Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The 3rd Greatest NBA Player of All-Time? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Lew Alcindor left Power Memorial high school, went to UCLA, and won three straight titles.  He then, under his birth name and later as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, went to the NBA and won 6 MVPs and finished in the top 5 of MVP balloting 15 times. 

That is not a misprint.  Kareem finished in the top 5 in MVP balloting from 1970 through 1981 and then came back to spring into the top 5 again in 1984-86.  Most guys do not play for 15 years.  Kareem led the league in Win Shares 9 times.  He had 11 seasons with at least 12.9 WS.  He had over 10 WS in a season 16X.    He was 10X first-team all-NBA.

Kareem won 6 NBA titles.  He is the all-time leader in points, Win Shares, minutes played, Offensive Win Shares.  He is 3rd in blocks even though the league did not keep blocks as a statistic for the first 3 years of his career.  If you give him 900 blocks for those three years of play, he is #1 in blocks.

Kareem put up the #1 Win Share season of all-time (25.4 in 1971-72).  He has three seasons of at least 20 Win Shares with at least a .3 WS/48.   38% of all such seasons.  Between 1971 and 1974, his stats are insane.  His stats would tell you that from 1971 to 1981, he was the best player in the league.  For ELEVEN YEARS he was statistically the best player in the league!!! 

His regular season and playoff stats for his first 8 years in the league are frighteningly good.  If you stopped Kareem's career at year 12, comparing them to my three other greatest players (LeBron, Wilt, Jordan) here are his stats:

As you can see from the last link, trying to find the difference between these four guys is tough.  So why does Kareem (6 titles, played longer) fall behind Wilt (2 titles, played less)?  I must admit, this 2nd place 3rd place fight was the hardest for me.  LeBron is clearly the worst of the 4 (though he still has time to advance).  But why does Kareem fall behind Wilt and Jordan?

Between his rookie year and Magic coming to the Lakers in 1979-80, Kareem had 2 finals appearances and 1 win.  Wilt in 11 years had 1 title and 5 finals appearances.  LeBron 2 titles and 4 appearances.  Jordan 4 and 4.  While Kareem was a great dominant player, his presence on a team pre-Magic did not guaranty a finals appearance.  If you review the info in the last link, you will see that Kareem had the fewest playoff games played and Win Shares of the top 4 guys. 

If you look at Kareem's Win Shares per season and place them next to Wilt's, you see that Kareem wins twice, there is one tie, and Wilt has more WS 11 times out of 14 years:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar25.422.321.918.417.817.014.814.414.313.812.912.111.210.910.810.
Wilt Chamberlain25.023.121.921.420.920.418.818.217.015.815.114.712.62.3

Wilt was a slightly better player.  He didn't play as long.  He didn't win as many titles, but he also was more successful on his own than was Kareem.  If I am going to rank Magic as the 6th best player of all-time, I obviously have to discount by some amount the last 10 years of Kareem's career.  Not by much, but by some.  In 1980 Kareem sat Game 6 while Magic won the series.  In 1981, Kareem was lit up by Moses Malone.  In 1983, Kareem was lit up by Moses Malone.  By 1984, the team was 50% Magic's and 50% Kareem's.  The three-peat Lakers (1987-88-89) were primarily Magic's team.

So I rank Kareem #3.  I could see #1 and I could see #2.  I don't see him falling below #3, so that is where I put him.

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