As a long-time NBA fan, a lover of Draftstars and an avid NBA punter, it’s interesting to imagine how players of different eras would have fared against each other, which players would rise to the top, and ultimately who would win.
Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the main comparison for individual players, but what about comparing entire eras of basketball head to head?
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at two star studded hypothetical teams in a classic battle of the old vs the new. Who would you feature in your lineups from 1980 to 2000 and who would you put up against them in the 2000 to 2020 team? Then, more importantly, which team do you think would win and why?
For this article and to get some fun discussion going this is who I’ve decided to roll with for each team:
OLD SCHOOL: 1980’s to 2000
|PG. Magic Johnson||PG. Allen Iverson|
|SG. Michael Jordan||SG. Kobe Bryant|
|SF. Scottie Pippen||SF. Dominique Wilkins|
|PF. Larry Bird||PF. Tim Duncan|
|C. Shaquille O’Neal||C. Hakeem Olajuwon|
NEW SCHOOL 2000 to 2020
|Steph Curry||Damian Lillard|
|James Harden||Luka Doncic|
|Lebron James||Kawhi Leonard|
|Anthony Davis||Kevin Durant|
|Nikola Jokic||Joel Embiid|
There’s bound to be some players I’ve overlooked that should have made the cut, but overall I’m pretty happy with these selections.
The starting lineup is basically the Dream Team with a prime Shaq added to the mix:
- Magic Johnson – an oversized point guard that set the gold standard as a playmaker in the 80’s and is among the top 10 all time greats of the game. An unselfish distributor that could also score and rebound, Magic is the perfect fit as a point guard playing with other superstars.
- Michael Jordan – The GOAT! the best scorer and arguably the best-ever on the ball defender as well. MJ is the most clutch player as well and a proven winner. His determination to win will give the oldschool team a massive advantage.
- Scottie Pippen – Another 2-way player, proven winner and one of the best SF’s of all time. A great all-rounder that can score, rebound, steal, and assist, while defending some of the best scorers on the other team – the perfect glue guy for a team like this.
- Larry Bird – The Celtics great was a multiple MVP winner, and one of the greatest shooters of his generation. He adds some toughness and helps space the floor. Can he guard Lebron though?
- Shaquille O’Neal – Shaq was a monster on both ends of the court (he once blocked 15 shots in a game in a 24pts, 28 rebs, 15 blks triple double) so he’d have no trouble dominating in the paint especially with Magic feeding him with no-look passes.
The bench almost feels disrespectful putting a player of Kobe’s talent in the 2nd unit:
- Allen Iverson – Tough call between Iverson, Stockton and Isiah Thomas, but Iverson gets the nod as one of the quickest and best scoring point guards of all time, he will push the tempo and cause headaches on the offensive end, while getting in the passing lanes on D.
- Kobe Bryant – The 2nd best SG in NBA history behind the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Another amazing player that could dominate on both ends. He could drop 50+ at will, and his final ever game in his 20th season, he electrified the crowd with 60 points in a win over the Jazz.
- Dominique Wilkins – I’ve included ‘Nique, there may have been other players to add in this spot like Drexler, Grant Hill, Reggie Miller – but Wilkins gets overlooked as one of the greats, a guy that dropped 30+ppg over several seasons as a high-flyer with rim rocking dunks.
- Tim Duncan – The NBA had many great power forwards – Charles Barkley and Karl Malone are the top two that come to mind that could have slotted in here just fine, but Duncan was an amazing defender and great all-around player. With Duncan and Olajuwon together in the 2nd unit, two of the all-time great shot-blocking and passing big men, it was too good to pass up.
- Hakeem Olajuwon – The Dream was one of the only players in NBA history capable of putting up a quadruple double (double figures in 4 or more major statistical categories). For all you stat junkies, Olajuwon is the only player to have officially done it twice: 29 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, 11 blocks, and then again with 18 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, 11 blocks. Amazingly, Wilt Chamberlain has an unofficial record with a quintuple double. Blocks were not officially recorded but it is said that he had 53 points, 32 rebounds, 14 assists, 24 blocks, and 11 steals against the Lakers on March 18th 1968.
This squad would be amazing, if the refs were to let the physical play of the 80’s go ahead with their whistles in their pockets, I’d have to say I think they may give the modern team a run for their money. Mentally they would be very tough to beat. The only weakness is that they were from an era where perimeter shooters were not as consistent as they are now and three point shooting was nowhere near the level that it is now. In the early 1980’s entire teams would average fewer 3 pointers made than Steph Curry averages on his own.
It makes sense, because having a player like Curry shooting high volume threes at over 40% is just as efficient as Shaquille O’Neal shooting 60% from the floor, and it also reduces the chances of him getting hacked and making just 1 of 2 at the line.
The starters are a who’s who of the biggest names in the NBA today:
- Steph Curry – The best shooter in NBA history, he changed the way the game is played. The old saying live by the 3, die by the 3 highlighted the old way of thinking, that 3 point shots were an unreliable way to score, because teams could go ice cold and it wasn’t the way to build a championship contender. The Warriors proved that wrong behind Curry, Klay and KD. Curry would cause massive headaches for the old school team.
- James Harden – One of the greatest scorers of all time, Harden can get to the line or pull up from deep. However, the matchup at SG provides one of the biggest mismatches, because Jordan would be able to dominate against Harden’s matador defense, and if MJ decided to lockdown Harden he wouldn’t be dropping 30 points.
- Lebron James – Love him or hate him, he’s putting together a magnificent resume as one of the all-time greats. He does it all, scores, rebounds, led the league in assists last season too. He’s a proven winner, having just won the title with Anthony Davis, surrounding him with additional talent like Curry, Harden and Jokic would make them very hard to beat.
- Anthony Davis – A highly efficient scorer, that is a perennial DPOY candidate as one of the best defensive bigs in the NBA. He’s mobile enough to cause headaches for Larry Bird on both ends of the court.
- Nikola Jokic – one of the MVP favourites in 2021 (currently $5.0 at PlayUp) he’s really hitting his stride this year with averages of 27.2ppg, 11.5rpg, 8.6apg. A masterful facilitator, one of the best passing bigmen in NBA history, he would be an excellent fit in this squad.
- Damian Lillard – Dame Dolla can pull up and knock down shots from anywhere inside the half court. He’s as clutch as they come and would deliver daggers in this 2nd unit.
- Luka Doncic – Although he’s only in his 3rd season, he’s one of the best all around players in the NBA. If the Mavericks were winning more games he would be one of the favourites for MVP (currently out to $8.00 at PlayUp). He has the size, but may be lacking in the quickness and athleticism to guard Kobe on the other end.
- Kawhi Leonard – It’s almost worth putting him into the starting 5 in the hopes of slowing MJ down a little, but it’s also good to bolster the defense of the 2nd unit as a more balanced squad. Kawhi plus Embiid are a great defensive anchor, and both players can drop 30 points in a game too.
- Kevin Durant – It was a tough call here between KD, Davis and Giannis to snub one of those guys, and unfortunately the back-to-back reigning MVP Giannis didn’t make the cut on my list. Durant is one of the purest shooters in NBA history at 7 feet tall, while Giannis doesn’t have a title in his resume and can be a liability from the line.
- Joel Embiid – Embiid is a dominant player. Much like Zion Williamson last year, Embiid came out of the gates like a man possessed and would have won Rookie of the Year if not for an injury plagued season. Skip forward and Joel Embiid is now 3rd favourite to win the MVP award behind Lebron and Jokic at PlayUp. His ability to dominate other bigs on both ends of the court make him the natural selection to round out this team.
So in this hypothetical game between these two teams, who would you tip to win? If you were a bookmaker what would you set the odds at before the match was played? Would you put them at $1.96 vs $1.96? Would the newschool team with their far superior three-point shooting come in the hot favourites at $1.50? Or would MJ, Shaq, Kobe, Magic, Olajuwon playing a hard-nosed physical style of play be too much for the newschool players to contend with? Were there any players that didn’t make the cut that verge on blasphemy? Who would you have switched in?
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Written by Peter Arena