No matter how you look at it, Phil Jackson is the most successful head coach in NBA history. The argument has been made that he only won his record 11 NBA championships because of the massive talent he had on the respective rosters of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers but that’s just preposterous.
Yes, he certainly did have some amazing talent on his teams over the course of 20 years but the Zen Master was able to get the most out of that talent. There’s a reason that guys like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant never won a championship without him. Phil Jackson was able to somehow manage all the big names (which also bring big egos) he had on his teams over the years and make it all work. We’ve been able to see how he did that during “The Last Dance” docuseries on ESPN and it’s only made him look even more impressive.
So with Phil Jackson back in the limelight a bit with “The Last Dance,” I thought it might be fun to put together an all-time team of those who played for Phil Jackson. I did set some rules here though. To be included, a player must have played more than one year for Phil, which is why you won’t see Karl Malone or Gary Payton. Geez, just imagine if I did include those guys. In addition, I’ll only be looking at stats for each player while he was playing for Phil Jackson. Even with those little rules, the team I’ve assembled here is simply amazing and the numbers are mindblowing. Honestly, it was hard to cut some guys when I got to the bench. But here you go, the all-time Phil Jackson team, a team that would likely go 82-0 in an NBA season.
Center: Shaquille O’Neal
This was obviously a no-brainer. Shaquille O’Neal is the only center that Phil Jackson has ever had that’s been capable of being the number one option and Shaq had the best years of his career when Phil came to LA in 1999. He won his first and only NBA MVP in 1999-2000, averaging a career-high 29.7 points per game, 13.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, also a career-best, and 3.0 blocks. He helped lead the Lakers to their first NBA title in more than a decade and also won NBA Finals MVP.
From 1999-2004, Shaquille O’Neal averaged 27 points, 12 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.6 blocks, and shot an incredible 57.6% from the floor. Under Phil Jackson’s watch, Shaq won three titles in four trips to the NBA Finals, won three Finals MVP trophies, made five All-Star Game appearances, won two All-Star MVP awards, was selected to the All-NBA First Team five times, and was named to the All-Defensive Second Team three times.
Power forward: Pau Gasol
I’m sure a lot of you reading this right now are screaming at your screen and wondering why Dennis Rodman isn’t in this spot. One could even argue that Horace Grant could be an option here. But I decided to go with Pau Gasol at power forward because of the impact he made in Jackson’s fourth and fifth championships with the Lakers. That’s not to say that Rodman and Grant didn’t make an impact because they certainly did in their respective three-peats but Gasol was clearly the second option to Kobe Bryant once he arrived in LA and simply did more than the other two.
Gasol played parts of four seasons for Phil Jackson and averaged 18.4 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.4 blocks while shooting 53.8% from the floor. He earned three All-Star selections and three All-NBA selections (one Second Team, two Third Team) under Phil and helped the Lakers to two NBA titles.
Small forward: Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen played nine seasons for Phil Jackson with the Chicago Bulls and earned his first NBA All-Star selection in Phil’s first year as the main man on the sidelines. It was the first of seven All-Star nods for Pippen in Chicago, the only seven he’d have in his 17-year NBA career. Pippen was the perfect number two to Michael Jordan and Jackson knew exactly how to utilize the multi-talented small forward. He was a perfect fit for the triangle offense as he could handle the ball at the top, drive to the basket, post up when necessary, and could also hit the perimeter shot. Pippen was also one of the best defenders of his generation and earned eight All-Defensive Team selections under Jackson.
In his nine years with Phil, Scottie Pippen also earned seven All-NBA selections (three First Team, two Second Team, two Third Team). He was the NBA All-Star Game MVP in 1994, the year MJ was completely gone from the NBA, and helped the Bulls to six NBA titles. In his nine seasons under Phil Jackson, Pippen averaged 19.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.3 steals.
Shooting guard: Michael Jordan
Is there anyone else that could be the starting shooting guard for an all-Phil Jackson team? Well, actually yes, but I’ll talk more about that in a moment. Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson were the ultimate team. The two worked so well together and Jordan was insanely loyal to the head coach that helped him win six NBA titles. When it was announced that Jackson would not be returning to the Bulls for the 1998-1999 season, MJ quickly announced that he wouldn’t be coming back either, refusing to play for anyone else in Chicago.
Including the season in which he came back to the NBA after trying his hand at baseball, Jordan played eight seasons for the Bulls with Jackson as the head coach. He won six NBA titles, six NBA MVPs, four NBA MVPs, and seven scoring titles. He was a seven-time All-Star, won the All-Star Game MVP twice, was a seven-time All-NBA First Team selection, and a seven-time All-Defensive First Team selection. In his run with Phil, Jordan averaged 30.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 2.3 steals.
Point guard: Kobe Bryant
Honestly, I almost put Kobe Bryant at shooting guard but I couldn’t justify moving Michael Jordan out of his natural position, although Jordan did actually play the point the year before Jackson took over in Chicago. But overall, Kobe Bryant was actually the better ball handler and there’s no way that I was leaving the Black Mamba out of the starting lineup on an all-Phil Jackson team. It just wouldn’t be right. If you’re looking for a comparison on who had more assists under Jackson’s watch, it’s actually a tie as both Jordan and Kobe averaged 5.1.
Like just about everyone else on this list, Kobe Bryant enjoyed the best years of his career under Phil Jackson. Bryant played 11 seasons under Phil and averaged 27.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.6 steals. He won five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVP awards, was an 11-time All-Star selection, and won the All-Star Game MVP four times. He was selected to the All-NBA First Team nine times and the Second Team twice. Bryant also earned nine All-Defensive First Team selections during his run with Jackson and two Second Team selections. Bryant was also named NBA MVP in 2008.
Picking seven players to round out the all-Phil Jackson team was very tough given the number of great players that he coached over the years. I’m sure I’ll get some arguments here as well but this is my bench and I’m sticking to it.
- Dennis Rodman: The Worm won three titles with Phil Jackson in Chicago, averaging 15.3 rebounds while playing menacing defense. I would actually have him as the backup center to Shaq on this team as he could body up with any big man in the league and obviously wouldn’t need to score much with this group.
- Horace Grant: He was the Bulls’ third option during their first three-peat and was a key role player in Jackson’s second title with the Lakers.
- Derek Fisher: Overall, Derek Fisher was the best point guard that Phil Jackson ever had if you don’t include Gary Payton, which I don’t.
- Toni Kukoc: The Croatian Sensation was one of the most versatile players to ever play for Phil Jackson and won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year the season Chicago went 72-10.
- Lamar Odom: When he felt like playing, Lamar Odom was one of the best players in the NBA and Phil Jackson knew exactly how to use him.
- Steve Kerr: This was a tough call between Steve Kerr and John Paxson as both were great shooters that had some clutch moments for Bulls in the postseason. But Kerr’s lifetime three-point percentage of 45.4%, which is still the best in NBA history, gives him a slight edge.
- Robert Horry: Speaking of clutch shots, how do you leave “Big Shot Bob” off this team?
So there you have it, the all-Phil Jackson team. I’ll await your arguments.