How Would NBA Stars of Yesterday Perform in Today’s Game?

How would Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson and Steve Nash perform in today's NBA? The Open Floor podcast debates.
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How would NBA greats of the past perform in today’s NBA? Would Shaquille O’Neal be just as dominant as he was with the Lakers in the early 2000s? What if Steve Nash took the same amount of shots as Stephen Curry? Would Allen Iverson struggle to adjust?

The Washington Post's Ben Golliver and SB Nation’s Michael Pina discuss how NBA stars of the 1990s and 2000s would adjust to playing in the 2020 NBA on the latest Open Floor podcast.

(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Photo by John W. McDonough

Photo by John W. McDonough

Ben Golliver: This is an obvious one but a name I thought of was Shaq. I think if he came up in the modern era, there would be more focus on fitness and getting up and down the court. I would like to think that his career would have played out a bit differently. His self-care in terms of his body would have played out differently. He would be this crazy mismatch nightmare for everyone and there was a skill level there too when it came to dribbling and pushing the ball up the court. The type of centers in the NBA right now would have no chance. So he would have been similar to what an Embiid is at this point but to me even more gifted, better, more athletic and more dominant.

Michael Pina: Go back and watch Shaq when he was on the Orlando Magic if you don’t know what we’re talking about because some of the stuff he could do when he was more fleet foot was just completely unstoppable. Forget about when he was the most dominant player ever with the Lakers and you could not handle him without a double team but those times when he was with the Orlando Magic and he was just a super freak athlete going coast-to-coast, diving for loose balls—like that Shaq is one of the best players ever in my own imagination.

Golliver: For sure. I just think the modern culture of basketball where everyone is locked in 12 months throughout the year taking care of their body, nutrition, and all that kind of stuff—could have had a positive impact on him and take his career higher than it was already was which was excellent.

A couple others name real quick: Steve Nash and Allen Iverson. I think Steve Nash has been the subject of a lot of Twitter conversations this week because of this idea of volume in terms of shooting. Was he too unselfish? Would he be an incredible shooter if he took the same amount shots that Steph [Curry] takes or if he had a Trae Young type greenlight? What does his career look like? How do his teams function? Maybe he needed to be slightly more selfish.

If he came up 10 years later, the hardwiring of pass first and just the spectacular playmaker he was for his teammates is probably a little bit lessened because of a basketball cultural standpoint. He was still kind of growing up and going to college when guys like [John] Stockton were among the most revered point guards in the NBA. If point guards are more empowered by scoring as he is coming up and he starts to be more ingrained as a scorer like he was towards the latter part in his career—I think the sky would have been the limit for them.

I am not the world’s biggest Steve Nash fan but he was an insanely good shooter. He was a 50-40-90 type guy from every place on the court, three-point range, and the impact he had stretching defenses with his passing would have been amplified if he was more of a high-volume three-point shooting threat.

Then with Iverson, it is just the idea of like—okay if Lou Williams looks this good in 2020 compared to what he looked like in 2012 or 2015 then what does Iverson look like in 2020?

Photo by Bill Frakes

Photo by Bill Frakes

Pina: First I want to start off with Nash because I think it is fascinating that you are trying to take away arguably what is his best quality which is his selflessness.

Golliver: Come on Michael! Don’t put words in my mouth. I am not trying to take it away; I am just trying to tone it down.

Pina: That’s exactly what you are doing [laughs]. You are just trying to cut Nash down at the knees is uncalled for and I won’t stand for it.

Golliver: I am just saying instead of devoting his entire life to charity and we all know people who has done that—they move overseas to do the Peace Corp and never come back. All I am saying is, come back a little bit, right? Just engage in the capitalistic system just slightly and see where it takes you. Because he was just the type of guy who could just be both a Peace Corp volunteer and a millionaire. That’s all I am saying.

Pina: Sure, I follow [laughs]. With Iverson, I kind of go the exact other direction with you on that one. I don’t think Iverson would have had the same type of career he would have did if he was in the modern era. If you want to have the ball as often as he did and you can’t shoot threes particularly off the bounce, you are just going to have a tough time. I think you can make the case If you surrounded him with even more spacing and his driving lanes were even wider than it wouldn’t matter but this guy can’t shoot like Lou Williams can shoot. I think that would be detrimental a little bit.

Photo by Al Tielemans

Photo by Al Tielemans

Golliver: I think he would have the toughest time adjusting out of the big-time stars for a few reasons. First of all, the coachability aspect and the idea that you are going to be reprogrammed with no mid-range shots and efficiency is super important. You have to cut out the low-percentage long twos from your diet no matter what. And taking caring of yourself too year-round. I think that is an issue. All of those are concerns I would have had.

On the flip side, his finishing ability and his ability to take contact, his sheer speed off the bounce, acceleration, bag of moves, ability to get to the rim—all that stuff was just crazy elite in era where there was no room to operate because you just had Ostertags in every direction. It was just all these giant and big lumbering centers screwing things up for guys off the dribble. There would be adjustment. I am not necessarily sure he would handle the transition perfectly, but he is one guy I would love to watch.

Pina: Before we get off Iverson, we should say he did lead the league in scoring four times and averaged over 30-points per game four times and is just a fire-ball of a person.

Golliver: So you are already regretting your dissing of him? That’s what you are saying?

Pina: I just think he is perfect in the era of which he thrived.