November 16, 2018

Unscored: Michael Jordan would have 42,000 points if he never retired (and more titles)

2018/10/17 1:12 pm 1:12 pm1:12 pm0 1 comment

If you’re more than just a casual fan of the NBA, then you know that Michael Jordan retired not once, not twice, but three times before finally calling it a career. I won’t call MJ the Barbara Streisand of professional basketball, but by simply saying it, you get that I kinda-sorta am. History as we know it, even with three retirements, Jordan won six NBA Championships and scored 32,292 points in 15 NBA seasons  (technically 14.25 seasons because when he announced his second comeback in March 1995).

With a couple additional seasons that MJ could have been a part of, how many more NBA titles would we have won?  How many more MVPs and scoring championships would he have under his belt? The guy is already consider the Greatest Of All Time, so adding a handful of awards and accomplishments isn’t going to change our view, but it’s still fun to talk about.

How Many More Championships for the Chicago Bulls?

Because both of Jordan’s unsuccessful retirements came after he won three championships, there’s a very good chance that if the GOAT stuck around those years, the Chicago Bulls would have more than six championship rings. We estimate the Bulls would have at least a seventh, if not eighth ring.

If you’re a die hard Chicago Bulls fan, you might be arguing that those Bulls, behind Jordan and Scottie Pippen, could have a total of 9-10 NBA championships consecutively.

Estimating NBA championships in a what-if scenarios is almost not worth discussing, but nothing stops the internet. You know what else was pretty unstoppable? Hakeem Olajuwon throughout the playoffs in 1993-94 and 1994-95 when they won back-to-back titles in Jordan’s absence. Also, the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers were nothing to sneeze before the turn of the century.

I wouldn’t doubt that Jordan would have had one or two more rings to his name if he had stuck around, but as we touched on, it’s not easy to predict whether the Chicago Bulls could have won 15-26 playoff games against those Rocket or Laker teams.

how many more championships for Jordan if he didn't retire?

Jordan is considered the GOAT by the majority of NBA fans and his competitiveness is legendary, but would a 31 or 32 year old Jordan be enough to turn away a determined and unstoppable Olajuwon or could have held back the Patrick Ewing-led Knicks for several more seasons? Jordan was a machine and insanely competitive, so we think he would have claimed another championship in that span.

However after his second retirement, Jordan was a couple years older when he came back, so the questions of whether a 36 year-old Jordan was enough against the 1999 Spurs in the championship are legitimate. Jordan would have been exceptional, but the Bulls’ front line consisted of Toni Kukoc, Andrew Lang, Dickey Simpkins and Mark Bryant. No offense to that foursome, but they would have had to deal with an older but effective David Robinson and young Tim Duncan?

The year we think Jordan wouldn’t have been able to do it unless all the stars aligned was the 2000-01 NBA season. Unless the Bulls put together a better supporting cast and added another scorer along with the 38-year old MJ, we doubt that Jordan would have won a championship vs. a primed, scary-level, diesel-pumped (and NBA MVP) Shaquille O’Neal.That’s if the Bulls got past the Allen Iverson -led Philadelphia 76ers and advanced to the NBA Finals.

Still, it’s Mike. One errs on the side that he could have willed it — even as he neared 40 years old.

The problem is that it’s not just Mike. One can’t not consider his teammates performances and the ups and downs of every game, injuries to teammates and luck. There are too many factors in those scenarios to guesstimate. Let’s just say Jordan would have gotten one more championship and move on to something a little easier to estimate.

Michael Jordan Would Have 40,000+ Points If He Didn’t Retire

What is not nearly as difficult to get at is how many points Jordan would have scored if he played out his career non-stop.

In order to do so, let’s first establish how many games Michael Jordan missed due to retirement from 1993-95 and 1998-2001.

Michael Jordan's Lost NBA Seasons
Season Age Team Games
1993-94 30-31 DNP 0
1994-95 31-32 CHI 17*
1998-99 35-36 DNP 0
1999-00 36-37 DNP 0
2000-01 37-38 DNP 0

*Jordan played the Bull’s final 17 regular season games after his 1995 comeback.

In full, Jordan missed out on four full seasons and a quarter of the 94-95 NBA season. So, if Jordan never retired until after his final-final-FINAL 2002-03 season and played consecutively since he first came into the league in 1984, he would have notched almost an additional FIVE NBA seasons.

Let’s Talk About Games Played

In order to get to his point potential, let’s get to Jordan’s durability. How many points Jordan potentially could have scored is highly-dependent on how many games he would have played.

Outside of the 1985-86 season where Jordan missed 64 games due to injury and 2001-02 when a 38-year old Jordan sat out 22 games, Jordan had been extremely durable. Not counting the 1994-95 when he came back at the tail end of the season, Jordan averaged 75 games a season. No doubt helped by his playing the full 82 games in nine seasons.

So for those five seasons, I think it’s fair to say Jordan would have played at least the full slate of 82 games twice. We’ll place these 82 games at 1993-94 and 1998-99. We’ll go with the 75 game average for two of the other “lost” seasons (1994-95 and 1999-00), and be really conservative and assume one injury that caused him to participate in just 54 games in 2000-01 (missing exactly a third of the season). Here’s what that looks like when we add missing games:

Filling in Michael Jordan's Lost NBA Seasons
Season Age Team Games
1993-94 30 CHI 82
1994-95 31 CHI 58*
1998-99 35 CHI 82
1999-00 36 CHI 75
2000-01 37 CHI 54

* Taking into consideration the 17 games in 1994-95, we’ll just add 58 to get to 75 games played

With those 4.75 seasons worth of games, Jordan could have played an additional 351 regular season games.

Factoring in Jordan’s Age and Decline

It’s hard to believe, but Michael Jordan is human. And like most humans, he ages. Even if we could add those 350+ games to his career, we have to consider Jordan’s age, health and declining athleticism in those seasons. Here’s what Jordan’s points and points per game looks like as he he got older:

Michael Jordan's Career
Season Age Team Games PTS PPG
1984-85 21 CHI 82 2313 28.2
1985-86 22 CHI 18 408 22.7
1986-87 23 CHI 82 3041 37.1
1987-88 24 CHI 82 2868 35.0
1988-89 25 CHI 81 2633 32.5
1989-90 26 CHI 82 2753 33.6
1990-91 27 CHI 82 2580 31.5
1991-92 28 CHI 80 2404 30.1
1992-93 29 CHI 78 2541 32.6
1993-94 30 DNP
1994-95 31 CHI 17 457 26.9
1995-96 32 CHI 82 2491 30.4
1996-97 33 CHI 82 2431 29.6
1997-98 34 CHI 82 2357 28.7
1998-99 35 DNP
1999-00 36 DNP
2000-01 37 DNP
2001-02 38 WAS 60 1375 22.9
2002-03 39 WAS 82 1640 20.0

Now let’s populate the assumed games Jordan would have played from above. Also, I plugged in some scoring averages taking into consideration Jordan’s age, scoring averages during the surrounding seasons and Jordan’s place in career.

I then conservatively plugged in a 30.1 scoring average in 1993-94 although it was likely he would have outdid that since he was in his prime (and would average 30.4 just two seasons later). I also upped his scoring average for this 1994-95 comeback season; assuming that his 26.9 ppg for those 17 games were due to his more relaxed athletic lifestyle as a minor league baseball player. Again, I was conservative, adding just 2 points to his average.

With his three season retirement from 1998-99 to 2000-01, it became more difficult to estimate his scoring prowess because at 35, 36 and 37 years old, athletes are definitely showing their age. For example, Karl Malone‘s scoring average dipped into the 23 point range a couple times in his mid-30s after averaging between 25-31 points for 11 consecutive seasons.

The good news here is that his Washington Wizards-stint gives us context for his ppg performance.

We’ll assume that we’d see similar declining scoring averages as Jordan moved into his mid-30s. Let’s not kid ourselves, he would still be the man at 37 (as he was at 38 and 39 years old in Washington), so his declines would be seen mostly in his field goal percentage than his scoring.

For this calculation, we assumed a decline in points per game -1.2, -1.5, and -1.7 in those missing seasons after the 1997-98 season. We also assumed Jordan would have never been traded had he never chosen to leave the game. Here’s our alternate-reality Jordan career numbers:

What if Michael Jordan never retired?
Season Age Team Games PTS PPG
1984-85 21 CHI 82 2313 28.2
1985-86 22 CHI 18 408 22.7
1986-87 23 CHI 82 3041 37.1
1987-88 24 CHI 82 2868 35.0
1988-89 25 CHI 81 2633 32.5
1989-90 26 CHI 82 2753 33.6
1990-91 27 CHI 82 2580 31.5
1991-92 28 CHI 80 2404 30.1
1992-93 29 CHI 78 2541 32.6
1993-94 30 CHI 82 30.1
1994-95 31 CHI 75 28.9
1995-96 32 CHI 82 2491 30.4
1996-97 33 CHI 82 2431 29.6
1997-98 34 CHI 82 2357 28.7
1998-99 35 CHI 82 27.5
1999-00 36 CHI 75 26.0
2000-01 37 CHI 54 24.3
2001-02 38 CHI 60 1375 22.9
2002-03 39 CHI 82 1640 20.0

Let’s assume you find my logic sound here. It is an alternate reality after all. If we’re on the same page around the assumed number of games and Jordan’s scoring average during those lost seasons, then it’s simple math at that point to figure out how many points Jordan would have scored had he never left us for retirement, twice.

Yes, Michael Jordan would have been the NBA’s all-time leading scorer

Recalculating the 457 points that he scored during the 17 games of his comeback season and adding that to the four full seasons Jordan was away, we come up with the following numbers for 1993-95 and 1998-2001.

Michael Jordan's Lost Points
Player Season Age Team Games PPG Points
Michael Jordan 1993-94 30-31 CHI 82 30.1 2468
Michael Jordan 1994-95 31-32 CHI 75 28.9 2167
Michael Jordan 1998-99 35-36 CHI 82 27.5 2255
Michael Jordan 1999-00 36-37 CHI 75 26.0 1950
Michael Jordan 2000-01 37-38 CHI 54 24.3 1312

That’s leaves us with unscored 10,153 points by Jordan. Adding these points to the 31,835 points he accumulated in his 14 full seasons (plugging in our numbers for the 1994-95 season), Michael Jordan would have come a measly twelve short of 42,000 career points leaving MJ with 41,988 total points.

That number would have easily made him the NBA’s All-Time leading scorer ahead of the current list of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Wilt Chamberlain.

All-Time Leading Scorers if MJ Never Retired
Michael Jordan 41,988
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387
Karl Malone 36,928
Kobe Bryant 33,643
Wilt Chamberlain 31,419

That’s over 3,600 points more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored in his legendary career. With that said, Jordan didn’t need all five seasons to own the record-of-all-records. A combination of his three top scoring “lost” seasons would have put him over the top of KAJ by 300+ points. Any combo of four “lost” seasons would have definitely put Jordan as the #1 points scorer of all time by a good margin.

All these “what ifs”. When it comes down to it, the point is moot for a variety of reasons, but mostly because even without the 10,000 extra points and a few extra NBA titles to his trophy case, there’s very little argument about who the league’s greatest player of all-time is.

When the eventual discussion of the G.O.A.T. comes up again; whether as a poll, in a magazine, or a listicle, Michael Jordan’s career, as it is now, is already more than enough to keep him as the #1 NBA player of all-time.

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