The Whiteboard: 10 players who would have thrived in today’s NBA

Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images) /

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On a media conference call Tuesday, former Phoenix Suns MVP Charles Barkley said he thought his squad that reached the 1993 NBA Finals would fare well in today’s league. The first reason he listed? His belief that nobody could stop the speedy Kevin Johnson, especially without being able to hand check him.

Barkley’s opinion is an interesting one, but whether he’s right or wrong is irrelevant; his comment begged the question of what other former NBA greats might have been even better in this modern era of pace-and-space where 3-point shooting, playmaking and versatility are musts.

Because of Barkley’s comments, and how The Last Dance has conjured up debates about which current players would’ve survived the brutality of ’80s and ’90s basketball and which former players would excel in today’s game, now’s as good a time as any to take a look at 10 notable players from the past who might have been even better if they had arrived a few decades later.

Going with a bunch of superstars who would’ve been just as good now is not our interest; we’re looking for the guys who were ahead of their time in terms of their individual skill-set, especially as it pertains to 3-point shooting, defensive ability and all-around versatility.

Note: Players whose careers were altered chiefly by injuries don’t count, which is why Grant Hill and Penny Hardaway — larger playmakers who would’ve fit right in with today’s league — don’t make the list. Shouts to Terry Mills and Matt Bullard, who just missed the final cut.

Reggie Miller

Heading into the 1996-97 season, only seven players in NBA history had ever attempted more 3-pointers than the 536 Reggie Miller would take that year … and only Dennis Scott (42.5 percent) even came close to the staggering 42.7 percent Miller hit. Considering those 536 attempts now rank 88th on the NBA leaderboard for 3-point attempts in a single season, it’s safe to say he’d be even more lethal in today’s 3-point heavy NBA. There’s a reason he’s second on the all-time 3-point field goals list, and given his scoring and spot-up chops, he’d be even deadlier now than he was in his prime.

Dennis Scott

Like Miller, Dennis Scott was a pioneer as a designated 3-point marksman. Between his high number of attempts (for that time) and his 39.7 percent conversion rate for his career, Scott was one of the first players opposing defenses had to be wary of from beyond the arc. He may not have been the all-around scorer that Miller was, but his defense made him one of the league’s first 3-and-D players, which is fitting, since he was nicknamed “3-D.” He only ranks 70th on the all-time 3-point field goals list, but something tells us he’d be much higher if he’d played today.

Pete Maravich

Pete Maravich only had the 3-point line for the final season of his NBA career, going 10-for-15 overall, but given what he could do with the basketball, is there any doubt he’d be a formidable threat from long range if he played today? Between his ball-handling tricks, razzle-dazzle passing and innate scoring ability, “Pistol” would be a delight in the modern NBA, especially with the way his every highlight would blow up on social media.

Chris Mullin

People forget how good Chris Mullin, the “C” of the “Run TMC” Warriors, really was. He’s only 176th on the all-time 3-point list, but that’s because he attempted a mere 2.2 per game for his 16-year career. That didn’t stop him from making a tidy 38.4 percent of them or from averaging 18.2 points a night, including six straight seasons where he topped 20 per game. Just imagine Mullin playing in a league that encouraged him to launch from downtown more often.

Joe Dumars

Don’t let the fact that Joe Dumars was a six-time All-Star distract you from the fact that he remains one of the most underrated players on any NBA championship team, or that his lockdown defense and 38.2 percent shooting from downtown would easily translate to today’s game. He only took 2.5 3s per game for his career, but in the modern NBA, his skill-set could quite capably assimilate into the prototypical 3-and-D build.

Larry Bird

Larry Bird has the reputation as one of the NBA’s greatest shooters ever, so can you imagine if he played during a time when the league wasn’t first experimenting with the 3-point line? He shot 37.6 percent from deep, but only took 1.9 per game for his career. Stephen Curry made more 3s in his best two seasons than Bird made during his 13 seasons combined. If Larry Legend played in a league that encouraged 3-point shooting, along with his exemplary passing, he would be even better today. (And don’t give me the “athleticism” argument, because Bird was plenty athletic, and Luka Doncic is proving it doesn’t matter much if you’re supremely skilled).

Dan Majerle

Dan Majerle is only 44th on the NBA’s 3-point list, but he became a sniper during his best years with Barkley’s Suns and made 35.8 percent of his 4.0 attempts per game for his career. Throw in his two All-Defensive team selections and the 3-and-D skill-set of “Thunder Dan” would fit in nicely on any current roster.

Sam Perkins

One of the game’s original stretch-bigs, Sam Perkins knocked down 36.2 percent of his 1.8 long-range attempts per game over the course of his 17 years in the league. Later in his career, as the NBA began to embrace 3-point shooting, he launched 3.5 attempts per game in six seasons with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp‘s Seattle SuperSonics, making 38.2 percent of them. Sure, he’d still be a role player today, but he’d be a very useful one as a 6-foot-9 forward who could play the 3, the 4 or the 5.

Toni Kukoc

It’s a pity Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen harassed young Toni Kukoc so much that his career never fully blossomed. It’s also a pity he didn’t play in the modern NBA, where his combination of size (6-foot-11), playmaking and versatility would shine. He only shot 33.5 percent from distance, but this two-way big man and his impressive all-around game would have flourished today.

Detlef Schrempf

Entertainment 720 is great and all, but Detlef Schrempf‘s best foray into the modern world would still be in the NBA. He only took 1.1 3s per game for his career but made 38.4 percent of them. As a guy who thrived both as a sixth man for the Indiana Pacers and a starter for the Sonics, his scoring and floor-spacing would be a welcome addition to any team in need of depth.

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