Breaking Down Kevin Durant’s All-Time 12-Man Roster

Recently, KD went on a podcast and was asked what his all-time 12-man roster would be. This was his answer:

I’m not surprised he put himself in the all-time starting five. I think he actually has a case, but I’m not sure I would include him, personally. As great as he is, he’s just not your traditional power forward, he’s more of an over-sized small forward.

The more interesting thing is that he puts LeBron at the point so he could include Kobe in the starting five. Because if you put Magic or Steph at the point, then LeBron bumps Kobe out at the SF spot. I’m sure he’s probably just trying to be respectful to the late Kobe, but personally, I wouldn’t put him and MJ on the floor at the same time. They have such similar games I just don’t think either would be able to be maximally effective if they’re on the floor at the same time. (That’s a nice way of saying they’re both ball-hogs.)

KD also didn’t include Tim Duncan on his team, which I’m not sure about. KD and Tim Duncan have played against one another plenty of times, including in the playoffs, so it’s not like KD just overlooked him. Either KD just doesn’t think Tim Duncan was all that great, or he’s got some personal beef with him. He included Dirk over Tim Duncan, and since he’s played lots of games against both guys, we can take from this that maybe KD thinks Dirk is the superior player.

You can say it’s as simple as KD just wanted to put himself into the starting five, and I respect him doing that because obviously he’s got a lot of confidence in his game. But to put T-Mac over Tim Duncan? That’s odd.

He’s also got AD on the bench, which is kind of an eyebrow-raiser (sorry, I had to do it). AD, already on the all-time team? Maybe this is because KD anticipates the Nets meeting the Lakers in the Finals and he wants to play up the competition he’s facing as much as possible. If he generates buzz about AD already being on the all-time team, then it would look more impressive if the Nets beat the Lakers in the Finals, because hey: the Lakers have two guys on the all-time team!

I’m surprised KD doesn’t have James Harden on his team. I personally wouldn’t include Harden on my all-time team, but you’d think KD would want to give some props to his teammate. Maybe it’s the opposite of the AD situation: just as he wants to play up his level of competition, he wants to downplay his current supporting cast. If he wins the Finals over the Lakers this year, he can say, “I beat two guys on the all-time team and I don’t even have any on my team.”

I do like KD’s Hakeem pick, although I think I’d have to give the edge to Kareem as my starting 5. But just barely. And only because Hakeem himself said Kareem is “the greatest” after Kareem retired (7:30 mark of the video).

I have Hakeem as a top-10 all-timer, ahead of Shaq, Tim Duncan and every other big man besides Kareem. People underrate just how skilled and athletic Hakeem was for a 7-footer. He could shoot from mid-range, he could guard smaller players, he was an elite shot-blocker. Hakeem was so far ahead of his time. He would be just as great today because he’d be asked to play perimeter defense and take jump shots. If you’re not familiar with Hakeem’s game, watch this video:

Robert Horry said Hakeem is the best center ever. And Horry is a guy who played with not only Hakeem, but also with Prime Shaq and Tim Duncan. Even Shaq himself says Hakeem is #1. The guy’s game was simply incredible. He had guard skills as a 7-footer.

I consider Hakeem the clear-cut second-best basketball player of the 1990s behind MJ, and it’s disappointing that we never got to see an MJ-Hakeem Finals matchup. It almost certainly would’ve happened had MJ not retired after the 1993 season, because the Rockets won the Championship in 1994, the season MJ was retired, plus they repeated in 1995, the season where MJ came back but the Bulls lost to the Magic in the playoffs. Hakeem’s Rockets swept the Shaq-Penny-Grant Hill-Nick Anderson Magic in the Finals.

In that video I linked above with the Hakeem quote about Kareem, it also pointed out that Jordan’s Bulls were 1-6 during the regular season against Hakeem’s Rockets, and, furthermore, a reporter had a direct quote from Michael Jordan saying “It’s a good thing they [Houston] can never get out of the West. Because we have no answer for that big monster.”

Hakeem was out there hitting fadeaway midrange jumpers as a 7-foot center. There’s no other center in NBA history that could do the things he did. The closest comp I can come up with is Anthony Davis, but I think Hakeem was even more athletic and skilled than AD is. And that’s saying a lot.

The craziest thing about Hakeem was that he was born and raised in Nigeria and only came to America to play college ball at Houston. It’s not like he was getting AAU coaching and going to LeBron’s basketball camps as a kid. He developed his game on his own. 7-footers are not supposed to be able to do that stuff.

Anyway, as far as the bench goes, I would put Dr. J in over T-Mac. Dr. J doesn’t get as much respect as he should these days. There would be no MJ or LeBron or Kobe without Dr. J. He was a revolutionary basketball player for his time and his game would fit in the modern NBA.

So my starting 5 would be this:

PG: Magic

SG: MJ

SF: LeBron

PF: Hakeem

C: Kareem

The more I thought about Hakeem, the more I realized: he can play the 4. I wanted to fit him in my starting five in any way possible, and I consider him a better player than Tim Duncan, the guy I was most strongly considering as my starting power forward. I’d rather have the better player on the floor than the guy who better fits the traditional power forward mold.

For my bench:

  • Steph: he’s my backup point guard. I wanted to find a way to fit him into the starting lineup, honestly, but I just couldn’t justify it. He’s not going over LeBron or MJ, and I just think Magic is the clear-cut best point guard of all-time and an overall greater basketball player than Steph, so I gave Magic the nod at the point.
  • Kobe: The clear-cut second-best shooting guard of all time. He’s MJ’s backup. No other option here.
  • KD: I have him as the second-best small forward ever behind LeBron.
  • Larry Bird: He’s listed as both a small forward and a power forward, and I have him in my all-time top-5, ahead of KD, but I just couldn’t justify putting him ahead of any guy in my starting lineup. I think Larry is a better all-time player than Hakeem, but if we’re going by a starting five, then positional fit does come into play, and Hakeem was a better fit.
  • Shaq: Shaq is a tough player to evaluate. In his prime, he was unstoppable. But outside of his peak years–when we evaluate his full career–was he really as good overall as Kareem and Hakeem? I’d say no, personally, and that’s why I have Shaq just outside my top-10 all-time. But obviously if we’re taking all these guys in their primes, then Shaq is clearly on the roster. And it’s not to say Shaq isn’t an all-time great or anything, he absolutely is. But he said himself that he just could not break Hakeem and that Hakeem is his #1 center ever. Shaq puts Hakeem over himself, and so do I.
  • Dr. J: I’m putting him in because his game translates to any era. He won titles in the ABA and then the NBA.

The final spot on the roster is a tough one. We have two point guards (Magic & Steph) but LeBron can also play the point, so arguably three. I don’t think we need any more point guards. I don’t want to be rotating out point guards all the time, so that would rule out guys like Isiah Thomas, John Stockton, CP3, and AI, who would be next-up on my list for point guards.

We have plenty of wing scorers: MJ, Kobe, LeBron, KD, Dr. J and Larry Bird. Plus Curry plays more like a shooting guard than a point guard. And I think after those guys there’s a bit of a drop-off until the next player on the list. Is it D-Wade? Is it James Harden? Elgin Baylor? Kawhi? There’s no clear answer here, and we’re more than set at the position, so I’m not considering any of these guys for the final spot.

Finally we get to big men: we already have Kareem, Hakeem and Shaq. There are some candidates here to add a fourth, and that’s where I’m leaning. Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone. You could even look at KG and Dirk.

But I also don’t want to completely exclude the OGs, the guys who played back in the 1960s, and the two names I have in mind here are Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. I think I would give Wilt the nod because he’s way bigger than Russell. Russell is listed at 6′ 10″ and 215lbs, while Wilt is listed at 7′ 1″ and 275lbs. Just look at the size comparison:

I know Bill got the best of Wilt the two times they met in the Finals, but let’s look at some context: Bill Russell consistently had better teammates. He had Tom Heinshon, John Havlicek, K.C. Jones and Sam Jones. All in the Hall of Fame. Wilt was playing with guys like Tom Meschery, Guy Rodgers and Al Attles when they first met in the 1964 Finals. Ever heard of those guys? Wilt had Nate Thurmond on his team, but it was his rookie season. And yes, Attles and Rodgers are in the Hall of Fame, but they were clearly outclassed by the Celtics’ key players.

In the 1964 Finals, Bill Russell wasn’t the leading scorer on his team. He wasn’t even the second-leading scorer on his team. He was the fourth leading scorer on his team. He averaged 11.2ppg and 25.2rpg. Wilt, on the other hand, averaged 29.2ppg and 27.6rpg in that Finals. And he did it on 51% shooting, too. They didn’t even keep track of blocks back then, either. But if we look at Bill Russell’s field goal percentage, we can get an idea of how hard it was for him to score on Wilt: 38.6% from the floor for the series.

And this was when both guys were in their primes, too. Russell was 29 and Wilt was 27 in 1964. In my view, even though Bill Russell’s ring count dwarfs Wilt’s (11 to 2), Wilt Chamberlain was the superior basketball player. Russell has even said in the past that Wilt was the smartest player he ever played against.

I know we look at Wilt’s unbelievable stats from the 1960s (50ppg and 25rpg in 1962) and think it’s just because he was playing against a bunch of 6′ 2″ white guys with names like Chet and Butch. But think about it this way: if you put, say, Giannis in the NBA of 1962, playing against Chet and Butch, wouldn’t he probably average something like 50ppg and 25rpg? Don’t you think he’d be able to put up Wilt-esque numbers? Maybe not 50 and 25, but doesn’t 40 and 20 seem at least reasonable if Giannis played back in 1962?

I’m not saying Giannis would be able to go back to the 1960s and easily score 50ppg. I’m just making the point that if you want to write Wilt off for the era he played in, you should at least be able to recognize just how dramatic of an outlier he was in that era. I don’t want to sell Wilt’s accomplishment’s short here, because when Bill Russell was asked if the 50ppg season was something Wilt could just do normally, he said “no, that was special.” And why weren’t any other players putting up the numbers that Wilt did? Clearly he was special.

And so many of his records not only haven’t been broken to this day, nearly 50 years after he retired, but nobody has even come close to them. Anytime you see something like, “(Current NBA player) is the first to do X since Wilt,” you know it’s a remarkable accomplishment. But his numbers were so absurd that we basketball fans today can’t even really process them. I mean we’ve seen James Harden average 36 points a game in a season, and MJ even averaged 37 back in 1987. Kobe averaged 35 a game in 2006. But 50? That’s incomprehensible. So we just kind of dismiss it as a fluke, a product of a different era.

But, again, nobody in Wilt’s era was coming anywhere remotely close to his numbers.

I really do believe Wilt was like putting a modern NBA superstar back in the 1960s. Wilt was not just some oak tree planted under the hoop; he was athletic, he could run the floor, pass the ball and shoot fadeaways. Go watch his highlights, he was legit:

I have no doubt in my mind that Wilt could dominate in any NBA era.

I’m putting him on my all-time team. I have him in my top-10 all-time, I’m just not sure where yet. That’s for another post.

I guess that means I’m not including Tim Duncan, either. I think Tim Duncan is an all-time great, no doubt. But I just look at these other guys like Kareem, Shaq, Hakeem and Wilt as more physically dominant and talented players. There’s a reason they call Duncan “The Big Fundamental.” He wasn’t an athletic outlier; he was just really fundamentally polished and intelligent. Those were the traits that made him great.

And while I hate to throw out the “system” label, you can’t deny that Duncan was very fortunate in where he landed in the NBA. First he had David Robinson, then he had Parker and Ginobili. Then late in his career he got Kawhi. He always had a championship roster around him.

So I just don’t know if you could put Tim Duncan on any roster and he’d carry and dominate. Maybe he could, but we never got to see him in that situation. He was always on a highly-talented and very well-coached team throughout his career.

Octavian

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