Winter break can be a maddening thing when there’s little else besides work to accomplish around town. Thankfully, with basketball currently in-season, it’s easy for the mind to wander into fantasyland. With that in mind, I was thinking about what my ideal lineup would be to win a championship with, assuming the obvious choices like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or Shaquille O’Neal aren’t available.
Depending on what happens, this might turn into a series not unlike one of my earlier posts concerning building an ideal team around LeBron, so we’ll see. In any case, let’s take a look at my starting five and go from there.
PG: Kenny Smith
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: Sean Elliot
PF: Toni Kukoc
C: Hakeem Olajuwon
You might already know some of these guys. Assume they’re in their respective primes.
There is no question that, taking into account that the lineup’s two best players (I’ll let you guess which players those are) are in their absolute primes, this team can realistically win an NBA Championship against just about anyone they go up against.
Hakeem Olajuwon is easily a Top 5 center in NBA history (in my opinion); he is arguably the greatest defensive center in NBA history behind Bill Russell, has the best footwork for any big man that ever played, and has dominated whenever the need arose, with his victims being 1994-95 NBA MVP David Robinson, a young Shaquille O’Neal, 1992-93 NBA MVP Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing, four of the league’s best big men at that time. On top of that, he’s my favorite center after SHAQ 2000.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more offensively balanced, defensively destructive lineup that doesn’t have a LeBron James, Magic Johnson, or Michael Jordan on it. Expect efficiency, late-game execution, shooting, and a team that can beat you either on the break or in a half-court offense. With athletes like Kenny Smith, Dwyane Wade, Sean Elliot, and Hakeem Olajuwon running the break, whatever arena this lineup calls home would be transformed into a highlight factory. Heck, even Kukoc could get involved in the high-octane festivities. After all, he was known as the European version of Magic Johnson coming into the NBA.
That’s a scary recipe. Moving along, if an opposing team goes into a zone, the lineup can very easily adjust into an extended box-and-one formation where Hakeem operates out of the high post while Smith, Kukoc, and Elliot will stretch the floor. In addition to this, this lineup will allow both Olajuwon and Wade to attack the basket, working with players that not only pose a serious threat from deep, but slashers in Elliot and even Smith from time to time. Being athletic helps in those situations.
A man-to-man defense would also have trouble with this roster, as everyone in this lineup is adept at moving the ball around in order to get the best shot. This group has quite the passing talent to work with here. Wade has no problem deferring to Olajuwon when the right time comes, and Olajuwon will be keen enough to recognize when Wade catches fire from the field. That happened often in Wade’s prime. Hakeem’s too.
With Olajuwon and Wade constantly getting to the free throw line as a result of their aggressiveness on offense, this team will easily get into the penalty, allowing for even more opportunities for offense due to the excellent free throw shooting between point guard and center. Wade, Olajuwon, and Kukoc are all adept at drawing fouls, and both Elliott and Smith range between 80 and 83% from the free throw line for their careers. This team would be a nightmare to guard, with the entire lineup able to both stretch the floor at a respectable percentage and get to the free throw line.
When the game is on the line, this team will know who their leaders are. Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwyane Wade may be team players, but they know they have a responsibility to lead the team to victory if the game is ever on the line late in the 4th quarter. Both players will play off each other well, and considering the fact that Olajuwon played 90% of his career in a place known as “Clutch City,” it’s safe to presume that he will elevate his play when it matters. The same can be said for Wade, who introduced himself to the world during the 2006 NBA Finals, coming through time after time to lead his team to the title against seemingly insurmountable odds (trailing 0-2 with a double-digit deficit in Game 3).
This team will be clutch. Kenny Smith has hit big shots; Toni Kukoc has hit his share of game-winners (often the unsung hero in many of those legendary Bulls victories–namely Game 7 vs. Indiana); and Sean Elliot is most likely known primarily for his “Memorial Day Miracle” in 1999, hitting a huge go-ahead three in Game 2 of the 1999 Western Finals vs. Portland. In case you forgot…
Big shots will be made with this lineup, and anyone can win a game with a major play. That has to factor into how a team prepares for them late. Both Olajuwon and Wade will have no problem kicking it out to the likes of Kukoc, Smith, or Elliott, and all three of them will be ready to finish the job as decoys. Neither of the three will be left on an island either, as all three can create their own shot to a reasonable extent.
At first glance, it could be said that this team might face rebounding mismatches with four perimeter players roaming around Olajuwon. On the other hand, what would be neglected in such an argument is that aside from Olajuwon’s career average of 11.1 rpg (and 13.1 at his peak from 87-93), starters like Toni Kukoc (7.0 in starter’s minutes), Dwyane Wade (5.2 rebounds between 2018-2014), and Sean Elliott (4.7 from 1990-1997) would have no problem collectively masking any rebounding weaknesses in any one player. It is easy to presume that the team rebounding of this particular lineup will be respectable enough to where that won’t be a glaring weakness vs. more aggressive teams, especially with the ability for everyone to run the break.
I’ll ride with these guys against virtually anyone. Who do you have?