The friendly and competitive “back and forth” between Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan about the prospects of this Olympic Squad against the famed Dream Team of 1992 poses the obvious question, ‘Could Dream Team 2012 beat the original Dream Team?’ Both rosters are full of extremely talented and skilled athletes. Both teams had a transcendent player who was fresh of a title run. And both squads display a selflessness on the basketball court that allows them to play incredible basketball. But, who would win if these teams ever faced each other head to head?
“It’d be a tough one, but I think we’d pull it out.”
“For him to compare those two teams is not one of the smarter things he ever could have done.”
“Other than Kobe, LeBron and Kevin Durant, I don’t think anybody else on the team makes our team.”
“I think we could probably beat that team by 25.”
The statisticians seem to be closer to Kobe’s argument rather than being in agreement with the original Dream Team. According to AccuScore, a sports statistics system that simulates 10,000 games to find the winning percentage of teams that face each other, the original Dream Team would only win 53.1% of the time against the 2012 team by an average margin of only one point. The Daniel Myers’ Advanced Statistical Plus/Minus says that there is not a significant difference between the 1992, 1996, 2008, and the 2012 Olympic squads, though the 1992 group does rank higher in their quantitative evaluation. By every newer form of evaluating competition, the teams are fairly evenly matched. But, in the ’92 Olympic games, the original Dream Team won its matches by an astounding average of 43.8 points per game. The closest game was a win by 32 points over Croatia in the gold medal game. However, the competition that they faced was not nearly as close to the challenges that face this year’s squad. There were only 5 active National Basketball Association players lacing up for the other teams in the 1992 Olympics. In 2012, twenty-five NBA athletes will be playing against the USA team. Teams like Brazil and France boast 4-5 NBA guys. The expansion of the game of basketball across the globe means that the level of competition will be higher than ever in these Olympics. So, who would win position by position?
Magic Johnson, John Stockton vs. Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook
Paul – 18.7 ppg, 9.9 apg, 4.6 rpg, 2.4 spg
Johnson – 19.5 ppg, 11.2 apg, 7.2 rpg, 1.9 spg
Magic Johnson, John Stockton, and Chris Paul are the only pure point guards in this group despite Williams and Westbrook becoming premiere floor leaders in the NBA today. In fact, Westbrook may have actually passed Paul in star power over the last few seasons with the injuries to the Clipper’s star, but Paul is still the most valuable point guard on the 2012 team. The overall speed and athleticism of the current Dream Team would overwhelm the 1992 point guards in the open floor, but the vision and leadership of the original Dream Team could compensate for some of the athletic advantage. The other equalizing factor is the sheer size of Magic Johnson. Because he is a full 6’9″, the Dream Team would surely post him against any of the three guards. And, double teaming him in the post with his vision would be like giving away two or three points with this team.
Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler vs. Kobe Bryant, James Harden
Bryant – 25.3 ppg, 4.7 apg, 5.3 rpg, 1.5 spg
Jordan – 30.1 ppg, 5.3 apg, 6.2 rpg, 2.3 spg
Michael Jordan has the advantage against any individual player in the history of the NBA except Wilt Chamberlain. His scoring, assists, rebounds, steals, and field goal percentage are all higher than Kobe’s. Kobe has a better long range shot, but Jordan has better athleticism and interior scoring. With the shortened three point line, Kobe would have no hope of slowing Michael Jordan. James Harden is the downgraded version of Drexler. He is good in the open floor, Drexler was great. Neither is great at creating their own shot in the half court, and both are better as a complementary player than as the lead guy. Harden was the perfect complementary player to Durant and Westbrook in Oklahoma City and a great scorer in Houston. But, Drexler was the man in Portland. And, when he played second fiddle to Olajuwon in Houston he won a championship. Drexler would use his elite athleticism to outplay Harden in the complimentary role. The 1992 shooting guards measure higher than the 2012 ones.
Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Chris Mullin vs. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Andre Igoudala
James – 27.7 ppg, 7.0 apg, 7.1 rpg, 1.7 spg
Pippen – 16.1 ppg, 5.2 apg, 6.4 rpg, 2.0 spg
LeBron James is the most physically talented player to ever play in the NBA. He is a better athlete than Wilt Chamberlain. He is a better athlete than Dr. J. He is a better athlete than Michael Jordan. And, there is no one that could handle him on the block. LeBron is the only man in NBA history to average 26 ppg, 6 rpg, and 6 apg for his career. Larry Birds number are comparable, but he does not have the size or speed to match LeBron on the block or in the open court. Realistically, Pippen would have the task of slowing James. Scottie Pippen is as quick laterally as anyone in NBA history. He would suffocate LeBron James on the perimeter. However, Coach K is smart enough to move James into isolation plays in the post where he would overpower any guard or small forward. And then, Durant and Carmelo are right behind him. They are two of the purest scorers in the league today. Carmelo has a fully developed inside outside game (he hit 10 threes in USA’s game against Nigeria), and Durant has the most unstoppable pull-up jumper since Bernard King. People think that Bird and Mullin would be shut down by the athletes of 2012, but they know how to use picks and move without the ball. They would score against 2012, but they would be completely outmatched on the defensive side of the ball, even in zone defenses.
Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Christian Laettner vs. Blake Griffin, Kevin Love
Love – 17.3 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 0.5 bpg, 0.6 spg
Barkley – 22.1 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 0.8 bpg, 1.5 spg
Believe it or not, Kevin Love’s numbers are eerily similar to Barkley’s at this point in his career. But, Love has not been nearly as dominant as Barkley was at that point. Both Barkley and Malone played a different kind of basketball under the rim. They were physical and intimidating using their knees, elbows, and backsides to bully defenders under the basket. Neither Griffin or Love would be able to slow either of these players. Love may get some easy buckets with the short international three point line, but Barkley actually lead his Olympic team in three point percentage because of the shorter line. The 1992 squad has two of the top three power forwards in NBA history. If you consider Tim Duncan to be a center and not a power forward, then Malone and Barkley are numbers one and two. 2012 did not have a chance here.
Patrick Ewing, David Robinson vs. Tyson Chandler
Chandler – 8.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 0.5 spg
Ewing – 21.0 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 1.0 spg
Tyson Chandler is a defensive specialist who uses a strong base and good positioning to stop opponents from scoring. He is good off the weak side of the defense and good on the ball, but he is in over his head on this one. He is facing the only man in NBA history to place in the top ten in 5 statistics in the same season, David Robinson. He is facing one of the toughest centers in NBA history in Patrick Ewing. Chandler is facing two of the best shot blockers in history, and he is fairly limited on offense. Chandler would be annihilated by these two.
The 2012 team is a very skilled group. The entire team other than Tyson Chandler are relatively position-less (in a good way). LeBron, Williams, Igoudala, Carmelo, Kobe and Durant can all play two to three positions on the basketball court. Everyone on the team can handle the basketball well for their position and quite a few can create their own shot. But, there is a distinct difference between being able to get a shot, and being able to make a shot. That is where the skills differ between the Dream Team 1992 and 2012. The original Dream Team could shoot the basketball. Every member of the Dream Team shot 50% from the field in at least one season during their NBA careers. The Dream Team boasted two members of the 50/40/90 club (Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, and Kevin Durant achieved 50% from the field, 40% from the three point line, and 90% from the free throw line in a single season), and one of those two players achieved the marks multiple times (Bird). Bird and Mullin were two of NBA history’s greatest shooters, and both shooters managed to regularly score 25+ points per game over multiple seasons, despite a relatively low amount of low post opportunities, specifically with Mullin. The 2012 team only has one member of that prestigious club, Kevin Durant. The entire 1992 Dream Team understood the importance of movement without the basketball. They did not need to dribble and create to score the basketball. These finer points are what separates them from the 2012 Dream Team.
Though the 1992 team has a few elite athletes with Jordan, Pippen, Drexler, and Robinson, the 2012 team is a squad completely composed of good to elite athletes. The 2012 team is stronger and quicker on the perimeter and the speed of the game has changed. Though the first Dream Team averaged 117 points per game in 40 minutes of play (which means that they could run), the edge in athleticism has to go to the 2012 team. Every member of the 2012 team is an above average athlete and some like LeBron, Igoudala, and Griffin are freakishly athletic. 2012 is bigger, stronger, and more agile as a whole.
The 1992 Dream Team wins the intangibles category hands down. The competitiveness that was shown between Magic and Jordan, and Barkley and Malone in practice was legendary. They refused to play together because they wanted to face the best competition that they could every time they stepped on the practice court and prove to themselves and the world who was the best at their position. They pushed each other every day during the Olympics, and bonded every night after workouts. And, the other intangible was knowing how to win basketball games. The entire 1992 team made the right basketball plays despite being the stars of their NBA teams. There were no egos on the court. When a player was open for a shot, they got the basketball. Period. There were no wasted dribbles or wasted motion. Every member of the Dream Team was fundamentally sound, and almost every member of the original Dream Team eventually made it to the NBA Finals. The only two who did not play in a Finals game were Chris Mullin, who never had an inside presence on his Golden State teams, and the lone collegian, Christian Laettner.
There are some numbers that the computers could not weigh into their calculations when comparing these teams. At the time of their inception, the 1992 Dream Team had 9 Most Valuable Player Awards and 12 NBA titles; they went on to gain a total of 15 MVP’s and 23 championships overall. The 2012 team has 5 and 10, respectively. The original Dream Team had 11 first ballot Hall of Fame players. Outside of LeBron, Kobe, and Durant, no one else on this team is a lock for the Hall of Fame. The 1992 Dream team has two of the top three scorers in NBA history, two of the top three passers in NBA history, two of the top three power forwards in NBA history, two of the top ten centers in NBA history, and two of the best shooters in NBA history playing together. This team has the best scorer in history getting the ball from the best distributor in history backed up by the possibly the best PG by the statistics. The original Dream Team was stacked.
So, could the 2012 Dream Team beat the first incarnation of itself? After all, a few days ago Dream Team 2012 just played one of the best Olympic basketball games in history. They scored 156 points, hit 29 three pointers, and beat the Nigerian squad by 84 points, all feats that no team, including the original Dream Team has ever accomplished. The answer to the question is simple. No. LeBron and company would not have a chance against the original Dream Team. They were too skilled, too accomplished, and too talented. The 1992 squad would destroy Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, and whomever the 2012 coaching staff put on the floor against them. The backboards would be owned by Barkley, Malone, Ewing, and Robinson. The inside scoring that would come from put backs alone would be daunting, but you also have four of the best low post scorers in NBA history on the Dream Team, without counting Jordan who also scored in the low block and from the top of the key. The original Dream Team is the best basketball team that was ever assembled, and no other basketball team would ever come close to challenging them. Like Scottie Pippen said, they would win by 25 easily.