During Gary Payton’s interview with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, the point guard brought up a very debatable topic: strictly speaking for himself, he believed John Stockton was harder to guard than Michael Jordan.
Many would disagree with this notion on simple logic alone. Who sounds more difficult to guard? A 6’1″, 170-pound point guard or a 6’6″, 200 pound shooting guard? Obviously, though, size does not define the skill level of a player, and we are talking about one of the greatest point guards of all-time in Stockton. But then again, we are also talking about the greatest player of all-time (to many) in Jordan.
Los Angeles Clippers guard Jared Dudley voiced his opinion rather strongly about what Payton had to say on the matter:
MJ is def the best offensive player we seen in our life time, maybe Wilt or Kareem but to say Stockton was harder to guard! Is crazy
— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) September 3, 2013
It’s an interesting topic because different players prefer a different style of play. In Payton’s case, he liked to play mind games with his opponents with trash talk. That alone would get in the head of someone like Jordan, who is one of the greatest trash talkers of all-time. On the other hand, Stockton doesn’t fall for that kind of trickery. The man was all business on the court, and he actually got into the minds of most players with his style of play more than anyone could get into his with words.
Then there’s the fact that Stockton had eyes in the front, the side and the back of his head. His ability to hit teammates with absolute precision was simply unmatched, and he was no slouch on the offensive end either, peaking at 17.2 points while shooting over 50 percent from the field. So when a player appears to be absolutely unpredictable, you can imagine how difficult it must be to have to defend someone of that caliber on every single possession.
Then, of course, there’s Jordan. Obviously, Jordan’s ability to score was virtually unmatched and was a nightmare for most to deal with. Still, he was not absolutely unguardable like the media would have some believe. It’s well documented that a select few physical players have given Jordan fits throughout his career (Joe Dumars immediately comes to mind), and Payton happens to be one of those players. Payton wasn’t as tall, but was physically stronger and athletic than most and was able to hold his ground whenever he was matched up against Jordan. Of course, having the ability to hand check was a big boost back then. Here is video showing at least a bit of how Payton was able to hold Jordan to 23 points on six-of-19 shooting – his lowest scoring output ever in a Finals game – in Game 4 of the 1996 NBA Finals:
So, who do you think would be tougher to guard?
James Park is the chief blogger of Sheridan Hoops. You can find him on twitter @SheridanBlog.