As ESPN's 10-part series "chronicling the Chicago Bulls' 1997-98 season is coming to a conclusion Sunday night, all the talk about Michael Jordan is the rage right now. However, pondering Jordan's place in the NBA hierarchy is nothing new. He's one of the best players ever, obviously. Most people feel he's the greatest. The only modern player who even is LeBron James.
When people compare LeBron and Jordan, the different eras in which they play(ed) is always a focal point. The general old-school sentiment is that it was harder to score in Jordan's era because the defense was more physical and the game was slower, but a common counter to that is the athletes are better these days and Jordan, who shot just 32.7 percent from 3 for his career, wouldn't thrive quite as much in 3-point heavy league.
Kevin Durant says nonsense to that. Speaking with Jay Williams on the ESPN show "The Boardroom," Durant was asked where he thought Jordan would fit into today's NBA hierarchy.
"He can adapt his game to anything," Durant said. "He would fit in as the best player in the league. That's what he would be. He would have more possessions to do more things. More space for M.J. to go to work. We'll never know, but for sure he's a masterful basketball player, and like we've been saying his skill level is unmatched."
You can watch Durant's full interview below. The guy has such a smart basketball mind.
As to Durant's claim that Jordan would slot as the best player in today's game just as he did in the 90s, it's hard to argue. You can't take a player from one era and assume he would play the same in another era. If LeBron had to play in the 90s, he might have developed a dominant post game much sooner in his career and relied on it more heavily.
Similarly, Jordan would've had to become a better 3-point shooter, and you think one of the hardest-working, most competitive and driven athletes we've ever seen wouldn't have done that? To Durant's point, there isn't a skill in the book that Jordan lacked. He just, perhaps, would've had to shift his focus a bit.
Durant's point about increased space and possessions of today's game is also an astute one. Jordan was impossible to defend one-on-one, even with, for the most part, minimally dangerous 3-point shooters surrounding him. Nowadays, just about every player is a threat to make a 3, and as such, helping off of them is a more dicey proposition.
Also, the illegal defense rules have changed. Big men can't just camp out in the paint to protect the rim. Space the floor, and Jordan would be coasting to the rim when compared against the paint punishment he had to endure in his day. And when defenders did challenge him, he would live at the free-throw line in the modern game. He'd be something close to James Harden with a far more versatile offensive repertoire, and that's before you factor in Jordan's world-class defense.
All the while, the increased pace of today's game would not only accentuate Jordan's athleticism, but it would simply give him more possessions to inflict all this damage -- though his minutes per game might decrease under the more vigilant eye of today's medical and performance specialists.
However you slice it, Jordan would obviously be an all-time great player in any era. Durant thinks he would be the best, back then or today, doesn't matter. And again, it's hard to argue with him.