25 August 2008

The Dream v The Redeem Teams, A Numerical Analysis (heh, heh, He said ysis)

Basketball Reference is an invaluable site for NBA basketball fans/stat junkies. It's also mostly worthless. Of all the major sports, NBA basketball is the one where stats tell the least of what each player contributes to his team. But, imperfect numbers, are better than no numbers at all.

So, using their stats, I compiled a google spreadsheet that compares the players of the 2008 Beijing gold medal winning team to the 1992 Barcelona gold medal winning team.

I intentionally ignored 2 players from each team, first, cause of the 12 players on the original 'Dream Team', ten of them were part of that Top 50 All Time list that the NBA came up with for their 50th anniversary, and the other two were a college player (Christian Laettner), so no NBA stats available to that point, and the other player's haircut was just too awful to mention or think about (Chris Mullin), plus the 'Redeem Team' really only went 10 deep with Carlos Boozer and Michael Redd primarily relegated to 'in emergency break glass' duty on the roster (and nobody got injured, so they sat and sat and sat for the most part).

The stats I used were Player Effeciency Rating in their most recent NBA campaign, an average of the past 3 years of PER, their Win Share, and a 3 year average of WS, plus their NBA regular season and playoff games played up to their appearance in the Olympics.

Why those stats? Well, PER isn't perfect, but it's the stat that translates best from season to season, and player to player. The formula is complicated, and different analyst tweak their formula here and there, but it's pretty indicative of what kind of season a player is having, and how they compare to others at their position. Win Share is a bit trickier, but it's also a pretty good number, it's meant to compute the 'share' of a team's victories attributable to that player, a solid player can see that number plummet if they are on a lousy team (see Wade, Dwyane last year), or if they are the number two guy on a good team with a mega-superstar on their squad (see Pippen, Scottie, any of his Bulls years).

If you want to peruse the individual stats, the link is above, but here are the averages for each squad.

Dream Team 1992

AVG PER = 24.19
3YR PER = 24.65
AVG WS = 12.95
3YR WS = 13.40
AVG Regular Season Games = 613.3
AVG Playoff Games = 82.9
AVG Age = 29.0

Redeem Team 2008

AVG PER = 22.40
3YR PER = 22.02
AVG WS = 10.57
3YR WS = 10.14
AVG Regular Season Games = 458.3
AVG Playoff Games = 56.0
AVG Age = 25.2

All this proves for certain is that the 1992 Olympians were older, and had much more NBA experience. The PER numbers are fairly close, as are the win shares, though Dream Team has the edge on both of those.

Also, if you were to list the ten best players at their position, I think it'd be hard to leave any of the 10 Dream Teamers I did stats for off the list. On the Redeem Team, only Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd, and LeBron James would be locks for that list, but Chris Paul, Deron Williams, seem headed in that direction, and Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony all seem like they have the potential to be that good, but whether or not they realize that potential is an open question. Another interesting quirk in the numbers is that the previous season PER and WS are lower than the 3 year average for 1992, and reversed for 2008. I think this shows that you had more players at or past their peak in 1992, while in 2008 you have players who are just beginning to figure out the league. In 1992 all the players were 26 or over (other than Laettner, who I didn't count), while in 2008 you had six players 23 or under. Also, if you take out Kobe and Kidd, none of the other players in 2008 had more than 500 regular season games played, but in 1992 only Scottie Pippen and David Robinson (again, ignoring Laettner) were below that number.

But none of those numbers tell you how'd they match up against each other. Could 29 year old Kobe guard 28 year old MJ? In that match up, Kobe is actually the more veteran player with almost 200 more regular season games played, and 60 more playoff games, plus Kobe to that point had 3 rings, and 2 other Finals appearances, while MJ was off his 2nd straight championship team. Everyone assumes MJ would kill Kobe, but Kobe is a better defender, and has better range on his jump shot. Who guards LeBron James? Malone doesn't have the footspeed, neither does Barkley, Pippen might get the assignment, as long as you give him lots of help in the middle. Where 1992 shines compared to 2008 is in the middle. Ewing and Robinson would eat Howard and Bosh for breakfast, and then ask for seconds. But Paul and Williams would wear down Stockton and Magic in the backcourt, though Magic could use his size to post up those guys, so some adjustments would have to be made. Old and slow Larry Bird would be a huge liability on defense for the 1992 team, and would see most of his minutes go to Malone, or Robinson if Coach Daly went with a 'Twin Towers' approach by putting Ewing and Robinson on the floor at the same time to take advantage of 2008's lack of size.

I don't think the winner between these squads is absolutely certain, 1992 is made up of greater players, some of the best all time, but their age, and lack of ball handlers (seems crazy to say a team with Magic and Stockton has problems with handles, but Paul, Williams, Kobe, Prince could give them both problems) might cause problems against a younger, far quicker team in the 2008 vintage Olympians. Jordan was a phenomenal player, at his peak, but if Jordan is the Alpha of all time shooting guards, then Kobe is a not too distant Gamma or Delta (Elgin Baylor or Oscar Robertson slot in somewhere between Kobe and MJ, probably). Size is where 1992 can kill 2008, and speed and greater team defensive intensity is where 2008 can counter 1992's better individual players. Coach K's 2008 squad is better balanced as a team, but the experience and the collective competitive fire of the 1992 squad would overwhelm the 'Redeem Team' in a single game.

In a seven game series, I think the 2008 players might give those old guys a run for their money, though.

Somebody needs to invent a time machine, snatch these players off the podiums just after they get their golds, and answer this question once and for all (just make sure not to neglect wiping their memories of the contests so that they don't pollute their respective timelines with knowledge of the future).

(also, if you added 2008 vintage Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce to the "Redeem Team", in place of Bosh and Prince, I think you'd have a much more competitive game, but then, if you got rid of old and busted 1992 Larry Bird and replaced him with younger and annoying 1992 Reggie Miller, balance would be restored)

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