You walk into your local gym, park, or wherever you hoop at. In one of the corners, there is a group of people arguing about who is the greatest of all time. Some people bring up Jordan, and other people bring up LeBron. Then there are group of people saying that the Nba is soft and that players back then were different. They say it was a grown man’s league and that Michael Jordan would average 50 in today’s league. Even some analysts and former players claim this.
Even though I believe MJ is the greatest player of all time, this statement is completely false. To start, the defense was completely different back then. The first thing that people will think of is hand-checking, they will say that it made it so much harder to score, that every time they went to the paint they felt it, but this is just revision of history. In reality, hand checking has been abolished since the 1978-79 season.
One difference is that zones and help defense was not allowed in most cases. It was considered an illegal defense, and teams playing would get a technical foul if caught, which means free throws. During Jordan’s prime, these were some of the defense rules:
Looking at these rules, we can see that one of the biggest changes is that zone defense was not allowed. We saw how impactful the zone defense can be during this year's playoffs. The Heat completely shut down Giannas and made their finals run because of their defensive schemes. Adding to this, the defensive player had to honor the offensive player. The defender could not leave their man to play help defense on the on-ball defender.
Imagine someone like Kyrie Irving, who is considered to have the best handles in the league playing at this time. He would dribble up the court and tell the team to spread out the floor around the three-point line. Then he would iso his defender. Yes, it will be a little harder to get past the first defender because a little bit of hand contact is still allowed, but once he gets past the first defender, he has a wide-open lane to the paint because the big man would not be allowed to help since the offensive team is spread across the three-point line.
The second defensive rule that made it easier for players to score is that players had to commit to their defensive assignment. If a player can’t shoot you still had to guard and couldn't sag off too much or leave him alone to play help defense. This would be a dream for Ben Simmons because teams would not be able to take advantage of his lack of shooting. The Sixers would easily be able to get Embiid in the post where he could have all the space in the world to operate because Simmons defender won’t come to help. If the defender comes to play help defense, then he has to commit to a double team or would be called for illegal defense. Once he commits someone will be left wide open for a shot. With this being said, would Jordan really average 50 in today's Nba?
I personally think he wouldn’t come close. Obviously, if he played today he would have a better three point shot and everything that comes with the Nba today. He would still have his insane work ethic and drive to win at all costs, but even with this, he would not average 50. During Jordan’s highest-scoring season in the 1986-87 season, where he averaged an insane 37.1 ppg, the pace of the league was 100.8. Right now, the pace of the Nba is 100.2, which is lower than Michael Jordan's highest-scoring season, which means he will get fewer shots up if anything.
Also, in the last dance documentary, we saw that Jordan would do anything to win even if this meant scoring less to get his teammates involved, which is exactly how he won all 6 championships. Unlike James Harden, who is currently leading the league in scoring by averaging 34.6 ppg Jordan prioritizes defense which will make it harder for him to score on the other end because of all the energy he is using. With all this being said, I believe Jordan would average anywhere from 30-37 ppg in today's Nba. He would still be one the best scorers, but he would not be averaging something outrageous like 50 ppg.