Michael Jordan reached his scoring peak during the 1986-87 season.
However, what was more remarkable was how he did it.
The year Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 ppg, he only hit 12 three pointers the entire season. Only 3% of his shot attempts were 3’s.
— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) June 7, 2013
In NBA history, only Wilt Chamberlain has averaged more points per game in a single season – he averaged 37.6 points in 1959-60, 38.4 points in 1960-61, a stupendous 50.4 points in 1961-62., and 44.8 points in 1962-63.
Going back to Jordan, in terms of non-7-footers, Jordan is in a class by himself when it comes to single season scoring averages, even though Houston Rockets superstar James Harden is nipping at his heels.
MJ followed up that 1986-87 season by averaging:
- 35.0 PPG in 1987-88
- 32.5 PPG in 1988-89
- 33.6 PPG in 1989-90
- 31.5 PPG in 1990-91
- 30.1 PPG in 1991-92
- 32.6 PPG in 1992-93
With the release of The Last Dance docuseries, the world has been reminded just how incredible Jordan’s scoring prowess actually was.
Now, a new debate has surfaced – and no, it doesn’t involve LeBron James.
This week, Jordan’s former agent David Falk said that if his client were playing today, his scoring numbers would be astronomical.
David Falk on if Michael played in this era: “With virtually zero defense, no hand-checking, I think if Jordan played today – if he was in his prime in today’s rules – I think he’d average between 50 and 60 a game. I think he’d shoot 75% from the floor.” https://t.co/8oSSMvBO6Z
— 106.7 The Fan (@1067theFan) April 29, 2020
So…how many points would Jordan average in this era? Could he actually average 50 points a game in 2020?
Skip Bayless agrees with Falk, simply based on the lack of physicality in today’s game.
“[Jordan] averaged 37 in an era in which they allowed defenders to play football … It wasn’t just hand-checking that was allowed – it was clutching and grabbing and shoving and hard fouling … Jordan took huge punishment to average 37 a game in 1987 that he would not have to take now.”
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) May 1, 2020
In the year Jordan averaged 37.1 PPG, his numbers were high across the board. He played a whopping 40.0 minutes per game and shot 48.2 percent from the field, connecting on 13.4 of his 27.8 shots per game.
He also made 10.2 of 11.9 free throws per game, and he only attempted 0.8 threes a night.
To break it all the way down, 37 of of his 37.1 points were scored via 2-point baskets and free throws. The other 0.1 percent came from 3-pointers.
If the 1986-87 version of Jordan played in today’s game, former NBA superstar Paul Pierce thinks Jordan would approach 50 points a night, mainly based on the number of fouls he would draw attacking the rim and his evolution from beyond the arc.
“I think it would be very possible … His numbers would definitely be inflated. If you thought James Harden got to the line a lot, Jordan would average 20 free throws every night. He would evolve into this era … You would see him shoot more threes, too … I could see him pushing it to the mid-40s.”
Former NBA star Jalen Rose agrees with Pierce, saying that the small-ball approach in 2020 would be to Jordan’s advantage, and that MJ’s defensive know-how would lead to a few easy baskets.
“Players up front have gotten smaller, so now, driving to the basket, he’s going to be dunking on everybody … [Kevin Durant] is like a [power forward] in today’s game … Here’s the other thing: If James Harden can average 37 right now, he’s getting none of those points off his defense. Jordan is going to be getting steals … He’ll be out on fast breaks … Jordan would be at like 47, 48.”
After Chamberlain and Jordan, the 7th highest single season scoring average belongs to Harden, who averaged 36.1 points in 2018-19.
Just for context – and to further exhibit the difference in eras – during that 2018-19 season, Harden shot 44.2 percent from the field, connecting on 10.8 of his 24.5 field goal attempts.
Unlike Jordan, he shot 13.2 threes per game and recorded 11.3 attempts per night from inside the arc.
There are some detractors, however.
Shannon Sharpe doesn’t think Jordan could reach 50 a game just because of how daunting a task it would be on a nightly basis.
“Wilt is the only player ever to average 50 points a game and it took him 39 shots to do that. And all he was shooting was dunks, layups and little skyhooks. And he shot 50 percent from the field. And he made 10 free throws a night. And averaged 50 … James Harden is scoring 35 points a night. Michael Jordan is going to score 15 more points a night?”
“MJ has 31 career 50-point games, but he’s supposed to do that for 82 games? You know MJ ain’t averaging 50-60 points. Do you know how many shots he would need to get up? That’s why he only averaged 37 ONE year.”
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 1, 2020
We’ll never know the answer to this question, but we can still speculate.
Let’s put this one on ice until barbershops reopen – sound good, Michael?