Posts Tagged ‘allen iverson’

LeBron James – Point Guard

December 6, 2014

Before this latest string of wins, there were a lot of opinions being thrown around about the state of the new Super Cavs.

On defense the consensus opinion seemed to be that Kevin Love should morph into a shot blocking defensive anchor, I’m guessing via some sort of exposure to radioactive materials, or maybe there’s a gene therapy he could get in Germany. Let’s ask Kobe Bryant for advice here. Alternatively, everyone not named LeBron James or Shawn Marion needed to learn to pay more attention at the defensive end. And frankly, James had been pretty lazy on defense for his normal standards too.

On offense, folks seemed to expect Kyrie Irving to take personality altering drugs until he saw the floor like Chris Paul and became as pass-happy as Rajon Rondo. People also wanted to see Love in the post more, which is a great idea as a first option in half-court sets, except that if Love is catching the ball in the post, LeBron isn’t. Everyone remembers that LeBron shot over 60% from two-point range since he moved into the post as a power forward for the Heat, right? You might want to exploit that particular little piece of amazing. Also LeBron in the post is a dramatically better passer to open shooters than Love.

BUT, LeBron is also vastly more versatile than Kevin, so they may just have to sacrifice that piece of James’s game. This is the trouble with combining a group of super-scorers. They can’t all have the ball in their favorite places at the same time, so the threat of everybody playing sub-optimal ball, or at least putting up sub-optimal stats, is real.

The concerns are a bit premature, but they are legitimate. The Cavs are currently the 5th best offense in the league (same as the Heat last year). They are the 15th defense in the league (4 spots worse than Miami last year). Their margin of victory is only 3.8 points at the moment. It’s always good to have that number be a positive, but historically championship contenders have an MOV of about twice that number. There’s still lots of time.

The competing voice in the Cavs debate always maintained that it was just a matter of time. Talent wins out in the NBA, and these guys were bound to figure it out, or LeBron would just give into the impulse to take over and simply carry them into relevancy on his own. What no one seemed to anticipate, and what has clearly taken place is that James has assumed a new position this year.

The official Cleveland starting line-up looks like this:

PG – Kyrie Irving
SG – Shawn Marion
SF – LeBron James
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao

In actual execution that line-up amounts to this:

PG – LeBron James
SG – Kyrie Irving
SF – Shawn Marion
PF – Kevin Love
C – Anderson Varejao

First, let’s clarify the basic difference between a guard and a forward in traditional position assignment. Guards are ball-handlers. Forwards work for points off the ball and generally play closer to the basket unless they are playing a “stretch” role as a jump shooter. Shawn Marion is no guard. He is a classic tweener or swing forward capable of rebounding with bigs and running with quick wings. He can defend big guards, but he cannot serve that role on offense. LeBron on the other hand has the ball-handling skills of an And-1 champion. The idea that Marion is the starting two guard and James is the starting small forward is as ridiculous as the old days when skinny, three point shooterRobert Horry started at center next to post-scoring, shot-blocking, rebounding machine, Tim Duncan. It’s non-sense.

In fact, not only is James starting at guard, he is clearly the primary playmaker on this team. You see it when you watch them play. He’s orchestrating. He’s handling the ball. He’s making things happen for others. It’s also clear in the box score where he’s leading the team in assists and turnovers. That’s a point guard. Kyrie is ball-dominant, but he’s using his guard skills primarily to create scoring opportunities for himself. This is fine. Allen Iverson won an MVP and helped an offensively challenged Sixers team reach the finals while playing that style. The question-mark is with LeBron. Should he be playing the point?

When the Heat were going through their growing pains, LeBron took over point forward responsibilities for a time (Miami always started two true guards – Dwyane Wade and one of Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, or Norris Cole), and he did not like the role. I don’t recall that James gave an explanation for why he didn’t want to be the point man on the team. Too tiring, maybe? Wanted a system for sharing the ball better so as not to alienate Wade? Not sure. But it looks like that’s where the Cavs are now, and I wonder if James didn’t intend to take this responsibility on from the get go. He did take it on himself to lose a ton of weight this summer. He looks more like a guard than a power forward now.

And frankly if he did decide prior to making the move to Cleveland that he was going to go back to being the primary creator, it may have been a smart move on his part. James is such a great passer on the pick and roll, he has the ability to play to Love’s game this way, keep Andy and Tristan Thompson involved, and open things up for the guards to attack the defense with secondary penetration. LeBron can also push the ball in transition more when he is the first outlet receiver or making more end to end runs off his own defense rebounds. It’s tough to sacrifice all the easy buckets they get off of James’s leak outs, but Dion, Kyrie, and Marion can all finish on the break as well, and LeBron’s ability to see over the defense and make pinpoint passing strikes is unmatched in the game today.

Defensively, my only thought is that they still need to coordinate better and give more consistent effort. Not having a dominant defensive center isn’t a death sentence on defense. The Heat didn’t have one. It just takes more attention to detail and energy on the perimeter when there’s no shot blocker waiting at the rim. Either that or they need to make a move to get the shot blocker they are missing. One easy shift they could make is to consistently line up with Marion guarding the other team’s best wing player. This would give James more freedom to help on defense, and his speed and athleticism make him the team’s best cover up defender and ball hawker.

One nice thing that comes about if the Cavs do concede that LeBron is their starting point guard: Waiters wins his argument with Bradley Beal. The Heat would have the best starting backcourt in the NBA (Warriors have an argument). He just isn’t part of it.

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NBA Top 50 – MVP Shares

December 27, 2013

Rank Player MVP Shares
1 Michael Jordan* 8.138
2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 6.203
3 Larry Bird* 5.693
4 LeBron James 5.387
5 Magic Johnson* 5.129
6 Bill Russell* 4.827
7 Shaquille O’Neal 4.38
8 Karl Malone* 4.296
9 Wilt Chamberlain* 4.269
10 Tim Duncan 4.261
11 Kobe Bryant 4.206
12 David Robinson* 3.123
13 Moses Malone* 2.873
14 Kevin Garnett 2.753
15 Bob Pettit* 2.628
16 Hakeem Olajuwon* 2.611
17 Oscar Robertson* 2.479
18 Charles Barkley* 2.438
19 Steve Nash 2.429
20 Jerry West* 2.09
21 Kevin Durant 2.019
22 Dirk Nowitzki 1.804
23 Elgin Baylor* 1.659
24 Allen Iverson 1.567
25 Bob McAdoo* 1.494
26 Patrick Ewing* 1.424
27 Chris Paul 1.423
28 Julius Erving* 1.407
29 Dave Cowens* 1.338
30 Dwight Howard 1.249
31 Willis Reed* 1.073
32 Derrick Rose 0.981
33 Alonzo Mourning 0.968
34 Jason Kidd 0.933
35 George Gervin* 0.911
36 Bob Cousy* 0.882
37 Tracy McGrady 0.855
38 Dominique Wilkins* 0.849
39 Gary Payton* 0.823
40 Dwyane Wade 0.793
41 Clyde Drexler* 0.778
42 Scottie Pippen* 0.716
43 Sidney Moncrief 0.695
44 Dolph Schayes* 0.69
45 Wes Unseld* 0.639
46 Bernard King* 0.625
47 Rick Barry* 0.592
48 Chris Webber 0.588
49 Elvin Hayes* 0.571
50 Grant Hill 0.52

A couple days ago, we put together a top 15 list using playoff success as our criteria for consideration and then boiling down using stats, titles, and awards. It was a stilted approach in that I set out to be as inclusive as possible in determining playoff success but then was totalitarian in crediting the awards.

The above list is the top 50 cumulative career percentage of MVP votes received. Essentially the voters have a 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place vote every year. If one player were to receive 100% of the 1st place votes, he still would not get all the MVP shares for that year, because the 2nd and 3rd place votes comprise part of the whole. Since the voting is rarely ever that one-sided, generally the actual award winner’s total share leaves a lot for the runners up to add to their total.

What’s nice about measuring with the shares rather than just giving an arbitrary credit for winning the award is that it credits guys who were consistently high in the running but may have lost out to others due to missed games or when two great players starred for the same team and split the vote. Shaq and Kobe are good examples of players who may have got in each other’s way when it came to actually winning the MVP but both consistently received large portions of the vote – they are 7th and 11th respectively even though they each only won a single MVP award.

The other good thing about using voting results as a measure of player greatness is that voters can approach the game from a more nuanced perspective than numbers. If we picked MVP by statistics each year, Wilt would have 10, and Russell would have very few. Something was happening to make voters break the 60s up into some votes for Wilt, some votes for Russell, and enough votes for Oscar to win one year. As I wasn’t around at that time, and heck even the people who were avid fans didn’t have great exposure to all the teams and players, the views of the voters are all the context that we really have to go on to help supplement the raw numbers.

A quick note on the limitations of stats: take a look at Michael Jordan’s season in 1992. His team won 67 games and absolutely dominated the league with a margin of victory of 10.44. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant had their most efficient seasons. Obsessive basketball nerds like Bill Simmons (and me) consider 1992 to be the season where Jordan was at the peak of his basketball ability. It is also his worst statistical season in half a decade. His PER fell 4 points. His TS% dropped by 2.5. His free throw rate dropped by 4%. His ORtg fell by 4 points.

Basically all of his personal efficiency numbers tanked, and his team was better for it. Why? Well I was 13 at the time, and I don’t remember seeing him do anything all that different, but I’d guess it’s because he was giving up some of the isolation plays that led to his drives to the rim for easy scores and free throws in order to run the triangle and keep his teammates involved. Whatever happened, I don’t think MJ fell of a cliff at the age of 28, and his new play style worked to the tune of the best season any team had between the 1987 Lakers and the Bulls again in 1996.

So while Jordan’s box score stats indicated that this was the worst he’d played in half a decade and show a massive drop from 1991, his MVP shares actually went up by 1% from his previous MVP and by over 10% from his first MVP in 1988 (when he had the best season ever by PER standards). Granted, the metrics that I’m referring to didn’t exist back then, and the points, assists, and rebounds were still strong, so maybe that increase in MVP shares isn’t voters capturing nuances of Jordan’s game so much as voters responding to a dip in Barkley’s production and the absence of Magic Johnson. Still this is one subjective record of a player’s impact on his team and on the league that we have access to, and it dates all the way back to the late 1950s.

The weakness of using this measure is that MVP voting is not an exact science by any means. The criteria is ill-defined to the point of being almost useless. How is “value” defined for NBA players? Is it the player who personally accounts for the most wins on his team? If so then the best producer is probably that guy. Is it the player who takes a step back statistically to allow others to flourish? If so it’s probably the best player on the winningest team. It’s a very nebulous concept, and some players seem to get the lion’s share of credit that could be more evenly distributed. Take a look at Karl Malone sitting between Shaq and Wilt on the list. The asterisk next to his name is to indicate that he’s in the hall of fame, but it should be to indicate that 40% of his MVP shares belong to John Stockton, who incredibly does not make this list at all.

I stumbled across this list on Bastketball-Reference.com, and thought it was worth sharing. It’s not a definitive ranking by any means, but it is a good snapshot of how great players have been perceived by award voters over the years and certainly has some merit as a tool to help add some context to the box score numbers.

15 Greatest NBA Players

December 24, 2013

The 15 greatest players in NBA (and ABA) history:

1. Michael Jordan
2. Bill Russell
3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
4. Wilt Chamberlain
5. LeBron James
6. Tim Duncan
7. Shaquille O’Neal
8. Magic Johnson
9. Julius Erving*
10. Kobe Bryant
11. Larry Bird
12. Jerry West
13. Hakeem Olajuwon
14. Sam Jones
15. Bob Pettit

*Includes ABA career

Here at Double Dribble we’ve done player rankings in the past, usually based on one statistic or another, examining who is “best.” For the last few weeks I’ve been trying to formulate a system for ranking players based not on who is or was the best player but on who had the greatest career. I don’t usually think in those terms, but a few recent discussions have intrigued me. In particular Rick Fox stated in an NBA Hangtime podcast that Kobe Bryant would go down as the greatest player in Lakers history and NBA history. Note- greatest, not best.

What’s the difference between being the best and being the greatest? My interpretation is that being the best means having the highest level of ability with ability being a mix of physical talents, practiced techniques, and IQ for the game. When we debate whether LeBron James might be better than Michael Jordan, we compare their abilities as players. Greatness is about accomplishments including significant statistical measures, team success, and awards. So if one were to say that Larry Bird was better than Magic Johnson, but that Magic had the greater career and deserves a higher place in the GOAT list, that’s not necessarily a contradiction.

Greatness is easier to support than bestness, but it is also more driven by circumstance. Charles Barkley may have been a better overall player than Karl Malone, but that is a long, difficult argument that requires considerable support and explanation. Karl will go down as greater than Barkley because he had more post-season success and maintained better health for longer. One could contend that had Barkley played with John Stockton his whole career like Karl did, he would have had more playoff success. Easier to justify greatness but more circumstantial.

All of this lead in is to say that I decided to focus the lens on greatness for this player ranking exercise. I took a cue from Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post and ESPN fame. Wilbon told me (in an online chat) that he would take the 1984 draft class of Jordan, Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and John Stockton over the 2003 draft class of James, Wade, Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony because the former group made more NBA Finals. I thought that was an odd criteria, but when it comes to legacy and the measure of greatness, deep playoff runs are really the crux of the argument.

Longevity, statistical milestones, and awards are all very important, but playoff success is often where the race starts. Think of comparable players like Allen Iverson and Isaiah Thomas. AI led the league in scoring multiple times and won a league MVP. Zeke went to multiple finals, won two championships, and has a Finals MVP. Which of them is typically considered greater? Thomas. Hands down. We don’t even get to consider stats because we stop considering at the back to back titles. Is Zeke better? Is he more valuable? Those are completely separate questions.

Rather than insist that players made the NBA Finals a certain number of times or anything quite that arbitrary, I ran a search, year by year of players that played a sufficient number of games to win the title regardless of how far they actually progressed. This number was a moving target over the years as league expansion and playoff reformatting impacted the number and length of playoff series. In the NBA today a team must win 16 games in order to be champion. For most of the history of the ABA it only took 12 wins. For most of Bill Russell’s career, a team could win a title in just 9 games.

My base criteria for consideration was 4 seasons where the player played at least enough playoff games to have won a championship with a minute average over 30 per game. I then took the top 4 seasons by each of these players (4 seasons is pretty tough to come by and narrowed the list nicely) and rated them based on weighted statistical (I used averaged PER and WS48) measures and gave additional credit for each finals made, championship, finals MVP, and regular season MVP all weighted against different values. I’m not going to put my formula here because it is still evolving and isn’t especially scientific, but these particular players were pretty much constant no matter how I shifted the scale, and the top 5 didn’t really change (though James and Duncan are in a near-tie at this stage).

Examining the results, I was surprised that the list gave me almost exactly what I would expect at the top. Jordan, the big three centers, and LeBron in some order is what I think most experts would give for a top 5. Then Magic, Bird, and Kobe would make most lists. Shaq and Doctor J are probably a little more surprising, but when you look at their accomplishments (if you include the ABA for Doc), they’re pretty hard to ignore. Hakeem is often included ahead of O’Neal but I just couldn’t find any statistical measure or accomplishment scale that would allow for that. Dream might have been better. He might have been more valuable. He wasn’t greater.

The most surprising exclusion was Oscar Robertson, and again, this is entirely because of the greatness criteria. Oscar’s Royals just didn’t advance far enough in the playoffs often enough. He does in fact have 4 total seasons and shows up at #30 on this list, but two of those seasons are in Milwaukee with Kareem when Oscar was past his prime. If I weighted regular season stats and factored them in as well, Oscar would likely make the top 15 (I should probably do that).

The only player who really stands out as a surprise to make the group is Sam Jones, but when you consider he was often the leading scorer on the Russell title teams, it’s not inconceivable that he deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest, if not the best, players ever. Elgin Baylor and John Havlicek just missed the top 15 cut off, and Karl Malone and Dwyane Wade weren’t far behind them.

Players who might make a best list but missed the criteria for this greatest list due to not making it deep enough into the playoffs quite enough times include Moses Malone, Kevin Garnett, David Robinson, Dirk Nowitzki, Charles Barkley, Artis Gilmore, and current stars like Chris Paul and Kevin Durant.

Quick positions breakdown: 5 guards (Jordan, Magic, Bryant, West, and Jones), 5 centers (Russell, Kareem, Wilt, Shaq, Hakeem), and 5 forwarders (LeBron, Duncan, Doc, Bird, Pettit)

Quick era breakdown: 5 Late 1950s to Early 1970s (Russell, Wilt, West, Jones, Pettit), 6 Mid 1970s to Mid 1990s (Jordan, Kareem, Magic, Doc, Bird, Hakeem), 4 Late 1990s to Early 2010s (LeBron, Duncan, Shaq, Kobe)

Allen Iverson – The Underrated MVP?

August 27, 2013

We talkin’ ‘bout retirement? Retirement? Not the game. Not playing the game. We talkin’ ‘bout retirement.

Well no thanks. I don’t want to talk about Iverson officially retiring three years after the league decided to boycott him. I don’t want to talk about the Slam Magazine cover shoot or the racially charged incident in a bowling alley that made (unfairly) a good kid into an infamous young man. I don’t want to talk about A.I.’s impact on sports culture, cornrows, compression sleeves, baggy shorts, jewelry, or the NBA’s ridiculous dress code. I don’t even want to talk about practice.

Let’s talk about Allen Iverson, the shortest player ever to lead the league in scoring and / or win league MVP. I’m pretty sure. How short was Tiny? Or Cousy? Do I care? Do you? Nah. You don’t.

First thing’s first. Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan were better than Iverson the year he won his MVP award. No doubt. No debate. It is what it is. And guess what? That happens all the time. In the 1970s, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the best player every year without question. He won the MVP “only” half the time. From 1988-1998 Michael Jordan was the best player every year he actually played. He won half the time. Since about 2008, LeBron James has been the best player every year. He has won 2/3rds of the time.

The best player does not always win the MVP. Sometimes the award goes to the player on a championship level team who has paid his dues over the years on non-contenders and deserves the recognition in the eyes of the voters (see Karl Malone). Sometimes it goes to the best player on the winningest team (see Charles Barkley). Sometimes it goes to the player on a contending team that the voters think is least replaceable, like Steve Nash in 2005 & 2006 or Derrick Rose in 2011.

Allen Iverson falls into this last category and is a pretty good match for Rose. They both played on defensively dominant, offensively challenged squads that led the East in wins. They both played an inefficient but highly productive brand of slashing, shoot-first lead guard basketball, exploiting quickness, explosiveness, and the offensive rebounding talent of their teammates to draw multiple defenders at the rim and turn bad shots into good possessions. Were either of them “worthy” MVP winners? Enough voters thought so to award them the title. In MVP voting, that’s all that counts.

The advanced statistics movement has made Iverson something of a whipping boy. Most of the ire for shooting lots of tough shots at a low True Shooting percentage has ironically been aimed at Kobe Bryant, who is a significantly better shooter, but Allen has taken his share of lumps too. Frankly, it’s a hard point to debate. Iverson is not a good shooter by NBA standards. He is a “volume scorer,” which has become a denigrating term over the years.

However, I think three crucial points fall in A.I.’s favor:

  1. Iverson’s super high usage kept the ball out of the hands of such scoring albatrosses as Eric Snow, George Lynch, and Theo Ratliff. Iverson was the only player on that 2001 76ers Finals team to play more than 1000 minutes and produce an offensive rating over 105. Some metrics like PER take usage into account and rate Iverson pretty highly. Others such as win share do not and rate him very low for his reputation. In any case it’s tough to deny that usage has its benefits even when the shooter is not the most efficient scorer.
  2. The 2005 change to the hand-check rule had a huge impact on players like Iverson. He had his best statistical season at age 30 in 2006. That is very odd for an undersized, ball-dominant guard (by contrast Isiah Thomas’s best statistical season came at age 23, and Kevin Johnson’s came at age 24). In the 2005-06 season, Iverson had his highest career PER (25.9) averaged 33 points (while taking a career-best 11.5 free throws) and 7.4 assists and shot his second highest TS% 54.3, not great but significantly better than his career average of 51.8 (the only season he shot better was 2008, age 32, while playing with Carmelo Anthony in Denver – but his usage dropped 9 points). Similarly Kobe, Wade, and LeBron made leaps in the 2006 season, as did other ball-dominant scoring wings whose efficiency improved with the enforcement of the perimeter touch foul. I have to believe that if he had been playing under this rule system his entire career, then Iverson’s peak would have come earlier and been more impressive.
  3. There is value in aggressiveness for the sake of aggressiveness in the NBA, and Allen Iverson was one of the most relentlessly aggressive players in the history of the game. He put pressure on the defense ALL the time. Think of Russell Westbrook. Now imagine there’s no Kevin Durant around to take the ball out of his hands. Now imagine he plays 43 minutes per game. Now consider the effect on a defense over time. He wears you out with simple aggression. That’s Iverson. In fact Iverson is the model for Westbrook and players like him. In the same way that you could say that Kobe, Wade, and LeBron would all be different players without the example of Michael Jordan to model their game on, I have every confidence that Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and every other hyper-aggressive, ball-dominant scoring point guard would be different players without the example set by A.I.

On the plus side of the statistical equation, Iverson led the league in scoring 4 times (and came in second one year with a 33 ppg average because Bryant went bonkers and averaged 35), minutes 7 times, steals 3 times, and usage 5 times. Only 2 players have ever averaged 33+ points and 7+ assists in the same seasons, Iverson and Tiny Archibald. Only 7 players have ever averaged 30+ points and 7+ assists for a season: Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Tiny Archibald, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Allen Iverson.

Iverson is also one of only four players ever to average 30+% usage, 30+% assist rate, and under 11% turnover rate in the same season. The other players on the list are Michael Jordan, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James. Not bad. A combined 60% usage and assist rate indicates, if nothing else, that a player has the ball A LOT, and to control so many possessions with only 11% turnover rate is outstanding possession maintenance.

And, and, and there’s something to be said for any player who can ALWAYS get a shot off. I know we’ve been led to despise conscienceless chuckers, but some days they do get hot. It’s unpredictable. You wouldn’t necessarily want to try to build a champion around it. But when a guy like A.I. starts hitting those contorted, herky-jerk pull-ups and floaters, it’s like the crane kick in Karate Kid. No can defend. Watch game 1 of the 2001 Finals. Allen Iverson single-handedly takes an undefeated post-season away from the most dominant playoff team of all time (with Shaq and Kobe both playing out of their minds). Why? Because you can’t keep him from taking shots, bad shots maybe, but shots. When he’s hitting him, there’s no scheme or individual who ever had any real success slowing him down. Or watch the All-Star game when he and Marbury led a titanic 4th quarter comeback to defeat a much more dominant West squad. Nobody but nobody could stay in front of him. And the West had Kobe and Jason Kidd and the Glove Gary Payton to throw at him (1 Defensive Player of the Year and about 318 All-Defensive teams between those three).

More than anything what I’ll remember about A.I. is what happened on those nights when he had it going, and no one and nothing could slow him down. He’d get this sort of pained, locked-in expression on his face, like he couldn’t get the ball back fast enough to break down the next defender and get up the next ridiculous shot. He’d get up on his man and start pressuring the ball and break out ahead of the defense in transition every time an opposing guard took a jump shot. In the half court he’d set up on the left wing and get a flow with the ball. Nobody before or since has used the dribble as a weapon the way A.I. did. He would be at the left elbow extended, feinting a drive, dipping the shoulders, rocking this way and that, lulling the defender, and then BANG he’s streaking into the lane driving to his right at breakneck speed, and his defender lunges backward, and the help defense shifts to paint, and then PSYCHE it’s a crossover, he’s really going left for a that floating pull up j at the elbow. He had the ball on a string and the defense on roller skates, and it was a joy and a privilege to watch him do his thing.

All-NBA All-Decade Teams

July 24, 2013

I was looking over the historical All-NBA teams and noticed several surprising facts. Did you know that Kobe Bryant is tied with Kareem for the most total All-NBA teams made for a career at 15 and is tied with Karl Malone for the most times on the 1st team at 11? That’s amazing longevity. No other guard has more than 12 career All-NBA teams (Cousy and West both have 12). Only 9 players have double figure All-NBA 1st team appearances: Malone, Bryant, Cousy, West, Baylor, Pettit, Jordan, Kareem, and Duncan. The most consecutive All-NBA first teams earned is by Karl Malone with 11 (every year from ’89 to ’99). Several players won the MVP in years that they did not make the All-NBA 1st team for their position including Bill Russell on multiple occasions. The player with the most All-NBA team selections who never made an All-NBA 1st team is Hal Greer who was selected to 7 All-NBA 2nd teams, which shows the dominance of Oscar and West in the ’60s. The only player to make multiple All-NBA 1st teams no All-NBA 2nd or 3rd teams in Elgin Baylor with 10 first team appearances. A surprisingly high number of players who only made 1 All-NBA team in their careers made the 1st team that year including Kevin McHale (shocking!), Latrell Sprewell, Truck Robinson, Gail Goodrich, Earl Monroe, and Derrick Rose and Wes Unseld who each won the MVP that same year.

Below are All-NBA All-Decade teams taken from the players who best represented each decade’s All-NBA list. Note – I went exactly by the numbers and took 2 PGs, 4 Wings (Sg-Sf) and 4 Bigs (Pf-C) from each decade. In a fairytale fantasy series played out between the various eras, I think I’d mix the teams differently. Some of the them are light on shooters or ball-handlers depending on the decade. It does show what the voters tended to value most though.

1960s

P – Oscar Robertson
P – Bob Cousy
W – Jerry West
W – Elgin Baylor
W – Hal Greer
W – Bill Sharman
B – Bill Russell
B – Wilt Chamberlain
B – Bob Pettit
B – Jerry Lucas

I like this group. I could see an 8 man playoff rotation of Big O, Cous, West, Elgin, Greer, Russ, Wilt, and Pettit competing with absolutely anyone. They would want to play uptempo and pressure on defense relying on two of the great basket protectors of all time to erase mistakes. They ought to own the glass and could rely on Oscar and West in clutch situations.

1970s

P – Walt Frazier
P – Tiny Archibald
W – Julius Erving
W – John Havlicek
W – Rick Barry
W – Billy Cunningham
B – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
B – Elvin Hayes
B – Spencer Hayward
B – Willis Reed

This is one of those groups that comes out a little uneven because all the wings are forwards, but Hondo and Barry both played enough guard to get by as the secondary ball handlers, and Clyde’s big enough to defend the two in a double PG lineup with Tiny. This team’s got everything. Great guard play, great athleticism, great shooting, and the most unstoppable post player this side of Shaq.

1980s

P – Magic Johnson
P – Isiah Thomas
W – Larry Bird
W – George Gervin
W – Dominique Wilkins
W – Sydney Moncrief
B – Moses Malone
B – Robert Parish
B – Terry Cummings
B – Kevin McHale

The ’80s cupboard was a little bit emptied by my need to assign the ’84 draft class to the ’90s team, so they missed out on three of the 5 best players of the decade in Jordan, Hakeem, and Barkley. That said, this group would still hold its own with any other – a sure sign that the talent was brimming over back in the day. It’s a great breakdown of all the skills you’d want on the court with a great ability to run mixed lineups with Magic or Larry at the 4. As with any team with Magic Johnson on it, the gameplan is “give the ball to Magic and fill the lanes.”

1990s

P – John Stockton
P – Gary Payton
W – Michael Jordan
W – Scottie Pippen
W – Clyde Drexler
W – Grant Hill
B – Hakeem Olajuwon
B – Karl Malone
B – Charles Barkley
B – David Robinson

Size? Check. Athleticism? Check. Defense? Double check! Playmaking? Check. Shooting? Well, shooting could be an issue. I love the versatility of this team. You could run out a Riley style slugfest group built around Hakeem, David, Scottie, MJ, and Glove and just dare the other team to try to score. Sure you’d be reliant on Michael and Hakeem turning nothing into something on offense, but that’s why you’ve got Michael and Hakeem. You could play crazy up and down ball with what might be the best team speed of any of the decades. You could go Phil Jackson big guard crazy and bench both PGs or give the team to Jerry Sloan and watch the Stockton / Malone magic ensue. Or you could just tell them to pretend it’s the 1992 Olympics since most of the Dream Team is here.

2000s

P – Steve Nash
P – Jason Kidd
W – Kobe Bryant
W – Tracy McGrady
W – Allen Iverson
W – Paul Pierce
B – Shaquille O’Neal
B – Tim Duncan
B – Dirk Nowitzki
B – Kevin Garnett

Like the ’80s this group is missing a lot talent that got assigned to the 2010 squad in the form of LeBron, Wade, and Melo from the 2003 draft, but also like the ’80s team, there’s still talent to spare. Probably the best group of bigs in the pool with Snaq Daddy, Timmy!, Dirk, and KG providing the mad combo of offense, defense, and Germanic heritage. Like the ’90s squad they are a little short on shooters, but they make up for it in skill and intensity. This is just a great amalgam of talent that could do anything it wants to. 7 second or less, triangle all day, any of Pops stuff, Docs stuff, inside-out, drive and kick, defensive clusterfudge, whatever you want. They could even go huge with TMac playing point forward, Kobe defending point guards, KG defending 3s, and Dirk spacing the floor, with Tim or Diesel holding down the paint.

2010s

P – Chris Paul
P – Russell Westbrook
W – LeBron James
W – Kevin Durant
W – Dwyane Wade
W – Carmelo Anthony
B – Dwight Howard
B – Blake Griffin
B – Kevin Love
B – Marc Gasol

This team is sort of a project in the works kind of a unit. I promise Bron and KD are correct. Everyone else is sort of suspect at this point. It’s a nice mix that would probably be better off playing to this era’s strengths and going small most of the time to maximize the amount of time its best player are in the game together. I think the easiest way to get a good offense out of them would be to give the ball to Chris Paul and let him run pick and pop with Durant until the other team goes home in tears. If that fails there’s always LeBron in the mid-post. This unit’s best quality would be the ability of just about everyone on the floor to put the pressure on and attack, attack, attack. Defensively they are solid all over with special standouts in James, Dwight, and Gasol the Lesser to really make it tough. This will probably be a much different group by 2019.