Article Length: about 1,400 words.
Remember when I wrote that long series about the best team I could assemble of players post-2000? If not, go ahead and catch yourself up with part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5. If you’re not going to read those lengthy, hypothetical choices, let me quickly explain what’s going on here.
For “The Universe Cup” series, the premise is that Earth has been selected to join an 82-game intergalactic season by submitting a 12-man roster. We have no idea how these aliens (multi-dimensional athletic beings…whatever works for you) will play, but we’ll assume that they have an anthropomorphic build so as to not change the integrity of basketball. Oh, and if we don’t win the championship, Earth is destroyed, so the fate of the world hinges on our team’s success in the season and post-season that is structured just like the NBA.
I was never 100% pleased with my previous series, and after some reflection, I realized it’s because I sacrificed building a cohesive team to award different players lifetime achievement awards. Instead of reworking that series with the same set of rules, I decided to try again with much more stringent regulations. Here are the rules for The Second-Tier Universe Cup.
- Players must be selected starting after the 1999-2000 season (so any season starting with 2000-01).
- Only 12 players can be chosen.
- Players must be chosen along with a specific year (so I wouldn’t be able to say “LeBron James in his prime.” I’d have to choose something like 2009 LeBron, 2013 LeBron, or 2017 LeBron (the year indicates the year in which the Finals took place, so 2009 means 2008-2009). The year will encompass both the player’s regular season and post-season.
- Injuries play a factor, but this can be flexible depending on how you defend your choices (this will be more clear as I continue).
- Player selections are limited by the following restrictions (THIS IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING). A player is ineligible if he has won any of the following awards at any point in his career:
- Finals MVP
- First Team All-NBA
- A coach must be selected.
Rule #5 renders the following twenty-nine players ineligible: Shaq, Duncan, Webber, Iverson, Kidd, McGrady, Kobe, Garnett, Nowitzki, Nash, LeBron, Amar’e, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Wade, Durant, Rose, Harden, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Curry, Leonard, DeAndre Jordan, Westbrook, Billups, Tony Parker, Pierce, and Iguodala. (For anyone keeping track, this disqualifies every single member of the Universe Cup Team….except one…)
With these rules and the theoretical underpinnings I laid out in this, this, and this, article, it’s time to start choosing which players will make my team. Trust me, this is an extremely difficult question, and I’m only 80% confident in all twelve of my selections. Let’s get started
The Second-Tier Universe Roster
As the curator of this team, it would be irresponsible for me to just jump in and start selecting the classically “best” remaining players. If you recall from the NBA archetypes, I need to choose players whose skillsets mitigate diminishing returns which turn out to be “Cogs” (players who effectively and unselfishly move the ball) and “Chameleons” (players who can easily switch and defend multiple positions). Along with these, I need at least a couple “Elite” scorers, but I have to make sure that they’re not all ball dominant! I also need to make sure that I have an abundance of “Floor Spacers” (players who efficiently shoot open, spot-up threes) to open up the floor for post play and driving. Also, those “Floor Spacers” should be able to defend somewhat (think Warriors over Cavs). Finally, rebounding never hurt anyone.
Beyond all of these skillsets though, I need some intangibles that cannot be quantified by statistics. Sure, youthful NBA players toss up the best statistics, but veterans who have played in many playoffs and (hopefully) won a championship or two are the strongest willed. Let’s start with the players who I immediately chose for the team with no hesitation (not necessarily the starters…I’ll get into that later).
Ray Allen 2000-2001
Notable Accolades: Regular Season: 2nd in total three-pointers made; 1st in Offensive Win Shares (OWS); 2nd in Effective Field Goal Percentage (EFG%) and True Shooting Percentage (TS%); 3rd in Win Shares (WS); 5th in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP)
Playoffs: 1st in total three-pointers made, 1st in Offensive Win Shares, 4th in Win Shares, 2nd in Offensive Box Plus/Minus (OBPM), 2nd in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP)
Regular Season/ Playoffs Stats
Regular Season/ Playoffs Advanced Stats
Is this my Bucks homerism showing? Nah, Ray Allen also made my Universe Cup TeamTeam, and was the only member to avoid the restrictions of joining this team. People forget how truly great Ray Allen was. His greatest moments in occurred later in his career such as shooting 8/8 from three in the 4th quarter and overtime to beat the Suns in 2006, Scoring 51 points against the Bulls in the 2009 playoffs, and hitting the biggest shot in NBA history against the Spurs in 2013.
Allen’s 2000-01 season was his all-around best season though where he seamlessly switched between primary ball-handling and off-ball duties. Playing next to notorious chuckers Sam Cassell and Glen “Big Dog” Robinson, Allen still managed to score 20+ points on absurd efficiency. He completely stepped up his game during the playoffs, and out-dueled Iverson in the Conference Finals whose Sixers may have received some help from the refs.
Conference Finals Stats
Conference Finals Advanced Stats
Okay, efficiency aside, this was a pretty close contest. But you never thought that Ray was anywhere near Iverson’s level did you? If you go back and watch games from that series, you’ll see that Ray actually guards Iverson most of the time because Cassell was such a sieve on defense. While Ray’s defense wasn’t anything to write home about, he was at least serviceable before his knees starting shutting down on him. There’s a reason that he was the best offensive player on the team with the highest offensive rating when Kobe, Shaq, T-Mac, Kidd, Duncan, and Garnett, were all near the top of their games.
Now for the important part: Ray’s skillset.
Ray Allen 2001 – Playmaking (Proficient– 6); Scoring (Elite– 7); Defense (Average– 5); Rebounding (Proficient– 5)
If we were to break this down even further, he’d definitely be a Transcendent “Floor Spacer” which is precisely the kind of scorer that we need.
To successfully function as a team, it’s important to have personalities that can mesh. Not everyone can have the maniacal drive of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. You also need some mellow players, and this Undefeated article beautifully describes Ray’s professionalism:
While Allen appeared to be cool with most of his Celtics teammates, he rarely engaged in any foolishness in the locker room when the media was there or on the team flights, sources said. He was often a loner who kept to himself. Once he completed his weight lifting, shooting and treatment, he typically left the Celtics’ training facility while others hung around, a source said.
Allen was always in amazing shape as if he was training for the Boston Marathon, which his mother, Flo Allen-Hopson, ran several times. One Celtics employee said Allen often ate chicken and salads. He rarely ate so-called bad foods and didn’t drink alcohol.
He definitely was an influence on me in that aspect,” Pierce said. “I changed the way I was eating and my diet. He influenced a lot of the young guys. He didn’t drink. He ate well. He was the cleanest NBA player you can come up with.
-Marc J. Spears, “Ray Allen Was the Most Interesting Man in the NBA — On and Off the Court,” 2016
I definitely want a player with this skillset and demeanor. Come aboard Mr. Allen.
Now that we have the legwork out of the way, the next installments will focus exclusively on the player selections.