What Would a 21st-Century Dream Team Look Like?
By Liam McKeone
Around this time 30 years ago, the most famous Olympic basketball team in history was formed. The 1992 Dream Team captured the imaginations of millions of fans around the world, made up of the biggest names and personalities in basketball, many at the height of their powers. Charles Barkley. Magic Johnson. Larry Bird. Michael Jordan. The list goes on.
That team has been the subject of a book, a 30 for 30, and countless other articles and pieces in all forms of media. As that generation of players slowed down and retired, a new generation of greats has taken its place, which begs the question: what would a Dream Team look like if it were made up of players who were dominant after the turn of the century? Some players like Shaq barely missed the cut the first time, while others like LeBron James were only children when the original team entered the international spotlight in Barcelona.
What would the team look like? We broke down the greatest players since the first historic team was created and narrowed it down to only 13 selections. Unlike that year’s Dream Team, we will not include a college player like Christian Laettner. All players selected had at least part of, if not all, of their basketball prime occur during the 21st century, and (obviously) are American, eliminating all-time basketball greats that played in the same era like Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. For the purpose of the exercise, each player would be a part of the team during their respective peaks. Here’s what a new Dream Team would look like.
PG: Chris Paul
Paul is one of the best two-way point guards to ever play the game. The only point guard of this generation of players who could take his spot is Jason Kidd, and Paul was a better scorer than Kidd was at his prime. Both were elite defenders and passers, but Paul gets the edge for his ability to create his own shots. In Kidd’s best statistical season, he averaged 18 points and eight assists per game. Paul averaged at least 19 points and 10 assists seven separate times throughout his career. He’s the most productive point guard of this generation, and well-deserving of the Point God moniker.
SG: Kobe Bryant
No question here. It took Bryant a few years to get into the groove of things after getting drafted out of high school in 1996, but once he did, he quickly established himself as one of the best scorers the game has seen, and the best shooting guard in history not named Michael Jordan. His drive to win is mythical at this point, and he was no slouch on the defensive end either, with no less than 12 All-Defense nominations throughout his career. One of the best players ever, and inarguably a starter on this squad.
SF: LeBron James
Obviously. The player with the strongest argument to unseat Jordan as the greatest of all time, LeBron took the league by storm from the day he was drafted in 2003 and hasn’t looked back since. He could play any of the roles required of him on a star-studded team like this, and would be its best player without question. At his peak, LeBron possessed the deadliest combination of speed, size, and skill that the league had seen since the days Wilt Chamberlain dominated the parquet.
PF: Tim Duncan
The best power forward to play the game, Timmy D was as good as they come on both ends of the floor. He was a regular Defensive Player of the Year candidate during his peak, and he could dominate just about anyone in the post. His combination of defense, basketball IQ, and reliability would make him a crucial cog of this team.
C: Shaquille O’Neal
LeBron is the best player on the team, but Shaq would be its most dominant. While he peaked earlier than everyone else on the team, he was perhaps the most unstoppable player in NBA history during his prime. He could get 26 and 12 in his sleep, regularly demoralized opponents, and just overpowered anyone and everyone who dared face him. We may never see a player like Shaq again, and it’s why he’s starting on a team like this.
KG would bring the intensity to win that all the best Olympic teams in history have. That isn’t to mention his exceptional defense and knockdown jumper. He’s the perfect sixth man for a team stacked with superstars.
Kidd is a close second to Paul for the starting spot, but a close second he remains. It would be a blast to see his creative passing in tandem with LeBron and Paul, and the team wouldn’t miss a step defensively when he stepped in.
The Wade/Bron tandem would be alive and well on this team. Wade’s ability to create turnovers would be nearly unmatched on a team filled with All-NBA caliber defenders. His slashing ability might be hindered with the current starting five, but a small-ball lineup with LeBron at the four and KG at the five would open up the floor for Wade to thrive.
Need a bucket? Put in AI. He’ll be the showman of the group and bring the swagger. He’d ball out on a team with a bit of spacing, and watching him run the PnR with Shaq would be a treat.
Arguably the best shooter on the roster, Allen could come in and drop 15 without blinking. The original superstar who made his name through deep-shooting prowess, Allen was also an under-appreciated athletic slasher at his physical peak, and would provide a lot for the team with his steady hand.
Yes, Howard hasn’t been good for a few years, but there’s a reason most believed he deserved to be dubbed Shaq’s heir apparent when he became the first player to ever win three Defensive Player of the Year trophies in a row. We’re talking the prime of the career for these guys, and only a handful of centers in history had a stretch of dominance like Howard.
Durant was a true unicorn coming into the league. Never had anyone that large with that kind of wingspan handled the ball so well. Durant is about as unguardable as you can get for players who don’t dominate through sheer physicality, like Shaq or LeBron. He could play any position from shooting guard to power forward on this team, and could even get some run at center if they decided to punt on defense.
Curry’s peak is shorter than everyone else on the list, but it’s ongoing, and his playstyle fundamentally changed the game. No other player in history was a threat to shoot from literally anywhere after the half-court line. He might be the last guy off the bench because everyone else is so damn good, but he deserves a place on this team.
This is quite a squad. They have the versatility to trot out all sorts of lineup combinations, and the starting five’s physicality down low could beat teams into submission. They could run opponents off the floor if they went for pure athleticism. Defensively, no one could score on them with over half the team reaching the All-Defense threshold multiple times. The one “issue” would be shooting; out of everyone on the team, only Allen, Curry, Durant, and Paul could be considered knockdown shooters from beyond the three-point line.
Could they beat the 1992 Dream Team? It’s impossible to say, given how different the game was for this iteration vs. the early 90s iteration. But they’d match them for star power, at the very least, and would dominate all opponents in a similar manner.