Okay, not really. But the latest edition of the Dream Team is the best we have seen since 1996. So there is hope that Team USA can take the gold medal in 2008.
To see why we should be optimistic, let’s review the history of the Dream Team.The first Dream Team – and some say, the only Dream Team – competed for Team USA in the 1992 Olympics. This team featured David Robinson, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, and Christian Laettner. Table One reports what these players did in their last season before the 1992 games (or in the case of Laettner, his rookie season in 1992-93).
As Table One reports, the average Dream Team member in 1992 posted a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.317. Let’s put this mark in perspective. An average player will produce 0.100 wins per 48 minutes. If a team’s players posted a WP48 of 0.200 – or a mark that doubles what an average player can do — it could expect to win all of its games. The average Dream Team player was three times as productive as the average. Seven players exceeded the 0.300 threshold while all but Mullin and Laettner surpassed the 0.200 mark. In sum, this was a damn good team and it was no surprise that the 1992 team easily won the gold medal.
Dream Team 1996
The 1996 team also had an easy time taking home the gold. This team brought back Robinson, Barkley, Malone, Stockton, and Pippen. To these five was added Grant Hill, Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Hakeem Olajuwon, Gary Payton, Reggie Miller, and Mitch Richmond. As Table Three reports, the average WP48 on this team was 0.277.
Five players posted a mark in excess of 0.300, while four others managed a WP48 that surpassed the 0.200 threshold. Although not quite as good as the original, the 1996 version was still an extremely good team.
Dream Team 2000
In 1992 and 1996 it looked like no team would ever challenge Team USA in Olympic Men’s Basketball. In 2000, just four years after the 1996 dominated, Team USA struggled to win the gold medal. When we look at the productivity of the players Team USA employed, it’s understandable why the team’s performance suffered.
In 2000, only five players managed to post a WP48 in excess of 0.200. Only two players – Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett – surpassed the 0.300 mark. And when we look at the bottom of the list, we see that for the first time, Team USA employed players who were actually less productive than the average NBA player. Both Allan Houston and Vin Baker were below average during the 1999-00 regular season. Overall the average WP48 for Team USA in 2000 was only 0.189, a mark surpassed by all but two members on both the 1992 and 1996 squads. Given the decline in the quality of players Team USA employed, it’s not surprising that the international squads were almost able to prevent the Dream Team from taking another gold medal.
Dream Team 2004
Of course in 2004, what was unthinkable in 1996 actually happened. Team USA was only able to take the bronze medal in the Olympic games. When we look at the roster, we can see why this happened.
Dream Team 2004 was not too dreamy. Only one player – Tim Duncan – posted a WP48 mark in excess of 0.300. Only three other players surpassed the 0.200 benchmark. And four players failed to clear the 0.100 hurdle. Overall, the WP48 of this team was only 0.165. So in twelve years the average productivity of the players on Team USA fell from 0.317 to 0.165. Yes, the international competition improved. But clearly the dramatic decline in the talent employed by Team USA tells much of the story of why the Dream Team turned into a nightmare.
Dream Team 2007
Now we come to Dream Team 2008. Last summer Team USA failed to win the World Championship, so this summer it must play its way into the Beijing Olympics.
The 2007 roster features three players – Jason Kidd, Dwight Howard, and Tyson Chandler – with a WP48 in excess of 0.300 during the 2006-07 season. Four other players had a mark that surpassed 0.200, while only one player – Carmelo Anthony – was below average last year. Overall, the average WP48 on this squad is 0.228. No, this is not quite the team we saw in 1992 or 1996. But it looks to be quite a bit better than what we saw in 2000 or 2004. In sum, the Dream Team is making its way back.
Focusing on Scoring
To calculate Wins Produced we look at all the statistics tabulated for individual players. In the five tables posted above, though, I specifically reported points scored per 48 minutes, field goal attempts per 48 minutes, and points-per-shot [(PTS-FTM)/FGA]. In other words, I focused strictly on scoring and shooting efficiency. And I did this because I think it is the ability to score that tells us much about the decline in the Dream Team’s fortunes.
Let’s talk about points scored first. The average NBA player scores 19.2 points per 48 minutes. Of all the players named from 1992 to 2004, only Jason Kidd in 2000 was a below average scorer. So the Dream Team has typically been comprised almost entirely of scorers (a point I made last summer).
Back in 1992 and 1996 these scorers were quite efficient. The average Dream team member in 1992 scored 1.05 points per field goal attempt, while the 1996 team average was just a bit better (average in the NBA from 1991-92 to 2006-07 was 0.97). But in 2000, average points per field goal attempt had fallen to 1.00. And then in 2004, only two players managed to exceed the 1.00 mark while the average player only scored 0.93 points per shot.
When we look at shot attempts we see very little change across these four teams. But shooting efficiency clearly changes, which tells us that the Dream Team moved from a collection of efficient scorers in 1992 and 1996 to a team primarily comprised of inefficient scorers in 2004.
In 2007, though, we see two positive changes. First, the Dream Team now employs three players who are not primarily scorers. So the importance of role players is being acknowledged. In addition, the scorers –relative to 2000 and 2004 – are more efficient. Average points-per-shot stands at 1.04 in 2007.
Although I am sure the rest of the world has gotten better in the past 15 years, the problems for Team USA do appear largely self-inflicted. It does appear, though, that some lessons have been learned. And consequently, Team USA might once again take the gold in 2008. And so the Dream Team might be back.