It’s amazing how in a matter of 10 years we still see some familiar faces in the league continue to play at a high level. The 2012 All-NBA First Team featured a group that remains relevant today. Four of the five players from that team are still playing in the NBA with the only exception being Kobe Bryant, who retired in 2016. The rest of the team featured Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Dwight Howard. In the last two years, three of those players have played in the NBA Finals, with James and Howard winning a title with the Lakers in 2020.
This past year’s All-NBA First Team featured some prospects for the next faces of the league. Paul’s current teammate in Devin Booker played alongside him in the NBA Finals with the Suns in 2021. The two helped the Suns reached the top of the league in wins last season. Jayson Tatum played in the Finals this season, while Luka Doncic played in the Western Conference Finals. Giannis Antetokonmpo is a Finals MVP from last season, while Nikola Jokic is the two-time reigning MVP winner.
There is a lot of talent that would step on the floor with these two All-NBA First Teams. If this was a true superteam battle, who would win a best-of-seven series?
Chris Paul vs. Luka Doncic
At the time, Paul was the point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers. The making of “Lob City” was in its early stages. Paul placed third in the league in assists per game, losing out to Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash. With that said, he was one of the most elite defenders in the game. He led the league with 152 steals while winning the steals crown with 2.5 per game. With a surrounding cast of elite scoring talent, Paul would have plenty of opportunities to set people up.
Doncic is a different type of point guard than Paul. While he has triple-double abilities, he has more focus on scoring the basketball. Doncic led the league in usage percentage by being used 37.4% of the time on offense. That would not have to happen with this star-studded group. Doncic was playing with Spencer Dinwiddie and Maxi Kleber. Regardless, Doncic’s 28.4 points per game, which was third in the league, is still something to keep an eye out for.
Kobe Bryant vs. Devin Booker
During the 2011-12 season, Bryant was runner-up in the scoring race by 0.1 points per game. His 27.9 points per game were second to another member of his All-NBA First Team. Bryant would likely have no problem shooting the ball. It could be used for the 2022 team’s advantage, given that Bryant was coming off of a season where he led the league in field-goal attempts and misses. Bryant led the league in usage percentage this season with 35.7% of the time, which makes for an interesting matchup with Doncic if the two were to have a shoot-off with each other.
Booker finished last season with 26.8 points per game, which was eighth in the league. When Paul missed time due to an injury, it was Booker that had to be the leader of the team. The Suns didn’t skip too much of a beat and ended up leading the league in wins. Booker has been referenced as a version of Bryant. In this scenario, we would get to witness true old school against new school.
LeBron James vs. Jayson Tatum
The MVP of the season enters as the team’s starting small forward. James averaged a line of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. He also led the league in total win shares. By the end of the season, James led the Miami Heat to the NBA championship, where he was named Finals MVP. James was third in the league with his scoring average, which included leading the league in two-point field goals. When it came to advanced stats, he was truly the best player on the court. On top of win shares, James led the league in player efficiency (30.7), win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, offensive box plus/minus, defensive box plus/minus, and value over a replacement player (7.6).
Tatum was not on that same level from last season but we saw the tools he possesses to where he could be a league MVP down the line. Tatum embraced his inner 2012 Kobe Bryant, by leading the league in field goal attempts and field goal misses. With that said, Tatum contributed 26.9 points per game and helped a Celtics defense rank first in defensive efficiency. Tatum led the league in defensive win shares with 4.6. This would be an exciting matchup where the offense takes on the defense.
Kevin Durant vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
The most lethal scorer on the floor would be Durant, who led the league in points with 1,850. Durant barely beat out Bryant for the scoring title with 28.0 per game. At the time, this was the third straight season that Durant won a scoring title. Durant led the league in making field goals as well as free throws. Durant was the most durable player on the floor leading the league in minutes. Durant was top-3 in win shares, offensive win shares, and value over a replacement player. By the end of the season, Durant led the Thunder to the NBA Finals before losing to James and the Heat.
The second-best scorer from last season would be matched against the best scorer from 10 years ago in this scenario. Antetokounmpo was the runner-up in the scoring race last season after averaging 29.9 points per game. Joel Embiid, who was the MVP runner-up, led the league in scoring but did not make the All-NBA First Team because the team doesn’t take two centers. As for Antetokounmpo, he was the league’s best finisher around the basket and shot 55.3% from the field. Combined with his exceptional defense, it would be a matchup to see.
Dwight Howard vs. Nikola Jokic
Dwight Howard from 10 years ago was still at the top of his game. He was a defensive nightmare that couldn’t be stopped off of the glass. Howard’s 14.5 rebounds per game led the league, while he also led the league with 585 defensive rebounds and 785 total rebounds. A drawback of having Howard was that teams liked to foul him because he was not a good free throw shooter. He led the league in attempts with 572 but shot 49.1% from the line. Still, Howard was the best defensive rebounder on the floor, collecting a defensive rebound 33.1% of the time.
As for Jokic, he is coming off a season where he was the first player to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, and 500 assists in a season. That led to him winning his second consecutive MVP Award. Jokic led the league in total win shares with 15.2, while having his name in other categories. Jokic would not be scared of Howard’s rebounding because he was also a solid rebounder himself. Jokic led the league with 1,019 total rebounds and recorded 813 defensive rebounds. Jokic was the league leader in PER (32.8) and value over a replacement player (9.8). That included all the stat categories James won during his MVP season.
2012 All-NBA Team Advantages
The most obvious advantage is having three of the most lethal scorers of all time. Since we are considering the players from the 2011-12 season, it doesn’t even include what they did after those years. With that said, at the time, Durant was a three-time scoring champion, James and Bryant each won a scoring title of their own, while Paul was the masterful point guard that currently ranks third in all-time assists. Paul is essentially a prime reason why Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were All-Stars with the Clippers. Paul would have a field day setting up the three-headed monster of Bryant, James, and Durant.
Another advantage the team has is the defensive talent. Many forget that four of these players are multiple winners of All-Defensive First Team honors. Paul has made the All-Defensive Team 11 times and has led the league in steals six times. Bryant owns the most All-Defensive First Team honors among any guard with 12, while Howard was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year at the time. Don’t go sleeping on James, another First-Team All-Defensive selection, as well as Durant, who can play exceptional defense when he wants to do it.
2022 All-NBA Team Advantages
The 2022 team has the better outside shooters and that is a cold-hard fact. Doncic, Booker, and Tatum have a fearless range to them. If the game got out of hand, the 2022 team has the potential to come back after a few made three-point shots. You can’t forget about Jokic either, who owns two seasons of shooting 38% or better from outside. Even Antetokounmpo has improved his outside shooting despite not being the best part of his game.
The inside advantage has to be talked about as well. Jokic is potentially the best passing center we have ever seen. That passing will be critical to helping the team find outside shots. With that said, there is a “Twin Towers” feel to having Jokic and Antetokounmpo inside. Both are very effective around the basket. Both players would need to draw double teams and that would allow for the other to have an open shot.
Who Wins A Best-Of-7 Series?
The first game would go to the legacy players. It would not be close. The idea of playing against Bryant and James would be too much for the new faces. Both Bryant and James would score 35 points, while Durant would add 29 points of his own. Howard would post a double-double of 10 points and 23 rebounds. Paul would finish the game with 18 assists. It would help the 2022 team have a reality check, so they can be focused to compete after losing 130-89.
The 2022 team would respond. The team would want to gain the respect of their opponents. Booker would take the Game 1 blowout personally and explode for 52 points. That would catch the eye of Bryant as Booker was trying to prove that all of the comparisons were somewhat true. Jokic and Antetokounmpo would lock down Howard in the paint and hold him to less than 10 rebounds. Thanks to a game-high 32 points from Tatum, as well as a near triple-double of 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists from Doncic, the team would take the second game 107-99.
With the series tied, the 2022 team would take a surprising lead. The three-point barrage would help the team take the Game 3 victory by a score of 115-102. Booker would hit five three-point shots, while Tatum and Doncic would combine for eight themselves. The 18 three-point shots would be enough to overcome the monster game from Durant, who finished with 45 points. After losing two in a row, the 2012 team would make a few adjustments to avoid that from happening again.
The beauty of players like Bryant and James is that they take losing personally. Durant’s shots were a hit, but he would be okay with his 20 points because it was the Kobe and LeBron Show. Bryant would look like his vintage self. Between fadeaways and transition dunks, Bryant would torch Booker and Doncic for 37 points. James would have his way with Tatum as well by adding 39 points. By getting by Tatum so many times, it would force Antetokounmpo and Jokic to stay around the paint, which would open up three-point shots for Durant, who would finish the game with five threes in a new role.
To take the lead for the series, the 2022 team would employ a plan to pound the ball inside Antetokounmpo. Jokic would play more of a point-center role, which would allow Doncic to roam more and play more isolation basketball. He would try to tire out Paul on defense. While Doncic finished with 32 points and Jokic was one assist shy of a triple-double, the 2012 team would take a 3-2 series lead thanks to the defense of Paul. While Doncic would finish with a great scoring line, Paul’s six steals, including the game-tying steal and assist to James would set up a last-chance basket. With six seconds left, a Tatum hand in his face, Durant would hit a spin-around jumper to send his teammates into a frenzy.
The momentum is favoring the 2012 team to close out the series. After three games in a row, the series has to end, right? Instead, the 2022 team has a few Cinderella moments. Jokic and James are having a true MVP battle back and forth. That included trading the last four baskets. With the game tied at 95-all and 30 seconds left, Jokic would find Doncic open for a three-point shot. The ball swishes in and it gives the 2012 team one chance to tie the game with eight seconds left. As the team sets up the play, Paul finds Bryant, who is looking to take the last shot. Bryant sees an opening and drives to the basket but Antetokounmpo knows the team needs a three-pointer to tie and doesn’t take the bait. Bryant dishes out to James, but his shot is denied by Antetokounmpo, who is guarding the baseline deeper towards three-point territory to send this to a Game 7.
The final product is everything fans are hoping to watch. It’s Hall of Fame talent with more implications than a regular All-Star Game. Both teams battle to an even score of 100-all with two minutes left. By this point, it comes down to the better scoring players. Bryant hits a two-pointer over Booker with 1:31 to play. After a miss from Tatum, James drives to the basket and finishes in transition with 1:01 to play. Doncic tries to hit a clutch three-point shot with Paul’s hand in his face but it does not fall. A Howard rebound turns into a fastbreak with Paul and an Alley-Oop to James sends the crowd into chaos. With under 30-seconds to play and a six-point hole, the 2022 team is unable to pull themselves out and falls after a masterful effort.
Final Result: All-NBA 2012 First Team vs. All-NBA 2022 First Team 4-3
Finals MVP: LeBron James