This is the question.
When Kobe Bryant made his slightly controversial remarks about how this year's U.S. National Team could beat the Dream Team, the Internet exploded with debates. Most everyone sided with The Dream Team without much thought, as the Hall of Fame names alone on that '92 team suggest that there's really no comparison. The conversation has died down as of late, but since we at PTR are nothing if not huge basketball fans (and nerds) and the 2012 team just used 1992 throwback unis, we decided to take a deeper look.
The idea for this post took root, when during the USA-Argentina exhibition a rather lengthy discussion took place in the game thread with yours truly, taking the place of the cranky old merican, versus the young basketball-lovin' furriner, Edg5. So, rather than just continuously argue about that which we couldn't prove (as much fun as that was), Edg and I decided to take a look at various metrics from the 1991/92* and 2011/12 seasons, hoping these numbers would give us an idea of which team would have the edge in various aspects of the game. By no means is this a comprehensive evaluation, only an exercise to satisfy our curiosity.
|Player||3 Pt%||Player||3 Pt%|
|Larry Bird||40.6%||Andre Iguodala||39.4%|
|Chris Mullin||36.6%||Kevin Durant||38.7%|
|Clyde Drexler||33.7%||Kevin Love||37.2%|
|Magic Johnson||32.0%||LeBron James||36.2%|
|John Stockton||31.0%||Carmelo Anthony||33.5%|
|Michael Jordan||27.0%||Russell Westbrook||31.6%|
|Scottie Pippen||20.0%||Kobe Bryant||30.3%|
|Dream Team||31.5%||2012 Team USA
The 2012 edition shoots the long ball better as a team, but the '92 team has the best individual shooter in Bird. Still, the edge goes to the current team, since the '92 team had two key players (Pippen and Jordan) who were not good behind the arc, while pretty much every one on the '12 team can shoot.
A small uptick in percentage is possible, since the FIBA 3-point line is a little closer than the NBA's.
|John Stockton||13.7||53.7%||Chris Paul||9.1||43.8%|
|Magic Johnson||12.5||49.3%||Deron Williams||8.7||46.6%|
|Michael Jordan||6.1||25.7%||LeBron James||6.2||33.6%|
The Dream Team's playmakers are clearly superior. Stockton's ridiculous 53.7 assist percentage would rank him a whole 4 percentage points ahead of Steve Nash, the leader in the 2012 season. (This is where I lament how underappreciated Stockton is by younger fans.) Magic is also better than Williams and Paul at finding teammates. We included LeBron and MJ because they are high-usage, ball-dominant players. LeBron is a better playmaker than Jordan, but the edge still goes to the '92 team.
|Michael Jordan||30.1||57.9%||Kevin Durant||28.0||61.0%|
|Karl Malone||28.0||59.9%||Kobe Bryant||27.9||52.7%|
|Clyde Drexler||25.1||56.0%||LeBron James||27.1||57.6%|
|Patrick Ewing||24.0||55.3%||Kevin Love||26.0||56.8%|
Jordan outscores everyone in this category with a whopping 30 points per game on a very good .579 true shooting percentage. Kobe scores a lot, but is not nearly as efficient (surprise!). Durant, however, is the most efficient one of the bunch. The rest are pretty similar, but the edge goes to the Dream Team because they had 11 guys that scored over 15 ppg, while the 2012 team only has 9, since defensive stalwarts Chandler and Iguodala scored only 11 and 12 ppg, respectively.
|David Robinson||12.2||17.7%||Kevin Love||13.3||19.0%|
|Karl Malone||11.2||16.8%||Tyson Chandler||9.9||17.2%|
|Patrick Ewing||11.2||16.8%||LeBron James||7.9||12.6%|
|Charles Barkley||11.1||16.5%||Carmelo Anthony||4.9||10.6%|
The 2012 team has the best rebounder of the bunch in Love, and a solid boarder in Chandler, but after them, it really goes downhill. The current edition went small out of necessity, since Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Lamar Odom couldn't play. But the rebounding edge has to go to the '92 team, since they had 4 fantastic rebounders to the 2012 team's two. (This chart doesn't even include Bird's numbers of 9.6 rpg and 14.4 rbd%.)
|John Stockton||3.0||4.1%||Chris Paul||2.5||3.8%|
|Michael Jordan||2.3||3.0%||Russell Westbrook||1.7||2.5%|
Welcome to the David Robinson Defensive Clinic
|David Robinson||4.5||7.4%||Tyson Chandler||1.4||3.4%|
|Patrick Ewing||3.0||5.0%||Kevin Durant||1.2||2.2%|
The '92 team has a slight edge on steals, with the 1st and 3rd best thieves of the bunch. When it comes to blocking shots however, David Robinson's ridiculous 7.4 block percentage alone tips the scales in favor of the Dream Team. (And now I advocate once again having a sculpture of The Admiral's arms in front of the AT&T Center.) They also have the second best shot-blocker in Ewing.
So the Dream Team has a clear edge on defensive plays, passing and team rebounding. The overall scoring is close, and the shooting goes to the 2012 team. How about those oft-quoted PER and WS/48 numbers?
LeBron is clearly the best player according to those metrics, but once again, the Dream Team comes out on top by either metric. Granted this 2012 team is not comprised of the best of the best, since Dwayne Wade and Dwight Howard are missing. If those two were on the team, the comparison would be closer, but as currently constructed, the Dream Team is simply better than Team USA 2012. (One more conclusion - despite what you might think of LeBron personally, it's time every NBA fan acknowledge how spectacular a basketball player he is.)
Could the 12' team beat the '92 squad in a game?
That's the real question here; the numbers indicate that the Dream Team was a superior collection of players. Yet, in our original discussions, Edg posits that the 2012 edition could give the Dream Team a run for it's money, with the final score closer than one might expect. Before you decide, don't forget the following, non-quantifiable parts of the game :
- Trash Talking - Trash talking is an inherent part of the game, a way to take your oppenent out of his flow. The king of trash talk was Larry the Legend. You're telling me that the guy who didn't take off his warmups in the 1988 All-Star Three Point Contest wouldn't be in Melo's head before the end of the first quarter? Jordan wasn't shy about yapping either. Advantage: Dream Team
- Competitive Desire - Now I'm not a Kobe fan, but I have to admit that he hates to lose and can will his team to victory. However, Jordan was notorious for this, showing it to the fullest during the flu game. Other than Wilt's 100-point game, no other player has such a game defining his legacy. There is no way Jordan would allow this team to lose. Advantage: Dream Team
Public Relations - Charles Barkley - need I say more? His analysis on TNT may be suspect, but Barkley's utter lack of a filter makes his interviews must-see TV, rather than the anemic drivel that we're usually subjected to. Would any current player walk unguarded through the streets of London? I think not. This team was beloved, and most fans in the arena would root for them. Advantage: Dream Team
As an afficionado of old-school basketball, I'd bet on the Dream Team with it's multitude of Hall of Famers, even if current NBA rules (which favor the current team) were in play. So would Team USA 2012 prevail in a single game? Cuss and discuss in the comments. In the meantime, enjoy these highlights:
Author Note: Much thanks to Edg5 for compiling the stats and providing his analysis.