Doug’s All-time NBA starting lineup
Karl Malone recently came up with his all-time starting five, which set the blogosphere a-light sense he left off Michael Jordan. He since retracted his statement. My brother gave his starting five, which I’ll let him defend it here if he wants, but it got me thinking, what would I do in a pick-up game? I think it would depend on who the other team picked. Here’s how my decision tree would go.
#1: Magic Johnson
Assuming I have the first pick, I’m going with Magic Johnson. I think he presents the biggest matchup problem. Obviously, the Bulls found a way to do it, as did the Rockets, Celtics, 76ers, Blazers and Pistons, so it wasn’t impossible. Now, I’m not picking a bench, just 5, but Magic can play other positions, which is helpful. It also means that if I am unable to get some of the picks I want at other positions, I can move Magic around. It’s great to have that flexibility with your first pick, rather than searching for it with later picks.
#2: Jordan or Scottie Pippen
If Jordan is still unpicked, I go with Jordan. If Jordan is picked, I pick the only man on the planet that can possibly guard him. Saying it like that makes you wonder why I didn’t pick Jordan first. It’s a good question. I guess I just like pinning the other team in a corner early. Not picking Jordan first might get them off their game.
#3: If still on the table, Oscar Robertson, if not David Robinson and if not either Scottie Pippen
The size I gain at point guard I lose at SF, but there’s no way I’m letting the only man to average a triple-double for a season get away. Centers are a dime a dozen and Oscar played forward some for the 1960 gold medal-winning Olympic team.
As for David Robinson, I’d like to go twin-towers if at all possible, and one of those guys is going to need to be mobile enough to guard their potential power forward. Also, with the possibility of Jordan on the team, we are going to need some guys that don’t mind taking a back seat scoring-wise.
As for Pippen, this is another selection to keep the other team from doing what they might want. I’m not sure who they would get to guard Jordan, but if they’ve picked Oscar and David for their first two picks I’m taking Scottie off the table.
#4: If still on the table, Kareem. If not, David Robinson…and I don’t feel like coming up with more scenarios. At this point I’ll be reacting to the other team at some level.
I thought a lot about this one, but if this a team that actually has to play a game, I want guys that have some playing experience together as Magic and Kareem do. As it turns out, Kareem (then, Lew Alcinder) and Robertson won the ’71 NBA championship together as well. This is the main reason I am talking Kareem with #4 rather than David Robinson.
At this point, the decision tree gets complicated. Am I now playing a twin-towers set with David Robinson or not? That’s why I ultimately just left it two deep here. With my 5th pick, you can see some of the other players I might pick would be.
#5: If still on the table (and I didn’t pick earlier), David Robinson. If not, Bill Russell, then, LeBron James, then Moses Malone, then Hakeem.
There’s basically no chance that I’ll pick Hakeem here. That would mean that their lineup was Robinson, Russell, James and Moses Malone. I guess they could be waiting for a point guard with their 5th pick, and they are playing James as a shooting guard. James is not a shooter though. I mean, maybe they are just going super big and are going to pick a young Penny Hardaway at point. That team is gonna get beat on the break all day long though. I know Russell, Robinson and James are all ridiculous athletes, even by NBA standards – that’s part of why they are on my list – but seriously? If they did something like that, then Oscar runs the point defensively and Magic fills in guarding Russell and Jordan guards LeBron. It’s ridiculous though.
So, ultimately, I have two sets of guys that have played together (Robertson-Kareem, Magic-Kareem), a guy that has been successful running the twin-towers system, the best all-around player the game has ever seen and probably the second-best all-around player the game has ever seen.
Why no LeBron? Well, he’s the reason I said “probably” the second-best all-around player the game has ever seen, because LeBron may very well surpass Robertson. At 28, he could still surpass Jordan, though I think LeBron is going to have to hit a lot of clutch shots to surpass Jordan. LeBron could surpass Jordan in every statistical category, but if he doesn’t hit game-winning shots, he’s just not going to surpass Jordan. One could argue that if Jordan were so great, then he wouldn’t be in a position to need to hit a game-winning shot. That may be true, but if LeBron is so great, he doesn’t lose to the Spurs 113-77. I understand this is a bit like saying that there was a hot day and thus there is no global warming, but that’s precisely my point. Saying that Jordan wasn’t great because he hit game-winning shots is nonsensical.
For me, it’s just too soon for LeBron. He only has one championship. Of course, so does Oscar, but Oscar played in an era dominated by the Boston Celtics. It’s hard to fault an entire generation for not playing for the Celtics. Of course, shouldn’t that mean Bill Russell is on this list? For Russell, I’m just not sure 6’9”/6’10” (as he’s variously listed) really fits my twin towers model. If Bill Russell is going to be playing against a power forward, do I not just want a power forward? David Robinson played in the twin-tower setting with Tim Duncan and was successful. That doesn’t mean Kareem would be successful at it.
Ultimately, any team is going to have weaknesses if you only have 5 guys. That is why the 6th man award is so important. The Lakers don’t win some of their championships without Lamar Odom, the Spurs don’t win some of theirs without Ginobli and maybe the Bulls don’t win without Kukoč (although I find this last one a stretch…they could have filled someone else in).