Thursday, March 26, 2015

Best 12, Next 12, Trash 12 (Part III)

So, we started with this list.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ray Allen, Charles Barkley
 Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird 
Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Clyde Drexler
 Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Julius Erving
 Patrick Ewing, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek
 LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan
 Karl Malone, Moses Malone, George Mikan
 Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowtizki
 Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Paul
 Gary Payton. Bob Petit, Scottie Pippen
 Oscar Robertson, David Robinson, Bill Russell
 John Stockton, Dwayne Wade. Jerry West.
After "Trashing 12," in Part II, we are down to these 24 all-time NBA greats: 
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charles Barkley,  Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird
Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, Julius Erving
Kevin Garnett,  LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan
Karl Malone, Moses Malone, George Mikan, Dirk Nowtizki
Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Bob Petit, Oscar Robertson,
David Robinson, Bill Russell, John Stockton, Jerry West.
So now I have to relegate 12 guys to the "Next 12" and then (in Part IV) I will list and rank the Best 12.  Let's get started. 
What makes someone not just merely "great" but one of the true elite -- the greatest players of all-time?   It is difficult to identify exactly what the characteristics are.  Here are ten -- 1) was regarded at his time as truly great; evidence of this would be all-NBA selections and top 5 MVP voting; 2) was regarded as the best player in the game at least once, and, hopefully, on multiple occasions, as would be generally reflected by MVP awards; 3) was dominant in some aspect of the game - teams needed to adjust their games to stop him and generally did not succeed; 4)  was physically superior to other players; 5) was well ahead of his time as a player/there simply were not players that did what he did at the time he did them (and possibly there still aren't today); 6) played a sufficient amount of time that his body of work can be considered not just a blip; 7) was consistently excellent for a long time (this can be determined most easily by advance stats); 8) his playoff performance did not generally decline substantially (same); 9) led his team far into the playoffs on multiple occasions; 10) won multiple titles.
I am sure there are more, but as you go through the list of great players, these all appear to be common traits.  So, ranking 24-13, I go with the following:
24.  John Stockton - 1, 6, 7, 8, 9.  Lacks in the remaining categories.  Great player, played at a high level forever.  I have reviewed the issue of "who was better, Stockton or Malone" many times and many ways.  And I always eventually reach the conclusion that Malone was the better player, and by a lot.
23.  Dirk Nowitzki -- 1, 2, 3 (shooting), 5, 6, 7, 8.  His teams did not always advance as far in the playoffs as you would imagine, and he was not physically superior to other players such that he was regarded as truly unstoppable,  Like Stockton, he has been excellent for a long time, but he also has an MVP and a title.  But only 4X first-team all-NBA.
22.  Kevin Garnett -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (maybe), 8.  Hurt by the fact that he had so many playoff failures in his prime, and had only 1 title.  Does have an MVP.  The best "out on the floor" defending big man ever.  Tremendous passer.  Played at 100% effort more than almost all great players.
21.  Charles Barkley - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (kinda), 8.  The Round Mound was a dominant scorer and rebounder.  Great out on the open court for a man whose weight ranged from 240 to 310.  1 MVP, reached one final, and his Philly teams didn't always go far in the playoffs.
20.  Elgin Baylor -- 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (kinda), 8, 9.  Baylor is a difficult call.  Widely regarded during his time as a top 5 player (10X first-team all-NBA), people talk about him as if he was basically an unstoppable force of nature.  His scoring feats are legendary and he could pull down 15-20 rebounds a night.  Yet he has 0 MVPs and 0 titles that he contributed to.  20 seems about right.
19.  Julius Erving -- 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (kinda), 9, 10 (if you count ABA).  The rating of the good Doctor J. all depends upon how much credit you give him for his ABA stats and titles.  His NBA stats alone are sufficient to probably get him into the tail end of the top 24, but if you completely discount his ABA stats I have him too high and if you give 100% credit to his ABA stats, he is too low. 
18. Kobe -- 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10.  Kobe was not as physically dominant as some other players, his playoff stats are not as good as his regular season stats, he won 3 titles with Shaq as the main guy, and his Lakers teams could collapse at times in the playoffs.  Only 1 MVP.  Look, I despise the guy, and I despise putting him this high, but he does have 5 titles, played forever and was given an MVP despite my protestations, so.....yuck, #18 overall.
17.  Bob Petit --  everything but maybe not 7.  10X first-team all-NBA.  1 MVP, 1 title (recall that only Petit's Hawks and Wilt's Philly squad took a title off Russell's Celtics).  Regularly flirted with 20-20 seasons.  Simply excelled as a player.  We cannot lose him to the trash heap of history, so he needs to be ranked very high.
16.  Moses Malone -- everything except 10 and maybe not number 7.  The mileage and bumps and bruising and fractured eye sockets eventually caught up to Moses, and his truly great years are basically 1977-83.  Played a lot longer, but it was that stretch where he and his teams flourished.  Led an awful Houston team to the finals.  Embarrassed Kareem in the 1983 Finals, which is something I don't think any other player in NBA history could say - that he whipped Kareem for four straight important games.
15.  Hakeem Olajuwon -- once we get to 15, what we need to start doing is picking at weaknesses, however slight, since the strengths are so plainly obvious (one of the best defenders of all-time, two titles, has an MVP).  People seem to forget that by 1989 the Rockets were unhappy with Hakeem and were shopping him.  Had Jordan never retired or had John Starks been able to make a shot in 1994 Finals, Hakeem might have never received his due as a player.  But Hakeem's teams did not always win, his playoff performances were not always great, and since we need to really split hairs here in the top 15, I have to leave him at 15.
14.  David Robinson -- look, this is personal preference, I concede, but David played on teams that were a LOT worse than Hakeem's teams and before Duncan got there David was basically playing by himself (Sean Elliott anyone?  Willie Anderson?), coached tell me?   David's WS/48 for his career is the same as Jordan's.  David's teams against good teams were regularly -10 per game without him on the court.  In my opinion, a truly great player who has been shorted by history.  He will not be shorted here - #14.
13.  Larry Bird -- Well, this ranking should cause some outrage.  He was 9X First-Team all-NBA and 3X MVP.  From 1980-1987 he was one of the best 4 players in the league every year.  Won 3 titles and also went to the Finals and lost in 1985 and 1987.  But, again, we are top 15 now, so we are tearing people down and not building them up.  His playoff stats are far worse than his regular season stats.  Of the three titles the Celts won, two were against flukish Houston clubs.  If you value longevity and greatness over a lengthy period of time, Bird simply does not match up.  For all-time Win Shares, Bird is ranked 23rd.  For all guys with over .200 WS/48 and 100 Win Shares, his .203 WS/48 ranks last.
Bird's 24.8 Playoff WS ranks him 11th in career playoff WS, and of guys with at least 15 playoff WS, Bird's .179 WS/48 ranks him 19th, just behind Kevin McHale.  So, despite the fact that he played on great Celtic teams, his overall performance and longevity of performance in the playoffs simply was not that great. 
There are just too many holes in Bird's relatively short NBA resume (he started at age 23 and once his back went, so did he, and so did the Celtics) to crack the top 12.  I realize other may disagree, but then they can write their own lengthy analysis.

The Best 12 in alphabetical order:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,  Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, LeBron James

Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, George Mikan,

Shaquille O'Neal, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Jerry West


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