If you could transport peak Michael Jordan into today's NBA, who would you surround him with to win a championship?
That's the question I'm trying to answer today.
Before we get into it, some ground rules:
- I'm building a 14-player roster - five starters and nine bench players.
- The salary cap is set at $109.0 million. I can go under that figure but not over.
- The player salaries I'm using are from Basketball Reference.
- I'm using Jordan's salary from the 1997-98 season, which was $33.1 million. It was the most he ever made in his career and it's on par with the highest earners in the league today. It seemed fair.
- I'm capping myself at three rookie-scale contracts. Any less and this exercise becomes almost impossible. Any more and it takes all the fun out of it.
- I can't select more than two players from the same team. I'm not trying to add Jordan to the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers or LA Clippers.
- Players who have missed this entire season are off the table, so no Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
With all that in mind, onto the ultimate modern-day Jordan team!
Guard: Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
Since we're using Jordan's salary from the 1997-98 season, we might as well take that version of Jordan.
It wasn't the best season of Jordan's Hall of Fame career, but he still led the league in scoring with 28.7 points per game and won his fifth MVP award. He then stepped it up a notch in the playoffs, averaging 32.5 points per game en route to a third straight title for the Bulls and his record-setting sixth Finals MVP award.
MORE: How many MVPs should Jordan have actually won?
At the end of the day, we're talking about Michael Jeffrey Jordan here - the most dominant scorer in NBA history, one of the most accomplished defenders of all-time and a better passer than he often gets credit for. The only assumptions I'm making are that Jordan would be a slightly better 3-point shooter than he was in the 1997-98 season and that he would adjust just fine to playing in a more pick-and-roll and isolation-heavy offence.
My plan is to surround Jordan with as much shooting as possible, because the thought of him playing in space without hand-checking should send shivers down everyone's spine. Also, with how accomplished of a defender he was, I want to pair him with as many versatile defenders as possible. That way, we aren't hand-tied to playing one particular style.
But enough about Jordan...
Guard: Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
This isn't the sexiest pick, but it's hard to find a starting-level point guard making less than $10 million in today's NBA.
Plus, I'm confident that VanVleet would slide in well alongside Jordan in the backcourt.
First and foremost, VanVleet has proven that he can play off-ball, a must seeing as he's playing next to one of the most ball dominant players in NBA history. This season, more than a quarter of VanVleet's field goal attempts have been catch-and-shoot 3s. He's made 43.9 percent of those opportunities, putting him on the same page as some of the best shooters in the league such as Joe Ingles (44.4 percent), Joe Harris (43.5 percent) and Davis Bertans (43.1 percent).
Secondly, VanVleet is a solid defender. He's somewhat limited given his size, but he's capable of guarding outside of his position and he's incredibly disruptive, leading the league in deflections while ranking fourth in steals this season. I'm trying to build a championship-level defence around Jordan, not just a championship-level offence, so VanVleet ticks a lot of boxes.
I thought about Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Chris Paul, but they each make almost three times the amount VanVleet does and they're at their best when they have the ball in their hands. I feel better about spending that money elsewhere.
Forward: Duncan Robinson, Miami Heat
Talk about bang for your buck.
Robinson is having one of the most prolific 3-point shooting seasons of all-time. Now in his second season with the Heat, he's taking 8.4 3-pointers per game and making them at a 44.8 percent clip. According to Basketball Reference, there is only one other player in NBA history who has posted those same numbers in a single season.
That player? Stephen Curry.
Robinson isn't just a spot up shooter. According to NBA.com, nobody is averaging more points per game off of handoffs than him this season. He's also among the league leaders in scoring off of screens, making him one of the more versatile 3-point shooters in the NBA today.
It was a historic night in New Orleans for Duncan Robinson.- Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 7, 2020
In a game where he became Miami's All-Time single season 3s leader he also set the record for most triples in a season for an undrafted player in NBA history. pic.twitter.com/oDyVMqqCjO
Robinson is the weakest defender in the starting lineup, but I want to pair Jordan with a bomber in the backcourt, someone who can keep the defence honest and get hot.
We just started this exercise with Fred VanVleet and Duncan Robinson, so I know what you're thinking. But trust me, it'll make more sense when we roll through the other two starters.
Forward: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
This is a tough one.
I went back and forth between Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo here. If I was building a team around one of them, I would go with Antetokounmpo no questions asked. But because I know Jordan will be the one running the show, Davis is the more natural fit to me.
Part of the reason is because we've seen what Davis is capable of doing as the Robin to someone's Batman in playing alongside LeBron James in Los Angeles this season. Jordan and James are obviously very different players, but Davis would fill a similar role next to Jordan, operating as his primary pick-and-roll partner and providing some secondary playmaking as a post-up scorer.
AD went into monster mode for his first series against his former team 〰💪 #BestOfLakersPelicans pic.twitter.com/IfGrQOniHx- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) April 26, 2020
Another reason is because Davis is the better all-around shooter. Neither Davis nor Antetokounmpo are particularly good 3-point shooters - they're shooting 30.6 percent and 33.5 percent, respectively, from the perimeter this season - but Davis has long been one of the best midrange scorers for his position. The extra spacing he can provide as a power forward sort of sealed the deal for me.
Ultimately, you can't go wrong with either. Davis and Antetokounmpo are two of the best two-way players in the league today and they're around the same age. I just had a slightly easier time talking myself into Davis and Jordan as a one-two punch than I did Antetokounmpo and Jordan.
If you feel differently, you won't get any pushback from me.
Centre: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
This is perhaps the easiest choice to make.
My second rookie-scale pick, Adebayo is having a breakout season with the Heat with averages of 16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. Aside from still not having much of a jump shot, he's developed into the perfect big for the modern NBA. He finishes everything around the basket, he's someone you can run your offence through and he's the rare centre who can defend all five positions.
The result? A one-time All-Star who is a strong candidate for Most Improved and Defensive Player of the Year this season.
The combination of Adebayo, Davis and Jordan makes for a trio that can match up with just about any core in the league. Having Adebayo and Davis also opens the door to play small, as either one of them can function as the lone big. That helped me build out my bench knowing I can have one of them on the court at all times.
The second unit
P.J. Tucker, F, Houston Rockets ($8.3 million) - A stretch four who can defend multiple positions. Tucker can close games alongside either Davis or Adebayo in the frontcourt if needed to maximize spacing.
Lou Williams, G, LA Clippers ($8.0 million) - Arguably the greatest sixth man of all-time. Williams provides instant offence off the bench. The defence is a problem, but I want someone who can run the show when Jordan and Davis aren't on the court. Jordan would balk at the hint of load management, but if he were to miss some time, Williams is more than capable of starting in his place and filling it up for a few games.
Aron Baynes, C, Phoenix Suns ($5.4 million) - A legitimate stretch five who isn't afraid of anyone and has been a part of championship teams. Also, it feels wrong to not have an Australian on the same team as Jordan.
Wesley Matthews, G, Milwaukee Bucks ($2.6 million) - A veteran who can defend at a high level and knock down 3s at a respectable rate. For the price, an easy choice to fill out the bench.
Jared Dudley, F, Los Angeles Lakers ($2.6 million) - Similar to Matthews, although Dudley is better equipped to guard power forwards and centres.
OG Anunoby, F, Toronto Raptors ($2.3 million) - Anunoby has developed into a solid 3-point shooter, but this pick is about his defence. He's been one of the most versatile defenders in the league this season and there's a case to be made that he's the best isolation defender in the league. Considering Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo still exist in this hypothetical universe, there's a chance Anunoby would start in some games in place of Robinson in the playoffs.
Torrey Craig, F, Denver Nuggets ($2.1 million) - Did you know that there are less than a handful of players who have spent a higher percentage of their time guarding No. 1 options than Craig this season? While he's not a great 3-point shooter, he's capable of making them.
Ben McLemore, G, Houston Rockets ($2.0 million) - He's never lived up to the hype of being the No. 7 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, but McLemore has turned himself into a rotation player in Houston this season, averaging 9.8 points on 39.5 percent shooting from the perimeter. You can never have too many shooters.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee Bucks ($1.4 million) - We're going to hope that he has the answers for how to stop Giannis.
Total salary: $108,891,867
In addition to Curry, Lillard, Paul and Antetokounmpo...
- LeBron James
- Kawhi Leonard
- Paul George
- Jayson Tatum
- Jaylen Brown
- Joel Embiid
- Draymond Green
- Kyle Lowry
- Malcolm Brogdon
- Jrue Holiday
- Patrick Beverley
- Patty Mills
- Joe Harris
- Marcus Smart
- Robert Covington
- Brook Lopez
So yeah, quite the list.
This was difficult, I'm not going to lie. The contracts add up quickly and it's tough to find the right balance between offence and defence.
I feel good about the team I've put together, but there are so many different directions you can take this that it's hard not to think about the other possibilities. Check back with me in an hour, and I'll probably have talked myself into at least two other players being better fits with Jordan.
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