Bill Russell

Why We Shouldn’t Judge a Player by the Rings on his Fingers

We would like to welcome Lochpster who is making his writing debut on Chasing 23. Lochpster has long been a valued member of the Chasing 23 community and has demonstrated an unique knowledge, insight, and historical perspective around the game. As such, we have invited him to contribute in the spirit of the moderately intelligent fan.

This is one of the most exciting, competitive NBA playoffs ever.  The sheer number of great players competing at or near their peaks is astonishing.  There have been upsets galore.  There have been villains, heroes, and goats.  There has been more discussion about the legacies of great players than at any time I can remember.  Disappointingly, these discussions frequently devolve into a mere ring counting exercise.  I am here to argue that ring counting is a terrible way to assess a player’s legacy.

To quote Phil Jackson, who’s won more NBA titles than anyone else alive, “Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable.  It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it.”

First and foremost, winning is a team statistic.  No individual player, no matter how great, can win without his team.  Beyond this, the quality of his opponents, his coach, his health, the referees, and a significant degree of luck play a role in who wins and who loses a game. The only thing a player can control is how he plays the game.  Yet players who are fortunate enough to play for championship teams are frequently elevated to iconic status, whereas better players who struggle to win titles are underappreciated and marginalized.

Wilt Chamberlain is an example of a player who is underappreciated because of his perceived underachieving in terms of NBA championships.  His statistics are mind-boggling.  His biography states that he holds 72 NBA records, including most points per game (season and career), most minutes per game (season and career), FG% (season), consecutive field goals made, every rebounding record imaginable, and the single season assist record for a center.  Some would argue that his statistics reflect his era, or that he wouldn’t dominate the same way today.  However, what these people are ignoring is that Wilt is probably the most impressive physical specimen the game has ever seen. Nobody could score 50.4 points or 27.2 rebounds per game today, but Wilt would probably still be the best center alive.

Considered the strongest player in the league during his peak, a 59 year old Wilt was witnessed bench pressing 465 pounds.  In comparison, Shaquille O’Neal once claimed to bench press 455 pounds, and Dwight Howard maxes out at about 365.  He ran the 100 yard dash in 10.9 seconds in college.  He was a three-time Big Eight High Jump champion and is the only NBA player known to have dunked from the free throw line without a running start.  He also dunked on an experimental 12-foot hoop while at KU.  Wilt is one of the only players to have blocked a Kareem skyhook despite being 10 years older than Kareem.  His peers have stated he often avoided going all out just to keep from hurting someone.  His dominance led to multiple rule changes.  Nobody has ever come close to Wilt’s level of individual dominance before or since, and when you consider what his body was capable of (insert your 20,000 women joke here), it’s not hard to imagine that he was just that much better than everyone else.  Yet due to circumstances largely beyond his control, his entire career was spent in the shadow of Bill Russell.

A common argument when comparing Wilt to Russell is that Russell was the smarter player and did more to help his team win while Wilt compiled empty stats.  This is nothing but spin.  Basketball IQ and drive to win are only of value if they translate into on-court production.  Russell and Wilt had many hard-fought battles over the course of their careers, and their head to head record is closer than many would believe.  Russell won 88 games versus 74 for Wilt in head to head action.  Wilt consistently dominated Russell, averaging 28.7 points and 28.7 rebounds compared to 14.5 and 23.7 for Russell while scoring much more efficiently than Russell.

Many have argued that Wilt was selfish, but as the best offensive option on his team for much of his career, he was supposed to shoot.  Russell had a reputation as a better defender, but that’s mere opinion and speculation at this point.  Harvey Pollack claims Wilt blocked an average of at least 10 shots per game and he has a documented 23 blocks against Phoenix.  During the 1961-1962 season, a year rated the #1 sports season of all time by ESPN in 2008, in which he averaged 50.4 PPG, 25.7 RPG and shot .506 from the field.  The MVP that year?  Bill Russell, who averaged 18.9 PPG, 23.6 RPG, and shot .457 from the floor.  What better example could there be that Russell’s perceived dominance of Wilt was not in sync with reality?

Wilt went to the Finals a total of 6 times in 14 seasons and won twice despite consistently running into teams full of Hall of Famers.  Wilt lost four Game 7s to Russell by a total of 9 points.  Yet when you compare the rosters, it’s clear that outside of the pivot, the Celtics were consistently a superior team.  Wilt’s original Warriors team was 32-40 and missed the playoffs the year before they drafted him, whereas Russell was drafted onto a playoff team that already had MVP Bob Cousy, Red Auerbach, and had drafted another Hall of Famer in Tom Heinsohn that year as well.

Things continued to break Russell’s way throughout their careers. In game 7 of the 1962 Eastern Conference Finals, Wilt hit a game-tying shot with 16 seconds left before Sam Jones drained his own game-winner.  In game 7 of the 1965 Finals, Wilt hit two free throws and dunked on Russell to bring the game to within one point with 5 seconds left, and Russell hit a guide wire with his inbounds pass, turning the ball over.  Then John Havlicek ‘s famous steal salvaged the win for Boston.  In game 7 of the 1968 Eastern Conference Finals, which the Sixers lost by 4 points, Hal Greer, Wali Jones, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson and Matt Guokas hit a combined 25 of 74 shots with Wilt playing the role of rebounder and distributor.  In game 7 of the 1969 finals, which the Lakers lost by 2, Wilt suffered a knee injury and was controversially benched for the final 6 minutes.  The Lakers also lost in 7 games to the Knicks in 1970, a year in which Wilt was criticized for not dominating enough against a hobbled Willis Reed.  What is easily forgotten is that he had just returned from a career-threatening injury and he lost to that Knicks team boasting 4 future Hall of Famers.  If you want to argue that Russell was better than Wilt, you have to ignore every shred of statistical evidence and rely on a few flawed team statistics, wins and titles.  You must then ignore how close Wilt came on a regular basis with consistently inferior teammates.  It is really hard to credibly argue Russell’s superiority by throwing out all assessment of individual performance other than team results, yet that is what is frequently done.

Michael Jordan’s career, likewise, demonstrates that no player can win without strong teammates and a lot of luck.  Very early in his career it became clear that Jordan was among the best in the league not only in talent, but also in toughness and determination.  During the 1986 season, Jordan missed 64 games and was advised by his team doctors not to return that year.  However, he came back at the end of the season, and the Bulls squeaked into the playoffs as the 8 seed with a 30-52 record.  In Game 2 of their first round series against Boston, Jordan went 22-41 from the floor and 19-21 from the line to score an NBA playoff record 63 points.  Larry Bird famously stated “I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan.”  Yet the Boston Celtics wound up sweeping the Bulls, despite MJ’s 44-6-6 line, based on the strength of their 5 Hall of Famers.  Jordan, of course, went on to win numerous titles, but it took him 5 more years, Scottie Pippen, one of the top power forwards in the game, and a seemingly endless stable of sharpshooters to make it over the top and stay there.

Even during his team’s championship runs, Jordan needed a lot of luck and a lot of help from his teammates.  In the 1991 NBA finals, Scottie Pippen did the heavy lifting on defense by guarding Magic Johnson, and the Bulls were aided greatly by injuries to Byron Scott and James Worthy.  In the decisive game 6 of the 1992 NBA finals, Portland started the 4th quarter with a 15 point lead, and it was Pippen and 4 reserves who outscored the Blazers by 12 points in the early fourth with MJ on the bench to get the Bulls back into the game.  The 1993 NBA finals were won on John Paxson’s game-winning jump shot in game 6.  In the 1997 Finals, the Bulls won game 1 after Malone bricked 2 potentially game winning free throws that allowed MJ to steal the game with a buzzer-beater, and they won game 6 on Steve Kerr’s last-second shot.  That was also the year of the legendary “flu game,” in which MJ gutted out 38 points when many players would have played horribly if at all.  The 1998 finals are remembered in large part because of MJ’s beautiful shot after getting away with an egregious push on Byron Russell.  And lest we forget, the Bulls barely got there, surviving the Pacers in a Game 7 for the ages in the Eastern Conference Finals in which MJ shot 9-25 from the floor and 10-15 from the line but was buoyed by a +16 team rebounding advantage and 14 missed free throws by the Pacers.   Also, it should be noted that the 1993-1994 Bulls, without MJ, won 55 games and went to the Eastern Conference Finals, so it’s not as if his teammates were chopped liver without him.  I point out all these close calls to show how dependent on factors outside his control, even the player widely considered the greatest of all time was.

The modern winning vs. production debate has been Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James.  Much like a modern-day Wilt, Lebron dominates any statistical analysis against his peers.  He has led the league in player efficiency rating (PER) for the past 4 years and win shares for the past 3.  He bests Kobe in every conventional metric over his career-points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, minutes per game, steals per game, blocks per game, and FG%.  While Kobe has the edge in 3 point % and FT%, Lebron still bests Kobe convincingly in effective FG% and true shooting %, which are more accurate measure of offensive efficiency.  As outlined extensively on this website, Lebron is a better clutch player.  The gap between the two widens in the playoffs, when Lebron’s PER goes up while Kobe’s drops even further.  The only real metric by which you can argue that Kobe is better is by team success.

Yet when you look at the course of their careers, it is readily apparent why Kobe has won so many more titles.  Kobe won his first 3 titles with Shaq, who was among the most efficient scorers in NBA history, and was the best player in the league when he was with the Lakers, as attested by his 5 consecutive seasons leading the league in PER.  Kobe’s last 2 titles were won with an imposing frontcourt led by Pau Gasol. Gasol is a much more efficient scorer than Kobe, as his EFG% and true shooting % both dwarf Kobe’s.  Pau also led the team in PER in 2010 and in win shares both title years.  One could easily make a statistical argument that Gasol, in terms of on-court production, was the best Laker during their most recent title runs.  When Kobe was without either, the Lakers were a .500 team with an admittedly wretched supporting cast.

Conversely, Lebron James has been leading a gang of marginal players to 60 win seasons for years.  He never had a #2 approaching the quality of a Shaq or Gasol, yet he not only outproduced Kobe consistently over the course of his career, he’s done so at a significantly higher level of efficiency than Kobe.  Lebron has had some ignominious failures, most notably his elimination by Boston last season.  A few weeks later, Kobe Bryant’s Lakers won the NBA championship against the same Celtics team.  The common interpretation of these events is that Lebron quit, while Kobe willed his team to victory.  A comparison of their numbers in those respective series shows how far removed from reality that assessment is.  Lebron, as usual, bests Kobe in just about every category.  Notably, Kobe outscores Lebron by .8 PPG, but it takes him an average of 4.3 more field goal attempts per game to do so.

Lebron James, Celtics vs Cavaliers, 2010

1 12 24 50 8 11 73 7 7 3 2 2 1 35
2 7 15 47 10 15 67 7 4 3 2 5 1 24
3 14 22 64 8 9 89 8 7 1 2 1 1 38
4 7 18 39 8 11 73 9 8 2 1 7 4 22
5 3 14 21 9 12 75 6 7 1 0 3 3 15
6 8 21 38 9 12 75 19 10 3 1 9 2 27
Averages 8.5 19 45 8.7 11.7 74 9.3 7.2 2.2 1.3 4.5 2.0 26.8


Kobe Bryant, Celtics vs Lakers, 2010

1 10 22 45 9 10 90 7 6 1 1 4 4 23
2 8 20 40 3 3 100 5 6 4 0 5 5 21
3 10 29 34 8 8 100 7 4 2 3 1 2 29
4 10 22 45 7 8 88 6 2 2 0 7 5 33
5 13 27 48 8 9 89 5 4 1 1 4 5 38
6 9 19 47 7 7 100 11 3 4 0 2 2 26
7 6 24 25 11 15 73 15 2 1 0 4 4 23
Averages 9.4 23.3 40 7.6 8.6 88 8.0 3.9 2.1 0.7 3.9 3.9 27.6


There is no way to look at those stat lines objectively and draw the conclusion that Kobe was the better player than Lebron in those series, yet Kobe’s the one with the title and the accolades.  Why?  He’s played for better teams.  “Willpower” or “killer instinct” don’t win games, points do, and that’s what Lebron helps his team accumulate better than Kobe.  It’s no surprise that with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on his team, it is Lebron that is playing for the title this year.

Dirk Nowtizki story has been similar to Lebron’s up until this year.  He has led the Mavericks to the playoffs each of the past 11 years.  His statistics show him to be one of the best regular season and post-season performers of all time.  He is one of four NBA players to average 25 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs, alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor and Bob Pettitt.  His player efficiency rating is 15th all time and jumps to 7th in the playoffs.  His unique skill set has allowed him to be the only player over 7’0” to register over 1000 3 pointers during his career.

Dirk has done all this with a weak supporting cast in comparison to other top teams.  His best teammates have been Michael Finley, Steve Nash, Josh Howard, and Jason Kidd, who combined for 5 All-Star appearances while on Dallas.  The one time Dirk made it to the Finals he was derailed by one of the most dominant (and controversial if you believe Tim Donaghy’s allegations) finals performances ever. This year, he is again leading a team with a mediocre supporting cast to the Finals while being among the league leaders in numerous categories.  It’s hard to imagine a player doing more with less than Dirk has done this year.

The next week will have a lot to do with how we think of Lebron, Dirk, Wade, Bosh, and Kidd once their careers are over, and obviously those players have a huge role in deciding who wins the series.  The series will also be decided by things like Jason Terry and Mario Chalmers’ shooting, the defense of Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, Udonis Haslem’s comeback, how Dallas copes with Brendan Haywood’s injury, and how the refs call each game.  I hope that after this series is over we can judge the players on how they played rather than just labeling one team champions and the other team chokers.


284 Responses to “Why We Shouldn’t Judge a Player by the Rings on his Fingers”

  1. Nice work Lochpster. Sheridan — ouch, nice arguments here for Wilt. What you say?

    Posted by Brown Mamba | June 12, 2011, 9:36 am
    • It seems that evaluation of greatness in any sport now is about the numbers. Unfortunately, not about the numbers a player or team puts up, rather the numbers of listeners or reader’s of whosoever show or blog is focused on. The sheer numbers of casual listeners on a radio show have no interest in finding the truth; they are just about fortifying their own already determined position or opinion.

      The role of such doofus hacks like Tim Legler, who gets paid as an expert for his “knowledge” of the NBA, is appalling. After the Mavs bested the Heat, Legler stated that Dirk has a chance to win 2 or 3 more titles. In what league?? The Mavericks had a terrific season and it is to his credit that Nowitzki finally gets to be appreciated as the great player he has ALWAYS been, but the odds of the Mavericks repeating would be pretty slim.

      Ironically, LeBron Jams is taking all the blame for the Heat losing, yet the Heat have a far far better shot at winning 2 or 3 title in the next 4 seasons than ANY other team. The only potential team that could beat them (barring injury) would be Oklahoma City.

      It is not just the rings that make Jordan the best player, but the rings clearly cement his standing, and the same is true for Russell. Those that would anoint Kobe Bryant as anything remotely close to Jordan are just in fantasy land. Kobe is a terrific player, but the hype started when the SHAQ led Lakers won their third title and Kobe was just 22 years old; the perceived ceiling was high then. Anyone that wants to compare Kobe to Jordan or Magic or Robertson or West needs to look at the stat line for Bryant in the 2004 NBA Finals against Detroit when he had a fading, but still great Shaq, and Gary Payton. To compare Bryant to Jordan is to forget that Jordan LED the LEAGUE in scoring TEN TIMES while playing for a team winning 60 games a year AND whilst being the BEST DEFENSIVE player AND winning 6 FINALS MVP AWARDS!!!!! Jordan was better than Bryant at EVERYTHING. There is NOTHING that KOBE has done in basketball that Jordan did not do even better. Nothing.

      Barring injury, Lebron should end up with 4 MVP awards and 3 or 4 titles and be regarded as the 6th or 7th best player of all time behind only Jordan, Russell, Kareem, Bird, Wilt, and Magic.

      Posted by Paulie Walnuts | June 13, 2011, 12:44 pm
      • Thanks for the read and your insightful comment. I can’t find fault with a single thing you said. I am always a little uncomfortable trying to forecast what a player should do in his career, though-that’s a large part of what made it so hard for us to judge Kobe objectively in the first place.

        Posted by Lochpster | June 13, 2011, 7:57 pm
      • Who the hell was so good in the 90’s for guards? The league was TRASH. There was a few good big men and thats it. Jordan didnt start winnng rings until Bird and Magic were done in the NBA. Hell even LeBron led a TERRIBLE Cavs team to the finals. Wilt Chamberlain was quoted stating he would score over 70 ppg in the 90s. James, Wade, Durant, Carmelo, Dirk, are SUPERstars not just good players. Kobes first ring he avg 21 pts 5 reb 4 asst in the playoffs with a 26 pt 10 reb 4 asst in the close out game to win the title. 2nd ring he avg 29 pts 7 reb 6 asst and 26 pts 12 reb 6 asst in the close out game against Philly. 26 pts 6 asst 5 reb in for the 3rd ring. 25 pts 6 asst 5 reb in the close out game. 30 pts 6 reb 5 asst for the 4th ring in the playoofs. 30 pts 6 reb 5 asst in the close out game. 5th ring 29 pts 6 reb 6 asst playoff avg and 23 pts 15 reb and 2 asst in the game 7 close out against the celtics. WHERE DID HE NOT CONTRIBUTE!?! Know your history. KB24

        Posted by BIG ERN | June 14, 2011, 7:47 pm
        • No one ever said that Bryant did not “contribute” to his team winning; that said, you may want to check out the numbers for Shaq in the 3 Finals they won together, of which Shaq was the Finals MVP all three times.

          Didn’t John Stockton and Gary Payton play in the 1990’s??

          The implication that Jordan and the Bulls won only after Bird and Magic were done is like saying Same Sex Marriage caused God’s Wrath and wrought Hurricane Katrina; you can’t really disprove that, yet there is also nothing that says the Bulls still wouldn’t have been a 6 time champion.

          Didn’t the Bulls beat Magic and the Lakers in 1991??

          Posted by Paulie Walnuts | June 15, 2011, 11:59 am
          • Here are Jordan’s playoff averages from 1996-98 when the Bulls won three championships:

            1996: 30.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.1 apg, .459 FG%, .403 3FG%, .818 FT%
            1997: 31.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, .456 FG%, .194 3FG%, .831 FT%
            1998: 32.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, .462 FG%, .302 3FG%, .812 FT%

            Here are Bryant’s playoff averages from 2008-10 when the Lakers made three straight trips to the Finals and won two championships:

            2008: 30.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.6 apg, .479 FG%, .302 3FG%, .809 FT%
            2009: 30.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, .457 FG%, .349 3FG%, .883 FT%
            2010: 29.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.5 apg, .458 FG%, .374 3FG%, .842 FT%

            If Jordan is #1 Kobes 1A

            n the 1996 Finals, Jordan averaged 27.3 ppg but shot just .415 from the field. In game six at home, Jordan scored 22 points but shot just 5-19 (.263) from the field as the Bulls won 87-75 over Seattle. Jordan did most of his damage at the free throw line (11-12) and he grabbed nine rebounds as the Bulls outrebounded Seattle 52-43. During the series, Jordan ranked second on the Bulls in assists (4.2 apg) and had a 25/17 assist to turnover ratio, while his teammate Scottie Pippen had 32 assists versus just 11 turnovers. History has a way of distorting facts for some.

            Posted by Chris | June 16, 2011, 11:42 am
          • Chris, why are you only cherry picking the last 3 NBA Finals performances for Jordan? Why not show the whole picture?

            Posted by The NBA Realist | June 16, 2011, 2:20 pm
          • And yes, the Bulls did beat the Magic in 91. After they lost arguably the greatest player of all-time in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson had HIV (He wouldn’t find out until shortly after the season).

            Yes Stockton and Payton did play in the 90’s although he realistically didn’t guard them just as he didn’t guard Magic in the aforementioned Finals (Pippen did).

            Also to address Shaq’s three Finals MVP trophy’s as some kind of proof that he was “Alpha dog extraordinaire” that didn’t have any help…..Let’s talk about those Finals.

            1999-2000 Lakers vs Pacers.

            Kobe is guarding a Hall of Famer in Reggie Miller whilst Shaq is feasting on Rik Smits who was literally playing his last games in the NBA. He retired after that year never to be seen, brought up, or heard from again. (Talk about being on your last legs) Impressive.

            2000-2001 Lakers vs. Sixers

            Kobe is once again guarding a dynamic Hall of Famer in his prime in Allen Iverson while Shaq is once again feasting on the three headed monster known as Dikembe Mutombo (Admittedly a great shot blocker and defender) who was simply too frail for Shaq, Matt Geiger, and Todd MacCulloch…What dominance!

            2001-2002 Lakers vs Nets

            Once again Kobe Bryant is guarding a Hall-of Famer in his prime in Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson in his prime (Not to mention Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles who were also decent players). Who was Shaq guarding/being guarded by you ask? His old friend Todd MacCulloch again! And don’t forget Jason Collins! Who? Yeah…

            Phil being the coach he is pounded the ball into Shaq during the finals, and he would have been a fool not to honestly with those mismatches. Does that somehow prove that he was the man? Maybe, maybe not. Would Wade winning the Finals MVP trophy had Miami won this year discount the fact that LeBron was MVP through the first three rounds of the playoffs? I don’t know. Does the fact that Tony Parker is the last Finals MVP that San Antonio produced take anything away from Tim Duncan or make that less his team? You tell me.

            Posted by Chris | June 16, 2011, 12:01 pm
          • Chris, go back to the footage. MJ guarded Magic more than Pippen in the 1991 Finals. You’re focusing only on game 2 when MJ picked up a lot of fouls and they switched Pippen on Magic.

            Kareem retired in 1989, not 1990. They were 2 years removed from having him on the roster.

            Magic didn’t find out he contracted HIV till just before the 1991-92 season.

            Posted by Adam | June 16, 2011, 12:47 pm
          • Chris, MJ was 33-35 years old in the 2nd threepeat, let’s see if Kobe can put up these numbers for the next 3 years in the playoff..

            32 y old Kobe in play off:
            22.8 ppg 3.4 rpg 3.3 apg 446 FG% .293 3FG% .82FT%

            Why don’t you show MJ’s first threepeat stats, or his playoff stats in his prime in the 80’s?
            One example: 1990 before his first championship he avaraged 37 ppg 7 rpg and 7 apg on 51%Fg in 16 games

            Posted by AndyK | June 16, 2011, 9:51 pm
          • Nobody is saying that Bryant is not a great player. At present, I would put him #13 or #14 all time. There is no reason to expect Bryant to surpass the level he had achieved as he is clearly entering the downside of productivity, which is normal for someone that has played so much. And it is well established that Bryant is a great defender. that is not in dispute.

            As to the #1A rhetoric. . .

            You may want to check the numbers for Bryant in the 2004 Finals against Detroit and the series against Dallas this year. Bryant shot more three s than attempted free throws.

            If you can find a Jordan playoff series that is as abysmal as the ’04 Bryant, I would welcome that knowledge.

            You also may want to review what Shaq did in the finals from 1999-2001, when he was the finals MVP each year.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | June 17, 2011, 9:43 am
          • It is interesting to see the construction of your argument regarding the worthiness of Shaq against Kobe.

            On a simple matter, it is true that Kobe had the superior defensive duty, and I do hold Shaq’s defensive laziness against him, ye this is why I have Shaq at #12 all time rather then say #6, behind Wilt, Kareen and Russell. Shaq is also behind Moses Malone and Olajuwan.

            It is not Shaq’s fault that during his period that he was THE big man in the game, with ZERO competition. That is a circumstance rather than evidence of greatness (or lack thereof). It is also logical that Kobe would guard the best perimeter player,unless it was a guy like a James or Wade or Rose who could draw fouls by attacking the rim; you wouldn’t needlessly expose your best perimeter defender to unnecessary fouls. If you want to grant Bryant some extra for that duty, fine; but Shaq was still the big reason the Lakers won; transpose Shaq on any of the other teams the Lakers beat from 1999-02, and the team with Shaq wins. You couldn’t make the transplant argument with Kobe and have it be true from 1999-02. I think the 2008-09 Kobe; that would be a true statement.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | June 17, 2011, 11:14 am
          • I didn’t “cherrypick” those years. The age of Kobe and Jordan is not as important as the number of seasons they played. They were both at pretty much identical places in their careers with Kobe having started the rigors of the NBA season when he was 17 years old. That’s why I compared the two. If you think Jordan is averaging those same amount of points and rebounds as he did if Shaq was on his team, you are insane. I would argue that if Jordan and Shaq were in both their primes on the same team in the Finals, Shaq would have won those Finals MVP’s as well. The Triangle thrives especially with a skilled or dominant big man. You think Phil is not pounding the ball into Shaq everytime against Todd MacCulloch and Rik Smits EVEN WITH JORDAN WAITING ON THE WING? Come back to reality.

            Posted by Chris Houston | June 17, 2011, 11:29 am
          • Also I never indicated when they lost Kareem , just that he wasn’t there. And yes I stated that Magic wouldn’t find out (actually get tested) until the offseason that he had HIV. He had it but wasn’t aware at the time.

            On a side note, I’m not trying to rile anyone up! I realize the name of the site that I’m on and that any perceived anti-mj talk is considered blasphemy. I only wanted to point out that pretty much anyone on a team with prime Shaquille O’Neal (Jordan Included) in a Finals where Shaq’s primary defender is Todd MacColloch, Matt Geiger, or Rik Smits in his last game ever is not winning. You could put 88′ Jordan (The year he won the scoring title, MVP and DPOY) on the Lakers. If 88 Jordan has to chase around Allen Iverson in his absolute prime while Shaq ejaculates all over Todd MacCulloch and Mutombo, Shaq is winning that Finals MVP. You may not agree whole heartedly, but I think you can see my point that the Finals MVP = It’s your Team Theory has wholes.

            Posted by Chris Houston | June 17, 2011, 11:41 am
          • *Holes

            Posted by Chris Houston | June 17, 2011, 11:43 am
          • The only thing that “riles me up” is nonsense logic and recounting actual history inaccurately. You can talk about MJ’s faults all you want, as long as it’s true. Like your statement about MJ not guarding Magic in the 1991 Finals. That is simply not true. Just watch the footage. But I digress:

            Chris, you said, “And yes, the Bulls did beat the Magic in 91. After they lost arguably the greatest player of all-time in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson had HIV (He wouldn’t find out until shortly after the season).”

            This implies two things:

            a) The Lakers had recently lost Kareem (which isn’t true. 2 years isn’t “Just lost..”). The Lakers had 2 quality seasons under their belt without Kareem (Two seasons in which they won 63 Games in 1990 and 58 Games in 1991 – As a reference point – the Lakers won 57 Games in Kareem’s last season 1989.) You’re also implying that Kareem, at that point of his career, was anything but a shell of another shell of his former self. But that’s a complete different conversation.

            b) The Lakers lost because Magic was suffering from symptoms related to HIV. That’s not true either. I don’t know when Magic contracted the virus but he was informed of it about a month before the 1992 season was about to start when he took his preseason physical. He announced his retirement on November 7th, 1991.

            You’re still cherry picking statistics. The ages are important. You’re taking the twilight of MJ’s career versus the Prime of Kobe’s career. Even with that you couldn’t argue Kobe outperformed MJ.

            Posted by Adam | June 17, 2011, 1:12 pm
          • I have no issue with the stats used in this argument if they are used to promote what they show. What they tell us is that during the playoffs, for this 3 year period of their careers, Kobe and MJ were similar performers. MJ was in his early to mid-30s, while Kobe was in his late 20s/early 30s. They had a similar number of seasons under their belt. The teammates and opponents were different. And the sample size was small.

            Seasons played is important, but so are ages. To take this data and extrapolate that Kobe and Michael are somehow equals over the course of their career is just not accurate.

            Posted by Lochpster | June 21, 2011, 6:41 pm
        • really did u write are funny,,,everybody jordan beat in the finals was a hall of famer,,he beat magic,,drexler,,barkley , gary payton,,and malone and stockton twice !! only legit win kobe has was against boston,,without kendrick perkins,,and ron artest saved him,,,magic and bird had stacked teams,,in the 80’s and jordan still did his thing with a terrible team,,,shaq left,,the lakers couldnt make the playoffs,,he also beat the bad boys,,and the knicks countless times!!! so learn the game,,the 80’s and 90’s were the best !! Period !!!

          Posted by dominique | October 24, 2011, 10:30 pm
        • Who the hell do you think Jordan beat in his first finals. Know YOUR history moron .

          Posted by nate | January 21, 2012, 10:41 am
      • You should be an over paid analyst lebron is stat stuffer and a proven closer once team flow fully established his career numbers will start to rise and the more 30 pt season averages he gets with 8 reb 7 ast. The higher he will go on that list

        Posted by rob | January 21, 2012, 9:37 pm
      • Are you kidding? If LeBron ends up with 4 titles and 4 MVP awards (he’ll probably win more than 4 MVP awards), he’ll easily be top 5 if not cemented as 2nd best. He dominates his era like only Jordan and Wilt did, and it’s only just beginning with 1 ring under his belt.

        Posted by ak26 | November 13, 2012, 2:30 pm
  2. This great piece shall be gazed upon by blind eyes

    Posted by marparker | June 12, 2011, 11:27 am
    • This post alone makes me happy I wrote this article. Thanks for the read and the appreciation.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 12, 2011, 9:53 pm
    • Are you seriously arguing that Kobe defending Kidd was significant? You realize the Kidd has a worse FG% than 3pt% for his career, right? Jason Kidd has well earned the titer of “worst shooter ever”; though I am certain that if Bryant did guard him, his effectiveness in running the offense was diminished. Tell me though, who was the 2nd best player on the Nets? The Pacers? The 76ers? who was the third best player on those teams? Do you see the point I am driving at?

      The truth is that the Lakers were IMMENSELY better than ANY of the teams the East sent out. MUCH better.

      Posted by Paulie Walnuts | June 17, 2011, 9:48 am
      • My only point in bringing up kidd was to point out that everyone brings up Shaq’s 3 Finals MVP’s as proof that he was carrying them. I tend to disagree. No one is saying he wasn’t an absolute monster. I’m just pointing out who he was a monster against. If you read my post I said that yes, of course Shaq was the Finals MVp…Phil would have been an idiot not to exploit the mismatch between Shaq and Todd MacCulloch….or Matt Geiger, or Rik Smits….etc. Just pointing out that while Kobe was guarding bonafide undisputable HOFers, Shaq was doing his thing against nobodies and he went off in the Finals because of that, winning the trophies.

        Posted by Chris Houston | June 17, 2011, 11:22 am
        • I am not implying that Shaq was carrying the team, I am saying, as you did, given the match ups which player is going to get the ball? The difference that I bielve with Jorda, Bird, Russell, magic, Duncan, is that they would HAPPILY let Shaq take the glory and lead the team to winning. Bryant got drunk with the “next Jordan” hype and together with an immature Shaq pissed away another title in 2004 against a Detroit team that rightfully had no business dominating the Lakers. No Jordan led team would have ever rolled over for an opponent like that. It is also a reason why I do not rate Shaq as high as he could have been.

          Remeber Jordan won 10 scoring titles, and was first team all defense (with a DPOY) while simultaneously playing on a 55+ win team that went 6-0 in the Finals and Jordan winning ALL 6 Finals MVPS. I am not worshiping at the feet of #23, that is just truth.

          Bryant is a great player, but we have to keep it in perspective and ignore the slobbering idiotic rantings of dipshits like Tim Legler, Stephen A. Smith, Tony Kornheiser, Rob Parker, And Avery Johnson. They are only interested in selling something and doing as little work as possible to keep their checks rolling in. Don’t buy it.

          Posted by Paulie Walnuts | June 18, 2011, 8:39 am
          • You said Kobe was #13 all-time. I’m curious to see your top 12 in order.


            Posted by Mike White | January 28, 2012, 7:51 pm
          • I have posted that several times, Mike, but I will do so again.

            Jordan, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Johnson, Chamberlain, Duncan, West, Robertson, M. Malone, Olajuwan, O’Neil, Bryant, Havlicek, and Baylor would round out the top 15.

            If Bryant continues his great play, I would likely place him ahead of Shaq and Hakeem. I project LeBron to finish somewhere around #7, but there is a long way to go before that happens.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 28, 2012, 10:36 pm
  3. one more thing here Lochpster — I generally agree with your points, with one exception:

    I’ve made this point before and I’ll make it again here. The greatest, and I mean *greatest* players in NBA history have figured out ways to put them in a position to win. Whether that means enforcing their will via a trade, through management trade, player acquisition, etc. They do this because they can’t sit still for more than 1-2 years without competing at the absolute highest levels of the NBA.

    I would say it’s akin to the extremely talented employee that works at a mediocre company. If you are extremely talented, isn’t it on some level on you to see that either (1) your environment changes or (20 you go somewhere else so that your true talents can come through and you can make the impact you know you were destined to make? The best recognize this and take control of their own destiny. That is the fine line that separates the true greats from the rest.

    Oh, and by the way, I don’t give Lebron credit for going to the Heat using this argument b/c he left a team with the best record in the NBA last year (i.e., they weren’t that far away).

    Posted by Brown Mamba | June 12, 2011, 11:41 am
    • Thanks for the read and the nice words Mamba. I think I get what you’re saying about putting yourself in a situation to win, but I don’t agree. That extremely talented employee in a mediocre company would shine more by turning his company into a great one than by switching to a company that’s already great. That’s what Dirk Nowitzki did this year. Lebron could have done it in Cleveland but didn’t, and he can no longer do it in Miami because he’s paired with Wade and Bosh. Do you think a title with Miami would be anywhere near as impressive on Lebron’s resume as a title with Cleveland’s crappy roster of a year ago? I don’t.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 12, 2011, 10:51 pm
      • I get that whole thing about turning a company around, however, that company being the Bulls, comparing his team to other fabulous NBA post-season runs, boasted a hall of famer, and notable highly efficient rebounders like Dennis Rodman.

        With the sport of basketball being dictated by the stars and the players around them, you would think the intangibles that aren’t measured, but implied in your article, like KC Jones, is more important to the overall health of his team.

        In this same scenario, Lebron “assisted” his teams (eg “made his trainwrecked teams look better”) improved his situation and benefited from it. But in the end-result, did he win, but boast great game-changing stats? Kobe does it in much the same way as Brown Mamba has described it: by shaming and coercing your franchise to make, the “great” changes that would benefit the team. One thing (ie make superfluously underachieving 2-3 products) try to act like 9 yr vets. That never happened with Kobe for a bit, and neither did it happen to Lebron, albeit to a more successful degree.
        Not that the feat in itself isn’t more accomplished beating the Pistons to get to the 2007 NBA Finals, but actually having the right set of “tools” to compete. One highlight of this scenario is the Lakers acquiring the component of Pau Gasol, and therein completing a missing piece of a puzzle. That’s not to say you don’t need good or semi-decent players to prove that you’re a “goldmaker” in your closest peers, it means that the sport of basketball, moreso than others is inherently dependent on productive, active, players. So we’re overstating the sort of influence that a player like Jordan would do to a team. For one, the players the Bulls provided him, facilitated his success, yes he had role players, then he had more than adequate role players, and on top of it all he had even more adequate all-star caliber role players.

        True Jordan in the same instance, did not have adequate “bigs”, so it in a sense paints Jordan as a David vs Goliath, which will always win an argument. So does it mean that Wade for instance shouldn’t celebrate his title with Shaq in 2006 or does it mean that we’re only reverting to the one basketball, constant that you need stars to achieve accelerated levels of success, and that adequate role players are needed as well to help secure success.

        Posted by DODOO | January 10, 2012, 6:44 pm
  4. Congrats on joining this website’s team – and great article! The only things I would like to counter are:

    The biggest criticism of Wilt should be the disparity in his numbers from the regular season to the playoffs. He goes from 30.1ppg in the regular season to 22.5ppg in the post season. As dominant as Wilt was – he played poor by his standards in the post season. He had 100+ 50pt games in the regular season and only 1 in the post season.

    MJ actually did guard Magic a lot during the ’91 Finals. Game 2 was Pippen – but he didn’t do all of the work. You can go back and watch MJ guarding Magic heavily in Games 3 and 4.

    When it comes to the Bulls 93-94 season – I’m so glad someone finally acknowledges his teammates were good. Horace Grant, BJ Armstrong, and Scottie Pippen all had their best seasons that year. All 3 went to the All-Star game. They also added Toni Kukoc who had a good rookie year.

    When it comes to Dallas Mavericks’ team this year, I don’t think it’s a fair assessment to claim he has a mediocre supporting cast this year. Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and Shawn Marion all had a good season.

    As far as for Kobe and Lebron are, I feel they both have quit on teams, just in different ways. Lebron gets exasperated and loses interest – while Kobe pouts. Both have had at least 2 games each that I felt they really gave up.

    Loved the article – can’t wait to read your next one!

    Posted by Adam | June 12, 2011, 11:52 am
    • Thanks for the read Adam, and thanks for keeping me honest. I admit I was wrong about Pippen guarding Magic during the 1991 finals, but it was an honest mistake, I swear.

      Valid criticism of Wilt. His numbers drop by a larger margin than any of the other players I mentioned in the playoffs. That said, Wilt’s playoff numbers are still significantly better than Russell’s.

      I agree that Dirk’s supporting cast played well in the postseason. However, you’ll remember that Dallas was 2-7 without him during the regular season. Many pundits picked Portland to beat Dallas in the first round despite a consensus that Dirk was the best player in the series. And if you look at the best 3 players in each series in which the Mavs played, 2 of them were always on the other team.

      Great point about Kobe and Lebron. Frankly, I can’t stand either one of them, but they’re such talented, fascinating players it’s hard to look away.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 12, 2011, 11:15 pm
      • I hope I didn’t come off as being snarky about MJ guarding Magic – You’re not the only one who makes that mistake – I was just trying to set that record straight.

        The point I’m trying to make about Wilt’s production is that it goes down across the board (with exception to Rebounds per game, which go up) while Russell’s goes up across the board when going from the regular season to the playoffs:

        Wilt Regular Season Playoffs
        PPG 30.1 22.5
        RPG 22.9 24.5
        APG 4.4 4.2
        FG% 54% 52%
        FT% 51% 47%

        Russell Regular Season Playoffs
        PPG 15.1 16.2
        RPG 22.5 24.9
        APG 4.3 4.7
        FG% 44% 43%
        FT% 56% 60%

        Wilt was definitely the better and more efficient scorer (free throws excluded), but his production dipped dramatically in the playoffs. The only place Wilt’s numbers outperform Russell’s are in ppg. But the playoffs are where the games matter most, and while Russell maintained our excelled in his game – Wilt shrank.

        To bring in another example – there is a reason Pete Maravich isn’t revered as much as other players. A great player with great talent who never got it done in the playoffs. While Jerry West was lauded as Mr. Clutch – even before he won his title in 1972 with the Lakers. Everyone remembers (or has read about) his Game 7 performance of the Finals in 1969. 42 points 13 rebounds 12 assists. A Finals MVP in a losing effort (only time that was ever done). Finished the series averaging 38ppg. He was still ringless, but that didn’t diminish his reputation.

        As fans, we like to see big plays in pressure moments. There is a reason ESPN Classic plays replays of famous playoff games, and rarely do I ever see a regular season game. Playing well in the playoffs is worth more than playing well in the regular season.

        The only exception I took from your article about the Mavericks was the term mediocre. They aren’t amazing role players – but they aren’t mediocre either. Maybe somewhere in between.

        Posted by Adam | June 13, 2011, 12:37 pm
        • I didn’t think you were snarky at all. If I’m wrong about something, I hope somebody will point it out. I also don’t disagree with anything you said above. Well done, and thanks again for the read and the comments!

          Posted by Lochpster | June 13, 2011, 7:45 pm
        • One of the reasons why Maravich never got it done in the PO was that he was one of the worst defenders of all time. Jerry West was a defensive stud. As we all know defense wins championships..

          Posted by AndyK | June 16, 2011, 9:55 pm
    • About Wilt’s “drop-off” in playoff scoring – please notice that he played a lot more playoff games late in his career than during his “scoring-leader” years. He led the league in scoring for 7 years (1959-1966), during which he appeared in 52 playoff games. During the last 7 years of his career, his scoring average went down significantly – but he appeared in 108 playoff games, skewing his average.

      Chamberlain’s scoring declined in latter years because his role changed – I remember he would erupt for 50-60 points at least once a year late in his career just to show that he could still score bunches if he wanted to.

      Posted by jasper | September 11, 2011, 11:58 am
  5. Lochpster, hit me with some more stuff like Wilt could jump from the free throw line and dunk, and then we can label David Thompson or Jumpin’ James Bailey as the greatest player of the 70s because of their leaping abilities, and if you bench press the most you are christened the Tony Mandarich of the NBA.

    Stats lie. Are eyes lie as well, but why did sports writers who covered Russell and Chamberlain assert that Russell was the better player? Is it simply that we all gravitate towards winners and feel a compulsive need to identify with winning or was Russell simply the better player?

    I don’t beleive any of us who are writing on Chasing 23 saw Russell and Chamberlain play. Some of us prefer to use anecdotal evidence and some of us prefer to use statistics to support our arguments. But we never saw these guys play. Stats are easy to buttress an argument, but believing a sports writer’s anecdotal account requires a faith in that writer’s knowledge of the game, and a trust in humans to properly assess the athletic feats of other humans.

    Legends are created in the playoffs. If Willie Mays had not caught Vic Wertz’s blast in the 1951 World Series, but during a regular season game played before 10,000 fans at the Polo Grounds, it would have faded into obscurity.

    Russell won an unprecedented 11 NBA championships – 1 as player coach – and Wilt was never mentioned as coaching material. Russ got it done when it was all on the line, which separates him from other players of his generation. Russell is not solely responsible for the 11 titles, because basketball is a team sport, but it has become de rigeur to tout stats and devalue Russell’s championships. A previous generation venerated Russell’s championships, but we feel that we know better because we have mastered’s Stats Cube.

    Not to pick on LOCHPSTER, because he put a lot of work into this piece and I really like it, but please spare me that Pau Gasol is a more efficient scorer than Kobe. Pau plays closer to the basket, his shots are closer to the basket – logic would seem to dictate that he would be a more efficient scorer than the Lakers’ shooting guard.

    Check out the career leaders in Effective Field Goal Percentage, with the exception of Mark Price and Brent Barry, they’re all big men. This stat clearly skews in the favor of big men. In fact, it penalizes players who shoot from the perimeter.

    Choke Jobs: LeBron scoring 8 points in Game 4 was an apple merchant/choke job for the ages. To quote Clay Davis from “The Wire” – “Sheeeeee – it! Anyone can score 8 points in a Finals game, but when you are a part of the most heralded trio in the history of basketball, and self-market yourself that way – it is a sign that Dr. Heimlich is knocking at your door.

    Rings: It’s all about the rings. This isn’t some 5th grade hoops league where every kid wins a trophy,or Wilt has 72 personal records that makes him the greatest player of All-Time, but he only won two championships. In the 1970 NBA Finals, an injured, one-legged Willis Reed made a brief cameo and then Wilt didn’t deliver. Legends get it done in the postseason. End of story.

    We can’t quanitify why one athlete possesses more mental toughness than another athlete. We can’t quantify why one athlete bricks a late-game free throw and another athlete calmly walks up and knocks his down. Stats, metrics, PER, and 1970s’ biorhythm bullshit give us no insight, but our eyes can tell us what athlete better handles the pressure of a big game situation and what athlete knuckles under the pressure.

    We all worked with people who strive under stress and high-pressure, and we’ve all worked with people who collapse in the same environment. We acknowledge those differences in daily life, without the use of John Hollinger’s PER, but now we refuse to trust our eyes to reliably view what happens on a basketball court.

    Wilt Chamberlain won 2 NBA titles. Charles Barkely won 0 NBA titles. Both of these players showed that winning a title is extremely difficult, but yet, it is now en vogue to lessen the value of winning a championship. In effect, we are stating that Russell and Jordan were simply the products of social capital, and not champions because of the talents they brought to the group.

    To quote Ochocinco, “Child please!”

    Posted by Dave Sheridan | June 12, 2011, 12:07 pm
    • Gotta agree. It’s one of the reasons why I have always liked D Wade more than Lebron. The numbers say Lebron is better. But you can only tell who’s a winner and who isn’t from watching the game.

      Posted by Derp | June 12, 2011, 1:00 pm
    • Dave, thanks for the read. Far from feeling picked on, I’m delighted you are challenging me on my article. I love sports arguments and will rebut your points, but I suspect you’re going to stick with ring counting and we’ll have to agree to disagree. If my tone is harsh, take it as no disrespect to your writing, which I very much enjoy.

      I absolutely do not believe in using anecdotal evidence or gut feelings to support an argument. Most of us are taught in high school that appeals to authority are a logical fallacy. In scientific inquiry, expert opinion is considered the lowest possible level of evidence when attempting to support a claim-it is only used if there is no other data available. Remember, expert opinion has in the past told us that the brain was our center of intelligence and thought, that the earth was flat, and that disease was caused by spontaneous generation. These falsehoods were not overcome by people becoming smarter or more insightful, but rather they were overcome by scientific inquiry spoken largely in the language of mathematics. For a sports example, most NBA players recently believed that Kobe was the best clutch shooter on the planet, but statistical analysis on this website showed that this is clearly not so. Advanced statistics are a way of trying to better understand the game we love.

      Stats do not lie, but the human brain frequently does. Our brains, by design, simplify things to help us see the world in a way we can understand. We are swayed by emotion, and we are anything but objective. Stats, on the other hand, are a completely objective measure of exactly whatever it is they measure. It is just up to us to use the imperfect tool that is our brains to figure out what, if anything, they mean.

      You assert that eFG and true shooting % are flawed because they skew toward big men. You say that this is logical, but your dismissive argument isn’t supported by evidence, so it’s worth no more than my opinion or the guy on the corner’s. The reality is that 21 of the top 50 players in both TS% and eFG% are or were primarily perimeter scorers. I admit there’s some subjectivity to this-I consider Dirk a perimeter scorer even though he’s clearly also a big man. The list of these perimeter guys isn’t full of scrubs who barely ever shoot, either-guys like Reggie Miller, Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Steve Nash, Kiki Vandeweghe, Manu Ginobli, Kevin Johnson, Chris Mullin, and Mark Price all are in the top 50 of one or both categories. Further, why should I care if it’s skewed toward big men? I want my most efficient scorer taking my shots, whether it’s my point guard or my center. On the Lakers those 2 years, that guy was Pau Gasol.

      As far as Wilt’s measurables, I agree that they mean nothing in terms of on-court production. I included them in the article to counter the expected criticism that Wilt was a product of his era and couldn’t dominate in today’s more athletic game, and I thought I explained that clearly. If not, the fault is with my writing.

      As far as choke jobs, I agree Lebron sucked in this series and sucked in 2007. Since we’re comparing him to Kobe, I submit Kobe’s epic stinkbomb of a 2004 finals in which he jacked up enough shots to score 23 points per game while shooting just 38% from the floor with 4.4 APG and 2.8 RPG. Shaq was good for 26.6 PPG and 10.8 RPG on 63% shooting, yet that wasn’t enough to overcome the walking disaster that was Kobe Bryant. In 2008, the Lakers lost in game 6 by a finals-clinching game record of 39 points, hardly the hallmark of a team with a killer instinct. And Kobe’s 6-24 game in last year’s playoffs was similarly dreadful, rebounds aside. Lebron’s got plenty of holes in his game, but it’s not as if Kobe’s been exhibit A of playoff excellence throughout his career.

      Mental toughness, getting it done on the line, categories like that are about as real as magic dust. Don’t get me wrong, some players are better in the clutch than others, but we can evaluate this in many ways that are more accurate than opinions. Is killer instinct hitting game winning shots? We have statistics for that. Is it being great in the 4th quarter? We have statistics for that. Is it making your team better when you’re on the floor? We have stats for that, too. Is it elevating your game in the playoffs? Neat, because we have stats for that as well. Is it number of championships won? Well, funny you mention it, that’s a statistic too. Is it some intangible that can’t be measured? Then why should I care what you have to say, since you can’t back it up with anything? I could have told you years ago that Dirk was a great clutch player based on statistics or based on my personal opinion. Is Dirk magically a different player today than he was a year ago? Nope, same player, but completely different legacy in the eyes of most of the general public. Apparently our eyes were deceiving us all that time.

      I agree, 100%, that the goal of every player should be to accrue rings. They’re a great accomplishment and something anybody should be intensely proud of. Chuck and Wilt showed how hard it is for individual players to win titles because, great as they were, they ran into better teams. Would Wilt have been better if he’d forced a trade to the Celtics alongside Russell and won 8 titles in his own right? Not really. Along the same lines, Barkley was no Jordan, nor was Stockton, Malone, Kemp, Payton, Miller, or Ewing. Yet many of those guys would have won titles and been viewed completely differently historically if they’d not had the misfortune of running into a juggernaut headed by the GOAT. If Jordan stays retired, there’s a good chance we’re talking about Stockton and Malone in our list of top 20 all time players-their numbers are that good. Would they have been different players if MJ had decided that he wanted to join the PGA tour instead? I think not.

      My vision is cloudy and imperfect. I work in a hospital, and I can tell you who is always cool and who looks like a walking panic attack, but I can’t tell you whose patients do better in the long run. Statisticians can. Maybe you have a lot better insight than I do, but since you can’t prove that to me either, I’ll stick with my statistics.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 13, 2011, 1:18 am
      • LOCHPSTER,

        I am not a flat world guy nor am I resistant to the use of statistics, but now that is all we rely on to argue the merit of players. Stats have to be combined with watching the action on the court. Both need to be used together to formulate a true picture.

        In last night’s Game 6 of the NBA Finals, here is the box score lines for Dirk and LeBron:

        Minutes Played: 38:54
        FG: 9-27
        3PT: 1-7
        FT: 2-2
        +/-: -4
        Rebounds: 11
        Offensive: 0
        Assists: 1
        Turnovers: 2
        Steals: 2
        Blocked Shots: 0
        Blocks Against: 0
        Personal Fouls: 4
        Points: 21

        Minutes Played: 40:21
        FG: 9-15
        3PT: 2-5
        FT: 1-4
        +/-: -24
        Rebounds: 4
        Offensive: 1
        Assists: 6
        Turnovers: 6
        Steals: 1
        Blocked Shots: 1
        Blocked Against: 0
        Personal Fouls: 2
        Points: 21

        One could plausibly argue, based on these statistics, that Dirk and LeBron had comparable performances in Game 6. If 40 years from now, some statshead comes up with a new metric, which definitively proves that LeBron outplayed Dirk, am I to buy that assertion?

        I know there are other stats, in use today, that will definitively assert that Nowitzki outplayed LeBron, but stats can be manipulated to further one’s argument. It’s dubious how relevant the +/- stat is for one game, but that is clearly the one stat that gives Dirk a clear advantage. Turnovers also clearly hamper the LeBron argument.

        As for my belief, that rings are the end all be all. That’s not how I feel, but there is a tendency today to diminish the accomplishments of champions and raise the accomplishments of also-rans.

        Lochpster, did it ever occur to you watching last night’s game that Wilt could have been LeBron and that Russ could have been Dirk? That one player was able to get it done, when it counted, and the other struggled in late-game situations.

        Stats may not completely convey how impotent was the performance submitted by The King.


        Here is an interesting statistic: ESPN’s Tim Legler, on Mike & Mike, said that LeBron James, in the six fourth quarters of The Finals, made only one shot from outside of the paint.


        I’ll even share with you an anecdote: A friend of mine was doing work in Danny Ainge’s office and my friend’s co-worker was a huge Danny Ainge and he starts chatting up Danny.

        The co-worker asks Danny, “Who was the most intense competitor you encountered in your career?”

        The co-worker expected Ainge to say Larry Bird, but Ainge replied with, “Roger Clemens.”

        The conversation then veered to Ainge’s hoops career and they started talking about Charles Barkley and Ainge’s Phoenix Suns days. Ainge said he loves Chuck, he is a great guy, but he was incredibly frustrating to play with because Barkley insisted on having the ball for the last shot, when it was clear to everyone else, that Dan Majerle was Phoenix’s best offensive player and that the ball should have been in Thunder Dan’s hands.

        We can argue all we want about stats, and why players don’t win championships, but maybe it is as simple as guys not getting the job done. Barkley wanted to be the man, but he didn’t possess the all-around offensive game to be that guy. Perhaps Barkley was never surrounded with enough talent to win a championship, but as the Brown Mamba has written, doesn’t he bear any responsibility for not winning a championship? I don’t beliece there is a stat that demonstrate whether a player is too stubborn and his team suffers for it.

        We now want to penalize champions, and posit complex theories why certain players failed to win one or multiple championships, when the answer may be far less complex than we think. Some guys make poor decisions on a basketball court and other guys make better decisions.

        Michael Jordam made the decision to pass the rock to Steve Kerr and Jon Paxson, which resulted in championship-winning shots. Those were good decisions. MJ also made the decision to retain the rock, and hit a championship-winning shot over Byron Russell.

        Is there luck involved? Sure, but Jordan knew the abilites of his teammates, was confident in what he thought the defense would do, and acted accordingly.

        There is no definitive way to precisely quantify good decisions on a basketball court or a player’s sense of team and himself. Sometimes watching the action, doing player interviews and talking to the participants allows us a fuller picture of what we have just witnessed.

        Posted by Dave Sheridan | June 13, 2011, 8:40 am
        • You make some good points Dave. The very notion that Lebron may have outplayed Dirk in last night’s game would cause most of us, myself included, significant cognitive dissonance. Lebron clearly did a lot to keep his team in the game, but he certainly fell apart with the game on the line. Dirk was terrible for most of the game but came through in the clutch. Most of us will remember what happened last, and rightfully so. Performing in high-stakes situations is the hardest thing a player does.

          I also agree with your statement about Barkley and Majerle-I made the same argument about Kobe and Gasol in my article.

          I also think you hit the nail on the head with Wilt being like Lebron. In fact, that was one of the major points of my article. Both were the most physically talented players in the league and consistently were the NBA’s top performers, yet both seemed to always be in the shadow of players who, in my evaluation, were not as good.

          Comparing Dirk to Russell doesn’t work, though. Dirk’s individual numbers are much better than Russell’s, whereas his team results are much worse. I find it almost impossible to find a player who I can compare to Russell historically. The closest I can come up with is Dennis Rodman, another undersized player on multiple title teams who was terrible on offense but who, through sheer willpower, was one of the most dominant rebounders, defenders, and irritators the game has ever seen.

          In the end we’re probably going to have to agree to disagree. You put more weight into titles, and I put more into individual performance and statistics. There’s validity to both opinions, and nobody can definitively prove that one of us is right and the other is wrong. That’s why these debates are so fun. I’d like to close this post with 2 lists of the top 25 players in NBA history, one by number of titles won and one by PER. I think the names on the lists speak for themselves.

          Top 25 players, in order, by most championships won-Bill Russell (11), Sam Jones (10) , Tom Heinson, KC Jones, Satch Sanders, John Havlicek (8), Jim Loscutoff, Frank Ramsey, Robert Horry (7), Bob Cousy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen (6), George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Slater Martin, Larry Siegfried, Don Nelson, Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman, Ron Harper, Steve Kerr, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Fisher (5).

          Top 25 players by PER, career-Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain, Dwyane Wade, Bob Pettit, Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley, Neil Johnston, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Dirk Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Julius Erving, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, Oscar Robertson, Yao Ming, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Amare Stoudemire.

          Posted by Lochpster | June 13, 2011, 9:03 pm
          • Sorry to jump into your discussion with Mr. Sheridan (sorry if that’s too formal – it felt rude to just type ‘Dave’) – but Wilt’s rankings in the PER go from 26.13 in the regular season to 22.7 in the playoffs. Bill Russell’s goes from 18.87 to 19.39. I realize that Wilt’s statistics and individual performances are off the charts; but doesn’t that mean you get extra criticism for coming up that short when matched against your own performances?

            Isn’t this what the whole Lebron James hoopla is about? Lebron “should” be better. He should be the Lebron from the regular season. But that’s not what we’re getting.

            It’s not that Wilt could or should have won more titles – it’s that he should have played better.

            Posted by Adam | June 13, 2011, 10:21 pm
          • Adam, I’d give this argument a lot more credence if there wasn’t still a significant gap between the two players. They were almost identical in rebounds and assists during the playoffs (Russell has a tiny edge in both), so Wilt’s better PER is due exclusively to the fact that he scored more points per game at a much more efficient clip than Russell. And that’s a major difference between the two-Wilt was a guy who could absolutely carry an offense and score at will, while Russell never could. I’d personally rather have the guy who remains a great offensive weapon, despite underacheiving, than the guy who just didn’t have the requisite skills to be a strong offensive player, all other things being equal.

            Now I don’t disagree that a guy like Wilt should get criticized for performing below his potential in the playoffs, but that’s a completely different argument. It’s an argument of whether Wilt reached his potential or not. Wilt almost assuredly didn’t, whereas Russell may have reached it as well as any player ever with the possible exception of Jordan. Maximizing one’s potential doesn’t make one better than a player who just has more talent.

            As for the Lebron hoopla, I still haven’t come up with a good grasp of what I think is driving it. The Heat’s story this year has been fascinating, we’ve been awaiting the results for one long year, and the end was absolutely shocking. I’m sure the hype has a lot to do with the fact that he underperformed, but I think it also has to do with the bizarre way he’s acted over the past 2 years, the fact that he’s one of the most unpopular athletes ever, and the fact that he’s the latest in a line of pretenders who tried to become the GOAT.

            Posted by Lochpster | June 15, 2011, 8:20 pm
          • 22ppg does not translate into being able to score at will. Wilt went from an unstoppable force in the regular season to stoppable.

            Personally, I’d rather have a solid defensive center (who still scored 15-18ppg – and clearly had the ‘requisite skills’. You don’t accidentally score that many points) and stayed consistent (or got better) as the games got more intense, and mattered more. I do not want a player who shrinks from the moment; who is scared to perform. You can’t count on a player like that. You could always count on Russell to give his all. Wilt was another matter.

            Rings are a fickle thing, no doubt. But you don’t accidentally do things 11 times. It should be noted that the one time Wilt successfully beat Russell was in 1967 when Wilt was doing his “Russell impression”. Which is more evidence that Wilt was light years from his potential (which is a scary thought). But you’re not credited for what you could have done – you get credit for what you did and what you do.

            Posted by Adam | June 16, 2011, 10:03 am
          • *sigh* We’re back to highly subjective arguments and ring counting. Those will never convince me of anything. Likewise, I can see you don’t buy what I’m selling. That’s fine. You can have Russell and I’ll take Wilt. Two intelligent observers can see the same thing very differently, so it seems we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

            Posted by Lochpster | June 16, 2011, 6:10 pm
          • I’m not sure why you’re sighing, I didn’t jump back into ring counting. You clearly missed the point of the statement. You don’t accidentally do things over and over again. I was making a point about consistency.

            Consistency is not subjective. You can see the patterns. You can follow the numbers. Russell got better in the playoffs. Wilt got worse. I don’t want to go into each game of the playoffs wondering which Wilt I’m going to get. I know you don’t like ring counting – but the goal of each team was to win the ring, right? And when faced with that goal, Russell excelled – Wilt shrank. It’s that simple.

            I’m not buying what you’re selling because you’re mislabeling the product. You’re telling me how great a player Wilt was; but your basing your numbers on his dominant regular seasons and forgetting his inconsistent post seasons. I will always take the players who “upped their game” in the post season over those who “migrated to the middle of the pack.”

            Posted by Adam | June 16, 2011, 6:53 pm
          • “the goal of each team was to win the ring, right?” Call it whatever you want, I’m going to call that ring counting.

            I will almost always take the player who performed better over the player who performed worse. You say I’m mislabeling the product, but I think you’re changing the goalpost. I agree that the Celtics were clearly an incredibly consistent TEAM. They won 11 titles. That’s great. They also won 10 with Sam Jones, 8 with Tom Heinson and John Havlicek, and 6 with Bob Cousy. And that’s due, in large part, to Russell doing damage control against guys like Wilt and Bob Pettit while his teammates won their individual matchups elsewhere on the court.

            If Wilt “migrated to the middle of the pack,” that pack was certainly a better pack of players than the one in which Russell roamed. The four closest players to him in terms of playoff PER are Kareem, Magic, Bob Pettit and Kobe Bryant, four of the top 20 players of all time. If that’s the type of company Wilt decompensates into during the playoffs when he’s coming up short, I’ll take it. Russell, by the same argument, raised his game in the playoffs to the level of immortals like Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups, Kevin McHale and Adrian Dantley, guys who are at best fringe top 50 players. Wilt still wins the individual matchup in the playoffs by just about any metric you can possibly use. The only argument for Russell is still ring counting.

            Anyway, I’m done with this argument. We’re not going to agree, that much is clear. Feel free to take the last word if you want it.

            Posted by Lochpster | June 16, 2011, 11:45 pm
          • If you’re going to be done with the argument at least understand the point I’m trying to make and stop misrepresenting it:

            ““the goal of each team was to win the ring, right?” Call it whatever you want, I’m going to call that ring counting.”

            You’re not even disagreeing with my actual point. You’re labeling it as something it isn’t then dismissing it arbitrarily.

            However, I will try to explain it again, since you’re clearly getting so frustrated:

            The goal is to win. When faced with that goal – win or lose – Wilt played bad. Russell played good.(By their own standards). Russell played better under pressure, Wilt played worse. This has nothing to do with rings and frankly, I can’t tell if you’re coming to that conclusion on purpose or because you actually aren’t grasping the point.

            Jerry West is the perfect example. For someone who lost so many times, he still put out his best games under pressure. Because this isn’t about rings, it’s about when the ring is up for grabs and who wants it more. Jerry West, in my opinion, wanted it more than anyone – arguably even Russell – he just failed. 42 points 13 rebounds 12 assists in Game 7 of the 1969 Finals is no shabby performance.

            Russell and West got better when it mattered, Wilt got worse. This is not about rings. It’s about heart or determination or that “special gene” or whatever you want to call it.

            You say it was because Wilt’s teammates were bad or not as good as Russell’s. Fine. How exactly does that correlate into Wilt’s production, then? Why was he so dominant with bad teammates in the regular season – and then not so much in the post season? What changed?

            Last word? I take that as actually meaning “I’m not going to read anything you have to say anymore because of .”

            That is extremely childish and disappointing.

            Posted by Adam | June 18, 2011, 11:47 am
          • Adam, I’ll jump back in here because it seems you feel like I was trying to be insulting and I don’t want to go out on that note. I apologize if you took my attempt to end this debate off as a personal affront. It truly was not meant to be rude, and if it was seen as such, I apologize. The issue here, in my mind, is that we have a fundamentally difference in beliefs about what makes a player great that I don’t see how any amount of debate could possibly reconcile them.

            I generally don’t summarize others’ posts in my own, but I will do so in this case to show that I understand your point. Wilt was a noticeably worse player in the postseason than in the regular season. He was all over the place-some games he’d be trying to score, others he’d be trying to be a point center, and in others he’d be focusing on defense and rebounding. With Russell, you knew what you’d get-defense, rebounding, maximum effort, consistency. You also pointed out that it’s incredibly difficult to remain consistently at the pinnacle of the NBA, yet Russell did it his whole career. You want a guy who knows exactly what it is he wants to do and does it as well as a guy who rises to the challenge when all the marbles are on the line. I believe that’s roughly what you were saying, and I agree that all those things are to Russell’s credit. To you, that’s what makes a champion, and it’s an entirely valid viewpoint. I’m not going to convince you otherwise because that’s a what you believe.

            They are also totally different from the benchmark I use for determining a player’s greatness. If we’re debating who is better, I don’t care who wants it more or who’s maximizing his potential. In my mind, if I’m going to argue about who the better player is, the best metric is who produced more and who did so more efficiently. All those other things, to me, are no more valuable than sneaker color unless they lead to different on-court results. And in Russell and Wilt’s case they did do that very thing-Wilt got worse while Russell got better, which is reflected in the improvement in Russell’s numbers and the decrease in Wilt’s during the playoffs. To answer your question, I don’t have a clue why Wilt got worse in the postseason, and if he’d performed up to his potential it would have significantly enhanced his legacy. However, regardless of whether you’re looking at the regular season or the postseason, the guy who produced more and did so at a higher level of efficiency is still always Wilt by a substantial margin. If you were trying to convince me that Duncan or Hakeem or Jerry West was better than Wilt because their playoff numbers leapfrog his, I’d be a lot more receptive. But in Russell’s case, the measurables were still so far beneath Wilt’s that you just won’t be able to convince me that Russell was better. This is because of how I fundamentally see the game.

            My frustration is that you continue to want to debate, whereas I see this as a discussion that reached its logical conclusion a few posts ago. If you take that as a personal affront, again, I apologize. Albert Einstein’s definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and I feel like that’s what we’ve been doing the last few posts-trying to repackage the same argument in different wrapping paper. I try to pride myself on being open to new points of view-a while ago on this very website, I argued that Russell was the #2 player of all time, but after a particularly strong rebuttal I looked deeper into it and realized that my assertion wasn’t consistent with my views of the game. I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to be dismissive or that I don’t respect you. It’s just that I’m not going to agree with your point of view on this particular topic (Russell vs Wilt) no matter how clearly you explain it because I just don’t see the game the same way you do. In giving you the floor to close the debate, I was trying to say that I had run out new things to say on this topic and allowing you to have the final word.

            Posted by Lochpster | June 19, 2011, 3:24 pm
          • Lochpster – First off, I want to applaud you on an excellent article and a great first run on Chasing 23. For the most part, I completely agree with everything that you said.

            Adam/Lochpster: I understand both of your points. I think the question we need to ask ourselves is whether Playoff Wilt, despite his inconsistencies, drop in intensity, etc, is still better than Playoff Russell (increase in stats, intensity, etc..).

            Adams argument is “no”, because consistency in a team’s leader is important during the playoffs. It sets the tone for his teammates and allows for a measure of predictability and expectations.

            Lochpster’s argument is “yes” because even an inferior Wilt, is still better than a superior Russell. Lochpster cites PER, efficiency, etc..

            You both make valid points, and the one question that I would raise is whether Russell’s defensive stats (shot blocks/steals, Defensive efficiency, etc..which were not available back in the 60s) or even Russell’s Defensive play, good enough to Offset the edge that Wilt provided in offense.

            Posted by The NBA Realist | June 20, 2011, 12:32 am
          • The only reason I continued the debate, at least in the last few posts where you thought we were being repetitive, was because I didn’t believe you fully understood my point. Whether you came to the same conclusion as I did was irrelevant – I just wanted to be absolutely clear.

            I’m certain you do get what I was saying and I do understand where you’re coming from. We will forever disagree on that and frankly, I’m glad. Coming to different conclusions is fine. I would hate it if there was ever a complete consensus on anything sports related.

            I’m sorry I assumed you were being dismissive, which is clearly not the case. You can’t be too certain on the internet. It’s sometimes difficult to fully understand someone’s ‘tone’ when reading their words.

            Like I said earlier – I enjoyed your article. Even if I disagree with almost every conclusion you made. That’s probably why I liked it.

            Posted by Adam | June 20, 2011, 12:44 am
          • @The NBA Realist,

            I think you summed up our difference in opinion nicely.

            To your question, and not to continually beat the same drum – I think it was. I know we’re going to disagree on that but there are two things the three of us can agree on:

            a) HD and DVR technology should have been available for the NBA since the 1950’s.

            b) They should have kept blocks/steals and other stats since the 1950’s.

            Posted by Adam | June 20, 2011, 1:06 am
          • Thank you gentleman.

            @Realist-You might recognize it was your argument that inspired me to look deeper into this issue and ultimately write this article. I very much appreciate that.

            As for your question, I feel like Wilt probably would have had similarly good defensive stats to Russell by conventional metrics. However, it would be hard for me to argue that Wilt was an equal defender to Russell. Wilt had that same tendency that drives me crazy about Dwight Howard-he cared more about the theatrics than making a sound defensive play. A Bill Russell block that he taps to a teammate is certainly worth more than a Wilt Chamberlain rejection into the 12th row. I still haven’t found a good way to measure defensive presence. Even then, I have trouble believing that Russell’s edge in defense would make up for his deficiencies elsewhere.

            @Adam-I got a little hypersensitive about my article, and clearly I’m still a little rough around the edges in terms of how I interact with readers. But I appreciate debating this stuff with smart people like you, and I hope to butt heads many times in the future. And I strongly agree with your last post.

            Posted by Lochpster | June 20, 2011, 10:16 pm
      • good article man, glad to see you use your head not your emotions, lol kobe tards are like bible freaks, they make emotional arguements and IGNORE THE OBVIOUS FACTS.

        Posted by samtotheg | June 13, 2011, 12:31 pm
    • Having seen all of the above play, Wilt was the most dominant athlete in any sport, any era. He played on weak teams and made them good. He played on good teams and made them great. He was the strongest and fastest player on any team he played for or against. Bill Russell and Jerry West both claim Wilt was the greatest ATHLETE they have ever seen. Kareem has said as much. If Wilt played in a 30 team league his numbers would have been even greater. If he had the benefit of today’s methods of medicine and travel he would have played many more years.

      Posted by DMart | June 13, 2011, 9:08 am
    • Wilt actually did coach in the ABA – he sucked at that, though. About 1970 – it was a miracle that Chamberlain played in the playoffs at all. The doctors said that recovering from his serious injury in the 12th game of the season in time for the playoffs was all but impossible – some said his career was over. It galled me that so much was said about Willis’s guts that year but so little about Wilt’s.

      Posted by jasper | September 11, 2011, 12:24 pm
  6. A solid article here. A great read, Lochpster

    Posted by Josh Dhani | June 12, 2011, 12:50 pm
  7. I agree with the premise, but the delivery was wrong. These points have been mentioned, but I’ll say it too.

    a) MJ guarded Magic more than Scottie did in the 91 Finals. Scottie did a better job of it, but MJ guarded him the majority of the series. So your statement that Pippen did the heavy lifting is wrong.

    b) I find it peculiar how you mentioned that Chicago was “lucky” that Paxson hit the last shot to make your point, but failed to mention that prior to that shot, MJ scored all nine of the Bulls points in that fourth quarter and that he averaged 41 ppg that series.

    c) 97 Finals. Malone bricked the last two free throws, yes…but the game was still tied after that. How was it lucky that MJ hit the game winning shot? That wasn’t luck, that’s taking advantage a situation. I’ll get to this more in a second… Also in game 6, Steve Kerr hit the game winning shot only after MJ told him to prepare for it as he knew Stockton was going to leave Kerr to double him. How did MJ know that? Because Utah lost on the exact same play in Game 1 when Jordan hit the game winning shot when Stockton DIDN’T double him. That’s not luck.

    d) Playing like MJ did in his “flu game” was anything but luck. Notice a trend here?

    e) Yes, rebounding helped the Bulls win against the Pacers in 98, but you failed to mention that MJ was part of that. He grabbed 9 boards and played tenacious defense on Reggie Miller, making him a non-factor in the late stages of that game.

    Most of what you mentioned was not luck. Great players take advantage of situations that happen in the game. There has never, ever, ever been a perfect game. The best players are better at taking advantage of other team’s mistakes than other players. That’s why the best of the best all have multiple championships. Chances are, if you are that good, you’re good enough to win multiple times. The exact number of rings aren’t as important because that can vary on the level of competition, the talent and health of your team, etc. THAT’S why ring counting is foolish. Cherry picking when teams take advantage of opportunities presented to them is not luck, that’s part of what makes them great in the first place.

    Posted by tjhunt76 | June 12, 2011, 3:04 pm
    • Thanks for the read and the comments. I admit I was wrong about Pippen guarding Magic the whole series. I didn’t mean to imply that all of those other things were luck, either. Rather, I used them as examples of things that were out of Jordan’s control. He can set up Paxson to hit that shot, but he has to depend on Paxson to make it. He can’t make Malone miss those free throws even if he’s in Malone’s head, that’s up to Malone. Having the flu is beyond a player’s control, too, and MJ proved his greatness where many players would have buckled. And I don’t deny that MJ had a lot to do with that win in Indy, but he certainly was helped by the Pacers’ missed free throws, wasn’t he? Jordan was blessed with incredible talent and drive, but also by a great franchise. My goal in using MJ in this article was to show that even he couldn’t do everything-he needed help. That is not meant to denigrate him one bit-in my mind he’s the GOAT, and his consistent excellence at the end of close games, or cherry picking as you call it, is a big reason why.

      Great players take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. MJ never had the opportunity to play for a championship until 1991 largely because his team was not championship-caliber. If he had played with stiffs like Smush Parker and Kwame Brown his whole career he’d probably never have won a championship. Likewise, if he was kicking out the ball to Donyell Marshall and Mo Williams instead of Kerr and Paxson, he’d have been less successful. If he’d been meeting teams with 5 Hall of Famers in the finals, he certainly wouldn’t have seemed as dominant. Would that have lessened him as a player? Not in my book, and that’s why I feel ring counting is foolish.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 13, 2011, 1:41 am
      • I think we mostly agree here. One thing I would like to point out is that Jordan had such a will to win that it permeated through the whole organization. Stacy King mentioned this in an interview with Colin Cowherd yesterday. Everyone wants to win, but when the best player would rather die than win, it affects the other players. By reference to this, it makes his teammates better players. This is different than the style Magic Johnson and Larry Bird used, but it still worked.

        For example, as a Bulls fan I loved watching BJ Armstrong. I found him to be the most likable Bull and more importantly to me, I played like him when I was younger. But who is BJ Armstrong without Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen there? Is he THAT much better than Smush Parker, if at all?

        People like to point out that the Bulls won 55 games without Jordan as some sort of indictment of him. What they fail to realize is that

        a) Jordan played a large part in Pippen’s maturation into a superstar player. Jordan pushed him in practice and worked with him afterwords. Phil Jackson mentioned this. Scottie admits it and so does a number of their teammates during that time. I didn’t say Jordan “made” Pippen, but he did play a large part in helping him understand the finer aspects of the pro game, helped him understand how to most efficiently use his athletic gifts, made him mentally stronger and turned him into a ruthless competitor. Anyone paying attention can see a different Scottie forming through the years from being inconsistent enough not to start to be specifically targeted by the Pistons and Knicks to eventually being as mentally tough and smart a player as anyone in the league. The Pippen that led that 55 win Bulls in 94 does not exist without Jordan.

        b) The 94 Bulls were 3 time champions and had the experience to go with it. Guess who played a large part in that? No other team lost their best player during the team’s prime years (remember, most of the Bulls were younger than Jordan was. Pippen and Grant were 3 years younger and entering the prime of their careers). When people use this year as a way to say, “see, Jordan ALWAYS had help!” or “Jordan couln’t do it without Pippen!” obviously didn’t see what Jordan had to work with in 88 or 89. And this gets to my larger point. Jordan didn’t whine and cry about his team like today’s superstars do (won’t name names). He didn’t want to team up with other superstars to win rings (won’t name names). He worked hard, was the best practice player on the team, competed hard every single night and quietly took his lumps from the media and fans when his severely outmanned Bulls couldn’t beat superior teams. Jordan DID have his own Smush Parker (Sam Vincent), Kwame Brown (Earl Cureton), Donyell Marshall (Brad Sellers) and Mo Williams (Sedale Threatt). He didn’t win with them, but he forced change from the inside by his impulsive need to win titles. If players weren’t good enough or mentally strong enough, they could not survive on a team with Michael Jordan. So yes, it takes an organization to win championships and Jordan wouldn’t have won anything if he had to work with those guys his whole career, but there is no way a guy like Michael Jordan would have been put in that situation anyway. Either they would have developed into players that could help the team win or they would have been shipped out. Either/or. Jordan’s need to win would have transformed Lebron’s Cleveland teams into more playoff-ready, mature and mentally strong teams. They may not have won, but they would have all been better players. You wouldn’t have seen Jordan dancing on the sidelines at every home game. The organization would have had one goal — win the title, not just regular season games. Better players that wanted to win almost as bad would have been acquired. Mo Williams would have been this generation’s BJ Armstrong and would have knocked down a few big shots in his career. They would have been a better team.

        To finish my point. We agree that it takes more than one superstar to win, but the greats have more to do with these “other” circumstances than we realize. Over the course of a 15-year career, these guys are going to win multiple championships no matter what.

        Posted by tjhunt76 | June 14, 2011, 5:16 am
  8. Rings do matter. It is what the players play for. You can ask any player in the NBA and they will tell you that they play for championships. Not only do rings matter, but finals mvp matters as well. Statistics don’t always tell the whole story.

    The only thing that is really different is the era in which some of these players played in. No offense to Wilt or Bill or any of the older players, but the era they played in was very weak in defense when compared to today’s era.

    LeBron’s statistics in his two finals appearances:

    22.0 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 35% FGs, 20% 3Ps, 69% FTs.

    17.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 47% FGs, 32% 3Ps, 60% FTs.

    You can see why he hasn’t had success in the finals.

    Posted by James | June 13, 2011, 2:18 am
    • Lebron played against Bruce Bowen and Shawn Marion in these two finals. THose are two of the finest perimeter defenders to ever play the game. It’s not quite the same as lighting up Jerome Kersey or Terry Teagle or Byron Russell

      Posted by matt | June 13, 2011, 10:30 am
      • Kersey played for 17 seasons, and compiled a career Defensive Win Share of 63.2, which is the 43rd highest in NBA history. Yep, he was a stiff on the defensive end.

        Oh, and poor LeBron had to play against an aging Bruce Bowen and a 33-year-old Shawn Marion. Marion holds the 33rd position in career Defensive Win Share with a 53.0 mark.

        MJ would have been suffocated by Marion – gimme a break!

        Posted by Dave Sheridan | June 13, 2011, 11:19 am
        • Dave, you just said he played for 17 seasons. I understand that Shawn Marion’s Defensive Win Shares probably aren’t comparable, but neither is their time in the NBA.

          Posted by Chris | June 16, 2011, 12:37 pm
    • Ugh.
      THAT is the weakest and biggest myth perpetrated on today’s fan- “but the era they played in was very weak in defense when compared to today’s era.”- the offense is BAILED OUT by the rules in today’s NBA. It was not back then. Had the rules been what they are today back THEN, Wilt would’ve averaged a much higher PPG and teams would’ve fouled out constantly.

      Posted by TheKingLives | August 29, 2011, 1:23 pm
  9. I agree that ring counting is not the best indicator of individual greatness. How COULD it be in a team sport? I think the Finals MVP award is actually a better indicator, but as always, there are multiple things to look at.

    When it comes to assessing individual greatness and how it relates to winning it all, I’ve always found it annoying the way people say, “no one player can do it alone”, and use that as the great equalizer. Saying that both players needed help implies that both players are equal (and yet the latter is not always true). Part of the mystique of Jordan is that he was able to carry so much of the burden so as to pull off a near decade of dominance without as much help (specifically, without an all-star caliber [or better] big man) as other all time greats often had. But of course he didn’t do it alone. It’s a team sport and he had plenty of help from Scottie (a great sidekick, though he wasn’t effective enough offensively to be a superstar) and various role players. What he did do, however, is set the bar very high in terms of his individual contributions to championship runs. The Bulls may have won 55 games in the 93-94 season without Jordan by putting Scottie in MJ’s old role, but they couldn’t go all the way, and they struggled the next season until Jordan came back. Basically, without Jordan being Jordan, the winning Bulls teams likely lose to some of the other contenders in those years (for example, Jordan had to drop 55 to win the one [!] game won by the home team against Phoenix in 1993). This is why many people aren’t convinced that Jordan’s Bulls teams could beat the best Celtic or Laker teams. Because aside from the shooting guard position, those teams would have the advantage in the other spots. But the added note to that is that if Jordan played like Jordan, then they might pull it off anyway (and that’s why he’s the GOAT).

    The shame is, and I say this as a Jordan fan: LeBron had a chance to pull off something similar. If he had gone to Chicago, I think Derrick Rose would’ve made a fantastic sidekick and I think he would’ve had a better chance of winning a title there than he did in Cleveland (where he just had way too little help). Playing in Miami, it’s never going to be a Jordan-like achievement for him because of Wade’s superstar ability.

    As a sidenote, I agree with TJHUNT76’s post, and I’d like to add that I think the Bulls/Pacers series should’ve never gone seven games to begin with. Reggie Miller’s oh-so-obvious two-handed shove of Jordan to get free for that three which gave the Pacers the lead in Game 4 was pretty cheap. Also, Jordan went coast to coast against Phoenix in that sixth game in like ten seconds in order to bring them within two before the Paxson shot (Phoenix had a 4 point lead near the end), and the Bull comeback against Portland was in Game 6 at Chicago (meaning that the next game would also have been in Chicago, and the road team almost never wins Game 7).

    To comment a bit on the luck factor: I think it’s more a matter of luck when things that are generally out of your out of control happen to go for or against you. In the NBA, that can be the officiating (Lakers/Kings Game 6 of 2002 WCF being the most infamous example), or a player getting injured/suspended (the most recent example being the injury Perkins in last year’s finals).

    Posted by Jose | June 13, 2011, 2:58 am
    • I certainly didn’t mean to assert that because two players need help they are somehow equals. Jordan couldn’t do it alone, but still did it better than anyone else who’s ever played the game. Jordan could have won titles with a lot of teams, it just happens that with the 1980s Bulls the situation wasn’t right. I don’t think this denigrates him in any way. It’s merely a statement that he, too, falls short of perfection.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 13, 2011, 8:19 pm
    • I have to say I don’t see how this is vaild. D Rose is already one of the best point guards in the game. Hes a monster player, he can carry a team already. Hes only going to get better till he hits the wall of what he is capable of. He in my mind is already a superstar. Hes won an MVP(which Wade hasn’t done). I fail to see how he is any less of a superstar then Wade is. And I said that as a Heat fan and a huge D-Wade fan. But you have to give Rose his due. If Lebron had gone to Chicago and Chicago won the title because of him and Rose it would still be because(like most other teams that have won) the team had 2 legit superstars.

      Posted by nightbladehunter | January 11, 2012, 9:42 am
  10. Excellent post and better comments. Two thoughts (actually three):

    Most of the Celtics Hall of Famers don’t belong there – and are in largely on the strength of Auerbach’s influence.

    That said, if Wilt was so much better than Russ, his teams would have overcame Bill’s “HOF” cast through Stilt’s dominance. Only, he didn’t dominant; rather, he regressed. I’ve watched Game 7 of the ’70 Knick/Laker war and can’t believe Wilt didn’t score 60. He had scored 45 (easily) a game or two before. By the way, when is Clyde gonna get proper respect for HIS clutch numbers?

    As for Pippen and the ’55 win team, I believe it was an anomaly, and not enough credit is given to Phil Jackson. Scottie didn’t set the world on fire that year. Is Pippen over-rated? If there were no MJ in Chicago when he was drafted, do you think he would have worked his way up to team leader and statistical dominance? Unlikely.

    Posted by bringbackmalcolm | June 13, 2011, 5:41 am
  11. ““Willpower” or “killer instinct” don’t win games, points do, and that’s what Lebron helps his team accumulate better than Kobe. It’s no surprise that with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on his team, it is Lebron that is playing for the title this year.”

    This is so funny I almost couldn’t respond. Comparing stats of players does not tell the whole story, just as the earlier part of your article describes. If Kobe’s team was better and he had a better supporting cast, where’s the merit in comparing their stats? We all know Lebron’s offense was predicated on him dominating the ball…ALL THE TIME and the Lakers ran the Triangle most of the time.

    So back to the original comment, is it a surprise that the Heat lost given Lebron’s easily apparent lack of production? What was this lack of production due to? Passively dumping the ball off to guys who barely play shouldn’t be an excuse for the “best player”, nor being upstaged by one of his teammates on the biggest stage.

    “Willpower” or “killer instinct” most certainly DO win games or we wouldn’t be witnessing Jason Terry calling out Lebron to try and stop him for 7 games and JT delivering in the biggest moments in the games that matter the most and “King” James looking more like the 5th best player on the court.

    How can a guy who scores 8 points in a Finals game when he averages 20 more be called clutch?

    Posted by J.T. | June 13, 2011, 7:26 am
    • kobe lead the league in usage percentage this year, lebron did not, it is KOBE not lebron who dominates the ball ALL THE TIME.

      Posted by samtotheg | June 13, 2011, 10:37 am
      • Here we go with the stats again. I meant in terms of handling the ball. Kobe may end up taking the shots for the Lakers, especially when they’re stagnant. This is true. Kobe jacks up a lot of shots. You can’t just say stuff that isn’t true though:

        Posted by J.T. | June 13, 2011, 11:13 am
      • Excuse me those were career stats, but still valid nonetheless. This season is a different story, but Kobe isn’t playing 2nd fiddle on his team when the pressure mounts.

        Posted by J.T. | June 13, 2011, 11:20 am
        • you mean the same kobe bryant , who gets routinely blown out , when the pressure is on, see phoenix in 06 ,boston in 08 ,and dallas of this year , the same kobe who was shaqs side kick for 3 years , tried to be the head guy in 05 and blew the series for the lakers ,the same kobe who was outplayed by gasol , last 2 years he won titles, gasol was number one on the lakers in win shares,offensive win shares,shot a higher percentage than kobe but kobe shot more cuz hes a shot jacker, pau had more rebounds and both averaged 3 assists in the finals, you must be taking about some other guy named kobe

          Posted by samtotheg | June 13, 2011, 12:27 pm
          • I must be. Sounds like you’re describing someone that hasn’t won anything at all. Routinely is more than the 3 examples you’ve listed. You can’t seem to give the guy his due. Pau had more rebounds? Really? He plays Power Forward, I believe that’s part of his job description and the “shooting” guard is the scorer. I’m guessing their difference in roles and assignments dictates the various differences in their stats, which I have a feeling affects win shares. Which came from where? A formula some really smart guy dreamed up I’m guessing. Why not use another advanced stat like PER?

            I’m sure everyone watches the games trying to figure out how many win shares they’ve earned for that outing. Just like the Mavs last night, Dirk couldn’t make anything and Jason Terry carried the scoring burden until when? The end when Dirk hit dagger after dagger. Greater basketball minds than the two of us have given Kobe credit as “the Closer”.

            It’s mighty convenient to pull out hand-picked advanced stats and specific failures out to try and discredit players when the eyeball test is all you actually need. Why not all of the advanced stats and the entire body of work? Just seems to make more sense. Great stats isn’t directly attributable to wins and everything on the court can’t be thrown into the box score. Lebron had a triple-double in Game 5 and did it really matter in the end?

            …and on the blowouts, none of that is attributed to Jackson’s coaching style? The guy rarely called momentum-stifling time outs, opting to let his teams work through it. In a game of runs, it seems like a high-risk move. Sometimes it would work for his teams, other times it wouldn’t. Just an objective observation.

            Posted by J.T. | June 13, 2011, 3:41 pm
          • “In a game of runs, it seems like a high-risk move. Sometimes it would work for his teams, other times it wouldn’t. Just an objective observation.”

            JT, I don’t think you know the meaning of the word objective. Look it up. That’s actually a subjective argument, as are most of your arguments here.

            Kobe fails my eyeball test. When I watch the Lakers play, Kobe seems like a guy who’s trying harder to be the hero than to win the game. Since your eyeball test and mine disagree, I just can’t give that type of argument any credence.

            Posted by Lochpster | June 13, 2011, 9:20 pm
  12. Love the piece overall– particularly the Wilt details about bench & dunk… you hear the high jump and running speed all the time, but those were new for me.

    That said I still largely disagree. Did people expect Wilt to win 11 titles? I don’t think so. They just expected maximum effort from him, which you (and his peers you cited to make that point) think he did not always give, whether his reason was admirable or not.

    Although the Celtics were clearly the dominant team of the era, they went an astounding 11-0 in game sevens with Russell, so it’s not like they were never tested. Also, they were tested and ocassionally beaten by non-Wilt teams too. For every Havicek steal, and Sam Jones shot, there is an opportunity for someone else to make a play; Hal Greer (HOF), Larry Costello (all-star), Jerry West (Logo, nuff said), Elgin Baylor (HOF), Stumpy Goodrich (all-star), Billy Cunningham (HOF), Nate Thurmond (HOF, perhaps the best def player of the era after Wilt and Russell). Wilt was not alone out there. Russell’s lore is that he is thought to be perhaps the greatest motivator in team sports, having “his guys” ready to run through a wall for him in game 7. I think people see Wilt like they do Shaq; fun-loving and interesting off the court, but often disinterested with the small things required to be the best he could be on it. As good as Wilt was, could he have been better with the psychological tools that writers attribute to Russell? Right or wrong, it is those intangibles to which the public attributes winning. Jordan & Bird both also have dozens of teammates on record as saying “we were terrified to disappoint him so we played with even more effort.” I don’t ever recall reading anything along those lines said about Wilt or Shaq.

    Regarding this quote, it played out according to script:
    “The next week will have a lot to do with how we think of Lebron, Dirk, Wade, Bosh, and Kidd once their careers are over, and obviously those players have a huge role in deciding who wins the series. The series will also be decided by things like Jason Terry and Mario Chalmers’ shooting, the defense of Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler, Udonis Haslem’s comeback, how Dallas copes with Brendan Haywood’s injury, and how the refs call each game. I hope that after this series is over we can judge the players on how they played rather than just labeling one team champions and the other team chokers.”

    My problem is that Mario Chalmers played very well in game 6, twice got the clear benefit of a bad call (pushing Barea’s face away), and had a very strong stat line. Miami also got what they needed from Bosh, House, and Haslem. So, they had 4 solid role player games (with Chalmers and House doing what most thought Bibby and Miller would). Chandler was in foul trouble much of the game (although he would have been moreso had the NBA not followed it’s MO and moved a couple of his fouls over to Dirk ). Dirk shot poorly. And yes, Terry was phenomenal, but the fact that his postgame interview after #3 was backed up is as much an indictment of LeBron’s defense as a tribute to Terry’s ability. How were Lebron and Wade not stopping too of the smaller scoring guards in the Association in Barea and Terry. Similarly, how was Wade not getting to the cup on Brian Cardinal on consecutive possessions? Why was LeBron jacking up a three just 5 seconds into the shotclock down 9 with 2 mins to go? Why was Wade dribbling the ball off his foot, like LeBron did in Boston to allow thta game 4 to OT? They combined for 11 turnovers, shot just better than 50% on FTs, and James wasn’t even among the 3 best rebounders on his team in a game where a few possessions made the difference. Sports are psychological and while points count the same in the first or the fourth, the clock runs out after 4.

    If anything, there should be MORE talk about how 2 of the best players in the game are the 2 parts coming up short for Miami down the stretch.

    Posted by Adam | June 13, 2011, 7:56 am
    • You make a great point about motivating other players being an often overlooked part of a great player’s resume. It’s a hard thing to quantify exactly how much a player like Russell or Jordan makes his teammates better, but there is no doubt that they do. I also don’t think Wilt going at less than 100% enhances his legacy, I think it’s one of the biggest flaws in it. I have no doubt that if you combine Russell’s drive with Wilt’s talent you have the greatest player of all time.

      As far as the part of my article you quoted, I think it is still quite valid. I meant that I wanted to avoid the knee-jerk reaction that the team who lost choked. Many players have had great series and lost, Jerry West being the most famous example. However, your assertion that Wade and James came up short is not a knee-jerk reaction. Rather, it’s a fair assessment of the way they played. And I agree with you, they both choked.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 13, 2011, 10:09 pm
      • Wade choked? He played better than anyone in that series (including Dirk) until he got injured in game 5.

        Posted by Neazy | June 17, 2011, 4:50 am
        • Didn’t mean to sound like a douche or a D Wade homer. But our memories are fragile. Dallas as a team beat Miami for the championship, but individually, Wade was the best player on the court thru the first 5 games. Unfortunately we don’t remember that, we just remember the best player on the team that won (Dirk, who had much worse numbers than D Wade).

          Just look at these stats:

          Game 1: 9/19 FG 47.4%, 22 PTS, 10 RB, 6 AST, 2 BLK

          Game 2: 13/20 FG 65%, 36 PTS, 5 RB, 6 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK

          Game 3: 12/21 FG 57.1%, 29 PTS, 11 RB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK

          Game 4: 13/20 FG 65%, 32 PTS, 6 RB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 2 BLK

          Game 5: 6/12 FG 50%, 23 PTS, 2 RB, 8 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK

          2 games with 65% shooting and 30+ points. That’s Shaq with the Lakers numbers. Game 5 was the game he was injured in (he missed 17 minutes) and he still put up 23 on 50% shooting.

          Posted by Neazy | June 17, 2011, 7:37 am
  13. Good piece. Rings are vastly overrated when they are all accepted as equal and not remembered for their context.

    If you play on the most talented team of the era and there are no other teams truly even close to your level, then you better win the rings.

    Russell with the most loaded team ever, should have won every year. Wilt and Oscar, playing against them, should not have been expected to. And they should not be penalized for it.

    Jordan’s Bulls should have won every year when he was there (after the Showtime Lakers and Bad Boy pistons broke down and fell apart). There were no other good teams – heck, the Bulls were still nearly the best team when he left to play baseball.

    Posted by matt | June 13, 2011, 10:27 am
  14. kobe bryant is what bruce lee does to the bad guys with his legs in his movies.

    Posted by samtotheg | June 13, 2011, 12:37 pm
  15. Wilt had an advantage because he was 3 to 4 inches taller and at least 50 pounds heavier depending on the stage of their careers. Don’t forget Russell was the PLAYER COACH in 67,68 and 69 and the C’s won the NBA championship in 68 and 69. The Celtics were said to be over the hill in the 68-69 season finishing just 48 and 34 in the regular season in 4th place in the east but they still beat L.A. that had Chamberlain,West and Baylor on that team.
    Russell was also the center on the USF team that won the national championship in both his junior and senior seasons and 56 straight games in those seasons. Russell was the greatest winner that can’t be disputed. That’s why the NBA finals MVP award is now called the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.

    Posted by Geo | June 13, 2011, 2:45 pm
  16. Jt, pau was ahead in the player efficiency rating as well , I just forgot to post it, and kobe has been discredited by nba realist as the closer, thats a myth thats been debunked, and yeah im aware pau would grab more rebounds than ko me bryant, that points out taht big men, are more important to winning than a perimeter player,a perimeter player at least kobe is a one trick pony, his Modus operandi is shoot alot and HOPE he is HOT, while pau does alot more score get rebounds blocks, protect the paint ,and wow now you are going to say the blowouts where phil jacksons fault, I dont remember shaq or jordan or even scottie getting blown out in elimnations games, that stuff started happening with KOBE bryant , its more attributed to HIM ,not PHIL ,wow you kobe tards wanna blame lebron for EVERYTHING and blame kobe for NOTHING, I guess its spoelstras fault lebron didnt win last nite, he didnt run the right plays for lebron , his offense was bad.

    Posted by samtotheg | June 13, 2011, 7:45 pm
  17. Great article. It is amazing how bias statistics can be, if you look at MJ’s Finals Stats, it seems like he is heads above Kobe and LeBron. Fortunately for us Kobe and MJ made it to the finals around the same time of their careers. Kobe’s last 3 finals appearance came in his 11th, 12th,and 13th seasons. While MJ’s came in his 10th, 11th and 12th seasons. The stats in their last three finals are a bit more similar.
    28.6 ppg 6.2 rpg 5.1 apg 42.2 FG%
    31.0 ppg 5.4 rpg 4.2 apg 43.3 FG%
    Those numbers are a little closer. See how even an amateur can do what you guys do with about 5 minutes of research.
    P.S Maybe Kobe is better than me…
    Thanks for the support Lobpster.
    Sincerely LBJ

    Posted by king james | June 13, 2011, 7:52 pm
    • Is there any particular reason why we should choose to ignore previous finals for both the players?

      Statistics can be bias if you’re being selective about it.

      Posted by Doosiolek | June 14, 2011, 6:05 am
  18. I’m working on an article about the biggest jobbings in MVP voting in the last 25 yrs. Although not in the last 25 yrs, I’ll definitely be linking to this article. Great read!

    Posted by Charles Vanegas | June 13, 2011, 8:08 pm
  19. Completely agree with the article, though I think the Mavs this year are a point in support rather than an exception.

    Looking at Dirks finals performances, he was not that great. The 4th quarter stats are legendary, 45-46 from the line is spectacular, but his field goal percentage wasn’t great – Wade actually made 3 more points than him with less attempts. Even more telling: Dirks best match in the finals was game 3, at 34 points and 52% FG% plus 11 rebounds and 3 blocks (!) – and the Mavs lost. On his off nights in games 4 and 6, the Mavs won despite Dirk missing a lot of open shots. Not that he was bad, but he definitely did not win this singlehandedly.

    I think calling the role players average doesn’t really cut it. None of them is an all-star, and without Dirk as the focal point (for the oppositions D as much or more than their own game) they are pretty much screwed, but they all are above average at what they do, and they fit extremely well together.

    Posted by Cirdan | June 14, 2011, 12:17 am
    • Thanks for the read, and you make some good points. Dallas certainly had a number of very good role players who played extremely well in the playoffs, and Dirk certainly couldn’t have won this title without them. That said, they were so reliant on Dirk that they won about 76% of their games with him during the regular season and playoffs while winning only 22% of them when he was out. Additionally, when you look at the other teams that have won championships over the past 30 years, the only teams that weren’t stacked with Hall of Famers and All-Stars were the 2004 Pistons and the 1994 Rockets. Teams like the Heat, the Thunder, the Lakers, and the Celtics looked a lot more like the type of rosters you’d find on a title team than the Mavericks’ roster did.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 15, 2011, 8:54 pm
  20. Lochpster, after looking up objectivity, I have to admit I used that word incorrectly. My overall point which seems to be missed is that one can’t simply pull out a small sample of games, compare them to someone else’s or find a common thread between that small sample and say “Hey! This is who this player is” Successes and failures have to be all taken into account. Have Kobe’s successes been attributed to better supporting players and coaching? There is absolutely no doubt about that. Has Lebron over the course of his career been more efficient? Yes. Will he go down as a better player historically? He certainly has a great opportunity to. I don’t even argue the fact that Kobe likes to be the hero, because I believe that’s his perceived role on the team, to bail the team out when it needs an offensive push. There’s no arguing that those offensive lulls occur and Kobe breaks the offense to attempt to ignite a spark. This is what Kobe does.

    I’m the first to admit that I rarely watched Cleveland Cavs games in the past or Heat games this regular season, but I’ve watched these playoffs rather religiously and I’ve seen Lebron play at an extremely high level one game and for some unexplained reason play far below that the next. The man can be the most dominant player in the league one moment and for some unexplained reason relegates himself to a role player the next. My observation is that Lebron doesn’t want to be the hero of his team, which seems awfully strange for a guy that has the talent and ability that he possesses. A measure of NBA greatness is certainly not shirking in the NBA Finals and letting No. 2 take the lead.

    Posted by J.T. | June 14, 2011, 10:18 am
    • JT, this post makes a lot more sense than your last few. I admit it’s not fair to compare Lebron and Kobe’s 2010 playoffs performances and decide that Lebron’s the better player, careerwise, on that. My point in comparing those specific series was to demonstrate that there’s more to who wins a series than how the best player plays, and I think those stats do demonstrate that point. Lebron, in that series, was much better than Kobe in his, yet Lebron was the one branded a huge choker and Kobe took home the Finals MVP.

      As for what happened to Lebron, we’re all struggling to understand that, but it certainly was a significant blow to his legacy.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 15, 2011, 9:02 pm
  21. great article. Jordan had no business being in the Finals in ’98. indiana was screwed royally. And to add, Rodman averaged 15 rpg off Jordan’s 41% shooting against the Sonics in ’96. Jordan had good temmates even before Pip. He had HOFers Gilmore and Gervin, along with Oakley and Woolridge. Keep spreading the knowledge. No matter how much the media needs to validate their opinions with empty memory-lapsing superlatives, the intelligent NBA analysis comes from writers like you.

    Posted by daff | June 14, 2011, 11:34 am
    • George Gervin (age 33) played with the Bulls in 1986 (the year MJ broke his foot and played 18 games). He played a total of 11 minutes in 2 of the 3 playoff games vs Boston averaging 0ppg .5apg .5rpg committing 2 turnovers and 3 fouls. MJ on the other hand averaged 43.7ppg 6.3rpg 5.7apg on 50%fg.

      Artis Gilmore (age 38) played with the Bulls in 1988 – He played 24 games and averaged 4.2ppg 2.6rpg .4apg .2spg .4bpg.

      Orlando Woolridge played 2 years with the Bulls (85,86). I was unaware Orlando Woolridge was in the HOF; a shame since the Bulls traded him for 3 second round draft picks.

      He played with Charles Oakley for 3 years (86,87,88)who was a great rebounder – but MJ shot 50% with Oakley as a teammate. Oakley was ultimately traded for Bill Cartwright while the Bulls kept the younger – and much better offensively player – Horace Grant.

      “memory-lapsing”, indeed. What you did would is akin to saying the 1997 Bulls only won the title because of HOFer Robert Parish.

      Posted by Adam | June 14, 2011, 2:40 pm
  22. Jordan is the all-time career leader in points per game avg edging out Wilt. Maybe the bio meant when he retired he was the leader.

    Posted by Shaz | June 14, 2011, 1:15 pm
  23. Why does everyone state that the Bulls lost to the Knicks in the ECF without Jordan, in an attempt to make that team seem great without him? They actually lost 4-2 in the Eastern Semis. It was Pacers-Knicks in the ECF that year.

    Posted by Peter | June 15, 2011, 9:23 pm
    • I’m happy to admit I’m wrong. I made a few honest mistakes in the article. But trust me, I’m not part of an anti-Jordan conspiracy, and I certainly don’t care enough about the 1994 Bulls to make up lies about them. Next time, try it with a little less whine.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 15, 2011, 10:04 pm
      • You weren’t totally wrong, though. The Bulls did go to game seven that year against the Knicks. It was the first of three straight series the Knicks would stretch to seven that year, doing it again against Indiana and Houston.

        Posted by Mike | June 22, 2011, 4:12 am
  24. i think greatness sbould be determined by rings and we should crown bobby bigshot as thd greatest player of our era.

    Posted by alex | June 16, 2011, 6:04 am
  25. I think when people say that stats don’t matter/ are everything, they are just being a bit extreme. The truth is, stats matter but only in context. Just like the sentence “Give me your money or I’ll kill you”. It could be seen in different ways depending on the context. If some shadowy stranger steps out of an all and says “Give me your money or I’ll kill you” that is definitely a situation where the threat is real. If your wife wants to go shopping and is asking for money and says ‘Hand over the money or I’ll kill you”….well it’s not quite the same. You laugh it off while she chases you around the house. A person watching would be able to see the difference but A Stat geek would look at both statements on a piece of paper and say that they say/mean the same thing and have the same implications. But that would be very far from the truth.

    Take Player A and Player B

    Player A

    23 PPG
    7 Reb
    7 Asts

    Player B

    18 PPG
    6.6 Reb
    4 Asts

    Which player would you rather have? The obvious answer seems to be player A until I tell you that Player A is playing in your local rec league and Player B is in the NBA. An extreme example obviously but I’m sure you get my drift. There are variables.

    Let’s say that Player A is the man on his team with no good big men while Player B plays with Dwight Howard or some other great rebounder. Doesn’t that make 6.3 rebounds a game a bit more impressive than the 7 that player A is putting up?

    What if Player A is “the man” on his team and Player B plays for the Miami Heat, but he’s not one of the big 3. Doesn’t that make 18 ppg more impressive than it was on first glance? “Wow he’s still getting points even on that team of superstars!” If Pau Gasol were to averaged 15 rebounds a game next year and Kevin Love does as well, isn’t Pau’s a bit more impressive because he competes for rebounds with Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum everynight? But if you just went to and ranked players by rebounds per game, you wouldn’t know that. Even TRb% might not tell the whole story….who knows? You You can’t just look at stats and say, “He’s better” definitively. Everything has to be taken into context. And to do that, you must watch the games. Not just the box scores.

    Posted by Chris Houston | June 16, 2011, 12:55 pm
    • I agree, stats need to be taken in context as well as wins. Chris Bosh is a great example-he was 4th in PER last year largely because he played for a team with lots of shooters, little in the way of defense, and nobody else who demanded the ball. Kevin Love, likewise, was 4th in PER this year largely because there weren’t other players on his team to accumulate stats. Not many people think either is a top 10 player. Yet I still tend to favor individual stats over team wins when judging the value of an individual player, because I feel like they’re a more objective measurement of what that player produces.

      Posted by Lochpster | June 17, 2011, 12:02 am
  26. Intangibles are one thing, but “unrecordeds” are another. If blocked shots had been tracked when Russell played, he would have led the NBA for virtually ever year he played, and would remain the all-time leader.
    Comparing the game as is it is today with how it was played in the ’50s and ’60s is like comparing Willie Mays to Lou Gehrig — or Edgar Martinez. Yes, I know they played different positions; that’s part of my point. If Mays had played in a ballpark that didn’t have winds from the SF Bay blowing in from left field, how many more HRs per season do you think he’d have hit? And how do you rate a center fielder that often had to cover LF and RF as well to make up for what the players at those positions lacked. How many more seasons and how many more HRs (Lou Gehrig’s Disease notwithstanding) do you think May, Gehrig, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle (w/out the need for steroids) would have had lifetime if they’d had Martinez’s advantage of the DH in their day?
    Why am I talking about baseball? Because it’s a different game today, the same as basketball. If Shaq had had to play in Russell’s era, when he’d have fouled out in the first quarter for wrestling on a basketball court, assuming he’d eventually learn that in that time it was more a game of finesse, Russell would have beat the pants off of him. (If he could block Wilt’s dunks — and I saw him do it many times — he sure could have blocked Shaq’s.) Also, your list of lucky breaks that resulted in Russell winning rings for other players’ talent don’t take into account who got the Celts into the playoffs year after year, who was the heart and soul of the team — even more so in the playoffs. Look up the Russell’s stats for the ’61-62 playoffs. In 14 playoff games, he AVERAGED 48 minutes per game. Who today could do that? Incidentally, he also averaged 22.4 points and 26.4 rebounds.
    The game that Kobie and Jordan and LeBron play today was radically different that basketball in the ’50s and ’60s. How many 3-pt. shots do you suppose Jerry West and Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson would have made had they been keeping track back then? And how many MORE would they have made had they stepped back and shot from just a little bit farther for that 1 extra point? Comparing their scoring stats (total or average) to today’s players means zip.
    You’ve generated a lot of comments, so it’s obvious you’ve got a future as a writer (or I should say “blogger” — huge difference), but you should learn things about the game’s history that numbers alone can’t tell you.

    Posted by Weatherford | June 17, 2011, 3:34 pm
  27. “Intangibles are one thing, but “unrecordeds” are another. If blocked shots had been tracked when Russell played, he would have led the NBA for virtually ever year he played, and would remain the all-time leader.”

    You have no evidence to support that assertion. Wilt’s known to have blocked over 20 shots in a game multiple times and is believed to have averaged over 10 blocks per game by statistician Harvey Pollack, as I mentioned in my article. Many believe that if blocks had been recorded earlier, Wilt would be the all time leader in that category, as he is in so many others.

    “Comparing the game as is it is today with how it was played in the ’50s and ’60s is like comparing Willie Mays to Lou Gehrig — or Edgar Martinez.”

    That’s why I didn’t compare players across eras. In my article the only players I actually compared to each other were Wilt-Russell and Kobe-Lebron.

    “your list of lucky breaks that resulted in Russell winning rings for other players’ talent don’t take into account who got the Celts into the playoffs year after year, who was the heart and soul of the team — even more so in the playoffs.”

    Russell’s a guy who won a few MVPs when he was named to the 2nd All-NBA team. The reasoning-other players were better individual players, but Russell was the engine that drove the best team in the league. You’ll brook no argument from me on that point-he was clearly the most important player on the Celtics. However, this article is evaluating individual greatness, not team greatness.

    “Look up the Russell’s stats for the ’61-62 playoffs. In 14 playoff games, he AVERAGED 48 minutes per game. Who today could do that?.”

    Nobody could do that today. Wilt averaged 48 minutes per game in that playoffs as well, though, so I’m not sure what your point is. Just that the game changed?

    “he also averaged 22.4 points and 26.4 rebounds” which is very impressive. Wilt averaged 35 points and 26.6 rebounds while scoring much more efficiently than Russell. Stop using stats when comparing these two. It will only make you look foolish.

    “The game that Kobie and Jordan and LeBron play today was radically different that basketball in the ’50s and ’60s.”

    Agree. Why do you think I only compared players head to head from the same era? There’s no good way to compare Kobe to Wilt, it’s largely subjective, so I didn’t try.

    “Comparing their scoring stats (total or average) to today’s players means zip.”
    Stats are meaningless, but the Celtics’ 1962 title, when they had 7 Hall of Famers on their roster and there were only 9 teams in the league, is supposed to be relevant today? Come on man, you have to at least be consistent. If the stats from that long ago mean zip, titles in a league 1/4 the size of today’s on a team stacked with Hall of Famers can’t mean much either.

    “You’ve generated a lot of comments, so it’s obvious you’ve got a future as a writer (or I should say “blogger” — huge difference), but you should learn things about the game’s history that numbers alone can’t tell you.”

    You’re very snide and condescending. If you had read my article you’d notice I did talk about things other than stats-particularly teammates, opponents, and even a little bit of in-game analysis. And since you don’t believe in numbers, you would be wise to remember that the number of titles a team won is nothing more than a number, or statistic, as well.

    Russell’s a fantastic player player. On individual stats alone he doesn’t crack the top 50 players ever, but he’s still clearly a pantheon guy by just about any analysis. He was a tenacious defender and rebounder, and he was in many ways revolutionary to the game. That said, how many bonus points does this guy get for being on stacked title teams? Lots, obviously, because he is the player whose historical legacy is most out of line with his production. Are his intangibles enough to elevate him over a guy who beats him by basically any objective measurement of individual performance that we can devise? Not to me.

    Posted by Lochpster | June 18, 2011, 10:36 am
  28. So, for all the ring counters out there, does this mean Robert Horry was a better power forward than Tim Duncan? He has more rings than him. Or does this simply mean he has been on better teams at the right times? If someone decades from now goes back and decides rings are the only way to measure a player’s greatness, the Big Shot Rob is the man, and even guys like Jordan would be beneath him. Rings are great, but are not the end all be all stat to determine a player’s greatness.

    Posted by Mike | June 22, 2011, 4:01 am
  29. There is a lot of luck in the way things fall in the NBA. Kobe gets drafted by Charlotte and immediately joins Shaq in LA where he can immediately win and be successful especially when Phil takes over. A similar situation would’ve been Lebron or Wade being drafted and immediately being dealt to San Antonio to join Tim Duncan for a 6 year stretch in Duncan’s prime. Things would’ve turned out differently over the past few years had that happened I think. John Wall was a better Ky point guard than Rondo but Rondo gets to play with 3 hall of famers and Wall gets to be in the mess in Washington. Who’s career will be better there? So yes, lots of luck involved but its nothing to attack anyone on, what should’ve happened did happen and you go from there and see what happens

    Posted by David | July 20, 2011, 10:21 am
  30. I think you bring up good points about Russell’s celtic teammates being great but how much of that was attributed to Russell filling the exact role he needed to fill. The Celtics never won titles before Russell got there and you didn’t mention that Russell had just finished winning a gold medal and 2 NCAA titles at San Francisco University, a school so steeped in basketball tradition that they didn’t even have a basketball gym when Russell got there. You also didn’t mention that Russell won those titles with 2 different sets of teammates first with Cousy, Sharman and Heinsohn and others, the second batch with the Jones’ Havlicek and others. The common thread was Russell. You can’t discount someone who went 10-0 in game 7s and say it was luck. There are a lot of what ifs in basketball history but when you look at Russell’s last 2 seasons in college and his NBA career those 15 seasons look like this:

    2 NCAA titles at San Francisco
    1 USA Gold MEDAL
    11 NBA Championships losing one to Bob Pettit’s St. Louis Hawks when he was hurt or it could’ve been 12/13 instead of 11/13

    And I repeat 10-0 in game 7s the best of which for him he pulled 30 point and 40 rebounds. 40 rebounds in game 7 for someone who is 6’9 playing center. There is no luck involved here and his teammates have him to thank for their rings, not the other way around

    Posted by David | July 20, 2011, 10:31 am
  31. And to say Russell’s stats don’t make him a top 50 player??? He played 7 fewer seasons than Kareem Abdul Jabbar and outrebounded him by 4200 rebounds. That along with being the best defensive player ever as noted by his peers put him in the top 10 of any list of individual players. Scoring isn’t everything. The best individual players to play basketball are Oscar, Wilt, Kobe, Jordan, Lebron, Wade, Kareem, Olajuwon, Malone meaning that they can score, pass/rebound, and play defense with no visible weaknesses to their game. However it is a 5 on 5 game so the other list of people who have shown to be the best players on a 5 on 5 game have 4 other faces to that list: Bird, Magic, Russell, and Duncan. Not freak athletes or scorers but made everyone around them better and could do anything to help their team win, could be the best player on the floor without scoring. To me, that is invaluable.

    Posted by David | July 20, 2011, 10:43 am
    • Thanks for the read, David. I stand by the fact that Russell, based on statistics alone, isn’t a top 50 player. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s not a top 10 all time player-he clearly is. His intangibles were through the roof, he changed the game with his defense, and he was consistently most important player on the team that stayed dominant for the longest stretch in NBA history.

      However, his PER is 97th all time during the season and 58th during the postseason. Furthermore, his rebounding numbers, which are his main statistical claim to fame, are ridiculously inflated by the era in which he played. As the following link aptly demonstrates, Dennis Rodman is actually a far superior rebounder to anyone else who’s ever played the game even though he never averaged close to what Russell or Wilt did. It’s hard for me to imagine that his blocks and steals would have made up for the normalization of his rebounds if he played in a different era.

      In fact, I think Rodman’s the closest modern-day comparison for a Russell. Fantastic rebounder, shut-down defender, keenly attuned to the psychological aspects of the game, a key cog on multiple championship teams, and an extremely limited offensive player who couldn’t create his own shot and was inefficient with the opportunities he did have. Does that lack of offensive prowess mean either one wasn’t incredibly valuable? Absolutely not. Guys who dominate the boards and play shut-down defense are way more rare and valuable than scorers. I think we agree on that point. Rodman won 5 titles and came close numerous other times. However, he, like Russell, was reliant on teammates to carry the load on offense. It’s great to be able to be the best player on the floor without scoring. However, it’s much more valuable to be able to do that while also being able to carry the offense, if necessary.

      Also, in the previous two posts, you state that there’s a lot of luck in the way things fall in the NBA, yet you completely contradict yourself saying there’s no luck involved in Russell’s championships while pointing out the one time Russell actually got unlucky. Your consistency on this point is lacking, to say the least. I agree that it’s incredibly tough to stay on top and Russell did it better than anyone, but it clearly takes a lot of good fortune, too. 10-0 is very impressive, but the sample size is small and, at least when playing against Wilt, things tended to break Russell’s way toward the end of those close games largely due to factors outside of either one’s control. That’s why I loathe using team wins to evaluate one player against another-there are way too many confounding variables.

      Posted by Lochpster | July 20, 2011, 7:26 pm
  32. It’s Jordan’s fault that we even like Kobe or Lebron. It is not good basketball watching them dribble the ball into the ground for 18 seconds and then making a move that they score on at a 40% clip. Basketball before Jordan was about team and efficiency but he dominated individually and won like nobody ever. 0 dynasties were ever led by a soring guard/forward and 0 dynasties were ever led by a scoring champion, Jordan won 10 scoring titles without ever having a dominant big guy. Kobe has had arguably the best post player offensively in the league for all 5 of his title winning teams. And for all his scoring exploits he’s a career 25ppg scorer and has 2 scoring titles compared to Jordan’s 30 ppg and 10 scoring titles. Nobody had ever done what Jordan did and nobody has done it since. What we should be focusing on are teams that play correctly like the Mavs and Celtics that move the ball, play defense, and want to win above all else

    Posted by David | July 20, 2011, 10:48 am
  33. I saw some guy trying to compare 3 of Kobe’s series in the playoffs to 3 of Jordans series. The whole body of work tells a different story: Jordan’s average went up from 30ppg to 33.4 ppg in the playoffs for his career while Kobe’s stayed the same at 25. Jordan also has outrebounded him and had higher assist and fg% numbers. Jordan also is at 6-0 in the finals while Kobe is 5-2. For all of you who say the 90s sucked, I agree compared to the 80s it did when the Lakers, Celtics, 76ers, and Pistons were dominating but compared to when Shaq and Kobe won 3 titles, I say they underachieved. The East from when Jordan retired to when Detroit won in 04 was the weakest its ever been. The best teams: Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, Kenyon Martin’s nets and Iverson/Mutombo/Eric Snow’s sxirs, oh and the ever present Vince Carter’s raptors. Going up against 2 of the top 12 players ever, the best coach ever, and Horry maybe the best role player ever shouldn’t have been that hard for them but they managed to to win 3 titles from 96 to 02?

    Posted by David | July 20, 2011, 10:58 am
  34. The only team that Kobe’s Lakers beat in the finals that could’ve beaten any of the team’s Jordan played in the finals were the 10 Celtics and even then it took a game 7 at home with Perkins hurt, and Artest pulling himself together to score 20 on a stage that big to pull it out. Talk about your lucky scenarios all to cover Kobe the hero’s 6 for 24 shooting night in the biggest game of his life.

    Posted by David | July 20, 2011, 11:03 am
  35. One thing stats don’t measure is that from the time he was 14 being cut from the high school team, Jordan lived off of other people’s doubts, challenges, and people telling him YOU CAN”T DO THAT. He would then prove you wrong. In today’s insane media age, if he were playing in his prime and these idiot sportswriters/bloggers dared to compare anyone to him as an equal, he would make it his life’s work to destroy them. Go ask Clyde Drexler about that one. Nobody had the will and the drive to embarass you like Jordan. Thats the weird part about Kobe fans. Kobe has drive too, Kobe plays both ends well too, Kobe wins too. All of the things Kobe does that they love, Jordan was the orgininal and did them all better

    Posted by David | July 20, 2011, 11:11 am
    • He would not have been able to destroy Kobe.

      Posted by Gil Meriken | July 20, 2011, 4:10 pm
      • You gotta come up with a better defense than that, Gil. Jordan was better than Kobe at every phase of the game, he eviscerated every player he ever went up against during his prime, he was the undisputed best player in the game for almost a decade, and he’s generally considered to be the GOAT. Kobe is great, but he has never been transcendent the way Jordan was. It’s really a stretch to say MJ wouldn’t beat the snot out of him if the two of them went head to head in their primes.

        All the stats point to Jordan. Jordan’s won more titles, and the court of public opinion holds Jordan to be better. In what way could Kobe hang with Jordan? The burden of proof rests with you, my friend.

        Posted by Lochpster | July 20, 2011, 7:41 pm
        • What is proof? How can there be a burden of proof, if there is none to be found? Statistical evidence? These aren’t clinical trials. The variables are too enormous to ignore. Titles? Court of public opinion?

          Kobe could hang with Jordan in offensive skill set and defensive prowess.

          I think it’s more of stretch to believe that Jordan would “beat the snot” of Kobe head to head. The talent and performance gap is not that large. It would be more realistic to say that Jordan would be the favorite, but not by any large amount.

          The only way to settle this would be if you had a time machine to send Kobe in his prime back to play against Jordan.

          Posted by Gil Meriken | July 28, 2011, 10:57 am
          • The measure of Jordan to Kobe is, to mind, three fold:

            1) Efficiency. Jordan has higher FG%, more career RPG and more APG.

            2) Black Ink. Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times while playing on a championship caliber team. Jordan also led the league in steals twice.

            3) Award Shares. Jordan was 5 time MVP and a 6 time Finals MVP (6 for 6). Jordan was a 9 time first team all defender and won a Defensive Player of the Year award. thus, we can conclude that Jordan was regarded as the BEST player on the BEST team at least 6 times.

            Kobe Bryant is a talented player and certainly has a skill set SIMILAR to Jordan’s (and others), but there is a clear difference between the two. In every measurable way, Jordan comes out on top.

            Kobe had lower numbers in nearly everything:
            Kobe: .454 fg% .339 3pt% .837 FT%
            25.3 ppg 5.3 rpb 4.7 apg 1.5 spg 0.5 bpg and 2.9 TOpg

            Jordan: .497 fg% .327 3pt% .835 FT% 30.1 ppg 6.2 rpg and 5.3 apg 2.3 spg, 0.8 bpg and 2.7 TOpg.

            Kobe has .002% higher FT% and .006% advantage in 3 pt%; Jordan is better in EVERYTHING ELSE.

            Playoffs, Jordan is again better.

            Kobe: 25.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg and 4.8 apg .448 fg% .335 3pt% .815 ft%

            Jordan: 33.4 ppg 6.4 rpg and 5.7 apg. .487 fg% .332 3pt% .828 FT%

            Kobe has only a .003% advantage in 3pt%.

            Kobe led the league in PPG twice and in neither year did his team get past the first round of the playoffs.

            Kobe has only 1 MVP award and 2 Finals MVPs (out of 6 tries). Kobe has 9 first team all defense, yet has never won the DPOTY.

            In what possible way is Kobe better than Jordan or even comparable to Jordan?

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 11:35 am
          • If those are your measures, I obviously cannot win that game.

            My viewpoint is one of talent evaluation. You think this is borne out in the individual statistics. I do not. I think the an individual’s impact can be gleaned from the manner in which he impacts his team’s success or failure. This can only be done through careful observation and understanding of the game.

            I am not saying you don’t possess these, but your measures do not account for any of that. You are only looking at individually allocated components that are created as a collective. The fact that they are generated as a group make the individual statistics almost meaningless, especially when you start using them to compare players. Of course, you can use them separate a scrub from a star, but to make meaningful differences between stars? You have to do a subjective talent and skills evaluation.

            Awards should not be regarded highly at all, especially when a very good player like Steve Nash can win consecutive MVP awards.

            Posted by Gil Meriken | July 28, 2011, 2:21 pm
          • what are you talking about?

            “talent evaluation”?

            How, exactly would you evaluate “talent” other than what the results were from playing the friggin’ game?!!

            Awards are not meaningless; they provide a starting point of measurement. Who did the people at the time consider the top players and why? The people that vote on these things OBSERVE the games and I would bet certainly UNDERSTAND that game.

            How does a players ability NOT reflect in the numerical measurements used to gauge production? Whatt other method would you use?

            How is a players team performance NOT relevant? What would be your arguments that a players ability does not reflect on his team’s performance?

            The point of the game is to win.. Games are won by scoring more point than you allow.

            In what way can you determine that Bryat had the ability to score more or allow less?

            If Bryant had greater ability than his numbers, team performance or accolades represent;

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 2:41 pm
          • what are you talking about?

            “talent evaluation”?

            How, exactly would you evaluate “talent” other than what the results were from playing the friggin’ game?!!

            Awards are not meaningless; they provide a starting point of measurement. Who did the people at the time consider the top players and why? The people that vote on these things OBSERVE the games and I would bet certainly UNDERSTAND that game.

            How does a players ability NOT reflect in the numerical measurements used to gauge production? Whatt other method would you use?

            How is a players team performance NOT relevant? What would be your arguments that a players ability does not reflect on his team’s performance?

            The point of the game is to win.. Games are won by scoring more point than you allow.

            In what way can you determine that Bryant had the ability to score more or allow less?

            If Bryant had greater ability than his numbers, team performance or accolades represent; WHY DIDN’T HE SHOW THESE ABILITIES??

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 2:42 pm
          • And why a SUBJECTIVE talent and skills evaluation? Subject to what? A system of measurement? You claim that stats are meaningless when it comes to talent evaluation, yet what would offer, then as examples of your subjective analysis?

            Height? Weight? Wingspan? Endurance? Ability to dunk with a blindfold or a cape? What would you possibly use to measure a players value other than the players production, his team’s production and audience reaction to that production level?

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 3:49 pm
          • I question your reading comprehension abilities.

            At no point did I say that team performance was irrelevant. I did say that the individual statistics that are compiled (points, rebound, assists, etc) are near meaningless when comparing great players. In fact, the team’s performance is huge, although the degree of the players’ contribution is hotly debated.

            Consider that Kobe played alongside Shaq and they won three titles in a row. Consider also that Kobe played alongside Pau Gasol, a player more commonly considered like a Chris Bosh, before joining the Lakers, and won two titles in a row. Consider that Jordan played alongside Pippen for all six titles, and had a playoff record of 2-9 without Pippen. He also played with the greatest rebounder to every play the game in Dennis Rodman.

            All this needs to be considered, and individual statistics (at least, the ones they keep – nothing wrong with statistics as long as they aren’t today’s individual basketball statistics, which are pretty much a nonsensical considering how they are generated)and awards are the least accurate measures.

            Sportswriters vote on the MVP award. I do not consider them to be anything close to expert-like as a group.

            Posted by Gil Meriken | July 28, 2011, 4:51 pm
          • I question your reasoning skills.

            I have already considered that Kobe played with Shaq and Gasol. I have already considered that Jordan played with Pippen (and Pippen played with Jordan!) and Rodman. I have also considered that Jordan’s teams never missed the playoffs. Kobe has and also had tow first round exits. I have also considered that Kobe’s teams have a winning % over .700 in the regular season and that Jordan’s teams are .656 and that Jordan’s playoff record is also .650+.

            What I am not getting from your erudition is when you summarily dismiss all methods of statistical measurement as “nonsensical” in their generation, yet offer no alternative.

            True that sportswriters vote on awards (at least for MVP), and you don’t consider them experts; yet are you the expert? What are your credentials?

            I can acknowledge that many talking heads are short on wisdom and research and long on conjecture and rhetoric, yet what makes your opinion more valuable and better informed?

            What method, then if not the stats should we use? How id you arrive at this?
            Do you have any published works that we can read for further illumination on the relative uselessness of traditional statistics that can help provide the superior understand that you appear to have.

            I am eager to criticize many sportswriters for their bias and lack of objectivity, but I would hardly dismiss the body of their work nor ignore their experiences. What makes your conclusions superior to one that covers the team or league regularly?

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 5:32 pm
          • Gil, not only is Michael Jordan a better player than Kobe Bryant, but so is Joe Johnson.

            Johnson is, after all, a bonafide star. And by careful observation of the game, I have figured out that Johnson is a more effective player than Kobe Bryant. He just does more to help his team win. Any trained observer of the game should come to the same conclusion if they watch enough game tape.

            Prove me wrong. Remember your rules, so stats and awards are meaningless.

            Posted by Lochpster | July 28, 2011, 6:44 pm
          • Lochpster,

            Thank You!

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 7:04 pm
          • Finally, you all understand.

            I can’t “prove” you wrong any more than you can “prove” me wrong.

            It’s always been a bar argument, and it will be a bar argument, until there’s some better measure of individual performance than the current statistical methods.

            As for Joe Johnson, I can point to you that he has never played the most minutes during the playoff run for a championship team (something both Kobe and Jordan have done 3-4 times, if I recall correctly). Minutes doesn’t suffer the allocation problems that point, rebounds, and assists do, because your minutes are all yours, others can’t “create” minutes for you (although there is something to be said for chemistry with another player, so maybe you’d play more if you play well with a guy). It shows how valuable your are in your role to the team, because you are out there playing for the majority of the game. In the same way FT% is a good indicator of ability to shoot from 15 feet, because it’s all the player, all alone, pretty much the same circumstances for everyone.

            But I digress – Joe Johnson has never played the most playoff minutes for even a Finals team, and has never been considered by coaches, teammates, or other players to be the best, so that gives me some good indication that he probably isn’t the best. That, and the fact that he doesn’t have the best vision, superior athletic ability, and teams don’t distort their defensive game plan around him. He can go supernova from time to time, but he has never shown that consistently.

            Posted by Gil Meriken | July 28, 2011, 10:09 pm
          • Mr. Walnuts:

            Perhaps this will make my stance clearer as to how I view the current statistical analysis for basketball:

            Show me a good statistical soccer model that quantifies for me how much better Pele was than Messi, and how much more Messi impacts winning than Beckham, or Ronaldo’s value vs Zidane, and then I might believe you have a decent statistical model for basketball as well.

            Posted by Gil Meriken | July 28, 2011, 10:18 pm
          • then, by your metric, Bill Russell is the best player of all time, having played by far the most minutes on the most championship teams?

            What if a player players the most minutes on an average team, yet his production makes that team far better than it would have been without him?

            What if a player plays the most minutes, yet his lack of maturity leads to the demise of the team, as Kobe did in the 2004 Finals? Does he get demerits for this? Or do we ignore the poor performance because the ONLY stat that matters is minutes?

            I can agree that there is value in understanding that minutes played shows the worth of a player, and that often we do not have adequate metrics for measuring production, as with interior linemen in the NFL or for certain Hockey players. But in basketball, we DO have adequate methods and to ignore them or to use dismiss the body of them is to not understand what they tell us. In my example above I offered at least three different PLANES of comparison to determine a greater VOLUME of a players worth.

            Cal Ripken played a lot of innings for a bad team, does that mean Ripken had no positive effect on his team? That Cal Ripken was not better than Jeff Blauser who perpetually played for the championship by virtue of being on the Braves? Was Walter Payton or Barry Sanders then not nearly as good as Mark van Eeghen? Dan Marino was not as good as Terry Bradshaw?

            Playing time can be a good starting point, but we you need to bring a lot more to the discussion. WE don’t have more evidence or measurement, that I am aware of in soccer, but in basketball and baseball we do.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 29, 2011, 4:40 am
          • As to the soccer analogy, which I don’t view as apt for an NBA discussion, I have a question: Didn’t Pele play in an entirely different league and circumstance than the others? Isn’t Beckum’s league presently different than when in the UK? At least with the NBA, we are talking about the same league and the same competition. Variables may exist, yet we can adjust for those.

            Interesting that you chose a sport with very low relative scoring and virtually ZERO measurable metrics of production. You realize that the NBA DOES, IN FACT, have many methods to measure production? Seems rather stupid to simply ignore them.

            If minutes are the best example then how would you further refine this measurement to determine if a good or great player is impacting his team? How do you account for illusions of talent depth? How can you tell if a player is truly an unselfish team first type or a “i’m gettin’ mine” type?

            True that the best players get the most minutes, but the best players on a TEAM may not be the best players in the LEAGUE. To wit, just because Pippen got the most minutes on the Bulls in Jordan’s absence, doesn’t mean that he was as good or better than Jordan, and it doesn’t mean that because Kobe go the most minutes when the Lakers won that he was better than LeBron.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 29, 2011, 4:07 pm
  36. Lochpster,

    I would take issue with your contention that Russell’s modern comp is Rodman. I would argue that Russel’s contemporary is Olajuwan.

    I can’t think of any time that Russell’s JUDGEMENT was ever in question (unlike Rodman), and Russ NEVER needed mental massaging, though I’m sure Red gave it anyway. Red knew where the bread was buttered!

    Russell was a more than competent scorer than you have painted him; and had the Celtics needed him to score more, I am certain he would have.

    Russell was a TRANSFORMATIVE player; one that elicited changes in game strategy on a historical level. The fact that he won a lot has elements of circumstance, to be sure. Yet, the guy won EVERYWHERE he went; there has to be a correlation that the stats don’t show.

    Perhaps, if we had blocks, that would remove some of the fog, as I would wager Russ would have averaged about 7 a game (as would have Wilt)

    The hierarchy reads like this: Jordan, Russell, Kareem, Bird, Wilt, Magic, Duncan, West, Robertson, Hakeem, Moses, Shaq, Havlicheck, Bryant, Baylor, Pettit, K. Malone, Barkley, Doc J.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 20, 2011, 9:44 pm
    • Paulie, thanks for the debate. I’d like to hear your argument as to why Russell is closer to Hakeem than Rodman. Stylistically, Rodman and Russell were almost identical. They were intimidating, got under their opponents’ skin, threw them off their games, rebounded, and played defense. Olajuwon’s game was completely different than Russell’s-sure he was intimidating on defense, but his game was defined by his “dream shake” every bit as much as it was by his blocks, and his quiet demeanor was very different from that of Russell and Rodman. Am I saying Rodman is as good as Russell? No, but I do think Rodman is perhaps the most under-appreciated player ever .

      “had the Celtics needed him to score more, I am certain he would have.” Please support this statement with something other than just a random opinion-I’d love to hear your thoughts. Russell was in no way anything more than a mediocre offensive player by any metric of which I’m aware. His career 15.1 PPG is respectable, but it’s inflated by the era in which he played (as are, admittedly, Wilt’s and any other player from that era’s). And while I have no doubt he could have taken more shots, his 44% from the floor and 56% from the free throw line with a TS% of .471 is mediocre even compared to his contemporaries. There were plenty of bad offensive pivots back in those days, but guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Wayne Embry, Walt Bellamy, Clyde Lovelette, Bob Pettit, and Jerry Lucas all put Russell to shame when you talk about offensive production and efficiency among big guys. In comparison to today’s players, Russell’s career TS% would make him the 314th most efficient player in the league out of 338 last year, tied with the terrible Gilbert Arenas. Nobody would ever give him the ball with the game on the line, that’s for sure.

      No doubt Russell was transformative. But not as transformative as George Mikan, the original dominant 2-way center. The NBA widened the lane from 6 to 12 feet for this guy and introduced the shot clock. The NCAA developed defensive goaltending rules because he was such a dominant defensive force. Mikan also was commissioner of the ABA when the 3 point shot was instituted. Wilt Chamberlain was responsible for further widening the lane to 16 feet, the institution of offensive goaltending, and several rules related to inbounding the ball and shooting free throws. Oscar Robertson not only changed the way the game was played on the court, but the Oscar Robertson Rule changed the balance of power in professional sports. Russell’s dominance led to the introduction of defensive goaltending in the NBA (which the NCAA had already adopted), and that’s about it. When you refer to the changes in game strategy on a historical level I presume you’re talking about his dominant defensive play and rebounding in the pivot-if you are, remember Mikan did it first, and Wilt arguably did those things as well as Russell.

      As to the correlation with Russell winning everywhere he went, I agree. There’s a strong correlation between him winning and his being on a team. He was obviously a fantastic player and happily did all the dirty work to help his team win. He’s a pantheon guy. But not at the pinnacle of it.

      I could quibble with your hierarchy but it looks pretty good overall. I have Russell and Bird a little lower and Magic a little higher. I love that you have West, Robertson, Moses, Shaq, Havlicek, Baylor, and Pettit up there that high-it shows a good understanding of the history of the game. I am curious, though, how you can value being a transformative player so highly and not have Mikan, the most influential player in league history as well as a guy in the top 3 for both regular season and playoff PER, in there.

      Posted by Lochpster | July 21, 2011, 2:01 am
  37. Lochpster,

    Thanks for the civility of you inquiry; it is great to have a discussion where all parties can learn new things.

    Though it is true that in terms of rebounding, Russell and Rodman are very close, except when you factor in that Rodman was a role player for Detroit from 1986-1990 and mailed in two cameos in 1998-2000.

    Russell played major minutes every year except his rookie year. Russell also did not have two throw away season when he played strictly to earn gambling scratch. Russell was a FIVE TIME MVP of CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS. If nothing else, take this away from our debate: that statistical metrics can open closed doors, but they do NOT tell the whole story. MVP awards mean something; though, there is some bias and irregularities in the votes, they do provide an idea of how players were perceived in their time. True that Russell was not scoring a ton, but he was still voted the best player in the league 5 times. Only Kareem and Jordan can match that total. (Shocking that I have them as #1, 2,3 in the hierarchy!)

    Russell and Rodamn played nearly identical games 963 to 911 and also playoff games, 165-169.

    Russell while only being a 15 PPG scorer (as opposed to Rodman’s 7.3!) masks that he was playing with SIX HOF players on his team. (Ramsey, Heinsohn, Cousey, Kc Jones, Sam Jones, and Sharman)

    Russell had peaks of 18.9 and 18.2 ppg, combine that with his being the leader on an unworldly defense, and you get quite a package.

    No none seemed to begrudge Magic when he was “only” scoring 18 a game while running the best offense in the league.

    Russell’s numbers jumped in the playoffs to 16.2 24.9 and 4.7 and his FT% went up to .603. All of Rodman’s numbers dropped in the playoffs.

    Red traded two future HOF players to get the draft rights to Russell as he recognized Russell’s ability to defend the rim.

    Granted, that my case for Russell being a better potential scorer than the record shows is largely from anecdotal evidence rather than statistical evidence, yet we can use the two in tandem to achieve perhaps a greater truth than either could provide singularly.

    There exists a hole in the statistical record regarding blocked shots, steals, and defensive player awards. It is speculative, to be sure, but I would wager that Russ would have regularly been a DPOTY and averaged 7 blocks a game.

    Rodman was a terrific defender and rebounder, (Russell pulled 29.4%, of his team’s boards, Rodman 24%) and may be the most under appreciated of all time, but there is NO evidence that Rodamn could have been even a 15 PPG scorer.

    Russell was not ever concerned about the numbers other than winning, and the numbers reflect this.

    Other anecdotal evidence tells us that, in important games or moments, Russell would play “possum” by keeping certain moves in his pocket to be used when the team needed it. Thus, focusing more on the win than his own stat line.

    Russell was an incredible athlete and took challenges and competition only slightly less seriously then MJ.

    I used Hakeem as a reasonable comparison as I believe that, if Russell played on Hakeem’s teams, their numbers would have been similar as Russ would have NEEDED to score more. They are also of similar size and stature.

    As to Mikan; I feel that Mikan was a pioneer of basketball, but the game he played is NOT the game played today. Mikan could not handle the pace of the shot clock or the new foul penalties for team fouls.

    Mikan only played 439 games and was done at age 30 (though he did come back for a partial at 31)!

    You want to cite Russell’s low FG%, then don’t forget Mikan’s .404!

    As to Mikan as a commissioner: he blew the single BIGGEST deal in basketball history by NOT giving Kareem the friggin’ check!!!! That acumen rivals only Isiah Thomas for ineptness.

    If you want to acknowledge Mikan as a pioneer and contributor, that is fine. Clearly, Mikan was the dominate player of the pre-shot clock era. Could Russell have played Mikan’s game? Yes, absolutely! Could Mikan have played Russel’s game? Not a chance. Picture Jeff Ruland after the injuries and the extra 50 pounds.

    I love Magic, but remember that he joined the Lakers with Kareem!! The Lakers were already a playoff team going 47-35 the year prior to getting Magic and the Celts were 29-53 before getting Bird, and 61-21 the next year (with their 2nd best player probably being Maxwell). The rookie, Bird, led the 1979-80 Celtics in scoring and rebounding per game and was 2nd in assists per game, behind only Tiny Archibald.

    I think that Bird’s peak was little higher than Magic’s.

    Were you to juxtapose them, the Lakers still flourish and probably win just as many titles (and maybe a 2 more in 1981, 1984).

    Norm Nixon was a very good point guard and with Bird and Kareem in the front-court. . .WOW!

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 21, 2011, 5:17 pm
  38. Lochpster,

    I read in an earlier response in this thread that you had Russell #2 for a long time and after making a re-evaluation, moved him down a bit. You and I, it seems, are similar in thought. For a long time, i had Wilt as the undisputed king, yet after really looking at the contextual content of the numbers and, after getting past the STAGGERING VOLUME of his stats (it just blows my mind, what the guy did!!), I have revised my hierarchy (see above). I just seems to me that after winning his first title in ’66-’67, Wilt lost the big desire to win again. Though, I am certain that he WANTED to win, his performance tells us that, perhaps he was not willing to do EVERYTHING it took to get there. It is a really, really small piece of the puzzle, but it is one that really sticks out for Wilt. I have seen video of some of Wilt’s games when with LA, and he gives me the impression of a player that is not interested in making every possession count. It is a completely understandable reaction from a guy that had such physical superiority to his peers. Wilt was just being HUMAN, hardly a fault. In my most recent analysis, I believe that the quality of relentless desire is what elevates Jordan and Russell, Bird, and possibly Magic ahead of Wilt.

    I also believe that the Wilt haters simply cannot fathom just how a guy could be so dominate statistically and not win more titles (though name me one other 2 time champ that is a “choker”. It goes to the lack of understanding of how the components on the floor work together (and getting some luck) that crowns champions

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 22, 2011, 11:51 am
  39. PS,

    I had the priviledge of being form Lansing, MI and watching Magic in HS (and on the playground!), as well as through college and the NBA and many many exhibition games; the guy was ALWAYS money. ALWAYS. I never personally saw anyone that affected outcomes of games more or was relentless in pursuit of winning, EVER!! Magic couldn’t shoot? Well, give him the ball when you’re down by two and watch what happens! Want to get into a “top this”? Magic ALWAYS answered! Every time.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 22, 2011, 11:55 am
  40. Paulie, thanks for the thoughtful responses, and very cool story about Magic. I agree with a lot of what you said. A few points.

    I hate to accept anecdotal evidence and subjective criteria as a way to overturn objective data, and there is a lot of objective data here. That is really the crux of my article. Sports fans tend to value winning over everything, and when we see a player winning consistently we assume he must be better. This is in my mind a strong example of confirmation bias-we want our champions to be the best, and if the data doesn’t support this, we will find other ways to support our viewpoints. As I am ever so fond of pointing out, there’s probably no better example of confirmation bias than the idea that Kobe Bryant is the league’s best clutch shooter. There’s tons of subjective data supporting his greatness-expert opinion, 5 rings, that swagger, and the fact that we’ve seen him hit so many clutch shots on Sportscenter. But his excellence in this area is complete myth.

    I understand your points about the MVPs, not needing to score, etc. They all have merit. However, this still sits in the category of subjective evidence. Admittedly this whole thing is a subjective debate, but I still stick to the stance that objective data is always worth more than subjective opinion. For instance, you point out that Red traded 2 HOF players for Russell as an evidence of his value, yet I could counter that Auerbach actually tried to recruit Chamberlain straight out of High School and failed prior to recruiting Russell. Wouldn’t this seem to support that even Red Auerbach thought Wilt was a better player? Maybe, but in reality neither point matters as far as who was better on the court. Likewise, we say that Russell was generally accepted to get the best of Wilt at the end of games (the whole playing opossum argument), yet at the end of the 1965 Finals, Wilt scored 4 points against Russell in rapid succession while Russell turned the ball over in embarassing fashion before the Celtics won the game on Havlicek’s steal. This doesn’t seem consistent with the theory presented, yet the end result was the same.

    To me that series of possessions during the 1965 finals is a microcosm of the debate here-Wilt wins the individual battle, Russell wins the war. It’s Robert E. Lee vs. Ulysses S. Grant, Hannibal vs Scipio, or Napoleon vs. the Duke of Wellington in my mind. If you look at season or career numbers, Wilt wins the production battle whether we’re talking about regular season, playoffs, head to head, etc. I’m willing to cede every argument about desire, drive, wanting it more, killer instinct, etc, because in my mind the only way these things exist in any tangible sense is in on-court production, and we already have data for that. That data comes as points, rebounds, assists, shooting percentages, and it certainly contributes to finals cores and team victories. However, the only objective data points Russell has in his favor are team wins, which are the only data point that’s not a direct measure of individual production. Basically this argument boils down to whether you find an overwhelming statistical advantage in terms of both totals and efficiency or being the face of a winning franchise more impressive. I’m always going to go with the former because to me, it seems obvious that no one player can win an NBA game for his team. But I will respect the opinions of people who believe differently from me if they can express their opinions eloquently, as you are able to do.

    I used Mikan mainly to emphasize why legacy is such a hard benchmark to use and why I quit weighting it heavily. I don’t think Mikan’s a pantheon player either in terms of talent, but I think if you factor in legacy heavily he has to be near the top. I certainly am troubled by the idea of using legacy to leapfrog Russell over Wilt given the sheer number of rule changes the NBA instituted because of Wilt, the fact that the only rule change attributed to Russell was one that the NCAA had already instituted because of Mikan, and the fact that I’m not convinced Russell was as superior to Wilt on defense as many believe.

    As to your point about Russell’s scoring prowess, being a great scorer is not about scoring a lot of points. To be great you also have to score efficiently. I have no doubt Russell could have scored a lot more points, as could any player who decided to shoot more, but there are an elite few who can carry a team’s offense by scoring a lot of points, doing so efficiently, and creating their own shots. Olajuwon was among the best ever on offense because he could do all those things. He hit over half his field goals, made over 70% of his FTs, and had a very impressive TS% of 55%, and he did most of this while manufacturing his own looks. Russell scored fewer points at a much lower efficiency and struggled to create his own shots-and all this was in an era where there were a lot more possessions and put-backs available, which inflates his scoring average without really affecting his efficiency stats. It seems a huge stretch to me that Russell could have stepped into Olajuwon’s role on the Rockets and thrived as an offensive weapon. As for Rodman, he actually showed some promise as a scorer early in his career, averaging 12 PPG in his 2nd season and leading the league in FG% his 3rd. He ultimately decided to stick to what made him great, and he had no real need to score given that he was on teams with Thomas/Dumars and later Jordan/Pippen, but it doesn’t seem a huge stretch he could have upped his scoring had he not consistently been teamed with Hall-of-Fame caliber offensive players. And given the different paces of the game, I’m not convinced being a 12 PPG scorer in 1990 wasn’t as impressive as scoring 15 PPG in the 1960s.

    And lastly, since I always love the opportunity to debate players’ place in history, I will throw in my 2 cents on Bird vs Magic. No doubt Magic was helped a lot by playing with guys like Kareem and Worthy, but Bird never won a title without at least 3 Hall of Fame caliber teammates at or near their prime either. Bird outscored Magic, but Magic actually rates higher in the scoring efficiency metrics, has a higher PER and a higher win share/48 minutes. He almost matched Bird’s rebounding from the point guard position while being arguably the greatest distributor the game has ever seen. However, what puts Magic over the top for me is his ability to play any position on the court at an extremely high level, as exemplified by game 6 in the 1980 NBA finals where he started in place of Kareem at center and went off for 42-15-7 to win the Finals MVP. It’s conceivable they win that game with Bird as well, but there’s absolutely no way they do it with Bird playing anything other than forward.

    Thanks again for an extremely enjoyable discussion.

    Posted by Lochpster | July 22, 2011, 11:24 pm
    • Lochpster,

      Something of note in the Bird v Magic debate.

      I checked the 3 pt shooting of the tow players and I was actually STUNNED to see that from 1979-80 to 1987-88 Magic was an ATROCIOUS 58-302 behind the stripe. Worse, he shot 5-58 in the post season!!

      Magic made only ONE three point basket in 40 attempts in the post season from 1980-81 to 1985-86; a span of 86 games.

      I knew that Magic developed his long range late, but that is REALLY bad shooting.

      During the same time periods that I used for Magic (1979-80 to 1987-88 regular season and 1980-81 to 19085-86 post season), Larry Bird was 455-1206 for .377 regular season and 42-113 for .372 post season (99 games).

      Posted by Paulie Walnuts | December 15, 2011, 12:41 am
  41. Interesting take, Lochpster.

    As I said, I do worship Wilt and for a long time felt he was not worse than #2, but it is hard to ignore the impact that Bird and magic had on their teams, not tom mention Russell.

    One thing about Bird and the 3 HOF statement: Is Robert Parrish a HOF player. without Bird? Dennis Johnson? Are either of them BETTER than the tandem of Kareem and Worthy? It gets a little dicey when you add in the teammates. Frankly, I would take wither one and be REAL happy.

    I do agree with your points about Russell’s lack of scoring efficiency, though disagree about Rodman’s ability to score more. I do see that 12 ppg is congruent to 15 ppg given era context, yet point out that that was a CAREER total fro Russ and a SEASON high for Rodman.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 23, 2011, 12:35 am
  42. another great Magic story.

    In 1978-79, MSU started out 4-4 in the Big 10 and had suffered a 3 road losses by a scant point to Illinois, Purdue (Joe Barry Carroll) and Michigan, then a crushing 18 point ass whupping at Northwester!!

    OSU came into Jenison Fieldhouse 8-0 and with the stupid NCAA rule limiting tournament entrants to league champions, it looked grim for the Spartans.

    It got worse as in a tight game, Magic turns his ankle and leaves the floor. My brother and I are certain that the season is lost. Magic comes back, and the game goes to overtime and MSU wins a close one.

    From there, MSU literally BLOWS the DOORS off everybody, except for a two point loss at Wisconsin when Wes Mathews makes the 3/4 court heave as the horn sounds (this, after Magic had just tied it with two huge FT)

    That was a great and fun team to watch. I loved it when MSU STOMPED Digger Phelps and his 4 NBA starters asses! to this day, you can still hear Digger’s hate for MSU whenever he talks about them.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 23, 2011, 12:45 am
  43. Locphster,

    The manner in which I developed my hierarchy was through a process. It starts with identifying the top players by asking a series of questions.

    1) what are the BEST teams, for it is logical that the best players are on the best teams. there are some exceptions, but again, this is a STARTING point.

    2) Who were the top contributors on that team?

    Winning percentage has a direct correlation to points allowed against points allowed; thus it is not simply a players SCORING that needs to be considered, but the DIFFERENCE in what he puts in and what the opponent puts in.

    Russell played on a team with incredible scoring balance. True that Russell only averaged 15 ppg and shot .440, yet he was first or second on his team (a perennial CHAMPIONSHIP team) in FG%. Russ was also third or fourth in scoring, with the difference typically being only 2 or 3 ppg. His FG% was consistently above league.
    Now consider the defense that Russell played. Russ pulled down 29.4% of the teams rebounds, and as we know, the Celtics were a dynamic offensive team; we don’t have data for the blocks or an accurate metric for measuring the point differential from his blocks that led to fast break baskets.

    The Celtics were 716-299 with Russell for a .705 winning percentage. I only have Bird and Magic with higher. The Celts were 34-48 the year after Russell retired. That says something, as well.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Chamberlain would have flourished under Red and the Celtics, but would he have put up the huge scoring numbers? Maybe not. I believe that his effective shooting would have been better, but that is speculation.

    there is a coincidence that the Celtics won regularly with Russell, and EVERYONE on his team and in the league agreed that Russell was the difference. It took time for me to get to this point, but it seems to be the most objective answer to have Russell ahead of Wilt.

    I cannot agree with your assessment
    of Magic over Bird. The inference that Magic had versatility and Bird did not is silly. What do you think that Magic could do that
    Bird could not and what is your evidence for this?
    True, that Magic STARTED game #6 of the 1980 Finals at center, but he did not play the entire game there. Magic also played that role in HS and in his first few games at MSU. Bird scored more, shot more and rebounded more. Bird led his team in scoring and rebounding and was typically second in assists. Magic was the ultimate at running the offense and was the definitive clutch player, but in the end he falls just *and I mean JUST) short of Bird.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 23, 2011, 7:50 pm
  44. Paulie, I understand your argument, and the main reason I wrote this article is to refute the type of argument you made above. It’s an argument I’ve heard many times, and it’s one that I am strongly against.

    It’s incredibly complex trying to attribute individual success to a team result, but it is certainly a worthwhile goal. The closest thing I have ever seen is win shares. Using a complex formula, this calculates the marginal benefit (or harm) caused by a player’s presence on the floor when compared to the league average and then uses team wins as an amplifier. You calculate it independently for offense and defense. It shows at least one result I suspect you would agree with-Bill Russell is the all time leader in defensive win shares during both the regular season and the playoffs by a significant margin. So perhaps we do have a way to measure Russell’s defensive impact in the absence of blocks and steals. Wilt ranks in the top 4 in both categories, though, so it’s not as if he’s not a game-changing defender in his own right. Wilt is 2nd and 10th in offensive win shares for the regular season and playoffs-Russell is nowhere to be found in the top 250 for the regular season and comes in at 60th for the playoffs, which is admittedly a lot higher than I expected. Still, when looking at total win shares, Wilt comes in 2nd and 4th for the season and playoffs, respectively, while Russell clocks in at 16th and 7th. So this surprisingly good statistic, which found a way to gives extra credit to players on winning teams and found a way to rank Russell as the best defender ever, still shows Wilt to be the superior player by a wide margin during the regular season and a small margin during the playoffs.

    I would also point out that if you’re comparing players, and you’re going to quote numbers for one, you really need to point out what the other did. For instance, you pointed out Russell’s 5 MVPs while neglecting to point out Wilt’s 4. This is hardly a significant difference. Russell’s 15 PPG and 44% were okay for his era, but that sort of production today would lead to your coach asking you to shoot less. 30 PPG on 54% shooting (Wilt’s numbers) is historically great and would be great today. Likewise, you point out Russell’s team rebound percentage without pointing out Wilt’s. I’m not sure where that data came from and I can’t find Wilt’s, but I do know that Wilt had 5 seasons at 35% or higher while Russell never once reached 35%.

    Throwing around team winning percentages as much as you do might cause me to have a stroke. Bill Russell didn’t have a .705 winning percentage, the Celtics did. If we’re sticking these numbers to individual players, Hall of Famer Sam Jones had a higher career winning percentage than Russell and only 1 fewer title. His jumper won game 7 of the 1962 Eastern Conference Finals and preserved Russell’s perfect game 7 record (as well as his own). His career PER and Win Shares per 48 minutes aren’t far behind Russell’s. To not give him a huge chunk of the credit for the Celtics’ record during this period doesn’t really make sense. Likewise, Manu Ginobli currently leads the NBA in individual winning %. Most would agree that he’s not a Tim Duncan-caliber player, but he will likely be a Hall of Famer one day. Tim Duncan likely wouldn’t be #3 in winning percentage among active players or a 4 time NBA champion without Ginobli’s contributions, so to ignore Ginobli and call Tim Duncan the winningest player in the NBA doesn’t feel right.

    With arguably the greatest coach of all time and 8 Hall of Famers over a 13 year period, the Celtics were great, and greatest of them was undisputedly Russell. But a win is a team accomplishment, and those Celtics teams had a lot of good players. As did Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics. And to act as if the Celtics went from being a .700 team to a 34-48 team is very misleading. They went from being an old, proud 48-34 championship team on its last legs to being a gutted 34-48 team the year Russell and Sam Jones retired and Russell was replaced as coach by Tom Heinsohn. The Celtics were left with John Havlicek and some veteran players who were not historically great by any stretch. The dropoff is hardly of historical magnitude.

    If your MO is measuring players by team results to the exclusion of all measures of individual performance of which I’m aware (because I’m still looking for an individual stat that makes Russell look good next to Wilt) there’s absolutely no way I’m going to wind up agreeing with you. The best we can do is respectfully agree to disagree.

    As for Magic vs Bird, there’s a small gap between them and it’s probably ridiculous to argue so much about it, but I still can’t resist. First of all, Magic was a starting PG, but he obviously could fill in capably at center, he could would slide into the 2 or occasionally the 3 spot playing alongside Norm Nixon in the early 80s, and in 1995-1996, when he’d lost much of his athleticism and after 5 years out of the league, he was a very good starting power forward. He was a true 5 position player. That’s pretty much my evidence for Magic’s versatility. From a pure skills point of view, Bird was very talented across the board and was frequently referred to as a “point forward,” but he basically did all his damage from the small forward position.

    Bird scored more than Magic because he shot more. In fact, he shot 6 more times per game from the floor, while scoring only 5 PPG more. Despite Bird’s reputation as a dead-eye gunner, Magic was actually the more efficient scorer by a fairly wide margin. Could he have scored more? Sure, if he’d shot the ball more, but when you have Magic’s passing skills you don’t need to. Magic’s 7.2 RPG while running the show from the point are certainly as impressive than Bird’s 8.0 as a forward. Magic dominates the advanced metrics-PER, Win shares and WS/48, eFG and TS%. And of course, last but not least, Magic is still the All-Time leader in assists per game. Bird’s 6 APG weren’t representative of his court vision and passing ability, but he was no Magic (over 11 APG career). The numbers support Magic pretty strongly if you’re a numbers guy like me, and if you’re someone thinks titles make the player you’re no doubt aware Magic won more of those than Bird did, too. Both pantheon guys, obviously, but it seems fairly obvious to me that if you have to pick one, you take Magic.

    Posted by Lochpster | July 24, 2011, 8:13 pm
  45. it is reasonable to assume, I think, that much of Magic’s superior effectiveness came from his ability to drive to the hole.

    No one can argue that anyone has better numbers than Wilt. The numbers are staggering and for a long time I held the same position that you did.

    It is not measurable in any stretch, and I would be the first to say that had Wilt and Russell swapped teams, Wilt would certainly have more titles.

    This is no slight to wilt when I put Russell ahead of him.

    The difference between Magic and bird is one of environment rather than skill. Yet, if you can say that Wilt would have won more with the Celts, then could we also say the same for Bird had he been on the Lakers? Would Magic have won 5 rings without Kareem and being instead on the 1980 Celtics?

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 25, 2011, 1:55 am
    • I don’t think any of us mean any slight to any players involved. I just enjoy the spirit and the friendly tone of the debate.

      Wilt and Russ are both clearly awesome players. Wilt brings a lot more to the table than Russell in terms of his overall skill-set and surely wins many more than 2 titles if he’s the Celtics center, but the laws of probability make 11 unlikely. Perhaps there’s some sort of middle ground to be reached there. It seems to me like almost any team would benefit more from Wilt’s dominant offense and defense than they would from Russell’s dominant defense, mediocre offense, and intangibles. Every team Wilt played for, after all, was a title contender. It seems unlikely you could put Russell on a talent-poor team and turn them into more than a tough out. After all, historically great defense/rebounding type players like Rodman, Wes Unseld, and Ben Wallace only acheived prominence when surrounded by great offensive teammates. But perhaps if you’re trying to construct the best possible team, if you already have all the offensive production you need, and if you’re capable of using Russell exactly as he should be used, then Russell’s edge in defense, intangibles, and leadership as well as his lack of need for touches might give you a slightly higher team ceiling than Wilt would.

      For instance, if you’re a current NBA team and could pick one of these two to start next season in their prime, almost every team would be better off with Wilt in my book. A dominant center on either end of the floor is too hard to come by to pass on one who dominates both ends for one who is great on defense only. The Miami Heat are the only team that really stands out to me as being an obviously better fit for Russell, given that they already have plenty of guys who dominate the ball, they’re lacking in toughness/leadership, and adding Wilt to Lebron and Wade would lead to a hilarious amount of role confusion. A healthy Miami Heat, with Bill Russell in the middle, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade on the wings, Chris Bosh in the high post, and a few other league-average role players, would have a real chance to be the greatest team in NBA history.

      Back to Magic vs Bird, I agree that Magic’s effectiveness came largely from his ability to drive and overpower smaller, weaker players. No doubt Bird was a better pure shooter. A layup and a 22 footer are worth the same, though, so I don’t see why it matters.

      No doubt Magic had a huge advantage with Kareem, but I can’t chalk the difference between the two up to just environment, though. Parish and McHale were both high percentage shooters, strong defenders, and each had 20-10 seasons during their careers. Magic also made the 1991 Finals without Kareem, and losing to an MJ-led Bulls team is far from shameful. As maybe the best passer in league history, at least an equal rebounder given their respective positions and a more efficient scorer than Bird while also being able to play any position on the floor, I think Magic brings more to the table than Bird. All other things staying the same, if Bird had 5 titles on the Lakers and Magic had 3 on the Celtics, I’d still pick Magic. Again, no slight to Bird, who I love and whose hometown is only about 100 miles from mine.

      Posted by Lochpster | July 25, 2011, 1:37 pm
  46. And Magic was not that good of a shooter until late in his career. Much of his scoring was in the lane and at the line, though those are traits of high value.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 25, 2011, 1:59 am
  47. I have said often that if you were at the playground and had the first pick of players there is no way you would NOT take Wilt. NO WAY!!

    One thing I would point out to you is the comparison of Russell to Rodman, Unseld, and Ben Wallace. Russell wasn’t a great defender; he was the GREATEST DEFENDER. What that entails is one that doesn’t block shots out of bounds, but creates turnovers. Russell was also an accomplished passer, as his assist total can attest to. When we use the frame of Russell being the greatest of defenders, that requires a different viewpoint than that of a Rodman, etc.

    I cannot disagree that Magic was the greatest passer (or runner of an offense), yet the Lakers had different requirements than did the Celtics. Either Magic or Bird would have excelled at what ever their team needed and both would have made the sum of their teams far greater than their parts.

    After all, the article was not judging a player solely by his rings. In terms of production, I think that Bill Simmons stumbled across a decent measurement of adding up the ppg, rpg and apg to get a raw total of the three. We could further refine this by involving the fg% and ft% and 3pt%. Magis shot a slightly higher %, but took far fewer shots and from much closer; this enabled Magic to get to the foul line more often (which is a huge plus) Larry took 5383 more shots (almost 700 more three’s); would we not EXPECT a pl;ayer to have a lower FG% whe he takes more shots?

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 25, 2011, 4:37 pm
  48. I have said often that if you were at the playground and had the first pick of players there is no way you would NOT take Wilt. NO WAY!! That said, not all of Wilt’s teams were contenders, the 3-0 loss to Syracuse in the 1961 semi Finals and the 62-63 Warriors missed the playoffs altogether.

    I have also long argued that Wilt’s teams were inferior to Russell’s. Bill Simmons made a somewhat compelling argument against this, but I just can’t see how any can think that the Celts were not better than every other team. Only Jordan from 1988-1990 took such average talent so far.

    One thing I would point out to you is the comparison of Russell to Rodman, Unseld, and Ben Wallace. Russell wasn’t a great defender; he was the GREATEST DEFENDER. What that entails is one that doesn’t block shots out of bounds, but creates turnovers. Russell was also an accomplished passer, as his assist total can attest to. When we use the frame of Russell being the greatest of defenders, that requires a different viewpoint than that of a Rodman, etc.

    I cannot disagree that Magic was the greatest passer (or runner of an offense), yet the Lakers had different requirements than did the Celtics. Either Magic or Bird would have excelled at what ever their team needed and both would have made the sum of their teams far greater than their parts.

    After all, the article was not judging a player solely by his rings. In terms of production, I think that Bill Simmons stumbled across a decent measurement of adding up the ppg, rpg and apg to get a raw total of the three. We could further refine this by involving the fg% and ft% and 3pt%. Magic shot a slightly higher %, but took far fewer shots and from much closer; this enabled Magic to get to the foul line more often (which is a huge plus) Larry took 5383 more shots (almost 700 more three’s); would we not EXPECT a player to have a lower FG% when he takes more shots? I view the disparity of their respective rebounding and assists totals to be virtue of team function and role rather than ability. They were both great players; the difference to me is that Bird’s shooting range and better defense puts him ahead of Magic. I don’t think Magic could have dragged ISU to the Finals in college, but Bird did.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 25, 2011, 4:49 pm
  49. These last 2 posts confuse me. What do the Celtics have to do with the 1988-1990 Bulls? Also, in no way am I arguing that Rodman is better than Russell. I’m arguing Russell vs Wilt. I think Rodman and Russell were similar players, just like I think Wilt and Artis Gilmore were similar players. In both cases you can make some generalizations about how they fit into a team structure given their playing styles, even when one is clearly better than the other.

    I’ve already ceded that Russell was the best defender ever. That said, I think much of that reputation is based on his perceived dominance of Wilt. When matched head to head, Wilt’s overall output increased significantly, while Russell’s stayed about the same. If the gap between Russell and Wilt’s numbers was wide to begin with it became even wider head to head, so it’s not as if Russell’s defense was actually some sort of great equalizer. There’s also a strong element of confirmation bias here-if we believe Russell to be the greatest of his time, but our data clearly supports someone else, we must find some way to either support our conclusion or we must reject it. And since there’s no great way to measure defense even now, it’s easy to imagine the reason for Russell’s greatness was because he was some sort of mythical Cerebrus-like guard dog at the rim. He was great, and probably the greatest, but I refuse to accept that his defensive impact was so far off the charts compared to every other player who’s ever played the game that nobody else has ever come close. At least, not when most of the evidence is anecdotal evidence or appeals to authority, which are among the lowest levels of evidence.

    I agree that a player who shoots more should shoot a lower %, but my counter-argument is that when a player is leading his team in scoring he should also be among their most efficient scorers. Otherwise he should shoot less. I make this same argument with folks who tout Kobe’s scoring all the time. Parish and McHale were both more efficient scorers than Bird on a per shot basis, so as great as Bird was, his team would have been better had he looked to shoot less and set up his teammates more. Part of the art of being a scorer is shot creation and selection. Magic would never win a game of HORSE with Bird, but his shot creation and selection was better. As a career 38% 3 point shooter, Bird’s range, while aesthetically appealing, didn’t really add much value to his scoring given his 56% TS%.

    The statistic you described is a poor man’s PER, which includes points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, fouls, shooting percentages, etc. The main complaint among stat geeks is that it rewards inefficient shooting and greatly benefits players who shoot more. So this stat should show Bird to be far superior if their production were close. Yet even by this measure, Magic is superior. I am also struggling with the consistency of your arguments-it seems odd to me to put so much weight on Russell’s roles as the top contributor on a championship team (a model to which I do not ascribe), then you explain away Magic’s superior team results even though he was clearly the most important player on probably the third most dominant dynasty ever. I’m interested in how you reconcile this.

    Once again, thanks for the discussion.

    Posted by Lochpster | July 26, 2011, 7:44 pm
  50. I explain this because unlike baseball, basketball is a game in which the players are intertwined. The offense of player A is linked to player B, etc. McHale and Parrish benefited from Bird’s abilities and vice versa; the difficult thing to measure is to what degree this is true.

    Kareem truly benefited from Magic, but it also works the other way. Magic benefited from playing with the leagues MVP and probably third best player ever.

    I can’t take anything away from Magic and could very well be convinced that he should be ahead of Bird. The raw stats don’t tell us the whole story.

    I am not convinced that saying that Bird would have helped his team by shooting less is just absurd. Unlike Kobe, Bird was NOT unwilling to pass the ball to an open teammate. Bird was NOT seeking the adulation of the fans and media. Bird was NOT forcing shots over double teams or trying to split double teams and turning the ball over. Bird was not trying to win scoring titles nor concerned about his percentages, he was trying to WIN.

    Of Course, Magic was doing the same. The thing that has me putting Bird ahead is that the Celtics from 1979-1983 were NOT as talented as the Lakers. Bird was the most important player on the Celtics during his entire career. Magic was second to Kareem until about 1985-86. The 1979-80 Lakers had Kareem (MVP), Norm Nixon, and Jamal Wilkes, not to mention Spencer Heywood on the bench. That was a really talented team that Magic made even better. The Celtics were at the bottom of the league and when they added Bird became the one of the top teams in the league.

    My comment about Jordan was that those Bulls teams were not that talented, and got very close to playing for the title largely due to Jordan’s effect on the games. I believe that Wilt’s teams were NOT as good as the Celtics teams and that Wilt was the reason they got as far as they did (at least with the Warriors)

    The thing that drives people nuts about the stats is the interpretation. The numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always tell us the absolute truth, either. It would be like pointing to Cal Ripken’s batting average as absolute evidence that he should have taken time off because he was hurting his team while ignoring that a replacement level player could not replicate his defensive contribution and his run production from the shortstop position.

    To say that Bird’s teams could have benefited had he shot with more discretion is not not understand the full impact he had on the other players on the court.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 26, 2011, 9:58 pm
  51. regarding statistics: if we relied solely upon stats to measure and determine greatness, then how do we establish the effectiveness of an NFL offensive or defensive lineman? Would interceptions tell us the whole value of an NFL defensive back?

    Stats can tell us much, but there is much they cannot tell us.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 26, 2011, 10:35 pm
  52. Just checking some numbers, since you are a “numbers guy”:

    From 1985-86 with Kareem, Magic’s FG% are: .526, .522, .492, and .509. After Kareem retired, his fg% were: .480 and .477.

    McHale from 1985-86 to Bird’s injury in 1988-89 were: .574, .604, .604, and then with Bird out dropped to .546. After Bird returned and was no longer healthy or as effective a player, McHale’s fg% was .549, .509, ..459, Some of McHale’s could be from the injury, but both examples indicate that the loss of a key player had a ripple effect on the rest of the team.

    In effect, after Kareem retired, Magic had to shoulder more of the offense and this may have led to reduced efficiency. The point being that the players on the floor are a unit and each member has an effect on the rest. The stats don’t get compile in a vacuum.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 27, 2011, 9:33 pm
  53. Paulie, what you said about the Bulls makes sense now. Thanks for clarifying. I definitely understand your point and agree with it.

    I agree stats don’t tell the whole story, and I definitely agree that the quality of one’s teammates strongly affects performance, but stats are still stronger evidence than conjecture. Even linemen in the NFL are largely evaluated by stats. You can track how many sacks an offensive lineman has given up, or you can track how well the team runs behind a given player. Defensive linemen are measured by sacks, tackles, and opposing teams’ success running the football. None of these are ideal measures of individual performance-a Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson can make an average offensive lineman look like a superstar and a great defensive lineman look like a fool. But I would argue they’re better markers than anything else we have.

    I agree that McHale’s performance dropped significantly in conjunction with Bird’s injury, which is a powerful indicator that McHale’s effectiveness was tied to Bird. However, another important thing happened-as you point out. McHale played the end of the 87-88 season on a broken foot and ankle, which required surgery after the season and robbed him of so much of the footwork that made him impossible to guard in the post.

    I also 100% agree that Kareem helped Magic a ton. Likewise, there’s no doubt Magic helped Kareem. However, it’s inaccurate to say that Magic’s scoring efficiency dropped because he was shouldering more of the offensive load. Magic’s shooting percentages suffered post Kareem largely because he started shooting more 3s. Magic’s eFG% and TS% were still in line with his career averages. Additionally, the two seasons in which Magic took the most shots were during Kareem’s last 3 years. After Kareem retired, Magic actually took fewer shots every year until he retired, yet his overall production during these years is significantly higher than his career averages (I am obviously not including his comeback in this post-Kareem subset). Based on this, I feel I can safely say that Magic was still Magic with James Worthy, AC Green and Byron Scott as his supporting cast. It’s hard for me to think this trio isn’t at least as questionable as the Tiny Archibald/Dave Cowens/Cedric Maxwell trio that Larry Bird started his career with.

    I agree with all those things you said about Bird and Kobe in terms of what they were trying to accomplish. Bird would probably chew off his own leg for 2 points if it would help his team win a game. My point is only this-I want the player most likely to produce points taking a shot. On the Celtics that guy was McHale-if he takes more shots, the team becomes more efficient. The corollary to this is that, as his team’s most efficient shooter, Magic actually hurt his team by not shooting more. No doubt he was a great passer, but if he’d taken another shot or two per game away from a less efficient scorer like, say, James Worthy, the team would have benefited.

    Magic was such a great passer it’s easy to forget how great a scorer he was. He is the 8th most efficient shooter in NBA history and first among point guards based on true shooting percentage, which is the single best indicator of scoring efficiency. As a point of reference, Bird comes in 99th, which is very impressive in its own right and in the ballpark of many other All-Time greats, but it’s not quite in Magic’s class. With Magic, we’re looking at a guy who is arguably the best point guard ever both in terms of setting up teammates and scoring efficiency. And since Magic’s overall production actually increased post-Kareem without harming his efficiency, there is no reason to suspect he wouldn’t have produced similar numbers throughout most of his career without Kareem, either. Fewer titles, for sure, but similar numbers.

    Posted by Lochpster | July 27, 2011, 11:23 pm
  54. What I would counter with is the description once used on the tandem of Isiah and Dumars: one was a scorer the other a shooter. I would question whether McHale would have been as effective had he shot more frequently or didn’t have Bird on his team.

    There is little doubt in my mind of Magic’s greatness.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 4:36 am
  55. Also, after Kareem retired, Worthy was still shooting at much higher percentage than league and higher than Magic; wouldn’t Worthy, then, have been a better choice to shoot than Magic?

    What needs to be considered is from where on the floor was McHale and Worthy getting their shots. Were they creating their own shots off the dribble? Probably not, thus they were reliant upon another player or combination of players creating movement and space and forcing defenses to shift and adjust.

    Who would you really have shooting; a double teamed McHale or Bird form distance? what would McHale (or Worthy’s) FG% have been had they shot from distance or didn’t have another that required more defensive attention?

    Ever ask WHY Magic starting shooting more threes after Kareem retired? Magic’s percentage rose significantly from distance after Kareem retire. Can we conclude that an intelligent player recognized that his shooting would be relied upon more and he devoted hours of practice to improve?

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 8:13 am
    • Good stuff Paulie. I think we’re using different markers for success from the field. I use the TS% rather than FG%. TS%=Points/(FGA + .44FTA). It helps to shoot a high percentage, but it also rewards players who make 3s instead of 2s and rewards players who attempt, and make, a lot of free throws. Worthy had a higher FG% than Magic, but he didn’t add much from beyond the arc and neither made it to the line as much as Magic nor shot as high a percentage when he did. So although each field goal attempt from Magic was less likely to go in than one from Worthy, each FGA from Magic was ultimately worth more points than one from Worthy due to the increased likelihood of the shot being a 3 or resulting in made free throws.

      I don’t care a lick how Worthy or McHale’s numbers would have looked had they shot from a distance. A large part of being a great scorer is creating good shots. If you are able to shoot dunks, layups, and other shots in close, there’s no reason you should ever be 20 feet away from the basket trying to hit a jumper. Likewise, if you can make 30% of your falling-out-of-bounds 3 pointers over 3 defenders you’re an incredible shooter but terrible at shot selection, and therefore not a great scorer.

      I think it’s an interesting comparison between Thomas/Dumars, but which one is the scorer and which is the shooter? Seems to me Bird was both, while McHale was certainly only a scorer. I definitely take Bird from a distance over a double-teamed McHale, but I think that’s a little over simplistic. My general impression of McHale is that he was among the most talented players ever at creating good shots. That up and under move was nigh unguardable, and he was known to be a black hole on offense (1.7 APG, career), meaning teams would regularly double team him when he had the ball. That post game would have been effective in any situation.

      Worthy, while a good offensive player with a solid jumper, great finger roll and good post moves, doesn’t fall into the same category of great creators. Much of his effectiveness was due to the opportunities afforded by the fast-breaking Showtime Lakers, and his plummeting shooting numbers in the 3 seasons after Magic retired support this.

      I certainly agree with your conclusion that Magic realized he had to adjust when he retired and did so. His efficiency did not diminish when one of the greatest centers in league history retired. Is this not actually a credit to his game?

      Posted by Lochpster | July 28, 2011, 6:33 pm
  56. It’s absolutely a credit to Magic that he made the adjustment and put in the work.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I disregard McHale in any respect; I am just trying to understand your viewpoints.

    I understand that you have given good weight to the TS%, and I think it is a valuable tool, but like the Bible, it’s not the only tool. When a cursory glance yields names of such stiffs as A-Train, James Donaldson and Jeff Ruland, I believe that you are forced to use other means to arrive at a greater truth. In the above “discussion”: with Gil, I used three planes of measurement (Efficiency, Black Ink and Awards Shares); though I was never a fan of geometry, I think its principals have value in these debates.

    I also think that Worthy is the single greatest benefactor in team sports history (an overstatement, to be sure) by getting both Kareem and Magic to play with.

    Let me conclude that at this time I am content with my hierarchy. Could I be convinced that Wilt should move up? Easily. Can you compel me to put Magic over Bird? Absolutely.

    Thanks for your opinions and insight, they do help in forcing one to continually question and re-evaluate as new evidence arises.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 28, 2011, 7:00 pm
    • I have retired my hierarchy. Jordan’s the clear-cut #1 at this time since his numbers and his results are so overpowering that you just can’t make a compelling argument against him. After that, it’s all up in the air. There are a few things I believe strongly, such as that Bill Russell and Kobe Bryant are overrated historically and that Hakeem, Duncan, and (gulp) Shaq are generally underrated. I surely agree with you on Worthy-despite being a #1 pick, I don’t think he was a Hall of Fame talent. The ranking systems we each develop are completely subjective, so there’s no right answer, but the debate’s where the fun is anyway so I’m glad we don’t all agree.

      In defense of TS%, I’m not sure how you can call Artis Gilmore or Jeff Ruland an offensive stiff. Both were 20 PPG scorers in their primes, and Gilmore is a deserving Hall of Famer. Donaldson, sure, but I should mention that he joins the likes of the aforementioned Gilmore and Ruland, Mark West, Steve Johnson, Tyson Chandler and Bo Outlaw in the top 10 of FG%. The top 10 of the TS% stat replaces many of these guys with the likes of Cedric Maxwell, Adrian Dantley, Reggie Miller, Barkley, Magic, Stockton and Brent Barry. It’s certainly not the only tool, but I do believe it’s the best when you’re measuring efficiency.

      It’s been a pleasure having the discussion, Paulie.

      Posted by Lochpster | July 30, 2011, 8:20 pm
  57. I would agree that TS% is a great tool in measuring efficiency, but efficiency does not win games by itself. A-Train was woeful outside of about 4 feet and though a good shot blocker, could never hang with an active center (Kareem or even a Lambier!) defensively, and his career was quite short. I am willing to give Ruland some credit as he got injured and then swallowed a person or two.

    I generally agree with your positions and the arguments you use to support them. As I stated, I had Wilt as #2 for a long time, but with Russell there was just too much other evidence (the rings, the winning, the MVP’s, the defense and the anecdotes) to not vault him ahead of Wilt. I would still take Wilt #1 overall in an all time draft.

    One analogy I would give to you, and this ties in with the “argument” that Gil made about stats being arbitrary.

    Being from Lansing, Michigan, I have been able to watch Michigan state hoops since 1 the 1970’s. Here is a stat line from one of their players

    123 games, 115 starts, 540 FGM, 1331 FGA, .405 FG%, 143-457 3pt, .313 3pt%, 318-431 FT, .738 FT%, 254 rb, 2.1 rpg 816 assists, 6.6 apg, 1541 pts, 12.5 ppg.

    On the whole, that is a really weak four year total. Yet, the team posted records of 22-8, 33-5, and 32-7. MSU won three Big Ten titles and two Big Ten tournaments, went to the Final Four twice and won the NCAA Tournament. The player was also Big Ten Player of the Year twice and MSU team MVP three times!!

    The player is Mateen Cleaves, and though he was a dismal shooter, there was some quality he had that made a huge difference to his team. I watched the games, and I can tell you that when Cleaves was not on the floor, they were a lesser team. If you remember, Cleaves badly sprained his ankle in the 2000 title game and could barely walk , yet his teammates still WANTED him on the floor!!!

    Compare Cleaves stats with Scott Skiles:

    118/115 G/GS, 837/1623 Fg/FGA, .516 FG% (25-50 3 pt) 446/525 FT .850 FT%, 3.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 18.2 PPG.

    Skiles is FAR and AWAY the better shooter and efficient player, and though Skiles was certainly a leader, he was no Cleaves.

    Sometimes, the OTHER evidence is so vast that it takes precedence over the efficiency. I would note that these examples are few.

    Since you are a Magic supporter, I thought you may like this data from the 1979 tournament.

    Magic in 5 games had 109 pts, 44 rb, and 50 assits, the averages were 21.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, and 10.0 apg. The game by game:

    Lamar: 13-17-10 (1-1) FT
    LSU: 24-5-12 (14-15) FT
    ND: 19-5-13 (7-8) FT
    Penn: 29-10-10 (11-12) FT
    ISU: 24-7-5 (9-10) FT

    Yes, Magic was 41-46 from the line!

    Some other interesting things from that tourney:

    Terry Donnely shot 14-21 and Mike Brkovich shot 18-36. All from distance. Think they benefited form Magic????

    Scores show hoe dominate this team was with halftime scores in parenthesis. MSU listed first.

    Lamar: 95-64 (46-27)
    LSU: 87-71 (36-19)
    ND: 80-68 (34-23)
    Penn: 101-67 (50-17!!)
    ISU: 75-64 (37-28)

    Talk about a series of beat downs!!

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 30, 2011, 9:24 pm
  58. Please allow me to amend on the A-Train. I mistakenly wrote that his career was short; it was decidedly not short.

    What I meant to write was that even with the high FG%, A-Train was no better a center than Bob Lanier or Kevin Willis or many other very good players.

    I would not advocate Gilmore for the HOF.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 30, 2011, 10:15 pm
    • Poor old A-train. He controlled the paint as well as all but a handful of guys in NBA history. What more do you want from a center? Career averages of 19 PPG and 12 RBG don’t do it for you? He was an ABA MVP and has a combined 11 ABA-NBA All-Star appearances as well as one ABA title. He once blocked 422 shots in a season (ABA) and is the all time NBA leader in FG%. He’s top 20 all time in both offensive and defensive win shares and 39th in PER. And he had sweet hair. Far from a stiff, that’s an impressive resume. If he’s no better than Bob Lanier, then he should be in the Hall of Fame, since Lanier made it in with a much weaker resume. And Willis, as good as he was, never dominated the paint the way Gilmore did.

      If you want to talk about elevating the requirements for players to get into the Hall of Fame, be my guest. But the list of players who should be excluded before Gilmore is long. Tom Gola, Slater Martin, Bill Bradley, Joe Dumars, KC Jones, Jim Pollard, Arnie Risen, Bobby Wanzer, Joe Fulks, Dennis Johnson, and James Worthy come to mind as guys who deserve it a heck of a lot less than Gilmore. Gilmore’s career compares favorably to Willis Reed’s, minus that one storybook playoff moment. It’s a crime it took him so long to get in.

      It’s funny you brought up Cleaves, since he’s a guy I used to watch as a kid and wonder why people thought he was so good. When I looked at Cleaves, I saw a guy who was a great story, thrived in a great system under a great coach with very good players (Mo Pete, Charlie Bell, Jason Richardson) by his side, was tough as nails, was a pretty good setup man, a solid defender, and a pretty weak shooter. There was nothing special about his game that I could see. He certainly was a great fit and a very charismatic and well-respected player, but I don’t think that those things make one a great individual talent. There are 3 players from that 2000 Championship team who’ve had 10 year NBA careers, while Cleaves got almost no burn after his first NBA season. As beloved as he was, if I’m trying to win a game and could pick one or the other I’d way rather have Skiles. Leadership is obviously valuable, but it’s just too obscure for me to think I, or anyone else, can weigh it properly, so we wind up attributing it to guys who are on winning teams, whether or not that’s the reality. But as I said above, it’s really a highly subjective argument, and I do respect your opinion as much as I disagree with it.

      Love the Magic data!

      Posted by Lochpster | July 31, 2011, 9:44 pm
  59. of course, with guys like Cleaves, (or his NBA doppelganger, Jason Kidd) you need the right counterparts. That’s why the team dynamic is important when considering a players total value. If you have an A-Train, could having a Cleaves help your team be more effective as their strengths and weaknesses compliment each other?

    I would love to boot dudes out of the HOF. Sign me up.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 31, 2011, 11:39 pm
  60. As i said, I watched the games and the difference when Cleaves was on the floor was significant and noticeable. It means something when the team is deferring to another’s judgement with the confidence that he will make the right and best decision.

    Richardson was only a freshman in 2000 and didn’t play much, and also wasn’t that effective of a shooter. Bell didn’t shoot too well either, but again did EVERYTHING else well. Cleaves was the cornerstone of the team, but I will grant that Mo Pete was a very important part of that.

    Again, in a vacuum or pound for pound, I would take Skiles over Cleaves, just any sane person would take Wilt over Russell or Jordan. The thing is, who do you put WITH that guy to make the team go?

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | July 31, 2011, 11:46 pm
    • Paulie, I think I’ve lost track of whether we even have a disagreement. I agree with your last post almost 100% (I doubt I’d take Wilt over Jordan in a vacuum, but that’s a debate for another day). The better player might not always be the better fit for every team. I was really only arguing about a vacuum-the less talented player might be a better fit for some teams. I’d say the “better” player is the one you would take in a vacuum, but if to you it’s the one who has more of an effect on the team that he’s playing for, then we’re really just arguing semantics.

      Posted by Lochpster | August 7, 2011, 8:28 pm
  61. LOL, I knew this had to be a Lebrick Excuse as soon as I read the title

    Posted by Jim | August 12, 2011, 1:14 am
  62. Lochpster,

    I never felt we so much disagreed as we were articulating our process.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | August 14, 2011, 10:31 pm
  63. After reading the column and the ensuing debates in the comments after, I have come to the only conclusion I can see one can possibly make:
    1.) Lochpster is very HIGHLY BIASED against the Celtics players. Yes, he gives them their due…or so it appears. He can’t argue with their greatness historically so plays them lip service, and then snidely tries to dismiss or diminish them immediately after. Saying Russell is over-rated in the history of great players in the NBA is ridiculous AND the fact that he does everything in his power to diminish Bird’s value in the matter of Magic vs. Bird in also evidence of this.

    2.) Lochpster is a “stat” guy who devalues anything but STATS. Stats aren’t the game, and actually in reality AREN’T as objective as stat guys wish them to believe, as we all have to look at them in context and through a subjective lens to begin with. Was Wilt a GOAT? Yep. Was Russell? Yep. Do stats tell a story? Yep. But only part of it. Only fools dismiss “intangibles” because numbers can’t be applied to them. Basketball is a TEAM game first and foremost. Individual stats in this discussion don’t tell the whole story. Russell would do and did do whatever had to be done in order to win, even IF that was to do NOTHING. Wilt wouldn’t have in my opinion and there is no evidence that i know of suggesting he would. In qualifying for a great basketball player in my mind one must be able to determine what is best for his team and DO what is best for the team- EVEN IF THAT MEANS DOING NOTHING, or doing what you’re best at even when that doesn’t bring the glorious accolades.
    Also, Lochpster states this objectivity goal over and over again- only to ignore it in the next post and make it a subjective question to back up his supposed objective conclusion.
    BTW- Shot efficiency? Really? To say the Celtics would’ve been better off with Bird passing to McHale or Parish under the basket is totally ludicrous. A lot of THEIR production came off the second chance opportunities off a Bird shot. Bird felt free to shoot because those guys were there. That’s like saying OKC would be better dishing the ball to Kendrick Perkins because his efficiency and career FGP has been consitently high.

    Posted by TheKingLives | August 29, 2011, 2:40 pm
    • Thanks for the read. I’m actually less dismissive of intangibles now than I was when I wrote the article-I came across some data showing Dennis Rodman to have affected his team’s chances of winning by one of the greatest margins in NBA history. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Russell’s effect wasn’t even stronger.

      Also, before you brand me a Celtic hater, you should re-read the numerous dismissive comments I made toward Kobe :) That said, the fact that you think KC Jones, with career averages of 7 PPG, 4 APG and 4 RPG with a career 39% FG%, belongs in the Hall of Fame makes me think you’re a bit biased toward the Celtics yourself.

      Posted by Lochpster | August 29, 2011, 6:37 pm
      • in defense of Lochpster, I would say that he is being very objective. He is, in my opinion, heavily influenced by TS% and shooting efficiency, but this hardly makes him subjective. He is simply revealing the evidence he has unearthed.

        I may disagree with some of his conclusions and feel that perhaps his perspective is too narrow, but his work is solid.

        It is a good starting point for a good discussion that can only bring further illumination.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | August 30, 2011, 12:34 am
  64. Great read.

    I wanted to note some observations about the whole russell-wilt rivalry. People often look at how much more talented Russell’s teammates were compared to Wilt’s but sometimes forget to look at the head coach. Russell was coached by arguably the greatest coach ever while on the other hand Wilt had EIGHT different coaches in his 14 seasons, that’s UNHEARD of for almost every legend.

    Imagine all the different systems he had to learn and adjust to while Rusell had great continuity with his teammmates staying with one team and one head coach for the majority of his career. Rusell just had more help all around PERIOD.

    Posted by stillshining | October 1, 2011, 6:03 pm
  65. I think the essay in Simmons “The Basketball Book” most aptly puts the Russell-Wilt conundrum, and I will paraphrase:

    Could Wilt have done what Russell did on the floor? Yes, absolutely.

    Could Russell have done Wilt did on the floor? No. Nobody but Wilt could have been Wilt.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | October 2, 2011, 12:13 pm
    • Did Wilt do what Russell did on the floor? For the most part, nope.

      Did Russell have to do what Wilt did on the floor in order to win 11 championships in 13 years? Nope. Bill’s own style suited him just fine.

      Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 11, 2012, 11:50 pm
      • Brandon,

        I agree with your overall assessment and that is why in my all time hierarchy I have Russell ranked #2 behind Jordan.

        If you read my other comments, you will see my strong defense of Russell on the points that you made very eloquently below.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 12, 2012, 7:56 am
        • I get you. Please understand, my intention wasn’t to make my comment an attack on you. I was really going after the idea expressed in the quote you pulled from “The Basketball Book.” It seems that, for all of Chamberlain’s talents (and he was incredibly talented), it seems that statements of his supposed “superiority” over Russell have to be qualified with “if” and “should have” statements, which serves as one of several reasons for my defense of Russell in the debate.

          I understand where you’re coming from though, and we’re pretty much on the same page. Thanks for the clarification.

          Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 12, 2012, 1:34 pm
          • Wilt is such a difficult case as he was so so athleticaly gifted.

            The numbers he put up force people to make up such bullshit theories to attempt to explain how he could accomplished such data:

            1) The ” only played against slow short white guys” is a staple
            2) “he was a choker” is a common fall back
            3) “he wouldn’t average 50 today” is typical.

            The thing about Wilt that MOST impresses me is not the 50 ppg, not the career rebounding totals, but the minutes played.

            Wilt ledthe league in MP EIGHT times!!

            Look at his final year at age 36; 3500+ minutes, .727 FG% and 18.6 rebounds a game.

            I believe that what happened with Wilt was inevitable for a person with such gifts: that he would dominate to such a degree that his teammates and teams would suffer from atrophy. It took Wilt to age, mature and team up with two other greats in west and Baylor to finally understand that he didn’t have to do it all to win. In reality, it was better if he hadn’t ever done the things is best known for.

            Russell had known that all along. And the record reflects that.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 12, 2012, 10:19 pm
  66. This article is profusely drenched a radical oversimplification of the teams Kobe played in. If winning titles and their legacies are based on the players in the teams that won the championship, then Kobe has to be the criticized player when he’s won it. Everyone. Every. One who won a championship was able to muster up at least a few proven NBA veterans, boasted a semblance of D, or overpowered you like the Pistons in 2004, and likely had at least an all-star or borderline all-star players. Kobe is NO different than any of these past greats, he is able to say he’s played with beyond-compare all-star caliber players and also boasted deep playoff runs, and attained success winning championships as well.

    I don’t know why Kobe is held in such a higher standard. I’ve never heard of a guy who was held in a higher standard simply based on the number and name in the back of the jersey. The fact is, these articles aim to intentionally deride already accomplished players. People sometimes use fame, likability, and personality ahead of the player to arrive to these conclusions.

    Instead of nitpicking and nudging box scores to arrive to conclusions about a player to note the accomplishment and the stats related to the players who surround the player, or a player’s ability to compliment his team, to win, the writer opts to focus purely, and sorely on the fact that the stats will tell the story. I would tell the writer, Kobe was one of the most efficient players, both, amount of minutes accumulated, game makes, and end-game stats, which all resulted in successful wins when he was part of the threepeat Lakers. Why won’t you, Lochpster point to those same valid stats when Kobe a then-20 something old kid with little deep NBA experience helped Lakers pull victory after victory after victory. Was it because Kobe was underrated to the team, or because he was deferral to Shaq who was then-the most dominant big man in the game? OR perhaps it was inconvenient to the assumption that a player’s worth isn’t his worth in rings.

    When Lebron wins his first championship, his stats will likely be up there with Kobe’s from 2001. But what would also be salient from a future article would be how much better Lebron is for it. As we all can surmise by the look of every article here, Kobe and Lebron have to be measured by the metrics they are put under and the assumption that the metrics themselves determine the outcome of NBA playoff series’.

    One only needs to insofar look at the closing argument of this op-ed to arrive at the conclusion that Kobe’s stats and not the conclusion of the merit involved, SHOULD be the determining factor when in reality, it’s the other way around.

    I mean, why else would Kobe’s lack of “production” lead to anything different than a win, as he and his supposedly “go to” wing-man Gasol, during game 7, were accustomed to deferred shared statistics, that often lead to wins. Why did his 15 some odd rebounds lead to the same? Will to win. Maybe others like you only focus on box scores and metricals to support these agenda-driven conclusions.

    The caper on the whole article is this: “When Kobe was without either, the Lakers were a .500 team with an admittedly wretched supporting cast.”

    Well you wouldn’t credit Jordan if he hadn’t go-to wing men who outperformed their adversaries game in and game out if he didn’t have him would you? So again, it, and the logic pleads an answer to you not applying the SAME exact to Kobe. The case you can’t form against Jordan, is blaming him for his circumstance, following himself, or someone with his exact metrics, and playing with guys like Pau Gasol and Bynum, and Lamar and chasing the same amount of titles. The only thing you can fault Kobe for personally, is being a lesser leader, and having less favorable stats, but in the same equation, has the same amount of chips as other legends who played the game.

    Posted by DODOO | January 10, 2012, 5:39 pm
  67. What evidence would you bring to prove that Bryant is an efficient player?

    If we replaced Shaq with say, Chris Webber, would the Lakers have won any titles?

    To imply that Kobe singularly lifted the Lakers to wins is flatly false.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 10, 2012, 7:57 pm
  68. First of all, Lochpster, let me say that this is a thorough, wellc-composed article. However, I do take issue with your point that Wilt’s individual stats justify his being a better player than Bill Russell.

    “Many have argued that Wilt was selfish, but as the best offensive option on his team for much of his career, he was supposed to shoot. Russell had a reputation as a better defender, but that’s mere opinion and speculation at this point. Harvey Pollack claims Wilt blocked an average of at least 10 shots per game and he has a documented 23 blocks against Phoenix. During the 1961-1962 season, a year rated the #1 sports season of all time by ESPN in 2008, in which he averaged 50.4 PPG, 25.7 RPG and shot .506 from the field. The MVP that year? Bill Russell, who averaged 18.9 PPG, 23.6 RPG, and shot .457 from the floor. What better example could there be that Russell’s perceived dominance of Wilt was not in sync with reality?”

    Remember that winning is also a factor in who wins MVP awards (what’s more valuable than wins in a sport?). The Boston Celtics went 60-20 that year and won the championship, while Chamberlain’s Warriors finished the season 49-31 and were eliminated by the Syracuse Nationals in the playoffs.

    Let’s think about what it means to be the a worthy receipient of the MVP award: One should be the most important component of his team’s winning formula. Bill Russell has been called the cornerstone of that Boston Celtics’ dynasty – one of the greatest dynasties in the history of American professional sports, let alone the NBA – and was the recognized captain of those Boston Celtics teams (he even served as player/coach in the last three years of his career), so it’s safe to assume that he was the most important component of the Celtics’ success at that time. On the other hand, stats alone probably tell you that Wilt was his team’s MVP. However, the NBA MVP award is a league-wide thing, and what’s the one thing that’s (ideally) valued throughout the league above all else? Winning.

    Perhaps those who voted for the MVP award at that time recognized that a man whose PPG average was greater than his team’s win total wasn’t doing enough of what usually made the league MVP so valuable. I’m not saying that the league MVP is solely determined by the wins he helps his team accumulate, but scoring alone doesn’t do it either. Granted, Wilt’s offensive numbers in that season and his career far outweigh
    Russell’s, but teams around the league knew who was more of a threat to beat you on the scoreboard, where it matters most, as opposed to the stat sheet.

    “Wilt went to the Finals a total of 6 times in 14 seasons and won twice despite consistently running into teams full of Hall of Famers. Wilt lost four Game 7s to Russell by a total of 9 points. Yet when you compare the rosters, it’s clear that outside of the pivot, the Celtics were consistently a superior team. Wilt’s original Warriors team was 32-40 and missed the playoffs the year before they drafted him, whereas Russell was drafted onto a playoff team that already had MVP Bob Cousy, Red Auerbach, and had drafted another Hall of Famer in Tom Heinsohn that year as well.”

    Let’s not forget that the two teams (the 76ers and the Lakers) Wilt lead to championships in are considered among the greatest of all-time, as the 76ers went 68-13 (they won 46 of their first 50 games), and the Lakers 69-12. During that time, Chamberlain played with his own share of hall of famers (Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham in Philly, and Jerry West and Gail Goodrich in L.A.). Let’s not gloss over the fact that Wilt lost his share with hall-of-fame talent around him either. Ever read about the finals series he played as a Laker against the Celtics and the Knicks when he had Jerry West and Elgin Baylor (two all-time NBA greats) as teammates? He still lost.

    It’s also interesting to note that in the two years Chamberlain won championships, he averaged career-lows in PPG (24.1 and 14.8 PPG respectively) and focused more on defense and getting his teammates involved. Coincidence? Or did Wilt learn a lesson or two from his “offensively-challenged” rival? As noted in the Sportscentury piece on Wilt Chamberlain, it had been suggested to the Big Dipper by Bill Sharman (Chamberlain’s coach during his second run as a Laker) that he play more like Bill Russell. Chamberlain did so, and he got a ring for it.

    For my last point, I ask those who both bash Russell for his offense or lack thereof in comparison to Chamberlain’s and act as if Chamberlain was better because he broke a boatload of individual NBA records to consider the fact that NBA basketball is a TEAM sport. I understand the argument that Bill Russell played with hall of famers in Boston while Wilt largely did not, but remember that Russell is the recognized leader and cornerstone of those all-time great Celtics teams. Also keep in mind that, as I previously mentioned, when Chamberlain won his rings he did so with hall of fame talent. He had his chances to win more with said talent, but did not. We don’t know what Russell would’ve been had he not gone to Boston and played with several fellow hall of famers, but we know what the Celtics were before Russell got there: a playoff team true enough, but not champions. Russell has at least one more ring than anyone else on those Celtics team – he was the constant. Wilt Chamberlain scored more points and snatched more rebounds, but Russell better understood how to elevate his teammates’ play and WIN basketball games. It wasn’t until Chamberlain followed this same model that he lay claim to his own jewelry. Tell me, if Michael Jordan’s numbers were the same across the board, but he managed to win only two championships as opposed to six, would he still be as highly regarded as he is now? I doubt it. Point blank: Chamberlain had more impressive individual stats, but, in the context of a team sport, Russell was far better.

    Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 11, 2012, 11:27 pm
    • Thanks for the read and the insightful post. I do have a question though.

      If MJ had never played with Pippen, never played for Phil Jackson, and never been paired up with Rodman or Grant, would he have won as many (or any) titles? If not, would he have been a lesser player?

      Posted by Lochpster | January 14, 2012, 2:27 am
      • Lochpster: You’re alive!!!! You do know that the lockout ended? 😉

        Posted by The NBA Realist | January 14, 2012, 11:10 pm
      • Interesting point, but the argument could be made from your inquiry that MJ’s all-around game benefitted from having such great talent around him. Is it possible that, when a guy like Jackson came in and helped open MJ’s eyes to the potential successes of team play, and Pippen’s and Rodman’s efforts significantly eased the defensive and rebounding burdens that the Bulls might’ve otherwise struggled to bear, these things enabled MJ to focus more on his own game? Perhaps the presence of these three and others like Grant, Kukoc, etc. allowed MJ to become a more efficient scorer and effective defender among other things, because he understood that he had reliable backup in tight spots. If this is true and the argument is valid, then it could be said that the absence of said coach and players might’ve lessened Jordan’s effectiveness – thus making him a SOMEWHAT lesser player.

        Please note: I’m still speaking in the context of team basketball, which is what NBA basketball amounts to.

        Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 15, 2012, 1:41 pm
        • I don’t see how a player who toils for a lesser team is a lesser player. To me, they’re just a player in a different set of circumstances. They may be less effective, but that’s more due to fighting through defenses geared to stop them and being unable to rely on their coaches and teammates to help them out than it is to being that they’re somehow different players.

          Posted by Lochpster | January 17, 2012, 9:10 pm
          • Loch,

            That is one of the reasons why many of the new stat metrics that are used in baseball have limited applications in basketball.

            the Win Shares is one of them. A very good player can get bogged down on a very bad team and that team may only produce 25 wins or less. Well, how many Win Shares can even a Jordan get from a Bulls team that goes 38-44?

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 17, 2012, 9:44 pm
          • Interesting how Kobe has never led the league in Win Shares.

            That seems odd for a player that so many boast as “top 5 all time”

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 17, 2012, 9:46 pm
          • Paulie,
            It would hurt him, certainly. I like win shares, and while they’re flawed, I think they’re pretty good. For a better stat, check out win% differential. No, stats aren’t perfect, but they’re getting better all the time.


            Is it so hard to believe Kobe’s never been worth the most wins to his team of any player in the league? Doesn’t seem so far-fetched to me.

            Posted by Lochpster | January 17, 2012, 10:00 pm
          • Loch,

            I had my tongue firmly in cheek with that statement.

            I think Win Shares, like many stat metrics, can provide a good road map and lead us to better insight, but they must almost always used in conjunction with other measurements.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 17, 2012, 10:05 pm
          • No doubt. I appreciated the slow-pitch softball :)

            Posted by Lochpster | January 17, 2012, 10:28 pm
          • That’s a good point, but wouldn’t you agree that Michael was a better ALL-AROUND player with Jackson, Pippen, and Rodman in his corner? His mentality changed: he began to appreciate the value of team ball, and adjusted his game accordingly.

            Of course, in the days prior to Jackson, Pippen, and Rodman, MJ didn’t have a magic wand to wave and make his old supporting cast more talented. However, had he ENTERED the league with the determination to form a solid unit with his lesser-talented teammates (understanding that a group which works together within their roles toward a common goal can overcome individual weaknesses), I believe that he could’ve acoomplished more in the early stages of his career – probably not as much as he would later on, granted, but more than he ended up with. Individual awards aside, I believe that Jordan was a somewhat lesser player at this time because of his unwillingness to work more with the personnel around him. Understand, I’m not attacking Jordan’s character here, but rather making my case for why I believe that, despite his impressive stats, young MJ wasn’t as good as his older, more mature version. By not adjusting his all-around game in a manner that played more to his teammates’ strengths (while not neglecting his own), young MJ shined on the stat sheet, but not so much on the scoreboard. Better surrounding talent (some of which was hall of fame worthy) probably made it easier for Jordan to be a teamplayer, but the lack of said talent prior to that didn’t excuse from at least trying.

            Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 18, 2012, 9:26 pm
          • you remember that MJ played at UNC and was kept below 20 ppg, right?

            They also won the NCAA tournament while he was there and he was but a role player.

            The Bulls form 1984-19987 were really crappy. REALLY CRAPPY.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 18, 2012, 10:51 pm
          • I think we’re arguing semantics. On a team with multiple good players, each one becomes more successful. Did Kobe and Wade somehow become lesser players once Shaq left, or were they set up to succeed early, then set up to fail as they were entering their primes?

            I’m sure Jordan learned things from Pippen, Grant, Jackson, Rodman, etc that made him into the player he ultimately became. I also think he could have been the league’s best player had he been gunning for championships on the Bulls or Knicks or toiling in obscurity for the Clippers or Grizzlies. And I don’t think he would have been a lesser player toiling for an inept franchise that couldn’t help him win, as Lebron in Cleveland or Kobe during the lean years in LA had to do.

            Posted by Lochpster | January 19, 2012, 7:28 pm
    • Interesting discussion and great comment Brandon.

      Couple of thoughts here:

      1. There is precedent in major sports for a player having such a great statistical season that it overwhelms the “winning” requirement for typical MVPs. Most notable that I can find is Andre Dawson, who is 1987 won the MVP by hitting 49 homeruns for the last place Cubs.

      2. Another valid question is: if Wilt and Russell had switched teams during this time period what would the results have been. Difficult to say that Russell would have gotten to as many Finals with the talent Wilt had. Simultaneously however, it is a valid statement to say it is unlikely Wilt would have pulled out some of the Game 7s that Russell was able to will his team to. In the end, the discussion for me is a toss-up.

      Posted by Brown Mamba | January 14, 2012, 9:29 am
      • FTR, Mamaba,

        Dawson hardly had “such a great season that it overwhelmed the “winning”. He led the league in HR’s that year, but only by 5 over Dale Murphy.

        There were several better candidates than Dawson, but for whatever reason, the voters chose him.

        Clark, O.Smith, Gwynn, Murphy, Guererro, Raines, and Strawberry all would have been much better choices.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 15, 2012, 1:47 am
      • First of all, Brown Mamba, thank you. Secondly, although there is precedent in major sports for one player’s stats overwhelming the winning ways of another to win the award, it’s not the norm. I believe that Russell’s own individual greatness (which was all-time great in its own right), combined with the fact that his team finished eleven wins ahead of Wilt’s AND won the championship was enough to justify giving the nod to number 6. Even if one were to make the “Russell had the better team” argument, that still ignores the possibility of Russell’s efforts making his teammates better. His all-time great defensive and rebounding abilities made it easier for his teammates to contribute in their strongest areas, such as scoring. 50 PPG is truly remarkable, and I’m sure that Wilt’s defensive numbers were also up to par, but it could be argued that Russell’s stats factored greater into his team’s success. Where Wilt might’ve sent a blocked shot into the stands – thus giving the other team another chance to score, Russell might’ve made a block the setup pass of a Boston fastbreak. If the determination of the award-winner ever came down to a question of whose stats meant more to a game’s final outcome, Russell’s was the answer.

        Your second point is something to consider. I did acknowledge earlier that we don’t know what Russell would’ve been without his fellow hall of fame teammates in Boston. Nonetheless, we do know what the Celtics were before Russell (a talented playoff team with no chapionships), and after Russell (perhaps the greatest team/dynasty in NBA history with 11 championships in 13 years). Also, while it is difficult to say that Russell would’ve had the same success somewhere else, it’s just as difficult to say that Wilt would’ve accomplished what Bill did in Boston (as you acknowledged). I’m pretty well convinced that he wouldn’t have, and I’m almost as convinced that Russell would’ve done more with the talent that Wilt had around him throughout his career, especially in LA and Philly with the 76ers. Even as a Warrior, I believe that Russell’s style of play and willingness to sacrifice individual glory for team victory would’ve brought out more of the best in his teammates. While intangibles are sometimes irrelevant in the breakdown of a player’s game or accomplishments, I believe that they’re very relevant to the question of what it takes to win. I believe that Wilt was a good guy, but would his intangibles (i.e. unselfishness, thick skin to criticism, etc.) or lack thereof have allowed him to realize the success Boston with Bill, who seemed to have the aforementioned intangibles in abundance on the court?

        Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 15, 2012, 2:43 pm
        • I am pretty sure that awards are given PRIOR to the playoffs being completed, thus no wight should be placed on MVP speculation in regards to teams winning the title.

          It is difficult to play the what if game, but I feel really confident that with the Celtics and with Red coaching, that Wilt would have been the greatest force in the history of the game.

          Wilt had all the physical attributes of Russell and also had the mental toughness and intelligence that Russell possessed.

          Wilt would have had numbers that were similar to Russell’s except a much much higher FG%. Wilt’s career would have mirrored more closely his final years with the Lakers: high minutes, high rebounds, good assists and a high FG% with a moderate scoring average.

          Russell gets ahead of Wilt because that is the way it happened. We cannot re-write history to elevate one player over another.

          Had the circumstances been different, then the results would likewise be different.

          Neither Wilt nor Russell relied on excuses of circumstance in their lives, and it is not appropriate to do so here.

          Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 15, 2012, 2:55 pm
          • Well Paulie, PRIOR to the playoffs being completed, Russell’s team finished the regular season 60-20 – still 11 wins better than Wilt’s ballclub. I’m not relying on Russell’s or Wilt’s excuses of circumstances when I argue that Russell had the better intangibles. In fact, I might not have addressed any what-if statement regarding these two all-time greats at all had it not been presented to me in a well articulated reply to one of my earlier comments by Brown Mamba.

            I’m not arguing against Wilt’s physical attributes, heck, we’re talking about one of the most physically imposing guys to ever play the game. Not to mention that such characteristics were not wasted in an uncoordinated, unathletic body – Wilt was perhaps one of the greatest athletes to ever grace an NBA court. It’s hard to argue for just about ANYBODY against Wilt with regard to physical attributes. What I’m arguing is that Wilt, for all his scoring and individual dominance (dominance so evident on the stat sheet), didn’t elevate his teammates’ play to the level that Russell raised his fellow Celtics’ play.

            I also argued, and continue to argue now, that it’s not so certain to me that Wilt would’ve equaled what Russell did had he been a Celtic, let alone surpassed it. Look at what Wilt did with hall of fame teammates like Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Elgin Baylor in L.A., and Billy Cunningham and Hal Grier in Philly as a 76er. Yes, he won two rings, but will you then argue that he maximized his potential with these guys after several seasons of playing with both teams – or that he even came all that close to doing so as I suspect most all-time great players are expected to do? Let’s not act like Wilt played with bums his entire career. I understand how easy it is to look at a man who once averaged 50 PPG for a season, or scored 100 points himself once in a game, and say that there’s little more he could’ve done, but that’s not true. I understand that the man grabbed a ridiculous number of rebounds and blocked a ridiculous number of shots, but Bill wasn’t too shabby in those departments either, and he honored his responsibilities in these areas in a way that helped his team WIN big games.

            How convinced are you that Wilt had the intelligence and mental toughness to do what Bill did had he been in Bill’s position? Remember, one part of mental toughness is the ability to face and overcome criticism. Here’s a man who won a total of 11 rings at the end of a 13-year career, yet when he won an MVP award, some voters would come up with a bogus excuse out of some ill-found need to “justify” his selection – something like: “There are other centers who are better, but no one is more valuable to their team.” When all-pro teams were announced, more often than not he made the second team. Never mind the fact that this man was the cornerstone of the greatest dynasty in the history of the league, never mind that he was one of the greatest defensive presences in the history of the game, never mind that the franchise to which he was drafted had never won a championship before his arrival, never mind that his seemingly unwavering willingness to fill the role required of him by his team better allowed his teammates to play to their strengths and go on a championship run the likes of which hadn’t been seen before or since – he couldn’t have been all that good because he shot under 50% from the field. That’s a joke. Russell has expressed his feeling unappreciated for his accomplishments several times in interviews long after his retirement, yet even during his playing days when it was right there for his consumption, he continued to focus on winning and didn’t change his style of play in a way that would have been detrimental to his team’s success.

            Wilt was a great player, and he scored MUCH more than did Bill (and more efficiently at that), but I do not accept the notion that his basketball IQ or mental toughness was on-par with Russell’s. In the Sportscentury features done on Russell and Chamberlain, it’s noted how Russell would let Chamberlain score, and Chamberlain’s teammates would stand there and watch him score again and again (they weren’t involved). Then, in crunch time, Russell would tighten his d on Chamberlain, and, by this time, his teammates were cold – thus making efforts to involve them futile at that stage of the game. Perhaps Russell could’ve done more to try and suppress Chamberlain’s numbers, but he understood the futility of trying to match Chamberlain blow-for-blow. He understood that he was playing for a TEAM. Twice did Chamberlain make major alterations to his game for the sake of team success, and he won rings both times. Yet, in other situations, he didn’t allow himself to fully buy into the concept of team basketball. To me, that’s not the reasoning of a player with a sky-high basketball IQ.

            Ultimately, we’re talking about NBA greatness. If this were a discussion of who would win in a one-on-one game at Rucker Park, perhaps then I could buy into the support for Wilt. However, at the risk of sounding redundant, I’ll again say that NBA basketball is team basketball. You’re right that I nor anyone else should try and rewrite history to make a point, but I don’t have to. We don’t have old film clips of these two battling in an otherwise empty gym to determine who was better, only the games they played while in the league. Wilt racked up the points, rebounds, blocks, etc, but, Russell’s numbers are impressive in their own right, and, for the most part, Wilt didn’t exhibit the knack that Russell had of playing to the strengths of those AROUND him, making their jobs easier, and winning championships.

            Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 15, 2012, 7:14 pm
          • One more thing – I don’t want my comments about Wilt above to be taken as my commentary on Wilt’s personal character. Again I’ll say that I believe he was a good guy, and he is an all-time great player. I don’t want my criticism of some of Wilt’s basketball-related choices to be confused with criticisms of Wilt as a person. Just wanted to clarify.

            Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 15, 2012, 7:31 pm
          • Brandon,

            I am not arguing whether Russel is greater than Wilt.

            If you read or have read any of my posts which I list my hierarchy, I have Jordan #1 and Russell #2. I have Wilt #6.

            What I do suggest is that had Wilt played with a GREAT coach, like Red, he would have bought into the team concept.

            What I suggest is that Wilt was SOOO much better than his college teammates and then his first set of professional teammates that what occurred with him dominating the ball was INEVITABLE.

            Had Wilt come into a team like Boston with a hierarchy in place and an organization with a specific culture, that these circumstances would have altered Wilt’s results and this would have elevated Wilt to the top.

            As it is, I cannot truly say with any level of confidence that nay team could win EIGHT titles in a row. Russel’s teams did that. Russell is cited as the single greatest reason for this by EVERYONE who watched and played.

            Hard to dispute that evidence, and I don’t dispute it.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 15, 2012, 7:37 pm
  69. The short answer is no.

    What really defined Jordan’s greatness to me was his ability as a perimeter player to lead an otherwise putrid Bulls teams to the playoffs in his early seasons.

    Winning championships is about the team; depth, coaching, and overall philosophy matter more than individual talent.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 14, 2012, 9:07 am
  70. Lochpster,

    I just read an article by Disneyland’s Michael Wilbon regarding Kobe Bryant’s scoring flurry this week and in it Wilbon quotes Kobe as:

    “Not bad for the seventh best player in the NBA” referring the list complied by the experts that posters such as Boyer often cite as their irrefutable sources.

    Wilbon then listed Bryant as “a top 10 player of all time” and then, of course stated that it is ridiculous to choose the other 6 players over Bryant because. . . you guessed it, RINGS!!!

    I like Wilbon and I think he is a really honest and sharp guy; it just demonstrates that these writers have more to sell than more to say.

    Below is the link to the article.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 14, 2012, 9:28 am
    • Not a great article for him. He also says Kobe is the best player right now, ignoring the fact that Lebron’s absolutely killing it right now and that Durant is putting up slightly better numbers than Kobe for a slightly better team. But as with his top 10 list, there’s no discussion, just a statement.

      There’s no doubt what Kobe’s doing right now is damn impressive for anyone, though, let alone a 16 year veteran.

      Posted by Lochpster | January 17, 2012, 9:38 pm
  71. to clarify, I really hate it when these hyperbole machines offer up their ranking of a player or coach offhandedly as “he’s top 10 all time” without EVER EVER offering a context of who else is in the list.

    This shows me that they are only expressing a rhetorical homage to the individual to acknowledge their greatness without actually placing in true thought into their historical context.

    We had to suffer this endlessly when LaRussa retired and the Cards won the WS.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 14, 2012, 9:31 am
  72. Paulie, I get what you’re saying and we are in agreement on the Russell vs Wilt debate. One thing you said that did stick out to me though was that Wilt possessed Bill’s basketball intelligence and mental toughness. You’ve made your case for this in a reasonable and well-articulated manner, and I agree that Wilt had a high basketball IQ and desire to win. However, I think that you and I will end up agreeing to disagree on the point that these characteristics were as prevalent in Wilt as they were in Bill.

    Nonetheless, I do enjoy the discussion, respect your position, and freely admit that I could be wrong.

    Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 15, 2012, 8:12 pm
  73. I don’t disagree that Russell had the higher desire to win than did Wilt.

    I just think that Red’s genius would have been able to bring it out.

    Red didn’t need to do that with Russ.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | January 15, 2012, 8:59 pm
  74. Paulie, MJ was taken third overall in the NBA draft. Thus, while he might not have been “the man” when he helped UNC win it all, it seems clear to me that his potential for success at the next level was very apparent.

    As for those crappy Bulls teams from 1984-1987 – they made the playoffs all three of those seasons. I understand the importance of Jordan’s presence in the lineup to that success, but I would still argue that Jordan was talented enough to have brought out more of the best in his teammates earlier in his career. Sure, John Paxson, Dave Corzine, and Charles Oakley weren’t setting the world on fire (their PPG during this time were 8.3, 8.8, and 12.05 respectively) – and Paxson and Oakley didn’t join the Bulls until ’85 – but when you consider the fact that MJ averaged approx. 29.3 PPG during the span in question and attempted 2526 more field goals than the one guy of the three (Corzine) who was with him from the beginning, it’s not ludicrous to think that their lack of effectiveness was due in part to a lack of touches. Again, I’m not arguing that had Jordan been more team-oriented from the beginning, he would’ve had as much success then as he would in the latter half of his career. However, I’d guess that a team with three consecutive playoff apearances to its credit has the potential to reach even higher heights. Had MJ involved his teammates more in the swing of things, perhaps those Bulls teams wouldn’t have been so crappy.

    Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 19, 2012, 7:53 pm
  75. Lochpster, I see what you’re saying, but I believe that we’re going to end up respectfully agreeing to disagree. My argument is that MJ could’ve done more in the context of teamplay to have more success early on in his career, and was a somewhat lesser player because he didn’t do so as well as he could have. To me, MJ was simply better in the latter part of his career than the former – and that’s not all due simply to the presence of better teammates. MJ’s impressive PPG and STG in his early years haven’t convinced me that he was the same player throughout his career. Upon the arrival of Jackson and Pippen, and Rodman later on, he changed his game to the team’s benefit. I’m not saying that the change was drastic, but its effects were evident.

    Posted by Brandon Crockett | January 19, 2012, 8:15 pm
  76. Lochipster, this is a brilliant article and I commend your writing, reasoning skills, and the ability to covey your points calmly and effectively. All of these things are sorely lacking in today’s era of sports “analysis”.

    I would like to add to some of the points you made above about “clutch/game winning shots”. It’s really an issue of cognitive bias: people forget that a game-winning shot is a result of taking the hardest path to winning games! Making your shots earlier in the game points just as much as a game-winner, and because the points carry over you increase your probability of getting the win. Game-winners require comebacks, which make for great sports stories and narratives but are also more unlikely. It’s like erroneously picking a horse because he’s the best one in the field during the stretch run, but he stinks at getting out of the gate and/or is slow during the other parts of the race. The stretch is no more important than the other parts of the race.

    That is just my rambling, however. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by The Realist #2 | January 24, 2012, 8:46 am
    • Thanks for the nice complement and the insight. I completely agree with everything you said in your post!

      Posted by Lochpster | January 24, 2012, 6:16 pm
      • No problem! Glad my ramble made sense.

        Just some other issues with the blatant cognitive bias in basketball (and sports in general), using yesterday’s Heat-Bulls game as an example:

        -The Heat won the game, yet the media heads decide to rip LBJ for missing free-throws instead. I thought the object (according to the faulty logic) was to “win the game”? Why do we now care about individual player performances instead of irrationally assigning wins and losses to one player as we usually do?

        -LBJ is killed for what he “didn’t” do in the Finals or whenever he doesn’t take a bunch of shots in the 4th quarter, yet no one is talking about how Wade was virtually missing in the 4th. Did anyone even remember he was playing? Why aren’t we ripping Wade for that? (Gee, are people now realzing that maybe it’s because there’s only one ball and only one player can shoot it? And teams run the offense through the player who’s shooting well in the game, like the Heat did with Wade in the Finals?)

        -The media heads are “excusing” Rose for missing shots and free-throws in the 4th because “he was tired, “he had to carry the team,” etc. Wait, I was saying the same thing about LBJ last postseason when he had to play more minutes (nearly 100!) more than the next guy, and he might have been a little gassed in the Finals. Where’s the same excuse for James? Is it because he’s not 6’1″ and 180 lbs? Is he not allowed to get tired or fatigued as well?

        I think all these questions are interesting in the LBJ narrative. Reason gets thrown out the window, contradiction in logic is acceptable, and we judge players differently because we don’t like “The Decision” and how they have “The Chosen One” as one of their tattoos.

        Posted by The Realist #2 | January 30, 2012, 9:10 am
        • To be given the benefit of the doubt with the media, you’ve got to be either a proven winner or likeable. Unfortunately for Lebron, he’s neither (mostly through self-inflicted wounds). He’ll probably have to win multiple titles to change the impression most of us have of him.

          Posted by Lochpster | January 31, 2012, 2:39 pm
        • Certainly true and I agree with your post. Still doesn’t make it right though, even if LBJ didn’t exactly help himself PR-wise afte leaving Cleveland.

          But hey, narratives sell in sports and LeBron currently wears the villain hat. We want our “great heroes” to also be “proven winners” – even when we realize that winning has much more to do with a team than an individual effort.

          Posted by The Realist #2 | January 31, 2012, 10:19 pm
  77. Ah, and as if this is all right on cue: The Lakers don’t play well, Kobe whines about Lakers management (clearly to spur them to make a move to upgrade the roster before the trade deadline), and Lakers fans whine about Kobe not getting enouh “help” around him. Then when the Lakers win the title, watch these same fools talk about “Kobe’s rings”.


    Posted by The Realist #2 | February 20, 2012, 8:06 am
    • How is this not consistent? Kobe has shown that given a modicum of help, his team can win a title, with him leading the way.

      Pau Gasol was essentially Chris Bosh before he joined the Lakers.

      If Kobe is not winning titles, it’s because he doesn’t have enough help.

      If Lebron is not winning titles, well he already ran out of excuses. He SHOULD win with Wade and Bosh, as he should have the year before. The Mavs were a good team, but if Kobe had played with Wade and Bosh, they would have beaten the Mavs. Of course this is speculation, but it’s what we’re arguing isn’t it?

      Posted by Gil Meriken | February 20, 2012, 1:20 pm
      • “If Lebron is not winning titles, well he already ran out of excuses.”

        Pardon? If LBJ musters up 30 per game with 60% shooting with good defense in the Finals, but Wade is the one who puts together a bum series and the Heat don’t win, that’s not LBJ’s fault. The team winning/losing isn’t necessarily indicative of how the player plays, much like the Heat could’ve very well won last year with a below-average LeBron in the Finals. Wouldn’t change the fact he played poorly in that series; it would just mean his squad managed to pick up the slack.

        It’s not about making “excuses”, just common sense. Kobe recognizes that he NEEDS to have a good team around him to win no matter how good he is; but of course whenever the Lakers win titles, to some Kobe fans it stops being about a team sport.

        Posted by The Realist #2 | February 20, 2012, 2:28 pm
        • Every great player needs a good team around him to win, that’s obvious. This has been the case with every player in history.

          While you like to whine about Kobe fans making it an individual sport or whatever you’re saying, it’s the same way with jordan fans or will be with lebron fans(if he ever wins a title). I’m not sure how this is different for just Kobe fans. Everyone knows it’s a team sport, but how many fans really get amped up to root for D.J. Mbenga?

          The thing with jordan fans, kobe haters, and/or lebron fans is that they like denigrate how great pippen was, elevate Kobe’s teammates to a status of which they aren’t, and make excuses for lebron.

          Bottom line is that Kobe’s had a good team around him the past few years but so has lots of stars, but nothing compared to jordan/magic/bird teams. One great example is the 2010 WCF. Nash’s supporting cast outplayed Kobe’s cast by a wide margin, but Kobe was just phenomenal in that series. In one game, the suns bench basically played the lakers’ starters even for most of the 4th. If Nash or Amare played as well as Kobe did in that series, the suns win. And then take the 2010 finals. Kobe was by far the best player in the series. If rondo or pierce or kg or allen play even somewhat as close as well as kobe played, the c’s win.

          Posted by boyer | February 20, 2012, 8:45 pm
          • “Every great player needs a good team around him to win, that’s obvious. This has been the case with every player in history.”

            Glad you agree.

            Which is why when people talk about “Jordan’s rings” or “LBJ’s rings” (if the Heat win some titles), they’re just as shortsighted as Kobe fans who use the same argument.

            Posted by The Realist #2 | February 20, 2012, 9:28 pm
          • Well, usually these people are comparing the best players currently or ever or whatever, so when they use how many rings each player has as part of his argument, then it’s accurate to talk like that.

            Posted by boyer | February 21, 2012, 6:50 am
        • I disagree. With rare expections, the team winning or losing over a seven game series is very indicative of whether the star players did what was necessary to win.

          You look at the individual stats “30 per game with 60% shooting” and I say that it’s all for naught if you don’t win, and it shows you didn’t do what it took to help your team win four out of seven.

          By definition, if your team wins, you did what it took to win, regardless of the individual stats. There was something amiss if you lost, even if you shot 100% for 50 pts a game.

          It’s the same reason McGrady doesn’t get lauded for putting up huge numbers on a losing Orlando squad. If Kobe, even if Lebron were on that team, they may not put up similar individual stats, but they would have found ways to win more games than McGrady did. And I don’t mean intangible ways, I mean they would have figured out what the team needed, and provided it.

          Team performance over a series of games is driven by your best players. Now you can argue that Gasol was the driver of the Lakers Finals win, but that’s a different argument.

          Posted by Gil Meriken | February 22, 2012, 9:34 am
          • “You look at the individual stats “30 per game with 60% shooting” and I say that it’s all for naught if you don’t win, and it shows you didn’t do what it took to help your team win four out of seven.”

            “By definition, if your team wins, you did what it took to win, regardless of the individual stats.”

            “Team performance over a series of games is driven by your best players.”

            That’s funny, because I recall you saying this in an earlier post:

            “If Kobe is not winning titles, it’s because he doesn’t have enough help.”

            Which one is it, Gil? Is Kobe the reason the Lakers didn’t win a title last season, and also from 02-09? Is he the reason the Lakers aren’t an elite team this season? Is he not doing “what it takes to win” now?

            Or is Kobe the only player in team sports who allowed to lose with teammates? When you’re talking about your “rare exceptions”, did you sneak that qualifier in there so you can conveniently account for those seasons that the Lakers don’t win a title with Kobe as its star player?

            And, in seasons when the Lakers do win a title, do you change your argument again so you can give the credit of the “ring” to Kobe?

            Posted by The Realist #2 | February 22, 2012, 10:25 am
          • “By definition, if your team wins, you did what it took to win, regardless of the individual stats. There was something amiss if you lost, even if you shot 100% for 50 pts a game.”

            It is offensive how intellectually dishonest this is. If Kobe scored 50 points on 100% shooting and the Lakers lost you’d be screaming bloody murder to management to go get him some help, since obviously you believe tbe following:

            “If Kobe is not winning titles, it’s because he doesn’t have enough help.”

            These statements cannot coexist. Throwing out whatever conflicting argument supports you in the moment is the sort of tactic usually employed by snake oil salesmen, politicians, and religious zealots. If you can’t come up with a consistent argument, you should really re-examine your beliefs, because the argument you have just made cannot possibly be true.

            Posted by Lochpster | February 22, 2012, 9:53 pm
          • Lochspter, I’m not a fan of Skip Bayless, but there’s one thing I’ll give him credit for: he’s not a flip-flopper. If teams don’t win, he’ll go right to the star player and bash him on national television, as much as he’ll praise those same stars in wins. When the Lakers were swept, Skip didn’t “make excuses” for Kobe. And I’ll say it again for those who feel only LeBron’s Heat should be decried for losing to the Mavs: THE HEAVILY-FAVORED DEFENDING CHAMPION LAKERS, LED BY “THE GREATEST, MOST CUTTHROAT WINNER IN SPORTS HISTORY” KOBE BRYANT, WERE SWEPT BY THE MAVS. TWO GAMES WERE DECIDED BY 10 POINTS OR MORE, WITH ONE GAME BEING A 35+ POINT BLOWOUT.

            Now, I certainly don’t agree with blaming Kobe BECAUSE his team didn’t win, and it’s also a small, shallow, and flawed circle of reasoning that Skip completes whenever he gives his analysis of great players (“give all the credit to the star in team wins; blame him for team losses”). But I’ll respect that more than someone who willingly contradicts his own position just so Kobe Bryant can stay above reproach.

            Posted by The Realist #2 | February 23, 2012, 1:54 pm
          • Yeah, my last response was probably a little bit over the top, but I agree with you. I can respect anyone’s position, no matter how wrong I feel it is, as long as they are honest and consistent about it. Sometimes, folks will even screw up and be inconsistent in their own reasoning and that’s fine as long as they admit they’re wrong and correct it. However, when someone blatantly flip flops and then refuses to admit that they’re out of line because they write with an obvious agenda, it’s hard not to lose respect for anything they say.

            Posted by Lochpster | February 25, 2012, 10:41 am
          • McGrady, while a prolific scored, was an ineffectual one. He seldom made over 45% of his FGA.

            The second time he led the league in PPG, he shot .417.

            If you don’t have some strong rebounders in the playoffs to offset those misses, you will lose to a good team every time.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | February 25, 2012, 12:20 pm
      • Quick example: I went back and watched LBJ in the ’07 Finals and compared it to last year’s Finals. While he didn’t play great in that series against the Spurs, he defintely gave a better performance than he did in ’11. It’s absurd to say that he was better against in last year’s Finals because the Heat won more games against the Mavs, which was more due to Wade’s play and good team defense by the Heat.

        Posted by The Realist #2 | February 20, 2012, 2:48 pm
        • I wouldn’t call the defense Miami played throughout the series “good”, in fact as a Heat fan I can tell you that it was far below what Miami was capable of playing. That is what mainly lost the series for the Heat, not Lebron’s bad play.

          People don’t seem to believe this for whatever reason but Miami’s defense feeds their offense, and that is how their system works. If Miami is forcing turnovers and playing lockdown defense they are going to be able to get out and run. And if that happens the game will get out of hand quickly. As the past 6 games have shown. Its close to what Miami is really capable of. Now they just need to sustain this level of play and then turn on the next gear for the playoffs. And it would be nice if Chris Bosh was hitting more of the shots that he was taking, however he has responded to his poor shooting streak by stepping up his game in other areas(defense and rebound agressiveness mostly). I am not that worried about Bosh not being able to raise his game when it counts, he has shown that he has.

          As for Lebron, hes playing out of his mind this year and more important then that hes having fun again. Hes stepped up to lead the team and the offense flows around him which is how it should have been last year. That is allowing Wade to get to spots that give him pretty high % shots, not to mention lots of layups on the quick inside passes.

          Posted by nightbladehunter | February 20, 2012, 7:08 pm
          • Their defense was actually good overall, especially against a good offensive team like the Mavs. They had letdowns in Games 5 and 6.

            The issue was offense, with LBJ not playing well and, as people often overlook in their LBJ bashing, Bosh also playing subpar. It was the opposite of their ECF series against the Bulls, when Wade struggled but LBJ/Bosh and the Heat defense made up for it.

            Posted by The Realist #2 | February 21, 2012, 9:23 am
          • I don’t think people overlook Bosh not playing well. Actually, that’s the first thing I often hear about as the #1 excuse for why lebron the heat didn’t win last year.

            The problem with bosh is kind of complicated. But, in short, he seems to play much better when james/wade don’t play or when only one of them plays, which seems weird, because you’d think he would be getting much easier looks when james/wade are both in the game. Unfortunately for the heat, their halfcourt offense still persists of a lot of ball pounding by james then by wade. Bosh is relegated to mop up dirty on the boards for the most part. Fortunately for the heat, they are a great fastbreak team.

            Posted by boyer | February 21, 2012, 12:57 pm
      • Wouldn’t the statement “if Kobe is not winning titles, it is because he doesn’t have enough help”

        Wouldn’t that be true of EVERY player?

        I can’t imagine any solitary player every winning anything when they have to compete against 12 others.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | February 25, 2012, 12:24 pm
  78. The defense was good? You call blowing a 17 point lead at home with 7 minutes to go good defense? That is a set of low standards I have never run across before. If the defense hadn’t crumbled in games 2, 5 and 6 then Miami would have won the series pretty easily.

    Whats different this year on the offense is the level of ball movement. Miami rarely plays 1 on 5 or 2 on 5 iso’s anymore. Because they spread the floor with shooters around the big 3.

    The thing with Bosh is getting him going early and then getting him to his sweet spots on the court so he can hit easy jumpers all game long. His defense and rebounding effort have gone up as his points and touches have gone down, and right now I will take that trade. He will get his points in the playoffs, but his defense is getting better with every game as he learns his role. Which is to crash the boards, play defense and hit the open shots he gets due to Lebron and Wade crashing the paint.

    I think sometimes some of you are focused too much on pure stats and not enough on whats going on in the game. Otherwise you would have noticed Bosh improving his all around game. Scoring isn’t everything, especially when you can play defense like Miami can.

    Posted by nightbladehunter | February 23, 2012, 6:55 am
    • You’re right actually nightbladehunter; looking back at the offensive efficiencies of the Mavs during the series the Heat didn’t play good defense overall. They held them to an average 2011 NBA offense in 2 of those six games.

      You’re also right about Bosh. His defense has been good since joining the Heat and he’s been an anchor in the middle for a team that lacks a traditional big. I think he’s still working his way into the offense – if he could turn some of his own touches into high-efficiency shots the Heat’s offense would be even better.

      Posted by The Realist #2 | February 23, 2012, 8:31 am
      • I think Bosh played pretty good tonight vs NY. Loved the effort inside and for the most part I enjoyed his shot selection.

        Miami’s defense tonight was just wow, its the best defense I have seen them play all year thus far.

        Posted by nightbladehunter | February 23, 2012, 8:19 pm
  79. LOL @ all the people criticizing Kobe like what he does is so easy that anyone can step out on the court and do half of what he does…..ya’ll are making comments that have nothing to do with “facts”….

    the fact is Kobe is a 5 time NBA Champion…

    he’s the all-time leading scorer amongst active players…7th all-time

    he’s in the top 20 of all-time 3pt shooting….

    as a player….Kobe is one of the most fundamentally sound players playing in the game today….watch one of his jumper in slow motion if you don’t believe me….he creates space between him and the defender…he releases and the highest point in his jump…and he isn’t distracted by hands in his face….

    now the part that you guys don’t like about him is that he’s a prolific shooter…meaning he’s going to try to shoot the ball 25+ times pergame…..NEWSFLASH….not alot of other people are actually scoring as much as he does per shot attempt…. (with the minimum amount of attempts being equal)

    yes he takes ridiculous shots….he’s known for making ridiculous shots….but he knows that’s just the artist in him…’s not like he doesn’t know he’s taking a ridiculous shot…average ppl miss those shots….as he does often….GET OVER IT….that’s what he does…

    Kobe is one of the most relentless players still playing the game….that’s why the Lakers have been to the NBA finals more times in the past 10 years than any other team…..

    Stats are for statisticians….when determining the greatness of a player….you have to look at their impact on other players….all these talks about Gasol being better this and that….it’s hogwash…in the type of offense they were running you HAVE to have a Pau Gasol ….an Andrew Bynum….because the third point on the triangle is responsible for making the other points just as effective as the others… can’t win championships if one of the points on the triangle can’t hold his own…..TEAMWORK wins Championships not a MAN….that’s why Kobe has 5 rings to Lebron’s 0….yes Lebron was making his team better while he was in cleveland….but the bottome line is…that it wasn’t good enough….period….end of discussion….because it didn’t translate into winning…which later translates into rings…

    see, the problem is that most of you guys don’t even know how to play regulation basketball…for you to sit here and criticize someone who is definitely better than a guesstimation of 90% of the league….and to talk about MJ as if he’s some type of untouchable god….

    Here’s the facts…..MJ’s stats will eventually get passed just like everyone else who was great b4 him…does it make him any less great….no…ppl who witnessed MJ live during that era will not be around to perpetuate his greatness…Kobe bryant will be listed as a greatest of all time….

    all the talks about what happened in the playoffs with kobe and the lakers will not be all that important anymore….just like Magic Johnson in his days…all the greats lose the game….the lakers just so happen to be on the recieving end of losing in the finals probably the most in history…you can’t blame 2004 or 2007 on Kobe….no more than you can blame the lakers losing in the 80s and early 90s on Magic….THE OTHER TEAM WAS BETTER THAN THEY WERE AT THE TIME…

    ya’ll are neglecting an obvious fact….that the lakers have been to the finals as many times as they did because of players like Kobe Bryant…and Magic and Kareem…Worthy…Shaq….to discredit any of the players is to discredit the game…becuz they played it and played it well…

    last fact that I’m leaving you guys with is this…..there was no other player in the league garnering as much attention as MJ that played his same position…MJ was in a class by himself….now if you would have inserted a Kobe Bryant in his prime into the same era…MJ wouldn’t have shined as brightly in you guys’ opinions….because across the conference line….there’s someone doing the same thing he’s doing…you guys can’t sit here and convince me that there aren’t a lot more superstars in this era demanding much more of the limelight than Kobe…and this is why your opinions of his greatness aren’t that high…becuz you compare him to Lebron James and say that Lebron is doing “better” than him when they don’t even play the same position…and that a big reason why Lebron is statistically ahead of Bryant is becuz he dunks the ball way more than Kobe does now…if Lebron had the fundamentals of the position he plays down more….he wouldn’t travel as much as he does….he takes 3 steps almost evrytime he dunks…

    don’t confuse natural ability with skill….ability is given…skill is acquired

    so for anyone to sit here and criticize someone as naturally gifted and as skilled a player as Kobe is blatant disrespect

    Posted by shorome | March 28, 2012, 11:55 pm
    • “.not alot of other people are actually scoring as much as he does per shot attempt…”

      Wrong. Kobe’s 49th in the NBA among 107 qualifiers in points per shot. For reference, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Dwyane Wade sit in the top 15. 49th of 107 is quite good given his scoring volume, but numerous other high volume scorers do significantly better.

      “.TEAMWORK wins Championships not a MAN….that’s why Kobe has 5 rings to Lebron’s 0”

      So one man can’t win a championship, it requires a team, and that’s why Kobe has more rings than Lebron? This makes no sense whatsoever.

      “see, the problem is that most of you guys don’t even know how to play regulation basketball…for you to sit here and criticize someone who is definitely better than a guesstimation of 90% of the league….and to talk about MJ as if he’s some type of untouchable god….”

      How the heck would you know? I play basketball, I watch basketball, and I took shots at MJ in my article. Did you read that part?

      “.that the lakers have been to the finals as many times as they did because of players like Kobe Bryant…and Magic and Kareem…Worthy…Shaq….to discredit any of the players is to discredit the game”

      You mean broaching the topic that having a team stacked with superstars makes it easier to win is an insult to the game? Get real.

      “all the greats lose the game….” “….THE OTHER TEAM WAS BETTER THAN THEY WERE AT THE TIME…”

      So, Lebron doesn’t get to lose to better teams but in Kobe’s case it’s fine?

      “and that a big reason why Lebron is statistically ahead of Bryant is becuz he dunks the ball way more than Kobe does now…”

      Clearly, Lebron’s better at getting his own shot. I’ll take the guy who can get a dunk over the guy who is really good at contested 19 footers all day.

      “”if Lebron had the fundamentals of the position he plays down more….….he wouldn’t travel as much as he does…”

      Like how Kobe pushes off?

      Posted by Lochpster | March 29, 2012, 8:22 am
    • Shorome your whole post is littered with contradicting statements, I don’t even know where to begin.

      Posted by pointguard40 | March 29, 2012, 1:36 pm
  80. Great article. I always find my arguments trying to make this argument that rings are for a team and yet somehow Kobe’s 5 rings always seem to be the be all and end all in Laker lovers minds.

    Posted by Elijah A | November 13, 2012, 12:31 am
    • Agree-nothing irritates me more than folks busting that out as a “trump” card, as if it hasn’t been thought of time and time again before. Thankfully, the Lakers’ current troubles and Lebron’s first ring seem to have quieted the cacophony a bit for the moment.

      Posted by lochpster | November 13, 2012, 10:06 pm
      • It also applies to the absurd idea that Eli Manning is superior to Peyton because the Giants won 2 Super Bowls with Eli.

        Does this mean that Jim Plunkett is better than Brett Favre or Steve Young?

        That Ben Rothlesberger is better than Roger Staubach?

        Is Roger Craig then better than Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and O. J. Simpson?

        Trent Dilfer was then a greater QB than Ken Anderson?

        The list of really poor comparisons using “RIINNGZZZ, BABYY!!!” as the basis is endless.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | November 14, 2012, 10:36 am
        • So true.

          I grew up a Colts fan and the Brady-Manning debate always drove me nuts. How could you compare Brady, the caretaker of a super team with a super coach, to Manning, who overachieved year after year with a pitiful defense and terrible coaches?

          Ironically, Brady closed the gap and became a historically great QB, but he did it well after his rings were in hand. I still think, all things considered, I’d take Manning’s career over Brady’s career by a hair (assuming you don’t get the rest of their team’s accomplishments in the bundle), but you could go either way and not be wrong at this point.

          Posted by lochpster | November 14, 2012, 11:59 am
  81. What I consider as the most important stats to evaluate a QB’s ability and effectiveness are:

    Percentage of sacks
    Percentage of interceptions
    number of fumbles

    Peyton in 214 games
    3.1 Sack %
    2.7 INT %
    58 fumbles in 214 games
    Peyton also has 65.0% comp % and a 5.6 TD%

    Eli in 128 games
    4.5 sack %
    3.2 INT %
    70 fumbles (12 more in 114 FEWER games!!!)
    Eli has a career Comp % of 58.8 and a TD % of 4.7

    The only place Eli is better than Peyton is Bizarro World.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | November 14, 2012, 11:45 pm
  82. Pointgaurd,

    If you have read any of my posts regarding my process that I call “finding greatness”, I do use awards shares as one of the scales. I must point out, before screaming objections are written, that wards shares are only ONE of three or four scales that I employ.

    Winning an MVP award is very significant; if not always accurate. It certainly presents a gauge of what perceived performance value was at the time.

    That is why it is interesting that Kobe nation refuses to acknowledge that Bryant, despite and otherwise impressive career, has only ONE MVP.

    As I have also written previously, I would wager that if Kobe had 3 MVPs, the wards would then be VERY relevant rather than, and I paraphrase: “determined by NBA writers that know nothing”.

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | November 15, 2012, 10:13 am
    • To add to this view (which I share completely), just take a good look at all of the celebrating FG%age that Kobe nation is drunk on these days …

      Only eight games into the season and despite the fact that we have seen this movie (Kobe’s FG%ages to start a season are high, relative to his career avg.) several times before with the same ending (regression to or near the mean of 45%), they are busy at work completing their revisionist encyclopedia for why his numbers have been artificially low in the past, whilst simultaneously touting his eight game “2012 efficiency opus” for mass consumption .. is brimming with talk of Kobe for Player of the Month or even MVP, largely on the perceived strength of his FG%ages (the same metric they have belittled for 16 years) …

      Posted by Ken | November 15, 2012, 10:29 am
      • “despite the fact that we have seen this movie several times before with the same ending”

        Although I agree with your overall assessment, the above statement is not true. Kobe was not even close to be as effective after first 8 games in any of his 16 seasons.

        He’ll turn 35 this year and is averaging 26.4 points a game while his TS% is .668. To me it’s incredible.

        Of course he will not maintain it, but if we speak about scoring efficiency, it will be his best season in years.

        Ironically, with West being so strong and if D’Antoni experiment fails, the Lakers will probably miss the playoffs.

        Posted by doosiolek | November 15, 2012, 1:37 pm
        • Wow, you really think the Lakers would miss the playoffs completely?

          Their pythagorean expectation for wins at this point in the season is still 49 based on their current record and MOV.

          And they do have 4 of the top 25 players in the league at the moment.

          I just think this team is too talented to fail that badly barring catastrophic injury.

          Posted by lochpster | November 15, 2012, 7:46 pm
          • OK, maybe I should’ve said “the Lakers may miss the playoffs”, however I do think they could have chosen a (much) better coach than D’Antoni. Last year the Knicks were 18-24 under his leadership (18-6 the rest of the way). Carmelo did not know what defense was, now he plays some!

            I understand that D’Antoni was Nash’s preferred choice, but looking how bad Nash played during the pre-season and then at the start of the season I say it’s not that obvious he’ll be playing better under D’Antoni.

            What is sure though, defensively the Lakers will NOT improve and if they don’t start piling up victories quickly they’ll start pointing fingers at each other and they will never gel.

            Currently they are 3-5, but note they only played 2 away games so far and their only wins came @home against the almighty Pistons, Warriors, and Kings, where only the Warriors have a legit shot at making the playoffs. Not impressive at all.

            So this + a fact that you may need 50 wins this year for the 8th seed make me think that, talented or not, the Lakers really may miss the playoffs.

            Posted by doosiolek | November 16, 2012, 6:21 am
        • I doubt that. This team has 50 wins talent even with everything falling apart. So I don’t think they will miss the playoffs. They might end up as a lower seed (4th or 5th) though.

          Posted by nightbladehunter | November 16, 2012, 12:17 pm
          • Are you still absolutely convinced the Lakers are 50-win team on talent alone?

            Let’s face it: Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Grizzlies are out of Lakers reach. This means they will be 5th seed at best.

            We only need 4 more teams to finish ahead of LA for them not to make the playoffs.

            Who do we have?

            Nuggets (10-11 despite playing all but 6 games on the road – once they play more at home their winning percentage will be much higher)

            Mavs (10-10, but when Dirk gets back you can expect significant improvement here as well)

            Warriors (13-7 and seem to be better now than when the season begun)

            Jazz (12-10 while playing 13 games on the road + they beat LAL twice already so they own a tie-breaker edge)

            But even if one of these teams falter we still have hungry Wolves team who – if injuries don’t kill them – are talented enough to be higher than the Lakers.

            I’m not saying that LAL will definitely not make the playoffs (still remember 2002-2003 when they started 11-19 to eventually win 50 games), but all things considered (easy schedule, 13 home games) things are looking very bad for them right now.

            Posted by doosiolek | December 10, 2012, 5:17 am
          • Good points all. Lakers look really bad right now. I can’t remember a team doing more things to shoot themselves in the foot to start off a season.

            Still, they’re only a few games into the D’Antoni era and learning a new system, learning to play with each other, and trying to get healthy. Assuming they actually do get healthy and learn to work with each other, they’ll come around. The Heat started off 9-8 their first year before reeling off 12 straight wins and ultimately making it to the finals, and they didn’t have to deal with an early season coaching change and injuries to each of their core players early in the season. I don’t expect that kind of success from the Lakers this year, but I’m still all in on them for being a nightmare first round opponent in the playoffs (again, assuming they actually do get healthy midway through the season).

            A healthy Howard alone should be worth a playoff birth with even a decent supporting cast, and it hasn’t been long since Kobe, Nash and Gasol have each been the best player on a dangerous playoff team, either. The Kobe-Gasol Lakers won the second of back to back titles only 2 years ago. Rough start for sure, but I still think they’re going to be really scary once they get it going.

            Posted by lochpster | December 11, 2012, 4:59 pm
          • So I guess it’s the end of the road for the Lakers.

            Unless Utah or Houston start playing much worse, the only LA team we are going to see in the playoffs are the Clippers.

            The Rockets have rather easy schedule so they’ll probably end up with 45/46 wins (maybe more).

            The Jazz may end up with 44/45 wins, but they own a tie-breaker over the Lakers.

            So LAL will need at least 45 wins to qualify. To do that they must finish the season 17-7.

            Games they will likely lose:
            @OKC, @ATL, @IND, @LAC, SAS* *assuming Spurs will have something to play for

            Games they will likely win:
            MIN, TOR, @ORL, SAC, @PHO, WAS, @MIN, @SAC, NOH, @POR

            Games that can go either way:
            ATL, @NOH, CHI, @GSW, @MIL, DAL, MEM, GSW, HOU

            So even if they go 6 of 9 against teams in the last category they’d still fall short.

            Posted by doosiolek | February 27, 2013, 8:19 am
          • Generally agreed … although I think the Lakers may squeak in as the 8th seed (over Utah), the playoff outlook for them will likely be pretty grim …

            It’s still unfathomable to me how this roster (Kobe, D12, Nash, Pau, Artest, Jamison, Meeks, et al.) has struggled to muster even a winning record … it’s already March and they haven’t been above .500 for a single day all season (by now, over four months old)?

            the injuries are meaningless to me in the big-picture analyses, as other teams (including their opponent on Thursday) have suffered far worse injury outcomes this year and performed closer to pre-injury expectations …

            Posted by Ken | February 27, 2013, 8:52 am
          • It is pretty shocking how badly this crew has underperformed. Gasol went from being the best big in the Olympics to an afterthought floating around outside the paint to a bench player. Nash was never handed the reigns to the offense in truth-Kobe was so ball-dominant he had a higher usage than Lebron James and Kevin Durant! Injuries obviously played a huge part, but that was expected.

            The future looks bleak-it’s hard to imagine Howard staying given how miserable he looks, and the team’s so far over the cap it’s going to be nigh impossible to add talent. I never count Mitch Kupchak out, particularly with David Stern in power, but short of Howard resigning and morphing back into superman, I don’t see this team competing prior to 2014, and even that’s assuming that this will be a hot spot for free agents with Jerry Buss and Phil Jackson no longer running the show.

            Posted by lochpster | February 27, 2013, 10:24 am
          • I actually think that a healthy Dwight gives them a good shot for next year…to have home court in the first round. But even a healthy Dwight can’t absolve this team from its horrendous defense. They will probably amnesty World War, which will leave them with Kobe, Nash, Blake and Meeks as their main rotation perimeter defense…
            Considering that Pau is horrible on defense and that Earl Clark has no idea what he is doing on defense, – despite some obvious upside – this team has no chance to win a title whatsoever.

            Posted by Chris | February 27, 2013, 1:06 pm
      • MVP right now is Lebron James…after the season he had last year his numbers have gone up and he does everything for Miami. Whats impressed me the most so far is hes not turning the ball over, and hes hitting the 3 poitn shots hes taking. If he can make the ability to nail them a regular part of his game then that would be yet another step up in him becoming of the greatest players ever.

        Posted by nightbladehunter | November 16, 2012, 12:16 pm
    • I also share these views, but I do think MVPs are generally a very good gauge of overall ability. Usually, not always, MVPs are given to those who deserve them.

      Posted by pointguard40 | November 15, 2012, 12:34 pm
      • Pointgaurd,

        I would agree that in the NHL, NBA, and the NFL, the MVP awards are about 97% correct.

        MLB writers, for some reason, have tended to make some really egregious errors in the MVP voting (not just the winners, but overall.)

        The only recent mistakes in the NBA were probably Barkley in 1993 and Nash in 2006, and even those players were deserving.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | November 15, 2012, 8:38 pm
        • So you buy the following?

          Derrick Rose over Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Dirk Nowitzki (2011)
          Kobe over Chris Paul and Lebron James (2008)
          Nash over Garnett, Nowitzki and James (2005)
          Iverson over O’Neal and Nowitzki (2001)
          Malone over Jordan (1997)

          I think the NBA gets it about 50% of the time.

          Posted by lochpster | November 15, 2012, 8:53 pm
          • No, I don’t agree with those picks either.

            You forgot Duncan in 2001.

            I just don’t think that they were egregious.

            Perhaps I was too generous in assenting the NBA writers getting the MVP right.

            Ironically, the MLB writers really effed up by giving Cabrera the MVP over Trout today.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | November 16, 2012, 12:23 am
          • IMO, the most egregious misappropriation of a regular season MVP award in the past two decades (not noted above or involving MJ) was the 2005 award to Nash … It turns out that Shaq had every right to steal “Shaq vs.” from Nash after the grand larceny exhibited by Nash in accepting the MVP award that year; an award that should have been an easy nod to Shaq after he transformed the Heat into serious contenders …

            Nash has been a really great player for many years in the Association, but he at no time was he its best player, best player on the best team, best player on a top 3 or 5 team, or most valuable player to a single team … whatever definition you prefer to use, Steve Nash was never worthy of an MVP award, much less two of ’em …

            Posted by Ken | November 16, 2012, 10:16 am
          • Many of those I disagree with, but the thing I disagree with most is Paulie saying Cabrera didn’t deserve the MVP. I’d love to discuss the topic but this is a basketball forum.

            Personally I wasn’t a fan of either of Nash’s MVPs.

            Posted by pointguard40 | November 16, 2012, 2:09 pm
          • Pointgaurd,

            I would love to discuss the merits of Cabrera.

            I hail form Michigan and I believe that Cabrera is a great player and will waltz to the HOF, but I cannot endorse him for MVP in 2012.

            Sometimes, players have great seasons but there is another player that is greater.

            For further debate, I am willing to contact you through e-mail.

            Posted by Paulie Walnuts | November 16, 2012, 3:16 pm
          • Ken, I totally agree with your point that the problem with using MVPs is that there’s no criterion.

            I think the 2005 MVP vote is illustrative. Nash won, and I agree with you that Shaq deserved it more-however, I think there were numerous players that were better candidates than either Nash or Shaq. Dirk Nowitzki would have gotten my vote, although I think Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and Lebron James all arguably had better years than either Shaq or Nash, as well. Unfortunately, at that time, both Nash and Shaq offered better story lines than any of the other players mentioned.

            Posted by lochpster | November 17, 2012, 2:26 pm
        • What about D-Rose a couple of years ago? He didn’t deserve it over Lebron.

          Posted by nightbladehunter | November 16, 2012, 12:18 pm
  83. Geez. . .. I wonder if the presence of TWO very solid interior scoring threats has helped Bryant?

    Nah. It’s all #24 (or is it #8? I forget), baby!!!

    Posted by Paulie Walnuts | November 15, 2012, 10:43 am
  84. This Dwyane Wade b.s. continues to get old … his two rings are little consolation when watching him play this year …

    So, how about a trade?

    Dwyane Wade (Miami)


    DeMarcus Cousins (Sac)
    Marcus Thornton (Sac)
    John Salmons (Sac)

    I think this trade would benefit Miami quite a bit, especially if Cousins bought-in on the Miami philosophy … and it might benefit Sacramento, too … a big ticket draw for a few years (increase in ticket sales and jersey / merch. sales, which the Maloofs like) until his huge contract expires (either stand down or seek major talent with free cap space) …

    I think the $$$ works … as a basketball fan, I would love to see Cousins get it together, which seems exceedingly unlikely in Sac-town …

    Posted by Ken | November 30, 2012, 9:05 am
    • There is no way Miami trades Wade. He is still the fan-favorite down there, and has been loyal to them. There would be outrage if they traded him.

      Posted by pointguard40 | November 30, 2012, 9:54 am
      • I would bet that Orlando felt the same about Shaq and Howard, and the Bucks about Kareem.

        Posted by Paulie Walnuts | November 30, 2012, 9:56 am
        • Yeah, agreed …

          The only fanbase that would actually go bananas if a player from their team was traded are the Lakers fans …

          There still trying to convince the rest of the world that Kobe has been the best player in basketball since 1998/1999 and remains so!

          Unless the Arison / Riley brain is on bath salts, they’re probably already starting to informally discuss the inevitable with Wade …

          Posted by Ken | November 30, 2012, 10:36 am
        • Those guys either demanded trades out, or signed as free agents.

          Posted by pointguard40 | November 30, 2012, 11:23 am
      • The Arisons didn’t grow their non-basketball empire through loyalty and playing to fan favorites …

        Maybe he’s sandbagging through the early regular season … maybe he’s injured and rest will help …

        But maybe he’s just hit the wall? The hardest part of watching a player decline isn’t the actual reality of the decline … it’s watching the ones who seem oblivious to their own decline. If Wade was taking whate appears to be a gradual regression like a “pro” and not trying to impose his will on the game, it would be one thing … but he’s actually trying to wrest control of the team, at times, and he seems to have nothing to give … it’s painful to watch.

        Maybe he didn’t capitulate to LeBron’s leadership and ascension as the team’s “main man” as easily as he claimed he did?

        Posted by Ken | November 30, 2012, 10:32 am
    • The lineup would be:

      1: Chalmers | Cole
      2: Ray Allen | Thornton / Salmons
      3: LeBron | Battier / Mike Miller
      4: Bosh | UD / Rashard
      5: Cousins | Joel

      I’ll take that team, with all its potent permutations, FTW …

      Posted by Ken | November 30, 2012, 10:45 am
      • “Small Ball” lineup, offense:

        Chalmers / Cole
        Ray Allen / Battier

        “Small Ball” lineup, defense:


        “Shooters” lineup:

        Chalmers / Cole
        Ray Allen
        Battier / Miller / Rashard

        “Power / 4Q” lineup:

        Ray / Thornton

        There seems to be a lot of versatility with this kind of roster … I suspect the Lakers would also struggle a lot vs. this roster, but the priority concerns would be Memphis, SA and OKC anyway … could this team comfortably prevail over the Grizz, Spurs and Thunder? Magic 8 Ball says … indeed.

        Posted by Ken | November 30, 2012, 11:00 am
        • I don’t think either team would make that deal, but it seems much more far-fetched from Sacramento’s perspective. They’d be gutting their team of their top young assets for an almost 31 year old who’s aging in dog years and is owed just shy of 80 million dollars over the next 4 years, including player options in years 3 and 4. If Wade falls apart over the next 2 years, he’s guaranteed a sweet contract, and if he manages to be still playing at an elite level, he can jet if he doesn’t love playing in Sacramento, which I can almost guarantee he will not. I don’t think this deal gets them anywhere near contender status in the next few years, and I doubt the draw of a creaky Wade will make up the difference at the box office.

          As for Miami, I agree that the trade would make sense for basketball reasons, but I doubt they’d trade Wade unless he demanded it. Wade’s value is to a team in win now mode, and no team exemplifies that more than the Heat. Plus, I can’t see them trading him to another contender, as even a hobbled Wade could be a terrifying force in the finals against the team that scorned him.

          Posted by lochpster | November 30, 2012, 6:05 pm
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