The NBA breeds debates between fans of all generations unlike most other professional sports. Everyone has an opinion on how Kobe Bryant or LeBron James would fare against Michael Jordan. The 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors breaking the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls record for the best record in a single regular season has fans of each era arguing for their side as to which team was truly better. Basketball just has breeds a culture where we want to break down the best historical players and teams. The current NBA game has seen a drastic change in style from the glory days of the 1990s.
Two positions that are completely different from what we were used to are the center and point guard positions. NBA teams needed a credible big man at the center position to become a championship contender in the 90s. Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson were just some of the big men that dominated the paint. The center today needs more to be faster and hit shots from outside of the paint. Draymond Green is the ideal example of the how the position is evolving even more as future stars at the position will likely be of his model.
Meanwhile, point guards have become the most important players on the court. Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving are examples of how athleticism and all-around play needs to be there more than just facilitating. Speed, strength and shooting are all more pivotal to today’s NBA than they were in the 90s. Very few players can translate over any era and there’s a reason why they were perfect for the time.
Michael Jordan and LeBron James would be Superstars any time but a very small percent of stars are that special. The golden era of basketball was great but not many stars would be able to thrive today. We’ll look at fifteen superstars from the 90s who would have flopped in today’s NBA game.
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15 Scottie Pippen
The Chicago Bulls definitely needed Scottie Pippen to serve as the sidekick to Michael Jordan to win their legendary six titles during the 90s. Pippen goes down as an all-time great defender and an excellent all-around player but he definitely didn’t have the star talent to lead a team to a title on his own. If coming into the NBA today, Pippen would struggle to defend the speedy and athletic stars of this era. The current wing players possess amazing athleticism that makes them fast, strong and have the ability to drain three-pointers with ease. Pippen would not be able to dominate the likes of Kevin Durant and would struggle to score against someone such as Kawhi Leonard.
14 Dennis Rodman
Another pivotal piece of the late 90s Chicago Bulls three-peat would not be able to shine in the current style of the NBA. Dennis Rodman was an intense defender and had a knack for rebounding like no one else. The problem is Rodman also was one of the worst offensive players to become a success. “The Worm” would not be able to get by in today’s game as a nothing on the offense. Rodman’s hard-nosed defense would lead to more foul calls and his bad attitude would cause team issues or potential suspensions. Social media would enhance Rodman’s antics for entertainment value, but he would fail to deliver results on the court.
13 Reggie Miller
The slower style in the 90s made the great three-point shooters stand out for their skills in the beautiful art. Reggie Miller used his three-point shooting and toughness to lead the Indiana Pacers to many years of success despite never winning a title. The first thing that would hurt Miller today is the abundance of great shooters in the league. Miller’s career average from three-point range is 39% compared to Stephen Curry’s 44% and Klay Thompson’s 42%. The Indiana Pacers legend would be “just another” good shooter rather than a legendary one. Miller also used trash-talking and somewhat “dirty” plays on the defensive side to his advantage. Those things don’t fly as well now and all of Miller’s strengths would be stripped away.
12 John Starks
The New York Knicks were the perennial contender in the Eastern Conference that could never get over the hump to capture a NBA Championship in the 90s, but fans desperately miss those days with the franchise going downhill since then. John Starks was the second best player on the team and a star to the New York area thanks to his toughness and heart. Starks' overall play was never that great but he fit perfectly in the Knicks system. NBA players can no longer get by just being a part of a system and have to adapt on the fly to keep up with the varying opponents. Starks would be a less relevant bench player in the current NBA.
11 Vin Baker
Vin Baker may not be the first name you think of when you think of 90s NBA superstars, but the dude was on the cusp of greatness with four consecutive All-Star appearances. Usually only future Hall of Famers will put together a streak like that, but Baker is sadly an exception. Baker was a stud averaging in the 20 points and 10 rebounds range during his peak for the Milwaukee Bucks and Seattle Supersonics. The former star power forward was a paint presence and utilized the old rules of being able to park under the rim to his advantage. Today’s changes would make his best work devolve into a mediocre big man along the lines of Brandon Bass.
10 Hakeem Olajuwon
The legendary hook shot by Hakeem Olajuwon may not have become a staple of the game today with the changes in style. Teams play at a faster speed and the big man would not have the luxury of getting the ball in the paint, backing up for a few seconds and taking the hook shot. The size and physical dominance of Olajuwon would have been wasted without the athleticism to keep up with the hybrid athletes of this generation. Olajuwon running to keep up with Draymond Green or LaMarcus Aldridge on the fast break would create nightmares and make it a tough career for the big man.
9 Jerry Stackhouse
Jerry Stackhouse came onto the NBA scene in the late 90s and became an instant impact scorer. The wing player put up lots of points on lots of shot attempts and it helped the all-important points per game statistic look rather impressive. Stackhouse never shot better than 43% from the field in a single season during his entire career and that would hurt him today. The game has a larger importance on efficiency and scorers that put up points on high volume aren’t as valued. Stackhouse would be forced to change his game into becoming a role player similar to Kevin Martin.
8 Horace Grant
The recent ESPN 30 for 30 special on the Orlando Magic reminded us just how noteworthy Horace Grant was during the 90s. Grant was an important piece to the first Chicago Bulls three-peat in the early 90s and helped put the Magic over the top during their short rise when he made the jump. Grant was the last ingredient needed to get them to the finals before things fell apart with injuries, free agent losses and Michael Jordan returning to dominance. The power forward position wasn’t as loaded or as multi-faceted as it is today and Grant would fail to become a hot commodity like he was in the 90s.
7 Tim Hardaway
Tim Hardaway was one of the better players at the point guard position during his era. Hardaway put up fantastic numbers and achieved success with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat. The evolution of the point guard position has changed to the point where the athletes of yesteryear would look silly compared to the current stars. Russell Westbrook would offensively dominant someone like Hardaway and Chris Paul’s defense would ruin Hardaway’s chances at success on the other end of the court. Hardaway is the perfect example of a past player that couldn’t make it in today’s NBA game, even with his prime skillset.
6 Dikembe Mutombo
The slow, plodding big man of the 90s fills the role of the proverbial dinosaur in today’s game. Centers are becoming obsolete and the likes of Dikembe Mutombo would have struggled to reach stardom in the current era of NBA. Mutombo became a juggernaut as one of the more impressive defensive standouts to enter the league in quite some time. The ability to check down against the talented big men dominating the game made him a valuable asset for a few years before his lack of speed made it difficult for him to keep up. Current stars would have run circles around Mutombo and left him unable to block shots or gave the classic finger wag.
5 Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley is one of the more vocal former players to talk down about the current style in the NBA and still believes a team can’t win a title without following the old 90s game plan dominating the paint game. The Golden State Warriors proved Barkley wrong last season but he believes it was an anomaly. Barkley’s mindset of what basketball should be and his lack of commitment for staying in peak shape would have sunk his chances at success today. The athletes of today make it part of the job that you have to work extra hours at the gym to keep up and Barkley’s inability to shine there would hurt him even more in the current era.
4 Gary Payton
The nickname of “The Glove” was bestowed upon Gary Payton for being all over the players he would defend. Payton’s defense was second to none at the time and led the Seattle SuperSonics to the NBA Finals in 1996. The play of Payton was also remembered for delivering some of the most harsh trash talk ever said on the hardwood floors. Payton would still be a good player today but there’s no way he would be able to shut down the likes of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul like he did to the lesser point guards of the 90s. The attitude of Payton would be less tolerated as well, with more fouls and technical fouls called against him.
3 Patrick Ewing
Patrick Ewing was the ideal center of the 90s. The big man would back down his defenders in the paint and score all of his buckets close to the rim. This isn’t a knock on Ewing since he was perfect for the time and high quality shots are always a great thing, but he would not be able to start in today’s NBA. The speed of the active talent would wear him out by the first quarter and those classic shots of sweat rolling down his face would be nothing compared to today. Ewing’s size and skills would not carry over to other eras. The timing was perfect for the New York Knicks to have their star of the franchise but the results would not be the same these days.
2 John Stockton
The discussion of point guards becoming a completely new position would leave John Stockton in the past. Stockton is arguably the greatest point guard of the post Magic Johnson era but his lack of athleticism would absolutely destroy him against today’s stars. The point guard today is often the best athlete on the team and has to do far more than just facilitate the ball and hit open shots. Stockton’s skills would have a ceiling of being slightly better than Ricky Rubio's. The heart of Stockton would likely give him a long career but it’s difficult to believe he could ever get to the Hall of Fame stratosphere like he did in the 90s.
1 Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal was arguably the most dominant NBA star of the past few decades when looking at his peak statistics. No one would defend Shaq in the paint and he would get to the basket with utter ease. The NBA actually changed a few rules because O’Neal was making it unfair against his competitors. The changes and new style would not allow him to have the same success he did in the 90s. Shaq wouldn’t be able to stand in the paint and post up his opponents into an eventual dunk every time. The big man would get points on long possessions but the opponent would ease down the court and hit a three-pointer in half the time to strike back. O’Neal’s strengths were so great that the league was forced to adapt against him, but it would leave him obsolete in today’s game.
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