Normally, Michael Jordan’s Defensive Player of the Year award would imply he was a better defender than LeBron James. A Redditor begs to differ, however.
In a long-winding post of some value, a Reddit user (u/mahirs7) has put forth his belief that LeBron’s defensive prime was better than MJ’s. In the same post, this fellow has, however, stated that Jordan’s defensive prime lasted longer. This kind of puts his opinion in the split section.
According to mahirs7, the on-ball defense and peskiness displayed by Jordan made him a better one-on-one defender. But LeBron James is a better help defender, offers rim protection and can switch to players bigger than himself. This makes him better than Jordan defensively.
Is this Redditor right? A cursory glance into the Michael Jordan vs LeBron James defense debate
A significant bit of nuance missing from this post is how (s)he devalues the importance of one-on-one defense in that era. Team defensive schemes from the 1990s were nowhere near as complicated or well-employed as in LeBron’s time. This made it paramount for guards like Michael Jordan to engage in active on-ball defense.
Also missed by the author is how Michael Jordan won Defensive Player of the Year despite being pitted against tougher defensive competition. No one calls the likes of Marc Gasol, for example, one of the all-time great defenders. Dwight Howard is the only all-time defender LeBron was in serious competition with.
Jordan, on the other hand, was winning the award while being compared to Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dennis Rodman – to name a few. The likes of Sidney Moncrieff, Alvin Robertson and Mark Eaton were another tier of elite defenders who would easily dominate defensively today.
Also missing is the factor of how Jordan’s Bulls were all-time great defensively, statistically as well as by the eye test. LeBron’s Heat were the closest thing to historically elite, but they don’t stack up statistically even against the pre-Rodman Bulls.
It’s a well-intentioned post that gets 90% of the things right, but ultimately gets a conclusion that NBA players would vehemently disagree with.