Throughout the course of history, countless great teams have been stacked with talent and dominated the rest of the league. Even so, there have been few times when teams gather as many stars as they can but they’re far behind their primes already.
The ‘Fab Four’ Lakers were a prime example of this. Neither Gary Payton nor Karl Malone were at the top of their game when they teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Believe it or not, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers went to something pretty similar lately.
In the Thunder’s case, they had three future MVPs in Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden but they were just scratching the surface of their potential. The Cavs, on the other hand, had Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade teaming up with LeBron James but weren’t as explosive as they used to be.
But could you imagine if they had to face off during their primes? Who’d end up on top on a 7-game Series? Just for fun, let’s break down the game everyone wants to watch: Prime Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Prime Cleveland Cavaliers:
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Derrick Rose
Russell Westbrook was a bit of a 2.0 version of Derrick Rose, so this matchup would be incredibly fun to watch. Westbrook is a better defender and slightly more athletic than Rose, but prime Derrick Rose was the most unstoppable point guard in the league.
Rose had – by far – the higher basketball IQ between the two. He was also even more aggressive than Westbrook, more explosive, and had a deadlier first step. This one is as close as it gets but few players in the league had been as impactful and fun to watch as MVP Derrick Rose.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Dwyane Wade
James Harden has become one of the greatest, most unstoppable scorers in the history of the game. He’s a perennial Scoring champion and it seems like his offensive game has no flaws, even if efficiency isn’t exactly his biggest trait. He’s also improved a lot as a defender and has enough size to alter some shots.
But when it comes to two-way shooting guards, prime Dwyane Wade has to be near the top of that list. He holds the record for most blocks by a guard and, even though he wasn’t a threat from beyond the arc, was also an explosive, dominant scorer back in the day. Just for his defensive expertise, he gets the nod over Harden.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
This matchup would most likely set the tone of the game. We’re talking about Kevin Durant, an unprecedented talent, Larry Bird 2.0. He’s a 7-footer with the skills, moves, and handles of a point guard, which is just unfair. He’s also become a top-tier rim protector and is one of the greatest players of all time.
LeBron James, on the other hand, is stronger, more athletic, and more intelligent than Durant and most players in NBA history. Honest to God, this could go either way. Neither of them is the kind of player you want to mess up with. They both have Championship experience and are used to being the alpha dog despite sharing touches with stars.
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka vs. Kevin Love
Prime Serge Ibaka was so good and impactful that OKC favored him over James Harden. Looking back, that may seem like a mistake, but Ibaka was one of the most dominant, physical rim protectors in the league. He was a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
People forgot how good Kevin Love was in Minnesota. He was a nightly threat to get a 20-20 game. He could dominate both sides of the glass, knock down shots from deep, and score vs. the best defenders on earth. They have pretty different styles, but we have to lean towards prime Love here.
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Tristan Thompson
We can all agree upon the fact that Kendrick Perkins was – by far – the weakest link of the Thunder. He was a hardnosed defender, a bulldog that gave them a physical interior presence and that wasn’t going to back down from anybody. Other than that, he never brought much to the table.
Tristan Thompson has never been much of an offensive threat but his rim-running abilities and skills in the pick-and-roll favor him over Perkins. He’s also one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, and while he’s not the best defender, he’s got enough length to contest shots all the way to the perimeter.
Judging by what we’ve seen, this game could go either way. The Cavaliers have the edge in the rebounding category, with LeBron, Love, and Tristan Thompson dominating the glass over Perkins, Ibaka, and Durant. Also, Thompson’s presence would grant them plenty of second-chance opportunities.
The Thunder is a far superior team in terms of three-point shooting. Other than Kevin Love, the Cavaliers don’t have a consistent threat from beyond the arc, while Kevin Durant and James Harden have proven to be prolific scorers from all three levels.
The Cavs are slightly more athletic than the Thunder and, believe it or not, a better defensive team. Both in isolation, man-to-man, or zone, it seems like the Cavs have a higher defensive IQ and their players match up perfectly vs. the Thunder.
When it comes to playmaking, the Thunder has a slight edge. They have Westbrook, Harden, and Durant, a three-headed monster that can share the wealth with ease. Rose, Wade, and LeBron also excel, but they’re slightly outplayed in this regard.
So, this game will definitely go down to the wire. In the end, we think the Cavaliers’ Championship pedigree will prevail. Wade, James, Love, and Thompson are all used to playing for the title and they’ve proven their worth at the highest level. For the Thunder, only Durant and Ibaka know what it takes to be a Champion. That’s why we expect the Cavaliers to bring the heat in the clutch and win Game 7 by two points.
Final Score: Prime Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Prime Cleveland Cavaliers 3-4
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