Sports speculation has one problem more pressing than the Church of Morey’s statistical aficionados: our time spent assessing teams’ futures instead of hypothesizing about potential pasts. Maybe it's time to take a break from gauging a team’s long-term plans (“Sam Hinkie – the NBA’s Bain?”) or player’s potential (“Will Aaron Gordon ever become Air Gordon?”) so that we can wonder how the current NBA landscape might look if everyone involved went Benjamin Button (or, Benjamin Bucket) and turned back the clock seven years.
Today we get to take a eurostep through memory lane to a not-so-long-ago world when Devin Harris and Caron Butler were still lethal and the Rockets’ Ty Lawson and James Harden still student-athletes. In an Association of about 500 players and coaches, characterized by consistently oncoming batches of young talent, older talent losing its luster, and even older talent recycling back into the game through team management – it’s good for the heart and mind to reminisce about players in their primes and speculate on how current player combinations might fare as their younger selves. Our parameters stipulate that every 2015-16 team affiliate is made seven years younger (2008-09 season, not too distant nor too recent) and based on cloudy memories of their earlier selves and their stats – we grade the teams from the 15th best to El Numero Uno. Players, coaches, and front office members who balled at the time, either inside or outside of the Association (High School, NCAA, Euroleague, etc.) are all eligible for minutes – and roster balance, depth, and talent is determinant of ranking.
A team like the (Young) Bucks would be pretty terrible, only fielding Jason “Trip-Doub” Kidd, a still-mediocre Jared Dudley, and a medley of High Schoolers (& one Greek Middle Schooler). A team like the Spurs, on the other hand, with their Transylvanian, seemingly immortal and permanently primed crew of White Walkers, would be pretty good. Before starting the Top 15, let’s appreciate some of the teams that missed the cut: The Thunder's core of young Russell Westbrook, Kevin “Slimmer Reaper” Durant, vintage Anthony Morrow, and then-12ppg DJ Augustin would be appealing, but their starting PF would be the then-Knick Andre Roberson – so… that’s that. The Knicks also barely missed out. A storm led by Jose Calderón (in his Jose Caliente days), pre-honey-nut-cheerios Melo, and a double-digit scoring Derek Fisher merits consideration, but a supporting cast of Kendrick Lamar's idol Aaron Afflalo, the machine Sasha Vujacic, and rookie Robin Lopez (averaging a combined 13ppg) certainly tames the beast.
So, which weird teams would be better than these weird teams? This is the much-anticipated Top 15 Current NBA Teams if Everyone Was Seven Years Younger. As usual, if you disagree or agree with something I’ve said then please let me disprove or thank you in the comments section.
15 Denver Nuggets
PG: Jameer Nelson – SG: Randy Foye – SF: Mike Miller – PF: Wilson Chandler – C: JJ Hickson – Bench: Danilo Gallinari
The Nuggets would be the worst of the top 15 because they have little depth (‘Nilo averaged 6 in 08/09) and because J.J. Hickson was averaging 4 & 3 back then. While the team would struggle defensively, it would actually put buckets up on offense. Jameer Nelson averaged 17, Randy Foye averaged 16, Mike Miller was averaging 10 (and 7 boards somehow), and Wilson was averaging 14. Maybe if they started Wilson at the 5 and ‘Nilo at the 4 then they would be the small-ball team that we’ve all been dreaming of. Regardless, this team, despite having six NBA players, would get smoked by the top 14.
14 Atlanta Hawks
PG: Jeff Teague (Wake Forest) – SG: Thabo Sefolosha – SF: Kyle Korver – PF: Paul Millsap – C: Al Horford – Bench: Tiago Splitter (Tau Ceramica)
While it might seem rude to suggest that a team fielding an NCAA point guard and a Eurobasket 6th man might beat the Nuggets’ small-ball motley crew of American professionals, the Hawks would actually have game. Starting with a frontcourt of young Horford (averaging 12 & 9) and an interior-focused Paul Millsap (only took four 3s in 2008-09) that still averaged 14 & 9. Followed by Machine Gun Kyle Korver’s respectable 9 ppg and Thabo’s Sefolosh-esque 9 pts, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals – you have yourself a classy, traditional team.
Jeff Teague is a question mark, but the guy was averaging 19 on 49% shooting from 3 at Wake Forest in 2008-09 so I’m assuming serviceability and floor spacing in the Association. Tiago was averaging 14 with 2 blocks at Tau Ceramica during this time so the matchup between him and J.J. Hickson would be brutal, but at least he’d give Horf and Paul a chance to rest.
13 Houston Rockets
PG: Ty Lawson (UNC) – SG: James Harden (Arizona State) – SF: Jason Terry – PF: Trevor Ariza – C: Dwight Howard – Bench: Corey Brewer
It’s hard to imagine the Rockets and their two college starters beating most of the other teams on this list, but Tywon and James had range like the rover and this was when D12 was GOAT Dwight Howard (not Eminem's cooperative) averaging a mean 21 p/14 r/3 b. Oh, and Jason "Jet" Terry was literally averaging 20. An alcoholic Lawson averaged 17 points and 7 assists while shooting 53% (47% from 3) over at UNC. Harden was averaging 20 points, 6 boards, and 4 assists while shooting 49% for Arizona State. Trevor Ariza was heating up with a classy 9ppg. But more importantly, did I mention that Jason "Boeing 333" Terry was averaging 20?
Bench mob himself, Corey Brewer, was averaging 6 on 41% from both the field and 3. The NBA’s truth of all truths has always been that if you put a long-range team around Dwight Howard you will probably win basketball games. This is Dwight before Kobe broke his heart. You don’t even need other big men or a veteran ball-handler, this team could just throw shots up and let Dwight handle the rest.
12 Brooklyn Nets
PG: Jarret Jack – SG: Joe Johnson – SF: Thaddeus Young – PF: Andrea Bargnani – C: Brook Lopez
So the Nets lineup if everyone was younger would essentially be their current lineup sans depth or a Bojan Bogdanovic to get the ladies in the stands. Despite depth issues, this team would still be nice. Joe “Slow Jesus” Johnson would be back to his Joe Jesus days of averaging a smooth 21/4/6. Jarret Jack was averaging a solid 13. A rookie Brook Lopez was monstrous; averaging 13 points, 8 boards, and 2 blocks. And the best 3/4 combo since March the 4th would reveal itself in Thaddeus Young (in this case, Thaddeus Younger) and Air Bargnani, who were both averaging 15 & 5 at the time.
If you watch the Nets at 1.25x speed and ignore some of Brook and Thad’s more refined moves, you’ll pretty much be seeing the damage these boys would do if they drank our age potion.
11 Minnesota Timberwolves
PG: Andre Miller – SG: Kevin Martin – SF: Tayshaun Prince – PF: Kevin Garnett – C: Nikola Pekovic (Panathinaikos)
This team was nearly edged out by the Nets, but I have too much respect for the OGs and too much fear of Pekovic to suggest that his Eurobasket self might not be able to handle the NBA. Andre Miller – sorry – The Andre Miller, was averaging 16 points, 5 boards, and 7 assists back then. I had to cover my keyboard in saran wrap just so that I could finish writing about Professor Dre’s old shenanigans undeterred by my eyes’ saline formulae. Kevin Martin was as he is now, averaging 25 for the Sacramento Kevin Martin Show. Tayshaun was averaging a smooth 13.
KG was in championship mode, averaging 16, 9 and 4.8 life-altering instances of trash talk per game. The mystery for the Timbs would be Pek, who was getting 13/4 at Panathinaikos. But they won Euroleague. So the frontcourt would be all championship mindset and the Professor, the Weird-Shot-That-Always-Goes-In-Somehow, and Tayshaun da Prince would be left to wreak havoc. Damn. Maybe this team should be in the Top 5.
10 Los Angeles Clippers
PG: Chris Paul – SG: Jamal Crawford, SF: Paul Pierce – PF: Luc M’Bah a Moute – C: Josh Smith – Bench: J.J. Redick, DeAndre Jordan
This team would be extra spicy if the Clippers still had dudes like Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu, but a core of CP3, J-Crawf, The Truth, and J-Smoove would still eat in 2008. Chris Paul was averaging 23/11/6 and 3 steals. Crawford was averaging 20. Championship Paul Pierce was averaging 20/6/4. And the legend himself, Josh “J-Smoove” Smith, was averaging 16/7 and 2 blocks. The downside? Not having the size to match up with the higher ranked teams here. Luc’s 6’7 stature was still pulling in 6 boards a game, but backup big, Brandon Knight’s own personal Kryptoknight, DeAndre “DJ Tiesto” Jordan was only getting 4 & 5.
While J.J. Redick was still recovering from his time at Duke and dropping 6 a game on muscle memory alone (except for that one airy layup), the combined firepower and unpredictability of the Smoove, J-Cross, and Truth suicide squad, coupled with GOAT CP3 would be hard to beat. Unless you’re one of the top 9.
9 Chicago Bulls
PG: Kirk Hinrich – SG: Derrick Rose – SF: Mike Dunleavy – PF: Pau Gasol – C: Joakim Noah – Bench: Taj Gibson (USC), Aaron Brooks
This team merits its ranking because of its balance. A backcourt of the defensively-minded Kirk Hinrich (still getting 10 a game) and a budding Derrick Rose (averaged 17 points and 6 assists). A frontcourt of a limitless Joakim Noah (with his casual 7 and 6) and a 19-point, 10-board averaging Pau “The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly into the hoop” Gasol. And a centerpiece formed in one of the illest to do it, rumored hoodied patroller of latenight Bronx subways, bastion of the shiny Golden State Warriors, Michael “Dunleavy” Goonleavy.
Add a backup, fresh-legged big-man reserve in Taj Gibson, who was getting 14/9 and 3 blocks at USC and could probably be a bother to some NBA players. Then add a backup guard, an 11-point averaging, typical rendition of the Aaron “Scott” Brooks show. The resulting balance of defense and floor spacing would make this team pretty good.
8 Sacramento Kings
PG: Rajon Rondo – SG: Caron Butler – SF: Rudy Gay – PF: Carl Landry – C: DeMarcus Cousins (LeFlore High School, Kentucky) – Bench: Marco Bellinelli, Omri Casspi (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Reggie Evans, Kosta Koufos
And the Sacramento Kings are the 8th best team in the NBA. Depth and Caron Butler give them their edge. It’s definitely pretty close between this team, the Clippers, and the Bulls – but Caron Butler was literally averaging 21/6/4, Rondo was in championship-mode (12/8/5/2), and Rudy Gay had even less of a conscience (19/6). Carl Landry, another Warriors hero, was putting up 9 a game (as was Warriors hero Marco Bellinelli).
The big question is Demarcus Cousins. Boogie went from getting 17/8 and 2 blocks at LeFlore High School in 2007-08 to 15/10 and 2 blocks at Kentucky in 2009-10, so I’m going to guess that, according to the pattern – he would average 13/12 and 2 blocks in the league. Boogie was a big fella with touch so he would probably age quickly and learn how to bang on the block. Throw in some brutish bench bodies in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 45% 3pt sharp-shooter Omri Casspi, the aforementioned gunner Marco Bellinelli, that guy Reggie “rebound.” Evans, and that other guy Kosta “Couscous” Koufos, and you’ve got yourself the greatest team in Sacramento since Doug Christie and the boys.
7 Golden State Warriors
PG: Steve Nash – SG: Leandro Barbosa – SF: Andre Iguodala – PF: Jason Thompson – C: Andrew Bogut – Bench: Luke Walton, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush, Shaun Livingston
Yep. Steve Nash is on this team. He’s some sort of player development guy or something so the Dubs get to have him when we time travel. The team’s anchors, their point guard and center, were averaging double-doubles (Nash: 16/10, Bogut: 12/10). Andre Iguodala was literally Andre “Don’t Call Me Iggy Because I’m a Grown-Ass Man” Iguodala, getting 19/6/5 and 2 steals. This team would be certain to excel with a starting 5 consisting of a playmaker in Nash, an interior anchor in Bogut, a star wing in Iggy, a scoring role player in the 14-point-averaging Blurbosa, and a rebounding role player in the 11 dropping and 7 getting Jason Thompson. And the bench mob. Oh, the bench mob! Mo, Brandon, and Shaun were each averaging 8 points a game. Luke was averaging 5. Depth and skill at important spots give this team a high ranking. The guilt of Nash and his loose affiliation to the team meriting inclusion keep them from the top 5.
6 Cleveland Cavaliers
PG: Mo Williams – SG: Richard Jefferson – SF: LeBron James – PF: Kevin Love – C: Anderson Varejao – Bench: J.R. Smith
It must not be the 2015 NBA Finals, because the Cleveland Cavaliers have outdone the Dubs. This starting 5 is both well-balanced and elite at most positions, and this was an even more lethal J.R. Smith due to spending less time with the bad influence that is himself. While a frontcourt of a rock-solid Varejao (averaging 9/7) and a youthful, steely consistent Kevin Love (averaging 11/9) might not scare you, the Cavs’ Big 3 might be the Drake to the rest of the NBA’s Meek Mill. LeBron was obviously playing like a less battle-worn human embodiment of the Monstars, averaging 23/8/7.
And of course Mo Williams was playing like the original Mo Buckets (before Mareese Speights entered the limelight), averaging 18. But, then-Milwaukeean, Richard Jefferson and his 20 point, 5 board averaging self would put this team over the top. They wouldn’t even need a true point guard. J.R. Smith was averaging 15 back then and still had more hops than your favorite craft brew.
5 Los Angeles Lakers
PG: Lou Williams – SG: Kobe Bryant – SF: Nick Young – PF: Metta World Peace (Ron Artest?) – C: Carlos Boozer – Bench: Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass
Carlos Boozer was still good (16/10). Swaggy P was the same (averaging 11 then, 9 now), but younger (maybe a little less ill-advised 3 and a little more ill-advised 360 layup). Roy Hibbert (7 ppg) and Brandon Bass (9/5) were both exceptionally okay. Lou Will was still getting buckets (13 ppg), but probably only bringing one girl to games. You put that supporting cast around Kobe’s bodyguard, The Panda’s Friend aka Metta World Peace aka Ron Artest, and put him around Kobe – and you have yourself a plethora of wins. Metta was still Ron Artest at this point, and Ron was averaging 17, 5 boards, and 2 steals.
There are no statistics for Ron’s mental game, but we can assume that it was Garnett-esque. Vino was still Black Mamba, and the guy was putting up 27/5/4 and 2 steals. If you think any of the bottom 10 teams would beat these guys, then don’t blame me if a younger Kobe & Ron find you in your dreams tonight.
4 San Antonio Spurs
PG: Tony Parker – SG: Manu Ginobli – SF: Boris Diaw – PF: David West – C: Tim Dunan – Bench: Rasual Butler, Matt Bonner, LaMarcus Aldridge
It’s almost a travesty that this team isn’t #1, but the top 3 earned it with their play in 2008-09. Manu and his bat-killer instinct still had legs, averaging a clean 16/5/4. Tony was in Tony Sparker mode, tallying 22 & 7 while stealing teammates’ wives. Boris was still the Great French Hope, dropping 15/6/5 without dropping a pound. And then we have the frontcourt. Timmy was Timmy, getting a very Timmy 19 and 11. The rotation of a prime David West (18/8) and less annoying Lamarcus Aldridge (also 18/8) would triple-handedly make the post game en vogue. Matt “Bonnaroo” Bonner would add to the depth of size with his 8 & 5. But the team’s glue would be the notorious gunner, one of the most shooter shooters of all time, an 11-point averaging Rasual Butler.
3 Dallas Mavericks
PG: Devin Harris – SG: Deron Williams – SF: Raymond Felton – PF: Charlie Villanueva – C: Dirk Nowitzki – Bench: Wes Matthews (Marquette), Javale Mcgee, Zaza Pachulia, JJ Barea
I hope you like depth metal, because these next two teams run deeper than white guilt. The Mavericks five might be the most exciting ever assembled. Three star PGs and two ranged big-men. Devin Harris was getting 21 & 7, Deron Williams was actually competition for CP3, averaging 19 & 11, and at SF, the less-chubby-but-still-chubby-enough-to-play-wing Raymond Felton was getting 14 & 7. You combine three shoot-first point guards with two shoot-first, defend-later big men. Charlie Villanueva had more hair than self-doubt, averaging 16 & 7.
Dirk’s MVP was in recent memory as he put up 26 & 8. The bench would also be exciting. The backup frontcourt of Zaza Pachulia and Javale McGee, or Zaza & Java, would probably get their own sitcom to accompany their mundane 6/6 and 7/4 respectively.
2 Memphis Grizzlies
PG: Mike Conley – SG: Vince Carter – SF: Jeff Green – PF: Zach Randolph – C: Marc Gasol – Bench: Mario Chalmers, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Courtney Lee, Brandan Wright
Finally, some balance in the force (shout out Jedi Tony Allen). A couple guys on this roster hadn’t quite reached their primes yet, but the team’s balance and depth would grant enough flexibility to outduel almost anybody. A young Mike Conley was only averaging 11/4, and a young Marc Gasol only 12/7, but they’d be perfect complements to the rest of the roster. Z-Bo was as Z-Bo as ever, putting up 21/13, and highlight reel Vince was throwing around 21/5/5. A vivacious Jeff Green would round out the five with his 17 & 7 unless the grown man (just ask Derek Fisher) Matt Barnes usurped him with his 10 & 6 on 42% FG.
Mario “Only Man to Yell at LeBron and Live to Tell the Tale” Chalmers was the Rio before Hezonja, with a watery 10 & 5 to go along with 2 steals. Meanwhile, championship Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, and Brandan Wright were each averaging 8. That’s a starting 5 and a complete bench unit equipped with smalls, bigs, and tweeners apt enough to match up with any team listed except for the…
1 Miami Heat
PG: Beno Udrih – SG: Dwyane Wade – SF: Luol Deng – PF: Amare Stoudemire – C: Chris Bosh – Bench: Udonis Haslem, Chris Anderson, Goran Dragic, Gerald Green
Beno Udrih is starting point guard for the best team in the NBA. While I do love Childish GamBeno, the mid-range king, and he was getting a respectable 11 & 5 back then, the only reason that is acceptable in face of the Mavericks’ point guard battalion and Tony “Drop Me Like One of Your French Girls” Parker is because the Heat would be fielding three potential Hall of Famers playing at their best. STAT was putting up 21 & 8, Boshtrich was putting up 23 & 10, and Dwyane “Dwayne” Wade showed the Flash doesn’t need 3-point range en route to 30/5/8 and 2 steals.
Throw in the ultimate glue guy in Luol “Lu-All-Day” Deng (14/6) and a 6th man in Miami Heat legend Udonis Haslem (11/8) and you have yourself a team that might get Beno 20 assists a game. Decent backups Goran “Slov3nia” Dragic (5ppg) and Gerald “Literally Dunked His Finger Off” Green (5ppg) would just need to give Wade some time to rest and that Bosh/STAT/Wade unit would hit the mid-range more than Top 40 music, yam more rims than X-Zibit’s “Pimp My Ride,” and just obliterate. Seriously. Prime Wade. Prime Bosh. Prime STAT. Oh man. This is why people were so incensed when LeBron united with Bosh & Wade. More GOATs than a petting zoo. Thank you for reading and jogging the nostalgia muscles.