This article is part of our NBA Observations series.
As part of our all-time greats series on Sirius XM, Jeff Erickson and I turned to basketball, but this time added two other drafters, ESPN's Andre' Snellings and our own Nick Whalen.
The parameters were to build an eight-man team, including 1 PG, 1 SG, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 C and three reserves, for 2020. The player pool was every player in NBA history, but there would be no era adjustments, i.e., if you drafted Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson, they would arrive as-is 60 years later. Moreover, the idea wasn't to create the team with the most total win shares or the best overall players, but to build a team that could play together optimally and win the most games. I drew the third pick.
Here are the results:
|1||LeBron James||Michael Jordan||Larry Bird||Shaquille O'Neal|
|2||Kevin Garnett||Hakeem Olajuwon||Stephen Curry||Kevin Durant|
|3||Bill Russell||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Wilt Chamberlain||Tim Duncan|
|4||Kawhi Leonard||Dirk Nowitzki||James Harden||Magic Johnson|
|5||Jerry West||Oscar Robertson||David Robinson||Kareem Abdul-Jabbar|
|6||Klay Thompson||Tracy McGrady||Dwyane Wade||Chris Paul|
|7||Karl Malone||Zion Williamson||Anthony Davis||Luka Doncic|
|8||Manu Ginobili||Ray Allen||Kobe Bryant||Scottie Pippen|
|PG||Jerry West||Oscar Robertson||Stephen Curry||Magic Johnson|
|SG||Kawhi Leonard||Michael Jordan||James Harden||Chris Paul|
|SF||LeBron James||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Larry Bird||Kevin Durant|
|PF||Kevin Garnett||Dirk Nowitzki||David Robinson||Tim Duncan|
|C||Bill Russell||Hakeem Olajuwon||Wilt Chamberlain||Shaquille O'Neal|
|B||Klay Thompson||Tracy McGrady||Dwyane Wade||Kareem Abdul Jabbar|
|B||Karl Malone||Zion Williamson||Anthony Davis||Luka Doncic|
|B||Manu Ginobili||Ray Allen||Kobe Bryant||Scottie Pippen|
1.3 Larry Bird – The first two picks (LeBron and Jordan) were no brainers, and I obviously could have gone a lot of different ways here. I chose Bird because I think his game would translate incredibly well in 2020 – a 6-9 scoring forward that can shoot from long range and pass like a point guard. (Others considered: Stephen Curry, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo)
2.2 Stephen Curry – Now I have two all-time outside shooters who can space the floor, pass and score. I considered Garnett (mostly to troll Dre' who thinks he's a top-three GOAT), but probably would have taken Giannis had Curry been taken.
3.3 Wilt Chamberlain – I missed Giannis by one pick, so I went with the most physically dominant player of any era. (Of course, Shaq or even LeBron would have been physical monsters back then too.) Dre', who's a hoops historian, thought this was a reach, I think, because Wilt's impact stats weren't nearly as good as say Bill Russell's, but I wonder whether some of that wasn't his teammates standing around in awe when he was on the court and taking more initiative when he was off it. Dre' boasted about Russell's athleticism on the radio broadcast, but Wilt ran a 49 second 400 meters and a sub two-minute 800 and like Russell was an incredible athlete even apart from being a basketball player. Imagine Shaq, or any other modern-day Goliath other than LeBron, motoring around a track at that speed. Put differently, I think his game would hold up nicely, apart from the free-throw shooting. One could argue I should have taken Dirk Nowitzki here to build on my impossible-to-guard perimeter shooting squad, though.
4.2 James Harden – If you thought it was hard to defend Bird and Curry's long-range shooting and play-making, try doing it with Harden in the mix. Harden's step-back three, free-throw shooting and passing ability give me three all-time perimeter shooter-scorers, surrounding Wilt in the center.
5.3 David Robinson – I wanted some defense and another big man to help Wilt, so I went with The Admiral, who will rebound, block shots, defend players much smaller than him and even has a little range. I slot him in at power forward when Wilt's on the floor.
6.2 Dwyane Wade – What a monster Wade was at his peak. He wasn't a huge three-point shooter, but an elite slasher/scorer/finisher with the ability to handle the ball and a killer instinct in the closing minutes.
7.3 Anthony Davis – More injury prone than I'd like, but a beast whenever he's been healthy. He can slot in at the four when Wilt sits and Robinson moves to center, giving me another rim protector and inside scorer.
8.2 Kobe Bryant – Bryant was a value-take this late, but he's a bit redundant with Harden and Wade, not an elite three-point shooter and not really a ball handler. He does defend the perimeter well and is obviously an elite scorer, shot-maker and competitor. In retrospect, I probably should have opted for a specialist like Reggie Miller (one more knock-down three-point shooter) or Dennis Rodman (a rebounder/defender) to put on the floor next Robinson/Davis, with my three offensive players (Bird/Curry/Harden) on the outside.
This was a fun exercise, but in retrospect, I might have gone more extreme in my strategy of creating an unstoppable outside shooting team (Dirk over Wilt, Miller over Bryant) and tried to outscore my opponents 150-120 every game.