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1994 and 1995

Jordan's Teammates prove their worth

As part of the Jordan legend, he supposedly "willed teams to victory" and took marginal players on his shoulders, and through his 4th quarter heroics, he would help these average players win championships.  This is not legend, it is myth.  Jordan did have a lot of 4th quarter heroics.  That is indisputable.  However, his teammates were very good and that is why the Bulls won titles.  Wilt Chamberlain dominated far more than Jordan did, but Wilt proved that one man could not win a title.  Only when he got teammates around him did he win titles.  The same is true of Jordan, only more so, since Jordan wasn't as dominating as Chamberlain, he needed even MORE help in order to win a title.   

1994 and 1995 are key years during the Jordan years.  These two years are central in proving that Jordan was not as valuable to his team as the his peers in the elite class of basketball players were to their teams.  If he is not as valuable, how can he be the greatest player of all-time?  These two seasons will debunk a series of Jordan-based myths:

  1. Jordan carried the team to 6 championships

  2. Jordan made those around him better

  3. Jordan was the most valuable player ever.

Jordan retired in October of 1993.  The critics predicted gloom and doom for the Bulls.  (I was one of these critics).  Some even declared that without Jordan, the Bulls wouldn't even make the playoffs.  After all, Jordan supposedly carried those stiffs to three titles, right?  Because Jordan waited so late to retire, the Bulls were not able to pick up an adequate starter in free agency.  They settled with Pete Myers from the CBA.   They were set up to fail.  Myers had a defensive reputation, but no where near that of Jordan, who had been named first-team all-defense 6 times and won the defensive player of the year award.  Furthermore, Myeres hadn't even played in the NBA for the last two years, and he never averaged more than 5 points per game.  How can you replace Jordan's 32 ppg and all-world defense with this guy?  The Bulls were set up to fail.  These predictions were also made - and all of them were reasonable assumptions, as you will see.

  1. The Bulls would be a much worse team without Jordan.  They would probably slip at least 15 games.
  2. If Jordan would come back, the Bulls would automatically win the title.
  3. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant would probably score more points, but they would shoot much worse, as defenses focused on them.
  4. The Bulls would shoot much worse without Jordan.

 

The first assumption was declared by nearly everybody.  Even Bulls coach Phil Jackson predicted a 15-game slip in his autobiography, Sacred Hoops.  He based this upon the retirement of superstars from the past.  Replacing Jordan with Myers should have been detrimental.  However, the Bulls only slipped 2 games: from 57-25 with Jordan in 1993 to 55-27 in 1994.  How could this be?  They should have fallen apart.  The answer is that Jordan simply wasn't as instrumental in taking the Bulls to another level as thought.  I'm not saying they could win a title without him.  He did make them marginally better, but not significantly better.  Look at Jordan's elite peers: if you replace Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bill Russell with a C.B.A. center, do you expect a 2-game drop?  No way.  If you replace Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, or Magic Johnson with a C.B.A. player, do you expect a 2-game drop?  Think again.

Why did Phil Jackson predict a 15-game drop?  Because he knew the impact that elite players had on their teams.  Look at the table below and ask yourself why Jordan's impact was so minimal?  

Year before losing player Year after losing player
Team Player Regular season Playoffs Regular Season Difference
(# of wins)
Playoffs
1969 Celtics Bill Russell 48-34 Championship 34-48 -14 Missed playoffs
1973 Lakers Wilt 
Chamberlain
60-22 NBA Finals 47-35 -13 Lost in first round
1-4
1974 Bucks Oscar 
Robertson
59-23 NBA Finals 38-44 -21 Missed playoffs
1988 Celtics Larry Bird 57-25 Conference 
Finals
42-40 -15 Lost in first round
0-3
1991 Lakers Magic 
Johnson
58-24 NBA Finals 43-39 -15 Lost in first round
1-3
1993 Bulls Michael 
Jordan
57-25 Championship 55-27 -2 Lost in 2nd round 3-4

To make matters worse, the Bulls lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs to the Knicks in 7 games.  In Game 5, Scottie Pippen received one of the most unfavorable calls in playoff history by referee Hue Hollins when he was called for a foul on Knicks' rookie Hubert Davis, that allowed Davis to go to the line and win the game.  If you are a real Bulls fan, you'll remember the call.  I was cheering for the Knicks in that series, and even I admitted the Bulls got hosed.  The Bulls should have won that series.  I believe that would have defeated Indiana in the finals. They owned them in the regular season and the Knicks handled the Pacers.  I don't think they had any chance of beating the Rockets in the finals without Jordan, but I do believe they could have got there without Jordan.  It's all speculating, but it's not unreasonable speculation.

This assumption were declared by those in 1995 who said, "the Bulls didn't win the title in 1994, did they?" While Jordan fans claim that he and he alone was single-handedly responsible for the title, they conveniently neglect 1995.  Jordan did come back that season.  However, the Bulls didn't have Horace Grant (and Dennis Rodman would not join until the next season).  Without Grant, their rebounding and interior defense deficiencies were exposed by the Orlando Magic (Horace Grant's team, ironically), and the Bulls lost in the second round 2-4.  As you can see in the table above, the previous year, without Jordan, they lost 3-4 in the 2nd round.  Now if Jordan were single-handedly responsible for those titles, why did they do even worse in the playoffs after he returned than they did the year before, when they didn't have him? 

How was Orlando able to defeat the Bulls with Jordan in 1995?  The answer lies with Horace Grant.  He was the key to Johnny Bach's (Bulls assistant coach) "Doberman Defense", as it was called.  The trapping defense the Bulls rode to three titles.  Grant could trap a player and he was quick enough to fall back and get the rebound.  When Jordan retired, the Bulls continued playing their defense and Myers filled in Jordan's role.  In 1995, Grant left for Orlando and Chicago was left without a strong interior defender and rebounder.  The trapping defense also gone.  Bach moved onto Charlotte and the Bulls didn't have a power forward that could make it work.  Dickey Simpkins and Corie Blount were not acceptable alternatives.  They soft underbelly was exposed, and as anybody knows, you can't win without defense and rebounding.  Phil Jackson was so desperate that he even tried Toni Kukoc there, hoping to stretch the defense with Kukoc's shooting, and increase ball movement on offense, but it wasn't enough to overcome their defense and rebounding woes.  Jordan did not fill this weakness, and Shaquille O'Neal and Horace Grant were able to expose Chicago and defeat them in the playoffs, and disprove Jordan's "mythical ability to elevate his team to championships." 

Jordan fanatics claim he had court rust.  Whatever.  Jordan played 17 games that season.  In 1986, Jordan played 18 games, coming off of a foot surgery.  In the 1986 playoffs Jordan scored a playoff-record 63 points.  Why was Jordan able to shake the court rust in 1986 and not in 1995?  Answer: he shook his court rust.  He dropped in the "double-nickel" (55 point game) on the defending eastern champs that season.  If Jordan had court rust, he wouldn't be putting in 55 on John Starks. His game wasn't up to 100%, but it wasn't so far off as to make a difference in a championship and a defeat in the 2nd round of the playoffs.

Furthermore, Jordan fanatics claim the next year, he shook his supposed court rust and led the Bulls to 72 wins.  These people are basketball illiterate.  If this were true, why weren't the Bulls winning 72 games in 1991, 92, and 93?  Jordan didn't have any court rust then.  The reason the Bulls improved was because they filled their weakness with the best player in the NBA FOR that weakness: Dennis Rodman.  They lacked rebounding from the power forward spot, so they brought on the greatest rebounding forward in history.  They lacked interior defense, so they brought in a 2-time defensive player of the year in Rodman.  He was the perfect fit.  Grant was a very good player, and he and Jordan's 1992 Bulls won 67 games.  But Rodman is better than Grant.  Connect the dots.  The reason that team improved so much was because of Rodman.  Without Grant or Rodman, Jordan simply could not win a championship, because Jordan could not provide interior defense and rebounding.  After all, the team really didn't miss him that badly when he retired.

I have asked Jordan fans to explain over and over why the Bulls only slipped 2 games when they replaced Jordan with Pete Myers.  To this day, not a SINGLE ONE, has been able to offer an explanation.  The answer is obvious, they just don't want to admit it.  Jordan was a great individual player, but he was not as valuable of a TEAM player as those peers of his in the elite category of basketball players.

The third assumption was that Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant would probably score more points, but they would shoot much worse, as defenses focused on them.  This appears to be a logical assumption.  However, the logic is clearly seen when the hype is peeled away.

1992-93 (w/ Jordan) 1993-94 (w/o Jordan)
Name PPG FG% PPG FG%
Scottie Pippen 18.6 47.3 22.0 49.1
Horace Grant 13.2 50.8 15.1 52.4

 

The fourth assumption is that the Bulls would shoot much worse without Jordan than with him.  That is because conventional wisdom says that a player of Jordan’s ability requires extra defensive attention, and that creates open shots for teammates. 

In addition to this, the shooting percentage of the league has declined every year since 1989, so it is only logical to assume that even with Jordan, the shooting percentage of the team would decline, and without him it would greatly decline, correct? Not surprisingly, the Bulls' opponents shot worse (fg% and PPG) in 1994 (no Jordan) than in 1993 (with Jordan).  I doubt that Pete Myers was a better defender than Jordan, so this fact only further proves the trend that I just mentioned - teams shot worse each season.

Well, the Bulls, as an entire team, DID shoot worse. That is because Jordan’s field goal percentage was taken out, and his position was replaced by CBA journeyman Pete Myers, who was known for defense (in other words, a terrible shooter). Furthermore, Toni Kukoc was a poor shooting rookie in 1994 (.431 from the floor and .271 from 3-point range).

When you factor this out, you find that there were nine players who played with Jordan in 1993 and without him 1994, you see that they actually shot BETTER without Jordan (48.6%) than they did with him (48.2%). As I showed previously, this was also true of the top 2 scorers (Pippen and Grant).  In contrast, the 1992 Lakers and the 1989 Celtics saw nearly everyone on the team fall in fg% and ppg, due to the absence of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, respectively.  This difference may not seem like much, but remember, Jordan is SUPPOSED to make life easier for teammates, not harder.  And the trend in the league was decreased fg% every year.  How could this be?

The short answer is that players like Jordan (ballhogs) do not make those around them better. Jordan has always been more interested in scoring his points than in helping his team - he practically said so himself.  If you wan want the long detailed answer, click here.

Let's look at those 3 myths again:

  1. Jordan carried the team to 6 championships - As I showed, the Bulls did not suffer greatly when he retired.  When he returned, they didn't even make the conference finals, until they replaced their power forward.  Compared to Jordan's peers (the short list of the elite players in NBA history), Jordan was the least valuable to his team out of all of them.  His impact was felt the least.

  2. Jordan made those around him better - I proved this collectively by showing that the players who played with him shot better without him.

  3. Jordan was the most valuable player ever - He simply did not affect the W-L column, or the playoff performance as greatly as the other players that I showed above.  This is indisputable.  Yes, Jordan has 6 championships, because he played on a very good team...a team that was good enough to win 55 games and go deep into the playoffs without him.  I list 7 players (Jordan included), as the "elite" players.  Out of these 7 players, guess which player has the most losing seasons in his career?  Jordan.  Guess which team didn't felt the least loss when he sat out for a season?  Jordan's.  

        Let me point this out: Jordan joined a losing team in 1984.  His first year, they remained a losing team. The next year, they were a losing team.  The third year, they posted their 3rd consecutive losing season.  During Jordan's first three years, he was not able to make the Bulls into a contender.  He couldn't even get them above .500.  This man has a legendary "will to win", but can't win?  Then, the Bulls add Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen, the next year, and the Bulls put up a winning record and advance another round of the playoffs.  The Bulls keep adding players and they keep winning more and more until they win 3 titles.  Jordan retires, and the Bulls only slip 2 games.  He comes back the next year, and they do WORSE in the playoffs than they did the year before him.  After the Bulls add Rodman and win 3 more titles, they disband the team.  Two years later, Jordan joins a losing Wizards team.  Under Jordan, they remain a losing team both years and fail to make the playoffs each year.  He retires again, and the Wizards continue losing the next year.

        Do you see the trend?  Jordan joins teams and they don't turn into contenders.  They don't even get above .500, even during his second year there.  When he leaves, they stay the same.  If they are a good team, they continue winning games and if they are a losing team with Jordan, they continue losing games.  Jordan doesn't "will" teams to a new level. His impact to the win column is minimal.  How, then, can he be the most valuable player ever?  I pointed out that over and over in his career that his teams don't go to a new level because of him.  If you can't see this, then you are simply ignoring facts.

There can only be one conclusion from all of this: If he is not the most valuable player ever, then Michael Jordan is NOT the greatest basketball player ever.

 

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