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Layups: If MJ Hadn’t Retired in ’93… Or ’99

Posted by Neil Paine on September 15, 2009

I love this kind of thing... Over at Basketball Prospectus, Kevin Pelton uses his SCHOENE projection system for one of its coolest functions, answering the question: what would Michael Jordan's stats have looked like if he hadn't retired & come back twice, but rather played 1985-2003 all the way through?

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11 Responses to “Layups: If MJ Hadn’t Retired in ’93… Or ’99”

  1. Jason J Says:

    Looks Kevin goes very conservative on Mike's numbers. I don't think there's necessarily a ton of Jordan-specific evidence to point to a dramatic drop off in production following a record-setting 41 point average in the Finals in 1993. Age takes it's toll, but like Malone and Stockton, Jordan was a fitness fanatic and adjusted his game to changes in athleticism. On the other hand in the injection of Kukoc may have removed some of the need for him to dominate. I do doubt he would have allowed himself to fall out of the top scoring spot in either '94 or '95.

    It's very difficult to say what would have happened to his stats moving forward from '98 if Pippen and Jackson left and Jordan remained. You can see from the splits that Jordan's boards and assists dropped off after Pippen got healthy in '98. His shooting went up, but that started happening pre-Pip's return which makes me think it may have had more to do with his recovery from off-season toe surgery (ingrown toenail) than anything. Given his skill level and the fact that he hadn't missed a game in 3 seasons, it's probably not going out on a limb to say that health would likely not have been an issue in the shortened '99 season anyway.

    Anyway, all MJ conjecture aside, the projections for LeBron are what amazed me. Kareem better hope this kid gets bored, or that total points mark is in trouble.

  2. Tsunami Says:

    People very often forget that the Cavs play one of the slowest paces in the league.

  3. AYC Says:

    One thing stat-heads sometimes forget is that players aren't just stat machines; they can think about what they're doing, and set goals for themselves; MJ in his prime was intent on scoring over 30ppg every year. No way does he fail to do it in 94 and 95.

    Also I think once the ability to win scoring titles left due to age, MJ's assist numbers would have gone back up (his goals would have changed), so the assist projections for the later years are probably too low also; just look at his asst avg the first year with WAS.

    Anyway, it's amazing to imagine how much better his career would've been; I'd guess MJ would've won 13 consecutive scoring titles, with 10 consecutive 30+ seasons.

  4. Keith Ellis Says:

    JasonJ wrote: It's very difficult to say what would have happened to his stats moving forward from '98 if Pippen and Jackson left and Jordan remained. You can see from the splits that Jordan's boards and assists dropped off after Pippen got healthy in '98.

    Without Pippen after '98, Jordan's numbers (& the Bulls' success) would've resembled MJ's pre-&-post-Pippen periods, playing for a sub-.500 ballclub w/ greater interest in individual Assists & Rebounding -- an attempt to return to the mini-Oscar role Mike played in the Eighties (w/ Cincy Royals-esque results), declining to the Johnny Johnson-in-Cleveland role he played in the 2000s.

  5. Roy Johnson Says:

    The whole article is just pure guess and fantasy thinking. Doesn't factor in injuries and game suspensions. Just another article trying to make Lebron the greatest. And for the pos. Lebron plays mostly (SF) it will be hard for him to get 10,000 reb and 10,000 ast.

    And besides by the time 2021 comes around, I dont think Lebron will even still be playing.

  6. Mike G Says:

    I thought Jordan 'retired' in order to get away from the grind, refocus his priorities, recharge his batteries and such. If he doesn't take a couple of years off, maybe he wins _Fewer_ titles, etc.

  7. Jason J Says:

    That's possible, Mike. Though I have a feeling the second someone intimated that Penny or Hill were "the next Jordan" he would rededicate himself to destroying them and probably bump his production right back up.

  8. Kevin Pelton Says:

    The fact that Jordan's 95-96 season was so much better than SCHOENE would have projected lends some credence to this, though as noted it is very conservative when it comes to star-caliber players.

  9. Bradlee Says:

    Great article I enjoyed reading it, but you never know. I bet at one time if you would have projected Wilt Chamberlain’s career, you could have projected him to 50K points, but is scoring dropped off sharply and he didn’t play as many seasons (he did enter the league older than the others).

  10. Jason J Says:

    I'm not old enough to say so for sure, but my understanding is that Wilt's numbers dropped off due to coaching more than ability. He was on uptempo teams that used him as a featured scorer less often. Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Gail Goodrich got to be the offensive heroes while he dominated the boards (and was still fairly impressive as a scorer). That is still a fair point. It's impossible to predict potential changes in playing style - particularly in this case where the Bulls were getting a new coach in '99. I actually wonder if Jordan moving from the wing to the post after his baseball comeback didn't have more to do with his drop in production (compared to what he did in prior to retirement) than anything.

  11. Payam Sharifi Says:

    If Chamberlain was allowed to play right out of high school, you could predict 2,500-3,000 points for each of those 4 seasons. That's up to 12,000 extra points in his column. Plus, he did miss almost whole season of basketball in 1969-1970 with that knee surgery, which if he averaged 20 points a game he woudl have had an extra 1,300 points(I think he played 16 games out of the 80 games in that season...it may have been a total 82 games by that point not sure.