If you could pick any NBA player from any time period for each position, who would make your team?
The “top 50” all-time lists are crammed with centers and relatively devoid of guards. Here are my picks for the top four players ever at each position, in order:
Center: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar / Wilt Chamberlain / Bill Russell / Shaquille O’Neal
Power forward: Karl Malone / Charles Barkley / Tim Duncan / Kevin Garnett
Small forward: Larry Bird / Lebron James / Julius Erving / Elgin Baylor
Shooting guard: Michael Jordan / Kobe Bryant / Jerry West / Clyde Drexler
Point guard: Magic Johnson / Oscar Robertson / John Stockton / Isaiah Thomas
Who didn’t make the "top four" list? Several great players:
Centers: Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing
Power Forwards: Dirk Nowitzki
Small Forwards: Scottie Pippin, John Havlicek
Point Guards: Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Walt Frazier
If you simply compared one player against another then there is no doubt, for example, that you would pick Hakeem over Stockton. But if you already had Kareem or Wilt at center I think you would begin looking to fill other positions.
The order in which I have listed the greatest players at each position above is the order I rank them. I don’t think that there is any doubt about the selections for point guard and shooting guard: Magic and Michael are slam dunk picks as the best ever at those spots. At small forward it depends on what you want for that position. If it is a shooter you are looking for, then Bird; speed, power, and defense, then Lebron; overall spectacular play, Dr. J or Elgin Baylor. I would pick Karl Malone first at power forward. His combination of scoring and power lift him over the other candidates. Center presents the hardest choice of all. Wilt was by far the greatest athlete ever to play the position, but if I were building a team of players who would work together and win games I would want Kareem in that spot. It it's relentlessness and sheer willpower you want, then go with Bill Russell.
The only active players I have listed in the "top two" at any position are Lebron and Kobe. Considering each of them at the height of his game (which is where Lebron is now), I think that they would be the first two active players drafted. One of my brothers pointed out that the greatest current player not listed at all is point guard Chris Paul, but it's a bit early in his career to move him ahead of Stockton and Thomas, and it does not seem likely that he will ever eclipse Oscar Robertson.
I'm sure you could argue that you might assemble a better team by substituting role players for some of the established stars - players like Dennis Rodman who spent their careers as specialists at rebounding, defending, or distributing the ball. I think, though, that if the star players listed above were on the same team with each other they would simply adjust to their assigned roles and would be superior in performing those specialized functions to others we could name. Most of them did just that near the end of their careers.
You could also adjust the roster by moving players out of position: for example, we could ask Wilt or more likely Bill Russell to play power forward. That I think is more problematic; it calls for more adjustments to their playing style and therefore a lot more speculation. On the other hand many of these players were capable of playing multiple positions. Moreover we are already in the land of make-believe, so why not?
Of course once you've chosen your all-time dream team that raises the question, “Against whom would they play?”
Get your exams graded, Huhn!
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