My Greatest NBA Fantasy Team of All Time

August 13, 2013 in Basketball, Best Of, NBA, Sport by pacejmiller

MJ

I haven’t done any basketball-related posts on this blog for a while, and this is a topic I have wanted to tackle for some time. After recently reading Jack McCallum’s fabulous Dream Team (review here), a chronicle of the greatest group of talent ever assembled in team sport, I started thinking about which players I would pick for my personal fantasy dream team, comprising NBA players from any era at a certain point in their careers.

This is, of course, just a personal selection of players based on a subjective assessment of each player’s talent, ability and skill, as well as what I think they will bring to the table and how they might play off each other as a cohesive unit. So don’t get your knickers in a bunch if you don’t agree. I will, however, try to justify my selections with explanations, so feel free to comment and start up a healthy debate.

As this is MY dream team, I am going to only consider players I have actually watched play in full televised or archived games (ie late 80s), as opposed to basing selections purely on reputation or grainy highlights. I therefore offer my apologies upfront to the greatest winner of all-time, Bill Russell, the most dominant scorer (and womanizer) of all time, Wilt Chamberlain, and Mr Triple Double, Oscar Robertson.

Two of the greatest actors of their generation, Arnie and Wilt

Two of the greatest actors of their generation, Arnie and Wilt

Part of the decision to remove them from contention stems from my belief that players of the past, as good as they were, aren’t as good as the players of the modern era. I mean, Russell was only 6’9″ and 225 lbs, and Wilt was regarded as unmatched at 7’1″ and 275 lbs, and the level of competition they faced was not even close. It’s no question that players today are much bigger, stronger, more athletic and more skilled. Not to say Russell, Wilt and The Big O wouldn’t still be great players in today’s game (especially if they were given the same nutrition and training opportunities), but I just don’t know enough to make that assumption.

Starters

Selection philosophy

The majority of my starting five choices won’t be controversial. There’s at least one guy that will be on everyone’s list, and we all know who that is, and there’s two other guys that will be on most lists.

My philosophy was simple. The first factor was to consider the best all-round player in that position. The second consideration was whether that player addresses a need on a team, be it scoring, passing, rebounding, defense, shooting, shot blocking, and so forth. And the third consideration was whether those players would mesh well as a team. With that in mind, my greatest starting five of all time is…

PG Magic Johnson (1988-1989)

It wasn’t hard to choose whom many regard as the greatest point guard of all time, a 6’9″ maestro with possibly the best court vision the game has ever seen. With his incredible size at PG and ability to find the open man, especially on the break, Magic would be the perfect coordinator of this team. His supernatural passing ability has somewhat shadowed his scoring and rebounding, which were both fantastic, but the best thing about Magic is that he doesn’t need to score to control and dominate a game. And let’s not forget the intangibles — his leadership and will to win.

It’s hard to pick one version of Magic for this team. There’s 1981-1982, the year where he came closest to averaging a triple double with 18.6, 9.6 and 9.5. There’s 1983-1984, when he averaged a career high 13.1 assists to go with 17.6 points, or 1986-87, when he averaged a career high 23.9 points to go with 12.2 assists. Any of these would have been wonderful, but in the end I chose his 1988-1989 MVP season, during which he averaged 22.5 points, 12.8 assists (both second highest in his career) and still grabbed 7.9 rebounds (the highest since 1982-1983). He shot 51% from the field and came close to leading the league in free throws at 91.1%. He also posted his second-highest PER at 26.9 (just 0.1 below his best PER).

SG Michael Jordan (1988-1989)

The no brainer. Of course you would have the GOAT on your team. A perfect blend of size, strength, athleticism and skills matched with an unparalleled drive, determination, and desire to win at all costs. Unstoppable offensively and capable of stopping just about everyone defensively. Even on this team, the greatest of all time, MJ would be the unquestionable star.

The harder decision was choosing the best version of Jordan to fill my team. Do I go with the offensive prodigy who put up a staggering 37.1 points in 1986-1987, the highest single season scoring average of any player not named Wilt Chamberlain? Or do I go with the Jordan of the first three-peat, where he was better athletically, or the Jordan of the second three-peat, where he was smarter and developed that money turnaround jumper? Ultimately, I could not pass on the 1988-1989 Jordan who averaged 32.5, 8 and 8 (the latter two of which were career highs) and shot nearly 54% from the field and 85% from the line. It wasn’t his most efficient year (he posted a PER of 31.7 in 1987-88), but a PER of 31.1 and a career-high true shooting percentage of 61.4% is not too shabby.

SF Larry Bird (1984-85)

Larry Legend is my favourite non-Pacers player of all time, so he was bound to be on the team somewhere. But even as an objective assessor, I would have put him on the starting lineup anyway, especially if you see my selections below. Bird is the kind of player you just have to watch to understand just how legendary he truly is. Apart from being possibly the greatest shooter of all time, Bird was a fantastic rebounder and effortless passer. He may not be the greatest one-on-one defender, but he uses his high basketball IQ and tenacity to his advantage and gets plenty of deflections and steals, plus his 6’9″ height is an advantage against smaller wing players.

But it’s the intangibles that make Bird a can’t miss player on my greatest team of all time. The ice cool confidence, that special ability to make his teammates better, and the clutchness — I’d have no problem with either him or Jordan taking the final shot every time. Bird might even be better because of his long range capabilities. With the creativity of Magic and Bird on the same team the possibilities are endless.

It’s not easy picking the best Bird (he did have three MVPs and two 50-40-90 shooting seasons), but I’ve decided on the 1984-85 season when he won his second MVP, posting averages of 28.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists while shooting 52% from the field, 43% from three-point range and 88% from the line. He also posted the second highest PER of his career that year with 26.5.

PF LeBron James (2012-2013)

With LeBron playing the best basketball of his career after shifting predominantly to power forward in Miami, it made it easy for me to not have to decide between him and Larry Bird at SF. The best player in the game today — by far — LeBron is a unique player at 6’8″-6’9″ and 250 lbs (at least), freakishly athletic, strong as an ox and unstoppable on the break, with incredible court vision, an improving jumpshot and the ability to defend any position on the floor. So while there might be more conventional choices at PF, simply having LeBron anywhere on this starting lineup was a more important consideration for me.

The LeBron I chose for the team is the most recent version from the 2012-2013 season, when he led the Heat to their second straight title while winning his fourth MVP award. He posted his second highest PER at 31.6 and averaged a controlled 26.8 points, 8 rebounds and 7.3 assists while making it look easy. He also shot a ridiculous 56.5% from the field and 40.6% from three-point range. He may have had more eye-popping numbers in Cleveland, but there is no doubt that the LeBron of now is the much better player. To think he might not have reached his peak is a frightening thought.

C Hakeem Olajuwon (1992-1993)

Lots of great options at center, but in the end I went with the most complete player at both ends of the floor, the player with the unstoppable post moves (just ask David Robinson) and the NBA’s all-time top shot blocker. I chose Hakeem because he can do it all (he is only one of four players in NBA history to have recorded a quadruple double), but particularly because of his defensive prowess and longer shooting range compared to most centers. And he was a rare center who could actually hit his free throws, coming close to 80% in his prime. Hakeem didn’t overpower you, but he could score in an unlimited number of ways, whether it was faking you out down low, up and unders, hook shots or fadeaway jumpers. On the other end he was a menace with those long arms and exquisite footwork.

It was tempting to choose a Hakeem from the Rockets’ championship years in 1993-1994 and 1994-1995, but I think he was even better in 1992-1993, except he was overshadowed by Jordan, like everyone else. In that year, Hakeem recorded his best PER of 27.3 and averaged 26.1 points, 13 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 4.2 blocks. Just beastly.

Selection justification

I am confident my starting lineup of Magic, Jordan, Bird, LeBron and Hakeem can beat any starting five in history. You have tremendous size, with everyone except 6’6″ Jordan at 6’9″ or above. All are fantastic playmakers who make their teammates better, especially Magic, Bird and LeBron, and Jordan and Hakeem are both superior passers at their respective positions. All five are also excellent rebounders, and sound team rebounding is what makes a good team great. An interesting point to note is that all five are superb post players too, so they can take their man one-on-one to make the most of mismatch opportunities.

Defensively, Jordan and LeBron can shut down any wing player, and LeBron can take on most power forwards. Both of them, especially LeBron, are chase-down block specialists. Jordan, remember, was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1987-1988. Bird and Magic are not known for their D but are both clever players who can mask their deficiencies. And in the middle you have Hakeem challenging, blocking and changing shots.

If the game ever gets tight, as unlikely as that is, you have five of the greatest clutch players at their respective positions at your disposal. And if all else fails, just get the ball to Jordan and get the hell out of the way.

Whichever way you look at it, this is an unstoppable starting five! They have size and speed, they rebound and share the ball, can shoot and score and defend in a multitude of ways. With the way these guys play, you never have to worry about chemistry because they all just want to win.

See the rest of my selections and those who missed the cut after the jump!

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