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 usually 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 defense was the calling card of many top NBA stars.
If we are able to gather the very best offensive players of all time and pit them against the best defensive 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 superstars 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 in a 7-game series. Of course, raw scoring power against the stopping ability of the best defenders will come into account in a close showdown that goes 7 games.
Disclaimer: Michael Jordan can be inserted into Team Offense and Team Defense, but he is widely regarded as the greatest defensive shooting guard ever. That means Kobe Bryant (second-greatest scorer ever) will occupy the shooting guard spot in Team Offense with Jordan across from him on Team Defense.
Point Guard: Stephen Curry vs. Gary Payton
This will be a very intriguing matchup since both players are Hall of Fame-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 was never close to Curry in terms of offensive power. Similarly, Curry never had the stopping power of Gary Payton in any shape or form.
In a best-of-7 series, Curry 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 point guard 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, and Curry will also have to handle the tough (and sometimes dirty) tactics that Payton will use to get in his head. But Curry will get his offense against any defender so this matchup will be a competitive one for sure.
Shooting Guard: Allen Iverson vs. Michael Jordan
Perhaps the most exciting matchup will be Iverson and Jordan. Both players made a living scoring a ton of points in the league, and both players are regarded as two of the top-five perimeter players of all time. Iverson holds 4 scoring titles and Jordan holds 10, which means we are seeing incredible scorers go to work against each other.
But Jordan is the cornerstone for Team Defense because he is one of the greatest perimeter defenders we have ever seen. Michael was strong, quick, and adept at staying with defenders and even blocking shots. Jordan has a size advantage against Iverson and will punish him on offense and also have an edge on defense. But Iverson will not back down, and both players will wage war for their teams.
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. Especially on offense. While this will be a difficult task against 2-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, he will make quite an impact early by taking shots and putting pressure on the small forward any chance he gets.
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 series, but Bryant's impact will not be denied. Bryant always tends to perform in the biggest games, and throughout the series, he will have spectacular offensive performances to help his team get the victory in individual games.
Power Forward: Kevin Durant vs. Tim Duncan
A very intriguing matchup sees Durant go to work against 5-time NBA champion Tim Duncan. Both players have completely different styles of play, as Durant does his work with the ball in his hands on the perimeter. If Duncan is on an island, he will have a hard time stopping Durant when the 3-time scoring champion wants to get to the rim or pull up for jumpers. Meanwhile, Duncan will have his way on offense too.
Durant, although tall and lanky, does not have the lower body strength that The Big Fundamental possesses. Duncan will have his way down low with Durant on him and will form a dominant interior presence with 11-time NBA champion Bull Russell. Duncan will also be smart enough to adjust to Durant’s scoring ability and will work with his team to slow the former Oklahoma City man down.
Center: Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell
Finally, the battle of the bigs. Arguably two of the top ten greatest players ever, Wilt and Russell will go to battle as they have multiple times in the past. Chamberlain will always have a statistical advantage over any player, including Russell, because he is the most dominant physical specimen ever. Chamberlain is a rare athlete and will average 27 PPG and 25 RPG over the series which will ultimately last 7 games.
Russell is one of the greatest leaders ever and will understand Wilt’s ability to score, and will find other ways to be effective. First, he will match Wilt in rebounding and will average 23 RPG over the series. Despite averaging 10 PPG, Russell will average 5 APG and 4 BPG over the series to counter Wilt’s sensational ability to put up numbers. Working alongside Tim Duncan, Russell will be a force on defense and prove to be a winner of the highest order.
Team Offense Advantages
Team Offense’s advantage comes in there...offense. Curry and Iverson are an unstoppable backcourt because both players can drop 30 points in a game with relative ease. Curry can do it form three with ease, while Iverson will create his own shot against Jordan. They will not be efficient as they normally are, and will have games where the scoring is not there. But there will be points on the board.
Kobe is the perfect player to have in this game because he will closely mimic what Michael Jordan brings to the game on both ends of the floor. The frontcourt will be about more offense, except Durant brings the perfect complementary piece alongside Wilt. Chamberlain will score all his points in the paint when he is not on the free-throw line, so Durant has free reign from the perimeter.
Team Offense also have players who tend to perform in big games, including Kobe and Durant, so that means there will be big performances when the tempo slows down and plays do not work against dominant defenders. Overall, on offense, these 5 players fit perfectly together and will put a ton of pressure on Team Defense.
Team Defense Advantages
Team Defense is perfection on both ends of the floor, except they have an edge in defensive ability over Team Offense. Payton, Jordan, Kawhi, and Duncan do not match up with Team Offense’s shooting and that will be a problem in multiple games in the series. But they can still score, in their own way, making them lethal at any point during a game.
Anytime Michael Jordan is on the floor, there will be offense even for a defensive-oriented team. Duncan is also proficient at scoring on the block, and Kawhi is a superstar offensive player when he has his rhythm. They will not be able to match the all-out attack of 5 superstar offensive players, but they will come awfully close.
Otherwise, Duncan and Russell will fortify the paint with ease. Durant does not have the paint presence that Duncan has, which means Team Defense will outrebound Team Offense over the series despite Wilt averaging 25 RPG. Team Defense have the greatest scorer ever in Jordan and a host of defensive irritants which will make this 7-game-series an instant classic.
Who Wins A Best-Of-7?
Game 1 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 believes they can score on anybody at any given time. Team Offense overcomes a poor shooting performance to win the game 110-105, thanks to 4 players dropping over 22 points.
Game 2 is much of the same, except Team Offense’s backcourt struggle to shoot above 45%. With Curry going 1-12 from three and Iverson shooting 39%, Jordan and Payton lead the way to a resounding 103-90 victory in Game 2. Game 3 will see the battle of the bigs, with Wilt and Russell putting up video game numbers. Wilt drops 40 points and grabs 22 rebounds and Kobe chips in 29 points including a three-pointer over Kawhi to give his team a 4-point lead that will last until the end of the game. Game 4 proves to be Michael Jordan’s game because a 42 point effort (with 6 steals) gives his team the fight to even the series and prevent falling into a 3-1 hole. A dominant Jordan performance on both ends of the court gives his team enough confidence to adjust to Wilt’s presence and the perimeter scoring once and for all.
Game 5 is a resounding victory for Team Defense because no player shoots under 46% and they are efficient from all areas of the floor including the three-point line. Game 5 is about Team Defense’s ability to play slow, controller basketball, and get in the faces of Curry and Iverson. Durant leads his team in scoring with 32 points but cannot overcome the dominant presence of the five defensive stoppers. Bill Russell would have his best game of the series, early notching a triple-double with assists and also blocking 6 shots.
Game 6 is a spectacular game that goes 2 OT. Jordan and Kobe both lead their teams in scoring in the game, but neither player score a point in the first OT. Iverson and Durant score all the points in the first OT but are matched with Duncan’s big performance in the paint. Duncan finds Payton for a three at the corner with 5 seconds left, placing Team Offense in jeopardy. Kobe lays off a pass to Curry who drains a three at the buzzer to send the game into 2OT.
In 2OT, Team Offense runs out of time. Kobe makes his first 2 shots, missing the rest while Iverson and Durant split a shot each. Team Offense goes 4-8 from the field, while Team Defense goes a scintillating 7-9. All 5 players get in the action, but lockdown defense ends up being the key. Team Defense have a little more in the tank, and their raw size ends up being the factor in the series. Jordan, Kawhi, Duncan, and Russell prove to be too exhausting to play against in terms of size, and that wears on Team Offense. Tim Duncan was spectacular as the series went on, but Jordan was the most consistent player on the court which earned him Finals MVP.
Final Result: Team Defense vs. Team Offense 4-2
Finals MVP: Michael Jordan