Imagine Magic Johnson serving up the alley-oop to Kobe for the Showtime Lakers, or the inside-outside duo of Stephen Curry and Wilt Chamberlain destroying the league. NBA2K 18 was made for this.
While we'd love to see a couple of players being included in the fantasy lineups (Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller), the final selections are actually pretty decent—good enough to merit a comprehensive ranking.
So which team do you think has the best talent pool in NBA history?
30) Memphis Grizzlies
Not even close. Memphis’ status as one of the youngest teams in the NBA means they don’t have as many players to choose from as other teams. It shows here. The Gasol brothers are the anchors of the team, but with the exception of Mike Conley and Zach Randolph, there’s very little depth here. The roster is also extremely unbalanced. Only the Gasols and Randolph count as traditional big men, whereas the rest of the team is literally made up of guards and small forwards.
29) Indiana Pacers
The absence of Reggie Miller is a clear blow to the Pacers’ star power. While we’re at it, Mel Daniels, arguably one of the best centers in the ABA, isn’t on the roster too. With those two missing, the Pacers’ best players end up being Paul George and Jermaine O’Neal. They’re great players, sure, but when you’re competing against other “all-time” teams, they’re not winning a lot of games. Good roster balance though.
28) Toronto Raptors
This is a tricky team to gauge, not because they look good on paper, but because a big part of the roster are players who played in Toronto when they hadn’t hit their prime yet or were just about finished with it. That’s not the scoring machine Tracy McGrady right there, but the precarious sixth man who couldn’t wait to land his own team. Vince Carter and Chris Bosh are the two best players, but it says a lot about the Raptors that the only true center on this team is Jonas Valanciunas, a guy that’s been in constant trade talks. And while we’re at it, where’s the love for Andrea Bargain?
27) Charlotte Hornets
This team should’ve been higher, if only the players stayed longer than they did. Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning were both drafted by Charlotte in 1991 and 1992, respectively. They had a total of three seasons together before Mourning was traded to Miami for Glen Rice. Johnson exited a year later when he was sent to the Knicks for Anthony Mason (he should be on this roster, by the way). There’s really not much “all-time” talent here and we can’t in good conscience place them any higher when their two most high-profile players—LJ and ZO—ended up fighting each other when they left Charlotte.
26) New Orleans Pelicans
Yet another team that’s cursed by being relatively younger than most teams. The Pelicans’ history only goes back to 2003 now that the Charlotte Hornets have reclaimed the history from the Pels’ days as the old Charlotte Hornets. Chris Paul and Anthony Davis could be lethal together and there’s enough star power in Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, and DeMarcus Cousins to complement the CP3 and the Brow. But compared to what other teams have, there’s not much there after. Seems hard to take this team seriously if a roster spot is taken by a 20-year old JR Smith.
25) Minnesota Timberwolves
We were torn between the Pelicans and the Timberwolves because if you look at both teams, they’re actually evenly matched. But we're putting Minnesota ahead because they have peak Kevin Garnett, rebounding machine Kevin Love, up-and-coming Karl Anthony Towns, and some big-balled ballers in Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, and Stephon Marbury. But really, it’s all about KG with this team.
24) Los Angeles Clippers
A deeper team than most people realize, but still, not enough to really make they’re mark against the rest of this all-time list. Bob McAdoo was a monster and pairing him with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan would’ve been fascinating to watch. Add the CP3 element and the bench firepower of World B. Free, scoring machine Ron Harper, pre-ACL injury Danny Manning, and whatever was left of Bill Walton and you have an entertaining as hell team that would’ve probably still lost its fair share of games against superior competition.
23) Brooklyn Nets
It’s hard to imagine that Julius Erving’s most dominant years as a basketball player were with the Nets, hence his “97” rating on this team. But beyond himself, Jason Kidd, and the sweet-shooting Drazen Petrovic, the Nets are relatively thin the rest of the way. Carter still had some great years as a Net and the combo of Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman were the East’s version of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in the '90s. Still, we can’t put them any higher because they just don’t stack up as well compared to the remaining teams on this list.
22) Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns should be higher on this list. But the absence of Charles Barkely, without question the franchise’s greatest player, severely handicaps them. That said, they still have a pretty good team to fall back on. They have three of the best point guards in NBA history, tremendous shooting from Paul Westphal, Dan Majerle, and Jeff Hornacek, and a quintet of forwards—Shawn Marion, Tom Chambers, pre-knee injury Amare Stoudemire, Larry Nance, and Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins—that can literally stage on their own in-team dunk contest for the ages.
21) Washington Wizards
This should’ve been a much better team, but the list of notable Bullets/Wizards players that aren’t on the roster are alarming. They still made it this high because of the dominance of Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe, and Elvin Hayes, not to mention an up-and-coming Chris Webber, and an in-his-prime John Wall. Still, we can’t wrap our heads around the absences of these players: Dave Bing, Walt Bellamy, Moses Malone, Mark Price, Mitch Richmond, Spencer Haywood, Juwan Howard, Rasheed Wallace, Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and a certain past-his-prime Michael Jordan. That’s 12 players!
20) Dallas Mavericks
A deceptively difficult team to play against because they have three guys—Dirk Nowitzki, Rolando Blackman, and Mark Aguirre—that can beat any team in so many different ways. It has a decent bench, although we don’t understand the rationale of putting Brendan Haywood over a guy like Roy Tarpley. While we're at it, the omission of Jimmy Jackson robs us of a Triple J’s reunion!
19) Sacramento Kings
On paper, Sacramento should be a little higher. Most of its players are in their primes here, including Oscar Robertson, Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber, Jerry Lucas, and Nate Archibald. Throw in DeMarcus Cousins, Peja Stojakovic, and Mike Bibby and that itself is a pretty potent eight-man lineup. That said, the Kings are in this spot, not because of their own shortcomings, but because other teams are just a little more stacked than they are.
18) Portland Trailblazers
One of the deepest teams in this exercise but the team could’ve been higher too if not for some glaring omissions. Still, it’s tantalising to imagine what a front line of peak Bill Walton and Arvydas Sabonis would’ve been like. Throw in a backcourt rotation of Clyde Drexler, Damian Lillard, Rod Strickland, Terry Porter, and there’s no telling how this team could’ve played if it had this group of players. We should point out though that there are notable absences here, including Brandon Roy, Maurice Lucas, Rasheed Wallace, Scottie Pippen, Steve Smith, and Cliff Robinson. We don’t know about some of you guys, but we'd put any of these guys over J.R. Rider any day.
17) Orlando Magic
Orlando is one of the first of many teams from here that will fall under the “top-heavy” category. It’s starting five is as ferocious as they come. In fact, Grant Hill is the only one who isn’t in his prime among these five. But phew, Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal all in their prime on the same team? It’s just too bad that outside of the starting five, the rest of the team underwhelms significantly.
16) Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks’ all-time team is the stark opposite of Orlando’s. It’s starting five pales in comparison to the Magic’s, but it’s far and away deeper than Orlando’s messed-up of a bench unit. Look at the Hawks’ bench. There’s a starting five there, too, if you want to put in Kevin Willis, Steve Smith, Paul Milsap, Doc Rivers, and Al Horford.
15) Denver Nuggets
An offensive powerhouse of a team. That’s the best way to describe Denver’s all-time team. They have four players who have, at one point in their careers, led the league in scoring. They also have in Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf one of the best shooters the league has seen who nobody talks about. Add the defensive presence of Dikembe Mutombo and this is a team that can score against any all-time team it faces.
We fully expect reactions to start at this point because we have the Cleveland Cavaliers in 14th place. This isn’t a shot on LeBron James since he’s going to appear on this list one more time. This isn’t even a shot at Kyrie Irving, who could go down as one of the greatest offensive guards in the history of the league. This is largely about the others on this team. Again, no disrespect to Austin Carr, Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kevin Love, and even scoring phenom Ron Harper. They were good to great players during their time with the Cavs, but if we’re being honest, the Cavs sit here largely because of James and Irving.
13) San Antonio Spurs
This is another team that we thought we’d have been higher on this list. But once we looked at the rosters of the other teams, it became harder to put the Spurs any higher. Still, it’s not like the cupboard is barren here. They have Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Kawhi Leonard, George Gervin, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dennis Rodman, and Artis Gilmore. That’s an impressive lineup, though Gilmore’s stint with the Spurs came at the end of his Hall of Fame career. We had a hard time picking between San Antonio and Utah, but we ultimately bumped up the Jazz a spot ahead because they have a relatively deeper team.
12) Utah Jazz
The play-making on this team is ridiculous. John Stockton and Pete Maravich at the guard positions is as good a backcourt as you can find among all these all-time teams. This team is actually loaded in all positions with players that have some of the most unique skills you’ll ever see. Adrian Dantley is a scoring machine. Andrei Kirilenko is a do-it-all player. Mark Eaton and Rudy Gobert are shot blockers of the highest order. They also don’t lack in shooting thanks to Maravich, Hornacek, and Gordon Hayward. And they have the league’s second all-time leading scorer in Karl Malone. About my only beef with this team is the inclusion of Greg Ostertag. He’s a decent player, but he’s no better than either Carlos Boozer or Mehmet Okur.
11) Oklahoma City Thunder (Seattle Supersonics)
Since Oklahoma’s franchise history is tied to that of the Seattle Supersonics, this all-time team is basically that of two franchises. That’s a big reason why it’s so loaded. Care to try going up against a backcourt of Gary Payton and Russell Westbrook? If you don’t get killed by either, you’ll have to worry about Ray Allen and James Harden. In-his-prime Shawn Kemp is a match-up nightmare too, as are Spencer Haywood, Jack Sikma, Dennis Johnson, and Tom Chambers. Oh, and there’s that guy Kevin Durant. He’s pretty good himself.
10) Philadelphia 76ers
For a team that has had its history of great players, we're partly shocked that the Philadelphia 76ers barely cracked the Top 10. Notable absences notwithstanding, this is a team that still has peak Allen Iverson, a slightly-past-his-prime-but-still-great Julius Erving, and Wilt Chamberlain at his absolute dominant best. Here’s the thing about this Sixers team though. It suffers from the same problem as the Wizards before it. Too many great players were left out for one reason or another. Where’s Moses Malone? Where’s Bobby Jones? Where’s Andrew Toney? While we're at it, where’s Dikembe Mutombo? No way should Joel Embiid have a spot on this team over Mt. Mutombo.
9) Houston Rockets
Arguably the most difficult team to gauge considering that it should also include Moses Malone. Imagine a big-man rotation that includes Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes, and healthy versions of Ralph Sampson and Yao Ming. Now surround those guys with playmakers like James Harden and Steve Francis, and out the team with scoring machines Tracy McGrady and Clyde Drexler. That’s a devastating team. The only thing that hurts the Rockets are the rest of the players on the team. They’re good enough to serve as legitimate role players, but when up against all-time teams, they’re woefully overmatched.
8) New York Knicks
Believe it or not, but there once was a point in time where the New York Knicks wasn’t the flaming disaster that it is today. In fact, the Knicks’ alumni is as good as it gets, from big men like Patrick Ewing, Willis Reed, and Dave Debusschere to scoring machines like Carmelo Anthony, Allan Houston, and Earl 'The Pearl' Monroe. And let’s not forget the man who redefined that exact same “scoring machine” phrase: pre-injury Bernard King. This is as loaded a team as you can find in this exercise, and just as important, they’re all tough as nails too.
7) Miami Heat
The peak of LeBron James’ basketball career happened when he was with the Miami Heat. Put him, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh together with Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning, Glen Rice, Eddie Jones, Hassan Whiteside, and a little-past-his-prime Shaquille O’Neal, and that’s as potent a team as you can find anywhere on this list. They can play outside, inside, and have plenty of cross-matches to give opposing teams serious headaches. Imagine LeBron running the point with Zo playing the pivot and surrounded by Rice, Majerle, and Smith. We would replace a players on this list though. We're adding Jamal Mashburn in place of Brian Grant.
6) Detroit Pistons
Speaking of tough as nails, the Detroit Pistons’ all-time team probably wins it all in that department. It’s no wonder that the Bad Boys Pistons make up a huge chunk of this team, including Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, and Vinnie Johnson. Throw in the title-winning team from 2004—Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, and Ben Wallace—and you arguably have the best collection of tough-minded individuals on any single team. It’s interesting too that we mentioned all those guys and have yet to get to Bob Lanier and pre-injury Grant Hill, arguably two of the best players the franchise has ever had whose last names aren’t Thomas. My only gripe with this team? Get rid of Andre Drummond and bring in Rasheed Wallace. Now that’s a team that can beat any of the teams ranked ahead of it.
5) Milwaukee Bucks
Believe it or not, but we were tempted to put the Bucks ahead of the Chicago Bulls. We know. Blasphemy, right? But we didn’t do it even though looking at both rosters will reveal how difficult the decision ultimately was. We will put the Bucks as the fifth best team, among all of NBA2K’s all-time teams, though it probably should be higher considering that it features Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Oscar Robertson, who, without question, are two of the 10 best players in the history of the NBA. That’s a fact and anybody who says otherwise is irrational. But the Bucks do suffer from a lack of all-time depth after Alcindor, Robertson, Sidney Moncrief, Bob Lanier, Ray Allen, and Giannis Antetokounmpol. As great as the core of this team is, it also includes Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, two players who shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Rest assured, we'd feel a lot better about this team if it had Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson in place of Jennings and Bogut.
Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time. Let’s get that out of the way before we're crucified for only putting the Chicago Bulls in fourth place. The truth is, picking between the Bulls and the team that finished third on our list was excruciatingly difficult though we did end up putting Chicago in this spot. This is no slight against MJ, Scottie Pippen, pre-injury Derrick Rose, Dennis Rodman, Jimmy Butler, and in-his-prime Artis Gilmore. We just think that when it comes to head-to-head matchups between “all-time” teams, the Bulls, even with MJ, lose a nail-biter to the team that finished third on our list.
Recency bias! Homer! Hater! We can hear all of you as we write this. We will say that we thought long and hard about this, but we're confident in our decision to put the Golden State Warriors as our third-best team based on NBA2k’s “all-time” team exercise. Compared to the Bulls, the Warriors have answers across the board. Dominant Wilt Chamberlain and dominant Nate Thurmond are the Warriors’ anchors down low. Good luck stopping one of them, let alone both. The Warriors also have all-time shooting on their side. Between Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Chris Mullin, Mitch Ritchmond, Rick Barry, and Kevin Durant, Golden State has an embarrassment of riches on that aspect too. And the versatility on this team is insane in it of itself too. Even without Wilt and Big Nate, the Warriors can go multiple ways with their lineup choice. Durant, Draymond Green, Latrell Sprewell, and Jason Richardson can all play multiple positions. If you take out Monta Ellis and bring back one-year-rental Chris Webber, this team’s versatility becomes even more laughable.
There could only be two teams on top of this list. Now that you know the Boston Celtics are in the number two spot, we'd venture a guess you know who’s number one too. We're not going to overanalyze this because the Celtics literally have nine Hall of Fame players on their team, not to mention three who are headed there in the future. Between Bill Russell, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Dave Cowens, this Celtics team isn’t an all-time team as much as it is a collection of all-time greats. They have the richest collection of great players of any team in the league though it just so happens that the only team that can claim the same thing sits at the top of our rankings.
The writer hates the Los Angeles Lakers so for him to put them here over the Boston Celtics speaks to how great this “all-time” team is. They have Magic Johnson, the greatest point guard in the history of the game, Kobe Bryant, the second-greatest shooting guard in the history of the game, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, Gail Goodrich, and on top of all of that, they also have the three—THREE!!! most dominant centers in the history of the game. Think you’ve had enough of Wilt Chamberlain in a game? Oh look, Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s subbing in. And if Kareem gets in foul trouble, hey, there’s Shaquille O’Neal!