The NBA has seen a complete overhaul over the past two decades, the league’s talent going from center-dominant throughout the late ’80s and into the ’90s to a new breed of players in today’s game. The point guard is now the league’s deepest position. Point guards are faster, stronger and more athletic, making them harder for other teams to defend while making them easy for NBA franchises to build around.
The NBA has had its share of changes during those years, from rules to playing style and even to a new commissioner coming in 2014. But the one thing that stands out like a sore thumb between the 1990s and now is the style of play.
The NBA was much more physical 20 years ago. Their was hand checking, and hard fouls were relatively common, which made it more difficult for smaller players to create offense close to the basket in fear of players such as Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo. They were ruthless defensive players who made it known no basket would come easy.
So let’s ask this question: what players from the current NBA would be able to take their talents back to the ’90s and still be a governing factor? It’s a tough question. We are talking about the Michael Jordan era. Things were gritty and only the strong survived. Here’s a list of 10 NBA players in today’s game who would still be dominant players in the 1990s.
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Dwight Howard had a subpar season last year in Los Angeles, crippled by drama, injury and coaching. Many have forgotten the defensive juggernaut Howard is to this generation: a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, four-time All-Defensive First Team and seven-time All-Star. Oh, and if this sounds like the rÃ©sumÃ© of a player rounding up their tenure in the NBA, Superman is only 27 years old.
Howard would comfortably fit in the ’90s on any given night. He is a defense-first player, as many big men back then were, and he could score regularly on anyone. The one element that would put Dwight over the top as a dominant force is his superior athleticism. Howard is a physical specimen at 6-11. We have seen him win over the crowd in dunk contests and regularly posterize opponents in games. It wouldn’t be surprising if defenders of the ’90s actually had a harder time stopping an athletic Howard, who thrives on alley-oops and high percentage dunks under the basket. His strength goes unmatched in both eras and without the flopping of today’s game, he’d be able to use it more often. I don’t see Howard having any problem on either end of the court in the 1990s.
When talking about game-changers, Dirk is one of the first players that comes to mind. Coming into the league at the turn of the millennium, Nowitzki turned the league upside down as an able perimeter shooter while standing 7-0. His nimble footwork in the midrange area is unmatched, and his ability to stretch the floor wrote the guidelines for the small ball era we are currently in. During his prime (mid-late ’00s), Dirk was nothing short of 25 points and nine rebounds per night, and could take his defender anywhere on the court and score.
What makes Dirk such an interesting — and malleable — talent is really the same reason he is still a dominant scorer now: taking slower-footed big men off the dribble and pulling up. Playing in a time of traditional big men who weren’t game-changers from 15 feet out, players like Nowitzki did come every once in a while, but never touched the skill-set he possesses. Place Dirk in almost any era and he would be an almost unstoppable offensive force. Being able to come at you in so many ways would make him one of the most gifted offensive big men in the ’90s.
Well, this one really seems like a no-brainer. The King easily cracks this list, and gives you every reason to think that with the right team behind him, Jordan would have a run for his money every year.
We can talk awards all day with LeBron, stat lines, and even his excellent work ethic, but what makes James such a powerful force (similar to Dwight Howard) is the athleticism for his size. At 28 years old, LeBron is only beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. With the size of a power forward and the vision of a point guard, James is one of the most complete players to ever play the game of basketball. Placed in the ’90s, LeBron would be just as physical as anyone else. Unfortunately in the less physical league he plays in today, we rarely get to see James use his full physicality, yet he still bullies opponents and single-handedly take over games. If anything, the toughness of the ’90s would cause James to revert to more posting up and playmaking. As we all know, James would strive to become as good as he possibly can at both of those things, and still adjust to be one of the best players, if not the best of the era.
One thing I cannot question about Russell Westbrook’s game is his intensity and toughness, both mentally and physically. Until his meniscus tear in the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Westbrook had not missed a SINGLE game since high school. That’s perfect attendance throughout two years of college and five years in the NBA. If that’s not enough, Westbrook could possibly be the most athletic point guard in the league. And his ability to put pressure on a team’s defense is critical to Oklahoma City’s success.
Lets send Westbrook back to the ’90s. There is no question he ends up being the quickest guard from end-to-end on the floor. It would be difficult for teams to keep pace with Westbrook, especially when the half-court offense moved closer to the West Coast run-n-gun. Night in and night out, Westbrook is a ticking time bomb, always ready to go off. A pretentious triple-double waiting to happen, Westbrook would take the ’90s by storm.
The youngest MVP winner in the NBA’s history, one of the most explosive players in the league, Derrick Rose has electrified the NBA through his four seasons, even managing to stay relevant while being sidelined for the entire 2012-13 season. Upon his return, his spot as an elite player was virtually left untouched, and we should see Rose return to form early in the season.
Ultimately, it would be too difficult for a great deal of point guards in the ’90s to cut off Rose on his way to the basket, and his reckless abandon driving to the rim gives any big man a reason to worry. What Rose would cause defenses to do is shift their best perimeter defender onto him, leaving it up to D-Rose to get his teammates involved and make everyone around him better.
His name is listed under the definition of “pure scorer,” and there is really no way to stop Carmelo Anthony from getting his points night in and night out. Fresh off his first scoring title, Anthony has led the New York Knicks back to relevance and has given the Knicks a fresh identity. The ability to take his defender inside-out is what makes Anthony’s scoring prowess so unique. A silky smooth jumper from outside the arc will kill defenses all day. He can also dominate the mid-post area, especially at his newfound power forward position, where his quickness has exploited many slower-footed big men for quick drives and trips to the line.
With the midrange game is becoming more and more of a lost art in the modern NBA, many players actually made a living off that area of the floor in the ’90s. And with Anthony feeling most comfortable isolating opponents 15 feet away from the basket, ‘Melo would waste no time conforming to that style of play. Let’s not forget the bull strength Anthony possesses. There’s no doubt Anthony would be a top-tier scorer in the NBA and give opponents a headache every night.
Timmy Duncan, like Dirk Nowitzki, was another power forward who was drafted near the turn of the millennium when a great deal of the dominant figures of the ’90s were on their way out of the NBA. He saw a huge chunk of his personal success come in the mid-2000s. Nicknamed “Mr. Fundamental,” Duncan has been the backbone of four Spurs championships, two of them after the departure of David Robinson. Falling short of his fifth championship less than a year ago, Duncan is still a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor, and is still, at 37 years old, considered one of the better post defenders in the NBA.
Duncan would be a respected defender to any scoring big man of the ’90s. And don’t take his quiet demeanor for granted; he is as tough as they come. Currently sitting at eighth in all-time blocks, no player would have an easy time taking it to the rim on Duncan, and missed shots would immediately be hawked down for rebounds. Duncan has proved his worth in the NBA, and there is no reason he wouldn’t flourish among an era driven by big men.
Pau Gasol is another player who changed the way big men play the game. He helped to bring the NBA to the global stage. Representing Spain, Gasol has always played with pride. Without Pau, there probably wouldn’t have been a Laker repeat in 2009-10. Kobe Bryant and Gasol were able to execute the triangle offense with ease under Phil Jackson, a coach who saw great success with that offense in the ’90s. Though Gasol may never be considered one of the toughest big men, there are many aspects to Gasol’s game that make him a tough cover.
He has a nimble touch from midrange as a seven-footer, and an above-average post game. There has always been an inkling of consistency in his game, which is what makes him so good. Although we have seen him playing second-fiddle the past few years, Gasol was the man back in Memphis, and placed back in the ’90s, it would be easy for Gasol to pull traditional centers out of their comfort zone to score. Also, Gasol’s court-vision places him on a different level than many other centers. Once pulling centers out of the paint, Gasol would be able to create plays for his teammates by utilizing his passing skills, which is a deadly attribute for any big man in any era.
After coming off his best year as a pro, deadeye shooter Stephen Curry is looking to be one of the best shooters we’ve seen since Ray Allen. Maybe the best. Curry now holds the record for most three-pointers in a single season with 272, and is also the only player in history to make 250 three-pointers and dish out 500 assists. Curry is in the fast lane to superstardom, and he’s only 24.
Similar to his father, Dell Curry, Steph is a lights-out shooter. And as Curry Sr. saw success from playing the sole role of a jump shooter, Stephen Curry has the whole package, which would make him much more dangerous to any team in the ’90s. Being a shoot-first guard, teams would rely on trying to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible. But Curry is able to find teammates and control the perimeter even when he is not looking to score. Curry is a new breed of point guard that wasn’t mainstream in the ’90s. This would ultimately cause teams to adjust and change the way they play as Curry could help change the face of the way basketball was played in the ’90s.
How could we make this list without the Black Mamba? For the sake of argument, and Bryant playing in the latter end of the ’90s, we are going to take Kobe Bryant from the past five years and place him into the mid-90s. Bryant is still a top five player in the league, even at 35 years old, and he still has hopes for another championship. Bryant is still capable of averaging 25-plus points per game. Even though he has lost a step or two, his defense is still capable of being set on a team’s best player.
Bryant, as he did at times in the late ’90s, would still act as Michael Jordan‘s counterpart, a true shooting guard with infinite levels of intensity. Even at an older age, Bryant would still be a dominant force in the league and a profound scorer. There are times in our current era of basketball that Bryant brings flashes of ’90s basketball to the table with his midrange game and trash-talk. There is no doubt Bryant would dominate the ’90s even in the late stages of his career, similar to Jordan, who dominated the late ’90s towards the end of his career. That would be a fun matchup.
What players of today do you think would still be stars in the ’90s?
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