Friday, August 3, 2012

156-73 - Evidence of a New Dream Team?

156-73. New Olympic records for scoring, three-pointers and now a lead over the other five teams in Group A.  The US Men's Basketball team won by 83 points today in what many will say is confirmation that nobody can beat this team, the '92 Dream Team included.

It's really very difficult to make a direct comparison between teams from different times, but I will try.

To begin with, the NBA is a much more international league than it was twenty years ago. An intuitive argument is that the current team faces a much higher level of competition due to the increase in international popularity of the sport, causing their average margin of victory to be much lower than the famed '92 Dream Team's average of  51.5 points.
Twenty years ago, there were twenty one international players in the NBA ( compared with over 200 today. Canada alone had twenty-one players compete in the NBA this past season. You could create a lineup of five international players just as good, if not better, than five American players. No international player had ever won an NBA MVP award until 2004, when Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki collectively won three straight. Prior to the 2000s, only three international players had ever been drafted first overall in the NBA draft, yet three more were drafted first overall in the next ten years (Yao Ming, Andrew Bogut and Andrea Bargnani).
While the US's performances have not appeared nearly as dominant during the last few years as the '92 Dream Team's, their success despite tougher competition tends to favor the 2012 team.

Those who favor the '92 team will still point to that 51.5 number however, and they may be right, but there is another argument for the '92 Dream Team that likely will never be trumped; eleven of the twelve players on the team are currently in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Three of the players (Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson) are considered to be among the best players in NBA history, and one of them, Larry Bird, only played in two of the six games.
While the credentials of some of the players on the 2012 team are hard to argue against, a number of the players just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Dwight Howard's, Blake Griffin's and Chris Bosh's injuries along with Andrew Bynum's decision not to play in the Olympics allowed Tyson Chandler, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis to secure spots on the team. The same can be said for Deron Williams and Andre Iguodala. While these players have certainly earned their spots and contributed thus far, there is no comparison to the individual accolades of the members of the '92 team.

The game today against the Nigerian team certainly showed us how good the current team can be, but I don't think that it has proven anything. If the argument that the US faces stiffer competition this year has any merit, then this game loses significant credibility as evidence that the 2012 team could beat the '92 team. The best player on the Nigerian team, Ike Diogu, was drafted in 2005 and never played on a team for more than two seasons. He was even waived from the last 3 teams he played for in the NBA.
In addition to the poor quality of competition, the US played nearly as good of a game as is possible. They played smothering defense forcing twenty-four turnovers, made twenty-nine three-pointers and shot over seventy percent from the field. Yes, you read that correctly, over 70%.

To be fair, you cannot simply disregard one game due to the circumstances. The US were told to play Nigeria, and they did. They dominated. The US recorded more assisted field goals than Nigeria recorded total field goals. They made more three-pointers than Nigeria attempted, and completed the game with more than double the amount of points. At one point Carmelo Anthony made a three-pointer in four consecutive possessions. LeBron James intentionally slowed up during a fast break seemingly in attempt to make a more difficult play to prove a point. He was fouled, although it was not called, and made the basket anyway.

If I had to pick a team to win the matchup of the '92 Dream Team vs. the 2012 National Team, I would have to side with the current team. In spite of the apparent difference in the quality of all twelve players for both teams, there is zero drop-off in quality of play when the second lineup enters the game for the 2012 National Team. The defense is absolutely relentless. When you can force twenty-four turnovers in one game, you're going to get free points, and it doesn't really matter who is dunking the ball.

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