There have been countless books, articles and barroom debates aimed at determining the greatest teams and greatest players in NBA history. Another fun exercise along these lines is assembling the greatest starting five or twelve-man NBA roster in history. I have had a lot of fun debating these topics with some knowledgeable (and some not-so-knowledgeable) NBA fans, and I can’t promise that such an article, authored by me, will not make its way onto this site. The problem with these very simple exercises is that they neglect an entire universe of star players whose greatness falls just beyond the scope of the top fifteen or twenty in the game’s history.
So I decided to put together a list of the greatest all-time starting line-up for each NBA franchise, based on the performances of players who suited up in at least 200 games (there was a little bit of wiggle room used here) for that team. I've (mostly) tried to adhere to a strict C, PF, SF, SG, PG line-up, not just 2 guards, 2 forwards and center. Now, I didn’t invent some kind of convoluted, John Hollinger-esque formula to determine these line-ups- I just examined the statistics of players during their tenures with a given team (thanks basketballreference.com!) and considered the era in which each played. I used "face of the franchise" status and high points in the team’s history as tie-breaker. A lot of the results are as expected, but some forced me to stare at the numbers in shock and admit that my initial perception had changed.
Rather than go nuts and give you 29 starting fives to consider in one sitting, I will be posting these five at a time, grouped by current NBA division, over the next six days.
I’m going to start today with the Atlantic Division. Have fun reading and debating these, I had fun putting them together! If you think I’m an idiot, don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m very eager to hear your opinions.
PG- Bob Cousy (18.5 ppg, 37.5% FG, 80% FT, 5.2 rpg, 7.6 apg in 917 games)- A no-brainer. Tiny Archibald at the end of his career and a rock-solid DJ in the 80s can’t compare to the quarterback of the Celtics’ dynasty.
SG- Jojo White (18.4 ppg, 44.2% FG, 83.3% FT, 4.3 rpg, 5.1 apg in 717 games)- One of the bridges from Russell to Bird. Compared to Bill Sharman and Sam Jones (really the only competition), ranks 1st or 2nd of the three in every major category.
SF- Larry Bird (24.3 ppg, 49.6% FG, 88.6% FT, 37.6% 3PT, 10 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.7 spg in 897 games)- The greatest Celtic since Russell. Some of Pierce’s and Havlicek’s stats compare, and Hondo’s rings must be considered, but Bird is THE starting SF for the Celtics.
PF- Kevin McHale (17.9 ppg, 55.4% FG, 79.8% FT, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 971 games)- Not a statistical wonder, but the inside force for three championship teams. His dominating low post game made him the #2 option behind Bird, and shot extremely well from both the field and line.
C- Bill Russell (15.1 ppg, 44% FG, 56.1% FT, 22.5 rpg, 4.3 apg in 963 games)- The ultimate champion. While 11 championships in 13 years is his ultimate statistic, Russell’s career stats also stack up pretty well against most centers in NBA history.
PG- Jason Kidd (14.9 ppg, 39.9% FG, 80.6% FT, 7.1 rpg, 9.0 apg in 455 games)- The catalyst for the Nets’ back-to-back Finals trips. One of the game’s great all-around guards and the franchise leader in rebounds and assists per game among guards.
SG- Vince Carter (24.1 ppg, 44.9% FG, 80.7% FT, 5.8 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.2 spg in 334 games)- Flirted with greatness in
SF- Derrick Coleman (19.9 ppg, 46.1% FG, 77.0% FT, 10.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.6 bpg in 348 games)- May have been unmotivated and an underachiever, but during his five seasons in New Jersey, DC was a HELL of a player, easily surpassing Van Horn, Jefferson and Bernard King’s first two seasons.
PF- Buck Williams (16.4 ppg, 55% FG, 64.9% FT, 11.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg in 635 games)- A stronger and more productive version of Horace Grant. Sadly, one of the best power forwards of the 1980s spent his best years on a string of atrocious Nets teams.
C- Sam Bowie (12.8 ppg, 43.6% FG, 76.2% FT, 8.2 rpg, 2 apg, 1.6 bpg in 280 games)- When healthy, the “guy picked ahead of
PG- Walt Frazier (19.3 ppg, 49.2% FG, 78.3% FT, 6.1 rpg, 6.3 apg in 759 games)- A great all-around guard.
SG- Richie Guerin (20.1 ppg, 41.1% FG, 77.8% FT, 6.4 rpg, 5.3 apg in 516 games)- Bronx-born Guerin led the Knicks in the 1950s. Still owns the highest scoring average among guards in Knicks’ history, along with better rebounding and assist numbers than Houston, Sprewell and Monroe.
SF- Bernard King (26.5 ppg, 54.3% FG, 76.1% FT, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 206 games)- One of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history. His brief time with the Knicks produced some electrifying performances, capped by his 1984 playoff duel against Isiah Thomas and the Pistons.
PF- Dave DeBusschere (16.0 ppg, 43.9% FG, 71.6% FT, 10.7 rpg, 3.1 apg in 435 games)- A vital member of the Knicks’ championship front lines. A tireless worker in the paint and a selfless teammate. Based on impact on the franchise, other Knicks’ PFs (Spencer Haywood and Ken Sears) had no chance.
C- Willis Reed (18.7 ppg, 47.6% FG, 74.7% FT, 12.9 rpg, 1.8 apg in 650 games)- Offensively, Reed falls considerably short of Patrick Ewing. A decided edge on the boards (12.9 rpg v 10.4 for
PG- Maurice Cheeks (12.2 ppg, 52.8% FG, 79% FT, 7.3 apg, 2.3 spg in 853 games)- A solid floor leader and one of the best defensive guards of his era. With Iverson falling into the two-guard category, Cheeks’ only competition was the easily outclassed Eric Snow.
SG- Allen Iverson (28 ppg, 42.1% FG, 77.5% FT, 4.0 rpg, 6.1 apg, 2.3 spg in 682 games)- Not only is Iverson the toughest guard in NBA history, he’s one of its best scorers too. Hal Greer, the Sixers’ next-best two-guard, has a championship ring, but statistically pales in comparison to A.I.
SF- Julius Erving (22.0 ppg, 50.7% FG, 77.7% FT, 6.7 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.5 bpg in 836 games)- This was no gimme. Offensively, Erving has the edge over Billy Cunningham, but not on the boards (6.7 rpg v. 10.1 for Cunningham). It was Erving’s athleticism and revolutionary effect on NBA wing play won him this spot.
PF- Charles Barkley (23.3 ppg, 57.6% FG, 73.3% FT, 11.6 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg in 610 games)- Statistically, Barkley and George McGinnis are virtually in a dead heat. In the end, Barkley’s physical dominance and longer tenure won out.
C- Wilt Chamberlain (27.6 ppg, 58.3% FG, 45.6% FT, 23.9 rpg, 6.8 apg in 277 games)- It’s sad that after averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, Moses Malone never had a chance to win this spot. Such is the fate of centers pitted against Wilt Chamberlain.
PG- Damon Stoudamire (19.6 ppg, 41.5% FG, 82% FT, 8.8 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 spg in 200 games)- Stoudamire made an immediate impact in
SG- Vince Carter (23.4 ppg, 44.6% FG, 78.3% FT, 5.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.3 spg in 403 games)- The first superstar in franchise history, Carter took the Raptors to within a buzzer-beater of the East Finals, the franchise’s highest point to date.
SF- Donyell Marshall (13.8 ppg, 45.7% FG, 75.9% FT, 8.7 rpg, in 131 games)- Not a whole lot to work with here.
PF- Chris Bosh (19.4 ppg, 48.8% FG, 79.3% FT, 1.2 bpg in 402 games)- Among the best big men in the Eastern Conference, and still improving. Bosh can do virtually anything on the floor and, at age 23, his game is still developing.
C- Marcus Camby (13.5 ppg, 44.8% FG, 65.4% FT, 6.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.9 bpg in 126 games)- Although he played just 2 seasons in Toronto, Marcus Camby doesn’t have much competition for the #1 center position, with Keon Clark the only one worth considering.