NBA Syracuse Orange vs. NBA Arizona Wildcats

Size versus speed. Our next match represents a classic stylistic battle. One team starts a traditional lineup with a seven-footer, flanked by a massive power forward and a “small” forward who weighs 240 pounds. The other team starts no traditional power players, substituting shooting ability and lineup flexibility for size and strength. Which team will enforce their will upon the other? The battle between the NBA Syracuse Orange vs. NBA Arizona Wildcats represents a clash of basketball philosophies.

NBA Syracuse Orange vs. NBA Arizona Wildcats

Key Matchups

Richard Jefferson and Sean Elliott vs. Derrick Coleman – This series may hinge on which team’s forwards adapt better defensively. Arizona will go key stretches of each game hoping to survive with Richard Jefferson guarding Derrick Coleman. Conversely, Coleman will have to get comfortable guarding the perimeter and switching defensively on to smaller, quicker players. How badly will Coleman punish the smaller Wildcats on the block? Can Arizona expose DC on the perimeter and force Syracuse to downsize? Coleman may be better served defensively playing as the five in the series, since…

Rony Seikaly vs. perimeter shooting – …this matchup isn’t going to work out defensively for Syracuse. Seikaly is ill-equipped to extend his defense out to the perimeter, and would be toast when Arizona runs pick and pop with one of their perimeter options and Channing Frye. Syracuse can counter by posting Seikaly up and trying to get Frye into foul trouble, so Arizona can bring in more traditional big men off the bench. This adjustment may also have to occur if and when Syracuse punishes Arizona on the glass, as detailed below.

Two-point field goals vs. Three-point field goals – The game of basketball has evolved to the point that one team is currently averaging over 40 three-point field goal attempts per game in the 2016-17 season (Houston). The three point shot has become the most important weapon in the sport. Expect Arizona to run wild from behind the arc, while Syracuse will try to keep pace with a more traditional offensive attack.

Biggest Mismatches

Syracuse’s rebounding advantage – Arizona is dead in the water in any game where their threes aren’t falling, because Syracuse should own them on the offensive and defensive boards. Seikaly and Coleman were excellent rebounders, which can’t be said for anybody in Arizona’s starting lineup. Arizona has two options to stop the bleeding on the glass: Jordan Hill, a tenacious rebounder with a limited offensive and defensive skill set, and Bison Dele, a less tenacious rebounder who was very skilled offensively and could make the Syracuse big men work defensively. Both players will see a lot of time, but Dele will be particularly busy as Arizona’s sole threatening post-up option. Unless they play together, Syracuse will see plenty of second and third shot opportunities on offense, and will limit Arizona’s attempts on the other end of the court.

Arizona’s three-point advantage – Each team has a clear path to victory. If Syracuse can slow the pace and make this a half-court battle, Dave Bing, Carmelo Anthony, and their superior rebounders should make them victorious. Arizona will play uptempo, and bomb from long-range with Jason Terry, Mike Bibby, Channing Frye, Gilbert Arenas, Sean Elliott, Damon Stoudamire, and the NBA’s all-time leader in three-point field goal percentage Steve Kerr leading the charge. If several of these players are knocking down their shots, Syracuse will have a difficult time keeping up.

Arizona’s depth – Arizona has quality depth throughout their bench, and will use a variety of options each game. Several of their bench players, such as Mike Bibby and Sean Elliott, are as good as the players who start above them, and they’ll utilize a hot-hand approach throughout the matchup. Syracuse has a clear drop off whenever they turn to their inferior second unit. Expect Danny Schayes and Billy Owens to earn the bulk of their bench minutes, with the other players mixing in as needed, but Syracuse’s starting lineup will carry a heavy burden in each game.

X-Factor

Evolution of NBA basketball – One key aspect of this tournament is that modern-day rules are in effect. This should be a huge advantage for Arizona, who will benefit from less hand-checking on the perimeter on offense, and more creative ways to guard post players on defense. Non-traditional, smaller lineups are also in vogue, though certain teams, including the incomparable Spurs, manage to thrive with traditional, bigger lineups.

Results

Throughout their history, Syracuse Orange alums have been sporadically successful in the NBA, and have underachieved relative to their success in college. While the school has produced two hall-of-fame players (Bing and Anthony), the rest of their roster is littered with underachievers and players who are not necessarily suited for the modern game. Arizona, led by the defensive mastery of Andre Iguodala, and an overabundance of three-point firepower, moves on to the second round.

Wildcats win, four games to two.

Next Round

Arizona faces the NBA UCLA Bruins.

NBA Arizona Wildcats

NBA Arizona Wildcats

Our next team was built for the modern era of professional basketball. What they lack in size, they make up for in shooting, ball handling, and spacing. Even though they lack the Hall-of-Fame caliber talent that some of their competitors boast, the NBA Arizona Wildcats are fun, dynamic, and a dangerous threat to advance in our tournament.

This team has more ball handlers than they know what to do with. Gilbert Arenas, the team’s leading scorer on a points per game basis, will start at the lead guard position. From 2005 to 2007, Arenas had a dominant three-year stretch where he averaged 27.7 PPG and 5.7 APG, with a 23.0 PER and three all-star and all-NBA appearances. He served as the fulcrum of high-scoring offensive teams who made the playoffs in each of those seasons. While his reputation was irreparably damaged by his later antics, he’s a dominant scorer who can work as a primary option in this offense. He’s joined in the starting backcourt by another explosive scorer, Jason Terry, who’s currently third all-time in made three point field goals. He’ll split time playing off of the ball and setting up the offense, and can play alongside any of the team’s other backcourt options. Off the bench, Mike Bibby was known for his clutch play and deft shooting. He was a steady floor leader who nearly led Sacramento to a title in 2002, when he increased his scoring average from 13.7 in the regular season to 20.3 in the playoffs. Damon Stoudamire was a slick playmaker who was most effective with the ball in his hands. With the glut of point guards on this roster, and his lack of size (listed height of 5’10”) he’s likely to play less than the others, but there will be little drop off when he suits up. Steve Kerr, the league’s all-time leader in three-point field goal percentage, will help to space the floor out even further.

Andre Iguodala, the starting small forward, may be the most indispensable player on the roster. Iguodala will always guard the opposing team’s best perimeter offensive option, and he’ll also help to set up the offense so the team’s shooters can play off of the ball and spread the floor. Richard Jefferson and Sean Elliott will split time alongside Iguodala. Jefferson’s athleticism and bulk (230 pounds) will help him against bigger opponents, while Elliott will be better served playing his natural small forward role. These two have remarkably similar statistical profiles, and both help to boost the team’s athleticism and lineup flexibility. Chris Mills was another natural small forward who spent some time at the four in his career, despite his smaller stature. He benefited greatly from the league moving the three-point line in from 1995 to 1997 (shooting 38.7% from deep during those years, versus 31.0% the rest of his career), so he’ll play sparingly behind the other forward options.

Channing Frye is the rare ‘stretch five’ who will start off as the team’s starting center. Although he was a decent shotblocker in his prime, his lack of rebounding is a glaring weakness, and his shooting range is less necessary on a team with so many outside options. He’ll be frequently spelled by the late Bison Dele, a nifty inside scoring threat who can provide instant offense off the bench, and Jordan Hill, the team’s best rebounder who may be asked to stretch beyond his normal limits (career 18.9 minutes per game).

The NBA Arizona Wildcats should be a joy to watch, and can play with many different lineup configurations. Their lack of rebounding and interior defense, however, limits their ceiling. They have an intriguing first-round match up with a team that’s their complete opposite, with an imposing frontcourt and a lack of long-range options.

All-Time Los Angeles Lakers vs. All-Time Philadelphia 76ers

Our next match features two of the most storied franchises in NBA history. They’ve met in the championship round six times, with legendary competitors deciding each outcome (from George Mikan vs. Dolph Schayes, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson vs. Julius Erving and Moses Malone, to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant vs. Allen Iverson). Though they’ve both fallen on tough times in recent years, each has a chance to prevail in the NBA Franchise Tournament. The battle between the All-Time Los Angeles Lakers vs. All-Time Philadelphia 76ers has the most collective star power of any match up to date, and promises to be a classic.

All-Time Los Angeles Lakers vs. All-Time Philadelphia 76ers

Key Matchups

Lakers’ firepower vs. Philadelphia’s defensive versatility: The Lakers feature six of the top 28 scorers in NBA history, four of whom spent the prime years of their career with the franchise (a fifth, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, may not have reached the heights that he did with Milwaukee but still won three MVP awards in Los Angeles). Sixers player/coach Billy Cunningham has several options: he can try to outscore L.A. with his own Hall-of-Fame offensive weapons, or play his defensive lineup, featuring Maurice Cheeks, Andre Iguodala, and Bobby Jones, in hopes of slowing the Lakers’ offense down. Cunningham will likely mix and match his offensive playmakers with his defensive stoppers. The Sixers will also have to figure out how they guard 6’9” Magic Johnson; Allen Iverson, who stood almost a foot shorter, seems ill-suited for this role, so they may have to start Cheeks or Iguodala in his place.

All-Time Philadelphia 76ers
Maurice Cheeks (#10) will get plenty of minutes alongside Philly’s Hall-of-Fame frontcourt
Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com

Battle of the Boards: The Lakers do not start a traditional power forward, relying on the versatility of Elgin Baylor and Magic Johnson to help Abdul-Jabbar on the glass. Abdul-Jabbar will also have his hands full trying to keep Philly’s Wilt Chamberlain off the glass, as Baylor and Johnson will with the irrepressible Charles Barkley. Philly’s ability to seize an advantage on the glass will be an important indicator of their ability to win this series. The Lakers have behemoths George Mikan, Shaquille O’Neal, and their own version of Wilt Chamberlain coming off the bench, but they would be awkward fits alongside each other or Jabbar, so they will likely play one at a time. Philly’s Dolph Schayes and Billy Cunningham can take advantage of the Lakers forwards, and give the Sixers a rebounding advantage off the bench, assuming Moses Malone can hold his own against L.A.’s fleet of backup big men.

Biggest Mismatch

Los Angeles’s backcourt advantage: The Lakers have the best starting backcourt in our tournament, with three MVP-level performers in Magic Johnson, Jerry West, and Kobe Bryant (who will masquerade as a small forward at the beginning of the each half). Philly features former MVP Allen Iverson, along with Hall-of-Famer Hal Greer and versatile defensive stoppers Maurice Cheeks and Andre Iguodala. While the Sixers’ backcourt is excellent, none of these players can match the accomplishments of the Lakers’ trio. Magic Johnson will create tons of matchup issues, and West and Bryant have the ability to take over any game they play in.

X-Factor

Defensive matchups: If Philadelphia starts Cheeks or Iguodala, then Magic Johnson has a logical resting place on defense. If they start Allen Iverson, the cross-matches will be fascinating. Expect Pat Riley to have Jerry West guard Iverson, with Magic either checking Hal Greer or Charles Barkley (while the latter suggestion seems bizarre, it creates logical matchups for Elgin Baylor (Julius Erving), Kobe Bryant (Greer) and West). On the other end of the court, Philly would have the 6’2” Greer guarding Johnson, and likely offering him little resistance. The 6’6” Iguodala is best suited to guard Magic, and will see a large increase in minutes from the previous series.

Results

While the Sixers have championship-worthy talent, they drew a brutal matchup in the Elite Eight. Even though they’re one of the best teams in our tournament, they struggle to contain L.A.’s backcourt, particularly Magic Johnson. The Lakers struggle with Philadelphia’s deep and talented frontcourt, but they finish out Philadelphia in six competitive games.

Lakers win, four games to two.

Next Round

Los Angeles faces the winner of the All-Time Bulls vs. All-Time Pistons.

All-Time Philadelphia 76ers vs. All-Time New York Knicks

Our next matchup features two teams who have played in the same division for the past 67 seasons, and who’ve had 440 regular season battles as of this posting. They’ve also met 10 times in the playoffs, though only two of those series have had a deciding, winner-takes-all game (both in the early 1950s). Considering their proximity to each other (in location), and the frequency of their matches, this should be a celebrated NBA rivalry. Though their real-life matches have failed to live up to these expectations, the battle between the All-Time Philadelphia 76ers vs. All-Time New York Knicks is highly anticipated, and should ignite the two franchises’ fan bases.

76ers vs. Knicks

Key Matchups

Battle of Hall-of-Fame frontcourts: These two teams feature a number of Hall-of-Fame and all-star level performers in their frontcourts. Philadelphia starts perhaps the greatest frontcourt in this tournament, with three legends who were all MVP-level performers (Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, and Wilt Chamberlain). They also feature one of the deepest frontcourt benches, with four Hall-of-Famers coming off the bench along with Bobby Jones, one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history. New York’s frontcourt is also impressive, featuring two former scoring champions splitting time at small forward (Bernard King and Carmelo Anthony), a two-time NBA Finals MVP (Willis Reed), and a member of the 50 Greatest Players list (Patrick Ewing). They also have three Hall-of-Fame frontcourt players coming off their bench, and in total have a whopping six players on their roster who averaged a double-double (scoring and rebounding) with the franchise.

Defensive stalwarts: With so much offensive talent on each team’s roster, the defensive aces on both sides will see big minutes in this series. Walt Frazier, arguably New York’s best all-around player, will have to chase around the lightning-quick Allen Iverson. Dave DeBusschere, one of the NBA’s greatest defensive forwards, will see plenty of minutes against Charles Barkley, Dolph Schayes, and Billy Cunningham. Philadelphia’s Maurice Cheeks will play alongside both Iverson and Hal Greer, and will take turns defending New York’s high-scoring guards (Frazier, Richie Guerin, and Earl Monroe). Bobby Jones will see time against the Knicks’ small forwards (King and Anthony) and their bruising power players (including Reed and Harry Gallatin).

Biggest Mismatches

Philadelphia’s athleticism advantage: The Sixers have one of the most athletic teams in the tournament. Erving, Chamberlain, Barkley, and Iverson were all exceptional athletes in the starting lineup, in addition to Andre Iguodala, Chet Walker, and Billy Cunningham off the bench. New York does not have the same assortment of athletes, and will need to slow down the tempo of the games to compete.

X-Factor

The Answer: can Allen Iverson become a pass-first distributor? Iverson is one of the most ball-dominant players in NBA history, with the third highest career usage percentage since this statistic has been tracked (starting in 1978). While he was used to playing with non-offensive threats in his days in Philly, he’s now on a team that features some of the biggest names in NBA history. How will he adjust to being a secondary option? Will he get their dominant frontcourt players enough shots for their liking as the de facto point guard in the starting lineup?

The question: Who is Philly's wild card? The Answer: Allen Iverson Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com
The question: Who is Philly’s wild card? The Answer: Allen Iverson
Copyright © Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com

Results

New York keeps the series close against Philadelphia, and Walt Frazier harasses Iverson into a few horrendous shooting nights. With the series tied at two, player-coach Billy Cunningham replaces Iverson in the starting lineup with Mo Cheeks, and the offense runs smoothly through their Hall-of-Fame frontcourt. Iverson proves to be terrific in the sixth man role, and the Sixers clinch in six.

Philadelphia wins, four games to two.

Next Round

The Sixers battle the All-Time Lakers Team.

All-Time Philadelphia 76ers Team

All-Time Philadelphia 76ers Team Infographic

The All-Time Philadelphia 76ers team is…explosive. They have explosive play makers, hall-of-famers, and MVPs littered throughout their roster. They also have explosive personalities (namely, Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson) who will make for an interesting mix alongside their controversial center. With three championships, they are the seventh-seeded team in our tournament, and have one of the most talented overall rosters.

Starting is a sign of respect in the NBA. The starting backcourt for this team may not fit perfectly alongside each other and the high scoring frontcourt, but they deserve recognition for their Hall-of-Fame caliber careers. Allen Iverson, a four-time scoring champion, will be the primary ballhandler. Iverson’s score-first mentality isn’t ideal for a team this loaded, so expect him to play plenty of shooting guard as well. Hal Greer, the starting two guard, is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, field goals, and points. He’ll get plenty of minutes as the team’s best long-range shooting threat. Although he’ll come off the bench, Mo Cheeks will operate almost as the third starting guard, since he’s a good fit alongside either starter. Cheeks was an excellent defender, efficient scorer, and solid play maker, and has a legitimate Hall-of-Fame case. Andre Iguodala, the team’s fourth guard, is one of the most versatile players in today’s game. Although miscast as a primary offensive option in Philly (the “second A.I.”), Iguodala is much better suited for the role he’ll play on this team as a defensive stopper who can lead the break and facilitate on the offensive end.

The starting frontcourt is as accomplished as any in the tournament. Julius Erving is one of the game’s greatest ambassadors, and may have been the most exciting player to ever step on a court. He’s also one of the greatest forwards ever, and was a prolific winner who led the team to an average of 55 wins per year and four NBA Finals appearances. Barkley is one of the greatest power forwards ever, and had the greatest offensive efficiency rating among players who used as many possessions as he did. One could argue that the great Wilt Chamberlain experienced his peak years with the Sixers. He led the league in field goal percentage and rebounds every year he was on the team. In his three full seasons with the team, he won MVP each year. He led the league in PER and WS/48 in those three years as well. He led the league in total assists in 1968, just because he could. Although he once again was traded for an embarrassing haul, this version of Wilt has a legitimate argument as the best center in the tournament.

The bench is filled with impact frontcourt players. Hall-of-Famer Chet Walker will back up Erving. Although he wasn’t as efficient in Philly as he was with the Bulls, he was still a wonderful player who made three all-star teams. Billy Cunningham is one of seven players on the roster who was named as one of the league’s 50 greatest players in 1996. Cunningham was a relentless competitor who could play either forward position, and will also serve as the team’s head coach (where he amassed a remarkable .698 career winning percentage). The legendary Dolph Schayes, who made 12 all-star game and All-NBA appearances in his illustrious career, led the franchise to its first title in 1955. He’ll provide a different look as a dangerous outside shooter who can play as a ‘stretch-four.’ Bobby Jones was one of the greatest defenders of all time, and Moses Malone, who led the team to its last championship in 1983, will back up Chamberlain.

This team’s frontcourt is absolutely loaded, and player-coach Cunningham will have to find a way to spread the minutes around. They can trot out a great defensive lineup featuring Chamberlain, Jones, Cheeks, and Iguodala, and will be unstoppable on the other end of the court.

Coach: Billy Cunningham

All-Time Franchise Winning Percentage (through 2014-15): .520