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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How Good are the Lakers Compared to Recent Championship Teams?

The L.A. Lakers are often called the most talented and/or deepest team in the NBA. I am skeptical of both claims: the Boston Celtics at full strength are more talented--they have three future Hall of Famers--and there are many teams that have more productive benches than the Lakers, who ranked 16th in the NBA in points per game by bench players during the 2009 regular season; even that ranking is a bit deceptive, because the Lakers' bench players typically play alongside either Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant, so they benefit from being on the court with someone who attracts a lot of defensive attention.

While Gasol is an excellent complementary player to Kobe Bryant, he would not have been the second best player on the vast majority of championship teams from 1991-2008; Gasol is one of the top 15 players in the NBA today but several of the "sidekicks" on recent championship teams made the 50 Greatest Players List. Here is a comparison of the seven man playoff rotation of the 2009 Lakers to the seven man playoff rotations of the championship teams of the "Phil Jackson era" (i.e., post 1991, when Jackson won the first of his record 10 championships as an NBA coach):

Kobe Bryant has a solid supporting cast around him: Pau Gasol is one of the top 15 players in the NBA, Lamar Odom is well suited to being the third option and Trevor Ariza fits his role perfectly. Derek Fisher provides intangibles that are not measured in the boxscore and Andrew Bynum showed flashes of the player that he may eventually become.

However, most of the championship teams of the past two decades had a future Hall of Famer/All-NBA First or Second Team member/former or current MVP candidate as a second option and an All-Star/All-NBA/All-Defensive Team caliber player as a third option; those teams also generally had either a primetime scorer or All-Defensive team member at small forward.

It is true that some of the players mentioned below added to their resumes (in terms of All-Star selections, All-Defensive team selections, etc.) after playing on championship teams and that members of the 2009 Lakers may do so as well -- but it is extremely unlikely that Gasol, Odom, Ariza or Fisher will materially change how their careers are viewed; Gasol is not going to be considered one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players nor is Odom going to suddenly become a perennial All-Star or a fixture on the All-Defensive Team.

Perhaps Bynum will eventually stay healthy and become an All-Star but during the 2009 playoffs he clearly was nothing more than a role player (unlike Sam Cassell, who was similarly young when he played a big role for the Rockets many years before becoming an All-Star).

Last season, I made the case that the 2008 Lakers were a deep team but not quite as talented as some people suggested. Although the 2008 Lakers had eight players who averaged at least 16.8 mpg in the playoffs, the talent level at the top of their rotation could not be compared with the Celtics, whose roster includes three future Hall of Famers. This year's Lakers are probably a little more talented than last year's Lakers but because the production of several bench players declined markedly the 2009 Lakers are not as deep as the 2008 Lakers; only six Lakers averaged at least 16.8 mpg in the 2009 playoffs.

The 2009 Lakers are Phil Jackson's 10th championship team and they are not as deep as most of the teams that won championships since Jackson claimed his first title in 1991. In this context, I am defining "depth" by evaluating the top seven players (based on playoff mpg) on a given team in terms of their playoff statistics during a championship season while also considering their overall career accomplishments; career accomplishments are relevant because they indicate a player's skill set, talent level and impact. I am focusing on playoff production because this provides the most accurate picture of who did the heavy lifting to win the championship.

The top seven players on the 1991 Chicago Bulls were Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong and Craig Hodges. Everyone except Hodges shot over .500 from the field in the 1991 playoffs; Hodges, who won the All-Star Three Point Shootout three straight years (1990-92), took more than a third of his shots from behind the arc and shot .393 from long range.

Jordan and Pippen are both members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list, while Horace Grant, B.J. Armstrong and Bill Cartwright each earned one All-Star selection during their careers. Grant also made the All-Defensive Second Team four times. The 1991 Bulls were both talented and deep. The 1992 and 1993 Bulls had the same seven man playoff rotation except for Scott Williams taking the place of Hodges, who played a limited role during the 1992 championship run and was not on the team in 1993.

By the time Jordan came back from his self-imposed baseball exile to lead the Bulls to three championships from 1996-98, the team's entire seven man rotation had changed except for Jordan and Pippen.

The 1996 Bulls featured Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr. Rodman won seven straight rebounding titles, earned two Defensive Player of the Year awards and made the All-Defensive First Team seven times. He also played in two All-Star games and received two All-NBA Third Team selections. If not for his flamboyant personality, Rodman would likely have garnered many more honors and would be considered a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

Kukoc won the Sixth Man Award in 1996; throughout his career Kukoc displayed tremendous versatility and a knack for hitting clutch shots. Harper established himself as a 20 ppg scorer early in his career before a knee injury slowed him down; with the Bulls he remade himself into a defensive specialist. Longley was a solid center whose skills fit in well with the Triangle Offense. Kerr is the NBA's career leader in three point field goal percentage. All seven players averaged at least 19.8 mpg in the 1996 playoffs and they all were productive in the context of their roles, though Pippen and Kukoc did not shoot well in the playoffs that year.

The 1997 Bulls were even deeper, not only returning the same seven man rotation but adding Bison Dele (formerly known as Brian Williams) as an eighth man who averaged just .2 mpg fewer than Kerr. Dele was a skilled big man who could score and defend. Dele departed after one season, but the other seven players returned in 1998.

The Houston Rockets won back to back championships in 1994-95. The first Houston championship team featured Hakeem Olajuwon, Vernon Maxwell, Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry, Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell and Mario Elie.

Olajuwon is on the 50 Greatest Players List, Maxwell was a streak shooter who provided scoring/toughness and Thorpe was an excellent scorer/rebounder who annually ranked among the field goal percentage leaders. Seven-time NBA champion Horry began earning the nickname "Big Shot Bob" during his time in Houston, Smith was a standout shooter/playmaker and Cassell made the All-Star team and the All-NBA team once each during his career thanks to his clutch shooting and his playmaking ability. Elie was a "glue guy" for three championship teams.

The 1995 Rockets started slowly and then made a big trade, acquiring Clyde Drexler -- a member of the 50 Greatest Players List -- for Thorpe. The only other change to the seven man rotation was the addition of Pete Chilcutt -- a three point shooting big man -- in place of Maxwell, who only participated in one playoff game before being given a leave of absence by the team.

After Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause imploded the Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs won the 1999 championship in the wake of a lockout-shortened 50 game season. Tim Duncan, Avery Johnson, David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Mario Elie, Jaren Jackson and Malik Rose led the way for the Spurs. Duncan and Robinson are each on the 50 Greatest Players List and each won at least one MVP. The well-traveled Johnson proved to be a steady playmaker/leader for the Spurs. Two-time All-Star Elliott was a versatile player. Elie added toughness and championship experience. Jackson led the Spurs in three point field goals made during the playoffs while Rose was a seldom-used banger who played 11.4 mpg, just .5 mpg more than veteran forward Jerome Kersey.

The Spurs made several changes in their rotation by the time they won the 2003 championship, as only Duncan, Robinson and Rose remained. Tony Parker, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili joined the mix.

Jackson's erratic shooting resulted in six 20 point games and nine games of fewer than 10 points during the Spurs' playoff run. Parker, San Antonio's second leading playoff scorer in 2003, has become a three-time All-Star and he won the 2007 Finals MVP. Ginobili has made the All-Star team once and in 2008 he made the All-NBA Third Team and won the Sixth Man Award. After bouncing around the league early in his career, Bowen became a perennial All-Defensive Team member in San Antonio and he also developed into a deadly three point shooter from the corners. Robinson played his last season in 2003 and while he was no longer a prime time offensive threat he still made an impact defensively. Rose's role increased significantly after 1999 and he averaged 23.3 mpg in the 2003 playoffs.

The 2005 Spurs retained Duncan, Parker, Bowen and Ginobili as the nucleus, adding Robert Horry, Brent Barry and Nazr Mohammed to the rotation. Horry's clutch play has already been mentioned. Barry provided dead eye .424 three point shooting, while Mohammed led the team in playoff field goal percentage (.528) and ranked second in rebounding (6.7 rpg). Duncan, Parker, Bowen, Ginobili and Horry also played for the 2007 champions, joined by two-time All-Star Michael Finley and inside presence Fabricio Oberto, who led the Spurs with a .625 field goal percentage in the playoffs.

The Lakers won three championships between the Spurs' first two titles. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant headlined all three teams. O'Neal, who is on the 50 Greatest Players List, finished first, third and third in MVP voting during those seasons, while Bryant made the All-NBA First or Second Team and the All-Defensive First or Second Team all three times while placing 12th, ninth and fifth in MVP voting.

Three-time All-Star Glen Rice was the third scoring option for the 2000 Lakers. Ron Harper, Robert Horry, A.C. Green and Brian Shaw filled out the seven man rotation. Harper, Horry and Green all had previous championship experience, while Shaw had been a starter for playoff teams with several different franchises. Derek Fisher and Rick Fox were the eighth and ninth men in the rotation but they moved up to third and fourth respectively in 2001; Rice went to the Knicks but Horace Grant added rebounding and toughness in place of Rice's shooting. The 37 year old Harper appeared in just six playoff games.

The 2002 Lakers relied more heavily on their top five players -- O'Neal, Bryant, Horry, Fox and Fisher each averaged at least 34.2 mpg, Devean George played 17.2 mpg and Samaki Walker and Brian Shaw nearly tied for the seventh spot in the rotation (12.6 and 12.5 mpg respectively). George and Shaw shot poorly, while Walker provided solid rebounding in his limited minutes.

The 2004 Detroit Pistons are perhaps the most unusual NBA champions of recent times; their roster did not include any MVPs or members of the 50 Greatest Players List: the 1979 Seattle SuperSonics were the last championship team that did not have a former, current or future NBA regular season MVP and/or a member of the 50 Greatest Players List.

However, four of those Pistons made the All-Star team during their careers (Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace) and Tayshaun Prince earned four All-Defensive Team selections. Corliss Williamson won the Sixth Man Award as a Piston in 2002. Future All-Star Mehmet Okur ranked eighth in playoff minutes played, just behind defensive specialist Lindsey Hunter. The Pistons may not have had a superstar but they unquestionably had a deep roster.

The 2006 Miami Heat followed the traditional formula of surrounding two star players (Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal) with solid veteran role players: former All-Stars Gary Payton and Antoine Walker teamed up with quick point guard Jason Williams, rugged inside force Udonis Haslem and versatile defender/three point shooter James Posey to support Wade and O'Neal. Each member of the seven man rotation averaged at least 24.3 mpg in the playoffs. Seven-time All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning averaged 10.3 mpg as the eighth man, ranking third on the team in blocked shots during the playoffs.

As mentioned above, the 2008 Boston Celtics employed three future Hall of Famers: former MVP Kevin Garnett plus perennial All-Stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The rest of the seven man rotation included talented young point guard Rajon Rondo, physically imposing center Kendrick Perkins, James Posey and three-time All-Defensive Team member P.J. Brown. Sam Cassell and promising forward Leon Powe finished just behind Brown in playoff mpg.

The 2009 Lakers do not look that imposing when compared to most of the aforementioned teams. Bryant, a former MVP who surely would be on any future 50 Greatest Players List, was option 2 (or perhaps 1B) for the three Lakers' championship teams earlier in the decade. Second option Pau Gasol has earned one All-NBA Third Team selection in his entire career and has never received a single MVP vote. He would have been the third option on the vast majority of championship teams since 1991, including all six Chicago championship teams, as well as the 2000-2002 Lakers, 2006 Heat, 2007 Spurs and 2008 Celtics.

One could make a good case that he also would have been the third option on the 1999 and 2005 Spurs. The 2004 Pistons ran an "equal opportunity" offense but it is unlikely that in that system he would have been featured over Hamilton and Billups and he may not have received more touches than Rasheed Wallace (depending on Wallace's mindset). The only championship teams from this era for whom Gasol would clearly have been a nice second option are the 1994 Rockets and 2003 Spurs.

In 2009, Lamar Odom posted the best field goal percentage (.524) and three point field goal percentage (.514) of his playoff career. He produced solid scoring (12.3 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg) but would not have taken Horace Grant's spot for the 1991-93 Bulls or Dennis Rodman's position for the 1996-98 Bulls. Odom's scoring and rebounding numbers are comparable to Grant's but Grant was a more consistent player who earned one All-Star selection and four All-Defensive team selections during his career; while not all of those honors took place during Chicago's championship seasons, they speak to Grant's overall talent and level of play.

In contrast, Odom has never made the All-Star team or been selected to the All-Defensive Team. Rodman won three rebounding titles as a Bull, made the All-Defensive First Team once and received some MVP votes in 1996. Odom would not likely take Thorpe's spot for the 1994 Rockets and it would be a close call between Odom and the 1995 version of Horry. Based on positional designation Odom would come off of the bench for the 1999 Duncan/Robinson Spurs, though you could argue that he would be the third most productive player on that roster. Odom's rebounding would be useful for the 2000-2002 Lakers and 2006 Heat.

It is evident that the Bryant-Gasol-Odom trio hardly stands above Jordan-Pippen-Grant/Rodman, Olajuwon-Drexler-Horry, O'Neal-Bryant-Rice and Duncan-Parker-Ginobili.

At best, Bryant-Gasol-Odom ranks in the middle of the pack among championship trios in the past 19 years, primarily because the top two players in most of the other trios are all-time greats or at the very least perennial All-Stars, neither of which is true of Gasol.

The contrast between the Lakers and other recent championship teams is even more dramatic at roster spots four through seven. Trevor Ariza certainly did a fine job as a defender and spot-up three point shooter but he cannot create a shot for himself or others because of his limited skills as a ballhandler/passer. He would not have started at small forward for most of the past 19 championship teams, including the six Bulls teams (Pippen), the 1994 Rockets (Horry, before he shifted to power forward the next season after the Drexler-Thorpe deal), 1999 Spurs (Elliott), 2000 Lakers (Rice), 2004 Pistons (Prince), 2006 Heat (Walker, who actually averaged more mpg than O'Neal even though "stat gurus" insist that Walker is a subpar player) and the 2008 Celtics (Pierce).

Ariza would not likely have started for the 1995 Rockets, though he could have been a nice bench player for that team. Bowen (2003, 2005, 2007 Spurs) does not put up gaudy numbers, but he is a better defender and more proven shooter than Ariza. Based on skill set/familiarity with the Triangle Offense, I doubt that Ariza would start over Rick Fox for the 2001 or 2002 Lakers, either.

Derek Fisher ranked fifth on the 2009 Lakers in playoff minutes played. He struggled mightily with his shot throughout the playoffs (.394 shooting overall, including .284 from three point range), though he came up huge in game four of the Finals. Fisher also had some problems defensively with small, quick point guards. He is a savvy veteran player and a huge upgrade over Smush Parker but he would not start over the sure-shooting Paxson (or Armstrong) for the 1991-93 Bulls or over Harper for the 1996-98 Bulls, nor would he take minutes away from Smith and Cassell in Houston.

Perhaps Fisher could duel Avery Johnson for playing time for the 1999 Spurs. The 2000 Lakers started Harper, while the 2001 and 2002 Lakers started a younger, more athletic, better shooting version of Fisher. Clearly, Fisher would not start over Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups or even Rajon Rondo. I'd take Fisher over the 2006 Miami Heat version of Jason Williams.

Starting center Andrew Bynum averaged just 17.4 mpg in the playoffs for the 2009 Lakers. He may become an excellent player in the future but in the 2009 playoffs he was strictly a role player, reaching double figures in points just five times in 23 games and never reaching double figures in rebounds. Forget comparing Bynum to championship centers Olajuwon, O'Neal and Ben Wallace -- Bynum was not more productive than Bill Cartwright (1991-93 Bulls) or Luc Longley (1996-98 Bulls).

Luke Walton rounded out the Lakers' seven man rotation. Other seventh men of the past two decades include Steve Kerr and Mario Elie, each of whom hit huge shots during championship runs; the 2006 Miami Heat had a future Hall of Famer (Payton) as a seventh man and, while he was not extremely productive, he came through with several big shots.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:51 AM

29 comments

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29 Comments:

At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:33:00 AM, Blogger SamiA said...

I agree on the comparison with Boston and L.A. The Lakers are obviously a very good team, but if the Finals were a rematch of the year before with the Celts at full strength, then I don't think L.A. is having riot issues.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 12:29:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

You might be interested to know that in Chris Ballard's column in the SI commemorative Lakers issue, he quotes an unnamed Western conference scout who say that there are some, like the coach for the unnamed team, who think Kobe is better than Jordan. He goes on to say that Kobe has no weaknesses.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 5:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

You can add that scout to a list that includes Mark Jackson and Steve Smith, two people who played against both Jordan and Bryant and who have favorably compared Bryant to Jordan in some respects (Jackson said two years ago that Bryant could go down as a greater player than Jordan, while Smith recently said that Bryant's footwork is superior to Jordan's). There is no question that NBA "insiders" have a much higher opinion of Bryant's game than the general public does.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 5:11:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sami A:

The full strength Celtics would certainly have posed a tougher challenge than the Magic did. Although there is no way to prove it, I also think that the Cavs would have challenged the Lakers more than the Magic did.

The Lakers would have had a better chance versus the Celtics this year than in 2008 because the Lakers would have enjoyed home court advantage. I also think that Gasol improved his defense, strength and toughness.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 5:24:00 PM, Blogger SamiA said...

Totally agree on the Cavs having a better chance in the Finals if they actually got there.

Gasol showed some growth, but against a frontline of Garnett and Perkins, he doesn't stand too much of a chance. And when I think about it, it's not a indictment on Gasol, it's more the physicality of Boston's frontline at full strength.

Rajon Rondo's experience as a main option this year in the postseason is going to be a blessing for Boston. With a healthy KG and a much more offensively confident Rondo, I think Boston is going to run away with it next year.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 5:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sami A:

I think that if the Lakers and Celtics had met this year (with KG at full strength) that the Lakers would have had a real shot due to homecourt advantage. It would have been tough for the Celtics to win three straight at home in the middle of the series and if they failed to do that then they would have had to win two games in L.A. The Celtics have not been a great road team in the playoffs the past two years.

It is ironic that you mention Rondo because the big story/rumor floating around today is that the Celtics are trying to trade him because of his supposedly bad attitude, though Ainge denied that report.

I think that the Celtics will obviously be a contender next year if KG is healthy but I am not convinced that they will "run away" with anything. Their core HoF players are getting older and they have two tough teams to deal with in the East (Orlando, Cleveland) plus some young teams that seem to be improving.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 5:48:00 PM, Anonymous J. Bauer said...

David,
Lets face it. The hatred or dislike for Kobe runs deep. It mirrors the hatred Kobe's veterans teammates had toward him too when he first came to the league(as chronicled by R.Lazenby). They wanted to humble dude cause they thought he was too arrogant. A better sentence would be Kobe believed too much in himself. And when you feel threatened by that, you start to hate. That is why I can't bring myself to understand why Shaq couldn't stand Kobe then.

Writers didn't like Kobe because he dared thought he could be better than jordan who is like a deity to them. I bet you if you can get writers who have written a bad story about Kobe, will admit to you that they cant stand the guy if you get them in a room.

And most like Lebron because he's not Kobe. Don't believe me? listen to every sports jockey or read a column about Lebron, what is the most common you hear? Unlike Kobe...
--------------------------------

on Spurs getting Richard Jefferson: It's amazing how this franchise can stay relevant even after everybody thought their window closed. But i still dont see them getting by an healthy lakers squad(with Odom and Ariza re-signed).

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 5:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

J. Bauer:

There is no doubt that hatred for Kobe runs deep and you accurately described why this is the case.

It should be possible to offer LeBron the praise that he deserves without slamming Kobe. I think that they each are marvelous players.

The Spurs needed to get younger and to obtain an athletic wing player and they seem to have accomplished both goals in one fell swoop. I'm not sure what the Bucks are doing but perhaps this deal has positive financial implications for them regarding the salary cap (that is usually the reason that teams do deals that don't make sense from a talent standpoint).

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 6:03:00 PM, Anonymous Joel said...

David,

Milwaukee has Sessions and Villanueva going into restricted free agency, so they dumped Jefferson's salary in order to retain one or both without incurring a hefty luxury tax penalty.

Good trade for San Antonio from a talent standpoint, but they are now thinner than ever in the frontcourt.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 6:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

joseph

this team is not favorable to most teams fully i agree those other teams are not way better either i don't think the rockets was better kobe was hakeem and gasol was better than every player on houston. ariza odom fisher are favorable if not better than smith elie vernon maxwell etc. same with the pistons in 04 kobe and gasol better than everybody and odom ariza and fisher are favorable to there top 5. so the bulls the lakers and a couple of spurs team was better. this lakers team is the deepest and the best in league if they alltime great is ireelevant they the best today.

kobe in some aspects is favorable to mike jordan but totally he is not as good as mike statiscally nowhere he is better than mike 27 triple doubles to 16 6 rings to 4 10 scoreing titles to 2 5 mvp to 1 fg% scoreing average etc. i know kobe played with shaq early in his career so he really couldnt win scoreing titles like jordan could because jordan had the greenlight and was always the number 1 option. look kobe played with shaq his first 8 years if he didnt play with shaq those first 8 years he might of won 3 scoreing titles so he might have 5 now he still wouldnt be close to 10 his first couple years he wasnt going to win scoreing title comeing straight out of high school it would take a few years to win same with mvp and rings he wouldnt have three rings so early if he wasnt teamed

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 8:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,
Is it true that the Bucks are one of 24 teams that failed to make a profit this season? If so then I can see why they would dump RJ for trash. Not a good sign for Mr. Stern either.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joel:

Without even looking anything up I just figured that this has to be a financial deal for Milwaukee.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

joseph

if he wasnt teamed up with shaq he woudnt of won 3 rings early like he did so the argument he couldnt of done what jordan did if he came in the same way as jordan is not relevant or true he is all time great belong in top 10 players ever he not better than mikel jordan end of discussion the scout mark jackson and steve smith no he not either theres no real argument for kobe other than he has more range than jordan footwork is superior is not true what kobe does jordan already mastered what specifically does kobe do better than mike rebound pass no what does he do. this argument is ridicolous im not saying mike is way better than kobe but he is better every way you look at it man.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I am not sure if the Bucks made a profit or not but they are a small market team whose owner does not have the deep pockets that some owners (Paul Allen, Mark Cuban, etc.) have.

 
At Tuesday, June 23, 2009 11:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joseph:

The 1994 Rockets are one of the few championship teams of recent years that were not clearly deeper than the 2009 Lakers and I indicated that in the article; the 1995 Rockets with Top 50 players Olajuwon and Drexler plus Horry, Smith, Cassell and Elie were deeper than the Lakers.

The 2004 Pistons did not have one player as good as Kobe but they essentially had four All-Stars plus a former Sixth Man award winner (Williamson) and a future All-Star coming off of the bench (Okur). There is no question that team is deeper than the 2009 Lakers. Kobe is the only Laker who would definitely start for that team; Gasol probably would not start over Sheed because the Pistons were a defensive minded team and Sheed played a key role for them defensively. Bynum, Ariza and Fisher definitely would come off of the bench; in fact, Bynum probably would hardly get any minutes at all.

I have made it clear that I would take MJ over Kobe but I don't necessarily agree with how you made the comparison; you cannot just judge them based on triple doubles and scoring titles without factoring in who their teammates were and what their roles were on their teams. I think that MJ was a lot more determined to win scoring titles than Kobe, because there is no question that Kobe could have won scoring titles the past two years if he had been so inclined; he voluntarily reduced his scoring.

As for the comments by Mark Jackson and Steve Smith, Jackson said during last year's playoffs that Kobe is as good as MJ and has a chance to go down as the greatest player ever. Jackson brought that up again during this year's Finals, saying that he took some heat for those remarks but that what Kobe did this year validates his sentiments. I don't completely agree with Jackson's assessment but you cannot dismiss out of hand the observations of someone who played against both players and clearly understands the game very well.

Smith said on NBA TV that Kobe's footwork is superior to Jordan's. That is something that could be debated but Smith has firsthand knowledge since he not only played against both players but he guarded them and was guarded by them (Jackson played against them but for the most part would only have guarded them on switches). I don't see a clear footwork advantage for MJ or Kobe; they are arguably the two best players of all-time in that regard, at least for perimeter players (with post players you have to bring McHale, Olajuwon and even someone like Dantley into the discussion).

 
At Wednesday, June 24, 2009 11:19:00 AM, Anonymous Dmills said...

David,

Ariza is so valuable because he has that rare ability to have a huge impact on a game without needing the ball in his hands constantly ala James Posey. He has stated that his summer plans are to improve his overall floor game and his man to man defense. If he can do that I can see him being a hybrid of Michael Cooper and Scottie Pippen. Albeit a poormans version.

 
At Wednesday, June 24, 2009 11:53:00 AM, Blogger SamiA said...

In terms of the age bug, Ray Allen stands out, but I don't worry about it too much because he's not the centerpiece of the offense. KG, if you want to tell me he's coming off the knee problem, then ok, I hear that.

My whole point is that with Rondo's development, he can carry a bigger part of the load compared to the past. And by saying that, i'm saying it takes the pressure off of the aging stars your talking about.

How about all these Rondo rumors though? If he gets traded to Memphis(highly unlikely), then he must have rubbed someone the wrong way.

Thanks for the response dave

 
At Wednesday, June 24, 2009 2:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

joseph.

im not convinced the 95 rockets was better either the lakers stack up pretty well vs most teams historically based on there depth and i think pau gasol is underated he is a very good to great player bruh, odom is good as well better than the rockets 2 and 3 options not the bulls or spurs or lakers rockets pistons they are better than in my opion.

i agree with you he is not as good obvisouly mark jackson has a right to his opion im not undermineing kobe he is not as good as jordan all im saying he is the closest thing but not mike you know i agree with your assesment of both players you seem fair in your follow up post saying you didnt totally agree with me or mark jackson thats fair but mike wasnt selfishly determined to win scoreing titles he just was great enough to win scoreing titles and ring in the same year 6 times. kobe could of won the scoreing titles the last couple years they better when he does a little less thats why he did and they won.

of the jordan compared players 10. harold miner 9. roy marbly 8. jerry stackhouse 7. penny hardaway 6. grant hill 5 vince carter 4. trcy mcgrady 3. dwayne wade 2 lebron james 1 kobe bryant so he is the closest to jordan only guy that could mess with him is lebron james he got to get a COUPLE RINGS IN THE MEANTIME THOUGH.

 
At Wednesday, June 24, 2009 2:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

i just read stephen a smith is gone from espn and been gone since april i was wondering where he had been i guess he felt disrepected and put in a box it said he declined a year offer and they then opted not to renew his contrct stephen a legacy was he was real came from a back perspective was loud and was a good anaylst basketball knowledgable. i know it had nuthing to do with post i was wondering your opion on him.

 
At Wednesday, June 24, 2009 3:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

As I have stated here several times previously, I do not have a high opinion of SAS in the role of NBA expert. He is a competent general sports columnist but it is telling that even ESPN got tired of his over the top screaming.

All you need to know about how this business works is that ESPN got rid of a solid professional like David Aldridge to keep SAS on their NBA coverage. Aldridge moved right over to TNT and now SAS is out of work.

 
At Wednesday, June 24, 2009 3:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dmills:

Ariza is a nice, solid role player--but he started at small forward for the Lakers and was their fourth best player; he would not have started or been the fourth best player for most of the championship teams since 1991.

We can leave Pippen out of the discussion, because that comparison is ridiculous, but think about Cooper versus Ariza. Cooper could handle the ball so well that he played backup point guard, he could defend more positions than Ariza and yet he did not even start for the 80s Lakers. Where do you suppose Ariza would have been in the rotation for those teams? Ariza would have been the eighth or ninth man, yet he was a key player for the 2009 Lakers.

 
At Wednesday, June 24, 2009 4:01:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joseph:

In the article I explained why the 1995 Rockets had more depth than the 2009 Lakers. You can start with the fact that the Rockets had two of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-Time. I'd take 1995 Horry over 2009 Odom--Horry was more versatile, more consistent and more clutch. The Smith-Cassell point guard duo is much better than Fisher-Farmar. The Lakers don't have anyone coming off of the bench like Mario Elie.

A lot of reporters emphasized Kobe's reluctance to play in the Triangle Offense early in his career but they apparently have forgotten just how much Jordan resisted playing in that offense, too. Jordan certainly cared about winning scoring titles more than Bryant does. It is impossible to imagine Jordan at the ages of 29-30 being the best player on his team and not going after the scoring title; Bryant did not do that either of the past two seasons. Bryant only won scoring titles when the Lakers really needed him to score that much just to be competitive. If winning a scoring title even was a goal for Bryant then he clearly got that out of his system after doing it twice but Jordan wanted to win the scoring title every year; I'm not saying that this is necessarily bad but it would be silly to deny an obvious truth.

Penny, Hill and T-Mac were legit All-NBA players when they were healthy. VC is a solid All-Star. LeBron and Wade will be perennial MVP candidates if they stay healthy. Kobe is the closest player to MJ since MJ retired.

 
At Wednesday, June 24, 2009 4:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sami A:

Rondo appears to be capable of handling a bigger load but if the Big Three drop off due to age/injuries then the Celtics will not be serious contenders. Rondo played very well in the playoffs but with KG out and Pierce/Allen playing inconsistently--rarely did both play well in the same playoff game--the Celtics did not even make it to the Conference Finals.

The Rondo trade rumor is surprising. It will be interesting to see what happens.

 
At Thursday, June 25, 2009 1:27:00 AM, Anonymous dmills said...

David,

Not to stray off topic but I was just having this discussion with a friend of mine who swore up and down that Michael Cooper in his prime was better then Scottie Pippen. I believe Pippen was a superior play maker and that he could guard 4 positions but that Cooper was a much better on ball defender. What's your take on that?

 
At Thursday, June 25, 2009 5:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

DMills:

My take is that your friend has no idea what he is talking about. Pippen is a member of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List--and I would put him in the top 25-30. Cooper was a solid role player who was an outstanding defensive player and a very good three point shooter. I would not say that Cooper was better than Pippen at anything other than three point shooting.

 
At Thursday, June 25, 2009 12:02:00 PM, Blogger FreeCashFlow said...

Here's an interesting story, that may not change anything as it's not very specific, except to say that Jerry Krause did not consider Pippen to be the second best player in the league during the Bulls' championship runs.

http://blogs.nypost.com/sports/hale/archives/2009/06/heeeeeeres_the.html

 
At Thursday, June 25, 2009 4:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Free Cash Flow:

That little article neglects to list even one reason for Krause to say that about Pip--but the obvious thing to consider is that Krause and Pippen had a very contentious relationship, particularly near the end of Pippen's time with the team. A better indication of Pip's value is that after MJ won one of his Finals MVPs he said that he would split the honor with Pip, with MJ keeping the trophy and giving Pip the car. The players and coaches with whom I have spoken--from both the Bulls and from teams who faced the Bulls--praise Pip quite extensively. You have to understand the nuances of the game to fully appreciate Pip's greatness, because he was able to profoundly affect a game even when he did not have huge boxscore numbers; he had a playoff game that he totally controlled despite scoring just four points--he completely shut down point guard Mark Jackson to the point that Jackson could barely even bring the ball up the court.

 
At Thursday, June 25, 2009 11:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

joseph

kobe could'nt of won ten scoreing titles and won 6 and won 6 rings if he wanted too jordan was that rare player who could do both he wasnt selfish or meant something to him at all.

 
At Friday, June 26, 2009 6:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Joseph:

I never said that Kobe could have won 10 scoring titles or that MJ was "selfish." I said that winning scoring titles meant more to MJ than it does to Kobe; the evidence for that is that Kobe clearly still possesses the ability to win scoring titles now but he has voluntarily reduced his scoring. In contrast, MJ insisted on scoring 30-plus ppg even when he had a very strong supporting cast around him. The Bulls did not "need" for MJ to win scoring titles by the 1990s but scoring 30-plus ppg was very important to MJ, much more important than it was to Pippen; even after MJ retired, Pip did not drastically increase his shot attempts but he played in a way that enabled Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong to earn their first (and only) All-Star selections.

 

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