Dissecting the Monstars Roster Construction in Space Jam

With Space Jam 2 being universally panned by critics, can we talk about the original Monstars roster construction for a second. The 1996 Children’s movie was an unequivocal masterpiece of marketing to children. However, That roster construction is worse than if Mitch Kupchack and David Kaan tried to outdo each other in the stinking department. I mean did they really expect to win when they played their three best players out of position for 48 minutes. It’s almost like the only reason they picked Shawn Bradley was to sell toys when the movie deal went through. That’s not even mentioning the fact that if they were at a January 29th Suns, Knicks game to steal powers they unfortunately missed Kevin Johnson (who doesn’t get screen time in the movie and Danny Ainge is playing all his minutes.) It’s almost as if they decided that the only people they were allowed to steal powers from were those represented by super agent Dave Falk.

Look even if we are forced to only use Dave Falk guys because he is the producer. He was representing at or around that time: John Stockton (probably the best point guard at the time), Mitch Richmond (who was All-Star Game MVP the year that the movie happened!), and Glen Rice (an all star who was coming off a career year, had won the all star three point contest and would be all NBA in the next two seasons, and win the 98 All-Star MVP!)

Let’s dive into what the Monstars actually did that week:

January 29th: Phoenix Suns at New York Knicks

This is a real marquee matchup of the Week the Suns are rolling with a 33-9 record and are killing it, a major problem for the monsters starts here. Kevin Johnson was inactive! 

KJ is actually coming off the last all star appearance of his career, he is going to end up playing what will become a career low in games at 47 (He will try to come back out of retirement in 99-200 but only plays six games that year) and average the fourth lowest points total for his career at 15.5. The tragedy of this is with modern medicine Johnson’s hernias probably get diagnosed. one last aside on Johnson is that he totally returns to form in the playoffs that year averaging 24.8 points and has a massive game four vs Houston in the conference semis where he puts up 43 and 9 as Phoenix stretched the eventual repeat champions Houston to seven games.

The Monstars choose Barkley first and that’s a really understandable pick even with only a cursory basketball knowledge he’s averaging 23, 11 and 4 on the year and that night puts up a massive stat line of 20 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals in the losing effort. Barkley is only two seasons removed from winning one of the sketchiest MVP choices in NBA history to not involve Russell Westbrook averaging a triple double. and this is an overall solid choice by the monsters. The fact that all the injuries have forced Barkley to start at the three tonight gives us some insight into why the Monstars have such bad roster construction though.

The real no brainer of the night is Ewing. He has 35 and 15 that night as New York (coming off of a finals appearance themselves) dismantles the short handed Suns in a 107-88 shellacking. Ewing would average 24, 11, and 2.4 blocks that year on a team that would finish with 55 wins. The fact that they find Ewing in this point actually makes sense when we see the stat lines put up by the guys who finished ahead of him in All-NBA voting as to why Big Pat Makes the team. It’s insane that a stat line like that wouldn’t end up on one of the three all NBA teams so it is a nice bit of poetic justice that the Monstars pick him up here.

Also, John Starks is coming off an All-Star season last year. He puts up 22 tonight and is going to average 15 points a game over the season. The Monstars should have given him a closer look.

January 30th: Seattle SuperSonics at Philadelphia 76ers

This game is the real disappointment out of the whole exercise because we have three all stars active and two all NBA players and all three kind of lay eggs. The Monstars end up with a terrible lack of stand out stat lines and are almost forced into a bad roster move. This is why NBA playoff series are not one and done because people can be off and it’s super disappointing sometimes.

Let’s start with the Seattle SuperSonics and their electrifying two man freak show that is Garry Payton and Shawn Kemp. Both would make one of the three All-NBA teams this year in the next regular season this team will make the finals! but this year they have some growing pains and will end up losing their first round matchup to the Lakers. 

Payton is one of my favorite players of all time! He’s a ball hawk defensively and is on this year’s All-NBA second team. He will finish first team All-Defense and win next year’s Defensive Player of the Year award after leading the league in steals. This season he puts up averages of 20 points, 7 assists and 2.5 steals but tonight we run into problems. He struggles to break out of malaise and only takes 6 shots. He ends the night with 7 points and 9 assists, a solid night but it doesn’t jump off the box score and grab you like Barkley and Ewing did last night.

Kemp is possibly the greatest dunker of all time. He flies through the air with reckless abandon slamming home anything and everything! He’s coming off two straight All-Star bids and an All-NBA appearance. This year he’s going to put up almost 19 points and 10 rebounds but tonight he suffered from foul trouble and only played 29 minutes putting up 11 points and 8 rebounds.

We are somehow spared from the awful thought of Jordan’s college teammate Sam Perkins making the Monstars roster even though he finishes the year with pedestrian averages of 12 points and 5 rebounds injury troubles for Seattle force him into the starting lineup where he torches the 76ers for 31 points and shows off a skill set far ahead of his time as he goes 3-4 from the three point line in an era where bigs are almost banned from trying to shoot outside the restricted area.

That brings us to the Philadelphia 76ers. This is not a good year. They will finish 24-58 and tonight is one of the 58. Dana Baros is probably their best player and he will be selected as an All-Star and win the Most Improved Player of the Year award so he seems like the obvious choice however tonight the sharpshooter who would hold a record for consecutive games with a three point make for almost 10 years barely keeps his streak alive by making only one of his six attempts and scores only 19 points total. 

The Sixers do have a little used bench guy who only plays 16 minutes named Shawn Bradley. Bradley is tall, like he’s the third tallest player in NBA History at this point. He puts up 9 points off the bench and gets three blocks where he barely Jumps and still swats them away. He’s not all that talented but he plays super hard and tries to block everything that moves and the Monstars make the mistake that has plagued NBA franchises with lottery picks since the beginning of time. They take the raw big guy when there are better guards available because they know big is useful.

One thing that is important to note here is that I’m pretty sure 76ers fans are ok with them sucking for this stretch as in 96 they got the number one pick and took one Allen Iverson who worked out pretty well for them.

Normal wisdom would assume that people would understand that Barkley needed to be a four and Ewing needed to play the Five so you needed to pick guards or a wing tonight. However the Monstars have seen Ewing shoot it from mid range like all the fours, Barkley started at three last night and dominated, and tonight they saw the 76ers lose to a team that started two guys the size of five men in Perkins and Kemp. So, it is with a physical pain in my chest that I type this… I understand how Bradley makes the team and it’s not completely ludicrous… Ok, now that I’ve checked my blood pressure and calmed down a little bit let’s move on to the last night the Monstars had to fill out their team. 

January 31: Charlotte Hornets at Washington Bullets

We have hit a time crunch now and the Monstars know they’re too high profile so they need their last two players TONIGHT! I’m actually going to start with the Bullets here. They are not good. Like, they’re really bad. They will end up with the worst record in the conference, second worst in the league, and that’s only because the Clippers are still owned by Donald Stirling who refuses to pay his players and intentionally makes a bad product.

Thankfully the Monstars realize they have WAY too many bigs otherwise they might have picked up George Muresan or Washington’s de facto best player, Rookie Juwan Howard, who will be both an All-Star and All-NBA next year, or injured superstar Chris Webber. From a roster construction standpoint it would make sense for them to pick up Scott Skiles, who still in 2019 holds the record for most assists in a game, or Rex Chapman, a scrappy guard that makes a lot of sense on paper but something remarkable happens.

LARRY FREAKING JOHNSON! The dude goes off! He has 15 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. It’s easily the most well rounded stat line we see in any of the three games that the Monstars scout. LJ is a marketing legend. His “Grandamama” alter ego is legendary! He has one of the highest selling Jerseys of the 90’s and even to this day it’s one of the most popular throwback jerseys that NBA fans wear. LJ is two years removed from an All-Star and All-NBA season, he only missed it last year because of a back injury. He will end up an All-Star this year and his game tonight makes the Monstars think “Who cares if that guy plays the same position as Charles Barkley that dude belongs on the court!”

That leaves the Monstars with one roster spot and they don’t have a lead guard. The options tonight are a little underwhelming but after the disasters at point guard the last two nights it’s understandable what they do. night one saw Danny Ainge fill in for an Injured Kevin Johnson and a well past his prime Derrick Harper. Night two saw terrible games from All-Star point guards Gary Payton and Dana Baros. That leaves us tonight with Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues and Scott Skiles. This season Skiles may have a slight numbers advantage with averages of 14 points and 7 assists over Bogues’ 11 and 8 but Muggsy balls out finishing with 20 and 7, plus a win, to Skiles 14 and 9. All of the sudden we have a team!

That leaves us with a shakily built roster of Shawn Bradley, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues. It doesn’t fit well together on Paper and we will see them have an epic second half collapse against the Toon Squad. Let’s see what the Monstars could have done differently.

So there are some obvious limitations for these poor Monstars (or Nerdlucks as they are known before they steal the powers.) First being they only have three days to see games. Second being the games need to be relatively close together so they can get to them easily. Finally, they need to try to see as many players as possible so they should avoid doubling up on teams.

We are going to look at the same few days stretch from January 28th-31 in 1995 and see if we can build a better team from there. We need to find three games on consecutive nights where teams don’t repeat, the geography is close and they occur within these three days with one game a day. That gives us a few circuits:

Circuit one: Games in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

Circuit two: Games in Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee

Circuit three: Games in Seattle, Portland and Sacramento (This is four days and is scary)

Circuit four: Games in Utah, Miami, and Houston (The one day break between Utah and Miami helps with travel)

Obviously the Nerdlucks took option one. My major Changes that I would have done is I would have nabbed John Starks on night one and looked at the season averages and realized Payton just had an off night. That would have left us with a really solid if still spacing challenged line up of Ewing, Barkley, Johnson, Starks, and Payton.

Option Two gives us some great games so lets take a deep dive!

Circuit 2

January 29: Golden State Warriors at Chicago Bulls

This may be hard to understand for NBA Fans in 2019 but there was a time when the warriors were not an automatic finals appearance. In fact this year was full of really bad stuff for the bay area natives. The off season kicked off with Chris Webber being like “Nope I’m out.” C-Webb was a former Number one overall pick who the Warriors had traded the rights to promising young player Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway to acquire (more on Penny later I’m sure). and they traded him for Tom Gugliotta who’s going to play in this game for 22 minuets and not score… ouch.

In the early 90’s the Warriors had an electrifying lineup of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin. Tim is going to play well tonight but Mitch is playing in Sacramento now, and Chris is injured tonight. The Warriors do manage to nab Latrell Sprewell with a late first rounder in 92 and this year will end up being one of his 4 career All-star years and last year he was both All-NBA first team and second team All-Defense (an awkward result of Jordan being retired to play baseball/suspended for gambling.)

Sprewell and Hardaway try tonight both scoring in double figures but the rest of the roster lays a big turd and they end up embarrassed by the Bulls who are having their own issues. The Bulls in all honesty probably did a lot better than everyone expected in Jordan’s first year of retirement. They have two all stars in Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong. They end up winning 55 games and losing in game seven of the east semifinals to the Knicks mostly because of health issues suffered by Scottie Pippen.

This year is a different animal for the Bulls. Horace Grant left in the off season to go to Orlando and last year’s trade acquisition, Luke Longly is not picking up the slack. Their interior defense is abysmal without Grant and they are barely at a .500 pace.

The lone bright spot this year is Pippen. He’s been fantastic! He scores 27 tonight to go along with 11 rebounds and 8 assists giving him the best stat line we have looked at in this entire exercise so far. Pippen is a shoe-in for our first pick on the team.

January 30: Phoenix Suns at Cleveland Cavaliers

We’ve already gone on and on about The suns. In our exercise Barkley hasn’t lost his powers in the game last night because the Nerdlucks went to Chicago to get Scottie Pippen. We will leave our Suns talk at this. KJ is still hurt but they bench Danny Ainge for Dan Majerle. Chuck scores  20 and has 8 rebounds in the win so he gets snatched in the do-over as well.

Cleveland is having some issues this year, like they do pretty much every year when a certain Akron native, and star of the upcoming Space Jam 2 is not on the roster. They have two All Stars on the roster in Brad Daugherty and Mark Price. Unfortunately for our experiment Daugherty is out for the season and Price is missing today with a broken wrist. When Price was healthy he led them to a 20-8 start however the rest of this season is going to end up with a below .500 record where they get the 6 seed and lose in the first round.

Price’s backup Terrell Brandon is going to play so well in his absence that next year the Cavs are going to trade price to give him the reins and he will reward them with two straight All-Star nods. Tonight he scores 20 and the Nerdlucks nab him to play the point against the Toons. As an aside, Brandon is one of my favorite late 90’s players because he was tiny but could dunk.

January 31: Dallas Mavericks at Milwaukee Bucks

The Nerdlucks need to find two players out of this matchup. Both of these teams are going to miss the playoffs, although the Bucks will only be one game out. And there are actually some quality names to look at here.

The Mavericks are a young team led by their “Three J’s” lineup of Jim Jackson, Jamaal Mashburn and Jason Kidd. Jackson and Mashburn both average at least 24 points a game and Kidd is about to go on a triple double tear that forces voters to split the Rookie of the Year award between him and Grant Hill proving that even in the 90’s triple doubles could get you awards you didn’t deserve so its not just Westbrooks stat padding.

Kidd will go on to have one of the best careers a point guard has ever put up as he is a ten time All-Star, six time All-NBA, and nine time All-Defense selection. He will win two conference championships in New Jersey in the early 2000s and will return to the Mavericks later in his career and be the veteran leader on the squad that beat their own personal Monstars lineup in 2011 to win the Championship. Unfortunately Kidd misses two games this year… and you guessed it… this is one of those games.

Mashburn and Jackson play well, scoring 24 and 26 respectively but they get blitzed by Milwaukee and end up giving the game away in fourth, losing by two. While the Mavs have this year’s number 2 pick the Bucks have the number one pick, and last year’s National College Player of the Year, Glenn Robinson jr. “Big Dog” as he’s called eventually makes two all star appearances in the early 2000’s and wins a ring with the Spurs in ’05. He hangs 38 on them and sophomore starting Center Vin Baker Scores 20 and grabs 14 rebounds on his way to his first of four all star appearances. 

The Nerdlucks end up nabbing both Bucks stars as they seal the victory. That makes our option two Lineup a better fit but much less marketable fit of Terrell Brandon, Glenn Robinson jr., Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley and Vin Baker. While I like this lineup more than the original Monstars I’m 100% not convinced it would beat my improved Monstars from Circuit 1. So let’s keep looking.

Circuit 3 and the West Coast Rundown

January 28: Los Angeles Lakers at Seattle SuperSonics

This is an extremely young Lakers team that doesn’t exactly know where it’s going after the scary retirement of Magic Johnson a few years ago thanks to an HIV diagnosis. The Lakers don’t really let the lack of direction slow them down though as they end up being pretty decent and even win a playoff series against Seattle this year. Those winning ways will start tonight in a seven point win.

The Lakers have no shortage of Nerdluck bait tonight though. Nick Van Exel is electrifying and will eventually be an all star in ’98. Eddy Jones is a lottery pick this year that will lead them in scoring. He’s going to make two All-Star appearances for the Lakers in the late 90’s before he clashes with a young Kobe Bryant and they send him out east where he gets another All-Star nod. Vlade Divac will eventually blossom into an All Star and was a young roll player on the teams that had won championships with Magic. Finally Cedric Ceballos will make his lone All-Star appearance this year as a Laker.

Unfortunately all four of them play below expectations and even though they win its Power Forward Elden Campbell who leads the team in scoring with 27, which is out of the ordinary completely. He looks so awkward doing it that I’m going to give the Nerdlucks the benefit of the doubt and say that they won’t take his powers.

Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp fill up the stat sheet which may explain why they’re so tired in two days and lay those eggs against the 76ers that kept them from being picked in the original go through. Payton Scores 22 to go along with 13 assists and four steals. Kemp gets 21, as well as 3 blocks, three steals and two assists. 

January 30: New Jersey Nets at Portland Trailblazers

In this scenario the Nerdlucks spend their day between games really focusing on learning the minute details of the sport and learn a few things about intangibles and leadership qualities. New Jersey is in a rough patch Kenny Anderson was an All-Star last year but it looks like he peaked, he’s not even active tonight. and the rest of the roster is Journeymen except big man Derrick Coleman. His numbers are about the same as last year but he’s missed a lot of time and won’t get a third All-Star nod. He’s going to become a locker room issue and get traded next year but he’s still a beast!

Tonight he scores 27 and grabs 10 boards. locks down on D and the nets actually win. The Nerdlucks almost grab him but they’ve heard about the big they’re supposed to scout tomorrow and hold off. Portland is also in a weird state though.

The Blazers have fallen pretty far from being in the finals in ’92. They have some talent in the backcourt with Rod Strickland and Clyde Drexler but their bigs can’t get anything done. Drexler is trying to play the valiant soul and the Nerdlucks see he has more to show that his 22 points let on and they grab him up. Lucky for Clyde his team’s poor showing and the fact that he gets snubbed for an All-Star appearance leads him to request a trade to the Houston Rockets where he turns his season around nabbing the last guard spot on the All-NBA third team and a sweet, sweet championship! 

January 31: San Antonio Spurs at Sacramento Kings

The Spurs were the League’s one seed this year and their depth shows it. in their starting line up they had Vinny del Negro and Avery Johnson plus former All-Star Sean Elliot, All three would be around in ’99 when the team won its first championship. They had former all stars off their bench in Doc Rivers and Terry Cummings. They even had former 3x MVP Moses Malone as a deep bench guy in his last season.

Then you have the bigger guns. Dennis Rodman is a two time All-Star, two time Defensive Player of the Year and he’s led the league in rebounding for the past three seasons and will continue to do so for four more. He will eventually join Malone and this next player as members of the Hall of Fame.

The Spurs are deep and all but everything they do begins and ends with David Robinson. “The Admiral” as he’s called was an active military member before dominating the league. He has been an all star every year since he entered the league in ’89-90 and will be one four more times. He will be a member of two spurs championships. He was the Defensive Player of the year in ’92, a ten time All-NBA selection and an eight time All-Defense honoree. This is his best season of his career. Tonight is actually a pretty normal night for him. In a year where he’s averaging 27 and 10 his stat line of 25 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks, 3 steals and 3 assists looks almost normal.

Robinson himself looks insane. He’s 7’2” and weighs 240. He honestly looks as big and muscular as a Monstar and they haven’t even stolen his powers yet. Maybe the fact that Robinson, Hakeem and Shaq already look like aliens the Nerdlucks avoided them out of reverence. Needless to say in this scenario Robinson loses his powers.

On the other side of the coin is a Sacramento team that will stay competitive and just miss the playoffs. They are pretty much a one man show with Mitch Richmond leading the way. He’s been an All-Star every year since ’93 and will be until ’98. He will end up as a five time All NBA selection, a Hall of Fame member and he’s going to win MVP of next month’s All-Star game. He hangs 33 tonight and gets zapped.

If you’re keeping track of circuit three our starting lineup is Garry Payton, Mitch Richmond, Clyde Drexler, Shawn Kemp and David Robinson. This team would blow the original Monstars out of the water, circuit two wouldn’t stand a chance and even our improved circuit one team would struggle against them. For the life of me I think the movie would even have better personality wise if we got the trash talk of Payton and Kemp with the smooth pick you apart games of Richmond and Drexler and the bully game of Robinson (who is a much better actor than any of the original Monstars.)

Circuit 4: a bit more travel but we got some better players

January 28: New Jersey Nets at Utah Jazz

I know this is going to be shocking but remember that really bad nets team from circuit three? they play even worse tonight. Even Coleman can’t break double digits. It’s embarrassing and they get killed but on the bright side it highlights what many people say is the best pick and roll tandem ever to play.

Utah’s John Stockton and Karl Malone are legendary. They dominate a bad nets team tonight. both score 20. Malone adds 9 rebounds and Stockton adds 14 assists. Let’s look a little closer at each of them.

John Stockton is probably a favorite of any white kid born between 1980 and 1995. He’s short, un-athletic and slow but he may be the smartest and most skilled player the NBA has ever seen. He’s got lightning quick hands and averages over two steals a game for his career becoming the all time leader in total steals and total assists. He is flat out one of the most underrated players of all time. His accolades include 10 All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA appearances, and 5 All-Defense selections.

Malone is big, loud and crazy. He ends up scoring more points than anyone but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He’s a 14 time All-Star, 13 time All-NBA, 4 time All-Defense, and 2 time MVP! He’s awesome, Stockton’s awesome and they should be sure fire picks for our Nerdlucks.

January 30: Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat

The Atlanta Hawks are in a weird situation. They got their best player two days into the season via trade from Miami. Steve Smith scores 23 and dishes out 8 assists. He’s got the accolades outside of this win too. He’s going to be an All-Star in 98 and he will eventually win a championship as a bench player for the Spurs.

Glen Rice starts off slow for the Heat but he brings them back into the game late by catching fire and the Nerdlucks grab him up too. He’s a scorer first, second, and third. He’s a 3 time All-Star and 2 time All-NBA selection. Both teams are one man shows but The Nerdlucks found two players tonight.

January 31: Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets

The Denver Nuggets are going to make the playoffs by beating the Kings on the last game of the season. Rodney Rodgers plays ok tonight but its not much of a stand out. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is the prototype Steph Curry but he bricks almost everything tonight. Dikembe Mutombo is an amazing defender and he’s going to have a fantastic lengthy career he will be an 8 time All-Star (including this year), 3 time All-NBA, 6 time All-Defense and he’s tied with Ben Wallace for the most times to win the Defensive Player of the Year (4 times!) unfortunately no one is looking at them!

Hakeem Olajuwon is coming off the best year of his career. He won MVP, the championship his second straight Defensive player of the Year award and Finals MVP (He would do that last one again as Houston repeats as champions). He ends his career as a 2 time champion, MVP winner, 12 time All-Star, 12 time All-NBA selection, 8 time All-Defense selection, the all time leader in blocks and my favorite player of all time! Tonight he scores 25, grabs 13 rebounds, gets 5 blocks, and 3 steals guaranteeing that the Nerdlucks steal his powers.

This gives our circuit four team a final lineup of John Stockton, Steve Smith, Glen Rice, Karl Malone, and Hakeem Olajuwon. This is by far the best team we could assemble. In all the circuits this is easily the best team.

Unfortunately I was unable to mention several All-NBA players like Shaq, Penny Hardaway and Detlef Schrempf. I barely glanced at Grant Hill. There were a lot of good players they could have picked. All in all Space Jam is a fun movie that I still enjoy the nostalgia of today but there are many problems with it other than just roster construction. Marvin the Martian is the worst referee since Tim Donaghy. The Monstars technically shouldn’t have been able to begin the game because they need at least eight active players. My biggest question… Who approved the optics of a guy who half the league thought was on a gambling suspension betting his own freedom as a side bet in a kids movie?!?!

And yes I spent way too much time analyzing the coaching and roster building dynamics of a kids movie designed almost solely to sell shoes. I could have used this time to research a lot of other things. I could have maybe written about a time in the NBA where there were players that are still active but I didn’t. Nostalgia is fun, basketball is fun and you know what glaring problems and all…. Space Jam is fun and my son will grow up with this as the only Space Jam, no LeBron-led monstrosity allowed.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.

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Jonathan is a former basketball coach and current mega fan. He’s the co-host of the Assisted Development Podcast and can be found on Twitter at @PastorPostUp!