With both starting lineups set let’s take a closer look at each position to see who has the edge and what the outcome would be in this fictional match up.
In the match up of the point guards I give the slight edge to the Legends. Magic Johnson is 6’9” which gives him a significant height advantage over the 6’0” Chris Paul. We have seen Paul defend bigger opponents before with some success but Magic’s ability to score, defend, rebound and most crucially find the open man gives him the edge in this battle. Advantage Legends.
This is possibly the most competitive one-on-one match up the NBA could provide. Many people regard Kobe as the greatest one-on-one scorer in NBA history. Many people regard Michael Jordan the best all round basketball player of all time. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Kobe has certainly imitated Jordan throughout his career. There is still only one winner of this match-up, the best to ever lace up, Michael Jordan. Advantage Legends.
This is a very interesting match-up. Larry Bird is a great shooter, passer and has a great basketball brain. One of his greatest weapons was talking his opponent out of their rhythm. That won’t happen to Kevin Durant. Durant is the most efficient high-volume scorer the game has seen. Most nights he appears to have ice running through his veins. Larry Legend will try to trash talk Durant out of his zone, but Durant won’t get fazed and his athleticism will help him win this match-up. Advantage All-Stars.
Another great match-up. On one hand you have the physical, all energy, and relentless style of Karl Malone. On the other you have the all-round greatness of LeBron James. Malone will no doubt try to use his physical style (read elbows) and off the ball contact to throw LeBron out. In his early years LeBron was susceptible to this tactic. Not anymore. Now LeBron will take the punishment, finish through the contact and convert the and-one. LeBron will figure out a way to guard Malone. Malone won’t figure out how to guard LeBron. Advantage All-Stars.
Tim Duncan is a sure fire starter on the legends team when he retires. Bill Russell is the most successful NBA player ever. Duncan will outscore Russell in every game. Russell will out-rebound Duncan in every game. Duncan will offer more of a team oriented approach in attack. Russell will control the paint on defence. This is probably the closest match up yet. Looking at what his team needs him to do I feel Russell just shades this match-up. His team need strong interior defence and strong rebounding, and Russell provides that. Advantage Legends.
For the legends we have the Zen-master Phil Jackson. For the All-Stars we have Gregg Popovich. Two of the best coaches in NBA history. Phil has won 11 NBA championships as a coach. “Pop” has won 4, all with Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Jackson knows how to get superstars to play team basketball as he showed with the Bulls and the Lakers. Popovich uses a system involving ball movement where the open man, any man, takes the shot. It’s a tie, no advantage.
Legends: John Stockton, Jerry West, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.
All-Stars: Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard.
Both benches offer experience, instant offence, physicality, athleticism and anything else that may be required. The legends bench offers slightly more than the All-Stars. Advantage Legends.
The Legends team has tremendous balance on both sides of the court. Magic can be a scorer but he is happy to be a facilitator first. Russell can influence the offence but he is a defence first type of player. Bird can create his own shot and he is such a great on court thinker he can provide for others when required. Malone will bring high intensity and along with Russell will provide some physicality and rebounding. Jordan brings instant offence, great defence and an insatiable desire to win.
The All-Star team creates match-up problems as they are more of a small ball team. Duncan can lure Russell away from the basket with his ability to knock down the elbow jumper. Paul can score when left open but is just as happy to run the offence. Bryant is an isolation, high volume scorer who can beat his man in so many ways. Durant can score from long range; he can beat his man off the dribble and finish. LeBron is the complete package. He is as athletic as anybody on the floor, as strong as anybody, as good a shooter as anybody and also as quick a thinker. He can switch from scorer to facilitator and back with ease.
The physicality of the Legends front court will provide problems for the undersized All-Stars. The option of playing Howard or Garnett off the bench and dropping either Bryant or Durant is a fascinating option for the All-Stars to try to match up physically. On the other hand the small ball style of the All-Stars could cause the Legends problems in which case they could bring in Erving for Russell, and move Malone to the 5 spot and Bird to PF. There are many slight adjustments which could swing the balance in favour of either team. Both teams have players on the bench who provide instant offence, or who can sure things up defensively.
At some stage during the series it is likely that James will play one of his famous 45 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists games. Jordan is likely to have at least one if not more of these types of games. Durant could be the type of player to score 40 points off 70% shooting, as is Bird. Bryant and Anthony could be the X-factors in this series. Bryant could pour in 50 points one night and go 6-24 the next. Anthony is the type of player who could come off the bench hot and drop 35 points in 30 minutes. The Bryant for Anthony switch could be the key for the All-Stas. Similarly for the legends there will be a game where they need some offensive production from the Centre position. Swapping Russell for either Kareem or O’Neal could be a crucial factor. The Legends advantage at PG is diminished when Magic leaves the game, but Stockton is a very capable reserve, as is Nash for Paul.
All in all I think the key factor is going to be which duo outperforms the other in the Jordan/Bird vs James/Durant battle. Both combinations are capable of putting up 60 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists each night. It’s too tight a match up to predict which duo will win that battle. Although I feel the All-Stars are slightly better equipped to score points, I feel the legends balance and more physical approach gives them a slight edge.
My prediction is the Legends win the series in seven games with Michael Jordan winning MVP.
The statistics used throughout this series have been sourced from www.basketball-reference.com, www.nba.com and ESPN Sports Century film series. All information was true and accurate at the time of writing.