If Michael [Jordan] played today, he’d probably average almost 50 a game. I mean, he really would because you wouldn’t be able to touch him on the perimeter so he’d be shooting a ton of free throws.
We get it, Alonzo Mourning – the NBA reached its peak during your heyday. Stars from back then would dominate to an even greater extent today, and stars from today simply wouldn’t have dominated back then.
You aren’t the only hulking enforcer of yesteryear to share that opinion, of course. And we readily admit that a decade of stardom easily makes you a more reliable source of basketball wisdom than we are. But that also leads to bias that we don’t carry, and in turn sets our sights on analysis that’s more nuanced and discerning than yours.
Would Jordan really “average almost 50” points per game in 2014-2015? Probably not. Unlike other retirees who spout similar nonsense, though, at least you support that incendiary claim with reasonable justification.
The league disallowed hand-checking by defensive players in 1994, and stopped defenders from guarding basket-facing ballhandlers with their forearm three years later. Jordan, arguably the greatest off-dribble shooter of all-time and one of the game’s best all-around athletes, would have indeed made an even better living at the free throw line today than he did after taking a year off to play baseball following his father’s murder – let alone his years of unparalleled athletic ability before then.
But you can’t have your cake and eat it too, ‘Zo. If you’re considering one rule change to assess how Jordan would fare in the modern era, you must apply other stipulations and developments to this exercise as well.
What about the implementation of zone defenses? The league doing away with illegal defense? Schemes getting smarter about stopping premier perimeter scorers in general by overloading the strong side of the floor and putting more bodies between the ball and the basket? And how to account for big men utilizing “verticality” at the rim? Or players at all positions taking a more dedicated approach to training and nutrition? And coaches better understanding the benefits of limiting the minutes burden of star players?
And here might be the biggest hole in your theory: pace. The NBA averaged 100.8 possessions every 48 minutes when Jordan managed a surreal 37.1 points per game in 1986-1987, almost seven more trips than its current mark of 93.9. Even six years later – just before Jordan’s brief retirement and hand-checking was outlawed – the league’s average pace 96.8.
For all talk of today’s game being more more free-flowing, the truth is that it was played at a faster tempo two decades ago – even though the ugly nature of halfcourt basketball makes that hard to believe. Jordan’s raw numbers just wouldn’t look so gaudy when adjusted for pace of the modern era.
That’s all we’re saying, Alonzo. Not that you are wrong and we are right – comparing eras is never black-and-white, and you deserve kudos for supporting your take with a bit more refinement than most of your peers do.
Since you did just that, though, it’s simply pertinent to look at the biggest picture possible. And it’s one which makes us believe that Jordan, as remarkable as he’d undoubtedly be, wouldn’t approach 50 points per game if he played today.
*Statistical support for this post provided by basketball-reference.com.
[Video via Katie Nolan]