You’re in your second semester of AP Basketball History, you love really good teams, and you love lists. With precious little drama left in the NBA’s 2015 offseason, why don’t we hit the barroom and/or barbershop, pour ourselves a frosty mug of Barbicide, and get to arguin’ over each franchise’s most formidable starting five-man lineup.
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Because we don’t like making tough decisions, the lineups will reflect the All-NBA line of thinking. There will be no differentiation between separate forward and guard positions, and the squads will be chosen after careful consideration of individual merits only – we don’t really care if your team’s top shooting guard and point guard don’t get along.
These rankings will roll out based on when each franchise began its NBA life. We continue with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that inspires little to no debate on the internet.
C: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Likely the greatest ever to play his position. The greatest all-time scorer in NBA history, finishing his career with 38,387 points – two-thirds of which were scored in a Laker uniform. Just his Laker points alone would rank him 24th all-time, behind Allen Iverson and ahead of Charles Barkley. Made the All-Star team in 19 of his 20 seasons, only missing out in 1977-78 when fans and coaches took a needless moral high ground with their votes after Kareem missed 20 games after punching Milwaukee center Kent Benson. Won five NBA titles and three NBA MVPs while a member of the Lakers.
F: Elgin Baylor. Offered a vision of the modern game even while working in comparative obscurity as a Laker in the 1960s. Averaged nearly 36 points, 17 rebounds and almost five assists per game over one three-year stretch between 1960 and 1963. An 11-time All-Star that was forced into early retirement following a series of knee injuries, denying him a chance to win a title with a rebuilt and legendary Laker squad in 1972.
F: James Worthy. Still managed to put up exemplary All-Star level statistics despite playing on a loaded Laker club. Consistently added around 20 points and six rebounds during the best years of the Lakers’ Showtime era. Contributed a needed 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists against the Detroit Pistons in Game 7 of the 1988 Finals, helping lead the Lakers to the championship.
G: Kobe Bryant. A dogged competitor who took no guff from opponents, teammates and coaches on his way toward a five-championship career. Will likely retire as the NBA’s third-greatest scorer of all time, one of just two members of the top ten (with Dirk Nowitzki) to have scored all of his points with the same franchise. Unlike other Laker legends of lore, won titles with two decidedly different sets of teammates between 2000 and 2010.
G: Magic Johnson. If he isn’t the greatest point guard in NBA history, he’s at least in a very short conversation about the position. Immediately paid dividends for the Lakers after a superb rookie regular season by dominating Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals with a 42-point, 15-rebound, six-assist line as the Lakers took their first title of the Abdul-Jabbar era. Went on to win four more titles with the team, retiring early (after a 1991 Finals loss, his eighth NBA Finals appearance) due to his HIV positive diagnosis. Two abbreviated comeback attempts in 1992 and 1996 proved Magic could still expertly acclimate his game to a different era, in spite of his advancing age.
If you’re shocked that Jerry West failed to make the team, that’s just fine. West’s ungodly mix of scoring and dishing led the Lakers to nine different NBA Finals’ (winning but one), but at this point Bryant’s longevity (despite his dodgy last few seasons) and Magic’s brilliance out-rank him. However, if your flipped coin landed on The Logo’s side instead of Kobe’s, you’d have a borderline inarguable case for Mr. West.
The Lakers’ franchise depth at center is shocking. George Mikan dominated basketball for years, winning five titles with the Minneapolis Lakers, and Shaquille O’Neal was the go-to force (much to Dr. Bryant’s chagrin) in three title runs. Wilt Chamberlain played for this team, which is all you really need to say.
Fellow Minneapolis frontcourt contributors like Clyde Lovellette and Jim Pollard deserved consideration, as did Pau Gasol’s stoic and professional run with the team from 2008-through-2014. Scoring swingmen Gail Goodrich and Jamaal Wilkes have always been underappreciated by some fans, but never in these pages despite their exclusion from the starting lineup.
This is the five we’re going with. Who would you take?
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