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 Syracuse Orange

NBA Syracuse Orange

Our next school has produced a volatile mix of NBA talent. While they’ve produced two Hall-of-Fame caliber players, a high percentage of their draftees have not reached the heights they were originally projected for. While their long-standing coach, Jim Boeheim, is a college basketball titan, his track record of preparing players for the NBA has been spotty. Overall, the NBA Syracuse Orange team is flawed, but their Hall-of-Fame duo gives them a fighting chance to advance in our tournament.

Sherman Douglas, the starting point guard, had a solid 12-year career as a floor general for a string of also-rans in the 1990s. However, he was undersized for his position (6’0”), and did not have three-point shooting range, which limits his value to this team. His backcourt mate, Hall-of-Famer Dave Bing, could do it all on the offensive end of the court. He played both guard positions, and led the league in total points in his second season, which started a four-year stretch where he averaged 25.2 PPG and 6.1 APG. An eye injury limited his availability in the 1972 season, and he was never quite the same scorer afterwards, but his playmaking skills were sharp as ever, leading to him averaging 7.4 APG over the next three seasons. Ideally, his drive and kick ability would be complemented by a great shooter, but this team is lacking in that department. Michael Carter-Williams, the backup point guard, has been a woeful outside shooter throughout his short career, which has unfortunately overshadowed his many positive attributes. His length is an asset on the defensive end of the court, another area where this team may struggle, which should create a prominent role for him in the rotation. Dion Waiters is the team’s most prolific three-point threat, but he has yet to find any consistency over his five-year career.

The starting forwards, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Coleman, are two of the more talented players at their positions. Anthony is one of the great scorers in the modern game, and can toggle between both forward positions. He’s been burdened by his lack of playoff success, but he’ll serve as this team’s go-to option down the stretch of games, where he’s thrived throughout his career. Coleman, the first overall pick in the 1990 draft, had a solid if unspectacular career, in spite of his immense talent. He had every skill you could possibly want from a big man, but never put it all together on a consistent basis. He did make two all-NBA teams (in 1993 and 1994), and could punish smaller players in the post when motivated. Off the bench, Billy Owens was a versatile wing who had his best seasons early in his career. While largely regarded as a draft bust, he averaged 15.0 PPG, 7.9 RPG, and 3.4 APG on 51.3% shooting in the first three seasons of his career, before having limited success thereafter. Louis Orr and Hakim Warrick were limited forwards who don’t move the needle for this team.

While Syracuse will go long stretches with Coleman at center and Anthony at power forward, they will start each game off with Rony Seikaly manning the middle next to this duo. Seikaly was a voracious rebounder who doubled as a solid scorer in his prime. He’s backed up by Danny Schayes, who had an interminable career mainly as a solid backup. He experienced his best years with Denver from 1988 to 1990, where he toggled between power forward and center and accumulated impressive advanced statistics, including a 62.7% three-year true shooting percentage and .172 win shares per 48 minutes. Etan Thomas will serve as the emergency third center when the others get into foul trouble.

One may expect the NBA Syracuse Orange to be better based on their college success. While they have a large number of players who haven’t panned out in the NBA, they have several stalwarts who will have to assume a large burden for them to get by their first round opponent.

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 New York Knicks vs. All-Time Cleveland Cavaliers

Our next match up features two teams who have suffered a lot of pain in their respective histories. One franchise has not won a championship since 1973, while the other is still waiting for their first ring. They’re united in their hatred of this man, who caused both franchises much misery during his reign of dominance. They’ve both been around long enough, however, to field competitive all-time franchise teams, each of whom can advance in our tournament. Who would win the battle between the All-Time New York Knicks vs. All-Time Cleveland Cavaliers? Each team holds several key advantages.

New York’s Advantages

Depth: The Knicks have been around for 24 more years than the Cavaliers, and this difference is reflected in their respective benches. Every Knicks bench player was a multiple-time all-star with the team (other than Walt Bellamy, who’s a Hall-of-Famer), while the Cavs only have two players off the bench with these credentials (Terrell Brandon and Zydrunas Ilgauskas – neither of whom is a future Hall-of-Fame player). The Cavs’ starters will play heavier minutes than their counterparts, and may wear down over the course of the series.

Rebounding: New York features six players who averaged a double-double in scoring and rebounding on their team, while the Cavs don’t feature any. While part of this is due to generational differences (see below), the Knicks should maintain an advantage in this area.

New York’s Question Marks

Two-Center Lineup: How will Willis Reed and Patrick Ewing co-exist alongside one another? Both are natural centers, even though each has experience in a twin towers lineup (Reed with Walt Bellamy, and Ewing with Bill Cartwright). Expect Dave DeBusschere and Harry Gallatin to get plenty of minutes alongside each starter, with Willie Naulls occasionally mixed in as well.

Cleveland’s Advantages

James-Price Two-Man Action: What a perfect pairing. LeBron James is the one of the great playmakers ever, and Mark Price is one of the great shooters ever. In addition, Kyrie Irving, Terrell Brandon, and World B. Free are all capable shooters who should play well off of LeBron.

Multiple Points of Attack: Cleveland has multiple ways they can attack an opponent and initiate their offensive sets. They have three players in their starting lineup who can play point guard (Price, Irving, and James), and a great passing center in Brad Daugherty. Expect this offense to thrive, especially when the starting unit is on the floor.

Cleveland’s Question Marks

Depth: How many minutes can James play while guarding one of New York’s multiple perimeter threats? LeBron has averaged 39.9 minutes per game for his Cavaliers career, but that type of workload isn’t ideal when guarding Bernard King and Carmelo Anthony.

High Usage Scorers: James, Irving, and Free are all high usage players who are accustomed to having the ball in their hands. Each will have to adjust to not having the ball every possession, and Coach Lenny Wilkens will have to design an offense that emphasizes ball movement over one-on-one play.

X-Factor

When adjusting for era, will the Knicks maintain their statistical advantage on the glass? Rebounding percentage is not available in the basketball-reference.com database prior to the 1970-71 season, so it’s difficult to compare the raw totals of several of the Knicks’ pioneering big men to their modern-day counterparts. However, in the latter stages of Reed’s career, he still held an edge in this category over Larry Nance’s career total, as Ewing did over Daugherty. DeBusschere’s mark from 1971 on eclipses the total of Nance and Hot Rod Williams. While Naulls and Gallatin are difficult to contextualize, the Knicks should still maintain their advantage on the glass, even without major contributions from these two.

Results

In the words of sports writer Bill Simmons, “God hates Cleveland.” The Knicks have a deeper, more physical roster, and wear the Cavs down over the course of the series. Walt Frazier, the Knicks’ Mr. Clutch, wreaks havoc on the Cavs’ talented backcourt, and leads the team to victory.

NBA_Champions_1970_New_York_Knicks

New York wins, four games to two.

Next Round

New York faces the All-Time 76ers team.

All-Time New York Knicks Team

All-Time New York Knicks Team Infographic

Our next franchise has been in existence since the inaugural season of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) in 1946-47, which later merged with the National Basketball League to create the NBA that we’re familiar with today. They’ve experienced more heartbreak than triumph in that time, with a cumulative record slightly below .500. Despite their troubles, they’re one of the league’s signature franchises, and they have an important role in professional basketball history. The All-Time New York Knicks team is steeped in tradition, featuring a number of basketball pioneers and Hall-of-Famers.

Walt “Clyde” Frazier may be the funniest person in broadcasting history, but he first was a Hall-of-Fame point guard who was one of the best defenders ever at his position. Frazier’s signature game came in game seven of the 1970 Finals, when he led the Knicks to their first title with 36 points and 19 assists. He was a clutch player throughout his Knicks tenure, averaging 20.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 6.4 APG, 19.8 PER, and shooting .511 in 93 playoff games. He’s joined in the starting backcourt by fellow Hall-of-Famer Richie Guerin. The Bronx-born Guerin was one of the top guards of his era, peaking in the 1962 season with averages of 29.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 6.9 APG, and 20.9 PER. They’re backed up by two other Hall-of-Famers: Dick McGuire, who was one of the league’s premier play makers in its earliest days, and Earl “the Pearl” Monroe, who adjusted his game to fit alongside Frazier in the 1970s, and helped the team win its second championship in 1973.

Bernard King, perhaps the greatest scorer in team history, is the starting small forward. Much like Bill Walton in Portland, King’s reign as an elite player did not last long. When he was healthy, however, he was spectacular: he averaged a league-leading 34.8 PPG on .574 shooting in 12 playoff games in 1984, then led the league in regular season scoring the next year at 32.9 PPG (on .530 shooting). Willis Reed, the most decorated player in team history, is the starting power forward. Although he primarily played center in his career, he also spent some time at power forward as well, and was the team’s pillar during their glory years. The under-appreciated Patrick Ewing is the team’s starting center. While the conversation around Ewing often centers on what he was not able to accomplish (namely, winning a championship), he led the team to championship contention for years while serving as its only star. He was one of the greatest shooting big men in NBA history, and will combine with Reed to give them a forceful interior presence on both ends of the court.

Off the bench, Carmelo Anthony can replicate King’s role as a scoring extraordinaire, and with a few more productive seasons, he has a good chance of supplanting King in the starting lineup. As previously mentioned, Hall-of-Famer Dave DeBusschere is one of the greatest defensive players in NBA history, and will also see plenty of minutes. Hall-of-Famer Harry “the Horse” Gallatin led the league in rebounding in 1954 despite being built like a modern shooting guard (6’6” 210 lb), and Willie Naulls also attacked the glass (11.7 RPG as a Knick) while doubling as a high scoring threat (25.0 PPG in 1962). Walt Bellamy, the backup center, was no longer the scoring force that he was with the Bullets franchise, but was still a double-double machine in New York, who provides them with another great interior scoring threat.

This team is marked by physicality, rebounding, and toughness. They have several different lineup combinations they can utilize, with great depth in the frontcourt. The 10th seeded team in our tournament, they have an opening round match up with LeBron James and the All-Time Cleveland Cavaliers.

Coach: Red Holzman

All-Time Franchise Winning Percentage (through 2014-15): .495

All-Time Sacramento Kings vs. All-Time Denver Nuggets

Our next match features two teams that would be really fun to watch. The battle between the All-Time Sacramento Kings vs. All-Time Denver Nuggets should be highly competitive, with an abundance of scoring and fast-paced action. Who would come out on top? Each team has several key advantages.

Sacramento’s Advantages

Dominant guard play: The Kings will be led by their guard play, with five Hall-of-Famers in their backcourt. Oscar Robertson and Tiny Archibald will dictate the pace for their starting unit, and Bob Davies, Bobby Wanzer, and Mitch Richmond will lead the bench unit. Expect them to experiment with three guard lineups, which will be particularly effective when Richmond is paired with two of the three lead guards, to help space the floor. Denver does have solid backcourt defenders in Fat Lever and Chauncey Billups, and the Kings do not have a good defensive counter for David Thompson. Despite this, Sacramento has a deeper backcourt.

Battle of the boards: Sacramento has one of the great rebounders in NBA history, Jerry Lucas, alongside double-double machine Chris Webber and Oscar Robertson, who can also dominate the glass. While Denver’s Fat Lever should be able to cancel out Robertson, Bobby Jones and Dan Issel will have a lot of trouble with the other two. Expect Dikembe Mutombo, Denver’s best rebounder and defender, to get heavy minutes in this series.

Three-point shooting: The Kings’ playmaking guards will have a field day when Richmond and Peja Stojakovic are on the floor. This team can experiment with modern NBA basketball for periods of each game, with Peja as a stretch four.

Denver’s Advantages

Defensive versatility: Normally, the Nuggets aren’t associated with defense, but they have several stoppers who will loom large in this series. Bobby Jones is the one of the great defenders ever, and will see time against Jack Twyman, Jerry Lucas, and Chris Webber. Dikembe Mutombo and Marcus Camby were excellent rim protectors who will each be needed to slow down the penetrating Archibald and the other Kings scorers at the rim.

Wing scoring: Sacramento doesn’t have the personnel to stop David Thompson, Alex English, Carmelo Anthony, and Kiki Vandeweghe. Denver can experiment with lineups where three of these individuals play together, which could be an excellent counter to Sacramento’s small ball lineups.

X-Factor

Sacramento’s defense: Can the Kings get any stops with a lineup that doesn’t include any all-NBA defenders? None of the Kings from the modern era were known for their work on the defensive side of the ball, so they may be forced to outscore the Nuggets to have a chance to win the series.

Results

Run-and-gun. This series goes back and forth, with many high scoring encounters. Sacramento struggles defensively, as expected, with Thompson, Issel, and English repeatedly burning them. In the deciding game, Oscar Robertson controls the action, and the Kings outrebound Denver in a close affair.

Sacramento wins, four games to three.

Next Round

Sacramento faces the All-Time Spurs.

All-Time Denver Nuggets Team

All-Time Denver Nuggets Team Infographic

Our next franchise is the embodiment of…mediocrity. That sounds harsher than intended; they have won almost exactly half of their games played, with a .499 all-time winning percentage. They started as a successful ABA franchise, winning 60 games or more twice, and competing in the only Finals in team history. Since then, they’ve been a frequent playoff participant (earning a trip in 24 of their 39 NBA seasons), but have never really emerged as a title contender, peaking as a Western Conference finalist twice. The All-Time Denver Nuggets team reflects their standing as a solid yet unspectacular franchise, with good to great players littered throughout the roster, without the all-time legends that many other teams boast.

The starting point guard is triple-double machine Fat Lever, a uniquely gifted all-around player who was a special rebounder for his size (6’3”). Lever was also a threat on the defensive end, ranking in the top 10 in NBA history in both steals per game and steal percentage. The two guard, Hall-of-Famer David Thompson, is a classic ‘what if?’ player, who still was able to dominate both the ABA and NBA in a short period of time before injuries and personal issues derailed his career. At his peak, Thompson was a two-time all-NBA first-team player, who was one of five players to ever score over 70 points in a single game. Off the bench, Chauncey Billups, who spent both early and late years of his career with the Nuggets, provides the team with its best three-point shooting threat (seventh ever in made three point field goals), and another excellent all-around option who can play alongside both starters. Ralph Simpson, a high scorer from the ABA days, will also see minutes at shooting guard.

The frontcourt has a mix of dominant scorers and defensive stoppers. Hall-of-Famer Alex English is a top 20 scorer in NBA history, and will combine with Thompson to form an unstoppable wing combination. He’s backed up by Carmelo Anthony, another deadly scorer with greater size to provide opponents with a different look. A third high-scorer, Kiki Vandeweghe, will back up both forward positions; while none of these three are defensive stoppers, they should be able to outscore most small forward pairings. The starting power forward, Bobby Jones, is best known for his work on the 76ers, but he started out as a three-time all-star on the Nuggets, and provides the starting unit with a much-needed dominating defensive presence. He’s backed up by the explosive Antonio McDyess, a high-flyer with a solid mid-range game whose career was also affected by injuries. The starting center, Hall-of-Famer Dan Issel, made up for his (relatively) small stature with a crafty offensive game and a relentless motor. He’s backed up by two defensive stalwarts, Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutombo and Marcus Camby, who each won a Defensive Player of the Year award with Denver.

This team should be tremendously versatile, capable of trotting out quality offensive and defensive lineups. Down the stretch of close games, Mutombo, Jones, Billups and Lever should form a stingy defensive unit, while their high scoring wings and Issel will help them to score on anybody. The 20th seed in our tournament, the Nuggets will face the Sacramento Kings in their first-round match up.

Coach: Larry Brown

All-Time Franchise Winning Percentage (through 2014-15): .499