Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Can a team win it all nowadays without an MVP-type superstar?
Steve Aschburner: Don’t want to say “can’t” about a superstar-deficient roster surviving to win the NBA title but I do think it’s a long shot. The ability to ride one (or better yet, two) hot hands and the role that free-throw opportunities can play in pivotal games — built off of star power, in many cases — are the things of which champions are made. It would be fascinating to a lot of hardcore pro hoops fans to see, say, a Nuggets-Pacers Finals, but it wouldn’t thrill the marketing types or maybe even the folks in Olympic Tower. But I don’t see them having to fret beyond the conference finals round.
Fran Blinebury: This is like the old kids’ riddle about how many balls of string would it take to reach the moon? Just one, but it better be big. Of course, a team without a superstar can win it all. But it had better be talented, tough, unselfish and have enough players who could make all the big and little plays in the clutch. The stars have to be perfectly aligned to produce the 2004 Pistons again.
Jeff Caplan: OK, so the star-less Detroit Pistons won it all against the bickering, last-of-the-line Kobe–Shaq Lakers nearly a decade ago. The Chauncey Billups–Rip Hamilton–Tayshaun Prince–Rasheed-and-Ben Wallace Pistons remain the lone example, an exception to the rule. So, no, I don’t believe a team without a bona fide superstar in today’s NBA can win it all. We’ve seen that it’s nearly impossible for a lone superstar to take his team to the top. Dirk Nowitzki finally managed that task with one of the great postseason runs of all-time in 2011. And let’s be real, those Mavs caught a collapsing Lakers team with Phil Jackson having one foot out the door, a very young Thunder team just getting their feet under them and the Miami Super Friends in their first season together. I truly enjoy watching George Karl‘s squad run up and down the floor, but a team has got to have a go-to-guy who can create his own shot when the game turns into a halfcourt grindfest and when crunch-time demands an isolation takeover.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Possible, but it makes the odds much longer. The team does not have to have an MVP-type superstar, but it needs to have a player able to beat coverage to hit a pressure shot coming out of of a timeout in the final seconds. It also needs to have the player strike a fear in defenses, enough to create an opening for a teammate if Player X himself does not take the shot. That usually describes a superstar.
John Schuhmann: I think so. It would take great defense (like what we’ve seen from the star-less Pacers and Bulls) and an offense with shooting and ball movement (like the Spurs in Chicago on Monday). Of course, I don’t think the Nuggets have what it takes. They’re not good enough defensively, not good enough on the road, and not good enough from behind the 3-point line to thrive in at a slower, playoff-like pace.
Sekou Smith: It’s only been done once in my time eyeballing the league, by the 2004 Detroit Pistons. And they did it with one of the most meticulously crafted rosters I can remember seeing that was didn’t have a true MVP-type anchor (Chauncey Billups or Ben Wallace came close). I love the Nuggets and the way they are playing this season. The committee approach only goes so far in the NBA playoffs these days. Sooner or later you run into a team built around a superstar player (or players, in most instances).