If you have been watching ESPN’s Last Dance with the rest of the world’s rabid basketball fans, you have been taken back to a time when the NBA was just different.
The best player in the world, of course, was Michael Jordan, a 6-foot-6-inch shooting guard who could post up and shoot fadeaway jump shots all night long. His Airness led the NBA in scoring in 10 different seasons, including one stretch of seven straight.
Jordan was also the league’s highest-paid player in 1997-98, the season that is the focus of Last Dance. The Bulls star earned a nice $33.1 million that season and opened the door for others like him to earn more.
In 1997-98, Jordan was somewhat of an anomaly. Eight of the 10 highest-paid players in the NBA that season were centers. The New York Knicks Patrick Ewing was No. 2 on the list behind Jordan bringing in $20.5 million that season. Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Hakeem Olajuwon were others in the top 10.
Fast forward to 2019-20 and there isn’t a center even sniffing on the top 10. In fact, there isn’t a single center among the top 20 and the highest-paid center checks in at No. 22 – Kevin Love. It’s a stretch to even call Love a center since he averages more 3-point attempts per 36 minutes than Reggie Miller of Ray Allen.
The three highest-paid players this NBA season are all point guards. Stephen Curry earns $40.2 million and is No. 1. Curry is followed by Houston’s Russell Westbrook ($38.5 M) and Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul ($38.5 M).
Back in Jordan’s day, the big man was the leader. Post-up opportunities ruled the game in 1997-98. Since then, the post-up has given way to the pick-and-roll. Even just 15 years ago, fans were more likely to see a post-up play (22.7 such plays per game). This season, there are only 10.6 post-up plays per NBA game.
The guard-driven pick-and-roll is something fans see in droves today. This season, the number was 41.8 times per game. Fifteen years ago, that number was just 18.5.
We now live in a game where pace and space rules. Jordan averaged 30.1 points per game for his career and the majority of his shots were 2-pointers. Today, the 3-pointer rules.
The 1997-98 Bulls attempted 962 3-pointers. In the 2018-19 season, Houston’s James Harden, the NBA scoring champ, put up 1,028 by himself. Times have surely changed since Michael Jordan.