Dean Smith left more than just a legacy of great basketball at North Carolina, he helped change the game of basketball. Including the NBA, for example he was talking about points per possession and other “advanced stats” basics back in the 1960s and ’70s. His fingerprints and influence can be felt from the Los Angeles Lakers (where former Smith player Mitch Kupchak is the GM) to Charlotte (where Michael Jordan is the owner) and just about every place in between.
Smith, who passed away last weekend, sent numerous players on to the NBA out of Chapel Hill, but what would have been his best starting five at the next level? We put together the list — and it’s one heck of a team.
Point Guard: Kenny Smith. While Phil Ford may have had the better college career, we give the nod to Kenny “the Jet” Smith. He was the starting point guard on both Houston Rockets title teams, was an intellegent player who took care of the ball, was fantastic in transition, knocked down a career 39.9 percent from three, and knew how to run a team. On this squad he isn’t the one going to be asked to do the scoring, but he would help space the floor, play solid defense, and help the team get some easy buckets on the break.
Shooting Guard: Michael Jordan. Was there any doubt? The six-time NBA champion, five-time MVP, 14-time All-Star, and, most would argue, simply the greatest player ever, said that Dean Smith was key to both the player and person Jordan became. “He was my mentor, my teacher, my second father…. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life.” (Vince Carter would be the reserve here… not a bad backup.)
Small Forward: James Worthy. An important part of the Showtime Lakers, “Big Game James” Worthy could play back-to-the-basket in the post or destroy you with tomahawk dunks in transition. He had the quickest baseline spin move of anyone I remember seeing play in the league. He was also an underrated defender. Over the course of his Hall of Fame career he averaged 17.6 points on 52 percent shooting, and he picked up one Finals MVP with his three rings. Billy Cunningham would come off the bench behind him.
Power Forward: Bob McAdoo. One of the great scorers the game has seen, he was a three-time scoring champion and had one MVP award for his efforts. He averaged 22 points (and 9.4 rebounds) a game for his career, but three seasons he topped 30 points a game on average. Even well past his prime he could put up enough points that he was a valuable part of the Lakers’ first two titles of the Showtime era. Antawn Jamison would be his reserve.
Center: Brad Daugherty. One of the more underrated NBA big men of his era, he averaged 19 points and 9.5 rebounds a game, plus was a quality defensive big man in the paint for those Cavaliers teams that were good but could never get past Jordan’s Bulls. Daugherty, a No. 1 overall pick, was efficient with a career .590 true shooting percentage. Off the bench behind him we’d have the scoring machine that was Sam Perkins — one of the first bigs who could really space the floor with his shot, a career 36 percent shooter from three.