Introduction via HamsterdamHerald.com…
Hello, Keeper of the Court –
As you feast on the ongoing entertainment provided by the current 2013-2014 NBA season, I thought it appropriate to put our own twist on a conversation that seems to be revisited annually – the greatest players of all-time debate.
Rather than focusing on simply ranking players (i.e. 1- MJ, 2- Russell, 3- Magic, 4- Bird, etc.), I’d prefer to challenge you to an all-time draft. Here is how we play it out:
We will alternate picking 16 players from the history of the NBA to assemble a roster of 8 players for each team. For the first eight picks, we’ll alternate back and forth. At pick eight, you will make back to back selections to reverse the order. The goal is to create a team that is not only loaded with great talent, but also capable of playing well together (CHEMISTRY). These teams will actually have to “play” basketball, therefore consider the need for a point guard, center, wing players, etc. We don’t need to stick to rigid position rules, but the general construction of an NBA roster should be considered. Essentially, I want you to be confident putting your team up against any other all-time team that could be presented to you.
One more thing…
Basketball players are unique in that no single season is the same. The greatest players continually evolve their games, adding elements that may have been a weakness or even non-existent during previous seasons. For this reason, I want us to treat them like a fine wine and select the specific season from which we are choosing this player.
I flipped a coin and got the first pick.
1. ZC (Hamsterdam Herald) selects: ’91 Michael Jordan – Chicago Bulls
Age: 27 POS: SG PPG: 31.5 RPG: 6.0 APG: 5.5 SPG: 2.7 BPG: 1.0 PER: 31.6 TS%: 60.5 TOV: 2.5
No suspense here, I’m taking His Airness, Michael Jordan to anchor my team. Do I get bonus points for now having the most marketable player in NBA history on my roster?
I wanted the most driven and enraged Michael Jordan I could get while still be in his prime athletically. Coming off a 1990 campaign that resulted in a third consecutive loss to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, in 1991, Michael Jordan won his second straight MVP award by averaging 31.5 points on 53.9% shooting, 6 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 steals, and a block per game. Absurd. Is is good when a player’s PER exceeds his points per game? Just asking, because Mike had his second highest career PER of 31.6 in 1991.
I’ve grabbed myself an unstoppable offensive force that can lock down the other team’s other perimeter player. I’m feeling good, but I probably need to grab myself some mentally strong players going forward. While the majority of humanity dismisses it as his insatiable competitive drive, MJ’s “leadership skills” mostly consisted of bashing teammates, both physically and mentally.
Fortunately, I’m not building my team around personality kindness, so MJ will make the cut and serve as my number one pick.
2. CP (Keeper of the Court) selects: ‘03 Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs
Age: 26 POS: PF PPG: 23.3 RPG: 12.9 APG: 3.9 SPG: 0.7 BPG: 2.9 PER: 26.9 TS%: 56.4 TOV: 3.1
For my first pick, I’ll have to go with Tim Duncan. Over the years, where would the Spurs’ offense have been without his post-up prowess, screens, and pick-and-roll presence? His fast break initiations and superb passing? And what would their defense have looked like without his ability to alter shots without fouling, his stellar 1-on-1 play, and mistake-free help? Duncan’s year in 2003 gets the nod because not only did he have a pep in his step, but he was shooting free throws at a respectable rate (his FT percentages have curiously been all over the place). He was also accustomed to having his team call upon his passing abilities in the halfcourt.
The incredibly smart, skilled, and giant Duncan of ‘03 anything you could ask for from a big man, and let us not forget: at its core, basketball is a big man’s game.
3. ZC selects: ‘00 Shaquille O’Neal – Los Angeles Lakers
Age: 27 POS: C PPG: 29.7 RPG: 13.6 APG: 3.8 SPG: 0.5 BPG: 3.0 PER: 30.6 TS%: 57.8 TOV: 2.7
Legend has it that there was once a player that stood 7’1” 325 lbs (allegedly), possessed nice touch around the rim, and displayed excellent agility for a man of his stature.
In 2000, Shaq put all of these physical tools together to put together one of the most dominant seasons in NBA history. During his “athletic years,” Shaq always managed to be a nightmare for defenses due to his sheer physical size. Aside from the monstrous numbers O’Neal posted during the 2000 season, the toll he took on the opposition through the constant leaning and pounding against defenders was invaluable.
Shaq also posted his greatest defensive season in 2000, offering up 7.0 defensive win shares. His presence in the lane discouraged driving, but when they did, shots were routinely altered or returned to sender.
His weakness? Free throws, as always. But if you’re all-time team is resorting to “Hack-A-Shaq,” I’ve already won.
4. CP selects: ‘93 Hakeem Olajuwon – Houston Rockets
Age: 30 POS: C PPG: 26.1 RPG: 13.0 APG: 3.5 SPG: 1.8 BPG: 4.2 PER: 27.3 TS%: 57.7 TOV: 3.2
Since you have chosen to go with the ultimate game changer — the fat whirlwind of flying elbows and insta-dunks — I’ll have to change my plans a bit. This calls for a Hakeem Olajuwon selection. Only a few men during Shaq’s time were capable of holding it down versus him defensively, and Hakeem fits into this category. We can take the fact that Hakeem swept O’Neal in the ‘95 Finals with a grain of salt, because Shaq was indeed a young’in. But only once did O’Neal exceed 30 points versus Hakeem, and he was never not bothered by Hakeem’s length, agility, and intellect on defense.
Why else do I feel great about my Hakeem selection? Aside from being one of the most well-rounded players in history, Hakeem “the Dream” was legitimately unguardable on the offensive end (see: the Dream Shake). His control of both ends of the floor forced my brain to conjure up thoughts about whether he could’ve gone toe-to-toe with Michael Jordan and potentially come out on top. ‘93 Hakeem gets the nod because this is when his passing game peaked and rounded him into a truly frightening offensive weapon, all while he was as bouncy as ever.
5. ZC selects: ‘85 Larry Bird – Boston Celtics
Age: 28 POS: SF PPG: 28.7 RPG: 10.5 APG: 6.6 SPG: 1.6 BPG: 1.2 PER: 26.5 TS%: 58.5 TOV: 3.1
I must say, I like the pick. Hakeem would combat a prime Diesel about as well as any human can hope. Sprinkle in some help defense from “the greatest power forward of all-time” and scoring in the lane just became a tad difficult.
For this reason, it’s time I find some help in spreading the floor. With Shaq manning the middle, there isn’t much room for a low-post oriented power forward, so why not go with The Legend? I’ll take ‘85 Larry, who posted his highest 3-point percentage at 42.7%. Be careful with your help on MJ’s drives or Shaq’s post-ups; both players will find Bird spotting up, ready to bury an open three.
But summing up Larry Bird’s role merely as a spot up shooter would be criminal. I’m getting a highly skilled 6’9” hybrid forward that has tremendous passing ability, clever defensive tactics, and a knack for making critical plays. I can count on Bird to consistently make the right “basketball play,” and on a team with finishers like Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan, that type of player will be key to keeping the train on the tracks.
6. CP selects: ‘14 Lebron James – Miami Heat
Age: 29 POS: SF PPG: 25.2 RPG: 6.8 APG: 6.5 SPG: 1.5 BPG: 0.3 PER: 29.9 TS%: 68.1 TOV: 3.7
Larry Bird was an absolute gamer, to the point where I absolutely cannot let him feast on inferior competition at the small forward spot. This calls for a Lebron James pick. While Bird was arguably more skilled, James possesses defensive mobility, tenacity, scoring ability, and an all-around game that’d be a real handful for Bird. Both possessed versatility and size that let them slide back and forth between small forward and power forward.
In the end, Bird and Lebron might not always match up with each other. But you can’t go wrong with a Lebron James pick. This year’s James (‘14) has evolved to the point where it’s just plain unfair (his true shooting percentage is at a never-before-seen 68%, for one). If we’re talking from a strict basketball standpoint — not accomplishments relative to era, but skill, IQ, physique, and athleticism — Lebron James likely embodies one of the top two perimeter players to ever play the sport. The man can do it all.
7. ZC selects: ‘13 Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder
Age: 24 POS: SF PPG: 28.1 RPG: 7.9 APG: 4.6 SPG: 1.4 BPG: 1.3 PER: 28.3 TS%: 64.7 TOV: 3.5
Excellent selection, my friend. You’ve got yourself the dominant player of this millenium. Lebron is hyper efficient, excellent (while maybe overrated?) defensively, and similar to Bird in his ability to pick apart a defense with his passing.
While tempted to counter with MJ’s 90’s running-mate, I’m going to roll with the 2013 version of Kevin Durant. The funniest thing about this pick – it’s yet to be determined whether I’m even getting the best version of this guy.
I’ve added another hybrid forward to pair with Larry Bird. While not an elite defender, KD was very serviceable in 2013. What he lacks in defensive IQ and instincts he can make up for with length and athleticism.
But defense is not why I have Kevin Durant on the roster. The guy is 25 years old and already an all-time offensive force. At 6’9”, he has a tight handle, unlimited range, and a supreme ability to get to the line and knock them down. In 2013, KD’s true shooting percentage was a ridiculous 64.7%!
The court has been spread.
8. CP selects: ‘95 Scottie Pippen – Chicago Bulls
Age: 29 POS: SF PPG: 21.4 RPG: 8.1 APG: 5.2 SPG: 2.9 BPG: 1.1 PER: 22.6 TS%: 55.9 TOV: 3.4
Since you have opted to select two of the game’s best scorers of all-time in Jordan and Durant, I am left with no choice but to grab the best perimeter defender the game has ever seen. What makes me confident in this pick is that Scottie Pippen’s defensive prowess wasn’t limited to just one position — his length and agility allowed him to shut down (or bother) practically every position. Magic Johnson? No problem, let me full court press you real quick. Charles Barkley? I’ll front you and bother you with length. If I sic Pippen on Durant or Jordan, I have no worries. He’ll do the best job that one can do to slow them down.
On offense, this man was skilled and unselfish, an athletic specimen, and could operate in both uptempo and half-court offenses. Much like Lebron, he was able to play the 2-3 very comfortably and versions of the 1 and 4. ‘95 Pippen gets the nod for a couple reasons, but namely that by this time, his pull-up three-pointer was deadly, and his all-around game was firing on all levels. In fact, ‘95 Pippen led his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and minutes. Astounding.
9. CP selects: ‘05 Kevin Garnett – Minnesota Timberwolves
Age: 28 POS: PF PPG: 22.2 RPG: 13.5 APG: 5.7 SPG: 1.5 BPG: 1.4 PER: 28.2 TS%: 56.7 TOV: 2.7
There may be better players left to pick, but I can’t let you have Kevin Garnett. The prospect of him coming off the bench to fill the gap that Tim Duncan leaves — or to play alongside him — is far too enticing. My god, the defense. In Kevin’s prime, he was an-all around force that we’d almost never seen, inflicting damage at literally every position on the court on both ends. It still makes me chuckle that a 6’11” guy used to dribble the ball up and initiate his offense.
I chose Kevin’s 2005 year because he was accustomed to playing center by then (an estimated 46% of the time according to Basketball-Reference), and his passing and rebounding abilities were at elite levels. His jumpshot was dangerous to the tune that it sucked out opposing defenses from beneath the rim. Most important of all, he was every bit as explosive as he’s ever been.
10. ZC selects: ‘87 Magic Johnson – Los Angeles Lakers
Age: 27 POS: PG PPG: 23.9 RPG: 6.3 APG: 12.2 SPG: 1.7 BPG: 0.5 PER: 27.0 TS%: 60.2 TOV: 3.8
This can probably be classified as my first “self-preservation” pick. Do I really want to face a fastbreak that features Magic and Lebron on the same roster?
This wing-oriented roster certainly has the horses to get out and run with Magic. KD and Jordan can run and finish with the best of them, while Bird can add his beautiful touch passing skills. Pairing Magic’s transcendent offensive skills with any player creates remarkable basketball, let alone the likes of Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant and Shaquille O’Neal. Giving Magic that weaponry is like giving Khaleesi three baby dragons – dominance ensues.
The key, besides the obvious talent of this starting five, is the basketball personas of Magic, Bird and KD. All three can take a game over in his own right, but each is able to thrive and find significant ways to impact the game without being a team’s focal point. With the ball-in-hand scoring dominance of MJ and Shaq rounding out the starting lineup, this quality is of the utmost importance.
11. CP selects: ‘78 Bill Walton – Portland Trail Blazers
Age: 28 POS: C PPG: 18.9 RPG: 13.2 APG: 5.0 SPG: 1.0 BPG: 2.5 PER: 24.8 TS%: 55.4 TOV: 3.6
Who better to back up my bigs than Bill Walton, a man with great experience in thriving in such a role? Bill won Sixth Man of the Year on one of the most loaded teams to date in the 1986 Boston Celtics. This of course is not to imply that this is all he was capable of in his prime — some, in fact, deem Bill Walton as the best “two-way player” to ever play the game.
I’ll address the obvious: yes, Walton played in an era where the game hadn’t evolved to what it’s become today, and players weren’t quite as athletic. But that’s perfectly okay. Walton’s size, skill, and feel for the game would allow for his all-time passing, rebounding, defense, and low/high post play to dominate in any era. If active today, we’d essentially be watching a Marc Gasol on steroids (add in all-time outlet passing, more defensive mobility, and better post scoring).
The ‘78 season of Walton’s was one of only two healthy ones we saw from him, but his skill combined with his poise, leadership, and radiant positivity had already made an enormous impact; Walton’s ability to drive his teammates whilst playing team basketball only makes me more excited about tossing him into a mix of highly capable players.
12. ZC selects: ‘90 Charles Barkley – Philadelphia 76ers
Age: 26 POS: PF PPG: 25.2 RPG: 11.5 APG: 3.9 SPG: 1.9 BPG: 0.6 PER: 27.1 TS%: 66.1 TOV: 3.1
Bill Walton! Your tall team gets even higher (literally and figuratively).
While Sir Charles’ height may not extend to the heavens, his basketball gifts certainly do. Why not add a relentless rebounder that can snag a defensive rebound, break out into a full sprint while maintaining his dribble, and either find the open man for a slick pass or finish with dominant authority?
He’ll fit this high flying roster perfectly. A constant headache for conventional power forwards due to his perimeter skills, Barkley still managed to dominate both the offensive and defensive glass credit to his impeccable timing and instincts for the craft. In addition to his skill, power, and overwhelming athleticism, Barkley possessed a motor that simply wouldn’t stop.
1990 was one of the peak years athletically for Charles Barkley, and it showed in his results. A hyper-efficient scorer, in large part due to his aggression at the rim and ability to put back offensive rebounds, Barkley rarely receives the credit he’s due for his passing ability. Never an elite defender, Charles utilized his natural talents well enough to be effective. But let’s face it, Sir Charles rebounding and offensive prowess were more than enough to compensate for any defensive deficiencies.
Am I just creating an in-their-prime “Dream Team?”
13. CP selects: ‘96 Mitch Richmond – Sacramento Kings
Age: 30 POS: SG PPG: 23.1 RPG: 3.3 APG: 3.1 SPG: 1.5 BPG: 0.2 PER: 19.2 TS%: 59.1 TOV: 2.7
My heart aches as I see my favorite player of all-time slip from my grasp. What does this mean? Does life go on?
As of now, my perimeter shooters shoot an approximate 38% from deep, and while this is a solid clip, I need someone who’s going to administer severe punishment for the imminent double teams that my bigs will attract. Mitch Richmond time. Not only did ‘96 Mitch shoot a sizzling 44% from three, he made the fourth most three point field goals in the entire league. And this isn’t a spot up shooter we’re talking about — Richmond is one of the best shooting guards we’ve seen to date, who put cuts, jumpshots, and post play into a nicely efficient and well-rounded package. Worth noting: Michael Jordan has been quoted as saying Richmond was his toughest foe, in part due to the tough defense he played. With Richmond coming off the bench, I’m not comfortable, I’m giddy. Having no difficulty fitting in with team-oriented approach, this man could quietly wreak havoc.
14. ZC selects: ‘94 David Robinson – San Antonio Spurs
Age: 28 POS: C PPG: 29.8 RPG: 10.7 APG: 4.8 SPG: 1.7 BPG: 3.3 PER: 30.7 TS%: 57.7 TOV: 3.2
Fun fact: Mitch Richmond was one of my go-to players when playing NBA Shootout ‘98 on Playstation. That three point stroke was pure. Good times.
While I’ve acquired a ton of length on my current roster, I will need the ability to match your pure size down low during stretches of the game. You’ve hoarded quite a few of the elite two-way bigs of NBA history, but David Robinson still remains.
Robinson was an imposing physical specimen with the game to go with it. Where The Admiral truly thrives is where my roster as currently assembled can be scrutinized – defensively. David Robinson constantly affected the game on the defensive end with his length, instincts and positioning. How about some raw data from ‘94? Robinson average 3.3 blocks and 1.7 steals per game to go with his stellar 98 defensive rating (which was even pedestrian by his standards).
But don’t let me fool you into thinking he was a one-way player. As Bill Simmons would say, Robinson was at the peak of his powers in ‘94. He efficiently scored the ball at a remarkable clip (29.8 ppg on 57.7% true shooting), but also capitalized on double teams by finding open teammates (career high 21.6% assist percentage).
I hesitated to select The Admiral for the same reason the public may dismiss this selection – “Hakeem Olajuwon owns David Robinson.” The 1995 Western Conference Finals gets all the press, but the numbers and record behind their matchup revealed quite the opposite. Robinson’s teams won 30 out of their 42 head-to-head matchups with Robinson holding Olajuwon to 44.1% shooting.
It’s not a dream.
15. CP selects: ‘98 Gary Payton – Seattle Supersonics
Age: 29 POS: PG PPG: 19.2 RPG: 4.6 APG: 8.3 SPG: 2.3 BPG: 0.2 PER: 21.6 TS%: 54.4 TOV: 2.8
The thought of David Robinson getting thrown into the pit with Tim Duncan is the sole reason behind my current atrial flutter. When have we ever seen such a combination of kind-heartedness, incredible skill, and intelligence between two opponents?
But it’s time to complete my starting five, and ‘98 Gary Payton fills that gap wonderfully. Of all that he can provide, Gary’s ability to disrupt both the point guard and shooting guard positions would be the most crucial. I feel confident in putting him up against Magic Johnson — although he’s shorter, Payton’s sheer determination and tactical genius allowed for his 6’4” self to go toe-to-toe with tall talents like Penny Hardaway and Magic Johnson back in the day. If things do happen to go awry, I’d feel more than willing to slide Payton over on Jordan — especially considering how he spent a Finals series guarding MJ better than arguably anyone ever.
Sure, we’ve seen better scorers and passers at the point guard position. But by ‘98, “The Glove” was more than a quick, expert ball-handler on offense. He was extremely well-versed player with the league’s 8th-best assist percentage (despite being on an elite passing team), a capable three point shot (34%), and solid midrange and post games. Gary’s all-encompassing package combined with his high IQ, leadership, and chippiness is all that my team could ask for.
16. ZC selects: ‘09 Chris Paul – New Orleans Hornets
Age: 23 POS: PG PPG: 22.8 RPG: 5.5 APG: 11.0 SPG: 2.8 BPG: 0.1 PER: 30.0 TS%: 59.9 TOV: 3.0
Seriously, could we have had back to back picks with more opposite personalities than David Robinson and Gary Payton? During the heat of battle, can you imagine the conversation between these two?
I’ll round out this draft with the Chris Paul, the current “best point guard in the game” title holder. The guy is a gem. Tenacious on the court, Paul possesses breathtaking basketball skills. He combines impeccable ball handling, superior basketball IQ, and masterful court vision to generate more assist opportunities per game than another other player in the NBA.
CP3 is always dialed in, which is one of his greatest strengths. He has a knack for understanding what his team needs at any given moment. Does he need to get a teammate going offensively? Do they need a bucket? It’s not just that he recognizes these moments, but rather his ability to act on it with success.
In 2009 Chris Paul was only 23 years old and unimpeded by knee issues. He was able to play at an unforgiving pace, putting pressure on the defense at all times. Paul’s high-risk/high-reward defense becomes even more potent when protected by the likes of Shaq and David Robinson.
Unintended benefit of having CP3 on the roster: with Lil’ Chris running around, locker room morale will be high!
Starting Lineup: PG: Gary Payton SG: Scottie Pippen SF: Lebron James PF: Tim Duncan C: Hakeem Olajuwon
Bench: SG: Mitch Richmond PF: Kevin Garnett C: Bill Walton
Starters: Age: 28.6 PPG: 23 RPG: 9.1 APG: 5.5 SPG: 1.8 BPG: 1.7 TOV: 3.2 PER: 25.7 TS%: 58.5
Bench: Age: 27.7 PPG: 21.4 RPG: 10 APG: 4.6 SPG: 1.3 BPG: 1.4 TOV: 3.0 PER: 24 TS%: 57.1
Team: Age: 28.3 PPG: 22.4 RPG: 9.4 APG: 5.2 SPG: 1.7 BPG: 1.6 TOV: 3.2 PER: 25.1 TS%: 58.0
Starting Lineup: PG: Magic Johnson SG: Michael Jordan SF: Kevin Durant PF: Larry Bird C: Shaquille O’Neal
Bench: PG: Chris Paul PF: Charles Barkley C: David Robinson
Starters: Age: 26.6 PPG: 28.4 RPG: 8.9 APG: 6.5 SPG: 1.6 BPG: 1.4 TOV: 3.1 PER: 28.8 TS%: 60.3
Bench: Age: 25.6 PPG: 25.9 RPG: 9.2 APG: 6.6 SPG: 2.1 BPG: 1.3 TOV: 3.1 PER: 29.3 TS%: 61.2
Team: Age: 26.3 PPG: 27.5 RPG: 9.0 APG: 6.55 SPG: 1.8 BPG: 1.4 TOV: 3.1 PER: 29.0 TS%: 60.7
Team CP, in as few words as possible: three favorite aspects of your team?
Versatility on both ends, size, and defense. My god, the defense.
Team ZC, in as few words as possible: three favorite aspects of your team?
Versatile size, tempo, and the athleticism. These three qualities merge together as I envision this roster posing serious problems for Team CP in transition. The speed and force these athletes can play with, and the corresponding pressure that this will put on a defense may require all 48 allotted fouls.
Team CP, what’s one thing you’re not crazy about with your team?
If my team has a weakness, it has to be slashing. While Team CP’s collective slashing abilities may be solid, it’s hard to compete with the likes of Durant and Jordan in that regard.
Team ZC, what’s one thing you’re not crazy about with your team?
My “concern” is just the opposite of Team CP’s. While this roster can score on any defense in its path, most of the talent on this roster does not possess prolific defensive skills.
*All statistical support from Basketball-Reference.com