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Friday, October 15, 2010
Taking air out of MJ's 100-point claim

By John Hollinger

Could Michael Jordan score 100 points in a game with today’s more permissive rules for driving ballhandlers? He said he could in a recent interview, but looking at things more closely sheds serious doubt on his claim. While Jordan indeed would have benefited from today’s officiating approach, other trends -- most notably the dramatic slowing of pace over the past two decades -- would work against him. Additionally, as great a scorer as Jordan was, he would need a phenomenal increase in his scoring rates to get anywhere near the century mark. Let’s look at the numbers:

Jordan's best season was the 37.1 ppg he averaged in 1986-87. That season the Bulls played the league's slowest pace but still played 3.1 possessions per game more than the average team in 2009-10. Even if the Bulls of that season had dramatically increased their pace to play at a league-average level, Jordan would lose about 3.3 percent of his output (after adjusting to the slower pace of today’s game), other things being equal, and end up at 35.9 points per game.

Let's try to offset against his claim he'd score more easily against today's defenses. It's difficult to imagine him getting the rock much more -- he had the second-highest pace-adjusted Usage Rate in history in 1986-87 and by far the highest of his career -- but suppose he eked out one percent more under today's rules.

Further, suppose that he was so massively effective with today's rules that he led the league in TS% at 66.0 rather than his final mark of 56.2 -- this would be a gargantuan leap, but humor me and suppose it happened.

Assuming all that, 2010 Jordan would have ended up at 44.8 points per game -- still well south of Wilt's record, let alone a hundred. If we put in a slightly less wildly optimistic assumption about TS% -- let's say that he benefited from the hand-checking rules enough to get a 5.2-point bump in TS%, to his career-high of 61.4 -- that puts him at 39.6 points per game.

Which is awesome, of course. But if he could have scored a hundred with today's rules, you'd think he'd at least have come close in the faster-paced days of yore. And the closest he ever came (69 against Cleveland in 1990) was still 31 points short, even with an extra five minutes for overtime.