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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Dreaming of a Matchup Between the 1992 and 2008 Versions of Team USA

There will probably never be a team that has a better collective resume than the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team--the only squad that should ever be referred to as the "Dream Team." However, in the wake of the tremendous performances by Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd and LeBron James in this year's FIBA Americas Tournament, it is at least reasonable to ask what would happen if the 1992 team played the 2008 U.S. Olympic team (assuming that it is composed of the same players who were on the roster this year). With Malice asked several bloggers to break down this matchup. Most of the respondents offered thoughtful replies, though one answer seemed to be included for name value more than analytical depth--unless you happen to be unaware that Michael Jordan was very good and that he played for the 1992 team.

Five of the six bloggers picked the 1992 team to beat the 2008 team. I agree with the majority verdict but not necessarily with all of the reasons that some of the contributors provided. We tend to forget that many of the big names on the 1992 team were no longer in their primes and that both Larry Bird and John Stockton were severely limited due to injuries--so a recitation of their career accomplishments is not an accurate indicator of how they performed for the Dream Team or what they would be capable of doing against the 2008 team. I posted a comment at With Malice offering my take:

Interesting question, but some contributors obviously took the assignment more seriously than others (Michael Jordan was on the first Dream Team? Really? I never knew that, so saying that he might make the difference in a close game is really some deep analysis).

I agree that the '92 team has been a bit mythologized. Laettner was a spare part, Stockton played briefly in just four games due to a fracture in his leg and Bird was at the end of his career and could barely play in some games due to back spasms. Jordan was obviously the best player but people forget that the player who actually performed the best was Barkley (team-highs of 18 ppg and .711 field goal percentage). Jordan (team-high 37 steals) and Pippen (second on the team with 23 steals) were absolute terrors on the defensive end and they took special delight in abusing Toni Kukoc, who they viewed as Jerry Krause’s pet. I’ll bet a lot of people would be surprised to hear that Pip led the team in assists (47 in eight games), Jordan was second (38) and Magic was only third (33 in six games). It is true that the '92 team was never seriously tested by a team as good as the '08 team but I doubt that MJ, Pip, Barkley, Magic and the others would somehow shrink from that challenge.

The individual matchups would be amazing to watch: isn’t a Jordan-Kobe showdown with both players in their prime something we all want to see, whatever our opinions are about Kobe? Pip on LeBron or Melo would also be tremendous, as would Magic on Kidd. I think that those perimeter matchups would end up being pretty even overall but that where the '92 team would win the game would be in the paint, with Barkley, Ewing, Robinson and Karl Malone getting the better of Amare, Howard and Tyson Chandler (who actually probably would not get any playing time because he usually only got on the court in Vegas when Team USA was up 20 and that would never happen in this game). Some analysts think that the '08 team will have problems in the Olympics with the best FIBA big men and, while I don’t think that will cost Team USA because Kobe and Kidd are on a mission, that is the area that would prove decisive in this hypothetical matchup. Dream Team '92 wins, 108-100, and Barkley (28 points, 15 rebounds) is the MVP.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:10 AM



At Sunday, December 09, 2007 12:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave Berri looked at this issue a while back. He compared the 92 team to the 2006 edition in "Not exactly the Dream Team."


And here is his post on the 2007 team, "The dream team is back."


At Sunday, December 09, 2007 11:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The problem is that, by his own admission, when Berri "looks" at a game or a basketball-related issue he does not in fact actually look at any games. His belief is that all you need to know to understand basketball is contained in the statistics (after he manipulates them according to his liking by using a formula that overvalues rebounding, hence the inflated ratings for Dennis Rodman--a great player, but not actually better/more productive than Michael Jordan--and Tyson Chandler--a solid role player, not a key member of Team USA).

Serious basketball observers can do nothing but laugh at a method that concludes that Andrew Bynum is more productive or more valuable than Kobe Bryant.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 7:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


they have micheal jordan and magic and bird on that team aginst kobe and lebron who you takeing david? they had barkley ewing robinson malone in their primes right there it is over bosh howard i dont think so they cant match up pippen takes melo to school. dont get me wron 2008 team is the second best team not the best they have kobe which is great not jordan they both was 29 and i think jordan was alot better than kobe at this age kobe best years was when he was younger. jordan best years was when he was older 28-35 kobe best is damn good maybe second best shooting guard ever not jordan. bird was old but he still got 20 10 1991-92 on bad knees and back magic was still great but lebron was better than a older magic but no way a younger 80's magic kills lebron that magic is good enough. 92 team had too much for the 2008 but 2008 is great.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 7:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You asked who am I taking but I very clearly said that I picked the 1992 team.

The 1992 Bird was not in his prime and largely had a ceremonial role on the team. He would have had significant problems guarding LeBron and did not have enough left in the tank to answer at the other end (assuming that LeBron would be attentive at the defensive end of the court and not let Bird shoot stand still jumpers, because Bird's driving game was gone by '92).

Although Bird did have decent stats in '92, he only played in 45 games. Keep in mind that the Olympics were after the season, so he was worn down and in worse condition; that is why he retired after the Olympics. The Bird who played for the Dream Team was not a 20-10 player.

The point is not what a younger Magic or Bird would do but what those players in their 1992 forms would do against the current players. As I said, the difference would be in the frontcourt, where the 1992 team was much stronger (literally and figuratively) than the current team.

Whether or not the 1992 MJ was better than the 2007-08 Kobe, the point is that they would not be playing one on one; they would be playing a team game within the context of FIBA rules and if you look at their FIBA stats it is clear that neither guy would be going out and getting 30 or 40 points. Within that context, their impact is pretty similar and would probably cancel out; it's not like either team would say that one of those guys is a weak link who can be exploited by isolation plays and, in any case, isolation plays are not used as much in FIBA play due to how the game is officiated and the wider lane that makes you start your move from further away from the paint.

At Thursday, November 27, 2008 8:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dave berri looks at say brent barry having a higher field goal percentage than Duncan, and thus he concludes that barry is a better scorer. What he doesn't understand is the reason why barry has such a high FG% is because Duncan is always doubled teamed thus leaving him empty so he often gets open shots, thus he becomes a better scorer. But it is Duncan who made him so.

At Friday, November 28, 2008 6:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are correct that those kinds of cause/effect relationships are poorly explained by Berri's numbers.


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