Kobe, Phil and the Lakers the team to beat
Bulls legend Scottie Pippen won six world championships during his 12 seasons in Chicago and was named one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players in 1996. Now, he’s back to write a regular analytical column at Bulls.com and share his thoughts on the team and NB
At the beginning of the season, I went on record to say the Lakers have a chance at winning 72 or more games this year. I really believed they have a legitimate shot at doing it. But they have gotten off to a slow start—at least by their standards—and it may have set them back a little bit. That being said, Los Angeles is still the team to beat in the NBA. However, getting to 72 wins is going to be tough for them to do it now because they have guys who are not 100 percent. Pau Gasol missed their first 11 games with a right hamstring strain, but they were still a pretty good team without him. Once he is back at full strength, his size and inside play will be a major asset for them. Beyond the injuries, I can’t speak to their motivation and personnel. I can’t tell you how Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol approach a regular season game. I don’t know how their guys come to practice. Judging by their record over the years and Kobe Bryant’s hunger, I would think that he’ll challenge them every day. He can’t do it by himself, though; that’s impossible.
It starts with Phil Jackson. His practices have always been about teaching. He’s a true believer in everything he preaches. Phil has always stressed the basic fundamentals of basketball. His staff enforces good habits and breaks you of bad ones. These things lead to players performing at a higher level. They are more apt to having fewer turnovers and they develop a defensive consistency over the years. Phil has always been a great mentor. He’s someone who pushes his players to get the best out of them. Phil isn’t big on letting his team run up and down the floor and scrimmage during practices. He has a tendency of keeping that hunger inside his players and forcing them to use it on the basketball court against their opponents. He expects his players to play the right way and use what he has been teaching. In that sense, he controls his players, along with their energy level. They buy in to his system, one which has proven to be successful.
The Kobe vs. Michael debate
Then there is Kobe Bryant and all of the comparisons to Michael Jordan. I think you definitely have to give Michael a little bit of a nod in most areas of the game, whether it is passing or shooting. Kobe is truly a great shooter, but he is playing in a different era of the game. It’s not as physical. He also has more freedom in going to the basket, which creates a more wide-open scoring opportunity for players like him in today’s game. We’ve never seen the amount of players scoring 30, 40 or 50 points in a game. Ten years ago, if a player scored 50 points in a game, it would be major news all week. But if someone does it now in the NBA, it’s not big news anymore and it doesn’t make the headlines.
Michael played in a tougher era of the game and it’s transitioned a lot. Nowadays, guys who can shoot the basketball have a greater advantage. Along with that, players are bigger, better and faster. Other factors like all these energy drinks help guys bounce back when they have to play a second game in two nights. So many things have changed that it is hard to compare the two players.
At the end of the day, though, Michael is still by far the greatest player to ever play the game. The comparison between him and Kobe is not all that close when you start to magnify the little things. I think Michael had more charisma. Michael would constantly bring you to the edge of your seat because you never knew what was going to happen. When he took off on a breakaway, everyone was on their feet and the arena was filled with flashbulbs. You don’t quite see that with Kobe. Things of that nature are what separate the two players.
A lot of people ask me what I thought about Michael’s Hall of Fame speech. To me, he was simply put in a moment where he said what he wanted to say. I didn’t have any idea what he was going to say that night. It’s possible he didn’t know until he got up on the stage. The moment always sheds more light on the situation than you are prepared for. Would I have written a speech like that or said some of the things he said? Maybe not, but I didn’t dislike his speech. I thought we all saw the trueness of who he is. He’s as hungry of a competitor as I’ve ever met. And he still is. He always feels he can win, no matter what the stakes. I really appreciated that he mentioned me in a favorable light among everything else he said. I didn’t expect it because he had so many other teammates. But we were a tandem for most of our careers and I respect that he recognized the bond we shared all those years. We experienced a lot of success together. When you look back at his speech and all the things he said, whether good or bad, he spoke from the heart. It’s like he was back in the locker room sitting with the guys telling stories about Pat Riley or Charles Oakley. It was his way of getting things off his chest.
Starting off on the right foot
Even for our teams, the Circus Trip was always tough. We always tried to get off to a good start as far as the first eight to ten games of our season. We felt it was important to get some wins before the West Coast trip. This year’s team did that, hitting the road with a better than .500 record. If you don’t come out of the gates well, it makes the long road trip even longer before it even gets started. It’s the mentality of going on the road to get it over with instead of going on the road to win. It’s a brutal trip, but it becomes a fun trip when you have success. I’ll always remember the so-called Texas Triangle trip too. It was a great accomplishment if we were able to go and sweep those teams—San Antonio, Houston and Dallas—because it usually meant winning three games in four nights against teams who had some dominating big men. I actually enjoyed being on the road. I thought it was great for us as a team, especially when we got off to a good start. We just seemed to have an easier time bonding, no matter who was new on the roster or whatever other changes were made.
The Bulls are off to their best start since the 1997-98 season. There are a lot of things I like about this team, but the one reason I’m attracted to watching them on a night in, night out basis is their defense. The team’s offense is solid and it will continue to come around. They are an unselfish group and they move the basketball. Right now, though, they are lacking the player who can go to the hoop, get fouled, and get them to the line when they really need a bucket. That kind of thing tends to take care of itself though throughout the course of a season.
Their energy level has been great, especially from their bigs. Brad Miller might spend some time sitting in the rocking chair, but he does a lot of good things for them as far as keeping the basketball moving, setting picks, and playing a good, smart, savvy game. They’ve utilized their youth. Taj Gibson has played exceptionally well. You hate to see Tyrus Thomas out, but hopefully it will help him realize even more what he’s got to do when he’s healthy. Things keep moving even though he’s out of the lineup and he’ll have to earn back that playing time. Joakim Noah has come such a long way. He’s averaging a double-double and leading the NBA in rebounding. You can’t say enough about the job he’s done. That’s what John Paxson saw in him in the draft. He doesn’t have the prettiest jump shot, but he gets the job done. He plays with a lot of energy and has a very high basketball IQ. He’s always in the right place at the right time. Not too many big guys can run the court like he does and finish plays.
Rose will come around
I know there is some concern about Derrick Rose and how his numbers are down, but it’s way too early to worry about him. We all knew coming into the season that he was dealing with a bum ankle. It’s just a matter of when it is going to get better for him. No one knows how much pain or discomfort, if any, he’s experiencing right now. It takes time to get through some injuries and you have to remember he missed almost the entire preseason. Derrick is determined to play through it and he’s going to have some up and down games. In this game and in this league, there is not a whole lot of time for recovery. But I don’t think he’s playing bad basketball. He’s doing what he has to do to get through this rough start and he puts his team first. Meanwhile, they’ve still managed to win some games despite Derrick not being at his best. He probably could be a little more assertive on the offensive end and Derrick knows that. He’ll get there. He’s also getting better defensively. He’s a big, strong kid who isn’t afraid to go inside and mix it up and come away with some rebounds. That’s his game and those things will come in time as he builds up his confidence in terms of his ankle.
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