Without a doubt, the NBA is a star-driven league and we have witnessed some incredible talents on both ends of the floor for a very long time. While offense gets all the shine in terms of highlights, it is the defensive end that always dictates who wins and who doesn’t. A great NBA team has both, and the upper echelon of superstar players also perform on both ends of the floor. While the NBA is predicated on offense and freedom of movement now, it is best if we flashback to a neutral era where the defense was the calling card of many top NBA stars.
If we are able to gather the very best defensive players of all time and pit them against the best offensive players of all time, in a 5-on-5 match, who wins?
Does the offensive team have too much firepower? Or can the defensive team exhaust the superstar scoring talents to gain an advantage on the scorelines? By gathering the top five offensive talents and top-five defensive monsters in a 5-on-5 following the normal layout of three backcourt players and two frontcourt players, it is time to analyze which team comes out on top.
Point Guard: James Harden vs. Gary Payton
This will be a very intriguing matchup since both players are HOF caliber players who relied on two separate ends of the court to make their names in the league. While Payton developed into a very nice scorer after some time in the league, he wasn’t close to Harden in terms of offensive power. And James harden has clearly never been known as a lockdown defender.
Harden will make it difficult for Payton, but the usual moves we see him pull off today won’t work against arguably the best defender at the PG position ever. Payton will get in his space, and find ways to poke the ball out of his hands whenever possible. This will be an interesting matchup, to say the least.
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan vs. Scottie Pippen
Perhaps the most exciting matchup will be Pippen and Jordan. Both players made a living locking down people on defense, but now Pippen has to do it alone against the greatest scorer of all time.
Pippen will do his due diligence, picking MJ the length of the court and following him everywhere he goes. While he certainly won’t stop Jordan from scoring, he will bother him enough to keep the game close in the first half. Jordan will also relish the challenge of playing against Pippen, who is renowned for his defense, and make this a very competitive matchup.
Small Forward: Kobe Bryant vs. Kawhi Leonard
With all the star power on the court at once, Bryant will want to show the world he is the best one playing. While this will be a difficult task, he will make quite an impact early by taking shots and putting pressure on Kawhi Leonard.
While Kawhi Leonard is a bigger body who has incredibly large hands, Kobe will rely on his agility and ability to play angles to get to his sweet spots. Leonard will hold Bryant to under 45% shooting by the end of the game, but Bryant’s impact will hardly be bothered. Leonard will also manage to make an impact on offense for his team and will end up the leading scorer with 25.
Power Forward: Kevin Durant vs. Ben Wallace
This is a very interesting matchup since Wallace is extremely limited offensively and will be asked to rebound the ball at a very high level while minimizing Durant’s impact on offense. This will be easier said than done, as Durant will catch on fire in the second half and shoot nearly 50% by the end of the half. While Jordan, Bryant, and Harden will be the ones doing most of the dribbling, KD will be the X-Factor that plays in his team’s favor.
Wallace will manage to stuff the stat sheet defensively, finishing with 3 blocks and 3 steals to go along with 10 rebounds. Wallace will form a nice partnership with Hakeem defensively in the first quarter, but they will eventually succumb to the incredible firepower of Team Offense.
Center: Wilt Chamberlain vs. Hakeem Olajuwon
Finally, the center position. Hakeem will have his way early with Wilt, who will immediately get faked a few times before Hakeem scores or passes out of the post. Hakeem will also manage to contest a bunny layup by Wilt early in the second half, making it known that he will not be bowing down to Wilt’s incredible length and athleticism.
But Wilt will be the monster rebounder on the night, finishing with 20 rebounds including 6 offensive boards. He won’t have to do much on the scoring end, beyond putbacks and lobs from Harden, and will still finish with a monster double-double of 18 points and 20 rebounds. Hakeem will lead his own team in scoring with 25 points, including 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks, and 4 steals.
This game will be a dog fight from the first whistle, as both teams will be scrappy and hungry to win this one. For defense lovers, this will be a fun game to watch since these five guys don’t care about their opponent’s offensive talent and simply want to be a nuisance each time down the court. Of course, on the other end, the offensive team believe they can score on anybody at any given time. Here is how it plays out.
The first quarter will be all offense. Jordan and Bryant will take turns with jumpers to put Team Offense up by 10 points early. Team defense will respond with a pick n roll with Hakeem and Payton before Wallace cleans up a few misses over a lighter Kevin Durant. The first quarter still goes to Team Offense, 30-22, after Harden draws a foul with 0.8 seconds left much to the dismay of Gary Payton.
We are treated to a Bulls matchup in the second quarter, with Pippen sticking Jordan all the way up the court. Pippen manages to make life difficult for Jordan, who still ends up drawing a foul on the first possession. This is the story of the second quarter, as Team Defense holds Team Offense to under 45% shooting. With Pippen and Payton defending the entire length of the floor, this allows Wallace and Hakeem to protect the paint and challenge any attacks by James Harden. Luckily for Team Offense, Durant gets hot at the 6-minute mark and takes the lead up to 60-48 by half time. Wilt Chamberlain ends up with 15 rebounds by the half, 10 more than Hakeem and Wallace. His offensive rebounding gives his team more chances to get the lead up which KD takes advantage of.
Durant continues his hot streak entering the third quarter with back to back jumpers but Leonard responds with a deep three-pointer and a couple of nice dishes to Hakeem early on. Team Defense holds Team Offense to under 45% shooting once again, but Jordan and Bryant are patiently waiting for the fourth quarter. Team defense keeps it relatively close, 84-74.
Once the fourth starts, the game speeds up tremendously. Hakeem scores a few times with nice post moves against Wilt, and Leonard hits a few jumpers. But Team Offense explodes for 36 points in the fourth, with Jordan scoring 14 of his 30 points in the quarter. While Team Defense kept it scrappy all game long, they simply did not have enough gas stopping arguably the four greatest scorers on the same floor. Even though MJ did his thing, Bryant scores 10 points while KD and Harden score 6 and 5 respectively. Wilt did not have to do much scoring, beyond put-backs and managed 25 rebounds at the end of the game. Team Defense simply could not hold their opponent to under 30 points for the quarter, and the incredible scoring power of Team Offense puts the game away.
The Best Offensive Team Ever vs. The Best Defensive Team Ever 120-95