On to part two. After losing to what is an admittedly ridiculous Warriors team the other night Lebron is now 3-5 in his 8 Finals appearances. I feel we debunked the theory that Lebron has played better teams than Jordan (At the time of this writing the 2017 Warriors have not been included) but what about the other popular Lebron defense.
Admittedly, I personally did not know a ton about the depth of the Bulls squads since I was still learning my times tables and things of that nature while this was all going down so I really didn’t have a rebuttal for this argument. Using the same formula that I used to rank their opponents, I have ranked their supporting casts below. To refresh your memory (or for those that want to check my math) I’ve included the key again as well.
For the finals contributions I only included per game averages at or above 9.5 points, 5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1 full steal, or 1 full block. (both Jordan and Lebron had opponents with stats just below the threshold). I also did not include players that missed more than 1 game in a series (Lebron lost a player this way, Jordan did not but it did not affect the team’s place in the order.)
Drew Gooden 12.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg (21.1)
Daniel Gibson 10.8 ppg, 1.5 spg (13.8)
Zydrunas Ilgauskas 10.3 rpg, 1 bpg (12.3)
Anderson Varejao 5.3 rpg, 1.3 spg (7.9)
I don’t think anyone is surprised to see this team at the bottom of the list. I had forgotten Drew Gooden existed until I pulled the numbers. This team had no business in the Finals which can either be a testament to how good Lebron already was or how weak the East was. Considering they were swept by the Spurs I’ll lean toward the latter.
Mozgov 14 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg (24.5)
JR Smith 11.5 ppg
Tristan Thompson 10 ppg, 13 rpg, 1 bpg (25)
Matthew Dellavedova 1.2 spg (2.4)
Iman Shumpert 1.8 spg (3.6)
The team itself was much better than what is represented here. If we projected Kyrie’s stats out for the series, since he got injured late in game 1, he’d have added 71 to the total since he was All-NBA 3rd team and an All Star Reserve. That number would have made this Lebron’s 3rd best Finals team. However, he did go down and without his two best teammates so did Lebron and the Cavs. Added note: The Cavs won games 2 and 3 after Kyrie went down which means it was mostly Lebron.
Dwyane Wade 15.2 ppg, 1.6 spg All Star (Starter) (38.4)
Chris Bosh 14 ppg, 5.2 rpg All Star (Reserve) (29.2)
Ray Allen 1.6 spg (3.2)
Mario Chalmers 1 spg (2)
Chris Andersen 5.6 rpg
By the 2014 Season Wade had started to fade and the writing was somewhat on the wall for this team. It definitely wasn’t going to be 4, or 5, or 6 and the Spurs would make sure it wasn’t going to be a 3-peat either. They took the series in 5 games beating the Heat by 19+ in each of the last 3 after Miami squeaked out game 2.
Kyrie Irving 27.1 ppg, 2.1 spg (31.3) (missed 28 regular season games)
JR Smith 10.6 ppg, 1.4 spg (13.4)
Tristan Thompson 10.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg (20.4)
Kevin Love 6.8 rpg (missed 1 game) (6.8)
Richard Jefferson 5.3 rpg, 1.3 spg (7.9)
Another Cavs team affected by injuries. Love was barely a factor in this series while Kyrie averaged the most points per game of any teammate Jordan or Lebron had in a Finals appearance (edging out Wade). Kryie’s rating is affected here by the fact that he missed 28 games during the regular season. If you project him out as an All Star Reserve (he was an all star the years before and the year after) the score bumps up to 89.8 which keeps them where they are but makes them almost equal to the next team on the list. This ranking does make Lebron’s best and most meaningful Championship that much more impressive as it is the worst supporting cast Lebron or Jordan took to a ring.
Scottie Pippen 15.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.7 spg All-NBA 3rd team, All Defensive 1st team (58.1)
Toni Kucoc 15.2 ppg, 1.2 spg (17.6)
Ron Harper 1.5 spg (3)
Scott Burrell 1.2 spg (2.4)
Dennis Rodman 8.3 rpg, 1.2 spg (10.7)
Immediately following is the worst supporting cast Jordan took to a ring. It was actually Pippen’s 2nd worst year as a contributor but Kukoc was there to pick up some of his slack. This was Jordan’s last ring as the Bulls showed a clear decline from ’96 to ’98 and Jordan retired for the second time at the back end of his prime.
Scottie Pippen 20 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.7 spg, 1.8 bpg All NBA 2nd team, All Defensive 1st team, All Star (Starter) (90.3)
Bison Dele 1 spg (2)
Ron Harper 1 spg, 1 bpg (4)
Dennis Rodman 7.7 rpg
This 1997 Bulls team was pretty much Pippen and Jordan. This was actually Pippen’s 4th best year as a contributor overall but it was better than any of Lebron’s teammates’.
Scottie Pippen 20.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 6.6 apg, 2.4 spg, 1 bpg All defensive 2nd team (56.9)
Horace Grant 14.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.6 spg (25.6)
John Paxson 13.4 ppg, 1 spg (15.4)
Bill Cartwright 5 rpg
Cliff Levingston 1 spg, 1bpg (4)
This was Jordan’s 1st Championship, taking on Magic, Vlade, and James Worthy. This was also Scottie’s worst year as a contributor but fortunately for the Bulls they had Horace Grant and John Paxson. Prime years are 27-32 (34 if you’re special) and Jordan was just entering his. He was battle tested by the Prime Celtics and Bad Boy Pistons in the years leading up to this series so when he got there he was ready. Notable: Jordan averaged 11.4 assists and 2.8 steals per game in this series.
Dwyane Wade 19.6 ppg, 4.6 apg, 1.9 spg, 1.3 bpg All-NBA 3rd team, All Star (Starter) (62.9)
Chris Bosh 11.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.9 spg, 1.6 bpg All Star (Starter) (47.8)
Ray Allen 10.6 ppg
Mario Chalmers 10.6 ppg
These last few teams are getting us into the “Super team” realm though Lebron doesn’t think he ever played on one. Two All Star Starters and significant contributions from Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers this Heat team was able to pull off a miracle in game 6 (Lebron haters will say Ray Allen bailed him out but that was why he was there) and then came out and took care of business in game 7.
Scottie Pippen 20.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 7.7 apg, 1.5 spg All NBA 2nd team, All Defensive 1st team, All Star (Starter) (98.7)
John Paxson 10.3 ppg, 1.3 spg (12.9)
Horace Grant 7.8 rpg, 2.3 bpg (12.4)
Scott Williams 6.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg (8.8)
Again, this team was a huge 2 with Jordan and Pippen. This was Pippen’s second best season as a sidekick and the Bulls got just enough from Paxson, Grant, and Williams to put them over the top.
Dwyane Wade 22.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.2 bpg All-NBA 3rd team, All Star (Starter) (71.6)
Chris Bosh 14.6 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg All Star (Reserve) (36.4)
Shane Battier 11.6 ppg
Mario Chalmers 10.4 ppg, 1.8 spg (14)
This was Lebron’s second best supporting cast and his most dominant Finals result. I feel like Lebron felt the pressure of Durant beating him to a ring and he took his personal game to another level on top of what his teammates were giving him. They made short work of the young Thunder and Lebron got the ring monkey off of his back. This team, talent-wise was very close to the 1992 Bulls.
Dwyane Wade 26.5 ppg, 7 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.5 bpg All-NBA 2nd team, All Star (Starter) (87.3)
Chris Bosh 18.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg All Star (Reserve) (35.8)
Mario Chalmers 11.8 ppg, 1.7 spg (15.2)
Udonis Haslem 5.2 rpg
Mike Bibby 1.4 spg (missed 1 game) (2.8)
Joel Anthony 1.2 bpg (2.4)
This was Lebron’s best “supporting cast” and thus his most embarrassing loss. I put supporting cast in quotes because Wade was actually the leading scorer in this Finals as Lebron averaged less than 18 points per game. Lebron put together his super team and proceeded to fade to the background when the going got tough in the Finals. If we look solely at the supporting casts and performances this would be the biggest hole in Lebron’s G.O.A.T. argument. Personally, I was not mad that Lebron decided not to show up in this series as it allowed my man Dirk to get his ring. #GoMavs
Scottie Pippen 21.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 7.7 apg, 2spg, 1 bpg All NBA 3rd team, All defensive 1st team, All Star (Starter) (93)
BJ Armstrong 13.5 ppg, 5 apg (21)
Horace Grant 11.2 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.5 bpg All defensive 2nd team (37.5)
Scott Williams 6.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg (9.3)
This is the first team where Jordan had two strong teammates. This was Pippen’s 3rd best year and Horace Grant was a 2nd team All-Defense Center. Jordan needed all the help he could get dealing with MVP Barkley and his strong Suns team. After this season Jordan stepped away from the game and played baseball only two return at the end of the ’95 season. He and Pippen were both in the middle of their prime at this point and it leaves the rest of us to speculate what could have been had he not left.
Scottie Pippen 15.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.3 spg, 1.3 bpg All-NBA 1st team, All-Defensive 1st team, All Star (Starter) (104.1)
Toni Kukoc 13 ppg 6th Man of the Year (28)
Luc Longley 11.7 ppg, 1.8 bpg (15.3)
Dennis Rodman 14.7 rpg, All Defensive 1st team (29.7)
Jordan never saw a game 7 but he sure loved Game 6’s. This was Jordan’s best supporting cast. Most people consider this the greatest team of All-Time though this year’s Warrior’s team will now be in that discussion as well. In his first full season back he had 2 teammates that were 1st team All Defense with Toni Kukoc as the 6th man of the year and Luc Longley providing some inside scoring and rim protection as well. This was Pippen’s best year as a contributor which clearly made this team a force to be reckoned with. It’s almost amazing that the Sonics were able to take 2 games.
This breakdown actually strengthens points for both sides.
After laying this out on paper, as a Lebron fan I can say that 3 (remember, this doesn’t include this 2017 team yet) of Lebron’s losses were justified since Jordan did not win with any supporting cast worse than them. I can go the added step of pointing out that Lebron won a ring with the worst supporting cast of the two.
As a Jordan fan (or at least someone who proclaims Jordan as the G.O.A.T.) this strengthens the argument about him having won at least 8 rings had he never stepped away from the game early. His two best teams were the 1993 and 1996 teams. In those two missed years (I know he came back late in 95) Michael would have been 30 and 31 years old, Pippen 28 and 29. These were the mid-prime years or what should have been the best years of their careers so it is easy to say that they were highly likely to have won those two titles.
This also brings up the point of the East being tougher in Jordan’s day which would mean Lebron got to Finals that he shouldn’t have and/or that Jordan never made it to a Finals he couldn’t win. Jordan fans can use that to discount the fact that Lebron has already gone to 8 Final’s (even if you assume the two additional for Jordan) while Lebron fans can use this to say that perhaps if Jordan had gotten past those Celtics or Pistons that he would have had a couple of Finals L’s as well.
My instinct based on these results is to toss out the 3 worst teams. The 2007 Cavs, the injured 2015 Cavs and the 2014 Heat. I’ll say that those teams shouldn’t have been there so now we have Lebron at 3-1 in the Finals (not including 2017) and it suddenly doesn’t look so horrible. Then I have to say that Lebron won a title with the worst remaining supporting cast. Even though it is a slight difference all things considered it still looks good. HOWEVER, we then see that he also lost in the Finals where he received the most support and that brings him right back down. I think the 2011 Finals is the death knell in the G.O.A.T. argument. It’s hard to justify and hard to get around for me.
Let me know how you feel about this breakdown on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you give your hot takes.
Thanks again for reading and stay tuned for my draft breakdowns in the days to come!
I may throw together a Part 3 to see just how good some of the wins or bad some of the losses were when you compare the opponent and the supporting casts. Draft first though. Draft first.
Go to: (Lebron vs. Jordan Part 1: Opponents)