3 Reasons Why Phil Jackson May Not Be the Greatest NBA Coach Ever
Let’s briefly go over Phil Jackson’s successful NBA coaching résumé:
11 NBA Championships (most by a coach)
1155-485 coaching record
.704 Win/Loss Percentage — highest of any coach with 500+ games coached
Four-time NBA All-Star Game head coach
1996 NBA Coach of the Year
11-2 Finals record
20 Playoff appearances
It is hard to fathom another coach surpassing this coaching record with a higher winning percentage and 11 championships.
I am going to be daring by challenging the status quo and asking the question, “Is Phil Jackson REALLY the greatest NBA coach?”
As with many coaches (and players), situation can ultimately determine how successful you are in the league.
As a more modern example, we’ll use the Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. In five seasons with the Warriors, he has a record of 266-63 which generates the highest NBA winning percentage (.809) by a coach, and three rings.
Is Steve Kerr a good coach? Sure. But would he hold the NBA’s record for highest winning percentage if he didn’t have four All-Stars on his team? I’d be a bit nervous betting on that one.
Likewise, Phil Jackson always had two top-five players (yes, Scottie Pippen was a top-five player) on his team.
I mean, Tyronn Lue has achieved a .621 winning percentage and won a championship having just one top-five player (the best) on his team. (I would also like to remind everyone that he was crossed and stepped over by Allen Iverson as a player.)
2.X’s & O’s
As technology, skill level, and analytics have advanced in the NBA, so too has coaching.
Although Jackson was not the “official” coach of the New York Knicks, we all knew he was coaching from the front office, giving his coaching staff minimal autonomy, particularly offensively, to operate.
In a league where advanced analytics and floor spacing continues to flourish, Jackson, adamantly commanded his coaching staff run the triangle offense — an offense which crowds the paint — and refused to innovate or accept how analytics complimented the game.
Did we ever hear anything about Jackson being an offensive genius or defensive guru? He ran the triangle offense in a time when big men dominated the post and stretch centers/forwards were atypical.
In the business world, if you don’t innovate, you don’t succeed. Phil Jackson believes and will always believe the triangle offense is effective in the NBA.
3.Never Built a Team from the Ground Up
Phil Jackson took over the Chicago Bulls when they already had Michael Jordan and Pippen. After Jordan retired for the second time, he also chose to step down from coaching.
When he joined the Lakers, they had already acquired Shaquille O’Neal and developed Kobe Bryant. After O’Neal was traded, he stepped down as coach.
Do you see the pattern here?
To me, a great coach is able to maximize every player on the team to build a successful product, even if the team lacks a top-five player.
Following John Stockton and Karl Malone’s departure in 2003, every Jazz fan predicted they would bottom out the following year. Much to the fans’ surprise, they saw the Andrei Kirilenko-led team fighting for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, marginally losing out to the Denver Nuggets, but still achieving an above .500 season (42-40).
Jerry Sloan did not quit after he saw the talent of his team diminishing. Instead, he assisted in rebuilding the team and making it back to Western Conference Finals in the 2006-07 season.
Phil Jackson was very involved while employed with the Knicks, but why wouldn’t he come back and coach? I believe it’s because he knew the team wasn’t great and was afraid of damaging his coaching legacy.
Is Phil Jackson REALLY the Greatest NBA Coach?
We like to compare players and coaches by the number of rings won in their career. By using this logic, let me put it into perspective by making this assumption:
Robert Horry is better than Michael Jordan because 7 rings > 6 rings.
Robert Horry won so many rings not because he was a great player, but because he was placed in perfect situations to win.
I believe Phil Jackson’s greatest coaching quality was his ability to control player egos. Would Jerry Sloan or Gregg Popovich have put up with Dennis Rodman or Kobe Bryant? Probably not.
Likewise, would Phil Jackson be able to rebuild an NBA franchise to become a contender? He tried as a GM and failed miserably.
His success, like Tyronn Lue’s, was situational. He didn’t change the game in any way, he didn’t adopt or invent any new coaching techniques, and he doesn’t have any record of winning without the most dominant or best player in the league.
Phil Jackson is the Robert Horry of coaches.