If you had to build a team by picking players from any Atlantic Division team, who would be your first 5 picks (in order)?
— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) September 21, 2012
Hoopsworld NBA Analyst and all-around good dude Tommy Beer posed the question, and I’ll answer it below. But not only will I create a five-man squad for the Atlantic Division, I’ll do so for the other five divisions as well. Why? Because it’s September, I’m bored and it will be more fun than whatever else I was going to do today. That’s why. (NOTE: I’m assuming full health for all players involved and am listing one-through-five by position – and taking liberties with some positions – rather than the order I’d pick them. And just to be clear, this isn’t “best player at each position.” I’m taking into account how each five would work as a unit.)
Deron Williams – Avery Bradley – Carmelo Anthony – Kevin Garnett – Tyson Chandler
Yes, I left off the best shooting guard in the divison (
Iman Shumpert Joe Johnson), as well as the East’s best offensive center (Andrew Bynum). But I have reasons, I swear.
First of all, this team is an absolute defensive powerhouse, even despite the presence of noted defensive turnstyle Carmelo Anthony. Just try to score within 10 feet of the basket with KG and Chandler lurking in the lane and smothering pick-and-rolls. I dare you. The interior prowess of two of the three best defensive bigs in the league combined with Bradley’s ball-hawking perimeter defense make it extremely tough for an opposing offense to score. The occasional small forward would have a big night, but I’d trust KG and Chandler to back up Melo, wouldn’t you? Deron more than holds his own on defense too.
On the other end, Deron runs the show. I trust him to divy up opportunties to Melo on the wing or the block, KG on pick-and-pops or in the post, Chandler on pick-and-roll dives to the hoop, and Bradley cutting and lurking in the corners. Garnett’s ability to hit deep mid-range jumpers spaces the floor around Williams-Chandler pick-and-rolls. Melo would just destroy people on the weakside, provided he’s cool with Deron getting him the ball. He seemed okay with this arrangement in the Olympics, so I’m just going to assume he’d be okay with it here too. Shouldn’t be any problem at all, right? RIGHT? Anyway, he should get plenty of spot-up opportunities in this offense, and he’ll get his fair share of drives to the basket by throwing pump-fakes at closeout defenders. Tyson’s one of the best finishers in the league, and Bradley made himself an extremely valuable offensive contributor on the Celtics last season by simply cutting to open space and lurking for corner jumpers.
Kyrie Irving – Derrick Rose – Luol Deng – Joakim Noah – Roy Hibbert
I’m playing it fast and loose here by taking both Rose and Irving, but I’m betting that Irving’s outside shooting can open up the floor for Rose’s slash-to-the-rim style. Having two ball-dominant guards means I need guys who can maximize their touches surrounding them, which is exactly what Deng, Noah and Hibbert bring to the table. Hibbsy can throw some hook shots, Noah can facilitate offense from the high post with his excellent passing, Deng can capitalize on catch-and-shoot opportunities and cut into open spaces.
Defensively, Deng and Noah are the heart of the operation. Deng is one of the very best wing defenders in the league, while Noah can thwart pick-and-rolls with the best of them. Rose, while not great individually, is a solid team defender. Hibbert is quite good below the free throw line, even if he struggles if he tries to extend out farther than that. Having Noah along the front line with him certainly helps. Irving and Rose both have good enough size to handle shooting guards if need be.
John Wall – Dwyane Wade – Arron Afflalo – LeBron James – Chris Bosh
Holy positional versatility, Batman. This team will absolutely run you off the floor. Wall’s court vision and instincts in the open court combined with the finishing abilities of LeBron and Wade on the break would be damn near unstoppable. In the half-court, run things through LeBron in the post, just as the Heat did in the second half of their playoff run. Afflalo is spotting up, running the baseline from corner to corner and waiting for an open 3-point opportunity. Wade is weakside, lurking, waiting for a sliver of space to do his thing. Wall’s at the top of the key, ready for a kickout pass to go right into a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with Bosh or Bron. Giving him some real pick-and-roll partners for essentially the first time would open up some huge driving lanes for him.
Defensively, this squad plays just like the Heat do too. Trapping everything, manically rotating and recovering before any slight space that opens up becomes big enough the opposition to get a shot off. LeBron’s the lynchpin here as well, able to cover anybody at any given time. Bosh proved himself to be one of the better space-defenders in the league over the past two seasons, Wade showed he’s still no slouch by shutting down James Harden in the finals, and both Afflalo and Wall excel at ball-pressure defense. With his offensive responsibilities lessened and made much easier than in his normal NBA life, Wall would be freed up to be as disruptive defensively as he was at Kentucky. Afflalo and Wade could trade off taking the opposition’s best perimeter scorer, and if it’s a bigger guy LeBron could take a turn. The only thing this team would be susceptible to is a twin-towers-esque lineup, but you know any NBA big is going to struggle to guard LeBron on the other end just as much.
Chris Paul – Kobe Bryant – Jared Dudley – Pau Gasol – Dwight Howard
This is like the new Lakers lineup on steroids. Paul brings all the same things to a team as Nash – otherworldly court vision, pace, shooting, deadly pick-and-roll execution – and is a better defender. Kobe is Kobe. Dudley is the glue guy, spacing the floor on offense and taking the tougher defensive assignment on the wing away from Kobe to give his body a break. With Pau and Dwight, there are two different kinds of pick-and-roll partners Paul and Bryant have to choose from. Pau’s a pick-and-pop extraordinaire, and his deft passing touch from the high post or off the catch as a roll man will help facilitate the flow of the offense. Dwight might just be the best pick-and-roll big in the whole league, and if he’s not, he’s damn closed. He’s also a beast in the post, as are Bryant and Gasol. CP3 can pick and choose where he wants to go on any given possession. Spacing wouldn’t be much of a problem, seeing as how Dudley has turned himself into a good 3-point shooter and Pau can pull bigs away from the basket with his 15-18 foot range.
Dwight is a defense all to himself. No one in the league is better at disrupting plays from the 3-point line all the way to the rim. Pau is solid. Paul is susceptiple to spot-up shooters because of his height, but he’s an expert at playing passing lanes and picking people’s pockets. Kobe’s slipped from the All-Defensive height of his powers, but he can still hold his own. Dudley can handle guarding both shooting guards and small forwards, and can easily interchange with Kobe if one of them doesn’t have their best game on defense on any given night.
Tony Parker – Tony Allen – Kawhi Leonard – Dirk Nowitzki – Tim Duncan
I came extremely close to going with a “Spurs-and-Dirk” lineup and taking Manu Ginobili over Twitter superstar Tony Allen, but the potential of an Allen-Leonard-Duncan defensive core eventually won out. Allen and Leonard would smother the wings, while Duncan patroled things from the inside. Parker and Dirk aren’t horrible defenders, but they aren’t great either, so having a troika like that would be a big boost on that end.
On offense, it’s Parker-Dirk or Parker-Duncan pick-and-rolls all night, and the defense can pick their poison… and die slowly. Tony has become a master of making the right decision on these kind of plays, and giving him a new toy to play with in Nowitzki would just be unfair to defenses. Allen’s only role on offense would be to cut into the open spaces created by the constant doubles drawn by Parker, Dirk and Timmy. Leonard showed himself to be a corner 3-point specialist with the Spurs last year, and his and Dirk’s outside touch would provide plenty of spacing. For a chance of pace, Duncan or Dirk could take guys in the post, with Parker lurking weakside waiting for a kickout and driving opportunity. Leonard and Allen would be in constant motion finding creases in the defense.
Russell Westbrook – Andre Iguodala – Kevin Durant – Kevin Love – LaMarcus Aldridge
This team has a little bit of everything. It would be a nightmare to deal with Westbrook, Iggy and KD in the open court, especially with Love trailing the break for a transition 3-pointer, and Aldridge coming down for pick-and-rolls as a secondary break option. Durant and Love can hit with proficiency from outside, and Aldridge has range out to about 20 feet or so. Westbrook is a mid-range killer now, and can essentially get to the basket at will. What would defenses do to defend a Durant-Love pick-and-roll? Is it even possible? KD-LMA ain’t a bad option either. And you can also run either of those guys in screen-rolls with Westbrook. That’d be fun for the defense. And I haven’t even mentioned Iguodala’s skill at cutting, spotting up or playing a point forward role in the half-court yet.
With so much talent on the offensive end, Westbrook would be freed up to play the kind of defense he did at UCLA and again the in Olympics this summer. Crazy mad-man ball-pressure type of defense. Iggy might be the best lockdown wing defender in the NBA, Durant and Love both made major strides on defense last season, and though he doesn’t much like playing center, Aldridge is a solid defender at that position.
See? I told you that would be fun. Feel free to try to come up with better squads than mine in the comments, or don’t, and just yell at me about how mine suck because I didn’t pick [player from your favorite team] instead.