What if David Robinson and Tim Duncan’s career span was switched?
Over the last 5 years or so it has been widely accepted that Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward who has ever lived. He has the statistics (20 points/game, 11 rebounds/game, 3 assists/game, and 2 blocks/game), 4 championships, and longevity to easily be considered one of the all-time greats. The one obvious issue of course is that Duncan is pretty much a center. He calls himself a power forward, so the world calls him one, but his game offensively and defensively is the center position. This point has been argued extensively before, but the question for today is what if Tim Duncan was drafted in 1987 and his mentor David Robinson was drafted in 1997? In terms of size, Duncan is about an inch shorter than Robinson, but has more girth on his frame. Their career stats are nearly identical, and Robinson was actually more athletic than Duncan was; some evidence of this is Robinson’s higher block and steal numbers.
Comparative competition also cannot be understated. Robinson’s whole career was spent banging against Hall of Fame bigs (Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’neal, Karl Malone, and Dennis Rodman) in a much more physical league with less of an emphasis on unencumbered offense. Of course Duncan had no control over his competition, but his biggest battles came against bigs who were more interested in shooting jumpers (Kevin Garnett and Chris Webber), former all-stars past their prime, and frankly over matched tall guys masquerading as NBA level players (Alonzo Mourning would have been a good rival, but he only had 3 healthy years against Duncan before his career was altered by the kidney illness). This may rub many the wrong way, but I think that if the two switched places, David Robinson could have been considered the best power forward to ever play the game, and Duncan would have had a great career, but he wouldn’t be falsely elevated above the likes of Olajuwon or Shaq.
What if Patrick Ewing and Greg Oden didn’t have bad knees?
It’s quite unfortunate, but almost everyone remembers Patrick Ewing for either getting punked by Michael Jordan’s Bulls routinely, choking in the big moment, or getting blocked by Mugsy Bogues. Ewing was an absolute beast in college, despite not really playing basketball until he was 11. At Georgetown he averaged right at 3.5 blocks in just over 30 minutes per game. He also averaged over 15 points and 9 rebounds while shooting a scintillating 62% from the field. Ewing played in the NCAA Championship game 3 of his 4 college years, and was the easily the consensus #1 pick in the draft. In fact, he was so dominant that the NBA had to initiate the draft lottery just to prevent teams from tanking just to get him. After getting drafted things all went downhill, so to speak. Ewing missed 30 games with a knee injury his rookie year, and his career would never be the same. It’s a bit comical to say a guy who’s in the basketball Hall of Fame with NBA career averages of 21 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 50% shooting would “never be the same.” Thanks to a career full of knee issues Ewing went from the “Hoya Destroya” to a post player who relied mainly on mid range jump shots. He made his living in the post, but had to adapt his game thanks to declining lift, acceleration, and agility. The whole thing is a shame because I’m pretty convinced that he would be considered a top 6 all time NBA center, and I’m sure he would have an NBA title attached to his name. The Knicks lost to Jordan’s Bulls five times in the playoffs, but those Bulls teams never had a stalwart in the low post. If Ewing was the athletic monster he was in college there’s no way his stacked team doesn’t’ upend Jordan’s crew a few times.
Whereas Ewing’s balky knees allowed him to play 17 NBA seasons, Greg Oden’s gimpy appendages have only been strong enough to let him suit up for 82 games in five seasons. It’s truly heartbreaking to see such potential relegated to continued trips to rehab and the orthopedic surgeon’s office. In his one season at Ohio State Oden was dynamic. He finished with 15.7 points/game, 9.6 rebounds/game, and 3.3 blocks/game while averaging 29 minutes per contest. His almost 62% shooting can’t be ignored, especially considering he played the 1st half of his season left handed recovering from wrist surgery he had while in high school. Oden’s last collegiate game was seemingly a harbinger of a productive NBA career, as he dominated Florida’s Joakim Noah and Al Horford in the championship game. Both of those players were NBA lottery picks in 2007. Ohio State lost the game, but it was clearly obvious who the best player on the court that night was … Greg Oden. It’s impossible to predict Oden’s future, but if he had been healthy, there was no limit to his ceiling. During the brief intervals he was healthy he was a tenacious rebounder, blocked shots, and even did a little scoring on the block. His lack of coordination was obvious, but so was his strength and athletic ability. I predict he would have easily had a better career than Emeka Okafor, but probably less than Patrick Ewing. I know that’s a huge disparity, but not much can be hypothesized from 82 NBA games and 32 NCAA games.
What if Carlos Boozer stayed in Cleveland?
Thanks to one bad year in Chicago, people forget just how good a player Carlos Boozer really is. He’s not much on the defensive side of the ball, but he is a career double-double guy, and he shoots well over 50% from the field (53.7% for his career). Boozer played one year with Lebron James, and per usual he averaged a double-double and shot well from the field and from the free throw line. Despite one of the crappiest rosters one could ever lay eyes on, the team finished only 6 games below .500, and only 1 game out of a playoff spot. Lebron had a decent year, but he was still just a rookie, and a shell of the player he is today. Unfortunately Boozer left for Utah, and neither one has won a Championship almost 8 years later. The very next year Lebron turned into the all-timer that exists now, and willed another decrepit Cleveland team to a 42-40 record. Unless one counts Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Desagana Diop, Drew Gooden, Tractor Traylor, Luke Jackson, Scott Williams, Anderson Varejao, Zendon Hamilton, Alan Henderson, Dwayne Jones, Scott Pollard, 33 year old Ben Wallace, Lorenzen Wright, or 37 year old broken down Shaq as a low post presence, Lebron essentially carried a rag-tag group of miscasts to enviable playoff success. Just imagine what he could have accomplished if he had a legitimate 20-10 player to gel with for several seasons? No offense to Big Z or Varejao, but neither one can create their own shot, have defenses key in on them, or make a lethal pick and roll combination. I’m almost assured that if Boozer would have remained on Cleveland, and the roster was more or less the same as it was during the last several years, they would have won an NBA championship. If Lebron could win 66 games with Cleveland’s roster, and take the 2006-07 scrub infested team to the NBA Finals, I’m certain he would have a ring or two with Boozer as his sidekick.