In his 18-year NBA career, Richard Jefferson faced some of the best teams in NBA history.
Jefferson was on the losing side of NBA Finals matchups against the Shaquille O'Neal-Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers in 2002, the Tim Duncan-David Robinson San Antonio Spurs in 2003 and the Steph Curry-Kevin Durant Warriors in 2017. All three of those squads are in the pantheon of all-time great teams, but to Jefferson one stands above the rest.
No, it's not the Curry-KD Warriors who steamrolled everyone in their path during the 2016-17 run to the title. To Jefferson, the 2001-02 Lakers are the most dominant team he has ever seen.
"Obviously the Spurs team was great with the Twin Towers David Robinson and Tim Duncan and the Warriors team with Kevin Durant," Jefferson said on ESPN's "The Jump." "Obviously, Shaq is the one person -- a lot of times when you watch the Golden State Warriors and you watch how they play that small-ball defense, they'll do what you call a triple switch. They'll switch Steph onto a bigger player and then when that player rolls into the post they will then switch out. They will switch Draymond or KD or Harrison Barnes, they would switch a bigger player onto that post player and then move Steph back outside.
"This is the issue with that. That amazing defense that worked so well because there aren't dominant post players now -- not nearly as much -- you weren't going to be able to do that. They were going to throw that ball into Shaq, he was going to catch it and dunk it and one thing that Shaq made you do, he made you carry two or three centers on your roster because you needed those big bodies, you needed those fouls because he was so dominant.
"So what does that do? That shortens your ability to play small ball because you have to carry two or three bigs on your roster. There isn't carry one, one-and-a-half. This [Mike D'Antoni] situation would have never worked. PJ Tucker would have quit before having to guard Shaq in a seven-game series.
"So, that's why to me that's the best team that I've ever played against, it's the best team that I've seen. Now, the '17 Warriors with Kevin Durant were very close but I still would have needed to something to tell me they would have had a game plan for Shaq."
Now, all that makes sense on its face, and we know O'Neal agrees. But Jefferson doesn't look at the other side of the issue. Would the Warriors have had trouble defending O'Neal? No question. Everyone did.
But O'Neal would have had to go out onto the perimeter on the other end and the Warriors would have pick-and-rolled the Lakers to death, as Draymond Green put it.
Plus, the Lakers would have been at a severe disadvantage when it comes to the 3-point shot. Klay Thompson (41.4 percent), Curry (41.1) and Durant (37.5) would have had too much firepower for a Lakers team that lacked perimeter scoring outside of Bryant.
Jefferson saw first-hand what all of these teams can do, so it should carry some weight that he believes the 2002 Lakers are more dominant. But his rationale is thin and only takes into account one end of the court.
O'Neal would dominate the paint on one end and then get carved up on the other. It might take years before the Steph-KD Warriors get the universal respect they deserve. They eviscerated teams for the first two seasons and only injuries kept them from securing a three-peat.
It was a display of dominance that rarely has been seen in NBA history.
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