Is Anyone Beating Shaq’s All-Time Starting Five?

Shaq says this team would be unbeatable, assuming of course all guys are in their primes:

I’m inclined to agree with him. That’s as close to unbeatable as you can get. Having LeBron and MJ on the same team pretty much seals it for me. Regardless of who you consider the GOAT, most people by this point have either MJ at #1 and LeBron at #2 or vice versa, although of course the former is basically the consensus and the latter is a minority viewpoint.

However, I want to see if there was a challenger team I could at least make a plausible argument for.

We’ll start with two players I consider to be pretty obvious picks: Curry and KD, who would be doing the bulk of the scoring for the challenging squad. I’d throw Magic at the point and have Curry at the 2. Then things get murky from here.

We only have two available spots and we need some size, so I’d take either Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem as my center, then possibly Tim Duncan as my power forward. But I’d honestly rather have Hakeem at the 4 since he’s more athletic than Duncan and in my opinion would be a better matchup against LeBron, who is clearly going to be playing the 4 spot on Shaq’s team.

So tentatively we have: Magic, Steph, KD, Hakeem and Kareem.

But then you think about other guys who might deserve a shot on this team: Larry Bird, Dwyane Wade, and possibly even James Harden. I would even consider Wilt for the 5 spot.

I could even see an argument for Kawhi, but that’s mainly because of his defense. Ultimately I’d still go with Curry and KD as my primary wing scorers. I’m definitely taking Magic, and I’ll stick with Hakeem and Kareem. So that’s my official challenger squad.

The glaring issue with my challenger team would obviously be defense. While KD isn’t a bad defender, he’s not known for his defense. Curry is often considered a “liability” on defense. Magic never made an all defensive team in his career, although he did lead the league in steals twice.

But we have some great interior defense: Hakeem is one of the best shot-blockers ever and Kareem made all-defense 11 times in his career.

We’d definitely be formidable inside and I think we’d have the advantage over Shaq trying to hold down the paint by himself against Kareem and Hakeem. I think they’d be too much inside for Shaq and LeBron, although obviously LeBron is an elite defender who can guard all five positions and finished 2nd in DPOTY voting in 2013.

And I think Magic would be able to get the best of Iverson in that matchup.

I just don’t know if Curry and Durant would be able to keep up with MJ and Kobe. MJ and Kobe are just way better defenders and they can score at will. Steph could honestly get clamped by either guy.

The one area I think KD and Steph have the advantage over MJ and Kobe: unselfishness. MJ and Kobe are notorious ball-hogs, and while it might be blasphemous to say it, both guys were frequently prone to “chucking.” Steph and KD both play unselfish ball and would be able to use that to their advantage.

Plus KD has a massive size advantage (at least 6”) over both MJ and Kobe and would be a nightmare for them to defend. LeBron would be best suited to guarding KD, but if LeBron were on KD, that would mean either Michael or Kobe would have to guard Hakeem, and that’s a huge mismatch, so LeBron would have to guard Hakeem by default.

Still, it’s just hard to make the claim that KD and Steph would get the best of MJ and Kobe. I just can’t go there.

My challenger team definitely has the edge on the interior and in three point shooting, but comes up short on defense, midrange, getting to the rim and, in my opinion, both basketball IQ and competitiveness. MJ, LeBron and Kobe are probably the top three most ruthless competitors ever and the top three in terms of basketball IQ and savvy. Don’t sell Magic short in all three categories, but he’s not enough to make up for LeBron, MJ and Kobe.

Still, though: my challenger team has the best point guard ever, the best shooter ever, (in my opinion) the two best big men ever, and arguably the most pure and dangerous scorer ever in KD.

It’s honestly a lot better of a debate than I initially thought. I still have to go with the team that has the two greatest players to ever live if we’re talking about a seven-game series. And we haven’t even discussed how hard it would be for Kareem to defend Prime Shaq. You couldn’t double him with Hakeem because Hakeem would have to be following LeBron around.

I’m going with Shaq’s dream squad, but my challenger team would definitely create some serious problems.

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