THE ARGUMENT FOR THE BEST VERSION OF MICHAEL JORDAN: “Unleash 89 Jordan into the current NBA with no hand-checking or hard fouls, and it’s all over”

The Last Dance‘ documentary portrayed the greatness of the Chicago Bulls franchise and its best player Michael Jordan. In the GOAT debates, Jordan’s name is often mentioned in these conversations and rightfully so. His dominance throughout his 15-year-long career was astonishing, and ever since his rookie season, it was evident he was special and already one of the best players in the NBA.

Jordan had accumulated numerous great games throughout his career, and it felt like he was unstoppable most of the time. He is the only player besides Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged 30 points per game for his entire career, and if you look at his season averages, it’s pretty mind-boggling what he accomplished. When talking about the best seasons of his career, opinions are very different, but it’s great to see what NBA analysts think of this subject.

In the ‘Book of Basketball’, Bill Simmons believes Jordan’s greatest individual season came in 1989. He was already one of the biggest stars in the NBA with a deadly combination of skill and athleticism. On top of that, Simmons commended Jordan’s durability and was able to play 99 games that season (regular season + playoffs) in a very competitive eastern conference. He led the Bulls that season to the ECF, where they lost to the Detroit Pistons in a seven-game series.

“His fifth and sixth seasons, normally when a star makes the leap and scratches the ceiling of his talents, Jordan carries a lousy 89 Bulls team to 47 wins and an Eastern Conference Finals cameo during an extremely competitive year, finishing with the best all-around statistical season since the merger: 32.5 PPG, 8.0 APG, 8.0 RPG, 2.9 SPG, 54% FG, 85% FT (regular season), 34.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 7.6 APG, 2.5 SPG, 51% FG (Playoffs). The following spring, he enjoys the finest playoffs of his career (43 points, 7.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, and 55 percent shooting against Philly) before falling to Detroit in seven.”

Bill Simmons, Via The Book of Basketball

In 1989, 26-year-old Jordan was already a veteran in the league and was able to combine his incredible raw physical talent with a polished set of skills. That made him a nightmare for every defender that had to face him, and the main point Bill Simmons is trying to make that if you put 89 Jordan in today’s NBA, it would all be over. He believes he would easily average 45 points per game under the rules that are implemented in the NBA today.

“As a pure athlete and scorer, here’s the stretch when Jordan peaked: matchless athletic ability, maximum speed, and explosiveness, Larry/Magic respect from officials, extreme durability (played 99 out of 99 games despite old-school rules that allowed teams like the Pistons to hammer him on drives) and multiple defenders required to stop him. Unleash 89 Jordan into the current NBA with no hand-checking or hard fouls, and it’s all over. He’d score 45 a game.”

Bill Simmons, Via The Book of Basketball

The late great Kobe Bryant also indulged in these debates, and he thinks Jordan from 1991 when he won his first NBA championships is the best version of Jordan. Bryant was an avid scholar of the game of basketball, and when analyzing Jordan throughout the years, he said he would have the most challenge against 91 version of Jordan.

Of course, these debates are tough, but when you take into account the data, it makes sense to argue that Jordan from the late ’80s and early ’90s was the absolute one-person wrecking crew. The combination of speed, explosiveness, durability, and all-around basketball skillset Jordan possessed at that time was truly unmatched. There is no question; he would thrive in today’s NBA, where the emphasis is on offense more than ever before, which would make him almost unstoppable to guard.