One of the things that made Michael Jordan one of the greatest basketball players is his ability and willingness to play defense on a very high level. Jerry West often said that Jordan was even more gifted as a defensive stopper than a pure scorer, which is an excellent example of how good he was on both ends of the floor, which is pretty rare in today’s NBA.
Playing defense is not only about playing with tenacity and playing hard, but it also is closely connected to picking up tendencies other players have before they even make a move. Having a great basketball IQ is necessary to play solid defense, which Jordan possessed and worked on, especially in the first couple of seasons. In one of his older interviews, he broke down his approach when playing against some of the best shooting guards from his era. Jordan also explains how understanding their tendencies is the key to success.
“When I’m playing against scorers, players like Reggie Miller, Clyde Drexler, and Joe Dumars, I’m envisioning their tendencies before the game. Should I attack him offensively early so that he’s on the defensive for the rest of the game? There are different ways I have to approach players like that because I have to stop them as well as score on them. Sometimes, doing one can impact the other.”
Jordan also gives a more detailed approach to guarding Reggie Miller, Clyde Drexler, and Joe Dumars, who were some of his biggest nemesis back in the day. Because he faced them numerous times in his career, he knew what their habits are on offense and what kind of strategy he needed to implement to shut them down.
“I’ve played Clyde so much that I know he’s dangerous if he can’t score early. But he’s not dangerous when he comes out shooting and scoring. Isn’t that wild? If he hits his first five shots, it’s not as much of a problem for me because he’ll shoot himself out of the game. Now, if Joe Dumars hits his first five shots, then I’m in big trouble. He knows how to feed off the kind of confidence you get from a good start. Clyde, on the other hand, sometimes seems like he gets overconfident, and he might start taking all kinds of shots. But Dumars, he’s going to sit back and let the game come to him because he’s in a rhythm, and he’s going to make you work. Miller is the same way because he feeds off that energy. If he makes his first five shots, he starts to talk trash, and he’s into the game. He gets more intense, more focused. Those are three different people and three different ways I have to play them.”Michael Jordan
Jordan was quite successful in most games he played against these other NBA legends, but there were often times when things weren’t that easy. Luckily for the Bulls, Jordan’s mindset was completely different, and he understood structured preparation is one of the most crucial aspects of playing against players like Miller, Drexler, and Dumars. Jordan proved that he was a far superior player on several occasions than all of them, but this type of preparation also shows the respect he had for all of these guys and how they played the game.