Awhile ago I heard someone say if you were drafting a team today you would take Lebron James #1 overall. I didn’t disagree given Lebron James age and relative dominance of the league in the last 7-8 seasons.
But what if the draft pool didn’t just include all active NBA players, but all active NBA players as they entered the league. So Tim Duncan coming out of Wake Forest, Lebron James coming out of Saint Vincent, Dirk coming over from Germany….you get the idea.
Also what if you were a fictional GM drafting a team with the benefit of the hindsight. You have seen Kobe Bryant play 18 years, the high and lows of Kevin Garnett’s career, you have seen Lebron James leave Cleveland and then come back.
You are a GM from the future for all intents and purposes.
In this draft one has to factor in the character concerns, the peaks of a player’s career vs the valleys, and how a player has or will evolve.
Below is our(myself and Andrew’s) attempt to do just that:
*My picks are in blue. Andrew’s are in Black.
Tim Duncan. This was the obvious pick. The best player on four championship teams, the defensive anchor on five. Was one missed free throw/defensive rebound/fluke shot away from winning a sixth championship. He has been the best player since Jordan.
Lebron James: Tim Duncan is the obvious pick. He is insanely productive, low maintenance, and his game has aged marvelously. However Lebron James isn’t bad as a consolation. He is the best combination of talent and versatility we have ever seen. He is also the picture of durability, never missing more than a few games a season. Even if he will never be the best player of all time He is an almost perfect franchise player.
Kobe Bryant. In my opinion, there were three top guys and the rest of the players and Kobe was one of the three. I can make strong arguments for him as first or second, but third is probably right since LeBron has a lot of time left. Kobe’s resume speaks for itself. The last time we saw him healthy he had a Player Efficiency Rating of 23 at 34 years old. Five championships, blah, blah blah, you get it.
- Kevin Garnett: Peak Kevin Garnett might be the best all around player on this list. From the age of 26-29 he had an average PER of 27, while being an all league defender. He is one of only 5 player to ever lead their team in the 5 major statistical categories(points, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks) for a season. Until last season he was a well above average starter into his late 30′s. He is also an absurdly competitive culture setter.
Kevin Durant. This is the first one in which I’m projecting, but the body of work we have so far is also incredible. The reigning league Most Valuable Player is 23rd amongst active players in win shares despite not yet playing a single game after his 25th birthday. The recent foot injury makes me a little worried about this pick, but I believe in modern medicine and great players. He’s had a PER higher than 26 in four of his seven years in the league and has become a good defender.
- Chris Paul:The best point guard since Magic Johnson or at the very least since John Stockton. Not that such a title matters, but he is likely the best pound for pound basketball player on this list. He has a career PER of 25.6 but most amazing stat to me is that he (generously listed at 6’0 feet) once averaged 5.5 rebounds per game. He is also a basketball genius, so his game should age pretty well.
Dirk Nowitzki. It’s hard to remember a time when the Dallas Mavericks weren’t relevant and that’s because of Dirk. Maybe not the hardest worker or the best defensive player, but Dirk is a leader and can flat out score it. The Legend of Dirk can’t be told without talking about how he was the best player in an NBA Finals series that included LeBron in his prime.
- Dwight Howard: Back injuries have lessened his effectiveness and his goofball antics are concerning in a franchise player, but before the injuries Dwight Howard was an absolutely devastating presence from a defense (3 time DPOY) and rebounding(13 RPG for his career) perspective. Even now he is an excellent two way player, but peak Howard was dominant. I can live with a drop from dominant to very good though.
Dwayne Wade. His knees have broken down and that has changed what people think of Wade, making it easy to forget just how great he was at his best. In the 2008-09 season, Wade had the 15th highest PER in the history of the league. The only guys to have a season better than him are named Shaq, LeBron, Michael, Wilt and David Robinson (the only one who needs to be last-named). That’s it. Who can forget the 2006 NBA Finals in which Wade averaged 34 points per game and put his team on his back scoring 42, 36 and 43 in consecutive games after his team fell behind 0-2. Averaged 26.5 points, 7 rebounds and 5.2 assists, while shooting over 54 percent in the 2011 Finals, but his teammates (looking at you LeBron) didn’t come through.
- Stephen Curry: This was kind of out of left field with Davis and Nash still on the board, but I already had a PF and PG. Curry is just about the best shooter high volume 3 point shooter ever…so far. He made a leap to elite player status last year with a PER just over 24. Shooting is paramount in today’s game and there is reason to believe Curry will be canning 3′s for another 10-15 years.
Steve Nash. It’s easy to forget just how good the two-time MVP was. He shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line four times and was very close to doing it four more times. He led the league in assists five times and was the key to the Phoenix Suns attack under Mike D’Antoni. All that said, if not for two consecutive knee injuries, Derrick Rose would’ve been the pick here.
- Anthony Davis: This is a definite projection pick, Davis hasn’t emerged as a top 5 player yet, but it seems imminent. His production already (a 26 PER last year at 21-years-old) combined with his shocking length lead me to believe that he will make the leap defensively and emerge as kind of a new age Kevin Garnett. The fact that he is so far (5-6) years from his peak is frightening.
Tony Parker. The stats aren’t great for Parker, but they’re not bad. As the Spurs have transitioned into a fast-paced team, Parker has been the key. The end result has been two trips to the NBA Finals. Parker also took home the Finals MVP award in 2007. Had he not injured his hamstring in Game 2 of the 2012 Finals, he could have another ring and MVP award.
- Derrick Rose: The youngest MVP ever. A dominant physical presence who has always put in work to improve his game. What he is able to do to a set defense is what sets him apart. As a fictional GM I am not too concerned about the bad luck injuries he has suffered in each of the past two years, those shouldn’t have a lasting impact and could have happen to anybody.The only worry is how his game will age, he is dependent upon athleticism and though he is actually a pretty good jump shooter he takes far too many ill advised 3′s for my liking.
Pau Gasol. This wasn’t an obvious pick for most people, but the numbers are actually pretty staggering. He was the second-best player on two championship teams and it could be argued he was actually better than Kobe in 2009-10. A career PER of 21.5, Gasol has averaged 17 or more points per game in 12 of his 13 seasons to go with an average of 9.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He’s considered to be among the best passing big men of this era.
- Kevin Love: His defense is certainly a concern. But his combination of scoring, rebounding, and passing make him such an insanely productive player that he is tough to pass up in this spot.
Carmelo Anthony. Simply one of the best scorers in the history of the game. Melo’s all-around game gets a bad rap because he isn’t a good defender or passer, but he is a very good rebounder for his position. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact Phil Jackson has on his career, but he has gotten better with age. It’s a shame he wasn’t willing to leave some money on the table and play with another great player and contending team.
- Paul Pierce: Paul Pierce is one of those guys who has been an excellent all around basketball player. He can pass, rebound, score and defend. He was never great at any of these things, which is why he wasn’t drafted higher, but there is something to be said as a wing player for taking nothing off the table.Also for being a prime time player. Pierce outplayed Kobe Bryant en route to being the 07-08 Finals MVP.
Russell Westbrook. One of my all-time favorite players to watch. Sometimes, I’m not sure he “gets it” but he’s a tremendous athlete and competitor. He might be better off playing somewhere where he can be the alpha male, but he’s still one of the scariest players to play against. He can do things that shouldn’t be possible. Has had a PER of 22 or better in four straight seasons and won’t turn 26 until November.
- Paul George: This is also a projection pick and a pick where I am ignoring a flukey injury as a fictional GM. George in just his 4th season emerged as the best player on a top seeded team. He is the premier wing defender in the NBA and though his offense isn’t at the level of Harden (the other guy I considered taking) it is still above average, which is more than you can say about Harden’s offense.