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Sports 30th anniversary of Dream Team announcement: Who would make it now and would they beat the original Dream Team?

17:06  21 september  2021
17:06  21 september  2021 Source:   sportingnews.com

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Exactly 30 years ago — Sept. 21, 1991 — USA Basketball officially announced the roster for the Dream Team.

It was a seminal, watershed moment not only for USA Basketball, but the sport overall. Gone were the days of fresh-faced college players, replaced instead by the most famous basketball players in the world. This wasn't an All-Star team descending upon Barcelona as much as it was The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Jackson 5.

USA Basketball initially released a roster with 10 names: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, John Stockton and Chris Mullin. The final two selections — Clyde Drexler and college star Christian Laettner — were added later.

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MORE: 5 ridiculous stats from the Dream Team's first game

Widely considered the greatest basketball team ever assembled, the Dream Team trounced everyone at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, winning by an average of 43.8 points per game with the smallest margin of victory coming in a 32-point win over Croatia in the gold-medal game. "You will see a team of professionals in the Olympics again," said USA coach Chuck Daly. "But I don't think you'll see another team quite like this. This was a majestic team."

Although Team USA won gold this summer in Japan, there's no question that the United States did not send its best team. No LeBron. No Steph. No AD. No Kawhi. No Harden. And while there have been some iconic teams in the 30 years since the original Dream Team announcement (2008 and 2012 come to mind), I'm not sure the talent pool has ever been as deep as it is right at this precise moment.

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Which begs two questions:

  1. What would the best possible version of Team USA be right now?
  2. Would it beat the Dream Team?
Charles Barkley holding a sign: Charles Barkley averaged a team-high 18.0 PPG on the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics. © Provided by Sporting News Charles Barkley averaged a team-high 18.0 PPG on the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics.

Building the perfect modern Dream Team

It feels equal parts sacrilegious and un-American to even think about beating the Dream Team. And yet that's exactly what we're aiming to do.

To take down the Dream Team, any current iteration would need four key ingredients:

  1. Shooting. It's a completely different game now than it was 30 years ago and beating the Dream Team requires taking full advantage of simple math: 3> 2.
  2. Interior size. Again, it's a completely different game now with bigs trending smaller and leaner. While Kevin Durant might get away with playing 48 minutes as a power forward or even small-ball five, do you really think he stands any chance in the trenches against the likes of Robinson, Ewing, Barkley or Malone?
  3. Perimeter length. The Dream Team was huge on the wings. Outside of Stockton - who barely played due to a foot injury — every player was 6-6 or taller with Jordan and Barkley checking in as the shortest.
  4. Competitive fire. If you're getting pushed around by anyone in today's NBA, imagine going up against Jordan and Barkley. Hanging with the Dream Team requires a Cassell-esque affinity for vegetables.

Let's start with the seven locks.

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LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis are the easy ones that require no explanation.

MORE: LeBron receives no votes for best player in NBA

James Harden is perhaps the best isolation scorer in the world and can also play point guard, so he's a lock. We need legit size and Bam Adebayo is the next-best true big in our pool.

That leaves four additional spots plus the token college player sliding into the Laettner role who will likely play zero minutes.

(Quick aside: Is there a decision that's aged worse than Laettner over Shaquille O'Neal? I get that Laettner was a four-year legend coming off back-to-back national titles, but eesh.)

Sure, Curry is already on the squad but doubling down on shooting is paramount. This team doesn't feel complete without Klay Thompson, who for the purposes of this exercise is back to 100 percent. He can defend, he's got size, he's a great locker room guy and he's capable of catching fire and single-handedly swinging a game in about 90 seconds. Thompson is this group's Chris Mullin.

Given Davis doesn't like playing center and Adebayo gives up some serious size to both Robinson and Ewing, we need a third center who can protect the rim and open up the paint. Enter Myles Turner, who is a perfect fit for the international game and checks both boxes.

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There are a ton of options for the final two spots, and honestly, it's an eye-of-the-beholder decision.

  • Do you want more all-world 3-and-D potential? Bring Paul George or Khris Middleton.
  • Do you want elite playmaking and more ballhandling? Sign up Chris Paul.
  • Do you want clutch-time scoring and big-time shot-making? Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving fits the bill.
  • Do you want your own version of Charles Barkley? Zion Williamson, come on down.
  • Do you want even more size? Bahamian Deandre Ayton can become eligible.
  • Do you want more youth and shooting? Consider Devin Booker or Zach LaVine.

In the end, we simply need players who won't be intimidated in even the slightest, players who can match the Dream Team's legendary intensity on both ends, competitors who you could easily imagine sharing the floor in a no-holds-barred open gym without backing down.

That's why it's Jrue Holiday and Jimmy Butler. Holiday was Team USA's second-best player behind Durant in Tokyo and — along with Leonard — is this team's best shot at slowing down Jordan. Meanwhile, Butler stood chest-to-chest with LeBron in the 2020 Finals and could do all of the dirty work asked of him.

The Laettner spot goes to Evan Mobley, who only plays if the Dream Team fouls out the rest of this squad's bigs.

Potential depth chart
Pos Starter 2nd string 3rd string
PG Stephen Curry Jrue Holiday
SG Kawhi Leonard James Harden Klay Thompson
SF LeBron James Jimmy Butler
PF Kevin Durant Bam Adebayo
C Anthony Davis Myles Turner Evan Mobley

So that's it! The best today's crop has to offer. Now on to the important stuff.

30th anniversary of Dream Team announcement: Who would make it now and would they beat the original Dream Team?

  30th anniversary of Dream Team announcement: Who would make it now and would they beat the original Dream Team? Who would you pick: the original Dream Team or today's best possible team? On the 30th anniversary of the Dream Team roster reveal, we picked a new Dream Team and simulated a seven-game series against the legendary 1992 squad. Did we pick the right team? Did we pick the right winner? Let us know!It was a seminal, watershed moment not only for USA Basketball, but the sport overall. Gone were the days of fresh-faced college players, replaced instead by the most famous basketball players in the world. This wasn't an All-Star team descending upon Barcelona as much as it was The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Jackson 5.

Would today's players beat the Dream Team?

Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone posing for a photo: Dream Team USA Basketball © Provided by Sporting News Dream Team USA Basketball

Let's make a few assumptions.

While we're playing this in 2021, let's extend the benefit of the doubt that the original Dream Teamers would adapt. That means everyone can shoot, everyone understands how to switch and play defense with current rules, and both teams are taking a similar approach to a game that has dramatically changed over the last 30 years.

It's a seven-game series and nobody is playing 45 minutes. If that were the case, we'd just line up the best six or seven and go from there. This is about the entire teams . . . or in this case, everyone except Laettner and Mobley.

Lastly, given Jordan is the only player who started every game in Barcelona, the starting lineups below and rotations in our simulation (yes, we simulated it!) reflect a combination of what happened in 1992 and what we'd most likely see in our hypothetical matchup. Call it an informed guess.

OK. So who wins? Let's go matchup by matchup.

Starting point guard: Magic Johnson vs. Stephen Curry

Magic Johnson, Stephen Curry on a court: Who would have the advantage at point guard in an all-time Dream Team matchup? © Provided by Sporting News Who would have the advantage at point guard in an all-time Dream Team matchup?

On an all-time list, Johnson supersedes Curry. In an on-floor series, neither can guard each other. Johnson would roast Curry alive on the block with that six-inch height advantage. On the other end, Curry is unlike anything Johnson ever saw and would run him ragged off the ball. Both make everyone else better, both are probably their team's worst defender.

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Edge: Push

Starting shooting guard: Michael Jordan vs. Kawhi Leonard

Michael Jordan, Kawhi Leonard are posing for a picture: Who would have the advantage at shooting guard in an all-time Dream Team matchup? © Provided by Sporting News Who would have the advantage at shooting guard in an all-time Dream Team matchup?

The 2021 team can't start a Curry-Harden backcourt against the Dream Team, which means Leonard slides over to play the two. Jordan is the only player who started all the games in Barcelona. Given Jordan in his prime never played against Scottie Pippen, Leonard is likely the best defender he ever saw. It still doesn't matter.

Edge: Jordan

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Starting small forward: Charles Barkley vs. LeBron James

Charles Barkley, LeBron James are posing for a picture: Who would have the advantage at small forward in an all-time Dream Team matchup? © Provided by Sporting News Who would have the advantage at small forward in an all-time Dream Team matchup?

2021 LeBron James would eat 1992 Larry Bird for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can make the case that Barkley, not Jordan, was actually the Dream Team's best player. He's slotting into the small forward spot here in place of Bird, who was well past his prime and on the verge of retirement. Although Barkley was on the verge of winning MVP, he's not on par with James even at this stage of his career.

Edge: James (slightly)

Starting power forward: Karl Malone vs. Kevin Durant

Karl Malone holding a sign: Who would have the advantage at power forward in an all-time Dream Team matchup? © Provided by Sporting News Who would have the advantage at power forward in an all-time Dream Team matchup?

No matchup is more indicative of how the game has changed. While Mailman is your traditional dominant power forward, Durant represents the glaring outward shift in today's game. Though giving up some girth, Durant is strong and long enough to hang with Mailman defensively. The same can't be said the other way as Durant's handle, first step and range would be unlike anything Malone saw during his career.

Edge: Durant

MORE: Will KD use Team USA as springboard toward signature season?

Starting center: Patrick Ewing vs. Anthony Davis

Patrick Ewing holding a sign posing for the camera: WHo would have the advantage at center in an all-time Dream Team matchup? © Provided by Sporting News WHo would have the advantage at center in an all-time Dream Team matchup?

I'm not sure how Davis would fare against Ewing or Robinson over the course of a long series. He's already hesitant to play center in today's landscape, so by Games 4 or 5, it's not hard to imagine him wearing down against Ewing or Robinson, both of whom started four games in Barcelona. Every minute would be a hard minute and while Davis is certainly an elite big, I'm not sure he's best equipped for this type of rock fight.

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Edge: Ewing

The benches

  • Drexler and Stockton vs. Harden and Holiday
  • Pippen and Mullin vs. Thompson and Butler
  • Bird and Robinson vs. Adebayo and Turner

If you're building out a real rotation, the top four from the original Dream Team probably leans into Robinson, Pippen, Drexler and Mullin, with Stockton and Bird filling some gaps. There's size, scoring, playmaking and shooting . . . pretty much everything you could want, with no glaring limitations.

Harden, Thompson, and Adebayo are likely getting the most burn among the current players with Holiday, Butler and Turner soaking up some assignment-specific minutes defensively. Pound for pound, it's hard to ignore the Dream Team bench's two-way ceiling. Although Harden is the best offensive player on either end here, the current players offer more specialized roles with more overall question marks.

Luckily for the 2021 team, basketball isn't hockey with full-on line shifts, and in an actual game environment the benches wouldn't be out there without at least one, if not two, starters. Do you really think there's even one second that one of LeBron James or Kevin Durant isn't on the floor?

On talent alone, the Dream Team's bench is superior. Taken within the context of filling specific roles, it's a little bit closer.

Edge: Dream Team

Take your pick: 1992 vs. 2021

LeBron James holding a basketball: Take your pick: 1992 or 2021? © Provided by Sporting News Take your pick: 1992 or 2021?

As for who would actually win? It's an unanswerable question, which is partially what makes it so much fun.

Before we dive into our simulation results, tell us what you think!

Chuck Daly wearing a uniform © Provided by Sporting News
Take Your Pick! Who wins in the all-time Dream Team matchup?
a person holding a microphone © Provided by Sporting News 1992
LeBron James, Kevin Durant with purple hair © Provided by Sporting News 2021
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Using the custom NBA SimMatchup feature on WhatIfSports.com, we recreated both teams and pitted them against each other in a seven-game series. Because the Dream Team is the certified GOAT beyond purely hypotheticals, we gave it home-court advantage with a 2-2-1-1-1 format.

We also laid out rotations with starting lineups mentioned above plus distributions of minutes so that no player could play more than 32 minutes per game (using 48-minute games, which is different from international play, but whatever).

Not only did our simulation go the full seven games, Game 7 went down to the wire and was tied entering the fourth quarter.

In the end, the 2021 squad emerged victorious, beating the original Dream Team 93-88 in the greatest hypothetical basketball game never played.

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