It’s hard to earn the respect of the great Michael Jordan, but the San Antonio Spurs have a few players who’d catch His Airness’ attention.
Being a member of the San Antonio Spurs requires a certain level of discipline and dedication that many players fail to meet. Setting aside your ego and buying into the culture of the team rewards the players who believe in this system, which is why many of the Spurs’ best would earn the respect of the great Michael Jordan.
In the wake of last night’s premiere of The Last Dance, a collaboration between ESPN, Netflix and the NBA to provide the most in-depth retelling of the great Michael Jordan’s career, we’re going to look at which current-day Spurs players would have the chops to go to battle with Jordan himself.
This is based on attitude, talent, mentality, toughness and a player’s overall value to their team. For example, Spurs star DeMar DeRozan would have some level of respect from Jordan for his ability to score at an elite level, showcasing many of the same kinds of shots that MJ took. However, Jordan wouldn’t appreciate DeRozan as a teammate because he tends to get cold feet in big moments and apathetic defensive tendencies.
Jordan is a very particular man who’s primary motivation in everything he does is to perform to the best of his ability, to be the very best and to always strive for victory. It’s a mentality that’s earned him a plethora of accolades, the lifetime title of GOAT, or Greatest Of All-Time, and a notorious reputation as a hard-nosed teammate who pushed his peers to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich would certainly get along with MJ as a player because they had the same common goal: Be the best version of yourself every time on the floor. Though Popovich seems to have more of a vested interest in his people away from the court, their basketball ideologies match. Therefore, they’d find common ground in the players they recruit to their team.
Next: An underdog point guard from Seattle
Two-way star in the making, Dejounte Murray
It’d take a while for Jordan to see the vision since Murray is an incomplete player working toward becoming the best version of himself, but M.J. would love playing with Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray. As one of the most tenacious perimeter defenders in the game today, Murray’s playstyle would translate to the 90s excellently as a three-level scorer who gives his all on defense.
Murray would make a superb running mate for Jordan on the fastbreak because of his team-first mentality and dedication to being a winner. Ever since he was drafted, Murray talked about his desire to hang a sixth banner in the AT&T Center just as a rookie Michael Jordan spoke about his dream of bringing a championship to Chicago in his time with the team.
Considering the circumstances of his life and the many steps it took for him to get to this point, Murray has a perspective about hard work that few players can match, which is why we’ve seen so much growth out of the 23-year-old since being drafted in 2016.
Though he’d be taking some shots away from Jordan, Dejounte would also be setting him up for alley-oop slams and easy jumpers while drawing attention away from Jordan and alleviating the pressure from the star player.
Jordan played with two kinds of point guards in his day: The defensive-minded guard like Ron Harper or the three-point specialist like Steve Kerr or John Paxson. Murray is probably the most talented raw player of those selected while clearly fitting one of the molds and lightly fitting the other.
The next player on the list, however, fits the bill perfectly for one of those molds.
Next: A sharpshooter and morale booster
An all-time great role player, Patty Mills
Beloved in San Antonio for his selflessness and passion for his craft, point guard Patty Mills aligns perfectly with the needs of a Jordan-controlled team like the mid-90s Bulls. Mills doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective, fights hard on defense, gets in the mud against mismatches on both sides of the floor and shoots lights out from three-point range.
With Jordan being the star of the show, Mills is a nice complementary role player who can instill championship-caliber values in the locker room and balance out the dominant force that M.J. commands amongst the team. When Jordan gets on his teammates, Mills can balance that with his bright demeanor and positive attitude.
Mills is also a clutch player who elevates in high-intensity situations, which is something Jordan would need from him the way he needed it from Paxson and Kerr. Though Jordan is remembered by many as a one-man-army, he needed help from his teammates to become a champion and he continues giving credit where credit is due.
There’s a reason why the Bulls relied on the Paxson shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals or Kerr’s clutch jumper in Game 6 of the ’97 Finals. Opposing teams strategized for Jordan to be the only man who could beat them and didn’t focus quite as much on the auxiliary role players who compiled the team.
Knowing who Patty Mills is as a player and person, he’d fit the description perfectly and help craft Jordan’s legacy the way that many others of his archetype did back in the day.
Next: Complementing the goat with a star big
Seven-time All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge
In the scope of the NBA, Spurs star power forward/center LaMarcus Aldridge is blatantly underappreciated. However, if Aldridge played in the 90s, he’d be lauded as an All-Time great and teams would do everything they could to build around him.
Being a near-seven footer with the bulk and girth that Aldridge has makes him a formidable opponent on the low block, but what sets him apart is his unmatched mid-range jumper. Few bigs have the skill that Aldridge has when backing down opponents in the post, turning over his shoulder and draining fadeaway jumpers.
More so than just his offense, which has resulted in 19.5 points per game for his career average, Aldridge is a physical defender in the paint who blocks shots as a primary rim defender or with weakside help. Aldridge can bump bodies with any big in the league today and while the game was much more physical in Jordan’s era, Aldridge is one of the few modern players equipped to deal with that.
Jordan wouldn’t have liked the amount of shots that Aldridge took or the way he managed his time on the block, but he’d damn sure respect that he had another star player on his team to help shoulder the load. Aldridge is the type of player that 90s basketball fell in love with and adding that to a core built around the greatest player of all-time would surely result in championships.
He’d probably have to give up some of his shot attempts, but Aldridge would have fit nicely with M.J. back in the day.
Next: Taking on a promising rookie
A man of many talents, Keldon Johnson
Even though his trajectory in the NBA isn’t determined quite yet, Spurs rookie Keldon Johnson has one thing going for him that’s completely undeniable to everyone who watched him: He plays HARD. Having his quality sets you apart from the back and Johnson’s innate finishing ability on the way to the rim would undoubtedly catch the attention of His Airness.
Everyone who played with Jordan had to prove themselves worthy of his respect, which is part of the reason why I think Keldon would fit nicely with MJ. His physical presence from the guard/wing spots makes him hard to miss and Jordan himself played with that same instinctual tenacity.
Going at full force every step of the way is the Jordan way, which makes Johnson another ideal fit to play backup to Jordan.
Though he played a ton of minutes, even Jordan needed to take breaks and filling up that time with a rookie of Johnson’s skillset would give teams an even bigger headache than they already had to deal with Jordan and his Hall of Fame running mate, Scottie Pippen.
There’s a lot for Keldon to learn before he can make his case to become a starting player in the NBA. There’s a chance he doesn’t earn his chance to start for a long time considering the Spurs’ depth at shooting guard for the foreseeable future. With that said, Johnson is a player whose heart shines through every time you watch him play and Jordan would like that.
Next: Screen setter and rim protector
A devastating interior presence, Jakob Poeltl
There’s still a lot for Spurs center Jakob Poeltl to learn before solidifying himself in a greater role in the NBA, but he’s got the raw instinct to be an excellent rim defender for years to come. Rebounding comes naturally to him and he’s not afraid to impose his will in the paint, ripping down powerful slam dunks and bodying his opponent while attacking the glass.
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Jordan played with a lot of centers who did all of the same things as Poeltl back in the day, but few of them did it as well as he did. The likes of Will Perdue and Bill Wennington did their jobs, playing in the paint and generating extra opportunities when they could, but Poeltl is more of an explosive shot blocker than anyone Jordan played with.
At first glance, Jordan wouldn’t believe in Poeltl’s skill. Though he’s got the physical profile to be a daunting defensive player standing at 7-foot-1, Poeltl doesn’t quite look the part. He’s lanky and has a ways to go before filling out his frame and becoming a scary sight.
However, those who’ve played against him and met the Austrian center at the rim can attest to his high IQ when it comes to defending near the basket. He’s the type to impose his will on either side of the floor with a hard pick, a strong roll to the basket or a wicked pass from the post to set up a teammate.
It’d take a bit of time before M.J. caught on to just how talented Poeltl is, but once he got the hang of it, he’d come to respect who he is as a player.