Preface: This is the first of several pieces on the way in the coming months based on a series of debates between Spur of the Moment's David Southern Hospitality Thiessen and yours truly. DT and I both attend a variety of meetings and lectures together on a regular basis, and given that both of us tend to prefer the NBA to the contents of said meetings, these events have turned into a breeding ground for basketball thought, as the two delinquent columnists outline imaginary basketball teams. On Monday, each of us created our 'ideal team' of active NBA players. Wednesday morning, we decided to go with a tougher task: building a team of players with four years in the league or less. Dave's can be found over at Spur of the Moment, and mine is below. We look forward to your responses telling us who we omitted and why your team is better than either of ours. Enjoy!
The rules are simple:
- The goal is to build the best real team possible going forward, not just a group of individuals with good statistics for fantasy basketball, but a winning basketball team, both for the present day and going forward (thus bringing age, potential and intangibles into the equation).
- The roster is built like an All-Star roster: Two full lineups of two guards, two forwards and a center, and two wild cards of your choosing.
- The coach must fit the qualifications of the theme of the day (in today's case, someone who didn't get a head coaching job until June 2004 or later).
- Salaries are not a concern.
Originally, the plan was to go with all players with five years or less of experience in the league, but that allowed for the Class of 2003, which simply included too many gems (Bron, Flash, Melo, Bosh et al.), so all eligible players cannot have entered the league prior to the 2004 draft. Away we go...
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Guards: Chris Paul (2005), Brandon Roy (2006) -- CP3 doesn't require much explanation, except that he has my vote by a hair for best point guard of the 2005 draft class, with the very close second coming later as his understudy on this team. His only issue has been his health, but when he plays, he is excellent, as has been the case in his MVP-caliber campaign thus far this season. The man from Wake Forest can do it all.
Roy is fast becoming one of the league's best young players. He is already a captain in Portland, and he would provide excellent leadership on a very young team, as well as a versatile guard who can do just about everything at the two. He can handle, penetrate, dish and score the basketball very well, but he doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective, and he plays his share of defense, too.
Forwards: Kevin Durant (2007), Al Jefferson (2004) -- Sure, Durant's rookie campaign hasn't been earth-shattering. His percentages could be a lot better, and he has a long way to go as an NBA player. But it's worth bearing in mind that he is playing with no one and is still putting up close to 20 per game. We saw what his athleticism can do for him last year at Texas, and once the 19-year-old has a couple of years under his belt in the pros, he should just be as dangerous as billed. I'll take my chances with him.
Undoubtedly, I'm a bit partial to Big Al due to fan allegiances, but the fact of the matter remains that his offensive game is right up there with that of anybody in the West. He has really put the work in to make himself a ferocious scorer down low (21.1 points per game on 49.8 percent shooting) as well as an excellent rebounder at this level (12.1 per game). The only hesitancy here remains with regard to Jefferson's porous defense, but the facts of the matter are that Jefferson is considered to be a better defender from his natural power forward position than at center (which is where he is getting most of his minutes for Minnesota this season), and, well, it is worth noting that he'll be playing next to...
Center: Dwight Howard (2004) -- ...a man who needs no introduction. Especially on the defensive end.
Guards: Deron Williams (2005), Kevin Martin (2004) -- The string bean they call Speed Racer in Sacramento probably deserves a spot in the starting lineup here, although Roy gets the nod as the better all-around player. Despite some rather foolishly misplaced criticisms I laid on him early in the season, as Tom Ziller pointed out back in November, Martin has established himself as a very efficient scorer (24.4 points per game on 46.2 percent field-goal shooting, 41.3 three-point shooting and 87.2 percent from the foul line) as well as someone who isn't scared to take big shots and knock them down. He would get plenty of run on this team and would have a field day next to either of the point guards in this group.
Speaking of which, Deron Williams is really good. He began his emergence last spring in the playoffs and has only continued it with an excellent third season. This guy is without doubt for real.
Forwards: Josh Smith (2004), Al Horford (2007) -- Lots of love for the tandem in Atlanta. Smith has a long ways to go as far as playing with a greater semblance of control, but his versatility and athleticism simply can't be ignored. He attacks the rim well and has the potential to change a game with his efforts as an excellent weak-side defender. He is 22 and just starting to 'get it,' and he is already averaging 17.9 points, 8.0 boards, 1.9 steals and 3.3 blocks per game.
Horford gets the nod over longtime fave Emeka Okafor because of the way Okafor's production has hit a plateau over the last couple of seasons, as well as the fact that Horford has four years of youth on Okafor. Okafor has hit right near his career averages of 14.3 points and 10.8 boards per game each year of his career (certainly respectable, but there was some expectation that he would improve even beyond that), and Horford is already putting up 8.9 points and 9.8 boards per game in his rookie campaign in Atlanta, while playing a couple less minutes per game. The younger Horford has also more than held his own defensively (Okafor's biggest strength, although this team already has Howard clogging up the middle), and he has more athleticism and a higher ceiling to boot. Hawks abound!
Center: Andrew Bynum (2005) -- Isn't it odd how the Lakers' brief sprint to the top of the West's standings coincided with this kid finally grasping how to play this game at the professional level? And then that they went on the decline without him? For those scoring at home, these aren't coincidences.
Wild Cards: Luol Deng (2004), Greg Oden (2007) -- Certainly, Deng hasn't yet developed into the superstar some expected to see this season after his performance down the stretch last spring. But he guards three positions, plays an excellent team game, rebounds well and can score the basketball. Also, he is 22 and has plenty of time to become that superstar.
Chances are, the rotation on this team isn't going to need to go twelve deep. That being the case, it might not hurt to take a flyer on the man hyped as the best big man to hit the Association in decades. This team is in no rush.
Coach: Marc Iavaroni (2007) -- Long touted as an emerging coaching genius in Phoenix, Iavaroni is getting his shot in Memphis and deserves a shot here as well. He has the Grizz playing a very uptempo game and maintaining a balanced offense, and the given his reputation as a defensive coach with the Suns (Mike D'Antoni will happily rave about him), it seems reasonable to expect that the improvement on the other end will come as well. Already the defensive efficiency has improved by nearly two points per 100 possessions from last season, and that improvement will only grow more drastic as Iavaroni has more time to work his magic. He is the man for this unit.
Apologies: Monta Ellis, Rudy Gay, Sean Williams (en route to becoming a great shot-blocker), Emeka Okafor, Danny Granger, David Lee, LaMarcus Aldridge, Mike Conley and hopefully Rajon Rondo.