Uploaded on Feb 7, 2009
Sports Illustrated, November 1989:
The Jordan Rules
by Jack McCallum
The guiding principle is that a defender is never left to guard Jordan unaided. Jordan's position on the floor dictates whether the Pistons trap him with a second defender or have the second defender play "help and recover" (that is, run at Jordan to stop his dribble, but then scramble back to his own man; Salley is a master at this ploy). The closer Jordan is to the basket, the more the Pistons go with the trap. When he is above the sideline hash mark (28 feet from the baseline), they usually play help and recover.
Even when Jordan is far from the basket, perhaps bringing up the ball as a point guard on a wide-open floor, Detroit runs a second player at him, someone like Salley or Rodman. This reduces the amount of open court that he has to work with and often forces him to give up the ball to a teammate. The Pistons always want someone else to handle the ball. Not sometimes. Always.
When Jordan has the ball on the wing, the Detroit player guarding him forces him toward defensive help. Most often that means turning Jordan to the right when he's on the left side of the floor and to the left when he's on the right side.
If Jordan happens to get isolated with one man and is in a potential scoring position, the Piston defender will try to force him to go left. They think he makes a stronger, more explosive move to his right. So does Jordan.
When Jordan tries to run a pick-and-roll, Detroit traps him. That means that two men, the one guarding Jordan and the one guarding the Bull setting the pick, run at him. The Pistons do this with remarkable efficiency, partly because that second defender is usually the 6 ft. 11 in. Salley or the 6 ft. 11 in. Laimbeer. The tall trappers make it almost impossible for Jordan to deliver the ball to a teammate rolling toward the basket, and their aggressive charge toward Jordan usually forces him to retreat.
When Jordan posts up near the basket, Detroit typically puts three men on him, with Dumars most often behind him, using his strong hips and legs to "body" Jordan away from the basket. When the entry pass comes in from the point guard, Thomas leaves that guard and double-teams Jordan. If that means the point guard is free, so be it. Meanwhile, another defender, perhaps Laimbeer or Salley, will have come over and planted himself in the lane, maybe on the baseline side, maybe toward the middle. Dumars will then turn Jordan toward that help. Jordan loves the baseline. "Even though there's less room down there, I can be more creative," he says. But by and large, the Pistons take it away from him.
When Jordan comes off a screen set near the baseline -- his most frequent maneuver when he's playing shooting guard -- a host of Jordan Rules come into play. Dumars must follow him around the screen -- no matter if he has to go into the bleachers -- to prevent Jordan from making a backdoor cut and receiving an alley-oop pass for an almost certain dunk. The Piston -- usually Laimbeer -- guarding the Bull setting the pick will step out to make Jordan receive the ball farther from the basket. In addition -- and this is important -- that man will guard against Jordan's making a "tight curl" off the top of the screen and suddenly looping back into the middle to take a short pass on the dead run, a circumstance that is almost always disastrous for the defense.
In most cases Jordan will have to step back and take the pass on the wing. Then Thomas will come over, creating a double team, and the process begins all over again. If Jordan puts the ball on the floor, at least two players stay on him, pushing him toward even more help. If he passes, the weakside defenders adjust to play two Pistons against four Bulls or one against three. As long as Jordan is out of the picture, they love those odds.
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