The List: Which NBA players today could've thrived in the Michael Jordan era?

Quinton Mayo
·4 min read

With the final two episodes of the 10-part Michael Jordan documentary, "The Last Dance," airing Sunday evening, the D.C. Sports Live crew decided to take things into their own hands and debate just what player from the current NBA could've thrived in the Jordan era, which is very different from the NBA landscape today. 

The most notable differences between today's NBA and the 90s, which was Jordan's longest stretch in the league, is physicality, physicality and more physicality. So it was pertinent that whatever players the crew chose displayed a consistent level of toughness, at minimum, amongst many other things (like "great nicknames," Wes Hall said).

Check out who they decided to go with. 

Nick Ashooh - Russell Westbrook

Career: 23.2 points/7.1 rebounds/8.3 assists/ 1.8 steals

"Russell Westbrook is the epitome of that era of basketball," Ashooh said. "If you look at Westbrook, alone, that competitive fire he has, that physical way he plays, the aggression he has. Russell Westbrook would be great in 90s basketball."

Westbrook is widely recognized as one of the hardest-working players in the NBA, especially when it comes to the effort he gives for a full 48 minutes each game (some even call it stat-padding). So it comes as no surprise that Ashooh, among many others, believes Westbrook would thrive in the era of 90s basketball. 

Back in 2016, Jordan compared the then Oklahoma City Thunder point guard to a younger version of himself. 

"Thirty years ago, that's me," he said of Westbrook in an Air Jordan XXXI video. "The attitude, trying to prove myself, showing so much passion for the game of basketball. You see it in his play. You can tell he loves the game, he plays with energy and flair."


Wes Hall - Kawhi Leonard

Career: 18.6 points/6.4 rebounds/2.7 assists/ 1.8 steals

"If you're going to give me a player from today's era, that has to be able to play back then, he has to have a great nickname as well," Hall said. "There are two people that come to mind: 'The Freak' and 'The Claw,' and when it comes to defense in the 90s era, it comes down to Kawhi Leonard."

To Hall's point, nicknames aren't just given out in the NBA. They're earned. Leonard earned his due to the unrelenting effort he gives on the defensive end of the floor. He's a 2x defensive player of the year, 3x first-team all-defense, and 2x second-team all-defense.

"The personality fits, it's really hard to rattle him, he plays both ends of the floor," Hall said.

Too bad Leonard doesn't even like his nickname. Oh, well. 

Alexa Shaw - Damian Lillard

Career: 24.0 points/4.2 rebounds/6.5 assists/ 1.0 steals

"Damian Lillard, to me, has that Russell Westbrook dog-type of mentality," Shaw said. "I like his jump shot a little more than Westbrook's, but I think all of us can agree that you have to be a dog to play back then."

Does being a "dog" include hitting arguably the biggest shot in recent NBA postseason history? If so, Lillard is a Great Dame (get it?).

In an interview with Rebecca Harlow of MSG Networks, Lillard talked about the importance of mental toughness: "Figuring out how you can manipulate defenses, watching film, breaking down the opposition's tendencies, it's tough," Lillard said.

"Yes, the game is challenging physically, but I've been working on the mental part of things the longer I'm in the league."

What player do you think would thrive in the 90s? Vote here.

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The List: Which NBA players today could've thrived in the Michael Jordan era? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington