Chicago Bulls: Could Michael Jordan be the NBA’s best point guard?

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport
Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport /

Michael Jordan could lead the NBA in scoring in any era, but could the Chicago Bulls great also lead the league in assists?

As we enter week four of “The Last Dance” Chicago Bulls docuseries, the LeBron James vs Michael Jordan debate continues to light a fire to social media. On one side are the 30 pluses, a group more convinced than ever that Jordan is the undisputed goat. On the other side, the sub 30’s who will defend their king to the ends of realm.

The whole no live sporting events situation means that the morning talk show circuit has to force this debate down our throats like our parents did with the cough medicine we hated taking as a kid. Last week players past and present weighed in on how many points Jordan would average in today’s NBA and how Bill Lambier and the Bad Boys would stand absolutely no chance against the guy who couldn’t post up JJ Barea and Jason Terry. I kid, I kid.

While this exercise is fun, I believe that anyone who doesn’t think Jordan COULD average 40+ a game with all this extra space is being both disingenuous and a raving lunatic. However, disagreements with the crazies aside, Jordan would know that going for 40 plus every night wouldn’t be a winning strategy. Just because His Airness COULD do it, doesn’t mean that he WOULD; and here’s why.

Championship Jordan understood the concept of team, the concept of role, the concept of keeping everyone engaged. He could go off for an easy 50 when he needed to, but Phil had instilled a deep understanding in him that he couldn’t do it alone. Jordan’s ability to go for the jugular and take matters into his own hands had a time and place, but it had to be calculated.  It had to be necessary.

Here’s a much more realistic scenario for a modern day Mike. Jordan wouldn’t try to score 40 every night. Instead, on top of his 30 plus, he’d average 10 assists a game. If we put prime Jordan into a time machine and put him into a modern NBA offense, we’d be throwing away the triangle and making Jordan a point guard.

Imagine for a second that we could go into a lab and genetically re-engineer Russell Westbrook. Lets keep his insatiable hunger to win, his tenacious speed, and ferocious athleticism; but lets make him 6-foot-6 increase his basketball IQ, fix his jumper, and lets give him the best body control in the history of the league. How do you stop mutant Westbrook? Simply…you couldn’t. You can barely stop him now. Mutant Westbrook is basically MJ.

While Jordan is probably the greatest perimeter scorer the game has seen, we really undersell his ability as a play maker. Go back and watch some of these old Bulls games and check out some of the dimes that Jordan drops. The dude was working with an absolutely packed paint and still threading the ball between multiple defenders. With today’s spacing? It’d be a wrap.

Lets picture a modern offense. Shooters in both corners, another shooter on the weak side wing, and a big setting a high screen for the ball handler. At no point in Jordan’s career did he ever operate with that much theoretical space. There’d be no way to guard that offense. Blitz the screen and he hits the big on the pop or roll.

If you’re guarding the strong corner you have to decide whether to help on a driving Mike or give up a corner three. If the strong corner stays on his man that’d mean the weak side corner defender is cheating to the paint and now Mike is hitting the shooter either coming off the screen going over the top of the defense or off some weak side hammer action. If the weak side wing defender is over helping on the corner shooter then Mike hits the weak side wing as he comes off the screen. I mean there’s just no way to stop him.

What if we put the center in the dunker spot and let Jordan iso at the top. He’s blowing by his man with his first step and now the rim protector gets to decide whether he wants to end up on a poster or give up the lob. None of these options sound fun for the defense.

Look, I get that it might be fun to argue on the internet about how many points MJ would or wouldn’t drop today. What else are we going to do while we’re quarantined? Well, my recommendation is to instead hit up YouTube and focus on the Black Cat’s passing.

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He was phenomenal and while we debate about how great of a scorer he could be today, lets try to remember that whether or not he would average more points (and he would), he would unquestionably average more assists. The goat didn’t need space and shooters to dominate by scoring, but throw him in a DeLorean and give him the space that Webtbrook or Harden have today… and he’d dominate with his passing too.