Crunching Numbers With NBA Math, Episode 4
Looking for the best NBA minds weighing in on the trials and tribulations of players throughout the Association? Want insights into the statistical side of the sport? Trying to identify sleepers and overrated players?
Just hoping to increase your basketball knowledge?
We’ve got you covered at Crunching Numbers—NBA Math’s weekly roundtable that will feature a handful of writers and/or analysts weighing in on five different topics. This is the fourth edition, and we have another quintet of special voices featured in this unique episode.
Rather than engaging in our typical format, we’ll be asking each writer to come up with his ultimate historical All-Star team. All players throughout NBA history are eligible, regardless of whether they actually participated in the festivities. And as added twists, writers were not beholden to traditional positional designations and were asked to specify the year from which they’re making their choices.
Follow them on Twitter with the links provided below, then see what they have to say:
Pro Hoops History
Kelly Dwyer’s All-Star Team
Point Guard: 1993-94 Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls
Pippen’s ability to switch defensively, guard several positions and gum up the works in cross matches on either end of the transition game fits perfectly with an All-Star team that has no use for an orthodox, ball-dominant point guard. On a team like this, you wouldn’t want a high-usage, screen-and-roll heavy point man—you need someone to fit into a system that features five at a time, not two to a side and the other three waiting patiently on the weak side. The game’s greatest sidekick and one of the league’s best all-around players of all time will ease perfectly into his role manning the greatest collection of talent of all time.
Shooting Guard: 1991-92 Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
The trick here is settling Jordan into a system where constant movement makes the game’s greatest player a perpetual threat in ways he wouldn’t be on other All-Star squads. Hand Jordan a famed point guard or typical low post center, and not only would MJ struggle to perform at his peak, but you’d be the wasting the talents of the game’s most dominating force. The trick isn’t adding Michael Jordan to a hypothetical team; anyone can do that. The trick is getting the best out of him.
Small Forward: 1984-85 Larry Bird, Boston Celtics
All Larry Bird does is, well, everything, and his all-around skills act as the needed lightening touch on a team that will probably trend a little heavy. Bird never played well in All-Star games, but his dexterity in a full run with four other stars would allow his famed gifts to take hold. All-Star teams tend to overpass, and Bird does think pass-first despite those series of heavy scoring seasons, but his extra sharing tends to take form in the shape of the FINAL pass. Teammates wouldn’t dare try one more look-away dish after Larry Bird just flung them the ball.
Power Forward: 2003-04 Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
Garnett, on an all-time team, can fit into the role of a No-Stats All-Star while still contributing, as those famed lines of his still remind us, plenty of ridiculous statistics. Able to guard five positions, Garnett spreads an offense while still performing each of the little tasks (screening, calling out orders defensively, dominating the defensive glass) typically left for Paul Silas-types.
With the added bonus that Paul Silas types don’t typically add 35-18-9-3-2 nights on occasion.
Center: 1976-77 Bill Walton, Portland Trail Blazers
See, it’s not about the stats or the one-on-one matchup. Walton isn’t around to vex Wilt Chamberlain or push Kareem Abdul-Jabbar off of his favorite spot, though he would do well in both instances. He’s there to set up the offense from the post or pinch post, to hit cutters, set screens, finish broken plays and act as either a release on offense or a satisfying, paint-cinching calmer of worlds on the defensive end.
Adam Fromal’s All-Star Team
Point Guard: 1975-76 Pete Maravich, New Orleans Jazz
First and foremost, the All-Star Game is about flair. Pete Maravich provided that in spades, particularly after his move to the New Orleans Jazz allowed him to handle the ball even more frequently, dazzling opponents with a bevy of fancy dribbling moves and even fancier passes. He was custom-made for the pace-and-space era the NBA now enjoys, to the point I simply have to find out how he fares when he can add triples to his 30-point-per-game tallies.
Shooting Guard: 2000-01 Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers
No All-Star game is complete without someone challenging an opponent to a one-on-one battle. When that inevitably happens, I want Allen Iverson unleashing his deadly crossover for my squad, especially since Michael Jordan—who we know is prone to falling for the initial motion—is surely lining up for at least one of the enemy units.
Was Iverson an efficient scorer? Not exactly. But—and rest assured I’m fighting back tears as I write this—efficiency isn’t the hill you want to die on during these midseason festivities.
Small Forward: 2016-17 Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Go ahead. Sue me for recency bias.
We’ve simply never witnessed anything like Giannis Antetokounmpo. We’ve never seen a 7-footer (forget about the height at which he’s listed) soaring through the air with limbs akimbo to complete an in-game free-throw-line dunk. We’ve never watched with our jaws on the floor as a player so thoroughly defies Isaac Newton in every way imaginable—and even some that couldn’t previously be conceived.
For the next decade (at least), I have zero interest in watching any All-Star Game that doesn’t include Antetokounmpo. And yes, that includes this all-time contest.
Power Forward: 2012-13 LeBron James, Miami Heat
Every version of LeBron James possesses inhuman vision and athleticism. That much is a given. But I’m veering away from the best individual season he’s ever produced (2008-09, in which he accumulated a career-best 733.72 total points added) in favor of the Miami Heat version who could space the floor with aplomb.
Iverson was never a gifted sniper, and he shot just 32 percent from downtown in 2000-01. Antetokounmpo still struggles from the perimeter. And that makes it vital to find a stretchy power forward like the edition of James that slashed 56.5/40.6/75.3 en route to his second rendezvous with the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Center: 1961-62 Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors
Yes, this is the version of Wilt Chamberlain that averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds for an entire season. It’s the one that submitted a historic 100-point outburst against the New York Knicks—his fourth consecutive performance clearing the 60-point threshold.
But numbers aren’t all that work in Chamberlain’s favor. We can’t forget he’s one of the greatest athletes the sport has ever seen, capable of weightlifting with Arnold Schwarzenegger and dominating seemingly every track-and-field competition at Kansas. He’ll be just fine against today’s superhuman competitors.
Curtis Harris’ All-Star Team
Point Guard: 1969-70 Walt Frazier, New York Knicks
Willis Reed was named the NBA’s MVP and also Finals MVP this season, but his Knicks teammate Walt Frazier turned in perhaps his finest season as well. Clyde capped off this season with a 36-point, 19-assist tour de force in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Frazier was a good-sized point guard at 6’4″ and was an absolutely terrific defender who could body opponents, strip their dribble or pilfer the passing lane. Picking him helps with my selection of the backcourt mate because Frazier could play on or off the ball, easily penetrated to the lane off the bounce or with cuts and had a great jump shot.
Shooting Guard: 2015-16 Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
At 6’3″, Stephen Curry is just a tad bit smaller than Frazier, but his long-range shooting prowess makes him a perfect companion for Clyde. Curry also has the ability to seamlessly work on or off the ball, and although not a great defender, he can typically hold his own and is an excellent thief. And if there’s a big 2-guard, Frazier can take the assignment, freeing Curry to carry more of a load on offense with his incredible shooting.
Small Forward: 2012-13 LeBron James, Miami Heat
Like my choices in the backcourt, my forwards are also interchangeable and malleable to the opposing matchup. With LeBron James, you have one of the best all-around forwards to ever lace up. Anyone who’s paid attention to the sport over the last decade knows how all-encompassing and awesome his talent is.
Power Forward: 1985-86 Larry Bird, Boston Celtics
Larry Legend provides more flexibility at the forward spot, but emphasizes different specialties than LeBron. Bird was slower than LBJ, but he was a sturdy rebounder, better shooter and had unbelievable hand-eye coordination that allowed him to make the most ridiculous split-second tip passes in traffic and off rebounds. And with the game on the line, it’s hard to think of a more cold-blooded assassin to hand the ball off to. Similar to Curry, Bird was a good, if limited, one-on-one defender but didn’t undermine team defense. Additionally, that hand-eye coordination meant he disrupted a fair number of passes and shots.
Center: 1961-62 Bill Russell, Boston Celtics
With all that offensive firepower at the other four spots, Bill Russell provides the defensive and rebounding anchor that can allow the other individuals to gamble and pressure on defense. Meanwhile on offense, Russell was an underrated distributor who kept the ball moving with high-post passing, screens and the ability to finish alley-oops and putback dunks. Just as important if another member of the team snagged a rebound, Russell was extremely fast and never hesitated to sprint up court to take advantage of a mismatch on the fastbreak.
And why choose the 1962 version of Russell? Well, he dropped 30 points and 40 rebounds in the overtime Game 7 of the Finals that year. Seems like the right version to take.
Matt Moore’s All-Star Team
Point Guard: 2008-09 LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
I’m taking LeBron at point guard. Guard that in the post or in the pick-and-roll…or really anywhere, at all. Good luck. Magic is the obvious choice here, but really, LeBron is Magic if Magic were imbued with nuclear radiation and actual sorcery.
Shooting Guard: 2008-09 Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
SURPRISE TWIST! Look, I can’t take Jordan here, on this team. Jordan is the GOAT. But the GOAT needs the ball at all times. If I’m building a team, how do I put superstars around a player that had trouble giving the ball up? The best teams move the ball.
Wade, on the other hand, gives James a super-cutter and another creator. The three-point shooting is problematic, but I’ll take the defensive ability of Wade, combined with the playmaking, because I know Wade is willing to go without the ball.
Small Forward: 1986-87 Larry Bird, Boston Celtics
Players didn’t use the three-point line back in Bird’s day. Imagine if they had. He would have been so much higher in so many categories if he played in the modern NBA. Bird’s ’87 season, in which he was second in scoring and shot 50-40-90 with 9.2 rebounds and 7.6 assists? Plus, he’s a super-killer? Kevin Durant is the other choice here, but I’ll take Bird for his aggressiveness and size. It’s close, though.
Power Forward: 1995-96 Scottie Pippen, Chicago Bulls
ANOTHER TWIST! Imagine Pippen at 6’8″, 210 pounds as a stretch 4: an Omega Draymond Green, with maybe even better defense. Pippen shot 37 percent from three-point range that season. Imagine trapping in the 1-4 pick-and-roll with LeBron James and Scottie Pippen. GOODNIGHT.
Center: 2001-02 Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
You are never scoring on this team. Ever. Duncan was most dominant that season, averaging 25.5 points and 12.0 rebounds with 2.5 blocks while shooting 57.6 percent from the field. Imagine the pick-and-roll with LeBron James and Tim Duncan, but with Larry Bird spotting up.
Alec Nathan’s All-Star Team
Point Guard: 1999-00 Jason Williams, Sacramento Kings
I’m a firm believer the All-Star Game should be treated like a playground showcase more than anything, so Williams gets the nod over a slew of candidates with superior statistical cases. Give me the elbow passes, no-look dimes and a premier lob-throwing partner for the rest of a lineup that’s headlined by above-the-rim athleticism.
Shooting Guard: 1989-90 Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Beyond the dunks, Jordan offers elite isolation scoring—which is essential in an All-Star setting. When this team isn’t getting up and down the floor in a hurry, Jordan can slow things down and steal the show with a dominant array of moves in one-on-one matchups.
Small Forward: 2000-01 Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors
Since I’m prioritizing entertainment value, this one was a no-brainer. Prime VC personified everything the All-Star Game should be about. Bet on windmills, 360s and oops abounding. Oh, and if my squad falls behind, VC should provide plenty of perimeter reinforcement, considering he drilled a career-high 40.8 percent of his threes during the 2000-01 season.
Power Forward: 2012-13 LeBron James, Miami Heat
He’s not a power forward by trade, but there’s no room for adherence to antiquated positional standards here. LeBron’s going to slot in at the 4 and destroy worlds, just like he did en route to a second title with the Heat. Also, if I’m being completely transparent, teaming LeBron with MJ was a chief goal of mine when I first heard about this ultimate team idea.
Center: 1992-93 Shaquille O’Neal, Orlando Magic
Opting for a Purple and Gold version of Shaq crossed my mind, but the idea of adding the rookie edition—who remains one of the most jaw-dropping and unique athletic talents the league has ever seen—was too tempting to pass up. Not only can 20-year-old Shaq control the paint on both ends, but he’s fully capable of running the floor alongside J-Will, MJ, Vince and LeBron to help wreck rims in astounding ways.