Center Stage: Why an All-Time Lakers Team Beats an All-Time Bulls Team

 

Bulls’ strategy: fire away from the perimeter (and give MJ the damn ball). Lakers’ strategy: feed the big men (and sometimes Kobe so he doesn’t cry).

Before we start, let’s establish what Shaq defined as each team’s all-time lineup (click the link for more background information on this interesting thought exercise – and for the hilarious online feud between Shaq and Scottie Pippen):

BULLS

PG Derrick Rose

SG Michael Jordan

SF Scottie Pippen

PF Dennis Rodman

C Horace Grant

LAKERS

PG Magic Johnson

SG Kobe Bryant

SF Elgin Baylor

PF Shaquille O’Neal

C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Great. There are two things I notice right away and both things favor the Lakers at first glance. First, I have no idea how Derrick Rose expects to defend Magic Johnson. While Rose is undoubtedly faster, Magic was the ideal height for a freaking small forward, which means his most important skill – passing the rock with his exceptional court vision – would be largely unimpeded.

Of course, Magic might have the easiest job in the world because he gets to play with both Shaq and Kareem at the same time, which leads me to my second point: how in the world do the Bulls expect to defend those two?

While Dennis Rodman and Horace Grant were certainly no slouches, Shaq and Kareem were two of the most unstoppable forces in the paint. The Bulls would have to really pound Kareem and make him want the ball less, giving Shaq more responsibility… which means the Lakers would then take the power route over the finesse route.

Pick your poison, Bulls.

All in all, the only real “advantage” I see here for the Bulls are MJ and Scottie. I think they would do more than enough to at least slow Kobe and Elgin down – I don’t think Elgin faced anybody like Scottie in his career – and we all know Kobe would probably take a couple of really shitty shots because he feels like he’s got something to prove.

So close. Yet so far.

So close. Yet so far.

In the meantime, you could easily see MJ playing at an unprecedented level, especially if fools say stupid things like, “Oh, MJ and Kobe will cancel each other out.”

The last time someone said that, MJ destroyed Clyde Drexler’s career (pretty literally, too). But we have to remember two things: one, MJ is not God or even lowercase god, like the one your wacky Appalachian uncle believes in. Second, the dirty little secret with MJ’s success lies in the fact that he never really faced a ton of truly quality centers on his road to six NBA championships.

When he did face them, he had a lot of trouble because he never played with any notable centers – they would get manhandled by the likes of, you guessed it, Shaq during his Orlando days. Even here, you could say he faces the same problem. Really, the only way the Lakers would have more of an advantage in that regard is if Shaq or Kareem were replaced by someone like Hakeem Olajuwon or Tim Duncan – and that’s debatable.

So even though MJ, Scottie, and Dennis would pound Kobe and Elgin and even Magic, they would have no answer for Shaq and Kareem. Horace Grant would probably end up getting injured or something, poor guy.

Conversely, the Bulls would have to rely on an inordinate amount of perimeter shots. I’m not sure even MJ would be foolish enough to charge into the paint when Shaq and Kareem are waiting… right?

Also, while Rose would definitely get the best of Magic, his fate after getting past that first line of defense would probably be a blocked shot, hasty floater, or a drawn foul. Messy. Magic’s terrible defense was covered up by his excellent frontcourt in the 1980s (just like Tony Parker’s entire career and the exact opposite of Steve Nash’s), so you could expect the same effect here.

Rose also isn’t a very consistent shooter and that was true even during his MVP season. Jordan in his prime actually probably had a less accurate three than later on when his athleticism started to slowly slip (which is why a more in-depth analysis would also ask which year you’re taking each player from). Scottie was also known more for his defense and “jack of all trades” ability than anything he brought offensively.

I don’t know if I trust those three to bang home enough shots, and that’s without factoring what Kobe and Elgin bring defensively. Even though Kobe’s defensive prowess has long been overstated, if we’re conceding everyone is in their prime, then Kobe was definitely a worthy defender. He would give MJ everything he has and you can’t tell me Kobe in his prime facing his biggest adversary wouldn’t bring the same things to the table defensively as guys like Gary Payton and John Starks did when they were tasked with defending Jordan.

As for Elgin, I can’t say I know a lot about him, but I do know he had a reputation for being incredibly strong for his size and being an excellent shooter, rebounder, and passer. If he’s matched up with Scottie, I think he would also do enough to slow Scottie down (because again, it’s not like Scottie was a prolific scorer to begin with).

Of course, the whole argument I’m supporting is that it’s all about the centers, which makes the backcourts almost entirely irrelevant. The Lakers have a clear advantage both offensively and defensively at the frontcourt – hell, I didn’t even talk about how Rodman and Grant (to a lesser extent) would be such a liability on offense – which means the Lakers win in the end.

Having said that, if this is one game – winner takes all the glory – I wouldn’t give up on MJ. He’s not a god, but he’s fucking MJ.

On the other hand, if this is like a series (five games, seven games, whatever), then I think the Lakers win in the end. MJ might steal a couple of games on his own, but Shaq and Kareem would just be too much.

Finally, Shaq said an all-time Lakers team would win by fifty points. We all know that part’s just stupid. Last grievances include his actual definition of each team’s all-time lineups. I initially thought Joakim Noah was designated as Chicago’s center, but apparently Horace Grant has more of Shaq’s attention.

That’s too bad, because I would easily take someone with a higher defensive ceiling in exchange for sacrificing some offense based on the context of the lineups.

As for the Lakers, they have had so many great players play for them, so I suppose it’s understandable why someone like Wilt Chamberlain would be off the lineup. I’m sure he’d come off the bench. Maybe.

When I was talking to my buddy Keyon, he initially thought I was high on crack when I said an all-time Lakers team would win. Then he thought about it for literally half a second then flipped. He brought up Magic’s advantage over Rose then said the dreaded line “MJ and Kobe would cancel each other out.”

I accidentally said Joakim Noah was Chicago’s center and Keyon said something interesting: what if the Bulls had Tyson Chandler instead? Hmm… if we include players who played for the Bulls and the Lakers even when they weren’t in their primes, guys like Gary Payton, Karl Malone, Dwight Howard, and Ben Wallace come into the picture.

It’s an interesting idea, and this is where I leave you to ponder. Also there might be a second part. Maybe.

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