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    2012 vs. Dream Team (7/25/12)

    By Paul Bessire

    “It would be a tough one but I think we would pull it out. People who think we can’t beat that team for one game, they are crazy. To sit there and say we can’t, it’s ludicrous. We can beat them one time.”

    Kobe Bryant on comparisons between the 2012 version of Team USA Basketball and the “Dream Team” in 1992 that won the Gold Medal with an average Olympic margin of victory of 43.8

    He’s right.

    It is ludicrous to say that the 2012 USA men’s basketball could not defeat the Dream Team from 1992. It is certainly possible. Even one of the other nations that USA faced in the 1992 Olympics could have defeated Team USA. (Croatia was the only team that kept a game against Team USA within 35 points and it did that twice. It’s certainly possible that, if the Predictalator simulated 1992 Croatia 50,000 times against 1992 USA, Croatia would win at least one game.)

    Would Bryant’s team likely defeat the Dream Team is where his comments seem to have been misconstrued, yet where the actual debate has fallen. In that case, such sentiments that Bryant’s team is the better squad would have been accurate – if he had made them four years ago. Had the 2008 “Redeem Team” not won the gold medal in Beijing easily over much more seasoned and talented competition than what the Dream Team saw 20 years ago, we would not be having the debate about this version’s spot in United States Olympic annals before the Olympics even start (Team USA’s first Olympic game is Sunday, July 29 at 9:30 am ET against France).

    Fortunately, we have a way to evaluate how likely the 2012 team would be to win over Dream Team and where it stacks up against all Team USA men’s basketball teams ever (which essentially ranks teams since 1992 when professionals first played for the US). We can play all teams against each other 50,000 times to find the most likely results. Regardless of the results we see on the court in London, there is little debate about which Team USA rosters comprise the top three in its history: The Dream Team (1992), The Redeem Team (2008) and 2012 (does this have a name yet?). However, the 2012 team is clearly in last.

    Utilizing the same information that we incorporate into our NBA simulations during regular and postseason play in the sport to identify how we expect individual players to play given their previous performance, experience and age, we plugged the numbers into the Predictalator to simulate the six Olympic Team USA men’s basketball teams since NBA players began playing in the event against each other 50,000 times to rank the rosters. Here are the results:

    Ranking Team USA Olympic Rosters (since 1992)

    1.       2008 "Redeem Team"

    2.       1992 "Dream Team"

    3.       2012 Team

    4.       1996 "Dream Team III"

    5.       2004 Team

    6.       2000 Team*

    * The order of the top three will generate the most buzz, but it is interesting to note that the 2000 team won the gold medal, yet finishes behind a 2004 team that only won the bronze medal.

    Here is what a neutral-court best-of-seven series between the Dream Team and the 2012 Team would look like:

    Dream Team vs. 2012 Team USA Series Odds (based on series played 50,000 times)

    Team Wins Series% in 4 Games% in 5 Games% in 6 Games% in 7 Games%
    1992 Dream Team 60.5% 10.1% 15.0% 17.7% 17.7%
    2012 Team USA 39.5% 4.2% 8.9% 12.4% 14.0%

    Some notes about this series:

    • The Dream Team wins any individual game 54.9% of the time and by an average score of 94.1 – 91.4.
    • In only one out of ten series (10.1%) does the 2012 team fail to win a game against the Dream Team in a seven-game series. (The Dream Team is swept about one out of every 25 times or 4.2%.)
    • The most likely result is that Dream Team wins in either six or seven games.
    • In total, both teams win at least two games in the series (i.e. it goes to six or seven games) 61.8% of the time.

    Here is what a neutral-court best-of-seven series between the Dream Team and the Redeem Team would look like:

    Dream Team vs. Redeem Team Series Odds (based on series played 50,000 times)
           

    Team Wins Series% in 4 Games% in 5 Games% in 6 Games% in 7 Games%
    1992 Dream Team 49.0% 5.4% 13.2% 15.0% 15.4%
    2008 Redeem Team 51.0% 6.7% 13.4% 15.1% 15.8%

    Some notes about this series:

    • The Redeem Team wins any individual game 50.2% of the time and by an average score of 92.6 – 91.9.
    • A sweep by either team only occurs 12.1% of the time.
    • The most likely result is that Redeem Team wins in seven games, but that only occurs 0.8% more often than the fourth most likely result (Dream Team in six).
    • While we have heard stories and lore of the Dream Team’s scrimmages, this matchup truly presents an evenly-matched contest between the two greatest teams in recorded basketball history.

    Why?

    Let’s take a look at the rosters and make some notes on each squad (Notes: All numbers as of end of that NBA season except where noted as career; Christian Laettner, Tayshaun Prince and Anthony Davis left out of averages as they do not play much in simulations and, while not perfect and not used directly in the simulations, PER - Player Efficiency Rating - is a sufficient way to put into historical context the dominance of a player at the NBA level):

    Dream Team Roster (1992)

    Player Pos. Height Age NBA Exp. Prev. Season PER Career PER
    Magic Johnson G 6’8”  32 12  N/A* 23.0
    John Stockton G 6’1” 29 9 22.8 19.8
    Clyde Drexler G 6'7" 29 9 22.8 19.7
    Michael Jordan G 6'6" 28 8 27.7 28.6
    Charles Barkley F 6'6" 28 8 24.5 24.2
    Karl Malone F 6'9" 28 7 25.4 21.1
    Scottie Pippen F 6'8" 26 5 21.5 18.4
    Chris Mullin F 6'6" 28 7 19.9 15.7
    Larry Bird F 6'9" 35 13 21.0 21.4
    Patrick Ewing C 7'0" 29 7 22.8 19.6
    David Robinson C 7'1" 26 3 27.5 23.0
    Averages   6'7 3/4" 28.9 8.0 22.8 21.3

    Redeem Team Roster (2008)

    Player Pos. Height Age NBA Exp. Prev. Season PER Career PER
    Chris Paul G 6'0" 22 3 28.3 25.4
    Deron Williams G 6'3" 23 3 20.8 19.1
    Jason Kidd G 6'4" 34 14 16.7 17.6
    Dwyane Wade G 6'4" 28 5 21.5 24.1
    Michael Redd G 6'6" 28 8 18.8 19.5
    Kobe Bryant G 6'6" 29 12 24.2 23.4
    LeBron James F 6'8" 23 5 29.1 27.1
    Carlos Boozer F 6'9" 26 6 21.9 20.5
    Carmelo Anthony F 6'8" 23 5 21.1 20.4
    Dwight Howard C 6'11" 22 4 22.9 22.5
    Chris Bosh C 6'10" 23 5 23.8 19.2
    Averages   6'6 1/4" 25.4 6.4 22.6 21.7

    2012 Team Roster

    Player Pos. Height Age NBA Exp. Prev. Season PER Career PER
    Chris Paul G 6'0" 26 7 27.0 25.4
    Deron Williams G 6'3" 27 7 20.3 19.1
    Russell Westbrook G 6'3" 23 4 22.9 19.8
    James Harden G 6'6" 22 3 21.1 17.2
    Andre Iguodala G 6'6" 28 8 17.6 17.1
    Kobe Bryant G 6'6" 33 16 21.9 23.4
    LeBron James F 6'8" 27 9 30.7 27.1
    Kevin Durant F 6'9" 23 5 26.2 22.6
    Carmelo Anthony F 6'8" 27 9 21.1 20.4
    Kevin Love F 6'10" 23 4 25.4 22.4
    Tyson Chandler C 7'1" 29 11 18.7 15.8
    Averages   6'6 1/2" 26.3 7.5 22.9 20.9

    Notes:

    • This is not a comparison of the careers of each team’s roster. It is a representation of what we would expect from teams composed of those players at that point in their careers.
    • While the averages of these three teams look similar, the Redeem Team roster was filled with players entering their peak years (and Jason Kidd).
    • The Redeem Team was projecting in a positive direction at that time, while the Dream Team relied exclusively on players who had plateaued or were on the downward trajectory of their careers.
    • Meanwhile, this year’s team has some very young players (who would have been more helpful on this team with a little more seasoning) and some players past their primes.
    • The Redeem team may be the shortest of the teams, but it actually exhibits the most balance and least redundancy.
    • Redundancy and lack of balance are the most notable issues with the 2012 team. That should not keep Team USA from winning gold (easily), but we have re-entered an era in which versions of Team USA are expected to win gold, while their main competitors are the track records of previous versions.
    • This argument should have been more prevalent four years ago.
    • The 2012 Team USA is just as notable for who is not playing as who is. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum and Derrick Rose all declined or are injured. Swapping in healthy, motivated versions of Howard and any one of those other four players (for Chandler and Iguodala) would put this team on par with the Dream Team and Redeem Team (all matchups would essentially be 50/50).
    • Assuming all the new players are healthy, a roster of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love for 2012 would be the best possible roster from US born current players and rank as the greatest Team USA of all-time (a better version of the Redeem Team that wins a seven game series about 60% of the time over 2008 and about 54% of the time over the Dream Team).
    • In 1992, seven of the world’s absolute elite basketball players (all future Hall of Fame players) were either 28 or 29. We may be seeing something similar right now with the group at age 22 and 23.
    • It’s possible that Kobe Bryant’s comments were either four years late or early. Even with the potential of having multiple 30+ year olds on the roster, Team USA in 2016 could be the closest thing to the Dream Team that we have seen (loaded with established stars still mostly in the peaks of their careers). Here would be the 2016 ages of some of the league’s best  US players (under 30 in 2016): Kevin Durant (27), Anthony Davis (23), Kevin Love (27), Blake Griffin (27), Andrew Bynum (28), Derrick Rose (27), Russell Westbrook (26), James Harden (26), Kyrie Irving (24), Brandon Jennings (26), Greg Monroe (26), Ryan Anderson (28), Brandon Jennings (26), Stephen Curry (28), Ty Lawson (28), Roy Hibbert (29), DeMarcus Cousins (25 – though hard to see him playing for Team USA), Rudy Gay (29 – though he has been passed up for a spot before), Klay Thompson (26).
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