We got into a brief conversation on The Drive this morning about scoring leaders in the NBA that sparked something in me.
Russell Westbrook leads the NBA this season with 31.8 points per game. He is the only player that averages over 30-points throughout the course of the 2016-17 season.
That feat immediately brought Michael Jordan into the conversation.
Some 15 years after he’s laced ’em up for an NBA game, Michael Jordan holds the record for highest career regular season scoring average at 30.1 points per game. That’s over a 15 year career (in which he missed the 1993-94 season when he ventured into baseball and three seasons from 1998-2001 when he retired before coming back for two final seasons). He was 39-years old when he finally retired for the last time…after averaging 20.0 PPG.
In 8 of his 15 seasons Jordan averaged over 30-points per game with his highest season coming in 1986-87 when he AVERAGED 37.1-points a night.
No matter what era we’re talking about, averaging 30-points or more a game is simply absurd. And to do it in eight different seasons is flabbergasting.
It got me thinking about how the game of basketball is a constant metamorphosis. It has evolved and changed over the course of the years and will continue to do so from here on out.
Take the 3-ball for example. It has become a dominate component of the game today. But during the 1986-87 season when Jordan was putting up 37.1 an outing, the league as a whole averaged just 4.7 three-point field goal attempts per game.
This season, the NBA as a whole averages an all-time high 27 triple attempts a game. That’s completely insane when looking through the scope of the NBA that Michael Jordan played in. This man put up the gaudy numbers he did never averaging over 1.4 three-point field goal makes a game.
His game was the mid-range, break you down with the dribble, rise up over the top or bait you into a foul and get to the line kind of game.
And that for the most part was the way the whole league played. Threes were not encouraged and few coaches allowed for them to be part of the game. The first 3-pointer made in an NBA game was on October 12, 1979 (here is the history of the 3-point shot in the NBA if you’re at all intrigued) but it took 15-years for the league as a whole to combine to average more than 10 attempts per game.
I must admit, I barely watched basketball growing up. So I wasn’t witness to the era of Michael Jordan when he came into the league in the mid-80s through the 90s. I started paying attention in 1998 and even then it was really only on the periphery.
My consumption of the epic Jordan-Chicago Bulls era really came later thanks to replays on ESPN Classic.
Having said that I just assumed that the league as a whole during the Jordan era was nowhere near putting up the same kind of scoring numbers we see today because of the ever increasing role of the 3-point shot.
Boy was I wrong!
Take Jordan’s 86-87 season when he had the highest scoring season of his career…the league average was 109.9 PPG. Every single team in the NBA averaged over 100-points per game (which isn’t even happening this season), led by the Trailblazers with 117.9. As opposed, for example, 2002-03 when just two teams, the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, put up over 100-points per game for a season.
Holy buckets! All of that was without the 3-ball. And it was during the era of hand-checking on the perimeter, chucking the cutters going through the lane and flat out laying fools out when they came in the paint. 117.9 points per game people…just short of 110 on average for the entire NBA combined.
This kind of scoring throughout the league carried on for years (on a gradual decline) until the 1995-96 season when the league wide scoring average fell to below 100-points per game for the first time since the 1956-57 season. Yep…you read that right. Who knew?!
And yes, all of that without the 3-point shot.
Let me be clear here. I’m not hating on the 3-ball in the NBA. I’m a big fan of it actually (though some people are a little too in love with it for my taste).
The point of this rabbit hole I went down all came from our morning conversation about Westbrook’s season average of 31.8 PPG. Averaging over 30 is just flat out WORK people.
Jordan did it eight freaking times! EIGHT. To put that in perspective and shed a little light on the G.O.A.T. debate we all enjoy diving into with Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James let me just point out these stats for you.
SEASONS AVERAGING 30-POINTS OR MORE:
** Fun little fact – here is how 3-point field goal usage breaks down for all three over the course of their entire career …
- Jordan: 0.5 made per game
- Bryant: 1.4 made per game
- James: 1.4 made per game
ALL three are going to go down as among the best players the game of basketball has ever seen. Love them or hate them you have to listen to logic and accept facts.
But Michael Jordan my friends is THE GREATEST PLAYER OF ALL TIME.