Roundtable: Build Your All-Time NBA Starting Lineup

Michael Jordan and LeBron James on the same team? The Crossover staff created their all-time NBA starting five.
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There has been much debate about all-time lists and rankings as of recently. The internet lit up when Paul Pierce listed his top-five NBA players of all time, and LeBron James was not one of them. Last week, we crowned the best players of every year in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and the best player currently.

The Crossover asked its NBA writers who would be in their all-time NBA staring five and sixth man. 

Chris Mannix

G: Stephen Curry

G: James Harden

F: Larry Bird

F: LeBron James

C: Tim Duncan

Sixth man: Scottie Pippen

Let’s not bury the lede: I don’t have Michael Jordan on my all-time team. I was asked to build a team and for the purposes of this debate, I’m operating under the assumption that the team would playing in today’s game. That means I’m loading it with three-point shooters. Jordan is arguably the greatest player of all-time … but he was a 32.7% three-point shooter. He’s a killer in the closing moments, but do I really want to be trading three’s for midrange two’s all game? Duncan is my defensive anchor and Pippen is my jack-of-all trades playmaker/defender off the bench. I'm betting my team puts up 120-plus points per game ... and your team puts up fewer.

Mark Bechtel

G: Steve Nash

G: Michael Jordan

F: LeBron James

F: Larry Bird

C: Bill Russell

Sixth man: John Havlicek

Activities like this are obviously fraught with danger, and I’m sure I’ll get yelled at online no matter what I do. (Thanks for that, Jarrel!) But keep in mind the assignment: We’re picking a lineup, not the best player at each position. So I tried to go with something that might actually work on the court, as opposed to throwing Iverson, Kobe, MJ and LeBron together and hoping that they somehow wouldn’t kill each other fighting for the ball.

First, the backcourt. I knew I wanted LeBron and MJ, which meant I was pretty well covered when it came to perimeter guys who need the ball (and, significantly, who play defense). So that meant I just needed someone who could pass a little and knock down an open look. I gave serious consideration, I kid you not, to Steve Kerr. But as great a marksman as he was (and the whole coach-on-the-floor thing would be nice), that seemed like a stretch. I then thought about John Stockton and Magic, but if I’m going to have a nominal point guard playing off the ball a fair amount (which is going to happen on a team with LeBron) I think I’d rather have Nash, who can push the pace, stretch the floor and—most significantly—be content if someone else has the rock.

The trickiest part for me was what to do with the big men? Build something in line with today’s game, or twin tower it up? After considering a hundred or so combinations, I finally just decided to go about it differently—cast Russell (the greatest rebounder and rim protector ever) at center and find the best four (or three, or whatever we want to call our last vacancy) to go with him. I wanted Giannis to work, but I don’t think it would. Too many ballhandlers, and he’s not enough of a threat from three. Duncan seemed redundant with Russell, as did KG. Finally I settled on the Hick from French Lick. I think the squad has room for another volume shooter, so long as he’s one who can play without the ball. Larry’s not going to insist on bringing it up the floor, but he’s the kind of guy defenders take their eye off even for a second at their own peril. He’ll also give us highlight reel–level passing, solid rebounding and some steel.

The sixth man was easy: The hoops coach at my junior high said if you’re ever picking a team, make sure Hondo is on it. Sorry, Giannis. Coach Greer drove a Trans Am. When you're in eighth grade, you take the word of someone who drives a Trans Am as gospel. Put the whole thing together and we’ve got three of the best closers ever, a blend of athleticism and court savvy, plenty of shooting, excellent defense, a ton of flash and more than enough trash talking. Also three Celtics, which should please Boston readers. So at least not everyone will rip me.

Michael Shapiro

G: Stephen Curry

G: Michael Jordan

F: LeBron James

F: Tim Duncan

C: Shaquille O’Neal

Sixth man: Manu Ginóbili

The wing spots are pretty unarguable, and Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward in league history. The real debate lies in the two other spots.

Why Curry at point guard? Magic Johnson is the top point guard in NBA history, but on our imaginary team, Curry would be an absolute game wrecker launching triples from far beyond the arc. Curry is the greatest shooter in the NBA even as the focal point of an offense. Place him third or fourth in the pecking order, and defenses would cower in fear.

There’s a list of choices for big men, and Hakeem Olajuwon’s defensive dominance and athleticism is intriguing. Still, Shaq was one of the most unstoppable players in NBA history in his prime. If teams can’t double him, no single defender stands a chance.

We have a litany of candidates for the sixth man, but I’ll exclude Kevin McHale and James Harden from consideration after evolving into starters for most of their career. This leaves Manu Ginóbili as our clear choice, bringing a lefty with some serious scoring firepower off the bench. Good luck beating this squad in a seven-game series.

Jarrel Harris

G: Stephen Curry

G: Michael Jordan

F: LeBron James

F: Kevin Durant

C: Hakeem Olajuwon

Sixth man: Lou Williams

The two best players of all time, the best shooter of all time, the most natural scorer of all time and a Hall of Fame center who can do just about every single thing on the court. Sign me up for this team! Add in a sixth man like Lou Williams and pray you don't have to face them.

Ben Pickman

G: Magic Johnson

G: Michael Jordan

F: Larry Bird

F: LeBron James

C: Bill Russell

Sixth man: Stephen Curry

The lineup features an all-time great backcourt that could score in the paint, flash eye-catching athleticism in transition and limit opposing guards on the defensive end of the floor. Add in Larry Bird and LeBron James and you create an unmatched lineup of tremendous positional versatility. Russell gets the nod over Tim Duncan for his ability not only to defend the rim, but also snatch opposing misses and create immediate fast-break opportunities. If for some reason that five struggles to score in either the half-court or in transition, plug Stephen Curry into any lineup combination for an added jolt of energy, playmaking and of course, all-time shooting. Plus, anyone would want their all-time team to be as enjoyable to watch as possible and few players present endless creativity like the Warriors’ star.

Robin Lundberg

G: Stephen Curry

G: Michael Jordan

F: LeBron James

F: Kevin Durant

C: Shaquille O’Neal

Sixth man: Ray Allen

This team has everything. Shooting, length, ball handling, power and clutch scoring ability. LeBron facilitating with that group would be destructive. Jordan would have room to operate and Shaq couldn't be doubled. And the three point shooting should keep up with anyone. Allen is the sixth man because he is well suited to come in and do his job and could go get Curry or O'Neal depending on matchups if a bigger guard is needed or to go small.