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Former NBA center Alonzo Mourning said in a recent interview that if Michael Jordan played in the NBA today, he would average “almost 50” a game.
Now, before I get started, let’s make one thing clear: Michael Jordan was the best player to ever step on the hardwood. He was one of the most gifted athletes with an unprecedented basketball IQ. People have come close, but there’s nobody that has played the game quite like him.
I could write this entire column listing off all of the traits that made him the greatest, but the legend of MJ isn’t the thing in question here – it’s Mourning’s sanity.
He supported his claim saying, “You wouldn’t be able to touch him on the perimeter so he’d be shooting a ton of free throws.”
Here’s why he’s wrong:
• Jordan averaged 30 throughout his career: Math has never been my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure that would mean he would have to score 20 more points per game than he did throughout his career to support Mourning’s claim. 20 more points a game is much easier said than done.
• Kobe Bryant: Bryant has been compared to MJ for years. They have eerily similar play styles and he’ll without a doubt go down in history as one of the best guards to ever play the game. He’s averaged 25.4 for his career. Once again, I’m not too great at math…but Bryant plays in “today’s NBA” that Mourning was talking about. For Mourning’s claim to be correct, MJ would have to average double what Bryant has averaged throughout his career.
• 50-point games: Jordan played 1,072 games in his career. Out of those 1,072 games, he surpassed the 50-point mark 38 times (respectively). This means that he reached 50 or more points in roughly 3.5 percent of his games. According to Mourning, the defensive intensity and amount of fouls called in “today’s NBA” would make up for those 96.5 percent of other games.
• Athleticism: The game has evolved since Jordan retired and is continuing to evolve. Don’t get me wrong, there were some freak athletes back in the day too. Guys like Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, and Patrick Ewing were unnatural. Then again, there were also a lot of guys like Shawn Bradley and Gheorghe Muresan that would make a baby look athletic. But overall, the old NBA never saw the types of athletes that we see today. Mourning is naïve to think that Jordan could put up 50 with guys like Tony Allen, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Barnes, or that James guy over in Cleveland guarding him on the perimeter.
• Fouls: James Harden is arguably the best in “today’s NBA” at getting to the free throw line. He averages just over 10 attempts a game. Jordan – throughout his entire career – averaged just over eight. I’m not saying that Harden is as good at getting to the line as Jordan was, but if today’s NBA is “so much softer,” why isn’t Harden taking at least 15-20 free throws a game? What about LeBron who is fourth in the league and only attempts 7.7 a game? And then there’s Kobe. He only attempts 7.
Once again, I’m not trying to undermine the Jordan era of the NBA or the breathtaking skills of “His Airness.” I’m simply saying that it’s not plausible to predict that Jordan would somehow put up 50 a game against today’s NBA due to “shooting a ton of free throws.”
However, at the end of the day, there’s no way to truly test it, which is why debates about Jordan in the modern era will never come to an end.