The Greatest Of All Time: A Term That Should Not Be Used In Team Sports

Introduction

Over the last two to three decades, sports pundits have been on a quest to determine which athlete is deserving of the moniker greatest of all time. For instance, Emmanuel Altenor formerly of Bleacher Report stated that we’ve seen many great players throughout NBA history “but which players in the game’s history stand out above the rest?”. However, one can argue that it is impossible to determine who is the greatest of all time because a substantial amount of players were subjected to different systems and responsibilities. Those responsibilities fundamentally altered how they approached their respective sport. A perfect example of this is Jason Kidd and Chris Paul; they are regarded as two of the greatest point guards in NBA history. Unfortunately, it is impossible to accurately compare them because they spent the majority of their careers in two different systems.

Jason Kidd

Throughout the NBA career of Jason Kidd, he had to play in offensive systems centered around ball movement. During his tenure with the New Jersey Nets, Kidd would bring the basketball up to the three-point line and passes the basketball to a big man in the high post area. Once this happened, the big man would analyze the defense to determine the next course of action. For instance, if the defense double covers the player posting up in the low post, he would enter a dribble handoff with a perimeter player. On the other hand, if the defense single covers the player posting up in the low post, he would dump the ball into the low block to start the process of shooting the ball. Another example of this is his tenure with the Phoenix Suns, Kidd would bring the ball up to the three-point line and pass the basketball to a teammate. Once this happens, the teammate will analyze how the defender chooses to defend him. If the defender gives him space, he will shoot the mid-range jumper.  On the other hand, if the defender plays him tight, the teammate will give the ball to another player who is going to restart the process of analyzing the defender. The process would continue until they found an open shot or the shot clock wound down. Due to this, Jason Kidd found himself standing behind the three-point line as a bystander or running all over the court trying to get open. The only time Jason had an opportunity to dominate the game was when the opposing team missed a shot. Once this happened, his team got the rebound and gave the ball to him to start the process of a fast break. During the fast break, Jason Kidd threw an outlet pass down court or ran down the middle of the court to get the attention of the defense. If this occurs, he will look to kick the basketball out to one of the players running down the wing.  On the other hand, if it doesn’t happen, he will continue driving to the basket looking to get around the defender for an open shot or draw a foul.

 

 

Chris Paul

On the other hand, Chris Paul got the opportunity to play in offensive systems centered around the pick and roll as well as post ups. For instance, Paul would bring the ball up to the three-point line and then a big man would set a screen. Once the pick was set Paul would pay attention to his defender to determine the next course of action, for instance, if the defender went under the screen, Paul would go over it and take the wide open shot. On the other hand, if the defender went over the screen, Paul would go over it as well and drive towards the basket where he would score or pass the ball to the player next to him or to the perimeter depending on whether he was double teamed or not. However there were instances where Chris Paul would throw the ball into the mid to low block for a post up. For instance, Chris would bring the ball up to the three-point line and passes it to another perimeter player. The second perimeter player would immediately give the ball to him to dump it into the low post.  Once that happens, the big man will attempt to back down the defender with one of his shoulders to get within comfortable range to shoot a jump hook. Another example of this is when Paul would bring the basketball up to the three-point line and passes the basketball to a big man in the high post area. Once this happened, the big man would analyze the defense to determine the next course of action. For instance,  If the defender gave him a few feet of space, he would pull up to shoot the wide-open mid-range jumper. On the other hand, if the defender played him tight, he will attempt to drive towards the basket for an easy basket, to draw a foul or attract a double team.

Conclusion

Due to the difference in systems, Chris Paul has averaged more points and assists per game than Jason Kidd during his career. According to Basketball-Reference,  Paul averages 18.7 points per game and 9.8 assists per game. On the other hand, Kidd averaged 12.6 points per game and 8.7 assists per game. As a result, people should only compare great players who played the same position in the same system.

Michael Jordan And LeBron James Should Not Be Compared

Introduction

Throughout the past 15 years, the mainstream media has constantly compared LeBron James to Michael Jordan. For example, Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post stated that he “grew up watching Jordan and grew wise (I hope) watching James, I still think it’s easier, at this point, to laud Jordan as basketball’s invincible hero”. However, it is unfair to compare these two players when their style of play is/was vastly different.

Michael Jordan Vs LeBron James (Offense)

Over the course of 8 years, the Chicago Bulls successfully implemented Phil Jackson’s triangle offense. In the triangle offense, one of the perimeter players would bring the ball up to the three-point line and passes it to another player posting up in the mid to low block. Once that happens, the person with the basketball would shoot a turn around jumper. Another example of the triangle offense is when one of the perimeter players would bring the ball up to the three-point line and passes it to another perimeter player. The second perimeter player will either dump the ball into the post or give it to a third perimeter player, and he will throw it into the post. After this occurs, the individual in possession of the ball would hold it for a couple of seconds to see if a teammate can successfully cut to the basket. The teammate who was supposed to cut to the basket usually came from one of the wings or corners. For instance, if the teammate came from the corner, the individual in possession of the ball would perform a backdoor pass. On the other hand, if the teammate came from the wing, the individual in possession of the ball would perform a drop pass. However, if the teammate weren’t able to successfully cut to the basket, the individual in possession of the ball would shoot the ball or kick it to the perimeter.

As a result of this system, Michael Jordan never had a defined role within the Chicago Bulls offense. Before his first retirement, Jordan alternated between the roles of a bystander, cutter, isolation and low post player. There were some possessions, where Michael received the ball on the wing or corner, and he would dump it into the post. Once that happens, Mike immediately cut to the basket in hopes of getting the ball back. If he were successful, Jordan would attempt a layup, dunk or shoot a short jumper. If he were unsuccessful, Michael Jordan would either fight thru the crowd to get in position to box out for the rebound, or he would go to the perimeter in hopes of getting the ball back. On the other hand, there were possessions where Mike would isolate the defender after the team got an offensive rebound or when the low post player passed the ball back to the perimeter. When this occurs, he will pay attention to his defender to determine the next course of action. If the defender gave him a few feet of space, he would pull up to shoot the wide-open mid-range jumper. But, if the defender played him tight, he will attempt to drive towards the basket for a score, to draw a foul or attract a double team. However, when Mike returned from his first retirement, he became more of a post up player. For example, Jordan would jog to the mid to low block and post up to call for the basketball. Once this happened, Michael Jordan would usually attempt a turnaround or fadeaway jumper.

On the other hand, LeBron James has played in a completely different system to that of Michael Jordan. Throughout the past seven NBA seasons, teams who obtained the services of LeBron James have incorporated an offensive system; that is meant to showcase his ability to pass the ball and get to the basket. As a result, he usually walks the ball up until the three-point line and evaluates how the defenders are positioned. For instance, if a defender is playing off of a three-point shooter, he is supposed to pass the ball to the wide-open shooter. On the other hand, if all the defenders are staying close to their man, he is expected to evaluate the size of his defender. If the defender is smaller than him, he should post up in the mid to low block and back him down until he can to a spot where he can shoot a jumper. But if his defender is the same size as him, he should use his speed and strength to get around him to attack the basket. However, there will be some instances where the defense will collapse on him, and he should pass the ball to the perimeter for the wide open three. Furthermore, on occasion, the team will break out some different sets within their playbook to prevent from becoming a predictable offense. For example, the team may have LeBron act like he is going to post up at the free throw line and have him pass the ball to a teammate doing a backdoor cut to the basket.

Michael Jordan Vs LeBron James (Defense)

As a result of LeBron’s playmaking duties, he has neglected the defensive side of the floor over the past few years. This is because LeBron uses defensive possessions to catch his breath to have enough energy for the next offensive possession. For instance, James will take the weakest offensive player on the opposing team and stand near the painted area until a shot is taken. Once the shot is taken, he will move towards the rim to get the rebound and start the next offensive possession. On the other hand, Michael Jordan kept his defensive intensity because he didn’t have to be a playmaker on every possession. For example, he would crowd the space of the ball handler forcing them to pick up the dribble and turn sideways. Once this happens, he would go for the steal or run to a spot on the same side the ball handler is looking at to cut off the potential pathway. After this happens, the ball handler has two choices, take a contested shot or pass the ball.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is unfair to compare Michael Jordan and LeBron James because they played in two different systems which fundamentally changed their approach to the game.

The Term Bust Should Not Be Used In Professional Sports

Over the past two to three decades, professional sports pundits have used the term bust to describe players who failed to live up to pre-draft expectations. For instance, Sports Illustrated labeled Tim Couch one of the biggest busts of all time because he “threw for a miserable 11,571 yards, 64 touchdowns and 67 interceptions in five injury-plagued seasons”. However, it is unfair to label Couch a bust when the Cleveland Browns didn’t put him in the best position to succeed. Tim played for the University of Kentucky in college who implemented an offensive system centered around the shotgun formation. For example, he lined up about five yards behind the center with one or two running backs beside him and a two to four wide receiver set. Once the ball is snapped, Couch looked to get rid of the ball immediately to a receiver running a screen, curl, in and out route or to the flats. However, there were some instances where Tim was under center to hand the ball off to the running backs.

Unfortunately, when Tim Couch arrived in Cleveland, the Browns coaching staff led by Butch Davis told him to take the majority of his snaps from under center. This is because most NFL organizations want their quarterback to learn how to play in a pro-style offense. A pro-style offense requires that the quarterback take a substantial amount of the snaps directly from under center. The change in the offensive system led to the downward spiral in Tim Couch’s career because he never developed the ability to sense when a defender was coming from the blind side. For instance, every time Couch dropped back to pass from under center; he was constantly moving his feet because he always thought a defender was nearby. As a result, a lot of Tim’s passes were inaccurate because he was scared to plant his feet which would have helped with the velocity and accuracy of his throws. However on the occasion when he was in shotgun formation, Couch would often plant his feet and deliver a firm throw because he was in his comfort zone. According to pro-football-reference, Tim Couch only completed 58.27 percent of his passes from under center. On the other hand, he completed 62.54 percent of his passes from shotgun formation. Therefore, if the Cleveland Browns would have implemented a system similar to Kentucky, Tim Couch would’ve been more successful and avoided the bust label.

Unfortunately, the term bust has transitioned into NBA discussions as sports pundits have called Lonzo Ball a bust after one season. Stephen A. Smith of ESPN called Lonzo a bust because he wasn’t aggressive enough and could not shoot the ball from a distance. However, it is unfair to label Ball a bust when the Los Angeles Lakers haven’t put him in the best position to succeed. Throughout his basketball career, Lonzo Ball has been described as a player who possesses excellent court vision and passing ability. According to DraftExpress, “Ball showed he has the vision, timing, accuracy, and overall foundation to eventually make every read necessary at the NBA level… and locate shooters”. Due to this, he needs to be on a team where he would be the primary ball handler; and is allowed to analyze the defense to determine what is the right pass. For instance, the traditional pick and roll offense would be an ideal system for him because he can bring the ball up to the three-point line and ask for a screen. Once the pick was set Ball can pay attention to his defender to determine the next course of action, for instance, if the defender went under the screen, Ball can go over it and take the wide open shot. On the other hand, if the defender went over the screen, Ball can go over it as well and drive towards the basket where he can score or pass the ball to the player next to him or to the perimeter depending on whether he was double teamed or not.

However, it is unlikely that Lonzo Ball will not reach his full potential as an NBA player while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.This is because the Lakers have implemented an offensive system that is centered around ball movement. For instance, the point guard will bring the ball up to the three-point line and passes it to another player. Once this happens, the second player will give it to a third player and the third player will call for a screen. Once the pick was set, the third player can pay attention to his defender to determine the next course of action, for instance, if the defender went under the screen, the third player can go over it and take the open shot. On the other hand, if the defender went over the screen, the third player can go over it as well and drive towards the basket where he can score or pass the ball to the player next to him or to the perimeter depending on whether he was double teamed or not.

But, there are occasions when the Los Angeles Lakers send a big man in the low block to post up. For instance, the point guard will bring the ball up to the three-point line and passes it to a big man in the low post area. Once that happens, the big man will attempt to back down the defender with one of his shoulders to get within comfortable range to shoot a jump hook. Another example of this is when the point guard will bring the ball up to the three-point line and passes it to another perimeter player. The second perimeter will either dump the ball into the post or give it to a third perimeter player, and he will throw it into the low to mid-block to start the process of attempting to get a jump hook. As a result of this, Lonzo will primarily be in a spot-up shooter role which diminishes the impact he can have on games by passing the basketball.

In conclusion, the term bust shouldn’t be used in sports because the success of a player is dependent on whether NFL/NBA coaches are willing to analyze a player’s skill set. If they do, the coaches must take the information gathered and design a system meant to emphasize the strengths of the player. On the other hand, if they don’t, the player will be set up to fail.