Michael Jordan: Could He Really Score 50 with the Hand-Check Rule in Place?

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Michael Jordan: Could He Really Score 50 with the Hand-Check Rule in Place?
Al Bello/Getty Images

Scottie Pippen declared once that Michael Jordan could score 50 in today’s league. That’s quite a boast. It, of course, leaves one wanting the answers to two questions. First, what’s different about today’s league that he could do so? Second, is it true?

Now, let’s address the first question first. There are actually two rules which have changed that have made the game different. First there’s what is commonly referred to as, “the hand-check rule” and the other is the change in allowing for zone defense. Both rulings have their own impact.

The first rule change is easier explained than to just put the official NBA rule, which is the equivalent of basketball legal speak. Essentially what it means is that in the olden days of Michael Jordan, when a player was guarding a perimeter player he could extend his hand and put it on the player to “check” him.

As a point of clarification on the hand check rule there’s a lot of disinformation available in various forums which debate the subject. The hand check rule that players are referencing when they speak of “today’s rules” is the rule as it was amended prior to the 2004-05 season.

While part of that was just a matter of clarifying the rule, the major part of it was its emphasis to officials. There was technically a hand-check foul in 1994-95, but it wasn’t the same type of foul or called with the same frequency.

For the purposes of this article, the 2005 season is when the hand-check rule started to have an impact. As you will see, the definitive separation is evident for this being a clean divide.

The purpose of this article is to consider how Michael Jordan would do in today’s rules. It is not to address a semantic argument drummed up by certain fans of a certain player to distort the history of the rule.

In the 2004-05 season the NBA changed the rules and enforcement in regards to hand checks and the impact of that is clearly seen by viewing it in the context of what has occurred in the NBA since then.

As the reasoning and history of the hand-check rule have been addressed, and as it’s really not a matter for dispute in any real terms, I won’t be addressing any arguments in regards to this in the comments section. Simply put, it’s a non-issue.

Michael Jordan never played with the same type of hand-check rule as the game is called today. That’s the subject of the article.   

This gave the defender two advantages. One, he could actually slow him down a bit with his hand. Second, with more athletic players who could explode to the basket, it meant they could “feel” which way the player was going.

This gave the defender an advantage in that day that he doesn’t have in this day, at least in the eyes of those who tout its influence.

However, there are those who claim that it’s really just a rule that hasn’t had an impact, that it’s rarely called and that it’s just a thing blown out of proportion by Jordan fans to make him seem better than he was.

In an interest to be fair on this, I sought to consider what would be a fair way to measure, statistically which side of the argument was true.

Since the basis of the argument is that the hand check rule “opens up the game” meaning it allows perimeter players more opportunity, there should be three things that are visible if the argument is true.

First, there should be a rise in unassisted field goals. Second, there should be a rise in “big games” from perimeter-style players. Third, there should be a rise in the importance of “penetration” players in the NBA.

There will be those who say that stats don’t “prove” anything. However, if there is little to no change, then history is consistent with the hand-check rule not having an effect. If those three things are true, then history is consistent with having an effect. 

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