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Best Possible Dream Team Ever: 1968, 1984, or 1992?

Good luck, frontcourts of 1984 and 1992.To finally close out the dead-on-arrival debate between the 1992 Dream Team and whatever this 2012 version is called that barely edged past Lithuania and Spain, let's examine what the best possible Dream Team of all-time would have been if NBA players were always allowed to play for gold medals.


There aren't a lot of years that need to be considered: the 1992 squad was certainly the best one that's been assembled over the last 20 years, either 1984 or 1988 needs to be argued for considering they were the only two Olympic years during the NBA's greatest stretch of talent ever—and since Bill Simmons convincingly explained in The Book of Basketball that 1984 would have been better, we'll go with that—and 1968 from the league's original Golden Age (edging out the '64 squad since '68 includes the collegiate versions of Kareem and Maravich).


We'll compare the post players, wing players, and point guards for each squad, giving a brief analysis of how the different groupings might have fared against each other, and finally we'll determine which year makes the best case for being the ultimate possible Dream Team ever. Players are listed in approximate order by rank/value/ability for each year so that you can see the basic depth chart, and names marked with (*) were in their prime during that year. I've also picked the starters and 4 key reserves who would get the majority of the bench minutes for each club.



Post Players

31-year-old Wilt Chamberlain(*) -starter
34-year-old Bill Russell  -starter
21-year-old Lew Alcindor -key reserve
28-year-old Jerry Lucas(*)
37-year-old Kareem Adbul-Jabaar -starter
29-year-old Moses Malone -key reserve
26-year-old Kevin McHale -key reserve

21-year-old Patrick Ewing

26-year-old David Robinson(*)  -starter
29-year-old Patrick Ewing(*) -key reserve
29-year-old Charles Barkley(*)  -starter
29-year-old Karl Malone(*) -key reserve
22-year-old Christian Laettner


There is no debate whatsoever that 1968 has this one in the bag. Assuming they only play Wilt for 20-24 minutes/game so that his egocentric style of play doesn't ruin the team, they can unleash him 5-6 minutes at a time each quarter and tell him that's all he gets to rack up the biggest stats he can (all he cares about anyway) which results in some serious overpowering around the rim, and Alcindor at 21 was certainly better than Kareem at 37 or even Ewing at 29. Russell at 34 is arguably still the best defender here, no lower than barely 2nd behind 1992's Robinson, plus he's fast and versatile enough to play PF beside Chamberlain or Alcindor. Lucas has the best stretch-4 capabilities above, adding another dimension to what '68 can do to cause trouble for opponents. One more piece of praise for '68: Russell and Chamberlain are the best two passing big men listed above. Looking at the other two groups, the post men of '92 take '84 fairly easily since 1984's center options are all off-prime and earn a shaky B to '92's solid B+, and their only real PF is McHale, meaning Bird would have to move up quite often to rebound and guard against Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Bill Russell, and Jerry Lucas – not happening. For what it's worth, I'd replace Laettner with Dennis Rodman, not Shaq -- 1992 has enough solid centers. Rank: 1968 > 1992 > 1984



1992's only hopeWing Players

30-year-old Jerry West(*)  -starter

28-year-old John Havlicek(*) -starter
32-year-old Hal Greer(*) -key reserve
25-year-old Billy Cunningham(*) -key reserve
33-year-old Elgin Baylor(*) -key reserve
21-year-old Pete Maravich
27-year-old Larry Bird(*) -starter
26-year-old Sidney Moncrief(*) -starter
34-year-old Julius Erving  -starter
27-year-old Bernard King(*) -key reserve
21-year-old Michael Jordan
26-year-old Andrew Toney(*)
29-year-old Michael Jordan(*) -starter
26-year-old Scottie Pippen(*) -starter
30-year-old Clyde Drexler(*) -key reserve
29-year-old Chris Mullin(*) -key reserve
Larry Bird


Holy god, these groups are really hard to rank – they're all so good. Looking at each year's top-2 wings (West/Havlicek vs. Bird/Erving/Moncrief vs. Jordan/Pippen), I'm going to say it's just about a wash across the board with 1984 falling just a half-step behind the other two. Bird and Dr. J are the only non-elite defenders of the 7, but Bird is the only one who is West's equal as a passer. Jordan's killer instinct was something else, but it could also drive teammates nuts (remember that he continually demoralized Clyde in practices, and Drexler's career took a turn for the drastically worse from that point forward). Moncrief doesn't have the all-around offense of the others, but his outside jumper ranks near that of Bird and West (would have been a better 3FG% in a later era), so he adds a dimension to '84 that the '92 Bulls teammates don't; Greer and Mullin are the other wings who would log big minutes that could consistently contribute with their outside shot.


Beyond the top-2 for each year, 1968's backup wings have a good blend of defense, hoops IQ, outside shooting (Maravich would be the best 3-point shooter overall, plus Greer's jumper was great), and driving ability; 1984 has a good group of wings who could attack and fly for points in dazzling fashion, and Toney would be the second-unit's only 3-point shooter if he ever saw the floor (mainly just against Celtic players); 1992 has a trio of guys who are all great from a team chemistry standpoint, Mullin and Bird were outstanding outside shooters, but they're a poor group defensively after the starters and weak drivers to the hoop other than Drexler. If you're still not sold on the exceptional strength of 1968's wings, consider this: I didn't even feel the need to include 24-year-old Rick Barry in his prime. Why not? A) He sat out '67-68 as he switched to the ABA and then missed most of '68-69 with a bad knee injury. B) He was the biggest asshole in NBA history, and I won't add one more chemistry question mark to a team with Chamberlain. Rank: 1968 > 1984 > 1992



Point Guards

29-year-old Oscar Robertson(*)  -starter
30-year-old Lenny Wilkens(*)
24-year-old Magic Johnson(*) -starter
23-year-old Isiah Thomas(*) -key reserve
32-year-old Magic Johnson  -starter
30-year-old John Stockton(*)


1984 has the top group of lead guards since that year's Magic is certainly superior to 1992's Magic, and his ability to unify and maximize the offense was a slight notch above Robertson's contributions. 1984 also has the best back-up PG overall with Isiah Thomas trumping Stockton (not that close), who tops the very-good-but-not-quite-at-THAT-level Wilkens by a small margin. Stockton clearly has the best jumper of all the PG's, but he won't/didn't play much and 1968's Jerry West can seamlessly run the point (he was a first-rate PG his last few years in the league) if they get sick of Oscar being a total asshole, and then they would have the top shooter and defender at the position. Rank: 1984 > 1968 > 1992



Final Thoughts

Although 1992 probably has the best team cohesion of all the groups (depending on how much crap 1968 has to take from Chamberlain and Robertson, and how much 1984 has to deal with Isiah Thomas being a poor sport and Larry Bird being out late at the bar on the regular), they just don't have the plethora of go-for-the-jugular guys the other years have – only MJ. Their bigs are vulnerable to 1968's, and their backup wings give up a lot to both other squads. I hate to say it, but team chemistry won't be enough to place 1992's Dream Team better than bronze out of these three groups, not with defensive maestros Moncrief and Havlicek pulling full-time “guard Jordan” duty.


Between 1968 and 1984, the elder team utterly dominates in the frontcourt in a way that's not even fair, and their group of wings undeniably offers a lot more in virtually every aspect of the game. 1984 has the better PG's, but it's not enough to get them the gold, not when '68 can still roll out West and Oscar in their primes.


Gold: 1968
Silver: 1984
Bronze: 1992 (unless you include 1988)


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Reader Comments (6)

I think your poins are good but you have to account for the difference in athleticism, given that all of these players are highly skilled and motivated. for example, Bill Russell is the same height as Malone, but 40-50 lbs lighter.

I had this discussion about 92 vs 12. I pick 92 because of size and rebounding. But how would they deal with 2012's athleticism, especially if 2012 was the full squad?

Howard, Chandler -C
Durant, Bosh, Lebron, Melo, Odom,
Kobe, Wade,
Paul, Drose, westbrook

WHo do magic and barkley guard on defense, assuming scottie sticks Durant and MJ sticks Kobe? Bench comes in, who do mullin and stockton guard? How does 92 win if they keep exchanging 2 pointers for 3 pointers?

August 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

You can't just give 2012 the full squad if guys are too injured to play or not even good enough to be on a team just last year (Odom). If that's the case, we might as well credit the Celtics for a 3-peat from 07-08 to 09-10.

Athleticism does not automatically equal great, the big fallacy in all this "2012 might be the greatest" talk. Who was the most athletic team ever? Beats me, but I bet they weren't the best team ever. I bet they're not even in the discussion. Magic would guard the same guy he did for the Lakers: no one because he had great defensive centers behind him. Great defensive big men anchor defenses, and '92 has them, but '68 has them to a much higher degree. I think you're underestimating '92's ability to prevent a super high percentage of 3's from '12 which the rest of the world is nowhere near talented enough to stop. Frankly Magic should guard Kobe (neither is an athlete at this point), MJ guards CP3, Pippen fills the role of most perfect Durant defender of all-time, and Barkley sticks a forearm into LeBron/Carmelo every other time down the floor. Then '92's bigs and centers kill '12's and play clean-up D, especially if peak Hakeem or young Shaq replaces Laettner, and that's that. Shoot, if they just play zone and force 3-point shooters to drive into the paint toward Robinson and Ewing, that would be a big problem. ESPECIALLY SINCE SPAIN AND LITHUANIA BOTH NEARLY BEAT THEM.

And then at the other end '92 goes inside with all their big against Tyson and Love and LeBron and Carmelo and suddenly '12 has a huge problem. Do they let guys like Tyson and Love and Melo get crushed over and over or let LeBron kill his energy on D against the super strong Malone and Barkley so that his O takes a hit? And then who does Kobe guard? He certainly can't handle peak MJ at all and I can't imagine him deterring Magic at all. CP3 can't stick Magic or MJ, so that's a huge problem if one of your best defenders becomes useless on that end. '12's best defensive matchup is Durant on Scottie, which isn't exactly a great or meaningful matchup for them. I know they're super athletic on the obstacle course test, but I just don't see how they don't get killed inside or screwed at the 1 and 2 on D.

August 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterZachariah Blott

It just occurred to me who the perfect replacement is for Laettner on '92: Dennis Rodman. Between he and Pippen and MJ, you got every combo of '12's small ball covered, and still with a much better defensive presence in the paint. And all that's assuming '92 even needs to try to match '12's style of play, which they don't considering SPAIN AND LITHUANIA NEARLY TOOK THEM. Unless someone can explain to me how this year's Spain and Lithuania teams would have given equal or worse problems to MJ in his peak and a much more killer frontline, I just don't see how there's any debate with '92 vs. '12.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

I just don't think the athleticism gap is being properly weighted, and I am someone who thinks 92 would win. Respectfully, MJ is the best athelete in 92, but the 12 team, there are 4 guys, Lebron, Igoudala, Durant, westbrook, who are as athletic or more athletic. Not to mention Howrad and wade, who were on the team but hurt. Durant has like 5 inches on Scottie. Lebron and melo have 6 on Brakley.

Honestly, how does MJ stay in front of CP3? he always had trouble with small, quick guards. magic, stockton, bird, latener, and mullin who would get run out of the gym.

Assuming both teams are healthy, the more I think about it, its just not easy. if its a slower game, 92 all the way. If its an up and down game, 92 is in trouble, especially when westbrook and lebron would beat everyone down the court with ease.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamesD

No doubt they're more athletic and exciting, just like a big chunk of last year's Bucks or Warriors players. Good defensive centers carry a team's defense, and '92 has these in spades. Look at what Howard did for the Magic's team of bad defenders before he got all nuts/childish this past year or so. Put Robinson/Ewing in their prime in the middle, throw in Scottie and MJ in their primes in the wings (and add Rodman over Laettner), and you have more than enough defense to screw up a team that could barely get their offense together against Lithuania's size and "athleticism" (44% FG, 30% 3FG - thank god for that +16 disparity in FT's). Which wasn't a fluke because Spain (2 All-Stars on their roster) had similar success with their bigs against USA.

Two super close calls (can't simply write one off as an off game) to teams with a combined 7 NBA players on them doesn't tell me that the overwhelming athleticism of '12 is suddenly a huge problem for the Dream Team.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZachariah Blott

If 2012 was healthy I still think the starters of:

(c) Howard
(pg) Paul
(f) Lebron, Durant, Love
*yes I'm playing no starting SG, I think F's are better than current crop

and bench of:

(c) Chandler
(pg) Williams, Rondo
(f) Mello, Blake, Garnett
(sg) Wade, Kobe

Could hold their own against 92. Maybe not favored, but could do very respectable.

August 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGav

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