Michael Jordan: 35 years later, his Rookie of the Year campaign remains one of the best

By Sports Desk May 16, 2020

Michael Jordan's name is synonymous with the Chicago Bulls and the NBA, and May 16, 2020 represents the 35th anniversary of him being named Rookie of the Year.

A stunning first season in the league saw a prolific Jordan turn the struggling Bulls' fortunes around and guide them to the playoffs.

He went on to lead the Bulls to six championships, be named the NBA MVP on five occasions, win Defensive Player of the Year in 1988, earn 14 selections to the All-Star Game and gain All-NBA First Team honours on 10 occasions.

Using Stats Perform data, we look back at Jordan's incredible rookie campaign.

Happy 35th anniversary

Since 1963-64, no rookie has had more 35-point games than Jordan's 20. Three of those displays – a loss at the Milwaukee Bucks, a home win against the Denver Nuggets and a road defeat against the Cleveland Cavaliers – saw him score exactly 35 points. In the first 35 games of his NBA career Jordan scored a total of 918 points; Elvin Hayes is the only rookie since 1963-64 with more (1,052).

Among the all-time greats

Jordan averaged 28.2 points in his first season in the league. The only Rookie of the Year winners with a superior points per game are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (28.8), Oscar Robertson (30.5), Walt Bellamy (31.6) and Wilt Chamberlain (37.6). The only other first-year players to outperform Jordan in this regard are George Mikan (28.3), who played before the accolade was introduced, and Hayes (28.4), who was beaten to the award by Wes Unseld in 1969.

A force going both ways

Jordan also averaged 6.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.39 steals in 1984-85. No other player had at least 25 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals per game in the league that season. It was the first of seven campaigns in which he put up those numbers; the rest of the NBA has just 12 combined since steals were first tracked in 1973-74, with Rick Barry and Clyde Drexler (both two) the only players to do it more than once.

Incredibly prolific

Opponents were only able to keep Jordan below 20 points in nine of his 82 games in 1984-85 and six of those came before Christmas during a 1-8 run for the Bulls. It is the joint-fewest by any rookie with at least 10 appearances since 1963-64 (Abdul-Jabbar, also nine).

Unmatched in the modern era

In that same period, Hayes (35) is the only rookie to have had more 30-point games than Jordan's 33, while the Bulls legend's seven 40-point games is second to Abdul-Jabbar (9). Since 1984-85, just three players - Allen Iverson (5), Donovan Mitchell (2) and Blake Griffin (2) - have had multiple 40-point games.

Getting to the line

Over a quarter of Jordan's points in his rookie campaign came from the free-throw line. He made 630 shots from the stripe, with Robertson (653) the only first-year player to enjoy greater success.

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    Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone and center Nikola Jokic took heart from Sunday's 105-103 buzzer-beating defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, with the duo praising the team's spirit.

    The Nuggets were heading into the final seconds of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals with a slender lead, but Anthony Davis showed his class with the decisive action.

    The Lakers forward sunk a three-pointer on the buzzer to seal the win and open up a 2-0 series lead in Florida, Los Angeles having won handsomely 126-114 in Game 1.

    Davis was able to make his game-winning shot due to a defensive mix-up in the Nuggets ranks that saw both Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant guarding LeBron James when the former was initially on the game-winner.

    Jokic put it down to poor communication, though there was a hint of rueful helplessness to his post-game comments as he suggested if Davis had not been decisive, James could have.

    "[It was] either going to be him or LeBron [James to have the last shot], so we kind of knew it," Jokic said.

    "It just happened, a little bit of miscommunication. I think I had a really good contest, to be honest. I think I was right there.

    "As soon as he shot the ball, he shot it really well. Like, I kind of felt it going in. Great players make great shots."

    But given his side were 70-54 down in the third quarter, Jokic – who had 30 points and nine assists – felt the Nuggets showed good spirit to get back into the contest.

    "I mean, we are here [as] underdogs," he continued. "I mean, we need to fight. That's our only chance. They were up 15 or 16. I don't know how much they were up.

    "We could just call it a game and quit. I think we just want to give the fight. Maybe it's going to be 30 points, but fight needs to be there, and effort."

    Malone was similarly frustrated but seemed encouraged by the fact the top-seeded Lakers required a last-gasp attempt to take the win.

    "Losing sucks, that's the bottom line, losing sucks," he admitted. 

    "Some guys like to win, some guys hate to lose. I think we're a group of guys that hate to lose, whether it be by 20-something points in Game 1 or at the buzzer tonight, it counts as the same.

    "The only thing you can talk about tonight is we were in the game. They had to rely on a great shot by a great player to beat us at the buzzer.

    "But as long as we're putting ourselves in position to win games, that's all you can ask for. One thing I know about our group, even though we are disappointed, frustrated, angry, we'll use that motivation to come out and try to take Game 3."

  • LeBron praises Davis' belief after Lakers star delivers game-winner LeBron praises Davis' belief after Lakers star delivers game-winner

    LeBron James hailed Anthony Davis' belief and was glad his Los Angeles Lakers team-mate got his moment against the Denver Nuggets.

    Davis hit an incredible buzzer-beating three as the top-seeded Lakers edged the Nuggets 105-103 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

    The forward missed a similar shot in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in March, but he delivered in a big way against the Nuggets.

    James said Davis' belief was key as the 27-year-old hit the biggest shot of his career in the NBA playoffs.

    "It's not about making a shot. It's about having a belief of just taking it, for one, and living with the result," he told reporters.

    "I think right back to our game right before COVID hit. We played Brooklyn at home and he had a similar shot right on that left wing in front of their bench to win the game and he missed it. He was down on himself, but at the end of the day, I told him, if you're open, and I was able to drive that particular game and find him wide open and he just missed it.

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    "Tonight was his moment. Tonight was his moment to find a space, hunt the ball down and one of our top-10 assists leaders, [Rajon] Rondo, found him and he knocked it down. A big-time play."

    Davis finished with 31 points and nine rebounds, while James posted a double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds.

    After arriving from the New Orleans Pelicans last year, Davis has embraced the pressure for the Lakers and James said he would be the first to remind the seven-time All-Star of just how good he was.

    "It's about the work that you put in and the belief in yourself. It's not about the doubters or the naysayers or the people who are going to try to talk to you and slander you and bring you down every single day. It's not about them because they have never been in the arena. They don't understand," James said.

    "AD, he knows how special he is and when he doesn't, I'll be the first one to tell him how special he is. He wanted to be here. I'm happy he wanted to be here, because if he didn't, we wouldn't have a moment like tonight. That's what it's all about.

    "You put that pressure on yourself when you don't really care what other people think, because what other people think doesn't really matter because they don't understand. Anybody can talk from outside, but if they got into the ring or they got into the arena, probably 10 times out of 10, they s*** their pants."

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    Anthony Davis' game-winner for the Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets was a "Mamba shot", head coach Frank Vogel said.

    Davis delivered an incredible buzzer-beating three to lift the Lakers to a 105-103 victory over the Nuggets on Sunday as they moved into a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

    Vogel said the Lakers wanted to honour the late Kobe Bryant, the NBA great who died in a helicopter crash in January.

    And the Lakers coach believes Davis' game-winner was the type of shot five-time NBA champion and former MVP Bryant would have produced.

    "Well, we want to embody what Kobe Bryant stood for and honour his memory," he told reporters.

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    While the Nuggets rallied in Game 2, Davis (31 points and nine rebounds) and LeBron James (26 points and 11 rebounds) led the Lakers to victory.

    Vogel was full of praise for Davis and James as the Lakers close in on a first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.

    "I keep saying, he [Davis] is a big-time player. He really carried us through a stretch where we were struggling to score late in the third," Vogel said.

    "The combo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is just – if one of them is not going, the other one is. There was a little bit of that tonight.

    "When they're both going at the same time, we're near impossible to stop. Those guys both carried each other throughout the game and obviously a big part of the win."

    Game 3 between the Lakers and Nuggets is on Tuesday.

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