Chris Tomasson of Fox asked Kobe Bryant to decide between the Jordan-Pippen and LeBron-Wade combo. Kobe's response was succinct:
Kobe was asked who’s the better combo, MJ/Pippen or LeBron/DWade: “Come on dude, seriously. You can’t argue with six championships.’’— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) February 11, 2013
That makes a certain amount of reductive sense. How can a duo possibly be better than the dominance that was Chicago? When you consider that Scottie Pippen won 55 games without Michael Jordan in 1993-1994, the argument tilts more in Chicago's favor.
So, in a relative sense, nobody's topping what Michael and Scottie did together as a perimeter tandem. Though the "count the rings" logic might be a bit faulty, that title run was more indicative of league ownership than a few bounces going Chicago's way.
We should consider, however, that it was easier to be dominant in the old era. The NBA was so isolation-heavy, due to illegal defense, that individual scorers perhaps had more sway over outcomes.
In an era of zone and strong-side zone, superstars must deal with far more complex defenses than they once did. When I think back to how Dallas strong-side zoned LeBron to death in the 2011 NBA Finals, or how Boston did the same to Kobe in the 2008 Finals, I marvel at just how difficult individual offense has become.
In MJ's day, defense was more physical, but far less complex. Since defenses weren't allowed to shift over in anticipation of a drive, if Jordan beat his man, there was a dearth of help to stop his path.
On Sunday afternoon, they reminded a national audience of their tandem dominance by scorching the Lakers for 62 points:
When you combine the careers of James and Wade, you're beating Jordan and Pippen in aggregate individual brilliance. For a third straight season, LeBron and Dwyane are set to exceed the career best combined PER of MJ and Scottie.
While I would hazard that LeBron and Wade comprise a better combination in terms of raw talent (because Dwyane Wade was a superior player to Scottie Pippen), MJ and Scottie likely worked better together, due to having defined roles, and playing in an era in which man-on-man defense mattered more.
Scottie Pippen was the premier perimeter defender of his day, and his day was one in which such a distinction meant more. The aforementioned zone defense has decreased the importance of the shut-down wing, and so too has the banning of handchecking.
Speaking of rules and how they alter a player's impact, LeBron and DWade don't mesh optimally, in part because Wade can't shoot three-pointers. In a space-conscious, zone NBA, Wade shrinks the floor for his counterpart's drives. Scottie Pippen was no such hindrance to Michael Jordan.
It's difficult to compare players across eras when so much has changed between then and now. The safest analysis seems that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade carry more combined individual clout than Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but MJ-and-Scottie just meshed a bit better. Or, if you're Kobe, the safe analysis is, "You can’t argue with six championships."
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