Eight teams, composed of the best players in NBA history, playing out a simulated season on “NBA 2K18.” Who wins?
Before answering that question, eight Sporting News staffers had to sit down and participate in a 10-round draft. As you can imagine, with 72 years’ worth of players at their disposable, the choices weren’t easy.
While legends ruled the first couple of rounds, our crew of drafters, which skewed younger, often opted for more recent players over some of the lesser-heralded all-time greats. Perhaps that’s the right way to play it in a video-game tournament, but more seasoned NBA fans will happily argue that the guys in short-shorts would more than hold their own against any era of competition.
That’s the beauty of an exercise like this. With so many great players in the NBA’s history, you can’t go wrong. But that’s not going to stop us from pretending you can. With that in mind, we highlight the best and worst picks from every round, using completely arbitrary criteria. You can watch the full video of the draft below.
Angry Benders (Bill Bender): Michael Jordan
Lob City (Riley Meek): LeBron James
Cash Money Millionaires (Gil McGregor): Kevin Durant
Crabdribbles (Scott Raferty): Kevin Garnett
Breakin’ Ankles (Hillisha Haygood): Magic Johnson
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer (Jordan Greer): Bill Russell
Mean Machine (Gabe Fernandez): Kobe Bryant
The Deacons (Mike DeCourcy): Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Best Pick: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
It would be easy to say Michael Jordan or LeBron James — or, really, anyone drafted in the first round — is the best pick, but we’re looking for the best value, and that’s the NBA’s all-time leading scorer taken with the last pick of the round. Big men have gone out of style in today’s NBA, and they’ve never been the most exciting players to use in video games, but Kareem possesses the most unstoppable shot in basketball history and insane defensive metrics (and, most importantly, possibly the best IMDB page of any former player). That plays in any form in any generation. He was in “Airplane!” and “Uncle Buck,” for God’s sake.
Worst Pick: Kobe Bryant
I can already hear the Kobe stans screaming that he’s way better than Kevin Garnett and got picked three spots later, but there are advanced stats that would say otherwise. But regardless of whether you think Garnett’s defensive brilliance and diverse all-around offensive game are enough to trump Kobe’s scoring ability and insatiable drive, I think we can all agree it’s just funny to call Kobe Bryant the “worst pick” of anything. He’s one of the few players who might actually care about where he was picked in a hypothetical video-game draft.
The Deacons: Oscar Robertson
Mean Machine: Hakeem Olajuwon
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: Julius Erving
Breakin’ Ankles: Scottie Pippen
Crabdribbles: Shaquille O’Neal
Cash Money Millionaires: Tim Duncan
Lob City: Allen Iverson
Angry Benders: Larry Bird
Best Pick: Larry Bird
If your only exposure to Bird is YouTube highlight videos, you might think he couldn’t keep up in today’s NBA, what with the mustache and mullet and all. The truth is he’d thrive even more in current pace-and-space systems, both as a shooter and a passer, and his size would help him match up in both small-ball and tall-ball lineups. To get Bird with the 16th-overall pick is almost unfair — just like his ability to grow that sweet ‘stache. The ladies never stood a chance!
Worst Pick: Allen Iverson
If you grew up in the ’90s, you probably idolized Iverson. He’s a cultural icon and one of the best pound-for-pound players in NBA history. He also wasn’t particularly efficient or a great shooter, and his lack of size could hurt him on defense. And, let’s face it, his love of iso ball and disdain for practice aren’t going to play well in a locker room full of legends. Sure, he could get away with jacking up jumpers and skipping shootarounds when Raja Bell and Matt Harpring were his teammates, but John Stockton? LeBron James? Dirk Nowitzki? Stockton definitely wouldn’t put up with that crap — and you don’t want to make John Stockton mad.
Angry Benders: Wilt Chamberlain
Lob City: Dirk Nowitzki
Cash Money Millionaires: Steve Nash
Crabdribbles: Tracy McGrady
Breakin’ Ankles: Dwyane Wade
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: Karl Malone
Mean Machine: Stephen Curry
The Deacons: Chris Paul
Best Pick: Stephen Curry
It’s tempting to say McGrady, who was basically a video-game player in real life, but Steph’s quickness and ability to shoot from anywhere on the court make him even more ideal in an animated universe. Also, we know he can convince top-tier talent to join his team for less money than they could earn elsewhere, so that’s a plus, too.
Worst Pick: Steve Nash
You know it’s a crowded field when a two-time MVP gets tabbed the “worst pick” of a round, but point guards are a dime a dozen, and while Nash does bring elite outside shooting and playmaking, there are other players who bring more scoring and defensive punch. Also, not to relitigate old stuff, but he did he really deserve both of those MVPs? Either way, nothing against Nash, but the NBA universe is too vast to take him in the third round.
The Deacons: Elvin Hayes
Mean Machine: Carmelo Anthony
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: Walt Frazier
Breakin’ Ankles: Anthony Davis
Crabdribbles: Kawhi Leonard
Cash Money Millionaires: Ray Allen
Lob City: John Stockton
Angry Benders: Jerry West
Best Pick: Jerry West
West made the All-Star team every season of his 14-year career, once led the league in scoring, once led the league in assists, and even won Finals MVP while being on the losing team. And he’s the logo for the whole damn league. It’s fun to try to imagine how players from the ’60s and ’70s would fare in today’s game, but something tells me West will acclimate just fine. Even if he can’t keep up, he’s still a good guy to have on your bench if you need a 60-foot buzzer beater in the NBA Finals.
Worst Pick: Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo has been both underrated and overrated throughout his time in the NBA, so it’s tough to properly evaluate his entire career, especially in relation to every other NBA player. That said, we’re pretty sure he doesn’t belong in the fourth round of an All-Time Draft, even if his ball-stopping tendencies play better in a video game than real life. Of course, if you get “Olympic ‘Melo,” who seemed to thrive in his narrowed role around other stars, maybe you got something. But probably not.
Angry Benders: Charles Barkley
Lob City: Patrick Ewing
Cash Money Millionaires: Gary Payton
Crabdribbles: Penny Hardaway
Breakin’ Ankles: Chris Webber
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: Klay Thompson
Mean Machine: Chris Bosh
The Deacons: John Havlicek
Best Pick: Charles Barkley
You’d have to get Barkley to promise he won’t fall in love with 3-pointers like he did his first season in Houston, but as long as he’s just beasting on the boards and taking high-percentage shots, you’re not going to find a better option this late in the draft. The locker room trash talk might get out of control with Barkley, Bird and Jordan on the same team, but they managed to behave well enough together to win the gold at the 1992 Olympics (despite a spirited effort from Venezuela, which lost by only 47 in the gold medal game), so we think they can make it work here.
Worst Pick: Klay Thompson
When your team name is “Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer,” I suppose you have to draft Klay Thompson, but there’s a good chance he would have been available a round or two later. Another option: Don’t name your team after Klay Thompson. Perhaps that wasn’t on the table, as Thompson’s outsized and flamboyant personality has a way of foisting itself on anything he’s involved in — seriously, this non-stop party machine just can’t stay out of the headlines — but I still would’ve waited at least one more round. Or six.
The Deacons: David Robinson
Mean Machine: James Harden
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: Dennis Rodman
Breakin’ Ankles: Reggie Miller
Crabdribbles: Vince Carter
Cash Money Millionaires: Dikembe Mutombo
Lob City: David Thompson
Angry Benders: Moses Malone
Best Pick: David Thompson
Good enough to be Michael Jordan’s idol, good enough to be the best pick of the sixth round. Thompson is viewed as an NBA underachiever given his substance-abuse issues and injuries, but in the video game format, you’ll see Thompson’s ability to dunk on anyone around the rim and score at will.
Worst Pick: Dikembe Mutombo
We’ve extolled the virtues of defense throughout this analysis, but it’s tough to get excited about a guy who’s all defense in a video-game tournament. At least fellow sixth-round pick Dennis Rodman can switch on perimeter guys; Mutombo would be virtually unplayable against the Currys and Nashes of the world. He might even have someone wag their finger at him after they broke his ankles and hit a jumper in his face, and no one wants to remember Mutombo that way.
Angry Benders: Russell Westbrook
Lob City: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Cash Money Millionaires: George Gervin
Crabdribbles: Yao Ming
Breakin’ Ankles: Alonzo Mourning
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: Joel Embiid
Mean Machine: Manu Ginobili
The Deacons: Clyde Drexler
Best Pick: Clyde Drexler
There were some good picks in this round — and some good nicknames — but “Clyde the Glide” just barely gets the edge over “The Iceman” George Gervin. Like many players of his era, Drexler wasn’t a great 3-point shooter, but he showed during the end of his career he could hit the outside shot with decent regularity at high volume. That’s the tiebreaker for these two high-flyers, who both made scoring look easy (it’s not).
Worst Pick: Yao Ming
If this pick was made solely for the purpose of selling “Crabdribbles” merchandise in China, then I applaud the forward thinking. However, as good as Yao was — and he was a beast — he feels like a pick-n-roll magnet who will get played off the court against floor-spreading teams. Of course, if the guy guarding him is 6-7, he should be an automatic two points, like when a middle school team has the one player who’s already hit his growth spurt and the other team is full of pre-pubescent kids who can’t reach the top shelf at a supermarket, but a quick double-team could at least force the ball out of his giant hands. He’s a guaranteed All-Star starter, though, which is always good for team branding.
The Deacons: Pete Maravich
Mean Machine: Dwight Howard
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: Michael Finley
Breakin’ Ankles: Paul Pierce
Crabdribbles: Paul George
Cash Money Millionaires: Jason Kidd
Lob City: Chauncey Billups
Angry Benders: Elgin Baylor
Best Pick: Elgin Baylor
Pistol Pete seems like an ideal video-game player, but his NBA career left a little to be desired, especially in relation to his college dominance. So, we’re going with Baylor, who averaged 38.3 points and 18.6 rebounds per game in 1961-’62 despite only being 6-5. Sure, the game was a bit different back then, but there’s a good chance those numbers will “translate.”
Worst Pick: Dwight Howard
All right, look, the actual worst pick here is Michael Finley, but he was cool and it’s much more fun to pile on Howard. Prime Dwight was a monster, even with a limited offensive game and poor free throw shooting, but it feels like his career will be remembered for the endless parade of teams trying desperately to get him out of town. His numbers are still good, but they don’t seem to help in the win column — and they certainly don’t help with team happiness. Even in a video-game fantasy draft where one of the teams is only drafting guys with goatees, Howard — who has a goatee — lasted until the eighth round and wasn’t drafted by the goatee team. That really says it all.
Angry Benders: Bill Walton
Lob City: James Worthy
Cash Money Millionaires: Dominique Wilkins
Crabdribbles: Kyrie Irving
Breakin’ Ankles: Tony Parker
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Mean Machine: Peja Stojakovic
The Deacons: Bernard King
Best Pick: Dominique Wilkins
There aren’t many universal rules for life, but if you’re playing in a video-game basketball tournament, you want the guy nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film” on your team. Sure, Bernard King was also a stud and Bill Walton could do it all from the center position, but ‘Nique dunked as hard as anyone in NBA history, which automatically makes him a better person.
Worst Pick: Tony Parker
Yes, Shareef Abdur-Rahim is a worse pick than Parker, but doesn’t something just bug you about Parker? I mean, if he had been on any team other than the Spurs during his career, would we even care about him? But he was on the Spurs and he did win those titles, and he will go into the Hall of Fame, but still … I don’t know, learn to shoot 3s or something.
The Deacons: Bob McAdoo
Mean Machine: Steve Francis
Klay Thompson’s Goatee Trimmer: J.R. Smith
Breakin’ Ankles: Rick Barry
Crabdribbles: Baron Davis
Cash Money Millionaires: Artis Gilmore
Lob City: Blake Griffin
Angry Benders: Isiah Thomas
Best Pick: J.R. Smith
For obvious reasons.
Worst Pick: J.R. Smith
For more obvious reasons.