I must have missed the Kobe Bryant comparison week memo. Neil Paine of Basketball-Reference.com — inspired by Free Darko’s “Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac” — decided to compare Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan’s percentage of team possessions used, and offensive and defensive ratings.
Check out the comparison here.
Paine’s findings aren’t ground-breaking. Jordan was more efficient than Bryant. Paine argues that Jordan was more efficient defensively, and again, he’ll get no argument from me. But Paine’s defensive rating fails to take into account Jordan’s Bulls being superior defensively to any of Kobe’s Lakers squads. It also fails to note that it was Scottie Pippen — not Jordan — who defended the opposing team’s best offensive player most nights.
I’ve never argued that Bryant is better than Jordan. But I do agree with Phil Jackson’s assertion that Kobe is more “skilled” than Jordan was. The biggest difference between Jordan and Bryant — and Jordan and everyone really — is Jordan’s focus. That’s what made Jordan so efficient. His concentration rarely, if ever, slipped. And that’s what continues to plague Kobe Bryant to this day.
Charley Rosen summed up the issue recently:
Kobe is indeed a great shooter, but his problem is his penchant for taking too many bad shots — as many as 5-7 each game. Even now, as the Lakers lead the league in scoring and winning percentage, Kobe continues to abort the triangle offense in favor of forcing shots in just about every situation and from every angle. The fact that he makes so many of these ill-advised shots, and in such sensational fashion, obscures his perpetual habit of playing Kobe Ball.
Former Orlando Magic general manager Pat Williams devoted an entire chapter to Jordan’s focus in his book “How to Be Like Mike.”
Here are a few excerpts:
The team ophthalmologist for the Bulls and White Sox, David Orth, had a test he used to measure reaction time. A player would peer through a screen into a dark area and Orth would flash sets of numbers on a tick-tac-toe board. They’d appear in increments, from a half-second to one hundreth of a second. The players called out the numbers as they were flashed.
Jordan called out more numbers than anyone.
“What that showed,” Orth said, “was spectacular vision. But it was more than that; it showed a tremendous physical ability to concentrate.”
“In all the years I coached against MJ, I tried to figure out how we could get to him. I never could find a way. You couldn’t get to his mind, his body or his spirit. You just couldn’t go at him in any way. He totally perplexed me. He was unattackable. He’d just break guys. I had a deep-seated respect for him,” said Pat Riley, head coach of the Miami Heat.
First game of the 1997 NBA Finals at Utah. The Delta Center is tricked up like Barnum and Bailey’s Circus: light shows, fireworks, motorcycles, pulsating music, clouds of smoke billowing. The Bulls’ players stand in their pregame line, covering their ears, fighting to block out the noise and the colors and the kaleidoscope of distractions. And Utah general manager Scott Laynden looked over and saw Jordan, his back to the court, his head bowed, lost in meditation.
“It was chilling,” Layden said, “watching him get zoned in like that.”
It is the thrust behind the Zen principles that Jordan’s coach, Phil Jackson, attempts to impart upon his players. But really, this was not Jackson’s influence.
“What did you learn from Phil?” Vancil once asked Jordan.
“I learned that all the Zen stuff Phil had been teaching me,” Jordan said, “I’d been doing all my life anyway.”