So, with all this talk of the San Antonio Spurs being the ultimate in team basketball, I started to wonder whether a team of all-stars from the rest of the league would be topple Greg Popovich’s well oiled machine. To be honest I didn’t really ponder on the thought for too long. When I imagined a starting 5 consisting of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Steph Curry & Dwight Howard – regardless of how little they’d played together, they would be able to topple any basketball force put in front of them. So I tried to think of a concept that might be interesting to watch – what if the winner of the NBA Finals match had a warm-up match for the following season against an all-star team comprised from the rest of the NBA – but the only eligible participants were ballers from teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs… Now that’s a game I’d like to see…
So, let’s pretend this would have happened in 2014, and let’s try and picture what the game would have looked like. Well, one side would have been the Spurs, obviously, and everyone knows what we’d be getting from them. The main question to address would be who’d line up as their opponents. Well, the Spurs fielded all 13 players in the 2014 NBA Finals on their way to a 4-1 victory over the Heat, so, to match up, I thought I’d pick a 13 man team to take on the Spurs.
Just to clearly outline the rules of eligibility, the 13 players I chose had to come from either: The Bucks, The 76ers, The Orlando Magic, The Celtics, Utah, The Lakers, The Kings, Phoenix, The Pistons, The Cavs, The Pelicans, Denver, The Knicks, or Minnesota. And just to properly match the squads like for like I picked 7 forwards/centres and 6 guards.
So, here it is:
The Starting 5:
Pick 1 (Point Guard): Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Pick 2 (Shooting Guard): Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
Pick 3 (Small Forward): Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)
Pick 4 (Power Forward): Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Pick 5 (Centre): Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)
Pick 6: Ty Lawson (Denver Nuggets)
Pick 7: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)
Pick 8: Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Pick 9: Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers)
Pick 10: Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns)
Pick 11: Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings)
Pick 12: Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets)
Pick 13: Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix Suns)
So who would win? Well, let have a look at The Spurs. They have the distinct advantage of being headed up by the best coach in the NBA. They also have the experience of having played together for close to 100 matches in 2014; knowing each others roles, strengths and weaknesses; and mastering how everyone’s game fits within the team and one another’s responsibilities. On the flip side, they’ve played close to 100 matches in 2014… their opponents will be much fresher and well-rested – they will not have played since the close of the regular season in April.
But let’s try and take a deeper look. Throughout the NBA playoffs the Spurs defeated their opponents through moving the ball, always looking for that extra pass, and playing utterly unselfish basketball. They adopted the philosophy of ‘I have a good shot, but you have a better shot’, always thinking of the team as opposed to themselves as individuals. Magic Johnson even likened them to his Lakers team and Larry Bird’s Boston team from the 1980’s. (I somehow think Wilt Chamberlain might have struggled to fit in). Highlighting this essence of ‘team basketball’ is the fact that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were in the top 4 for assists, and Danny Green and Ginobili were 2 and 4 respectively for 3 point field goals, throughout the playoffs. It’s also shown in the Spurs Finals stats: Against Miami, The Spurs averaged 354 passes per game. During the regular season, the Charlotte Bobcats led the league with 334.3 passes per game. San Antonio was therefore averaging 20 more passes per game than the league-leading regular season number. Now, Miami had no defence for this, proven by the fact it was one of the most one-sided Finals series of all time…So why would the all-star team have any answer to it?
Well, for starters the Spurs wouldn’t get as many second chance points. Tim Duncan dominated the glass throughout the playoffs, topping the tables for offensive and defensive rebounds. With Anthony Davis and Kevin Love in the starting 5, and Drummond and Cousins as back-up there’s no way Duncan could be that dominant. (Drummond and Love were 2 and 3 respectively for rebounds in the 2013/14 NBA regular season, with Cousins coming in at 6). The all-stars would also be able to slow the Spurs down with effective perimeter defence coming through Eric Bledsoe and one of the best 2-way guards of all time in Kobe Bryant, while at the same time being able to offer great rim protection through Anthony Davis who showed in 2014 he could well be a future MVP. (Davis was ranked number 1 in blocks per game in the 2013/14 NBA regular season).
But probably the all-stars biggest advantage would be options. Their strength in depth would be vast and varied. With the exception of Bledsoe, everyone on the bench was probably one of the 2 best players on their team in 2014. Dragic, Thomas and Faried would be really good heat check guys to come off the bench and change the tempo – all 3 of them were lighting it up at the end of the regular season! And Gasol and Lawson offer great alternatives to the starting 5 with their pick and role play. But let’s be honest, looking at that all-star line-up, defence isn’t going to be a priority. Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love were 2 and 4 in points per game in the regular season, and Kobe Bryant who didn’t play in the 2013/14 season is one of the greatest scorers of all-time. This coupled with the creativeness of Kyrie Irving and the athleticism of Anthony Davis, the all-stars would really be a force to be reckoned with offensively. But without playing the game, there’s no way to tell whether it’d be enough to topple the Spurs with their unique cohesion and winning formula of ‘team basketball’.
In conclusion, I’ve no idea who would win, and nor do you, in the back of your mind you probably have a favourite, but you’d have to concede that there are arguments for both sides. One thing you and I do know however, is that preseason games suck, they are meaningless dead-rubbers and I don’t know one NBA fan that watches them. At least this concept would provide a spectacle that would galvanise the fans, and really wet their lips for the upcoming NBA season.