Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson sit atop Mount Rushmore for head coaches in NBA history. After a somewhat average NBA career, Phil Jackson would go on to become the greatest coach the game has ever seen. Jackson won 2 championships as a player with the New York Knicks in 1970 and 1973. In his coaching career, Jackson would win 6 championships in the 90s with the Bulls and then 5 more championships as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson’s implementation of the Triangle offense changed the game for the league in the 90s and 2000s, paving the way for one of the greatest coaching careers in history.
Gregg Popovich had himself one heck of a coaching career too. He created a dynasty in San Antonio with the Spurs to the tune of 5 championship rings from 1999 to 2014. His development of players such as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard has only added to his legendary resume. Popovich’s coaching style is one that leaves little room for error and any pushback from his players. Today, we put the best lineup of players these two coaches have led on the sideline against each other for a dream matchup.
This is Gregg Popovich’s all-time team versus Phil Jackson’s all-time team.
Kobe Bryant vs. Tony Parker
I know it seems a little off script to run Kobe Bryant at the point guard position, but the way that Jackson’s team is built, it is what we are working with. Kobe can throw off Parker’s game just due to the size difference. What Kobe loves to do is back his opponents down to his spot in the mid-range to set up his patented spin/fadeaway jumper. Kobe would be able to hit that shot at a higher efficiency than ever with the massive height and strength difference he can impose on Parker. The same applies to the defensive end, where Kobe will use his body to try and throw Parker off his game.
Tony Parker’s only job during this matchup will be what he built his entire career off of. Be smart with the ball, make the right play, and score when the opportunity presents itself. Parker was elite for a point guard at finishing around the basket, but with the mismatch against Kobe, he will most likely try to find success in the pick-and-roll game with either Tim Duncan or David Robinson. Screens will be set for Parker to either pull up off of a couple of dribbles or take it to the basket and score or find a cutter off the ball. Regardless of how the Spurs try and get Parker involved.
Michael Jordan vs. Manu Ginobili
We all know what Michael Jordan brings to the table. He is going to make you work relentlessly for 48 minutes when he’s on offense, whether he has the ball in his hand or not. On defense, he is going to make you work hard too. Using his body and his quick hands, Jordan will cause his fair share of turnovers. Against a defender like Ginobili, Jordan will have a tough time getting any open pull-up shots but will still be able to drive the lane and get to his spots for his fadeaway. Even a smart defender like Ginobili will be no match for the greatest of all time.
Manu Ginobili will always accept and adapt to any role given to him. In the case of this matchup, the role given to Ginobili will be his playmaking and his off-the-ball movement. Ginobili can also take the pressure off of Tony Parker as a ball handler and distributor. Ginobili possessed a change of speed with the ball in his hands that very few have in the past. Hopefully, this will open up the offense if he indeed could get past MJ on the perimeter. Either way, Ginobili has a long and exhausting night ahead of him going against Jordan.
Scottie Pippen vs. Kawhi Leonard
This very well could be the best matchup of the entire series. 2 players from 2 different eras that play the game about as similarly as 2 players can. Basically, Scottie Pippen and Kawhi Leonard will be looking in a mirror all night long. Scottie Pippen has the edge in playmaking, and with scorers like Jordan, Kobe, and Shaq on the team, that will be his primary role. Kawhi will originally be matched up with Scottie on defense but eventually, expect to see him help Parker and Ginobili with their assignments. This should open up some scoring and passing for Pippen.
Kawhi will have his work cut out for him in this matchup. Scottie is probably one of the only small forwards in history who could truly disrupt Kawhi’s mid-range rhythm. What Kawhi has working for him is his upper body strength and ability to rise over defenders for that short jumper or on his way to the hoop. Although he can shoot the deep ball, Leonard will want to try and wear Scottie down by getting him into the post somehow. The problem is that spacing is very limited between both teams. Kawhi will try and use that to his advantage by being part of the inside-out game with Robinson and Duncan.
Dennis Rodman vs. Tim Duncan
As great as Dennis Rodman performed against the bigs of the 90s, Dennis Rodman will have his hands full with Tim Duncan. Rodman is as versatile as they come defensively, so even if Duncan wants to try and spread the floor a bit, Rodman should have no problem keeping up. The real battle for Rodman will be on the boards. As we know, Rodman doesn’t provide much of anything as far as scoring the ball. Grabbing offensive boards and securing 2nd chances for his teammates will be his biggest contributions.
Don’t be surprised to see Phil Jackson’s team throw different looks at Tim Duncan to try and slow him down. Whether it be Rodman or Shaq taking the defensive assignment, Duncan will use his array of post moves to get his buckets. The offense should run through Duncan, but it will not be solely his scoring that proves to be effective. When he gets to the high post, Duncan is incredibly smart with the ball and should be able to have success finding his teammates moving off the ball. Back door cuts by Ginobili and Parker will be something to watch out for.
Shaquille O’Neal vs. David Robinson
Shaq and David Robinson is a matchup that NBA fans saw a bunch of in the 90s. What we never really saw was Robinson going head-to-head with the version of Shaq that was 50 pounds heavier on the Lakers. Most likely, we will see a lot of double teams thrown Shaq’s way considering Rodman’s limitations on offense. Shaq, other than being completely dominant and powerful, was pretty good at finding teammates who were open on the perimeter or slashing to the basket behind the defense. Shaq will still be able to do the work he’s known for in the post because, well, he’s Shaq. It will be his work on rebounding and playmaking that makes the big difference in his matchup with Robinson.
During his prime, Robinson was among the elite as a scorer and offensive weapon. From his rookie season to 1997, Robinson was a consistent 23.0 PPG and 10.0 RPG a night kind of player. It will not be his offensive prowess and scoring that will be his biggest contribution to this series. It will be his defensive abilities and rebounding skills that make the biggest difference. Robinson for most of his career, was a 2.5 BPG or more interior defender with instincts and reaction that was only matched by Hakeem Olajuwon. That is what Popovich’s team will need to have a chance to take advantage of Jackson’s squad.
Phil Jackson’s Team Advantages
There are multiple advantages that Team Jackson holds over Team Popovich, especially on offense. The first glaring advantage in favor of Team Jackson is scoring. With Kobe, Shaq, and Michael Jordan on the same court, Team Jackson will be able to score the ball in any and every way possible. Kobe provides a threat from the perimeter and gets to the rim, while Jordan will dominate the mid-range and, of course, take the ball to the basket as well. Shaq will be the most obvious threat on the inside, and it won’t matter if it is Duncan or Robinson who is the one guarding him.
The next advantage for Team Jackson is their perimeter defense. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are 2 of the most elite two-way players in NBA history. With 21 total All-Defensive Team selections between them, they are sure to give the likes of Ginobili, Parker, and Kawhi fits. I mention the defense on the perimeter without even bringing up the most important player when it comes to that, Scottie Pippen. The job that Pippen does on Kawhi will set the tone for the rest of the team on that end of the floor. With these 3 on the perimeter defending Popovich’s starters, it could end up being a lot less close than we think.
Gregg Popovich’s Team Advantages
There are also two glaring advantages for Team Popovich heading into this matchup. The first advantage for Team Popovich is interior defense. As previously mentioned, Duncan and Robinson are two of the greatest defenders to ever play the game. They can leave Dennis Rodman in order to double Shaq in the paint. Their length and strength could prove to be a bit of trouble for Shaq. Not to mention, both Robinson and Duncan are extremely comfortable leaving their man to alter shots from driving guards as well.
The other advantage for Team Popovich, although it is a slight one, is playmaking. Parker, Ginobili, and Kawhi are three of the smartest players with the ball in NBA history. The Spurs don’t transform into the dynasty they were without it. Also, Popovich’s game plan plays perfectly to their strengths. The Spurs planned to always move the ball around the perimeter, down inside, back out, and around the perimeter again until they found the highest percentage shot possible. That discipline will be critical in a matchup of this caliber. The wherewithal of the guards on the drive to know to finish or kick it out, as well as if they can work around Shaq and Dennis Rodman, will also be an area of focus.
Which Team Wins In A 7-Game Series?
In Game 1 of this 7-game series, Team Popovich struggled to adjust to the fast-paced playstyle of Team Jackson. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant got a beautiful two-man game going and ran the floor well, with Scottie Pippen leading to a large advantage in transition. Michael Jordan finished with 43 points while Kobe finished with 25 to lead Team Jackson to an easy 115-89 victory.
Game 2 was a much better performance from Team Popovich. Duncan was able to adjust to Rodman’s defense and have himself a big night. Kawhi took advantage of switches on the perimeter and delivered a clutch performance with 18 points and 11 assists. David Robinson did a spectacular job on Shaq, holding the big fella to just 20 points and 8 rebounds. Team Popovich takes the win to even up the series 101-93.
Team Jackson came back with a vengeance in Game 3. This time, they would throw everything in the book at Duncan to slow him down. Depending on which side of the floor he was on, Team Jackson decided to throw a double at him with Pippen or Kobe. Jordan was able to do whatever he wanted once again against Ginobili, going for 38 points this time on 16/22 shooting. Parker and Kawhi struggled to get any perimeter game going for Team Popovich. Team Jackson takes the win 98-92.
Again in Game 4, Team Popovich came ready for a fight. The duo of Parker and Duncan rehashed their magic from the old days and combined for 62 points. Rodman battled on the block for Team Jackson, grabbing 21 rebounds to go with 6 points, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Duncan’s big night. Team Popovich took advantage, and Duncan’s 42 points and 18 rebounds led the way as Team Popovich evened up the series once again, 101-87.
Game 5 would forever be known as “The Shaq Game”. O’Neal was considerably angry after being stymied by David Robinson in Game 4. Shaq could not be stopped as he was running the floor, playing angry bully ball in the post, and ripping down rebounds with authority. Shaq would finish with 35 points and 20 rebounds to lead Team Jackson to a huge Game 5 victory. Michael Jordan would add 30 points and 5 steals in the victory as well.
With the series hanging in the balance, Michael Jordan would not be denied. He and Tim Duncan traded buckets all night long as this one would come down to the final seconds. With 20 seconds left in the game, Tony Parker was bringing the ball up for Team Popovich with a close 89-88 lead. An ill-advised entry pass to Robinson was tipped by Kobe and fell right into the hands of Michael with 10 seconds to spare. Rather than call a timeout, Jordan pushed the pace and beat Ginobili up the floor. Kawhi was right there to back him up, and now Jordan had Leonard in the post. With 2.5 seconds left, Jordan got to his mid-range spot, spun, and faded away for the game and series-winning buzzer-beater. Team Jackson wins Game 6, 90-89.
Final Result: Phil Jackson’s All-Time Team vs. Gregg Popovich's All-Time Team 4-2
Finals MVP: Michael Jordan