It was easier for Jordan to score
In a recent interview for The Players Choice podcast, former NBA point guard and one of the flashiest players in league history, Jason Williams, shared an interesting opinion about the never-ending comparisons between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Interestingly enough, Williams brought a new set of arguments into this debate saying the defense is much better now than when Jordan was playing, and he breaks down the main difference.
Usually, people, and especially a lot of old heads, will say defenses were much tougher back in the day, and even though that might be somewhat true, the reality is the spacing has changed dramatically. According to Williams, Jordan was able to score at such a tremendous degree because of the absence of illegal defense and its coverage. That means if you see Jordan setting up to catch for an ISO, and you know Longley isn't going to shoot a three. So you cannot leave Luc until Jordan catches the ball, or you will be whistled for illegal defense, giving the Bulls a technical free throw. This basically guaranteed that you could have a second or so to attack against single coverage on any isolation. For great iso scorers, this was often more than enough to get yourself in a position where no amount of help defense could stop you.
"When MJ played, the refs would forgive you illegal defense, which would be a shot and a ball from the side. What that meant was, let's say MJ had the ball on the wing, and his primary defender was guarding him. And then the guy on the weak side and the weak side corner, whoever was guarding that guy, had to stay on the opposite block. So MJ had to beat that first guy, and that primary defender had no chance because nobody can guard nobody one-on-one, especially Michael Jordan."
The rules have changed in the meantime, and Williams believes LeBron gets unjustified criticism for his decisions not to take the last shot. Williams thinks LeBron has a high basketball IQ and is always on the lookout for the best possible shot, no matter if it's for himself or his teammates. On top of that, there is more coverage on the perimeter with players constantly switching on ball screens and ready to help because teams today need that type of versatility if they want to be successful.
"Nowadays, they changed the rule, and if LeBron has the ball on the wing, that primary defender is right there, and there is a secondary defender on the ball side elbow, and he has another secondary defender at the ball side block. He is not worried about the primary defender because he goes by him and makes the right pass. I think LeBron receives a lot of bullshit at the end of games because he doesn't take the shot because he makes the right play for a guy that is wide open, and of course, he is going to make that play. Where MJ when he played, there was that illegal defense shit, so he would get by his guy and score all the time because he only had one guy."
LeBron got it different
Williams doesn't disrespect Jordan by any means but thinks the rules went in his favor of scoring in such an incredible way. He knew the rules and abused them as much as he could, which was one of the main reasons behind the Bulls' tremendous success back in the day. In the end, Williams did say something a bit controversial surrounding Jordan and the Detroit Pistons squad known as the Bad Boys. Williams believes there is no way LeBron would suffer the same type of beating because he is just bigger and stronger than anyone else.
"I don't think a lot of people realize about the illegal defense back in the day; they just see Jordan scoring all the points, and rightfully so, he was a bad dude, don't get me wrong. LeBron's got it different because now it's harder to score in the NBA than it was then. I understand Jordan got beat down by the Pistons, and people say they would do that to LeBron. No they wouldn't, because LeBron is bigger than these dudes. They might foul him hard, but they ain't knocking him down like Michael Jordan."
It's great to hear when former experienced and knowledgeable NBA players like Jason Williams share their opinion on these topics. Since he is so familiar with the league and has competed against many of the great players on a nightly basis, his opinion definitely holds a lot of weight. Williams came into the league in 1998 at the end of Jordan's second three-peat and saw the changes in the NBA until he retired in 2011. Even if you disagree with his opinion, you must respect it because he sees the game differently and has relevant experience. Bringing valid arguments into these debates is necessary and welcoming, mainly because it's all based on personal preference and not too many factual ideas.