apparently ticked off by the fact that the media was comparing the lowly Clyde Drexler, to him, Michael Jordan, His Airness, decided to show why he was not to be compared with anyone else.
Portland was leading 17-9 halfway through the first quarter.
Then Jordan decided to go into ‘eff you’ mode.
He scored 28 straight points, including six threes in the first half, which led to the Bulls leading 66-51 after the half, 104-68 after three quarters, and an iconic 122-89 at the buzzer.
He finished with 35 points in the first half, a Finals record. He held Drexler to 5-14 shooting.
Everyone has heard this story, of course. Jordan basically destroyed, dismantled, and humiliated his supposed ‘rival’ on national television. Drexler was never the same again.
The next took place a few months later.
A third year player called LaBradford Smith, who played for the Bullets, managed a career high 37 on 15-20 shooting with Jordan guarding him. After the game, he mockingly said, “Nice game, Mike.”
The Bulls were playing the reverse fixture the next night.
Jordan’s final shot of the first half rimmed out at the buzzer, giving him 36 for the first half.
Smith finished the game with 15 points on 5-12 shooting, with Jordan guarding him. MJ on the other hand had an epic 47-8-4 on 60% shooting in a 126-101 rout.
What’s the lesson from this, folks?
Don’t make Michael angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.
I hope to God the Martians don’t read this.
Best Clutch Line-Up
Few surprises here. Nash and Magic are equal defensive liabilities, so I think Nash’s array of clutch shots throughout his career gives him the nod over Magic, who had basically one iconic clutch moment and a bunch of choke-jobs.
Who do I want taking the very last shot?
Hard to say. If it’s a two, Kareem. If it’s a three, Bird. If we just need to get any kind of shot off and pray, Jordan.
Best Defensive Line-Up
I was considering moving Jordan to point, but I think this would work out fine. It’d also be fun to see Hakeem play on the same frontcourt as Robinson after the 1995 Western Conference Finals. Wait though, we’ve got the ’92 Robinson. So would that ass-kicking still apply since it hasn’t happened to David yet?
I don’t know, my head hurts.
Best Fastbreak Line-Up
Best Fast-Break Line-Up
Considering Kareem was adept at playing on fast-break teams with the Lakers later in his career, I think he’ll flourish there in his athletic prime.
I wanted Kobe and Jordan on the same line-up here for sure, considering they’re our two best finishers.
Best Smallball Line-Up
I think we could somehow get away with this if we pushed the tempo to the degree that this team resembled the 2007 Warriors. Especially considering Magic had the best game of his career when he played center.
It’d be really incredible fun to watch, if anything. These guys might get killed defensively, but just imagine the passing and the highlight reel dunks. You also have elite shooters from the 1 through the 4. I like this. I really, really like this.
Best Shooting Line-Up
Kareem’s sky-hook allowed him to shoot even from the free-throw line, something you’d rarely see from the other centers on this list.
There aren’t exactly any other surprises on this list otherwise.
So, there you have it. The greatest basketball team ever assembled. We are going to destroy the Martians, aren’t we?
Do give me your thoughts. What would be your greatest team ever?
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