Thursday, May 17, 2018

Some National Basketball Association (or ABA) MVP Stats.

There is no basketball on tonight, so I did some work on NBA (or ABA) MVP Awards and top 2, 3, 4 and 5 finishes.  I will assume LeBron finishes second in 2017-18.  Here goes.

Most Wins
Kareem 6
Bill Russell and Michael Jordan 5
LeBron, Wilt 4
Dr.J 4 (counting ABA also).

Most 2nd places
Bird 4
West 4
Durant 3
James 3
Jordan 3

Most 3rd Places
Magic 4
Oscar, Kobe, LeBron 3

Most 4th places
Kareem 4
Pettit, Kobe, Karl Malone 3

Most 5th Places
West, Kobe, Oscar 3.

Most Top 5 finishes (finish 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5).
Kareem 15
LeBron 13
Kobe and Russell 11
Jordan and Wilt 10
Oscar, Magic, Doc, Karl Malone, Duncan 9

Most Top 4 Finishes
Kareem 13
LeBron 12
Russell 11
Jordan 10
Bird, Wilt, Magic 9

If LeBron finishes 2nd this year, as I believe he will, he will tie Bill Russell for the longest Top 4 run in NBA history (11 years).

Russell starting in 1958
1 2 2 1 1 1 3 1 4 3 4.

James starting in 2008
4 1 1 3 1 1 2 3 3 4 2

Most Top 3 Finishes
Jordan 10
LeBron 10
Russell, Kareem, Magic 9
Bird 8.

Most Top 2 Finishes
Jordan 8 (5+3)
Kareem 7 (6+1)
Russell 7 (5+2)
LeBron 7 (4+3)
Bird 7 (3+4)
Wilt 6 (4+2)
Doc 6 (4+2 includes ABA)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Your April 2018 "Hoops Maven Evaluation" #1 Best Player of All-Time Is.............Michael Jordan.

Having sat and considered the issue of whether LeBron James or Michael Jordan is the "better" player for some time, I think it is time to just decide.  If you look at the last two Blog entries below, you will see that I have come up with 10 arguments for each guy and against the other.  If
you go to @hoopsmavenhm on Twitter and review my tweets from the last few days, you will see how nearly identical the men are in certain categories and how they are the most dominant players in the game, ever.

So why does Michael Jordan come out ahead in April of 2018, just as he did in April of 2015 (when James was 4th, behind Kareem and Wilt).  Well, I first have to say that it is a very difficult decision.  I would say that it has become sort of a 51-49% debate where some very compelling arguments can be made on each side.  I believe the best arguments on behalf of LeBron are that he has played longer, has more All-NBA First-team selections, and is a more versatile player.  I believe a very good argument could be made that if you basically picked a lineup and a head coach out of a hat but first had to choose LeBron or Jordan, you'd choose LeBron.  He can do more with less.

Two things that really come through as you review the stats of each guy is that they are tremendously dominant in their era, and they are really in a class by themselves.  After LeBron picks up his 12th All-NBA First-Team award in a couple weeks, he will have 186.3 Win Shares as a First-Team All-NBA player.  Jordan had 186.7 Win Shares as First-Team All-NBA player ("FTAN").  James will have a Win Shares per 48 in that time period (as a FTAN) of around .260.  Jordan was .283.  Want to get even weirder?  Jordan has 725 blocks, LeBron will have 723 blocks. 

The two men's playoff careers are within a millimeter of one another.  Again, James has played longer, so he has the advantage in counting stats and in gross Win Shares and VORP.  Jordan enjoys an edge in playoff WS/48 of .255 to .246.  If it is a valid thing to do to divide VORP by games played, James contributes .138 value per playoff game while Jordan is at .127.   Virtually any playoff efficiency stats you can find, the leader is either James or Jordan.  The two men absolutely DOMINATE any search for a stat that shows great playoff performance.  If you look for some combination of stats that show playoff greatness, you will find that of the top 50+ such seasons, generally Jordan and James each has 8-10 and the next best guy has like 4. 

I would argue that James and Jordan are virtually identical as playoff performers, with James perhaps statistically better by maybe 1%.  So why would Jordan be #1 and James #2?

1) You cannot ignore the #1 Jordan argument, which is that Jordan played in the Finals 6 times and was the best player in the Finals 6 times and won 6 titles.  In fact, he was the #1 offensive AND defensive player for his team (and better than anyone on the other team) 6 straight times.  If you review ALL of the greatest players of all-time, you cannot say that about Wilt or Kareem or Duncan or Magic or Russell or Shaq or Bird or West or Oscar.  Can you say that about LeBron?  He was not the best player on the floor in 2007 or 2011 and he was great but a loser in 2014, 2015 and 2017.  This is a very unique claim that Michael has as a player.  It certainly counts for a lot.

2)  On a regular season basis, Jordan was a better and more consistent player than James.  Not by a lot, but by some.  He basically is a .250 WS/48 player and LeBron is a .240 player.  Basically Jordan is 4% better.  Their absolute peak season is roughly the same (.322) but if you line up the raw Win Shares you will see that Jordan's Win Shares per season are superior to LeBron's for 11 seasons in a row

Best Year #1 +.9
+ 2.6
Best Year #11 -- +.3

Then James wins the last 4 seasons by a lot because Jordan has 4 crap seasons.

This is also evident when you search for seasons where guys had a lot of "Very Good" or "Great" games measured by Game Score.  Jordan has the 6 best seasons for 22.5 or greater Game Scores  He has the 5 best seasons for 30.0 or greater Game Scores  He had a season where he had 80 (!!!) Game Scores over 15 --  He has 4 of the top 5 of those seasons, and 5 of the top 10.

What this tells you is that Michael was frigging relentless.  It is consistent with the talking point that he is an assassin who takes things personally and LeBron is more of an entertainer.
There is certainly nothing wrong with being an entertainer, but it does get reflected in your regular season stats.  If I am going to criticize other players (like Shaq) for failing to give 100% full-out effort in the regular season, I have to acknowledge that James had years where he was capable of doing more (as is reflected in his playoff efforts) and he did not do so.  In fact, one thing that is proof of this fact is that LeBron this year (15th season, age 33) had 69 Game Scores above 15 (his 4th most) and 51 Game Scores above 22.5 (his most ever).  He was capable of that level of play for many years, but his concentration level went up this year.

3) Similar to #2 above, Jordan was a more productive and more relentless defender throughout his career.  James is as good of a defender, but he has gone long stretches in his career where his effort on that end of the court did not reach his potential.  That is reflected in his 5 all-D awards to Michael's 9.  James has been a far better playoff defender in the playoffs (6 seasons of DRtg 101 or less, 3 such regular seasons).

4) Finally, while one could argue that this cuts both ways, Jordan has those two pretty crappy seasons in D.C.  He played 5,000 minutes in D.C., roughly 1/8 of his career.  He was NOT very good.  He put up under 10 WS in 2 seasons combined.  He had a WS/48 for the two years of roughly .087.  He reduced his WS/48 from .274 for his career to .250.

It was a terrible decision.  Jordan's gross raw numbers didn't go up enough to really justify the decline in his per minute numbers.  Those two years (again, around 12% of his career) give us a distorted view of how good he was in his 13 seasons as a Bull.   He was roughly 13-14% better in the regular season for WS/48 as a Bull versus LeBron for LeBron's career.

Now, could we say the same thing about LeBron's playing when he was 19-20 years old and ramping up as a player?  Sure.  But it really harms Jordan as a player to review his 41,000 minutes and not at least acknowledge that he was really stupid for playing that last 8,000 minutes and those minutes do not fairly reflect his value as a player and they bring his advanced stats, his shooting stats, and even his scoring stats to a point more unfavorable to LeBron's than they should be.

So, that's it.  I should say in closing that this Blog entry perhaps credits Michael too greatly and diminishes LeBron unnecessarily.  Certainly the argument could be made that James' teams were benefitted by him saving something for the post-season and that many of Jordan's relentless Game Score seasons resulted in little or no team success in the playoffs.  But the point of this entry is to select someone and explain why.  Therefore, the result is that Jordan's strengths and James' weaknesses have to be presented and argued in Michael's favor.  Michael Jordan is still #1.

#2 Greatest Player, 2018 Edition - LeBron James

#1 Greatest Player, 2018 Edition -- Michael Jordan.

We will come back and evaluate again in 2021.


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"LeBron James is Better Than Michael Jordan" Talking Points

As stated below, I have 48 hours to make a final decision, and I figured that as a public service I would provide worthwhile "Talking Points" so fans of either guy can argue from them.  Here are the pro-LeBron talking points to use:

1)  LeBron has played longer and been more productive over a longer period of time.  Look, do we say Gale Sayers was a better player than Walter Payton?  No.  Is it called the Johan Santana Award? No.  It is called the Cy Young Award b/c he had 511 wins.  We establish true greatness by consistent longevity.  James has played longer, he has achieved more wins (55 more than Jordan in the regular season, 33 more in the playoffs). 

Are we going to say that a guy who was banned from the league for gam.....I mean, who just flat out left the game to play baseball, is entitled to #1 position when James has, literally, more wins, more Win Shares, more playoff Win Shares, a higher VORP, a higher playoff VORP and more finals appearances?  Should we move Curry and Mikan to #1?  Is Bob McAdoo a top 15 player? 

Let's get real here, Jordan was good for 12 years, James has been good for 14 years, and he is still the #1 player in the game.

Jordan has 10X First-team all-NBA.  LeBron come June will have 12X.  All other things being equal, that is a 20% deficit Jordan has to recover from to be deemed "better."

2) James has won titles, or reached the Finals, with Mike Brown, Eric Spoelstra, David Blatt and Ty Lue coaching him.  Jordan never won even a conference title without Phil Jackson coaching him.

Without Big Chief Triangle at the helm, Jordan went  - lost first round, lost first round, lost first round, lost second round, lost conference finals, [played for Phil], no playoffs, no playoffs.  Imagine is LeBron James had that sort of record with Mike Brown or David Blatt!  He couldn't show his face in public.

Phil, sans Jordan, went on to win 5 more titles.  Jordan w/o Phil?  Zero.  With LeBron it is the opposite - his coaches without him have enjoyed virtually no success while LeBron continues to enjoy great success.  This year, for example, saw the emergence of Larry Drew as a suddenly-great NBA interim coach.

Jordan has 6 titles, but are they really........Phil's titles?

3) James is a bigger man and can guard all 5 positions.  Jordan, for as great as he is, could never guard power forwards and centers.  James can guard 1-5 and do so at a level which allows his team to play whatever lineup is working at the time.  Jordan could not do that. 

4) James is a better rebounder.  This is particularly true when you consider only the playoffs.  In the playoffs, LeBron has had 8 or more rebounds in a game 148 times (4th best all-time).  Jordan?  57 games, good for a tie for 40th.  So, James has 30 more 8+ rebound playoff games than Hakeem Olajuwon, while Jordan has 4 more 8+ playoff rebound games than Jason Kidd.

5)  James is both a facilitator and a finisher.  Again, look at the playoffs.  8+ assist games in the playoffs - James has 86 games, 3rd best behind Stockton and Magic.  Jordan has 45, tied for 12th, 4 fewer than Mark Jackson.

James can both start your offense and score.  Jordan is primarily a scorer.

6) James did not need Scottie Pippen to win.  Jordan won zero titles without Scottie Pippen.  James has played with excellent players (Wade, Bosh, Love, Kyrie) but in the 1-2 years before and after they played with LeBron, these players achieved no great level of success.  James comes in, wins a title, these guys get titles. 

The first year that Jordan left the Bulls, Pippen finished 3rd in MVP balloting and the Bulls won 55 games.  The previous year with Jordan?  57 wins. 

7) James was a more proficient 3-point shooter.  Despite taking 2 1/2 times as many as Jordan per game, James has shot a higher percentage.  Jordan had 8 seasons where he shot under 30% from 3.  James had 1 such season.

8)  James is the more versatile player, and by a lot.

If you want someone who will consistently fill the stat sheet for your team in every single category, you want James.  As the link demonstrates, it is not a particularly close call.

9) James defeated in the Finals teams that were far superior to any Chicago ever faced in the Finals.  Tim Duncan has one Finals loss - to Finals MVP James, 2013.  Golden State was 73-9, best record ever, they lost to Finals MVP James in 2015.  The Thunder had THREE NBA MVPs on their roster in 2012.  Lost in 5 games to Finals MVP James. 

If we are measuring the "best player" are we not evaluating the best teams he ever defeated?  I mean, Jordan played the great Celtics teams of the mid-80s -- always lost.  Played the great Pistons teams of the late 80s - always lost.  Eventually those teams aged out and someone had to replace them.  Congrats, Larry Bird by 1991 could barely walk without pain, but congrats on beating him.  Isiah Thomas left Indiana in 1981 - congrats on finally defeating him in 1991.  Bird beat Magic, Magic beat Bird, Wilt beat Russell, Russell beat Wilt.  Michael really just hit a soft spot.  Are we to believe the 1996 Sonics were a super team?

10)  Jordan, when saddled with poor teammates, never made the Finals.  Look at the 2007 Cavaliers.  Actually, if you are a fan of good team basketball, you probably want to avert your eyes.  The 3rd best playoff Cav was Daniel "Boobie" Gibson.  James was 3rd in the playoffs that year in Box Plus-Minus.  Gibson was 26th, Verajoa was 44th, Ilgauskas was 61st.  No other Cav even had a positive BPM.

They reached the Finals. 

And look at this year - James started the year hoping to be powered by Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, helped out by Jae Crowder.  Those 4 men combined for a Negative VORP.  Negative. That means that had you chosen 4 random "replacement players" (basically 4 Gerald Hendersons) they would have contributed more than these 4 guys.  The Cavs then got rid of those guys and acquired players who were not starring on Utah, the Lakers and Sacramento.  That crew is in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In the 2015 Finals, Cleveland took 2 games from Golden State.  Cleveland was coached by David Blatt and after Kyrie Irving was lost in Game 1 (a Cleveland loss), the ##2 and 3 performers for Cleveland the rest of the way were Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson.  Delly played 30+ minutes per game.  He shot 28% from the field and 23% from 3.  His net rating was an insanely bad negative 32.   Again, this team won two games. 

James has always had the ability to do more with less than any player ever.  That is a skill set Jordan cannot match, and that is evident from Jordan's lack of success with that level of player as a teammate.

"Michael Jordan Is Better Than LeBron James" Talking Points

As I make my final decision, which will come on or before May 10, I am reading a LOT of hate on LeBron James and on Michael Jordan on Twitter regarding who is the better guy and how the other guy just completely sucks.

Look, these guys are my ##1 and 2 players of all-time.  Obviously neither man "sucks" as a basketball player.  And it obviously is a very close race between the two for who is the "best player of all-time".  With that said, let me provide Michael fans with 10 legitimate "Talking Points" for their argument, and I will (in a separate post) also provide 10 "Talking Points" for LeBron fans.

First, good ways to argue Michael Jordan is better:

1) He has 6 titles.  LeBron has 3.  If the point of playing the game is to win (which, it is a competitive sport, so shouldn't that be the entire point of the exercise?) then, if we assume all other things are equal, shouldn't the easiest tiebreaker be who won more?  LeBron fans have to establish NOT that he is as good as Jordan, but, rather, that he is so substantially better that we can ignore this discrepancy.

Pretty simple argument.

2) Jordan has been the more consistent regular season player, by quite a bit.  If you review the total Win Shares per season for each man, you will see that a typical Jordan season is around 1-1.5 WS better than a typical LeBron season.  On a per 48 basis, James is about a 5% worse player in the regular season.

3) Jordan was recognized as first-team all-defense 9X to LeBron's 5.  Jordan won Defensive Player of the Year, LeBron was only a runner up.

4) Jordan was a better and more consistent scorer.  Jordan led the league in PPG 10X versus LeBron's 1X.

5) Jordan, while a high Usage player, played in a system where the ball stuck less in his hands.  James' teams have tended to revert to a "23 Stand" halfcourt offense where LeBron holds the ball for 23 seconds and tries to do something at the way end of the clock.  Jordan was not only a better scorer, but his game was prettier.

6) Jordan didn't constantly run around trying to find better teammates to help him win.  He stayed in Chicago, gutted it out, and eventually won his 6 titles.

7) Jordan was a better free throw shooter.  He shot .835 to James' .739.  In an important situation, sending a guy to the line who shoots 10% higher is a great advantage,

8) Jordan was a more single-minded player.  James is more of an entertainer, and he has a tendency during the regular season to play just well enough to win.  Jordan played with a level of hatred and intensity 82 games a year that no one has ever matched.  Jordan took a regular season loss as a personal affront.  James appears to be the more well-adjusted person (and has certainly been a more vocal advocate for social justice, for example), but that also makes him a touch easier to play against in a meaningless February game in Sacramento than was Jordan.

9) Jordan was always, 100% of the time, the Finals MVP in any series he played in.  While James has three, and one could argue he probably deserved 4 for the losing 2015 Finals effort, there is no denying that Jordan, every time he had a chance to win, was the best player and was recognized as such.  In this regard, the 2007 and 2011 Finals are a black mark against James, who really did not play particularly great in either series.

10) Jordan left the game, sat 1.75 years, and when he returned, within 18 months he made his team 30 wins better.  Jordan and James both have VORP seasons around 12 for VORP.  Supposedly, if you have a 12 VORP, that means 32.4 wins for your team (VORP X 2.7 = wins you contribute).  Jordan LITERALLY demonstrated that without him the Bulls in 1995 were headed for a .500 season and with him 2 years later they were 72-10.  That is a 31 win improvement.  No other player has conducted an experiment of that sort.  It is an unbelievable tribute to Jordan.

There, those are 10 Talking Points for you.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Well, It Is Down to Between LeBron and Michael -- Here is the top 36 so far

36. James Harden (new to the list)
35. Stephon Curry (new to the list)
34. Steve Nash (-4 from 2015)
33. Gary Payton (+2)
32. Patrick Ewing (+1)
31. Dwyane Wade (same as 2015)
30. Bob Cousy (new to list)
29. Scottie Pippen (+7 from 2015)
28. John Havlicek (+4)
27. Chris Paul (-1)
26. John Stockton (-2)
25. Rick Barry (+2)
24. Elgin Baylor (-4)
23. Dirk Nowitzki (same as 2015)
22. Kevin Durant (+3)
21. Kevin Garnett (+1)
20. Charles Barkley (+1)
19. Julius Erving (same as 2015)
18. Moses Malone (-2)
17. Bob Pettit (same as 2015)
16. Hakeem Olajuwon (-1)
15. David Robinson (-1)
14. George Mikan (-5)
13. Karl Malone (-6)
12. Kobe Bryant (+6)
11. Oscar Robertson (+1)

10. Jerry West (+1)
9. Larry Bird (+4)
8. Shaquille O'Neal (+1)
7. Bill Russell (+1)
6. Magic Johnson (same as 2015)
5. Tim Duncan  (same as 2015)
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (-1)
3. Wilt Chamberlain (-1)

Either Michael or LeBron

Greatest NBA Players -- Kareem is #4, Wilt is #3

Well, it is official, LeBron James has moved up my list from #4 to top 2.

It will either be LeBron James or Michael Jordan as #1 overall.  And I still have not decided (I have a self-imposed deadline of 6 days).

I am not going to re-do all of my hard work from 2015 here.  So, go to these links to review the greatness of Wilt and Kareem and most of the reasons I give Wilt the slight edge.



Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #4

Wilt Chamberlain #3.

Here is a little taste of why Kareem is #4.  Kareem lost Oscar in 1974.  Kareem's years without Oscar or Magic (recall this is in Kareem's physical prime, ages 27-31):

1974-75 Bucks - 42-40, no playoffs
1975-76 Lakers - 41-41, no playoffs
1976-77 Lakers - 53-29, swept by Walton in playoffs
1977-78 Lakers - 45-37, lost to Jack Sikma in the playoffs
1978-79 Lakers - 47-35, lost to Sikma again.

Then Magic came.  I am sorry, but if you are the equal of Wilt and LeBron and Michael, then you are not, in your physical prime, struggling so mightily for 5 years.  You just aren't.  This indicates to me that out of these 4 guys, Kareem was the least consistently dominant from a winning standpoint.  When he got Magic, you then combined the ##4 and 6 players of all-time into one team and added a number of other very good players in supporting roles (Nixon, Scott, Wilkes, Worthy, Thompson, McAdoo, for example).  That led to titles in 1980, 82, 85, 87 and 88.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Why Kareem, Wilt, Michael and LeBron, In Some Order, Are the Top 4 Players Ever

Before we get into ranking them, it just needs to be said again.  These are the 4 best guys, and I don't recognize there being any good argument that they are not the best 4 guys. 

1) If you look at Most Win Share Seasons over 13, all the way up to 20+, it goes Wilt, Michael, Kareem, James.  At times, The Mailman or Oscar gets in there, and Mikan shows up at the highest level (3 seasons over 20 WS).  But it is always these guys.

2) has "Most Times Leading" and "Most Times top 3" for all league-wide stats. 

Reading that will lead you to see these 4 guys in the top 4 spots in field goals, PER, Win Shares, and Win Shares per 48.  Wilt doesn't have sufficient box scores inputted into the computer, but for Box Plus-Minus and VORP it is LeBron Kareem Jordan or LeBron Jordan Kareem.  If you look at the Top 3 page, even raw counting stats like points demonstrate my point. 

First-Team All-NBA - Wilt 7, Jordan 10, Kareem 10, LeBron has 11 and in a couple weeks he will have 12.

MVP Wins - Kareem 6, Jordan 5, Wilt 4, LeBron 4.

Finals MVP - Kareem 2, Jordan 6, Wilt 1 (won in 1967, there was no Finals MVP awarded), LeBron 3.

MVP Award Shares (which measures how much of the vote you got in your career) -- Jordan/James/Kareem are 1-2-3.  Wilt is #11, but you have to account for the fact that he won 4X and finished top 2 or 3 in years when he lost to Russell, Oscar and Kareem. 

Career points - these guys go 1-3-5-7 and 7 is still playing.

Career Rebounds - Wilt and Kareem are 1 and 4

Career points per game -- 1, 2, 4 and 15 (Kareem played like 20 years, he couldn't maintain his scoring at the end).

PER - ## 1, 2, 5, 11

VORP 1, 2, 7 - Wilt has no VORP and Kareem is shorted 4 years of VORP.  If you assume Kareem would get those 3-4 years back, it would go 1-2-3 for VORP, probably Kareem, LeBron, Michael. 

Points+Rebounds+Assists -- They go 1-2-6, 12 (Jordan is 12).

It is difficult to rank these 4, but it is certainly not difficult to name these 4.  They should be everyone's top 4.

Monday, April 30, 2018

##6 and 5 -- Magic Johnson and Tim Duncan

When you get up here to the Top 6, you are working in rarified air.  My top 6 guys (Abdul-Jabbar, Chamberlain, Duncan, James, Johnson, Jordan) have

23 MVPs (average of almost 4)

18 Finals MVPs (average of 3)

58 first-team all-NBA's (average of almost 10)

They rank 1-2-3-5-9 and 11 in MVP Award Shares --

They are the top 6 all-time in playoff Win Shares -- yet despite huge minutes also rank 1-6-8-11 and 14 in WS/48 for the playoffs.

They rank 1-2-3-5-10-12 in most Win Shares as a First-Team All-NBA player.

OK, so enough of that.  These are the best 6 guys.

#6 Magic Johnson -- Magic Johnson had 155.8 career WS, MILES behind anyone else in the top 6.  Every other member of the top 6 had over 200 Win Shares.  They are ##1, 2, 4, 5, and 7 all-time.  Magic is #24.  We obviously know the reason for this was Magic's tragic AIDS diagnosis.  But, whatever is the case, it is hard to move him above these guys when every one of them has him by 50+ Win Shares.  That is like 7 extra seasons of low-level all-star ball or 3 seasons of MVP-level ball.

Let's examine Magic's case for moving up -- well, was he more productive on a per minute basis?  No.  Of the 6 guys, he only has a WS/48 better than Duncan.  So, how about VORP (sometimes VORP more accurately measures high production players).  No, he is the worst of the group for whom VORP can be calculated.  (Wilt has no VORP).  How about we just count up 10 WS seasons -- OK, Magic had 11, great.  That is the same as Jordan, but worse than Duncan (12), Wilt (13), LeBron (14) and Kareem (16).  Advanced stats are not Magic's friend.  You want some support for the old guys' "Magic is a pale imitation of Oscar" storyline, line up Oscar's WS and Magic's per season.  Oscar wins all 13 years.  All 13.  Magic wins none.

In NBA/ABA history, there have been 58 seasons where a guy had over 17 Win Shares.  Magic had no such seasons.  Zero.  Magic's best season was the 68th best season of all-time.  Alex Groza has two seasons higher on the list.  Bob McAdoo has one.  More to the point, the 5 guys I have ranked above Magic have 27 such seasons. 

So, all of these advanced stats do not favor Magic moving out of 6th.  So what does he have to hang his hat on?  He has 3 MVPs, 3 Finals MVPs, 2nd in career assist, 5 titles, 9 Finals, his offensive rating is 121, which is 3rd best all-time behind Chris Paul and Reggie Miller.  He has 9X First-team All-NBA wins.  From 1983-91, Magic was regarded as top 3 in MVP balloting 8 times.  So, there is a lot to recommend about Magic. 

But, in my opinion, he has to stop here for two reasons other than Advanced Stats:  1) his career was cut short; whether that be fair or not or "his own fault" or not, it is true.  The 5 guys in front of him played longer and were more productive over the long haul; and 2) Every player above Magic on my list was regarded at some point in his career as a "plus" defender.  Jordan, Kareem, Wilt, LeBron, Duncan, all feared defenders.  When Magic came into the league, the old guys who had watched basketball said, "My lord will they have to hide him on defense."  By 1988, the Pistons had decided that they would play a three-guard offense and go to whomever Magic was guarding.  This is a statement made by the Pistons' actual players.  Imagine saying this about any of those five other guys.  Duncan, Kareem and Wilt are top 5 in career Defensive Win Shares.  LeBron and Jordan are ##22 and 23.   Magic? 63rd, just behind George McGinnis and Terry Cummings. 

So - Magic Johnson was a great player, but I have him at #6 overall, just behind....

#5 Tim Duncan - now, Duncan makes it this high on the list because he is the second greatest team defensive anchor of all-time behind Bill Russell.  Duncan is #2 in Defensive Win Share, #3 in career Defensive Rating.  Tim Duncan had 16 seasons with a Defensive rating equal to or under 99.  He had 9 seasons with a Defensive rating of 95 or lower, both all-time records.  Duncan was the on-court offensive and defensive star of the Spurs from 1998 through 2015.  That is almost impossible to believe.   Tim Duncan has more .16 or greater WS/48 seasons (18) than even Kareem --

The only thing that kept Duncan from winning his 6th title is his coach's bizarre decision to take him off the floor at the end of Game 6, 2013.  Duncan owns the NBA playoff season with the most one-player Win Shares (5.9WS, LeBron had 5.8 one year) one of the few playoff records not owned by LeBron or Jordan.

Duncan had a stretch where he went 2-1-1-2 in MVP balloting.  He is basically Bill Russell playing in the modern era with good offensive skills.  10X first-team all-NBA, 15X all-NBA overall.

So, if I love Tim Duncan so much:  1) why don't I marry him; and 2) why isn't he top 4?  Well, Duncan suffers from one issue that is similar to Magic.  He only had one 17+ WS season.  Like Magic, Duncan was actually a better player in the playoffs, therefore, his regular season stats suffer by comparison.  But make no mistake, Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time, and the #5 all-time greatest player. 

(Final Note - I really never cared for Tim Duncan on the court - super whiny, seemed remarkably conceited, never committed a foul.  But again, give the Devil his due.)

##8 and 7 -- Shaquille O'Neal and Bill Russell

#8 Shaquille O'Neal -- Look, the big fella was virtually never in shape after 1999.  He was often heavy and enjoyed life, even if it meant missing regular season games.  That explains his 1 MVP Award in the regular season.  Despite this, he ranks 7th in MVP Award Shares.  So, he was great despite himself. 

Shaq won 4 titles, and 3 Finals MVPs.  The others with that accomplishment?  Michael, Magic, Duncan.  No one else. Shaq has 31 playoff Win Shares, playing at a WS/48 rate of .184.  There are 7 such players.  These 6 guys and Bill Russell are above Shaq and this list.  If you take this list: and look at all the guys with as many or more WS as a first-team all-NBA player, Shaq ranks..........7th on WS/48. 

Shaq (counting 1st, 2nd and 3rd team awards) was 14X all-NBA as a center.  During his career, he played against Hall of Fame centers Patrick Ewing, Hakeem, David Robinson,  Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Yao Ming and against Tim Duncan (who says he is a center when it suits him).

Shaq should probably be at #7, but you need to find some place to put Bill Russell.

#7 Bill Russell -- #1 all-time in Defensive Win Shares; the Finals MVP Award is named...........after Bill Russell.  He won 11 titles, losing only once to Bob Pettit and once to Wilt.  He is the greatest defensive basketball player of all-time.  Russell has 133 Defensive Win Shares, 27 more than second place Tim Duncan, roughly 40 more than Kareem, Hakeem, Wilt, KG, Karl Malone and roughly 50 more than anyone else!!

Russell's dominance from a winning perspective has never been matched, ever.  It probably never will be matched if they play basketball for 2,000 more years.  Russell was a 5X MVP and probably would have won 5+ Finals MVPs, but the award did not exist until 1968! 

So - if the guy is so historically great (and he obviously was) why do I drop him off here?  Well, he shot 44% from the field, although he got a ton of dunks and layups.  He shot 56% from the line.  Of the 82 guys who played at least 34,000 NBA minutes, Russell ranked 72nd in total points, 72nd in FG%, 80th in FT% (Shaq and Wilt were worse) and 81st in TS% (Nate Thurmond was worse, Paul Silas was better).

In a really, really weird twist of logic, Wilt had 7 first-team all-NBA's to Russell's 3.  These all occurred while Wilt was playing against Russell.  But in the same time period Russell had 5 MVPs to Wilt's 4.  Russ in an 8 year stretch of MVP balloting had 5 wins, 2 seconds and a 3rd.  In a 9 year stretch, Wilt had 4 wins, 2 seconds, a 4th a 5th and a 7th.   Wilt played better longer, Wilt had more rebounds.  Wilt had far superior offensive stats and advanced stats. 

If you look at Win Shares, Russell's career "high to low" rating (rounding) goes 17-17-15-14-14-13-13-12-12-11-11-8-6.  Very similar to Shaq's. 

Wilt's?  25-23-22-21-21-20-19-18-17-16-15-15-13-2

Russell was the more successful player (and perhaps more valuable to the team he was on).  He was NOT the better player.  Wilt was the better player, by a lot.

##10 and 9 -- Jerry West and Larry Bird

#10 - Jerry West

As we move along, we need to make tough decisions.  West is the logo for the league....literally.  There is a good reason for that.  West had 162 WS, He had a career WS/48 of .213, he had a playoff WS of 26.7 and a WS/48 of .203.  His teams (largely led by him) reached the NBA Finals 9 times.  While his record was 1-8, he had 7 seasons where he averaged 30+ points for an entire playoff season.

Every single one of these statistics places Jerry West over Larry Bird.  Every one.  He scored more total points than Bird, he had more total assists than Bird.  He had 10 first-team all-NBA's to Bird's 9.  In 2015, I rated him higher than Bird. 

OK, that said, why does Bird beat him this time around?  Well, Bird has 3 MVP's and 2 Finals MVPs to West's 0 and 1.  The guys on my Top 10 list rank 1-7th, 9th, 11th and 24th in MVP Award Shares.  West is 24th.  Rightly or wrongly, I have decided this year to give more credit to what the contemporary MVP voters said and how the player was perceived when he played.  While that certainly cannot be the sole criteria (Steve Nash and Steph Curry are down at the bottom of my list, for example) it is hard to ignore that while Jerry West was thought of 4X as a top 2 player and 8X as a top 5 player, Bird had a stretch where he went 2-2-2-1-1-1-3-2.  He was regarded as a top 3 player 8 times, the best player three times and one of the two best players 7 times. 

Bird had a higher peak.  It lasted less time, and West over 14 years was overall more productive than Bird over 13 years, but Bird's 8 year stretch is hard to ignore.  He is, by a little, a "better" player who had a "better" career.

#9 Larry Bird

I have done a LOT of thinking and writing regarding Larry Bird.  He was #13 last time around.  What is my big problem with Larry Bird?  This --  Bird simply did not perform in the playoffs as he did in the regular season.  And he did not play that long, so his WS/48 (you would expect) should be WAY higher because he did not have the declining years that, say, Kareem and LeBron have had.  But really, out of 9 big playoff seasons, Bird had two great seasons, 1 very good season, and 6 pretty mediocre seasons.  He was basically a little better than Karl Malone and a little worse than Kevin McHale on a per 48 basis. 

Of the top 50 playoff WS performers, Bird ranks 11th in WS, 37th in WS/48 and 35th in TS%. 

With those two significant marks against him, I left him at #13 last time.  But in 2018 I have chosen to focus more on success and achievements and a little less on advanced stats. This may be a weakness of mine in 2018, but it is what I have chosen to do.  So Bird moves up - you cannot dispute his 3 MVPs, his two Finals MVPs, his 9X all-NBAs and the fact that MVP voters went 2-2-2-1-1-1-3-2 for him during his 8 best years. 

Recap and Prep as We Go Forward Into the top 10 All-Time Players

36.  James Harden (new to the list)
35. Steph Curry (new to the list)
34. Steve Nash (-4 from 2015)
33. Gary Payton (+2)
32. Patrick Ewing (+1)
31. Dwyane Wade (same)
30.  Bob Cousy (new to list)
29. Scottie Pippen (+7 from 2015)
28. John Havlicek (+4)
27. Chris Paul (-1)
26. John Stockton (-2)
25. Rick Barry (+2)
24. Elgin Baylor (-4)
23. Dirk Nowitzki (same)
22. Kevin Durant (+3)
21. Kevin Garnett (+1)
20. Charles Barkley (+1)
19. Julius Erving (same)
18. Moses Malone (-2)
17. Bob Pettit (same)
16. Hakeem Olajuwon (-1)
15. David Robinson (-1)
14. George Mikan (-5)
13. Karl Malone (-6)
12. Kobe Bryant (+6)
11. Oscar Robertson (+1)

This leaves remaining, in alphabetical order,

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Larry Bird
Wilt Chamberlain
Tim Duncan

LeBron James
Magic Johnson
Michael Jordan
Shaquille O'Neal
Bill Russell
Jerry West

Now, as you will see if you compare my 2015 list with my 2018 list,

Falling off the list "upon further review" in 2018:
28. Ray Allen
29. Clyde Drexler
34. Reggie Miller

My review of their all-NBA and MVP awards left me a little cold and I decided that in 2018 I would focus more on career achievements and less on longevity/advanced stats if there were close calls.  These guys dropped out, and others entered the list.

My top 10 list for 2018 will add in new members Larry Bird and Jerry West and drop out old members (already ranked) Karl Malone and George Mikan. 

I am particularly proud of one thimng regarding my 2018 Top 10.  If you sort by the most successful playoff performers in NBA History, you get this list:  Those are my 10 guys!!  In addition, my 10 guys have 88 first-team all-NBA selections and rank 1-7, 9, 11 and 24 in MVP Award Shares all-time.

So - let's go.  Time is short.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Greatest NBA Players of all-time, 2018 Edition. ##13-11

We now enter a stretch in this analysis where we have to discuss what we are trying to do. Are we trying to evaluate who is the “best” player or who has the best career?  If you look at someone like George Mikan or Bill Walton or Bob McAdoo or Spencer Haywood or the ABA Dr. J - a good argument could be made that at one point in time at their very best they were way, way better than guys on the list above them.  Thinking in reverse, I took Reggie Miller off my list despite his 174 WS (more than Kobe) and Artis Gilmore (189 WS) is off.  Paul Pierce has more Win Shares than Larry Bird - I never even gave Pierce serious consideration.

So, why is this inquiry important now?  Well, we have 13 guys left.  Some were great winners, but some were not. Some played together and you need to evaluate who was the key to that situation and for how long.  Kareem played forever, as did Karl Malone - they have enormous raw stats and Win Shares.  Larry Bird played effectively 1979-1988.  Magic’s career was derailed tragically or he may have played 20 years.  So, it is at this point in my 2018 analysis that I will say that we will evaluate regular season success, MVPs, playoff success, playoff performance, advanced stats, strengths as an all-around player and my general feelings regarding players I saw play (which at this point is all but Russell, but I did not see young Oscar, West or Wilt). So, here we go.

13 - Karl Malone.  I am dropping Karl down the list from his 2015 placement. Why?  He still is way at the top of the list in scoring, rebounding, Win Shares, and all-NBA first teams (11).  Karl Malone has more seasons where he had 15 Win Shares than everyone except Wilt, Kareem and Michael. Incredibly durable and consistently great.  2 MVP’s.  2 Finals appearances.  These are all the things that had him rated so highly last time. But two things stick out “upon further review” of Karl Malone 1) his playoff WS/48 is pretty mediocre. At .140 he is far, far worse than the all-time greats of the game. And, second, if you review Karl Malone’s all-time MVP balloting, this is not a guy who ever had a huge run of 5 or 6 consecutive top 3 finishes. He got his two MVPs, in part, because people were tired of voting for Jordan. Generally, 1984-87 Bird was the best player in the regular season, followed by Magic thereafter.  Then it was Jordan followed by Barkley or Hakeem or Robinson. Karl was a great player, but never a guy you’d say “geez, good argument for greatest player ever”.  He is #13.

12.  Kobe Bryant -  Kobe moves up substantially from my 2015 list.  Why?  Well, he has 11x first-team all-NBA, he has 5 titles, he has 2 Finals MVPs (Albeit one where he shot 6-24 in Game 7 and weirdly outpolled Pau Gasol for the award anyway). So, much like my decision to include Bob Cousy, there reaches a point where a player’s accomplishments outweigh his advanced stats.  That said, however, Kobe was a very high volume and not super high efficiency player.  His regular season and playoff WS and WS/48 do not justify a very high ranking. His playoff advanced stats and regular season advanced stats are far closer to Dwayne Wade and Karl Malone than they are to Michael Jordan or LeBron James.  It isn’t a close comparison. Penny Hardaway was a great player with a young Shaq.  When Pippen played with Shaq in an all-star game he said “it is so easy because he creates so much space”.  The Finals MVP in the Lakers’ first 3 titles was Shaq. Kobe in those series was playing against some pretty favorable matchups on offense (Reggie Miller, Eric Snow, Kerry Kittles).   Finally, Kobe found great success with Phil Jackson and virtually no success with any other coach.  Kobe had some pretty forgettable seasons when Phil was not around.   So, congrats to Kobe, if this were a real roster, he’d have made the team (top 12). I just have to keep him at #12.

11.  The remaining 11 guys are Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Chamberlain, Duncan, James, Johnson, Jordan, O’Neal, Robertson, Russell and West.   This pick is hard, because to me (spoiler alert, but since most of these entries are getting 15-50 hits, I don’t think I am revealing the secrets of the universe here) you really have to select between Oscar, Jerry, and Larry for this spot. Oscar has the most Win Shares  and has the word of mouth as best player (the old guys frigging LOVE Oscar - they refer to Magic as a pale imitation of Oscar).  Bird has the most titles and the most MVPs but he played for the shortest time and had only 145 WS. West is the best playoff performer of the bunch. Although his team always lost in the Finals (until 1972) West always got them there and he put up simply heroic playoff scoring efforts, even winning the Finals MVP on a losing team.  So???  What to do?

Well, my train of thought in 2018 is to be kinder to the guys with great accomplishments and to try not to subtract so much for advanced stats if I can help it. So I will spare Bird (though it pains me to do so because if you compare his career and Dirk’s career or Pettit’s career, I think you could argue the point for any of the three).  And, you just simply cannot look at Jerry West’s playoff resume and drop him.   Ergo, #11 - Oscar Robertson.  As stated above, the people who watched young Oscar play revere him.  He is 9x first-team all-NBA. Despite being a prolific scorer, Oscar also has 1600 more career assists than LeBron James. So, LeBron will have to play into his 18th season, and play well, to catch Oscar.  Oscar’s deficiency?  Team success.  He had one title, later in his career with Kareem.  His playoff numbers are good, but “Kobe good,” and not “Michael or Magic good.”   In light of the many years where Oscar’s teams either missed the playoffs or got to the playoffs and his was merely very good, I have to rank Bird and West higher.  This may be a time when “body of work” doesn’t truly reflect the greatness of the player. That said, I am at the point where players are being judged against people like Magic Johnson (3 MVPs, 5 titles) and Kareem (6 MVPs 5 titles) and Michael Jordan (5 MVPs 6 titles killer advanced stats).  We got drop some people off. And for whatever reason, for all the great things Oscar did, he wasn’t regularly beating West and Wilt and Russell from 1960-69.  Oscar is #11.