A lot has been written about how this current USA Men’s Basketball Team is following in the footsteps of the original all-conquering Dream Team of 1992. The first resemblance is obvious: they’re winning. Unlike the last couple of USA Basketball Teams this one is winning and already has a gold medal. The second similarity is also striking: they’re winning BIG. With an average winning margin of 39.5 through the FIBA Americas tournament, they come awfully close to the ridiculous margin of 43.8 that the original Dream Team pummeled its opposition by in Barcelona. The third similarity is not so obvious, but it might be the most important: chemistry. A standard argument directed at USA Basketball over the last few years has been the glaring lack of commitment and self-sacrifice displayed by NBA players, who individually are more talented than the average German, Argentinean, or Italian player, but collectively fail to compete. This time round it seems to be different. This time round I actually believe Lebron when he says this team desperately wants to win and has a point to prove. I believe it when I’m hearing Leandro Barbosa say “He don’t guard like that in the NBA” when talking about a defensively-possessed Kobe Bryant. And I believe Magic Johnson when he says this 2007 team reminds him of the original Dream Team.
People forget that despite the insane individual talents on that 1992 Dream Team, it was their cohesive team play that overwhelmed the opposition (and it’s worth adding that the standard of international competition was dismal back then compared to now). I guess having players with the basketball IQ of Magic, Bird, and Stockton can easily fool you into thinking these guys had chemistry, but the fact is they put their egos aside for the good of the team and it was clearly obvious (although I don’t know if it’s possible for Charles Barkely to put his ego aside; this classic line from when a journalist asked him what he knew about Angola pre-game: “All I know about Angola is Angola’s in trouble.”)
This 2007 version of the Dream Team seems to be playing with that collective will to win, no doubt spurred on by the USA basketball failures of the past few years. For once they have assembled the best US players in the NBA (Tim Duncan and KG are probably the only missing American greats… Shaq is too old) and it has shown with a dominating performance in the FIBA Americas Tournament. So how valid are these comparisons? Is this new breed of Dream Team really worth the hype? How would they fare in a ’92 Dream Team vs ’07 Dream Team match up? Could they compete?
To answer these questions I thought I’d break the teams down, position by position. At each position I’m giving out a total of 4 points – if they’re evenly matched they split it 2-2, if one team is better they go up 3-1, and if one team dominates they go up 4-0. Got it? Let’s kick if off in the backcourt.
At first glance you’d think the original Dream Team is unmatched in this area – the greatest point guard of all time in Magic Johnson, paired with the guy who has made more assists than anyone in the history of the entire universe (John Stockton). And at first glance you’d be right. I can’t think of many point guards who would be worthy of even holding Magic’s jockstrap, but the current USA team does have one in Jason Kidd. It’s funny, you hear the term “the next Michael Jordan” thrown around a lot for guys like Kobe, Vince and Harold Minor… but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone point to a player as being “the next Magic Johnson” (maybe Penny for like a season back in ‘95). It’s no surprise really because he was a freak, but the point I’m getting at (and yes there is a point), is that Jason Kidd qualifies more than anyone for being “the next Magic Johnson”. No one today runs the floor better than Jason Kidd, no point guard is as active on the boards, and no one in history is better at throwing alley-oops (I’m convinced of this ever since I saw him throw a no-look half-court alley to K-Mart in the ’04 All-Star game). The guy averaged a triple double during the playoffs for God’s sake, and even though it’s not just about ridiculous numbers, ridiculous numbers were a hallmark of Magic’s game. What it’s really about is making your team mates better, Magic was the best at it; Kidd is right up there (can there be any more proof of this than the demise of Kenyon Martin’s career?)
To put it simply, if Jason Kidd was 6-foot-9 he would be Magic Johnson. People say Kidd can’t shoot and take over on the offensive end, but if he was 6′9″ I’m sure he’d have a dinky little baby-hook in his arsenal as well. Bottom-line: Kidd doesn’t cancel out Magic in the Dream Team stakes, but he goes close (we’re obviously not talking about career achievements in this comparison – Kidd might hold Magic’s jockstrap, but he ain’t wearing it).
Then you’ve got Stockton up against Billups and Deron Williams. Stockton gets the nod in passing ability, defense (Billups is overrated defensively) and all-round court sense. Billups is a better three-point shooter and stronger all-round player with a decent post game, and Williams has the ability to fill it up more than either of them (and he’ll only get better). But you can’t seriously mount an argument that the current USA Team comes out on top here – fifteen consistent seasons as one of the NBA’s elite floor generals is something Billups and DW can’t really touch right now.
The Score: 3-1. Jason Kidd is really the only US point guard on the planet who can salvage a point for the new Dream Team. If he’s not on the team it’s 4-0.
‘92 Dream Team: 3
‘07 Dream Team: 1
This is all about Michael vs Kobe, and rightly so. It’s exactly the same situations for both Dream Teams really. The best all round, most athletically gifted, most unstoppable, most clutch players in the league, both playing the shooting guard position, both surrounded by so much firepower that their one-man arsenal can afford to take a back seat. Michael Jordan was the most famous basketball player (arguably one of the most famous people) in the world back in ’92, and right now Kobe holds that title. I’m not going to break down this match up into a Kobe vs Michael debate because that is the subject of another blog (and believe me that blog will come some day). But I think I can best sum it up like this. If Michael is the best shooting guard to ever play the game, Kobe is number two. If you rate Jordan a 100/100 for individual basketball ability (assuming that’s the rating you give the G.O.A.T by default) then every other shooting guard in NBA history is like 80-85 tops…except Kobe Bryant who’s on about 99.
Going to the bench we have Clyde “the Glyde” Drexler (whom my housemate has immortalized in the 2K7 90’s West Team by screaming “Drexler on your face!” every time he dunks it… I know, it sounds kind of gross) going against Mike Miller. Wait I’m just kidding… it’s Michael Redd (don’t really know whether to call Miller a shooting guard or a small forward, but for the sake of this blog let’s just say he gets cancelled out by Chris Mullin and leave it at that. Ok?). This is an interesting match-up because they are two totally different players. Drexler was an athletic freak who used to rival MJ back in the days before he was totally smoked by Mike in the ’92 Finals and seemed to be mentally scarred by it for about five years. He was lethal on the drive, an average-at-best three point shooter, and an underrated passer of the ball. Not many guys average 20-6-5 for their career – Clyde was virtually putting up those numbers when he retired in ’98. Redd on the other hand is a catch-and-shoot specialist who has developed other parts of his game over the years (and is still developing them), but still primarily remains a three-point gun. Not a Mark Price-type three point gun, more of a Ray Allen-type gun. Redd probably has the quickest catch-and-shoot motion I’ve ever seen and I’d be scared sh*tless to guard him. Interestingly despite Drexler’s long and illustrious career as a flashy scorer, Redd already has more 50 point games (two to Drexler’s one) so it gives you an idea of how lethal his shooting ability is. Still Drexler is the more complete player, and he wins the shooting guard category hands down for Dream Team I because of the following hypothetical scenario:
Take 1) In a scrimmage between these two Dream Teams Redd gets so hot that coach Daly is forced to throw Pippen on him to cool his ass down. End of story. Redd can’t get an open shot let alone the ball thanks to Pippen’s swarming D. Coach K quickly realises Redd isn’t going to be effective without his spot-up three’s and benches him.
Take 2) Drexler has the hot hand and Coach K has had enough. He switches Prince (or Kobe, whoever you believe the better defender to be) onto Drexler to try and cool his ass down. All of a sudden Clyde has no open looks, but he still puts the ball on the floor and because he’s already feeling it, he’s slashing through the lane, making tough turn-around J’s, and all-round freaky moves that would make you scream “Drexler on your face!” all night long.
See the difference? Redd is like a sharp knife – its dangerous but when it goes blunt it’s no good. Drexler is more of a Swiss Army knife. It also has scissors, a can opener, and nail clippers. This is the worst analogy ever.
The Score: 3-1. Similar to Kidd, Kobe is enough to salvage one point for the new Dream Team. But before you go putting up those old Drexler posters, remember this: if not for injury Dwayne Wade would be thrown in to this conversation and when you put him against Drexler it’s not so one-sided. Put it this way: Wade might go down as the 3rd greatest shooting guard in history (behind Michael and Mamba) while Drexler is probably sitting around 5th behind West, and Gervin/Miller. Number #2 and #3 versus #1 and #5 doesn’t seem like a bad match up, hey? This will be a fun debate in five years.
‘92 Dream Team: 6
‘07 Dream Team : 2
Stay tuned for Part II: the forwards and centres.
Comment posted by
at 9/4/2007 1:14:48 AM
“Redd is like a sharp knife – its dangerous but when it goes blunt it’s no good. Drexler is more of a Swiss Army knife. It also has scissors, a can opener, and nail clippers. This is the worst analogy ever.”
haha yeah, Drexler has it all, even…. nail clippers.
Well either way i’m glad he got the nod, what a player.
Drexler on your face!