I have a love-hate relationship with this kind of arguments. The hate part comes if you take them literally. You’d need a supercomputer and a lot of data to try and simulate a game between the ’00/’01 Lakers and the ’16/’17 Warriors. But, if you use it as a starter for a more in-depth conversation about basketball, I am in. One other circumstance I will pay attention is if two great players are having the discussion.
When asked to compare the ’00/’01 Lakers and the 16/’17 Warriors, Shaq said (via Scott Gleeson, USA Today):
“I think we’d easily win, other people might feel different, they (the Warriors) might feel different. But we had one of the best teams of all-time in 2001 when we went 15-1 in the playoffs. We would’ve gone 16-0 but A.I. (Hall of Famer Allen Iverson) went off on us and stepped over (former Laker) Ty Lue.”
It’s not surprising that a supremely confident Shaq, one of the most dominating big men to ever play, feels like he could score a gazillion points on a small ball team. He would even pass to Kobe a few times probably. This does seem a bit superficial.
Then, Steph Curry was asked to comment on Shaq’s opinion. Curry pointed out comparing different eras is always an ungrateful task, but then ended with (via Nick Friedell, ESPN):
“Oh, he’s dead wrong, of course. We’d beat them. We can go back-and-forth all day.”
Steph continued to explain he feels they should just be measured within the era they played and the dominance they managed to achieve. Then compare that to other great teams in their era and say your ranking through that criteria.
Basketball is a matchup sport, but a game cannot be projected through individual matchups. Would Shaq dominate Daymond in the low post? He absolutely would. Would Draymond pull Shaq out from the rim and create space for Step, KD, and Klay? He would surely try. Let’s say Shaq doesn’t bite and stays in the post. Then you have a mismatch on the perimeter etc. You get my point.
In the end, the deciding question in all these becomes: which rules are we using? If we are playing in the 2018 NBA with freedom of movement? Give me the Warriors. Are we in 2000 and players can be checked and bumped every time they run next to you? I want the Lakers.
Shaq gets this as well. In the same interview where he gave this comment, he was asked about MJ vs. LeBron and immediately pointed out the importance of context and rules applied in the simulation.
That is why these discussions can be interesting if you define the context and go in depth. They can be a tool to learn and hypothesize about the game, that is great. If they are a pointless exercise in expressing stubborn fandom, then we are all at a loss.
If you are interested in the first, join our discussion group on Facebook. We are working on creating such an environment and every member counts!