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Friday, March 10, 2017

The Tortured Logic of the 2017 NBA MVP Race

Kenny Smith tells the story that he once asked fellow North Carolina alum Rasheed Wallace why he got so many technical fouls. Smith says that Wallace explained that his head would have exploded if he had not spoken up about what he perceived to be unjust calls. Smith completes the story by shrugging and conceding that it is better to get a technical foul than to have your head explode.

I think that my head may possibly explode if the 2017 NBA MVP race finishes the way it seems to be trending.

We know that LeBron James is still the best player in the world when he feels like it, but we also know that he coasts to some extent during the regular season.

Kevin Durant is the best player on the best team--a fact which has become even more evident since an injury took him out of the lineup and the Golden State Warriors became at least somewhat mortal--but he is not putting up superhuman numbers and he will lose some votes due to the backlash resulting from his decision to leave a contending team to join an archrival.

Kawhi Leonard is having a breakout season and is a legit MVP candidate but his soft-spoken style is easily ignored.

James Harden is putting up video game numbers in Mike D'Antoni's system--which should not surprise anyone--and his Houston Rockets started the season on fire but they are just 13-10 in their past 23 games despite having a roster that is built to showcase Harden's talents: Harden is flanked by great three point shooters on offense and by tough-minded stoppers who cover for him on defense.

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook is having a historically great season while almost single-handedly carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder to the playoffs, something that almost never happens in the season after the departure of an MVP-level player. Westbrook is cruising toward his second scoring title (31.9 ppg, 2.5 ppg in front of Boston's Isaiah Thomas) in three years but that is just part of the story: he also ranks third in assists (10.1 apg) and 12th in rebounds (10.5 rpg). Not only is Westbrook averaging a triple double (a feat that only Oscar Robertson has accomplished over the course of a full season) but he has amassed 31 triple doubles, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the second highest single season total in NBA history. The Thunder are 25-6 when Westbrook notches a triple double this season (and 43-6 in such games over the past two seasons) but just 11-23 in the rest of their games; basically, when he is on the court and playing at his peak the Thunder are the Golden State Warriors but when Westbrook is on the bench or "merely" puts up, say, 25-6-6 then the Thunder are one of the worst teams in the league.

Westbrook's only problem is his name; the media voters know him and, apparently, don't particularly like him. Westbrook recently scored a career-high 58 points while shooting 21-39 from the field and passing for nine assists--and he had a +7 plus/minus number even though the Thunder lost, meaning that the team was terrible when he was on the bench but winning comfortably while he played. The media reaction to Westbrook's sparkling performance was to wonder if he is shooting too much while noting that the Thunder have a poor record when Westbrook attempts more than 30 shots--as if Westbrook is somehow shooting the Thunder out of contention, as opposed to trying his best to lift the team when it is floundering.

If Westbrook changed his name to Eastbrook or something else then he might win the MVP unanimously. Think about this: Shaquille O'Neal, one of the most dominant centers in NBA history, never averaged 30 ppg and 10 rpg in the same season but in the year that he came closest (29.7 ppg and 13.6 rpg in 1999-00) he missed becoming the first unanimous MVP by one vote. Only 11 players in NBA/ABA history have averaged at least 30 ppg and at least 10 rpg in the same season: Wilt Chamberlain (seven times), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (three times), Bob McAdoo (three times), Elgin Baylor (two times), Oscar Robertson (two times), Bob Pettit (once), Walt Bellamy (once), Dan Issel (once), Julius Erving (once), Moses Malone (once) and Karl Malone (once). Other than small forwards Baylor and Erving and point guard Robertson, the other players on that list rank among the greatest centers or power forwards of all-time. Westbrook is by far the shortest and lightest player in this group. Amazingly, the 28 year old Westbrook is also among the oldest; this feat has been accomplished 23 times but only four times by players who are 28 or older (Chamberlain did it at 28 and 29, while Baylor did it at 28 and Pettit did it at 29).

This season, Westbrook--a 6-3 point guard--is not only averaging more than 30 ppg and 10 rpg but he is also averaging more than 10 apg! This is unheard of for anyone other than Robertson (who is arguably the greatest all-around player in the sport's history) and yet the talking heads are acting like there should actually be a debate about who the MVP is. Robertson averaged 11.4 apg and 9.7 apg in his two 30 ppg-10 rpg seasons but no one else averaged more than 5.2 apg and most of these players averaged 4 apg or less in their 30 ppg-10 rpg seasons.

Westbrook has the lowest FG% but highest FT% in this group and his TS% is right in the middle. Westbrook is averaging 34.8 mpg, nearly 4 mpg less than any other 30 ppg-10 rpg player.

I understand that several players are having great seasons--but (and pardon me for figuratively shouting) Westbrook is having a historically great season and he is doing this in a way that maximizes the performance of an otherwise not very good team.

Let's look at this a different way. I am not a big believer in "advanced basketball statistics" but many members of the media have been pushing these numbers down our throats for years. Supposedly, those numbers proved that Chris Paul was better than Kobe Bryant during Bryant's 2008 MVP season. This season, Westbrook ranks first in PER, first in Box Plus/Minus and first in Value Over Replacement Player. He is criticized in some quarters for his defense but he even ranks ninth in Defensive Win Shares.

I don't know what Westbrook has to do to convince the voters but I hope he finds a way to mollify the haters among them, because otherwise my head might explode in about two months if he does not win the award despite authoring one of the greatest seasons in pro basketball history.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:15 AM

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137 Comments:

At Friday, March 10, 2017 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

I have Westbrook second on my imaginary MVP ballot behind Lebron, but would have no problem with him winning. My head will likewise explode if anyone but either of them were to win.

For all the talk of how "stacked" Lebron's team is, the fact is that his team is not even a playoff team when he does not play, going 0-5 without him this season (and 4-19 without him over the last three years). His On/Offs are even more dramatic than Westbrook's, if you can believe it (although usual caveats about applying On/Offs across different teams apply). The Cavs are not merely bad, but awful, when he is off the court, posting a -7.4 Net RTG, which is worse than every team in the league except the Nets. Granted, the Thunder are EVEN WORSE without Westbrook (-11), so it may ultimately be an issue of whether "most valuable" means "most valuable to their team" or "most valuable to any team" that determines who actually deserves the award. I feel confident that if you swapped Lebron and Westbrook's teams, OKC would improve and Cleveland would get worse (though this is not totally fair to RWB, as there is a positional redundancy on Cleveland).

I personally prefer Lebron's superior efficiency and defensive contributions over Westbrook's gaudier stats (and I think the gaps in those two categories are much wider than the gaps in the categories Westbrook leads in), but they are clearly the only two acceptable picks for MVP this season.

Kawhi Leonard is a great player thriving in a great system, but the Spurs are still 5-1 when he sits; their MVP is Pop. Harden is less impressive on offense than Westbrook and even worse on D, so I don't know how anyone could take him over RWB. His APG are impressive, but RWB is clearly a more skilled passer- in fact, he's probably the second best passer in the league behind Lebron, whose size and court-vision put him in a category all his own- and while Harden is a more efficient scorer, RWB is a more difficult one to stop. Durant has absolutely no business winning the MVP this season, both because he's missing a lot of games, and because his team would still have the best record in the league without him.

It is true that RWB is putting up a historically great season, but then so is Lebron (26/8/9 on 54% shooting for 55ish win team). It's just that we've come to take these seasons for granted from him.

Given the vaguely defined nature of what constitutes "valuable," would your head still explode if it were Lebron, not Harden, that got the award over RWB?

 
At Friday, March 10, 2017 1:38:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I have followed your blog for years and I am of the opinion that basketball writers like you are going extinct (if there were even a lot of them to begin with). I really don't understand why there is any debate - Westbrook is the the clear MVP. This season reminds me so much of Kobe's 2006 season where he was robbed in broad daylight of the MVP trophy. I believe 22 voters completely left him off of their ballets that year! It's simple... people just don't like guys like Kobe and Westbrook. I strongly believe that ultra confident guys like Kobe and Russ rub people the wrong way because they simply don't care what you think of them and will go to the end of the earth and back to achieve their goals. They simply don't care about being liked and don't look for the approval of anyone - they just want to win. I believe that subconsciously this makes people feel less of themselves because of their lack of self-confidence - thus causing people to have jealousy and hatred towards said players.

It's funny because Kobe was my favorite player the majority of his career and I've been telling people for years that Westbrook is the heir apparent to him. Westbrook (along with Kyrie Irving whom is underrated due to playing with LeBron) has been my favorite player since Kobe's decline and I've gotten into so many debates with people who simply just don't get it. The guy is relentless and an all-time great talent.

I could go on and on about how the seasons that Harden (whom shouldn't be near a MVP trophy), LeBron, and Kawhi are having don't stack up to Westbrook's, but you get it. Whomever cannot see Westbrook's value should have their licenses to talk basketball immediately revoked. Period. I am going to lose my mind if Russ does not get the trophy.

It's crazy how Kawhi (whom I am a huge fan of) has been great all year, but not nearly as profound as the other candidates, is all of sudden the MVP after one great game against Harden. However, when Westbrook leads his sub-par team to victory in a dominating fashion over arguably the best team in the league at this moment, there have been crickets... If LeBron were averaging a triple double, we wouldn't hear the end of it and the trophy would have been gift wrapped and awarded to him before all-star break. We have these idiots like Colin Cowherd, the biggest Westbrook hater on the planet, talking down on Westbrook's season. Charles Barkley has said numerous times that Russ is playing for stats... I'm convinced that they do not watch basketball, and if they do, they aren't watching the same games that we are. It's impossible... Or they simply don't understand the game (which most "basketball analysts" don't).

I've always struggled with who would be my point guard if I had to put five men on the court to play for my life (I'm not the biggest fan of many point guards). If last season didn't convince me, this season has. Give me Russell Westbrook and I'm not thinking twice about it. Bill Russell. Tim Duncan. Larry Bird. Kobe Bryant. Russell Westbrook.

Anyways, thank you for reminding me that I'm not the only sane basketball fan on this planet. Writers like you are extremely rare so keep up the great work!

 
At Friday, March 10, 2017 1:55:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

The only debate we should be having is where this season ranks amongst the all-time great seasons from point guards with the likes of Oscar in 1962 & 1964, Magic in 87, Steph in 16, etc... We should be asking where Russ will rank in the pantheon of all-time great point guards and what he has to do be remembered as a top 20-25 player of all-time... Not who the 2017 MVP is... I think my head is going to explode as well!

 
At Friday, March 10, 2017 3:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I don't see all the negativity as much, and think he'll win it. I still think OKC should be winning more, especially now after the additions. RW's cast looks better than KG's 2001 cast that won 47 games. 2017 OKC is on pace for only 45 wins. With the cast he has and if he's truly MVP, they should be able to win at least 50.

The problem is that we have 2 amazing teams in the West with 3 MVP-caliber players on them plus 2-3 other guys making strong cases while winning a lot more. James might be considered the best player in the game, but he hasn't played like it yet, and his team has underachieved, so RW should be able to beat him in the voting.

The last 17 games for OKC are crucial for his MVP campaign. He has the teammates do something now. Needs more games like last night beating SA. As you can see, he struggled shooting, and his team won comfortably, which is a good sign for OKC. Lots of guys stepped up. He has a solid starting unit now, and at least 3 reliable bench players.

 
At Friday, March 10, 2017 4:06:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

While I disagree that Lebron shouldn't be in the conversation, I do agree that Kawhi should not win.

However, for funsies, I think the devil's advocate argument for Kawhi relies on his defense. It is almost impossible to precisely evaluate how many points a great defender is "worth" per game, but one could make a semi-credible case that Kawhi saves his team an extra 20 points or so on that end per game (or whatever) by forcing misses, denying first options, etc. By a similar token, a pretty strong case could be made that Westbrook "costs" his team 10-20 points a night on the other end (especially in transition). If one were to subscribe to both those premises, I could see taking Kawhi over RWB.

Now, I wouldn't, personally, especially given how much help Kawhi has relative to RWB, but I can at least envision the hypothetical argument, and it relates to why I'd take Lebron; Lebron gives you 85% of what RWB does on offense (and on a lot fewer possessions), but is an All-D caliber stopper who can guard all five positions and an as-needed rim protector while RWB is a below average defensive PG. For all their hype, Lebron's team loses when he sits and wins when he plays, just like RWB (although they lose by less and win by more); he carries them on both ends.

It's pretty hard to argue for anyone having a better offensive season than RWB (I guess maybe Harden if you squint hard enough? But he's a dumpster fire on D), but if you wanted to take someone else, it'd have to be someone with a killer offensive season and a top-class defensive skillset, too. Lebron's the only guy that makes sense to me, but depending on *how* much someone values Kawhi's D or RWB's lack thereof, I can see how they'd get there.

 
At Friday, March 10, 2017 5:27:00 PM, Blogger Jordan Ikeda said...

I agree that Westbrook deserves the MVP trophy at this moment. I also echo Nick's question regarding Lebron winning it if your head would still explode?

@Nick, I 100% agree that the Spurs are awesome because of Pop. But, I reject the notion that Kawhi is a system player...that you somewhat implied by associating his greatness with the greatness of the system he plays in.

Yes the Spurs are 5-1 without Kawhi, but those wins came against Sacto, Phoenix, Brooklyn, Portland and Toronto. That's Portland sans Nurkic and Toronto sans DeRozan (and pre-Ibaka). Not exactly powerhouses.

Leonard is the best player on what is soon to be the best team in the league (unless his injury causes him to miss time). The Spurs have 8 more wins (7 less losses) than Cleveland and play in the tougher (in terms of top-heavy) Western Conference. He is also the only all-star on his team. Anonymous talks about how much talent the Spurs always have, but, you look at their roster this year, and what I see is a lot of aging, past-their-prime vets (savvy vets, but past-their-prime) and some youngins that have real potential (especially under Pop). And Aldridge, who's always been an odd fit.

Regardless of the on-offs, Lebron plays with two other all-stars and a bunch of 3-point bombers, which really opens up things for him.

Leonard leads the team in scoring by nearly 9 points and is the anchor on defense. I realize that his on/off splits are wonky. That the Spurs defend better when he's not on the floor, but some of that can be explained by this http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/kawhi-leonard-is-so-great-at-defense-hes-actually-hurting-the-spurs/

And, when the playoffs roll around, he'll be asked to guard the other team's best winger like he did to change the Rockets game.

If the Spurs win 63 games and capture the number one seed...wouldn't Leonard have to be the top candidate? Especially if Westbrook only wins 45 games and Lebron finishes with 55ish.

Leonard's offensive efficiency isn't what Lebron's is...but he's hovering near the 50/40/90 threshold. He's in the top 5 in all the advanced stats too. And while he's nowhere near the passer that Lebron is, he's a better defender.

Not saying he is the MVP, but I also think he has a stronger case than he's being given credit for here.

 
At Friday, March 10, 2017 6:55:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jordan-

Re: Kawhi

I don't mean he's only a system guy. He'd be good anywhere. But, the Spurs definitely fixed his jumper (which I'm not sure other teams could have done; for every Kawhi success story, there's a dozen Tony Allens, and the Spurs are popularly regarded as having the best shooting staff in the league), and they've built an entire system around using him to his highest potential in a way most teams don't seem smart enough to figure out how to do for their stars. They are getting 100% out of his talent, just like they do with everybody else. He's definitely awesome, but that team might still win 50 games without him (assuming relative health for Gasol/Aldridge). RWB/James' teams would miss the playoffs without them.

I respect the argument if the Spurs capture the 1 seed, but for me he just has SO MUCH more than Lebron or especially RWB backing him up. Aldridge is one of the best five guys at his position in the league, Danny Green is an All-Defensive candidate, Pau/Manu/Parker are aging stars who still have moments, and as usual the team is stacked with skilled role players who do exactly what they're supposed to in Dedmon/Bertrans/Mills.

He's also got a much better coach than CLE or OKC, no disrespect to Lue or Donovan.

Incidentally, Pop should be one of exactly two candidates for CotY. Maybe three if you wanna reward Brooks for getting Wall/Beal to play nice and developing Porter.

FWIW, Kawhi would be 3rd on my ballot. Wall would probably be fourth over Harden* or any of the Warriors, which I imagine I'll catch hell for.

*Fun fact: Houston is only 1.5 points per 100 better with Harden than without him despite the absence of another true star. Wall/RWB/James are all over 13 (Lebron's highest at 16.5). Kawhi is only +1; Spurs gonna Spurs. The Warriors range from +8.5 (Durant, suffering for his absence here) to +15 (Curry), but On/Offs are trickier to gauge on a team with four All-NBAers IMO. Isaiah Thomas, who will get votes from people who vote Harden 1st, is only +0.8 because defense really f*ing matters.

Re: On/Offs

Playing with other stars in a double-edged sword; it means that when Lebron sits, the team still has stars out there, so their "floor" is a lot higher, at least in theory (I happen to think their other stars are both massive defensive liabilities and very overrated, but that's a separate issue). He certainly has more help than RWB, but that should hurt his on-offs more than it helps it. By way of comparison, RWB has by far the best On/Offs of his career this season, as he's no longer measuring himself against mostly minutes that include Kevin Durant. On the other end of the comparison,Lebron's On-Offs wit Cleveland are much higher than they were with Miami, and for similar reasons.

As for Lebron playing with shooters, that's totally true and fair. He definitely has more help than RWB. But I think he still ultimately makes more of an impact because of his two-way play. On/Offs are only part of that, but he also contorts defenses just by dint of being on the floor and opens things up for everybody else (not that RWB doesn't, but RWB isn't as multi-dimensional of a threat; nobody is) in a way that's hard to directly quantify outside of stuff like On/Offs and Net RTG.

They may be similarly dangerous with the ball in their hands (not really, Lebron's way more efficient with it), but Lebron is also a threat as a pick-setter and spot-up shooter in a way RWB just isn't. That, plus the huge difference on defense, is enough for me. He just affects the game in more ways than anybody else. He's a constant two-way impact.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 12:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

LeBron indisputably has much more help around him than Westbrook does. I don't know why the Cavs are so terrible when LeBron does not play but that does not change the fact that the Cavs have two legit All-Stars plus a host of excellent role players. Westbrook's team is bereft of talent and, even worse, the roster was built around Durant, not Westbrook (Westbrook should be surrounded by shooting, which was not as important for Durant since he is a great outside shooter in his own right).

LeBron confounds and mystifies me more than any other truly great player I have ever seen or studied. I know that he is the best player in the league but he admits that he enters "chill mode" for stretches of the regular season. Westbrook cannot even spell "chill mode." I think that his head would explode if someone asked him to enter "chill mode."

I guess my head would not explode if LeBron won the MVP but I would question why the voters gave MVPs to Rose and Durant and Curry during LeBron's prime but then shafted Westbrook, who is having a better season this year than any of those guys did during their MVP campaigns.

Leonard is having a wonderful season. I can't say anything bad about him--but I can wonder if he would be able to carry a mediocre/poor team the way that Westbrook is. We know that Westbrook can be an All-NBA caliber performer for a team that makes the WCF and the Finals, as Leonard has done but we don't know if Leonard can carry a team without having the Spurs' structure in place.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 12:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Kyle:

Thank you Kyle. This website is for people like you, the true fans who are seeking honest and objective basketball analysis without hype and without an agenda.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 1:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I see a lot of media members nitpicking Westbrook's game to death, while at the same time hyping up Harden or Leonard. Harden is having an excellent season but he is not even close to Westbrook's level when you consider the overall context in which each player is operating. Leonard is playing very well but he benefits from the Spurs' stability and structure.

I agree that the Thunder have finally put some better talent around Westbrook but the problem is that all of these players have to mesh quickly with little to no practice time. That is not so easy.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 1:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I understand the devil's advocate argument for Leonard but I disagree with the premise/assumption that Westbrook is costing his team 10-20 ppg defensively this season. I see no evidence to support that assertion. Even some of the "advanced" numbers that you love (and that I am skeptical about) suggest that Westbrook is playing good defense this season. I am not putting Westbrook on the All-Defensive Team or anything like that but I reject the notion that he is a negative factor on that end of the court this season.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 1:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jordan:

Leonard is clearly an MVP candidate but I just don't understand how anyone can ignore the unprecedented nature of what Westbrook is accomplishing. If a center emerged as a 30 ppg-10 rpg player, everyone would be raving about how post play has returned and would be calling that player the heir to Shaquille O'Neal--so how crazy is it that a 6-3 point guard is putting up numbers that most HoF big men would envy while also averaging 10 apg and carrying a team that was built around another superstar?

Do you really think if any other player was doing what Westbrook is doing that we would be talking about anything other than whether or not that player will be the unanimous MVP? Shaq is still mad a decade and a half later that he did not get every single MVP vote in his near-miss at a 30-10 campaign.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 2:08:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

If LeBron won, my head would not explode either. He's without a doubt the best player in the league and a top 10 player of all-time. Neither of those are debatable. However, like David, I would question why LeBron lost to Rose in 2011 and Curry in 2015 when he was clearly the best player in the league (Durant in 2014 and Steph last year did have you question if they were on LeBron's level in the regular season). No team with the best player in the world is going to be the same with said player off the floor. At the start of the season, if I told you that the Cavs would have the 4th best record in the league, you probably wouldn't believe me. The Cavs are underachieving and LeBron should not be rewarded for that. Who actually believes that the Cavs are missing the playoffs in the East without LeBron? Who actually believes that the Thunder aren't at the near-bottom of the conference without Westbrook? If you believe either of those then you are fooling yourself. Unfortunately for LeBron, he is going to be compared to himself. He won his first two MVPs with Mo Williams as his 2nd best player and a Cavs team that won 65 and 59 games respectively. He's on pace for 55 with a healthy Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love for 46 games, and a good supporting cast. That doesn't add up. I can't reward him for underachieving with one of the best teams in the league. He's gunning for FMVP anyway. If the award went to the best player every year then there are several all-time players whom would have some more hardware in their trophy cases.

As for Kawhi, his season simply has not been as spectacular as has been claimed by media members and bball fans living in the moment. He is indisputably the best two-way player in the league when LeBron is coasting, but he has not proven that he is a transcendent player capable of carrying teams. I'm not doubting it, but we really don't have any proof. I believe that people whom feel that he's grossly underrated tend to overrate him and jump the gun. I've seen comparisons to Jordan which is asinine at this point. I've drawn a lot of parallels to the Patriots and Spurs over the years. I've concluded that the regular season is on the coach and the playoffs is on the superstar. The Spurs are likely going to have a winning season every year regardless of who is on the roster. Give Pop some remotely decent talent and he'll produce wins - probably not the 1st or 2nd seed every year without superstars like Duncan and Kawhi, but the Spurs making the playoffs is the closest to sure things like death and taxes.

Don't even get me started on Harden. Giving him the MVP would disgrace the award even more and everyone would recognize it once the Rockets flame out in the playoffs again. He is a GREAT offensive talent... when teams aren't focused on stopping him in the regular season. Add one of the greatest offensive coaches of our time and of course he's putting up great numbers. You can see people's true colors when they knock Westbrook for his shooting percentage and turnovers and in the same breath claim Harden as MVP. As a huge Russ fan, I admit that those two stats could be better, but Harden is shooting a whooping 2% percent better in an offense tailored made to cater to his game while Russell is playing with a team built for a superstar with a totally different skill-set. Plus Harden is averaging MORE turnovers! Harden has shooters everywhere on the floor at all times while OKC is DEAD LAST in 3pt%. It's not close. I'm almost praying that OKC keeps the 6th seed and the Rockets stay in 3rd. I hope the Thunder are taking offense to how their superstar is being disrespected and they expose Harden and the Rockets... It once again reminds me of the 2006 season and how the Lakers and Kobe had the Suns and Nash beat if it weren't for Tim Thomas.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 3:19:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I don't think that Rose or Durant should have won the MVP over Lebron, for what it's worth. Curry is a more borderline case, given the way his range completely contorts the floor and opens things up for everyone else, but I would not have had a problem with Lebron winning either of those years. I think most of his losses, like Jordan's, were mainly a product of voter fatigue.

I agree that the media is a little extra harsh on Westbrook, but I do not think they're as hard as him as they were at their worst on Kobe or Lebron.

As for Westbrook's defense, I have seen less of him this season than usual (and less ball in general), but in the 10-15 games of his I have seen he's been the same alternately inattentive and overactive defender he's always been. I don't know which advanced numbers I "love" that you do not you're referring to- I'm pretty indifferent to Win Shares and mostly to DBPM, particularly in a vacuum- but his defensive On/Offs have improved. It is possible that he has improved, but I think it is more likely, given what I've seen and the thinning of OKC's roster (and especially the departures of Ibaka and Durant) that the lineups he's being compared against are defensively weaker than previously in his career. As ever, context matters

RWB is a transcendent rebounder, however, which certainly bolsters many of "advanced' defensive statistics. I consider rebounding to be something of its own category, and think of defensive more as "countering offensive action" with rebounding more analogous to football's "special teams." This is perhaps an arbitrary distinction, but it makes more sense to me than crediting a lax defender who gets a ton of rebounds (say, Barkley or Kanter) as a plus defender.

Regarding the Leonard comparison specifically, I suggest arbitrary numbers that would make the case if someone hypothetically felt that way, but I do not personally feel the difference is that pronounced, and consequently have Westbrook ahead of Leonard on my ballot (though I still feel Westbrook is a minus defender).

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 3:27:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Kyle-

You are entitled to your opinion but there is little evidence the Cavs would make the playoffs without Lebron. Since he's returned, they've gone 4-19 without him, and 0-5 this season. Neither Kyrie nor Love made the playoffs prior to joining up with Lebron, and the team posts a -7.4 net rating when Lebron sits, which would be 29th in the league.

The reputation of Irving and Love are inflated, and lead to people assuming the Cavs as a whole are better than they are, but neither is a game changer without Lebron, and both are much better suited to the complimentary roles they enjoy as his sidekicks. Both are also terrible defensive players.

I obviously agree that OKC has a perilously thin bench, although somewhat less so since acquiring Gibson and McDermott, who are both real live basketball players.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 12:56:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Looks like Aldridge is probably out the rest of the year (though hopefully not) with a heart condition. That could open the door for Kawhi if they go on a tear. Media love that particular narrative.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 3:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan, SA still has a great roster(top 3 in league) and Pop as coach. Leonard is inching up my MVP ladder, but I have reason for concern with him given his flops in the playoffs the last 2 seasons with stacked teams. Leonard is accomplishing more than James team-wise so far. James is better offensively, but not much. Leonard is much better defensively than James, and is actually more efficient-leads .616 to .615 in TS% and has much fewer TOs.

A lot of what we talk about how a team does when the star player sits is moot. What matters is when they're playing, which will be around 40mpg+ in the playoffs. OKC might be bad without RW, but they have a solid lineup when he plays. If CLE went the whole year without James, they would easily make the playoffs in the East. When James plays, his cast is great.

OKC results are puzzling so far. Much is made of certain players amazing stats in here not resulting in that much impact on wins/losses. This makes me think of RW's impact. Compared to other casts currently or from past seasons, it doesn't seem OKC is doing as well as they should. He's lacking that other true star, sure, but he has a solid center, another solid scorer, an elite defender, and some other nice pieces. OKC should be able to reach 50 wins. I'd still probably give MVP to him if he doesn't, though. This season reminds me of most of Oscar's career-a lot of great stats without much success.

Kyle, D'antoni hasn't been a good coach for most of his career, and HOU has the 3rd best record in the league with only one star. Maybe 2% in FG% difference, but Harden/RW's difference in TS% isn't close. Between them, yes, probably RW. Between James/Harden, you have to explain why HOU has the better record while James has 2 other AS in their primes and a very good cast after that while playing in the weaker conference. This is hard to explain. Doesn't mean Harden should be ahead of James necessarily, but it bolsters his case quite a bit. On paper, sure, easily James, but that's not how the game is played.

Nick, rebounding is kind of its own category, but it's still a huge part of defense. An elite rebounder, regardless of his defensive skills guarding players, is going to have a big impact defensively.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 3:43:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

I think being the best player and playing the best basketball in the league any particular season are two different things and the latter should be rewarded with MVP. That's why I object the notion of LeBron winning the award this year. Unless he plays the best basketball while coasting, which he doesn't. Thus I think MVP for Curry was deserved. Surely enough Lebron should have won over Rose or Durant.

And yes, my head will explode too when anyone other than Russ wins. And I think it will happen seeing media bias, despite his historical achievements.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2017 7:25:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

I'd like to follow through on Kyle's comment (and apologies for repeating anyone):

This MVP race is similar to that of the 2006 season.

Russell Westbrook is this year's version of Bryant: both players putting up crazy statistics with historic usage numbers, but saddled with the seventh seeded team in the West. Fans moan over their weak supporting casts, whereas detractors denigrate them for stat padding, ball hogging, and sub-efficient shooting.

James Harden is this year's version of Nash: Both players are leading the league in assists for overachieving D'antoni teams with high seeded teams. Frontrunner and (likely) eventual MVP winner.

Kawhi Leonard is this year's version of Nowitzki: Both are the best players in the league, but lone all-stars of 60-plus win teams.

 
At Sunday, March 12, 2017 12:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

OKC's results are not "puzzling" to me; the Thunder are actually right about where I expected them to be: I expected Westbrook to be superhuman and his supporting cast to be not very good and such teams typically max out around 45 wins (confer Kobe's Lakers in the Kwame/Smush era, though Kobe had even less help than Westbrook does this year). The Thunder are 26-6 when Westbrook has a triple double; when he plays like Superman they win--but if he is "merely" a superstar then they often lose. Nothing puzzling about this at all.

Harden is putting up inflated numbers in a system designed to enable the primary ballhandler to do that, particularly in the regular season. Neither he nor that system is designed to have much postseason success and we will soon see that play out as well, unless Houston is fortunate enough to play an injury-depleted team in the playoffs.

I agree with you that defensive rebounding is an important part of defense, both individually and on a team-wide basis.

 
At Sunday, March 12, 2017 12:27:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Awet:

The 2006 MVP race comparison is a good one. The voters messed up big time in 2006 by picking Nash and relegating Bryant to fourth; hopefully you are wrong that they are about to make the same mistake by picking Harden but I am concerned that Harden is becoming the fashionable choice. The Harden narrative seems to be the most appealing one to the media; they are "tired" of voting for LeBron, they don't quite know what to make of Leonard and they dislike Westbrook the way that they disliked Bryant. Harden is being lauded for changing his game but all he is doing differently is handling the ball more often for a team that has now surrounded him with deadly shooters. He is a talented offensive player and by virtue of his individual stats/team record he almost has to be mentioned but there is no way that he is actually as good or as impactful as Westbrook, James, Leonard or Durant. If you replaced Harden on the Rockets with a slightly above average pg and permitted that pg to handle the ball as much as Harden does that pg would not put up quite the same numbers as Harden but he would average more than 20 and 8 and the Rockets would have almost as many wins as they have now; if you similarly replaced Westbrook, James, Leonard or Durant, their teams would be significantly worse.

 
At Sunday, March 12, 2017 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Thanks, David.

I'd like to follow up on another comment by Kyle:
A couple years back, Bill Simmons posted his alltime team:https://twitter.com/BillSimmons/status/633383496652746753

In which he said:
1992 MJ, 1986 Bird, 1985 Magic and 2013 LeBron... I don't even care who my center is, I'm beating any 5 guys you throw at me.


I replied with the following:
I'll give you 77 Walton and beat you with: 15 Curry 03 Bryant 14 Durant 03 Duncan and 64 Russell.

No doubt that 1967 Wilt had what quite possibly was the greatest season of alltime, but I was thinking of a team that would beat the BS team - given the open space of the 21st century, whereas BS' brand was closer to the golden age of the eighties.

If Curry can hit it from 30, that stretches the defense out of the paint, freeing up Bryant and Durant to run horns off picks. Plus Duncan and Russell were excellent passers from the interior, feeding two great mid-range jumpshooters. Duncan could post up anyone anytime, and would overpower LBJ in the post.

 
At Sunday, March 12, 2017 1:27:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Awet-

Ooh, fun game. I agree your team would probably beat Simmons', although more because neither Magic nor Bird can guard anybody on the other team (neither can Curry, but his shots are worth 3 and Magic's are worth 2).

However...

Can I take '70 Jerry West, '96 Scottie Pippen, '76 Dr. J, '17 Anthony Davis*, and '94 Hakeem Olajuwon and beat you both? I think I can. All five of my guys are A+ defenders, all of them can shoot to at least 20 feet (and 4 of them can shoot further than that), all five can drive, all five are way above average rebounders for their position, and all five are great passers.

Against Simmons' team I'm clogging the paint and daring Jordan to beat me from 3 (over Pippen's length) while I demolish Magic/Bird in pick-and-roles and isolations on the other end.

Against yours, stapling West to Curry's hip, cross-matching Hakeem onto Duncan (I don't think Davis can handle Duncan, but he could probably contain Russell), and seeing if Bryant can get by Pippen and still finish over Hakeem or the Brow. I like Doc just fine against Durant, and I should completely dominate the boards (Russell is the best rebounder out there, but I have four of the next best five). On offense, West stretches the floor almost as much as Curry does, and I'm going right at Curry (and/or taking on '14 Durant, who was not yet the defender he is today, with Doc). Olajuwon and the Brow either pull your bigs out of his way or make open shots when they cover for him.

*Man oh man did I want '72 Kareem instead, but I need the floor spacing. I also thought about '94 Sabonis but figured I should stick to NBA guys. '75 Rick Barry was the other tough cut, but I'd rather have Pippen's D.

David, any chance you wanna jump in and use your crazy acumen to take me/Awet/Simmons down with 15 of the best pieces already off the board?

 
At Sunday, March 12, 2017 10:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awet, mostly agree, but Leonard isn't the best player in the league, RW has that distinction so far. The main differences between Nash/Harden is that Nash had AS as teammates while Harden scores/rebounds much better, but yes, quite similar.

David, I guess I think RW's cast is much better. RW actually dominates the ball a lot more than Harden. RW leads the league in usage pct. at 42.2%. Cousins is 2nd at 36.8%, while Harden is only 5th at 34.1% and that's with leading the league in TOs, too. That's a huge difference between RW and Harden. Harden's scoring is actually down 0.1ppg from last year. He still averaged 7.5apg last year. Of course he's going to average more apg as PG instead of SG this year. Maybe more with D'antoni than other coaches, but he'd still likely be above 10apg. Every player who has high assists will need to have the ball a lot. You laud RW's stats, and rightfully so, but Harden's stat aren't far behind, in fact, maybe better if you factor in shooting efficiency as he shoot much better than RW.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 12:27:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Can I take some of the same players but from different seasons? If so, I've got 89 MJ at the point, 06 Kobe at shooting guard, 74 Doc at small forward, 02 Duncan at power forward and 95 Olajuwon at center.

If I have to take five completely different players, then I'll go with 62 Oscar, 17 Westbrook, 62 Baylor, 07 Nowitzki, 62 Wilt; great passing, rebounding and scoring, with good enough defense. Not a great three point shooting team other than Dirk but this team would score a ton of points in the paint.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 12:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Westbrook's supporting cast plays like garbage when he is off of the court and the team basically only wins if Westbrook gets a triple double, so the evidence points toward his supporting cast being pretty bad. The new guys may be upgrades but they arrived near the end of the season and still must be integrated into the team so their presence now means little in terms of the season-long MVP race.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 1:21:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Eh, there aren't really any rules here. Go nuts.

Interestingly, if we are allowed to take the same guys from different years, your team and mine would have 4/5 of the same guys (Jordan/Doc/Duncan/Hakeem). I'm actually not positive who my last guy would be in that case, but he would be a willing facilitator for sure, given how much the other four can all score. Kobe's awesome, but his skillset is very similar to Jordan's and Doc's on offense (although he may actually be the most technically skilled passer of the three, though Doc's probably the most willing one) and I worry about diminishing returns with three guys like that, as opposing teams would structure their defense similarly (i.e., Thibs-style) against all of them and not have to adjust their basic strategy too much as the ball swung between them. I'd also ideally want someone with some range, since Doc and Jordan are just ok from 3 and while Duncan and Hakeem could make them when they had to, it's not a shot either took very often.

That being the case, I'd probably go with either West, Pippen (with Jordan at PG), Curry, or Frazier. Maybe '13 Lebron in the oversized Magic-style PG role, assuming I have a coach who can convince him to post up often enough. West is the best PG of the bunch (and proved with the Goodrich/Baylor/Chamberlain era he could play alongside multiple other stars), Curry's shooting is the most interesting weapon (but his defense is the weakest of the five), Pippen's probably got the widest overall skillset (but is the weakest shooter), and Frazier's got the most experience running a team full of other stars (and is arguably the best defensive PG ever), but it's hard to say if he could make 3s or not as he didn't shoot a ton from that range in the footage I've seen.

Gun to my head, assuming I can't trust Lebron, I think I'll take West; he's the only one that provides both extra space (though less than Curry) and elite D. I'd also err on the side of '96 Jordan since that was the one year he made the most of his 3s.

...basketball is fun.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 1:49:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Thinking about it a little more, the right answer is probably '13 Lebron. I like West more than him, and there's a case that West is better at his position, but Lebron can guard all five positions, and in the context of the team having Lebron means the other teams' two smallest players are probably stuck on Jordan and Doc. West is probably a better long-range shooter, but Lebron '13 is definitely a very good one.

Speaking of Lebron, back on the MVP talk, there's a lot of noise above about him "underachieving" with his team. Looking at the roster, I'm not sure I agree. It's definitely got a lot of offensive talent, but that team, beyond Lebron, is a defensive tire fire. Thompson is their second best defender and he's great in the PnR, but he's undersized at Center, can't really stop bigger post-up guys, and isn't a rim protector. He's also a poor defensive rebounder. Their next best defender is probably Shumpert who's.... fine? A little above average on his best nights? Their fourth best defender is either JR Smith (who has his nights defensively, but less often than not) or Channing Frye, and that's... bad.

They're the 21st ranked defense in the league. Last season, they at least had some solid bench D from Delly and Mozgov, and they ranked 10th. 21st ranked defenses usually don't win the conference (the Suns teams you guys love to make fun of from the D'Antoni era were usually ranked around 12-16th, for comparison).

Incidentally, that's why they never win when he sits. They can't stop anybody, plus Kyrie and Love both lose efficiency when Lebron's not feeding them.

Now, if you wanna blame Lebron for that weirdo one-way roster since he's, according to David, the GM, that's potentially fair. But I don't think it's relevant to whether or not he's the most valuable player, only to whether or not they should stop letting him dictate personnel.

On a different subject, talking about those historical guys made me curious. David, is there anyone you've considered adding to the pantheon? I know we've talked a little about some of these before, but the guys who stick out as potential omissions to me are Hakeem, Pippen, Moses, and Barry. I'd probably take any of those four over Baylor, at least, and I'd take Hakeem over about half the existing Pantheon. Who, if anyone, was the toughest or final "cut" when making the Pantheon?

Additionally, are there current players you expect to see make it in? The four that look like candidates to me are Curry, Durant, Davis, and RWB, but obviously all of them have a lot of ball yet to play to earn it.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 2:47:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

More on Cleveland/Lebron, because I got curious and did some digging.

As bad as Cleveland is defensively even with Lebron, they are historically awful without him. In the five games he's missed, their defensive rating is 115.8. That would not only be worst in the league, but it would be as far behind the current 30th place team as that 30th place team is behind 21st (ironically, Cleveland). The margin between Cleveland's normal D-RTG and their D-RTG in those Lebron-less game is about the difference between the 1st place defensive team and the 23rd.

Over a full season, that rating would not only be the worst in the league, it'd be the worst in the 2000s, and probably the worst of all time (I didn't feel like manually clicking through another 60 seasons to be sure). Sure, small sample size, but the teams they played during that stretch (MIA, IND, CHI, DET, MEM) aren't exactly offensive world-beaters. They're ranked 17th, 18th, 20th, 21st, and 23rd in offense. Miami is a better offense than their season-long O-RTG suggests because of their awful start, but even if we pretend they're a top-10 offense, that's still four below-average offensive teams putting up GSW-caliber numbers. If anything, a larger sample size would be likely to make it worse; CLE already makes below average offenses look like GSW, imagine what they'd make GSW look like.

And it's not like their offense was good in those games, either. They lost by an average of 16 points, and did not break 100 points once in five games. If Kyrie Irving is the top-tier super star people like to pretend he is, that shouldn't be happening (although he also missed the Miami game). The aforementioned Heat, the most injured team in the league, have lost only three games all season by that margin. Cleveland with Lebron have lost only 4 (and mostly against good teams). As ever, defense matters a ton.

Lebron's cast *is* better than RWB's, but it's not the superpower it's being made out to be here, and it'd almost certainly be a bottom-tier lottery team without him. Given that, I don't think it's insane to suggest his MVP case is still pretty valid, even if RWB has more eye-popping raw stats and even less help.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 2:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's just not that simple with +/-. There's so many variables and moving parts. And like I mentioned before, RW and most other star players play very high minutes in the playoffs. They're almost always on the court. OKC has some nice players around RW, but they're not positioned to do well when RW sits, unlike most other teams. When RW plays, they do have a solid lineup around him

Though RW has a short track record playing without any star player, it's not a very good track record. I like him as a player, but I'm not sold on him yet. He has a much better cast than Kobe did 2006, so mid 40s in wins doesn't seem very good. He has a guy in Enes Kanter, who might not be very good defensively(though he's an elite rebounder), who averages 14 and 7 off the bench in 22mpg, which is amazing.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 8:53:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Regarding RWB's supporting cast, I think it's less that they're "bad" and more that offensively they're largely dependent on a creator. They obviously wouldn't win as much with a lesser PG, but I think the team would still be respectable (especially now having added some depth) and .500ish if you gave them, say, Kyle Lowry or Chris Paul.

Adams is a great team defender (just ok as a rim protector/rebounder), and does a lot of the little thing on offense that don't show up in the box score, from setting picks, to making strong cuts even when he doesn't get the ball, to boxing out for Uncle Russy's Offensive Rebound Spectacular. While he's not a big time scorer, he's one of the best PnR bigs in the league, and does a great job giving Russ room to do Russ stuff on those plays (compare, say, Andre Drummond or Hassan Whiteside, who set shockingly inconsistent screens for guys their size and basically only finish lobs on the roll). Oladipo is above average (but not stellar) on both ends, and a potential borderline star if he ever learns how to create his own shot more consistently (far from a given). Gibson is what he is, but what he is ain't so bad. McDermott's at least a shooter, and maybe more than that. Kanter is the kind of player I hate (all offense, no D), but he can certainly score and he gets his numbers on the glass (though he rarely boxes out for others). Roberson is a D and 3 guy who can't shoot 3s, but then so is Tony Allen, and he keeps getting minutes on competitive teams. Andre's not quite Tony, of course, but he's an A- or so defender and an above average rebounder for a wing.

That's not a star cast, by any means, but neither is it the '06 Lakers. More importantly for OKC's success, they're all guys who know their role and stay in their lane. That's exactly what you want beside a star, and they're probably only a two-way PF who can spread the floor away from contending.

None of this should detract from RWB's MVP candidacy- they're definitely not the Spurs or the Warriors- but calling them "bad" seems a bit unfair, particularly to Adams and Oladipo who are both probably top-10 guys at their respective positions (or at least close). Even Kanter (ugg) is gonna load up on 6th man votes.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 9:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

If you are correct, then OKC should be more dangerous in the playoffs than the regular season, assuming that Westbrook's minutes increase to 38-40 mpg without a loss in efficiency or impact. It is evident that OKC is awful without Westbrook. Perhaps it is correct that his supporting cast is solid as long as he is on the court running the show.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 9:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I understand that Westbrook has some solid individual parts around him but those parts only function well when he is on the court. The team is just awful when he sits.

Physically, Oladipo looks like he could be a poor man's Pippen but he doesn't show up every night. Pip made huge leaps each year until he became a superstar and that does not seem to be Oladipo's trajectory.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 9:56:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Regarding the Pantheon, the post-Jordan players I added in Part V were (in no particular order) Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, LeBron. At this point, there is no one I would add or remove.

No "cuts" were particularly hard for me, as I believe that the Pantheon players are distinct from the next group of 10-15. Olajuwon did not sustain Pantheon level as long as the Pantheon players and, though he outdueled young Shaq, he would not have fared as well against 2000 Shaq.

I love Pippen's game but I just can't put him in the first group because he has neither the absolute peak nor the high level longevity of the Pantheon guys. I think he is very underrated though and he would be no lower than 20-25 on my list, which is higher than most people probably have him.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 10:44:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I guess I'm confused about what constitutes a Pantheon level performance, then. It's hard to say Bird or Baylor played at a Pantheon level for more than 11 years, and that's just on offense (there's a case neither played at a Pantheon level on D). He certainly made the Finals less than either of them (though he won more than Baylor), but he had quite a bit less help, too. Kevin McHale, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain all would have easily been his best teammate ever, and Parish would have been his best teammate in all but one or two seasons. Olajuwon had a comparable impact on offense- in terms of not only his scoring but also the attention he drew in the paint as pretty-much required double-team- and is second to only Russell and perhaps Duncan for defensive impact, IMO.

I am also less sure he could not have fought 2000 Shaq to at least a stalemate. Hakeem tended to raise his game against elite competition, and often outplayed Kareem (slightly post-peak), Robinson (peak), Ewing (peak) and whoever else you put in front of him. And unlike Shaq, Hakeem could make his FTs.

But, it is your Pantheon, not mine, so while I don't understand the distinction I certainly won't ask you to change it :)

As for Pippen, I feel like you can't judge him by his numbers; it is not his fault he played alongside Michael Jordan, but he proved in '94 that he could put up Pantheon-quality performance when needed. He is one of only three or four guys in basketball history who could truly "do it all" (Doc and the best version of Lebron being the other two I can think of) on both ends, and I do not doubt that a team could have won multiple titles- albeit probably not 6- building around him as their best player.

Just my two cents.

Do you think there are any current players likely to earn their way into the Pantheon?

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 11:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OKC has only one playmaker(RW) and nothing resembling a remotely decent backup PG. If they had a decent backup PG who could create offense for himself and/or others, this would greatly help OKC, but at the same time, the talent level on OKC would remain pretty much the same. At least Kanter can create a little bit for himself.

Kobe had one teammate(Odom) who could be starter material(top 30 player at his position) for other teams. RW has at least 4 teammates with this distinction(Adams, Kanter, Roberson, Oladipo) and probably 5 if you count Gibson. Not only that, but the guys who started, other than Odom/Kobe, probably shouldn't even have been in the rotation at all for any other playoff team. Kobe played 41pmg, so he didn't really need a backup, compared to just 35pmpg for RW. RW's certainly not as good as 2006 Kobe even with better stats, so it should be expected for him to win less with a very similar cast. However, OKC is on pace to win 46 games-1 game better than 2006 LAL. He certainly has a better cast for this and other reasons. And if he was able to play 41mpg, OKC would probably have at least 3 more wins. He must have some lingering injuries and/or Donovan is very cautious with him because 35mpg seems much to low for how good he's playing.

 
At Monday, March 13, 2017 11:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, I never understood why players get credit when they sit. I've heard from you and others continue to say CLE is 0-5 without James, which is true. But, why would missing 5 games help James' MVP case, regardless of how CLE does? Resting his tired/lazy bones is actually helping him in the eyes of some, which doesn't make sense to me.

Let's break these games down a bit. 4 games are 2nd of back-to-backs. All 5 games are not consecutive, just sporadially placed throughout the season-don't really get a true sense of how good/bad CLE really is without James. 5 games is much too small of a sample size, too. Only 1 game was a home game(CHI), which CLE is 0-3 against. CLE is also only 1-2 vs DET and MIA. They were without several players, including Love, in the CHI loss. Irving/Love were also out in the MIA and MEM losses, too. Once you look at everything, it's really not that big of a deal. If James plays in all 5 games he missed, CLE probably wins 2 of those 5 at most.

James has probably the 2nd most talented team in the league behind GS. He also probably has the deepest team. CLE can go a solid 11-12 deep. Having a team with both these traits is extremely rare. He not only has one, but two, AS-caliber players in their primes, and many very good role players around them, all of this while playing in the weaker East with no other true contenders. It's been a huge underachievement for CLE so far. He hasn't played close to 'best player' status for the season. Most people like to say he's the best player in the game. All I ask from him to actually play like the best player then.

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 12:09:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

In the Pantheon series of articles I defined the criteria that I used. Ultimately, of course, this is a subjective exercise, because someone else could apply the same criteria and perhaps reach different conclusions about certain players. A Pantheon case could be made for Olajuwon and it would be something along the lines of what you have written here (and in previous comments). However, in my view Olajuwon does not make the cut. He, Moses Malone, Pippen and Rick Barry (four players who you have mentioned in this context) are all somewhere in that next tier of players (15-25 or 30) in my estimation. My head would not explode if someone disagreed and put one or more of those guys a bit higher but my overall views about these players have not changed much since I wrote the original series.

I do intend to write a piece about some of the "new Top 50" lists that have proliferated since I went to/graduated from Law School but I just have not had the time to do the project justice. I hope to do it soon but I will not post it until I am able to give the project the depth of thought that it deserves.

Pippen is my second favorite player of all-time and he is criminally underrated in many quarters but I just can't put him in the Pantheon. His life story really is remarkable, though--from student manager in college to one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. Like Kobe and Westbrook--maybe even more so than those guys--he does not play the media game, so media members and fans are less willing to overlook/forgive his transgressions than they are with MJ and others; I don't want to start listing and comparing the faults of every great player but I think that some guys--like Pippen, Kobe and Westbrook in the NBA and Terrell Owens in the NFL--are covered much more harshly than other guys.

Right now, I don't anticipate any of the current players making it into the Pantheon but I tend to be a harsh critic, particularly of young players.

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 1:02:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

For sure. I'm not trying to get you to change your mind, more just trying to understand the distinctions.

I think a big part of our disconnect is that I may put less of a premium on peak length than you do, or define it differently. Barry and Moses, for instance, only had maybe 7 "peak" years, but they were so good during those years that I feel pretty comfortable with them in my top 15.

In a few cases (Hakeem vs. Baylor, Magic, or Bird), our usual disagreements about exactly how much to value defense vs. offense probably also apply.

Pippen, I see where you're at, and I know I'm in the minority ranking him as a borderline top-ten guy. For me, he just did so much so well that I don't really mind that he was never the #1 guy or a 30ppg scorer.

While I may (mildly) disagree with you on all four of those guys, I think Hakeem is the only one where I don't quite get the distinction you're making... but as you said, it's subjective. I think if Baylor were not in the pantheon I'd probably be less confused; to me he sticks out like a sore thumb among the other thirteen guys, but I've also seen less total footage of him than the other thirteen guys, so perhaps that's the root of it.

Anyway, looking forward to your top 50 article. That sounds really interesting.

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:44:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, I'm also a little perplexed with Baylor. Compared to the other Pantheon members, he's seems like an oddball. But, David must value scoring very highly as I do.

Pippen is underrated, and while he might not be that far behind in terms of rankings(somewhere in the 20-35 range depending what you like), he's really that not close to almost all of David's Pantheon players. Just a 7x AS, 3x 1st all-nba, and maybe a serious MVP candidate 2-4 years at most for his career just isn't going to cut it. Yes, he might've been one bad call away from a title in 1994, but he had two solid casts around him in 1994-1995 in the middle of his prime as the main guy, and only made the 2nd round each time. He also had Jordan in 1995 playoffs.

Olajuwon seems close and probably is. And when you break down his attributes compared to someone like Bird, Olajuwon probably wins on paper. This is important, but there's more to look at. Bird was a more consistent elite performer in the playoffs and seemed to have a bigger impact on wins/losses. Olajuwon just had too many middling inconsistent results, and even missed the playoffs one year in his prime with a decent cast.

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 7:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Baylor was the greatest small forward in pro basketball history until the ascendance of Erving in the early to mid 1970s. Even now he ranks no worse than fourth at that position, behind Erving, Bird and LeBron (listed in chronological order). Baylor was an elite scorer, rebounder and passer. He was fast, strong and could handle the ball. By most accounts he was not a great defensive player but I see no evidence that he was a poor defender, either (if you like Defensive Win Shares, note that Baylor ranked in the top seven in the league three times in that category). He rose to the occasion in the playoffs and was only denied a championship by the imposing Russell dynasty. If Baylor's knees had not given out, he would have been the starting forward for the 1972 Lakers' championship team (he played the first nine games of that season but could no longer perform anywhere close to his former level, so he retired).

He made the All-NBA First Team 10 times and he finished in the top five in MVP voting seven times. Baylor ranked in the top 10 in scoring 10 times, the top 10 in rebounds eight times and the top 10 in assists four times.

Olajuwon had a much longer career but only finished in the top five in MVP voting six times, though of course he did win an MVP while Baylor did not (Baylor's best finish was second, in an era when Oscar Robertson was the only non-center to win the award). Olajuwon made the All-NBA First Team six times. He did not clearly surpass Kareem as the league's best center until Kareem was nearly 40 years old, so there is almost a simple math here: I can't take him over Kareem and it is not clear to me that Kareem was greater than Wilt or Russell (a case can be made that Kareem is the greatest player of all-time but such a case can be made for each Pantheon member), so does the fourth (or fifth, since I place Shaq ahead of him, too) best center of all-time belong in a 10 player Pantheon?

For most of pro basketball history, centers were more valuable than other players, so perhaps you could make a case that in many eras Olajuwon might be more valuable than Baylor by virtue of the positions they played; in an early 1980s article, someone (I think that it was Pete Axthelm but I don't recall for sure) made the point that Bird was Boston's best player but that Parish was the team's most valuable player because of the importance of the center position.

I think that Baylor was a better scorer, rebounder and passer than Olajuwon, though I could accept the premise that Olajuwon was "more valuable" in certain contexts and perhaps in that sense we are both "right" but we are just valuing different things in different ways.

There is more to it than just what I listed above (that is why the Pantheon series was five articles long, supplemented by other tangentially related articles that I have written over the years), so please don't act like I only relied on one or two factors, but I just wanted to mention some of the above considerations because I think that Baylor gets shortchanged a lot, perhaps because he is better known now as the Clippers' former GM (which is really sad in many ways).

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:45:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I don't like Win Shares generally, and especially dislike Defensive Win Shares for the same reason I don't like considering rebounding part of defense; they imply guys like Charles Barkley are elite defenders... unless you think Barkley is the 40th greatest defensive player ever, and was the 2nd best defender in the world in '86, which I do not.

Like I said, I have the least familiarity with Baylor of any Pantheon player, but what I have seen does not impress me to the extent the others do, and I think the absence of a title is a significant black-mark; Russell's Celtics were certainly dominant, but both Pettit and Wilt were able to beat them, so I do not think their presence nullifies Baylor's lack of a title any more than Jordan's nullifies Barkley or Malone's inability to win the big one. Baylor was also still an All-Star when the Lakers lost to the Knicks, a much more beatable foe (and one the Lakers beat without him two years later).

As for Baylor's offense, I do not like comparing FG% across eras, so I won't, But he has the worst FG% of the four Pantheoners who played during his prime, and by a fairly wide margin in every case but Russell (whose defensive dominance demands a different measuring stick on offense anyway). This makes sense for Wilt, of course, but West and Oscar were guards; why are their FG%s so much higher than Baylor's, given his greater proximity to the rim, and his massive athletic advantage over opposing players? Outside of the Pantheon, fellow All-Star 60s SFs Barry, Havlicek, Chet Walker, and Billy Cunningham also out-shot Baylor (though only Barry was in his league as a scorer).

If the Pantheon is supposed to be a group of equals, then in order for Baylor to belong he must be as much offensively better than Wilt/Kareem/etc. as he is defensively inferior. Given that even his offensive numbers are not superior to theirs, and by most accounts he was an average to poor defender (I have seen differing views here, but have never heard him referred to as much better than average), I struggle to justify his inclusion.

By that same metric, and using your own logic about Hakeem vs. Kareem, if he is not as good as Doc (and, given the gap on defense, I suspect you agree he's not), then how can you put him in?

1/MANY (but don't worry, they're interesting, I promise!)

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:45:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I have a *mountainous* Hakeem post incoming (sorry), but briefly: I agree that Kareem is probably better than Hakeem (albeit mostly due to longevity), but I do not agree that Shaq/Wilt/Russell necessarily are. It is also worth briefly noting that the 2nd best player on any of Kareem's title teams would easily be the best player Hakeem ever played with, and the third best player on any of Kareem's title teams would likely be the second-best player on either of Hakeem's.

I would also contend that while Kareem was a better offensive player than Hakeem, Hakeem was a better defensive player than Abdul-Jabbar, and in general was better able to rise to the challenge when up against similarly top-tier centers, Kareem included, while Kareem got his butt handed to him by not only Hakeem, but also Moses (twice). He also got beat by Walton, Chamberlain, Thurmond, Reed, and Cowens (though none outscored him in their series); of the bunch. He beat Thurmond and Chamberlain each once, but in genera Kareem won the title when he didn't have to play another A+ center on the way there.

Hakeem, on the other hand, demolished Shaq, Robinson, Ewing, and Kareem in their respective primes and tended to lose to perimeter oriented teams that punished his weaker supporting cast.

Speaking of, when Kareem had casts like Hakeem's in the mid/late 70s, despite all his MVPs, he won exactly one 2nd round playoff game in four years. Heck,3 of his other 4 starters in '79 were all within 3 years of an AS appearance (as was their 6th man, ABA stud Ron Boone), and the fourth was a 6x All-Star winding down his career, and they still got waxed.

Dantley/Wilkes/Nixon/Hudson woulda been the best starting squad Hakeem ever played one, easy.

Now, here comes the novel...

2/ A lot still to come (but, again, FUN! I had to build a spreadsheet!)

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:46:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

This started as just a curiosity dig into Hakeem’s playoff performances, then kinda morphed into a comparison of how much help he has relative to every other Pantheon guy. It’s gonna come off like I’m trying to convince David to put him in, but that’s not really my intent and this is really just my reasoning for why I think he’s so damned good/underrated (I have him top 5 All-Time), and why his playoff record isn’t really a legitimate argument against him. I think it’s interesting, if you have the patience for it, and it’s got good spreadsheet-fodder for how much help each Pantheon guy actually had near the end (spreadsheet available upon request).

I'm pretty ok with putting Olajuwon's iffy playoff performances largely on his supporting cast. From '87 to '96, he had just two teammates selected to the All-Star team (plus Drexler in '95, who made the AS team then got traded to Houston before they won the title). Let's look over his playoff career and see how much of the blame falls on his shoulders.

Let's look at his prime seasons individually.

In his rookie year, Hakeem lost in the first round of the playoffs to Adrian Dantley's Utah Jazz. Despite being guarded by reigning DPOY Mark Eaton, Hakeem was probably the player in the series, putting up 21/13/1.5/1.5/2.5 on 48% shooting. Still, he wasn't quite The Dream yet, and Utah won in 5 games.

In '86, he upset the Lakers alongside Sampson and put up a fight in the Finals against one of the four greatest basketball teams of all time (1986 Celtics) before succumbing in six games. Hakeem put up 25/12/2/2/3 on 47% shooting (against Parish/McHale on D), but Sampson no-showed the series offensively, scoring only 15 ppg on 43%. McHale and Bird both had monster series, with McHale scoring 25.5 on 57% shooting and Bird nearly averaging a triple double. While HOU's third best player was Rodney McCray, Boston had Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, Bill Walton, and Danny Ainge.

In '87, HOU had Ralph Sampson for less than half the season and they lost in the second round of the playoffs to an offensively explosive Seattle team that just overwhelmed Houston's crappy backcourt. Houston arguably had the two best players in the series in Olajuwon (who put up 30 & 13 on 60% shooting with 4 blocks per game) and Sampson (18 & 9 on 50%), but Seattle had two explosive scorers of its own in Tom Chambers and Dale Ellis, and as a team took much better care of the ball (6 fewer TOs and 5 more assists per game). The elimination game is particularly a bummer for Hakeem, who put up 49/25 and 6 blocks, but got no help from a foul-plagued Sampson who managed only 19 points on 32% in the overtime heartbreaker. Starting swing Robert Reid also found himself with 5 fouls and 32% shooting.

Sampson's career pretty much ended after that, and he was soon traded.

In '88, they lost in the first round to a high-power Dallas team. Hakeem was again the best player by far in the series (37.5/17/2/2/3 on 57% shooting), but again faced a deeper, better opponent and got little help. His best teammate was the notoriously mercurial Sleepy Floyd, who scored 19 a game on 42% shooting and played little defense. Hakeem had 40/15 in the elimination game on 67% shooting, but got basically no help, as no other starter scored over 11 points, and the four of them shot a combined 29% on 37 attempts.

'89 was probably Hakeem's best team between Finals appearances, with both future one-time All Star Otis Thorpe and a declining Sleepy Floyd, but they again lost in the first round against a similar Seattle team to '87. Hakeem again was the best player on the floor (25/13/5/1/3 on 52%), but Dale Ellis and Sedate Threatt nuked Houston's guards and Seattle, despite being outscored for the series, won both close games down the stretch, including the eliminating win with Otis Thorpe fouled out. Hakeem went down swinging with 24/13/2/4/1, but 11-34 from Houston’s perimeter starters wasn’t gonna get it done.

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:46:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

'90 The Rockets went only .500, though Hakeem authored one of the great defensive seasons of all time. They got killed in the first round by the Lakers, led by apex performances from both Magic and Worthy. Hakeem had a poor offensive series (for him) averaging only 18 on 44%, but he tried to make up for it on the defensive end with 11.5 boards, 2.5 steals, and a monstrous 6 blocks per game. It wasn't enough. It's probably fair to criticize Hakeem for his offensive numbers in this series, and this is the first time he's lost in the playoffs without being the best guy on the court (YMMV on '86). Hakeem put up a valiant 28/15 with 3 steals and 4 blocks in the final game, but the Lakers had 7 players in double figures (while Houston's starting backcourt went 7-27) and took the win.

'91, they again get whipped by the future Finalist Lakers, though this time Hakeem gave a better account of himself (22/15/2/1/3 on 58%), but Magic was monstrous, and the Lakers were just too deep relative to the Rockets, who's third best guy was probably Kenny Smith. Hakeem had a good final game with 21/17/2/3/4 on 52%, but Magic had a better one with 38/6/7/1 on 70% (he was not a great matchup for Kenny).

'92, HOU misses the playoffs (albeit narrowly). The team went 40-30 when Hakeem played, but he missed 12 games and the Rockets lost 10 of them, dooming their playoff hopes. Ironically, this is the only year between '87 and '96 where Hakeem had an All-Star teammate, as Thorpe made his lone AS team. I don't recall the season well enough to speak authoritatively, but I wonder if part of the problem was relying too much on Thorpe as the offensive fulcrum instead of Hakeem? Thorpe was a good scorer, but he was never the playmaker that Hakeem was.

'93 the Rockets roar back into the playoffs with 55 wins with the addition of coach Rudy Tomjanovich. They lost in 7 the second round to the Kemp/Payton/Pierce Sonics. As usual, Hakeem was the best player in the series (25/13/5/2/4 on 52%) but just didn't have enough around him to beat Seattle's three stars. Hakeem missed a triple-double (23/17/9/2/3) by one assist in their overtime game 7 loss, where once again his second best player (Thorpe) found himself limited to 35 of a possible 53 minutes due to foul trouble and contributed only 10 points.

In '94, he won the title with no supporting All-Stars, joining Rick Barry as the second ever player to win a title without another current All-Star on their team, defeating a deep NYK team in the Finals, where he summarily destroyed Patrick Ewing. Hakeem had 27/9/3.6/1.6/3.9 on 50% while holding Ewing to 19 ppg on 36%. I believe Hakeem still holds the record for fewest total career AS appearance by a teammate on a title team, at Thorpe's 1 (Barry, for comparison, had 4, mostly from Jamaal Wilkes).

The next year, he became the first and only player to lead a team to the title from the 6 seed, demolishing reigning MVP David Robinson on the way there. In the Finals, he swept a much deeper Orlando team, averaging 33/11.5/5.5/2/2 on 48%.

4/ Still a good deal more to come...

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:47:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

In '96, Drexler missed almost half the season but HOU still made it to 48 wins before getting pummeled by Seattle's best team since '79. Hakeem was the best player on Houston but was outplayed at least offensively by a peaking Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. Whether or not Hakeem should be blamed for this depends how high you are on that Seattle team (I'm pretty high on it), and how much you think fatigue matters when going for a three-peat (I think it matters a bit, particularly for someone with Hakeem's two-way workload). The Rockets managed to force overtime in the final game (a theme for Hakeem), but with the non-Hakeem starters going just 11-47, it was not to be (Hakeem had 26 on 19 shots, but only 6 rebounds. Drexler and Horry had great rebounding nights, though, and SEA won the battle of the glass by only one rebound).

In '97, the Rockets added Charles Barkley, but lost in the WCF to a great Jazz team. Hakeem returned to his usual habit of being the best guy on the court (27/9/4/2/3 on 59%), but John Stockton destroyed Houston's starting traffic cone Matt Maloney (20.5 & 10.3 on 54%) before making the heart-breaking game winner over Barkley in game 6. With Barkley and Maloney in place of Robert Horry and Kenny Smith, Houston's defense was just no longer championship caliber. Hakeem and Drexler both shot 67% in the closing game, with Hakeem adding 11/6/2/6 to his relatively quiet 16 points, but Stockton had 25/13 and all five Utah starters scored at least 15 points. Barkley had an off night, shooting 38% and managing only 7 rebounds, while Matt Maloney answered Stockton's big night with an 0-4, 1 assist, 2 turnover performance.

In '98, Hakeem's decline began in earnest as he missed half the year with an injury. He showed up for the playoffs against Utah, posting 20/11/2.5/1/3, but only shot 40% against Utah's smothering D. The series was a brick fight, but the Jazz ultimately prevailed, with the usually playoff-challenged Karl Malone steamrolling a too-injured-to-start Charles Barkely (and nominal starter Matt Bullard) to the tune of 26.5/12/5/1.5/1.5 on 46% shooting. An injured Barkley managed only 9 ppg in 4 games, and Drexler only 15 on abysmal 30% shooting. Houston won two of five games, but with Drexler, Hakeem, and Barkley all declining, they just weren't a true contender any more. This was only the third season of Hakeem's career where they did not rank in the top 10 defensively, and the first where they did not rank in the top 15.

By '99, Hakeem was on clearly on the downslope of his career, and got his butt summarily kicked by a peaking Shaq. Everything after that is probably irrelevant to what we're talking about here. He did make Third Team All-NBA, but he was no longer the Hakeem that could swing a playoff series.

Still, for a 15-year "prime" Hakeem made the playoffs 15 times. Of those 15 playoffs, he was still clearly ('85, '87, '88, '89, '93, '94, '95, '97) or arguably ('86, '91) the best the best guy on the court in the final series 10 out of 14 times. The four times he wasn't, he was up against the eventual Finalist 3 of them ('90 LAL, '96 SEA, and '98 UTA), a team a year away from three-peating the fourth (’99 LAL) ,and always at least two All-NBA caliber opponents.

5/ We might be halfway through now, but I'm about segue into numbers-crunching.

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

For his career, Hakeem had teammates make the All-NBA team only twice (Sampson (2nd) in '85 and Drexler (3rd) in '95).

If you prefer All-Star teams, over that same 15 year stretch, he had only seven teammates appear on the AS team: Sampson from '85-'87, Thorpe in '92, Drexler from '96-97, and Barkley '97. He had only 3 All-D teammates (Rodney McCray in '87 (2nd) & '88 (1st), and Pippen in ’99 (1st).

Compare Larry Bird, who in his 13 year career had 5 All-NBA teammates (1 1st (McHale), 3 2nd (Parish x2, Archibald), 1 3rd (Parish)), 23 All-Stars (Cowens '80, Archibald '80-'82, Parish '81-'87, '90-'91, McHale '84, '86-'91, Johnson '85, Ainge '88, Lewis '92), and 11 All-Defensive teammates 5 1st, 6 2nd).

Now, nevermind that Hakeem was an All-NBA level player longer than Bird was in the league (albeit only by a year or so), look at the difference in their help! There were six or seven guys Bird played with who'd have instantly been the second or third best player on any of Hakeem's teams. Yes, Bird made two more Finals than Hakeem did (and won one more). Yes, Bird rarely ever lost in the first round. But the average Bird team has at least two-three other top 30 guys on it. The average Hakeem team had less than one.

Hakeem got three good years of Drexler and three good years of Sampson, and one good year of Barkley. That's it. Of course he lost in the first or second round a lot, and I think it's telling that he was usually the best guy in those series... whereas Bird stunk up the joint in elimination series in '82 & '91, was definitely not the best guy in '80, '81, '83, '85, '87, '88, '90, and was only arguably the best guy in '81 and '86. You can only say for sure he was the best guy in the elimination series in '84. He missed the playoffs with an injury in '89, and barely played in '92.

Larry Bird was any good in the playoffs in 8 times. Hakeem was great in the playoffs 10 times, and was never bad.

Oh, and by the way, I've made it however many pages without mentioning this somehow: he's the second or third greatest defensive player to ever play the game, and that doesn't fully show up in the box score. He anchored 8 top 5 defenses (including one #1) while surrounded by guys like Sleepy Floyd and Charles Barkley.

6/ Here comes the numbers and also don't worry, we're past the halfway point now.

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:49:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

For reference, Hakeem's average number of "great" teammates per season during his 15 year peak: 0.47 All-Stars, 0.13 All-NBA, 0.2 All-D. On his title teams, he had 0 other active All-Stars, 0 active All-Defensive players, and 0 active All-NBA players.

Bird: 0.39 All-NBA, 1.77 All-Stars, and 0.85 All-D, plus 1 Finals MVP and 3x Sixth Man of the Year winners. For his 3 titles, he averaged 1 All-NBAer, 0.34 Finals MVPs, 1 All-D guy, and 2 All-Stars.

Magic? Sure, he made 9 Finals in 12 years. That's awesome. He had 20 AS teammates in that span (that's more than double how man Hakeem had in his career), 8 All-NBAers (4 1st, 2 2nd, 2 3rd), 12 All-D (6 1st, 6 2nd). So, 1.7 AS, 0.67 All-NBA, and 1 All-D. Those numbers are all at least triple Hakeem's; coincidentally, Magic made 3x as many Finals (though he didn't get 3x as many titles). Don't forget that there's also a DPOY, an MVP, and 2 Finals MVPs with him over that stretch (to say nothing of the 6 MVP awards and many All-Star/All-NBA/All-D appearances his teammates had racked up before he got there).

That's 0.67 All-NBAers, 1.67 All-Stars, and 1 All-D guy per year. In his title years, he averaged 1.6 All-Stars, 0.4 All-NBA, and 1 All D guy, plus 0.4 Finals MVPs, 0.2 MVPs, and 0.2 DPOY.

Jordan? During his peak (’85-’98) he had 5 All-NBA teammates (All Pippen, 2 1st, 2 2nd, 2 3rd), 9 All-D (6 1st, 3 2nd), and 6 All-Stars (all Pippen again). He also had 1 6th Man of the Year. He didn’t play in ’95, so that’s a 13 year run.

That’s 0.39 All-NBA, 0.46 All-Stars, and 0.69 All-D. In title years, he had 1 All-D guy, 0.83 All-NBA guys, and .67 All-Stars. That’s the lowest rates so far, but still (in the title years) a lot better than Hakeem’s 0s across the board. He actually had slightly fewer total All-Star teammates (6 vs. 7) than Hakeem, but his were all Scottie Pippen, which helps.

Duncan. Let’s call his peak ’98-’15 (he made the AS team at both ends, after all). 11 AS, 9 All-NBA, 10 All-D. 0.61 All-Star, 0.5 All-NBA, 0.56 All-D, plus 2 Finals MVPs and a DPOY.

For his titles, he had 3 AS, but there was no AS team in ’99. Let’s assume David would make it if there were and call it 4. 1 All-NBAer, 4 All-D. On average, 0.8 All-Stars and All-D, plus 0.2 All-NBA.

7/ I'm thinking 10 or 11?

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:50:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

This is so far beyond running long, we’ll use short form for the rest of the guys. I’m defining peak broadly here as basically “still useful.” Kareem, for instance, made an AS-Team and the Finals in his final year, but obviously was better younger.

Kareem (20 yrs): 21 AS (1.05), 9 All-NBA (0.45), 9 All-D (0.45), 3 MVPs, 1 DPOY, 2 MVP, 4 Finals MVP.
Title (6): 8 AS (1.33), 5 All-NBA (0.83), 4 All-D (0.67), 1 DPOY, 1 MVP, 4 Finals MVP

West (14 yrs): 22 AS (1.58), 10 All-NBA (0.71), 3 in the 6 years he played while it existed.
Title (1): 2 AS, 0 All-NBA, 1 All-D 1 Finals MVP

Baylor (12 years): 21 AS (1.75), 9 All-NBA (0.75), 2 All-D in the 2 years it existed.
Title: Never won one, that slacker.

Chamberlain (14 years): 26 AS (1.86), 10 All-NBA (7.1), 5 All-D in 5 years it existed.
Title (2): 4 AS (2), 2 All-NBA (1), 1 All D when it existed (1)

Russell (13 years): 27 AS (2.08), 22 All-NBA (1.69) 2 All-D the one year it existed.
Title (11): 23 AS (2.09), 19 All-NBA (1.73), 2 All-D when it existed.

Oscar (12 years): 19 All-Stars (1.58), 8 All-NBA (0.67), All-D 1 in the 4 years it existed.
Title (1): 1 All-Star, 1 All-NBA, 1 All-D

Doc (16 years): 22 All-Stars (1.38), 6 All NBA/ABA (0.38), 18 All Defensive in the 15 it existed (1.2), plus 1 MVP, 6th Man of the Year, and Finals MVP.
Title (3): 5 All-Stars (1.67), 1 All NBA/AVA (0.33), 3 All-D (1), 1 Finals MVP, MVP, & 6th Man each.

Kobe (16 years): 13 All-Stars (0.81), 12 All-NBA (0.75), and 4 All-Defensive (.25), plus 1 MVP, 1 6th Man of the Year, 3 Finals MVPs
Titles (5): 5 All-Stars (1), 5 All-NBA (1), 2 All-D (0.4) plus 1 MVP and 3 Finals MVPs

Shaq* (14 years): 13 All-Stars (0.93), 10 All-NBA (0.711) and 9 All-D (0.64) plus one Finals MVP.
Titles (4): 4 All-Stars (1), 4 All-NBA (1), and 3 All D (0.75) plus one Finals MVP.

*He made a sentimentality AS team in ’07 and ’09, but I’m cutting his peak at ’06, which is more reflective of his on-court decline.

Lebron* (13+): 12 All-Stars (0.92), 4 All-NBA (0.31), 1 All-D (0.08)
Titles (3): 5 All-Stars (1.67), 2 All-NBA (0.67), 0 All-D.

*Not factoring in this year since we don’t know if he’s winning the title (though I doubt it) or what the All-NBA/All-D teams are yet.

For funsies, since I did all that work, here’s the help for an “average” Pantheon player:
14.29 year peak, 18.29 All-Star teammates (1.32 per year), 9.07 All-NBA teammates (0.65 per year), and 6.86 All-D teammates (0.75 per year).

They average 3.93 titles, and their average title win includes 1.45 other All-Stars, 0.78 All-NBA teammates. and 0.89 All-Defensive teammates. There’s a 33% chance they won’t win the Finals MVP (that math on that last one is messed up because of Russell, and would look different if Finals MVPs existed in his era).

8/ We're nearing the end!

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:51:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

So, if you’re somehow still reading after ALL of that, here’s how it all shakes out:

Hakeem is 2nd to last against the Pantheon in both total AS teammates (7) and AS per year (0.47). He trails only Jordan in total and edges him for last in per-season (6 & 0.46, respectively). Duncan, surprisingly, had the third fewest, with 11. Only Russell played with over 2 AS per year (2.08). Hakeem played with just over 11 fewer All-Stars than the “average” Pantheon player, and just under 1 fewer per season.

He ranks dead last in All-NBA teammates (both per prime and per career). He has 7 fewer All-NBA teammates than the average Pantheon player, and 0.5 fewer per season. The next lowest in both categories is Lebron, who still doubles Hakeem’s numbers.

He is tied for third for last for total All-D teammates (2), behind Lebron and Oscar (1), and even with Elgin and Russell. However, he’s really just behind Lebron and maybe Oscar, as the team did not exist until ’69, and it’s a given that Havlicek/West would have made them in the 60s, bumping up Russell and Elgin’s numbers. Hakeem’s average of 0.2 All-D teammates per season beats only Lebron’s 0.08, and is less than 1/3 of the average.

For title seasons, Hakeem ranks last in All-Star teammates per title at 0.5 (about 1/3 of the average). Next lowest is Jordan’s 0.67. Hakeem also ranks dead last for both All-NBA and All-D teammates per title, at 0, though he ties with Lebron for All-D. About 85% of titles won by Pantheon players feature another All-NBA player, and about 90% feature an All-Defensive teammate. Hakeem won two titles with neither. Nobody else has done so, though Duncan comes the closest, with only 1 All-NBA teammate and 4 All-Defensive teammates across his five titles.

9/ Almost definitely just 10, guys.

 
At Tuesday, March 14, 2017 11:52:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

For the curious, Russell leads all categories (except total All-D teammates, as the team only existed his final season). Those Celtics teams were stacked. Doc has the most All-D teammates (18), though he’s in a 7-way tie for second for All-D teammates per title (1) behind Russell (2 on the one title that qualifies). Only Hakeem (0), Lebron (0), Kobe (0.4), and Kareem (0.67) are particularly far from 2nd .

In terms of “most with least,” besides Hakeem, the top five for the title-relevant categories are:
All-Stars per title: MJ (0.67), Duncan (0.8), and Kobe, Shaq, & Oscar at 1 apiece.
All-Defensive per title: Lebron (0), Kobe (0.4), Kareem (0.67), Shaq (0.75), and Duncan (0.8).
All-NBA per title: Duncan (0.2), Doc (0.33), Magic (0.4), Lebron (0.67), and Jordan/Kareem (0.83).

I was pleased to see that the four guys I personally have above Hakeem all showed up on the All-NBA list (albeit two of them tied for 5th). Duncan is the only one in the bottom five on all three lists, despite San Antonio’s rep as a stacked franchise (I was surprised Magic had relatively few All-NBA teammates in title years, but the 80s are dicks like that (no 3rd team). He makes up for it with All-Star per title, in 4th at 1.6 (but only .07 from 2nd).

Bringing it all the way back around, it’s difficult for me to hold Hakeem’s relative lack of playoff dominance (though, ya know, he does have more rings than Baylor/West/Robertson and just as many as Wilt) against him when looking at the support he had relative to David’s Pantheon. Given that he was almost always the best player in the series during his prime, and that he won with way less All-NBA/All-D/All-Star help than anybody else, it seems much more likely that his teams just weren’t as good as the other guys’ than that he wasn’t somehow good enough to win more. This is compounded by the fact that box-scores don’t adequately reflect guys like him/Russell/Duncan, and he’s still Pantheon-competitive just by the box score.

Wow. Ok. This went really, really long. Sorry. But that’s my case for why I think Hakeem’s playoff record shouldn’t DQ him as a top tier guy. I think it’s a pretty strong one.

10/ I promise I'll never write this long a post again. Hope somebody enjoyed it. Wasn't kidding about the spreadsheet if anyone's curious.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 1:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

First, I never ranked my Pantheon players, so I don't want anyone to have the impression that Baylor somehow is 10th or barely made the cut just because you and Anonymous think that he should be figuratively voted off of the island. I see a perhaps small but nevertheless clear distinction between the Pantheon players and the next group and Baylor is clearly a Pantheon player in my book.

The information you presented is interesting but none of it addresses the factors that I considered when selecting the members of my Pantheon. I did not focus on which great players had the least help or the worst supporting casts; I am also not convinced that Olajuwon was as bereft of help as you suggest: Sampson might have eventually been recognized as a Top 50 player had he not been felled by injuries, Drexler was a Top 50 player just three years removed from leading a team to the Finals when he joined forces with Olajuwon to win a title and guys like Cassell, Horry and Smith were hardly chopped liver (not to mention Vernon Maxwell, an All-Star level talent who was, of course, also a head case). Mind you, I have no interest in debating the value of various supporting casts, because that was not a criterion I even used in the Pantheon context, but I am just stating for the record that despite the mountain of data you presented I don't necessarily agree with your conclusion.

For how much of Olajuwon's career was he the undisputed (or even just consensus) best player at his position? He did not clearly surpass Kareem until Kareem was nearly 40. You mention particular playoff series when Kareem was bested (and he was only bested by great players at their peaks, such as Moses Malone), but those cases were the exception, not the rule: Kareem was the All-NBA First Team center 10 times, including his final selection at nearly 40 when he beat out Olajuwon--and this was one year after Kareem won the Finals MVP at 38, a feat that likely will never be matched.

In contrast, Baylor was the best small forward in the NBA for a solid decade, despite interruptions for military service and some devastating knee injuries. Baylor was considered the gold standard at his position all-time at least until the emergence of Erving and Bird.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 2:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Regarding the lack of a title being a "black mark," let's look at the examples you cited to supposedly prove that if Baylor were Pantheon worthy then he would have won a title.

Pettit beat a young, pre-dynasty Russell who was not 100% healthy, while Wilt's team that beat Russell's Celtics is in the discussion for best single season team of all-time (it was actually voted as such more than a decade later). Wilt is obviously a Pantheon player by any definition and Pettit did not miss the cut by much (he was arguably the greatest power forward of all-time prior to Tim Duncan)--and those were the only two players who ever led teams to victory over Russell in a playoff series. I don't consider the playoff performance of Baylor to be a "black mark" at all; in fact, he set some postseason records that still stand and he is one of the most prolific scorers in playoff and Finals history.

By the way, if Frank Selvy had not missed a jumper in the waning seconds of regulation of game seven of the 1962 NBA Finals then the Lakers would have dethroned Russell's Celtics. I am not taking Baylor out of the Pantheon because Selvy missed a jumper (to be fair to Selvy, he also hit two clutch shots in the final 20 seconds of regulation:
He missed a shot at changing NBA history
).

Baylor averaged 40.6 ppg and 17.9 rpg in the 1962 NBA Finals, including a Finals single game record 61 points that still stands and is the second most points in any playoff game behind Jordan's 63 (in double overtime in the first round). Baylor's 61 point outburst put the Lakers up 3-2 in that series. He scored a game-high 41 points in the overtime loss in game seven.

It is worth noting that Olajuwon's two titles came in the Jordan retirement vacuum; that takes nothing away from how phenomenal Olajuwon was during those years but I am sure that Baylor would have appreciated it (and won a couple titles) if Russell had taken two years off.

Field goal percentages do not compare well between eras (or sometimes even between two players in the same era, depending on their respective roles). Baylor was obviously a high volume scorer but his field goal percentage was still above average for his era, which is impressive considering that he had the burden of creating shots both for himself and for his teammates (other than West, who of course could create his own shot). For instance, as a rookie Baylor shot .408 from the field. That may look terrible to modern eyes but it was actually the best FG% on the team among the players in the seven man rotation (roster size was 10 and the other three players did not play nearly as much) and it was above the league average of .395. Baylor ranked fourth in the league in scoring that season and led his team to the Finals. A decade later, Baylor shot .447 from the field for a Lakers team that advanced to the Finals before losing to Russell's Celtics in seven games. Baylor had the worst FG% of the Chamberlain-West-Baylor Big Three in that season but it was still better than the league average of .441.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 3:20:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Fair enough.

Re: Casts

Even if we consider Sampson and Drexler as equivalent to Magic and Oscar (they're not), Hakeem had three years with Sampson and three (good) years with Drexler. Kareem had 10 years with Magic, 5 with Oscar, and 7 with Worthy (going by only "top 50" guys). Even adding on 2 years of (post-peak) Barkley and 1 of (post-peak) Pippen, Kareem had 22 years of top 50 help and won 6 titles, Hakeem had either 9 (counting Sampson) or 6 (not counting Sampson) and won 2; the math there is about even.

That of course presupposes that things were even further down the line, though I personally would take Wilkes/Dandridge/McAdoo/Dantley/Cooper/Scott/Green over Thorpe/Smith/Horry/Cassell/Maxwell/Floyd/McCray pretty much with my eyes closed.

This isn't to impugn Horry & co; they're all good role players, and the kind of guys you need to win a title. But they are not remotely in the same league as the guys Kareem had around him.

All-NBA Teams are heavily influenced by wins and losses (as I've discussed before), but even allowing that, Hakeem made the team 6 times. A case could be made that 1) Hakeem had more competition for the spot during his prime than Kareem generally did (with Shaq/Robinson/Old Kareem/Ewing/Mourning) than Kareem did during the sweet spot of the 70s- early 80s, with his only sustained competition coming from post-peak Wilt, peak Moses (for about 5 years), and pre-peak Hakeem (for about 3), as well as perhaps Parish (who never made an All-1st team) and overlapped for longer with Hakeem. I am curious if he would have made as many had the ABA/NBA merger come sooner, and he had to compete against peak Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel. I likewise wonder how many he would have made had Magic gone to another team, or how many Hakeem might have had if he'd gotten to spend 3/4 of his career with the greatest two PGs of all time.

1/ 3 or 4 probably

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 3:38:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

But, my point was not the Hakeem is better than Kareem, but that he compares favorably with the Pantheon players by any metric except perhaps playoff success (though even there he trumps Oscar, Baylor, and West), and that "failing" is more a function of a weaker supporting cast than of any inability on Hakeem's part. He may not have as many All-NBA selections as most of the Pantheon, but much like FG%, that is a shaky metric to compare across eras and positions. Oscar/West, Doc/Bird, and Magic/Jordan were all able to cohabitate on those teams, but there is only one slot for center; how many would each of them have if they couldn't share? Bill Russell made only 3 All-NBA 1st teams by dint of sharing the slot with Wilt.

Logically, a 2nd team All-NBA Center is about as good as 1st Team All-NBA guard or forward (top 2 at your position). Counted that way, Hakeem has 9 selections, putting him within one selection of everyone else in the Pantheon except for Russell (now 11), Kobe (11), and Kareem (who then jumps to 14). It puts him ahead of Bird (8), and even with Oscar, Doc, & Magic, and just one behind MJ, Elgin, West, Shaq, Lebron, and Wilt.

I do not agree that All-NBA teams are a great way to rank guys, but if they are, Hakeem has a pantheon-ish showing, once you adjust for position.

To answer your question of when Hakeem was the consensus best guy? I'd argue pretty steadily from about '86-'97. Like Kareem before him, he got beaten to the All-NBA team here or there, but made the first team 6 times, the 2nd team 3 times. The three times he did not make the top 2 were the year he was injured and his team missed the playoffs (fair), the year where he missed a full third of the season (also fair), and the year he missed 10 games and finished 3rd ('95). That year, he demolished both the guys who finished above him in the playoffs. Additionally, in '86 he finished 2nd but destroyed the 1st place finisher (Kareem).

During that run, he had 9 top 2 selections (6 #1s). Ewing was 2nd with 7 selections (1 #1)and Robinson was next with 5 (3 #1s) . Both are "Top 50" guys and Robinson at least is a top 20-25 candidate. Shaq and Moses each made 1 (0 #1s). Hakeem made more Finals (3-2) during that stretch and won more rings (2-0) than the four of them combined. Kareem made 1 during that time, and matched Hakeem's record in the Finals during that span, but by that point was clearly his team's third best player (and he lost to Hakeem in the playoffs the year he made All-NBA).

That '86 year is weird anyway: Kareem was 1st Team to Olajuwon's 2nd in '86, but I struggle to see why. They scored almost exactly as much (Hakeem 0.1 more), and Kareem was slightly more efficient, but Hakeem averaged 5.5 more boards, 1 more steal, and 2 more blocks. Neither made the All-D team that year, but Hakeem made it the year before and after, while Kareem had last made it two years before and would not make it again, so it's safe to assume the prevailing opinion at the time was that Hakeem was the better defender. Kareem did not make an All-NBA team again after Hakeem beat him in the playoffs, so perhaps that was the official end of his "reign."

I would argue Hakeem was easily the consensus best center in the league over those 12 years. I would say that Kareem was easily the best center from '70-'77, at which point it was Walton for two years, then Moses for four. '85 it was probably Kareem again.

Let's say Wilt and Russell each get 6-7 and not worry too much about where/when.

Shaq was the best center from '97-2006.

Hakeem had the longest "reign", in my opinion, he just had the least help. Although, if you go by championship belt rules, then It goes Russell '57-'66, Wilt '67, Russell '69, Wilt '70, Kareem '71-'76, Walton '77-'78, Kareem '79-'80, Moses '81-'84, Kareem '85, Olajuwon '86-'98, O'neal '98-'06, Bunch of Scrubs '07-present.

2/3

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 3:39:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Look, Kareem's awesome, but the only things he beats Hakeem on are either titles (where supporting cast has to be considered), raw stats (Kareem's are better, but largely a function of era; his 80s numbers are weaker than Hakeem's and it's likely Hakeem would have approached Kareem's #s in the faster-paced 70s), or accolades... but that assumes that accolades are team and context agnostic, which they just aren't. Had Hakeem played with Magic/Worthy/etc. he almost certainly would have made more All-Star/All-NBA appearances (and likely would have matched Kareem's higher FG%), had he played in the '70s with fewer other top-shelf Centers around (and no MJ/Bird/Magic) he probably would have won more MVPs.

I cannot say for sure that Kareem would not win more titles if their teams were swapped, but I don't think he would. Kareem struggled against physical A+ centers. Given the way Moses and Hakeem manhandled him, it is likely that he would have struggled with Shaq and Robinson. His teams when he did not have an All-NBA PG never won a game in the Conference Finals, so I find it unlikely he would beat the Jazz or the Sonics with Kenny Smith lining up vs. Payton or Stockton.

Now, given Kareem's superior longevity, it is unlikely Hakeem would have won as many titles on Milwaukee/LA... unless Hakeem was better able to deal with Moses and could rack up a few earlier wins in the 80s. This is hard to say, but given Hakeem's success against Shaq (who had a similarly bullish physical presence) it does not seem wholly unlikely. It would also not be shocking if Hakeem, with his defensive superpowers, could defeat the Sonics in '78 or '79 alongside Wilkes/Dantley/etc. Hard to say either way, but certainly possible. Hakeem's "peak" may also have been extended a bit if he got to join up with Magic in year 11 and Worthy in year 14.

Despite appearances, I'm not contending that Hakeem is better than Kareem (I have Kareem 3rd all-time and Hakeem 5th). But I am suggesting that it's very nearly too close to call, and the case to take any of the other pantheon centers over Hakeem is even murkier & more context dependent. How many titles does Hakeem win with the stacked Celtics? If he has that same 15 years, it could be 13 or 14, even. How many would he win in Wilt's place, given that he could actually make his free throws? Or Shaq's?

Kareem was elite for longer, Russell was the most consistent winner, Shaq and Wilt were beyond dominant at their apexes, no doubt, but Hakeem had the longest "reign," and did more with less, in my opinion.

3/3

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 4:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

As I said, I am not interested in debating the relative worth of the various supporting casts, as this was not a factor in my Pantheon selections; it's kind of like arguing that certain non-Pantheon players had better vertical leaps or 40 yard dash times or whatever: it may be true and it may be relevant to some people but it has nothing to do with the factors that I considered, so I will not defend my selections based on criteria that I did not use.

I will reiterate that all I am going to say about the supporting cast comparisons is that I don't necessarily agree with your assessments of the various supporting casts, but debating whether a few years of peak Sampson is equivalent to however many years of Worthy or Dantley or whatever is too far removed from the Pantheon series (or the original comment thread) to pique my interest.

I also did not base my Pantheon selections on what players might have accomplished had they played in different eras. In fact, I very deliberately focused on what they actually accomplished in their own era and how far above their peers they stood. I find it very significant that Baylor was clearly the best player who played his position from the founding of the NBA until at least the early 1970s (depending on when exactly one believes that Erving surpassed him). I also find it significant that whether or not near-prime Olajuwon was better than past his prime Kareem was at least debatable; I don't know what prime Olajuwon would have done in 1979 or what prime Kareem would have done in 1995 but I know that in 1986 Kareem was old and still making the All-NBA Team. If any assumption is going to be made then the most logical assumption is that if you shave 10 years off of 1986 Kareem then he absolutely would have given prime Olajuwon the business. Wilt said that young Kareem was the first center that he felt like he needed help to guard. I don't think most people realize just how good young Kareem was, because most people are too young (or not knowledgeable enough) to really know about this.

So, I would say that you make an interesting case for Olajuwon but not one that addresses the factors that I considered or one that convinces me that Olajuwon cracks the top 10 all-time. I also disagree with your downgrading of Baylor, whose Pantheon credentials are quite clear.

In case it is not already obvious, I left guys out of the Pantheon who I really like. Moses was the center on my favorite single season team of all-time. Pippen was the best player on one of my favorite non-Dr. J teams of all-time. I just don't believe that Moses and Pippen quite make the Pantheon cut and I feel the same way about Olajuwon.

Also, while a Top 50 list can be somewhat fluid over time--particularly regarding spots 25 or 30 through 50--it would take a lot for me to add or subtract from my Pantheon at this point. Shaq, Duncan, Kobe and LeBron (listed in chronological order) won a lot of rings and/or displayed tremendous individual dominance before I even considered listing them as potential candidates from the post-Jordan era. I feel like their credentials mesh nicely with the original 10 Pantheon members.

A while ago, someone suggested that the Baseball Hall of Fame be capped at 25 members, with no one being inducted unless someone else is taken out. I think that is an asinine idea for a Hall of Fame (HoFers should mostly be compared against players of their own era who competed under the same rules and conditions) but such a concept makes some sense regarding the Pantheon. Maybe it's just me, but guys like Durant and Curry and Westbrook don't even seem close to Pantheon status just yet.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 5:28:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Oops, didn't see your last post. A few quick responses before I call it a night:

Re: Selvy's Miss

Yeah, a lot of guys have different ring totals if other guy X misses or makes shot Y, Hakeem probably included.


Re: Baylor's FG%

So, based on your comments, Baylor was a high-powered scorer who shot mildly (0.5%- 1%) above the league average and played mediocre but not terrible defense. Compare to the other SFs in your list, though... Doc shot about 4% better than league average usually, Bird shot about 1% over (but made a bunch of 3s, so his TS was way ahead of the rest of the league), and Lebron currently shooting about 8% above league average, which is not weird for him (he's also had a few good 3pt seasons). All three made at least one All-D team, and for my money, at least Doc and Lebron were A+ defenders. Neither touches Baylor's rebounding numbers, but all three beat his rebound percentage (his higher totals are mostly a function of pace/era). They similarly all beat his assist percentage. They also all beat him in Win Shares, Win shares, per 48, Playoff win Shares, and Playoff Win Shares per 48 (and fairly dramatically in all cases, too), though again I'm not wild about those. They're also all comparable scorers, though Baylor's got a very slightly higher career average (again likely in part due to pace). I am curious exactly what skill Baylor had that puts him on the same footing as those three guys, nevermind excuses the gap on defense. He's also got a shorter peak than any of them, and a much shorter one than Doc (and presumably Lebron).

You claim every Pantheon player can have a credible case made for them as the greatest player of all time. In most cases I can identify that case (even if I may disagree with it, say in the case of Magic, Kobe, Shaq, or Lebron), but I am curious what the case would be for Baylor over someone like Kareem, Doc, or Lebron.

Re: If Russell took two years off.

As far as Baylor goes, Russell did take 2 years off during Elgin's prime. He got taken out in '67 by Wilt, but without West to help him Elgin got swept by Rick Barry in the first round (he also out-scored Elgin at the SF position), and in '70 Russ was retired, but the Knicks pulled it out despite arguably not having one of the three best players in the series (and not having their center for most of the last two games), though of course they were a very deep/balanced team that played well together. Elgin had 2 All-Star guards and the best Center in the league on his team, though. The one season Doc had that, he went 12-1 in the playoffs. Bird and Lebron never got that lucky. Heck, none of those three guys ever got to play with another Pantheon guy*, let alone two at once.

*Ok, fine, technically Lebron got one year of super washed up Shaq. Are we counting that?


1/probably 4, Jesus we've covered a lot today

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 5:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Jordan's retirement

First of all, Jordan was back and playing pretty Jordan-y in the playoffs in '95, he just got beat. In fact, his playoff averages were across the board better than in '96, except for turnovers. Granted, he'd only had 20 games or so to reintegrate, but the main reason the Bulls lost is that they had nobody who could deal with Shaq either defensively or on the glass (which is why they went and got Rodman right after). They'd have had the same problems with Hakeem, at minimum.

Second of all, it's true that Hakeem never had to beat Jordan, but Jordan also never had to beat Hakeem. Before adding Rodman, Jordan was 5-11 all-time against Hakeem, including 1-5 during his first three title seasons. The best center Jordan ever beat in the playoffs was one-foot-out-the-door Shaq in '96. Hakeem's an even scarier beast, especially on D.

I feel pretty confident Houston would have won in '95 given that Orlando did and Houston whipped Orlando (and was similarly built around a killer interior big and a bunch of perimeter shooting). I am less sure about '94, but certainly wouldn't feel good placing money on Chicago. That team relied a lot on getting to the rim, and Hakeem was pretty great at making that a tough thing to do, and I don't think Horace Grant was equipped to either contain him on offense or keep him off the boards.

It would have been a lot of fun watching MJ trying to beat Hakeem at the rim, though.

2/4

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 5:29:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: A little bit more on Olajuwon per your last comment

Fair enough that supporting cast and how it relates to success is not what you judge your Pantheon by. Let's look at Hakeem by what you say you do.

In your initial Pantheon post, you outline two key qualifiers, durability (defined as at least 10 years at or near the top of the game), and peak value. In this thread, you've added a third: " I very deliberately focused on what they actually accomplished in their own era and how far above their peers they stood."

Durability: Hakeem averaged over 20ppg for 15 seasons, 14 with at least 10.9 rebounds. During that run he made 11 All-NBA teams (and one more two years later). I think this checks that box, given that several Pantheon members top out around 10-12 years.

He is the league's all-time leader in blocks, and he ranks 9th all time in steals and 38th all-time in steals per game, and is the only center in the top 100. He is 14th all-time in rebounds and 14th all time in points. He is the only player to rank in the 15 for Points, Rebounds, Steals, and Blocks. Kareem & Shaq are the only other players Top 15 in 3/4.

Peak value/Relative to his era: From '86-'97, he was top-2 All-NBA 9 of those years, which puts him within 1 Top-2 All-NBA selection of all but three Pantheon members. He also won an MVP (less than 8 Pantheoners, more than 2, same as 6) , 2 DPOYs (more than any other Pantheon member), and two Finals MVPs (tied for 6th) during this span. He also went 4-0 against the other All-NBA Centers during the playoffs during this span, pretty firmly establishing himself as the best big man of that run. Additionally, he made All-D teams and finished in the top 10 for MVP 11/12 times (losing to a Pantheon member all but 3 of those years). He was consistently in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding (#1 twice), and blocks (#1 thrice), and also cracked the top 10 in Steals 4 times.

HIs 12-year reign as the league's best center is the longest such reigns among Pantheoners, with only Kobe's (13?) and Duncan's (14?) potentially longer.

I know I am not convincing you, nor is that so much my intention, but I am trying to see what the disqualifying factor is. He seems to check the boxes fairly easily of durability, peak value (particularly in the playoffs), and relative to his era/position fairly easily.

3/4

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 5:43:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Young Kareem vs. Hakeem

'76 Kareem and '86 Hakeem scored and blocked shots at nearly identical rates. Kareem rebounded 2.5% more misses, but that is likely attributable to playing alongside Cornell Warner (13.8% Rebound rate) vs. Ralph Sampson (16.5% rebound rate). Kareem was a stronger passer, but Hakeem got more steals.

Kareem had the better overall stats, but Hakeem won a lot more games (Kareem missed the playoffs while Hakeem made the Finals). Sampson was a bit better than Gail Goodrich (no slouch, him), but their supporting casts in general were both decent-not-great. The Lakers had better health, but the Rockets won 11 more games and seemed to have a bit more offensive firepower (both teams were relatively bad defensively).

I am not sure who would win that matchup, particularly given Hakeem's habit of playing up to the competition and Jabbar's tendency to wither against more physical centers, but I think it would be close and nobody would be giving each other "the business" as you put it. Kareem didn't have any real competition in '76 (though Cowens seemed to play him pretty close), but from '77-'79 he was mostly getting his butt kicked head-to-head by Moses and Gilmore, so I don't especially feel like Peak Kareem (tm) is some untouchable god no other center could handle. Post-peak Wilt split with him in the early 70s. Kareem cleaned up against lesser centers, but top guys could give him a fight. I even kinda like Peak Hakeem against him.


Re: Current Guys

Oh, I don't think any of the current guys are there *yet* by any means. I'd say none of them are even half-there. I was asking if you thought any were likely to eventually get there. Sorry if that was unclear. I could see Curry (if he recaptures and sustains last year's production over several years), RWB (if he becomes a two-way player for the back-half of his career and gets a ring or two), or Durant (if he wins a whole bunch and keeps up this kind of performance into his early 30s) making a case for themselves, but they've all got a long ways yet to go.

Giannis might have an outside shot, too. Too soon to tell.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 6:16:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

One last post-script thought that just occurred to me:

You rightly make a big deal out of Oscar Robertson winning an MVP during an era where the award was dominated by centers ( it had been 7 years since a guard had won it). When Hakeem won his, it had been 11 years since a center had won (Moses in '83). Robinson (wrongly) won the next year, but after that it would be another 6 (Shaq in 2000) before a center would win it again, and no center has won it since.

Hakeem and Kareem also share 2nd place All-Time for Finals MVPs for centers (behind Shaq), though this is of course a dubious distinction given that the award did not exist for most of Wilt/Russell's heyday.

As an addendum for Hakeem's Peak Value, he is also the only player in basketball history to win the DPOY and the MVP in the same season (and for gravy, he also won the Finals MVP). The only other MVP to win both the DPOY and the Finals MVP in his career is Michael Jordan. Olajuwon is the only player to have won both DPOY and Finals MVP twice.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 11:55:00 AM, Blogger HP said...

David, will Kobe take someone's spot on your revision to the Pantheon?
Will LeBron knock Baylor off?

I believe they've both done enough to get in. I don't know whose spot Kobe would take, but LeBron's accomplishments, peak level of play and years of being the best player in the league are probably enough to put him over Baylor.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 12:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see Baylor as top 10(though just #10) before mid 1990s. If we're going to add to the initial 10, then it's fine, but he's definitely the oddball of the 14. He had a shortish career, a decent peak but not great, and didn't even make the AS team one year in his prime(later stages). I suspect he was probably hurt that year, though, but still. And LAL finally when he retired. Much like T-MAC's team finally won a playoff series when he was injured. Maybe a little unfair, but I don't believe in coincidences. The timing is too weird. And there's no excuses losing to NYK in 1970s as 3rd wheel behind Wilt/West.

Concerning Baylor's FG%, it isn't good, but I don't think it's that bad nor that relevant when guys put up ridiculous #'s. RW has a poor TS% this season, but he's still the best player in the league. Kobe had one of the greatest seasons of all-time in 2006, but still shot below the league average for FG%.

But, as far as being the #4 SF of all-time, though I can see him having a strong case for being #1, they would equate just top 20 all-time if 4 guys are taken at each position.

Olajuwon has a case, and if the Pantheon is extending a few more spots, then he can belong at #15-17 somewhere. Between him, West, and Baylor, it is a hard call. Between the other elites, not really, he doesn't seem to stack up very well. He only won in 'down' years. And while he didn't necessarily have a great #2 for those two titles, his casts performed extremely well, and at least very comparable to other teams' casts he faced. The top players for NYK in 1994 Finals played very poorly. He outplayed Shaq in 1995 Finals, but also get great contributions from many players.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 4:11:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Looking at Baylor through the same lensesI dissected Hakeem through:

Was he clearly the best SF in the league for a dominant length of time?

In '70, he was outscored and out rebounded by opposing SF Dave DeBusschere (a perennial All-D selection), though he shot better (49% vs. 46%). Baylor was sixth in the series in scoring and third in rebounding.

He was outplayed at the position by John Havlicek in the Finals in both '69 and '68, and by Barry in WCF in '67. It's a virtual standstill with Havlicek in '66, as Baylor had the better rebounding numbers but Havlicek of course was the better defender and passer.

Baylor was injured in '65 and missed the playoffs.

In '64 he outplayed Cliff Hagan, but lost in the first round. It is worth noting that West was by far the Lakers' best player in this series, scoring 7 more PPG on fewer shots per game (and being a great defender). Baylor did rebound (11.6) and pass (4.5) well in the series, though.

Baylor was great in the '63 Finals, but the Celtics were better.

Baylor was a beast in the '62 Finals, averaging 40.6/17.9 (I believe only Rick Barry ('67) ever averaged more points in the finals), but lost in 6 to the Celtics, having no answer to Russell in the middle.

Baylor lost a close series in '61 to the eventual championship Hawks, but led the series in scoring. He shot well (47%), one of three times during his prime, along with '60 and '68, where he shot over 45% in the playoffs.

Pretty much the exact same thing happened in '60.

In '59 he made the Finals but shot only 33% and was swept. Both of the opposing team's starting forwards (Tom Heinsohn and Frank Ramsay) had better numbers for the series than Baylor (each scoring 22+ on 47%+ shooting), though Baylor beat them both in rebounding.

For his 12 year prime, Baylor was outplayed in the playoffs by opposing SFs 5 times ('59, '67-'70), arguably outplayed once ('66), and missed the playoffs once ('65). He was clearly the best SF in the playoffs for five years '60-'64 (though by '64 he was no longer the best player on his own team). He was only really in the conversation for best overall player in the playoffs perhaps once, in '62, but I personally would take Russell or Wilt that year pretty easily.

1/ 3

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 4:11:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

If dominating your position is a pre-requisite, Havlicek, Barry, and Pippen all have a stronger cases by that metric, particularly if the playoffs matter. Barry was outplayed at his position only once in the playoffs

Barry was outplayed by opposing SFs only once in his prime, in '73. I have not seen that series, so I can only speculate as to why, but given that Barry averaged only 16 in it, but averaged 31 in the playoffs the year before and 28 the year after, I would not be surprised if he were battling an injury. He also played only 26 per game and shot under 40% (the only time that happened during his prime).

Havlicek out dueled Baylor and DeBusscher (in a loss) e both multiple times, and got the best of Dandridge and Walker (in a loss) as well. He was outplayed by an opposing SF likewise only once, when he ran into Doc in '77, though of course Havlicek was on the downslope by then.

Pippen was never outplayed by opposing SFs during his prime, but also played during an era where the position was fairly weak. The next best SF for most of Pippen's prime was probably Chris Mullin, who isn't exactly a Dave Debusschere/Bobby Dandridge type.

2/3

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 4:17:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

As for the actual Pantheon guys? Doc was never outplayed by an opposing SF in the playoffs unless it was Bird (and even then only in '81, as far as primes go), and Bird was only outdueled by Doc ('80 and '82) and kinda/sorta Marque Johnson('84) though Bird did not play the entire series. It is the popular narrative that Lebron was out dueled by Kawhi Leonard and/or Iguodala but the reality of the situation is that those guys did just enough for their stronger supporting casts to win, but Lebron's numbers/impact was greater than either of theirs by a wide margin, and he has never really been outplayed by an opposing SF in the playoffs.

Baylor continues to stick out to me, and I continue to struggle to see the rational for him in the same league as those three, or even ahead of the Barry/Havlicek contingent. He was not particularly dominant over his peers for an extended run (about 5 years before Havlicek/Barry took the baton), he does not have much playoff success, and he was not a two-way player. If his big fat numbers and playoff near-misses are enough, then I wonder why John Stockton is not included? He had a very long peak, was clearly the best PG in the league in between the reigns of Thomas and Kidd, and set at least three records (Assists in a season, Assists in a career, and Steals in a career) that are as unlikely to be broken as any. He also lost in the Finals to a dynastic team.

I am not actually championing for John Stockton's inclusion in the Pantheon, but using him to illustrate a point. What exactly is it that qualifies Baylor beyond putting up gaudy numbers in a series of losing campaigns on stacked teams? His rebounding looks shiny in raw numbers, but adjusted for pace it's weaker than the other three Pantheon SFs. His scoring efficiency is average for its era, and he was routinely out-shot by opposing SFs in the playoffs. He is a better-than-average passer for an SF, but then so are Lebron/James/Doc/Pippen/Havlicek/Barry. Where is his sustained peak? Where is his two-way impact? What separates him from, say, Rick Barry, who played the same number of seasons, shot more efficiently, scored very nearly as much, won more titles, and never got out-dueled in the playoffs?

Baylor seems to me to have basically been the '1960s Allen Iverson; unbelievably competitive, dynamic scorer, unimpressive defensively, good enough to get you the Finals, but not quite enough to win when you get there. I continue to fail to see how that puts him in the company of Kareem, Jordan, and Doc.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 6:19:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Nick, I'm not familiar first hand with Baylor's play however from what commentary I've read is it possible an element of the selection is that he was doing things no-one had done before him? I heard Dr J, MJ and Kobe mention him more than once as the guy who really inspired them and they first modelled their play after.

I would have Hakeem in my pantheon so I understand your queries. Despite Baylor's lack of team success however as an innovator he may have been more important than the other titans of the era like Russell and Chamberlain. AI might be an apt comparison, because despite his lack of success his impact on the league was much larger than his trophy cabinet.

I have Russell as best of all time and up there as one of the best across all sports. His team success, despite all his "help," is hard for me to ignore. I really think that people who talk about how much help Russell had as a way of discounting his absurd record of winning have never played sport at an elite level themselves. The mental ability it would take to do what Russell did is almost unreplicated in sport. Jordan had 2 years off in the middle of his run. Federer probably dominated a decade but there were dips inbetween. Phelps surpasses Russell with his run from 2001-2016 but it's hard for me to think of too many others.

Out of interest David, where does a guy like George Mikan fit on these lists? Is he ineligible because it was so far back or does he not make it for one reason or the other? Honestly I don't know anything at all except that he was known as the first great centre.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 6:26:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

As an interesting side point, what would a pantheon of "innovators" look like as compared to the best? Guys who may not have dominated but changed the NBA with their play.

To throw some names out there, Dr J, Pistol Pete, MJ, Magic, Bird, AI, Baylor. Does Barkley make it? Maybe it wasn't completely new but the way he ran the floor, dribbled and shot from the power forward position seemed like an evolution of the position to me. Pippen with the point forward?

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 6:35:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

FWIW, here's how Baylor matched up against the other two top SFs of his era overall:

He went 9-12 vs Barry (0-3 in the playoffs). Barry tended to light him up, averaging 28.2 to Baylor's 19.4 in the regular season, and 28 to Baylor's 23.7 in the playoffs. He also did a good job defensively on Baylor, holding him to single digits four times in '65 and '66. Baylor's best night against him was 34 (to Barry's 29) in their final matchup, in 1967. They both had 37 against each other in their final playoff matchup.

Barry's best nights against Baylor were 43 vs 13, 45 vs 30, and 49 vs 21.

Baylor went 35-48 against Havlicek (9-15 in the playoffs). He averaged 23.6 to Hondo's 18.9 in the regular season, and 24.7 to Hondo's 23.3 in the playoffs.

However, if you remove Hondo's rookie season (where he averaged only 14 ppg), it looks a lot closer in the regular season (21. 8 vs 19.8), and even worse for Baylor in the playoffs (22.9 for Baylor to 26.3).

Unlike, say, Hakeem (who didn't get out-matched in a playoff series at his position until his 15th season), Baylor was overall outperformed by his two greatest positional rivals, both in terms of overall success, and head-to-head.

A case could be made that Baylor's peak value from '60-'64 is greater than theirs (I'd dispute that, especially in Barry's case), but guys like Thomas, Karl Malone, Nash, and Barkley can similarly claim to be the best players at their position for similar stretches, and none of them are Pantheon caliber (though all of them but Thomas had more sustained peaks than Baylor did).

I'm not trying to be a dick, but I'm legitimately curious: What am I not seeing here that you are?

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 6:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

As I said repeatedly, I am not going to compare supporting casts, so I am going to ignore any of your comments that dealt with that.

Regarding All-NBA teams, it should be obvious that while there is only one First Team spot for centers there are also fewer centers than forwards or guards. Baylor was the best small forward in the NBA for a solid decade and he was widely viewed as the greatest small forward of all-time until the emergence of Erving and Bird. I am not impressed with your manipulation of All-NBA Team selections to somehow conclude--incorrectly--that Olajuwon had the longest "reign" at the top of any NBA center. I don't know how many All-NBA First Teams Kareem would have made if this, that or the other did or did not happen but I do know that he made more of them than any center in history and he was still making them as an old man when young Olajuwon was in the league. Old Kareem versus young Olajuwon was, at the very least, a fair fight, so it is disingenuous to cherry pick numbers or supporting casts or anything else to try to "prove" that young Olajuwon would have fared well against young Kareem. Surely even you must see that Olajuwon does not even fit the mold of the kind of center who might trouble Kareem a little--rugged post players like Moses or Lanier or Gilmore. Of course, over a sustained period of time Kareem far outperformed all of those guys but some of them had their moments in the sun against Kareem.

I am not quite sure how this morphed into Kareem versus Hakeem but your man is going to fare very poorly in any objective comparison. From a skill set standpoint, I would take Kareem as a scorer and passer without any question. Kareem has a modest .1 rpg edge in career rebounding but of course he played until he was 42. Popular misconception is that Kareem was not a great rebounder but he averaged at least 10 rpg in each of the first 12 seasons of his career, including four seasons of better than 16 rpg. Hakeem also started his career with 12 straight 10 rpg seasons but peak Kareem was clearly a better rebounder than peak Olajuwon. The Defensive Player of the Year award was not handed out until 1982-83 when Kareem was 35. Kareem officially led the NBA in blocked shots four times and he very possibly led the league in blocked shots in each of the first four seasons of his career when that stat was not tracked (he ranked first or second in each of the first eight seasons the stat was kept).

I could go on but that's enough. Olajuwon was a great player but he suffers badly in any objective comparison with Kareem (or Wilt or Russell). So, at best Olajuwon is the fourth greatest at his position (and I have him behind Shaq as well) and that alone makes it hard to put him in a 10 member Pantheon of retired players (nor would I rank Olajuwon ahead of the four post-Jordan players who I discussed in Part Five).

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 6:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Selvy's miss came in the waning seconds of game seven with the score tied. If he makes it, the Lakers win. I would be the first person to say that championships matter in this kind of discussion but so does context and individual performance level. Baylor averaged 40.6 ppg and 17.9 rpg in that series. You asked for a reason why Baylor belongs in the Pantheon? I am tempted to just cite those numbers and drop the mic. Find me another player in pro basketball history who put up numbers like that in the Finals, let alone while facing Bill Russell's Celtics. Of course, Baylor's resume contains much more than that Finals performance--again, he made the All-NBA First Team 10 times. You dismiss All-NBA Teams when you feel like it and other times you cite them but Baylor sustained an elite level of play for a decade--and this was despite military service and devastating knee injuries.

Russell did not take two years off during Baylor's prime. Being eliminated from the playoffs once and retiring after Baylor's knees were shot do not count as taking years off during Baylor's prime. You are really reaching with some of your arguments.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 7:19:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Hakeem'Kareem

I understand why you may not want to compare supporting casts and that's fine. However, if anyone did compare them, they'd see that Kareem had a tremendous deal more help than Hakeem did, and any reasonable person would probably conclude that Hakeem would have won more/had better numbers had he, too, played on virtual All-Star teams for the bulk of his career.

Again, I don't disagree that Kareem is probably a little bit better than Hakeem (though I do not agree that peak Kareem was necessarily a better rebounder. Hakeem has the highest 2 rebound percentage seasons between them, and perhaps more importantly has the highest peak playoff rebound percentage, as well as 2 of the top 3, and 4 of the top 6. I am not impressed that Kareem got more total rebounds in an era when more total rebounds were available, as Hakeem netted a higher percentage of total available rebounds.

Kareem is certainly a better passer. He is debatably a better scorer. His career scoring average is inflated somewhat (similar to his rebounding) relative to Hakeem by the higher pace of the early 70s, and I wonder if his FG% did not benefit somewhat from the presence of Oscar/Magic for three quarters of his career. His FG% dropped when he lost Oscar and went up when he got Magic (though there was a pretty awesome '77 performance in between). It is perhaps relevant that Hakeem was a better playoff scorer.

Both guys were unguardable one on one. Hakeem had a little more range, which probably also affects his FG% (as since he could make more shots from further out, he also took more shots from further out). Both were capable of leading the playoffs in scoring (Kareem x5, Hakeem x3). Hakeem had the higher career playoff scoring average and highest individual season (though that season he only lasted one round). He also scored more in his '94 title season than Kareem did in any of his, and more in '95 than in all but one of Kareem's (here's where that help you don't like talking about comes up again).

Kareem was a very good defender, but the All-Defensive team existed throughout his career, and he made the first team only 5 times. Hakeem also made it 5. If we look at 2nd team, Kareem made 6 to Hakeem's 4. Kareem had a longer career with less Pantheon-level competition for the spot, so I am not shocked, nor persuaded by the fact, that he made 2 more 2nd teams.

As for blocks, while we don't have Kareem's first few seasons, again you are ignoring the difference in pace. Not only does Hakeem dominate Kareem on total blocks (and have the 3 highest BPGs between them and 5 of the top 7), Kareem's best block percentage season would be only (tied) for the 8th best of Hakeem's career. In the playoffs, Kareem's best block percentage season is barely half of Hakeem's, and would be only Hakeem's 6th. On the other hand, Hakeem's career BLK % would be by far the highest of Kareem's career. The same is true (by a smaller margin) in the playoffs.

Kareem was a very good shot blocker, but Hakeem was (besides probably Russell or mayyyyybe Wilt, but they can mostly be appraised only by apocrypha) pretty cleanly the greatest shot-blocker ever, and it is not particularly close between them.

Of course, Hakeem's defensive impact went well beyond just blocking shots. He destroys Kareem in steals, as well as whichever defensive advanced stat you prefer, usually by a wide margin.

Given that we value defense vs. offense differently, it is not surprising that you have Kareem ahead of Hakeem by a wider margin than I do. But it is far from a ridiculous comparison, and the only two things Kareem is inarguably better at are FG% and assists, both of which are at least partially a function of his much better supporting casts that you don't want to talk about. Subjective metrics like All-NBA selections and MVPs similarly reflect the climate and context in which both men played, and are less compelling to me unless taken along with said context.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 7:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I think that you are confusing length of analysis with depth of analysis. I am not going to do a season by season recap of the various players who have been mentioned in this thread. Suffice it to say that your recaps contain some distortions and I disagree with your assessments of Baylor vis a vis Barry, Havlicek and others but I am losing interest in rebutting what seems to be an endless attack on Baylor's legacy and a futile attempt to lift Olajuwon a bit higher than he belongs.

I just don't feel like you are listening to what I am saying or addressing my points. Each comment that I make just seems to be an excuse to post what apparently was a huge pro-Olajuwon article that you had not posted anywhere else and I think this thread has gotten a bit out of hand/off topic.

You scoff at Baylor's playoff resume--but are you even aware that he once ranked first in career playoff points and his playoff career scoring average at that time was 30.7? He was an exceptional postseason performer.

You mock Baylor for not winning a title but his playoff and Finals performances during those years were record-setting and legendary. By the time Russell retired, Baylor's knees were bone on bone. It is a tribute to his grit and greatness that Baylor lasted as long as he did. Baylor's knee troubles actually began in 1963-64. His scoring average dropped from 34.0 to 25.4. He bounced back to average 27.1 ppg in 1964-65 but then he ripped up the upper part of his left kneecap and missed all but five minutes of the playoffs. He limped through the 1965-66 season--the only season in his first 11 that he did not make the All-NBA First Team--but then he bounced back to earn three straight All-NBA First Team nods.

Mind you, putting Baylor in the Pantheon was not a sympathy vote--he earned his way onto the roster--but before just bashing the guy and nitpicking seemingly every game and series that he played, at least inform yourself about the overall context of his career. In the three seasons before the knee injuries, Baylor averaged 34.8 ppg/19.8 rpg, 38.3/18.6 and 34.0/14.3. No small forward ever has had a three year run like that, as I mentioned in my Pantheon article that discussed Baylor. If Baylor had stayed healthy and done that for a few more years he would have a strong case against any other player in pro basketball history. Sadly, he did not get that chance and thus he has to be evaluated on what he actually accomplished--but what he actually accomplished is still remarkable.

You asked about how Baylor could be viewed as the greatest player of all-time? I would put his best three years up against anyone else's and it would be a great debate. Of course, most of the other Pantheon members sustained their highest levels (even if those levels might have been a bit lower) for longer than three years but based on talent and skill set Baylor could go toe to toe with anyone.

It just strikes me as odd and sad to keep hearing that he must be the last guy selected to my Pantheon. Trust me, Baylor has a secure place.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 7:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

HP:

It would take a lot to knock someone out of the Pantheon. My original list consisted of players who were retired at that time and I included an addendum of the four greatest active players from the post-Jordan era but I honestly don't think that anyone else is particularly close. I also think that, if there ever was any doubt, my four post-Jordan nominees (in chronological order: Shaq, Duncan, Kobe and LeBron) are worthy of Pantheon status.

For me, the Pantheon consists of the best of the best; I try to avoid ranking the players within the Pantheon (sometimes I have bent that "rule") but I set them apart from everyone else. I would be very hesitant to take someone out or put someone else in at this point. Could Westbrook, Durant or Curry sway me by being exceptional for the next 5-10 years? Possibly. Curry is in his prime and he is not the best player on his own team (and the best player is not Pantheon caliber, either), so Curry has a lot of work to do. If Durant dominates LeBron in the Finals while leading Golden State to the title then that would be a big step. If Westbrook sustains what he is doing as the clear number one option for several years and, when given a better supporting cast, translates that into postseason success, he could possibly make a case. Westbrook is having a season of which any Pantheon player would be proud, that is for sure.

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 7:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The "excuse" for losing in the 1970 Finals is that the Knicks were a young, rising team while the Lakers' stars were all past their primes (though West was still quite potent) and two of them were injured. Baylor played 54 injury-riddled games that season and then just 11 more games in the next two seasons before he retired. To suggest that Baylor does not belong in the Pantheon because he could not lead the Lakers to a title as a 35 year old with bad knees is ridiculous. Assuming that you are the same Anonymous who loves Harden so much, let's see what Harden is doing--if he is still in the league--at 35.

Wilt suffered a serious knee injury early in the season and probably should not have even tried to come back but he limped through the playoffs (ironically, Willis Reed is lauded for playing hurt in game seven of the Finals but Wilt was playing hurt for the entire playoffs).

Forget the media-created mythology and look at the facts regarding the 1970 season and playoffs.

You say that you don't believe in coincidences, suggesting that the Lakers won in 1972 because Baylor retired. It is true that a healthy, young Jim McMillian who could run the court was, at that time, better than a 37 year old Baylor who could barely move. What, exactly does that have to do with being Pantheon-worthy?

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 7:47:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I apologize if you took my comments as denigrating Baylor. My intent was to question.

I dislike the idea that I am posting anything as an "excuse." I enjoy talking about these things with you as you're one of the savviest basketball minds I know. If you'd prefer I not talk to you about historical players, that's fine, just say so and I'll desist.

I said I was less familiar with Baylor than other Pantheon players. I am not wholly unfamiliar. I am aware of most of what your last post entailed, and am similarly in awe of his grit.

However, I think injuries hurt a guy's all-time case, not enhance it. Grant Hill put up a pretty killer 5 or 6 year run before injuries turned him into something else but I would never make a case for him as a GOAT contender.

Baylor's 3 year run is very, very good. But if the Pantheon is "every guy here might be the GOAT," then for me it is too short of one. It is also a run inflated somewhat, again, by pace/era. We don't not have rebounding percentage from that far back, but we can do some rough math to approximate it. His '61 team got abbot 66 boards per night while he was on the floor. Let's assume they're an above average rebounding team that get 55% of boards. So there were about 120 boards available while Baylor was on the court that season, meaning he had a rebound rate of about 16.5%. That's really good, but not untouchable. It'd be the second highest of Doc's career, and .5% higher than Larry's best season. It'd pale next to any Pantheon big's.

It would not be in the top 20 this season, though. Granted, a few of those guys don't play starter minutes, so it's likely Baylor would still be a top 20 rebounder, but he would not be running away with the crown. Even in that year, he was only 4th.

Putting him against guys from his era, as great as that season was, Wilt was beating him in both categories at 38 and 27. You say you'd put his best three years again anyone else's and it'd be up for debate? I disagree. His best three years were up against Wilt's and Wilt was (significantly) ahead of him in scoring, field goals percentage, and rebounds all three of them.

My argument is not that Baylor is not a transcendently great player. He obviously is, and he's in my top 20 so we're ultimately quibbling degrees here, but I'm mostly just trying to figure out what it is that puts him at the level of Julius Erving or Kareem or Jordan, as opposed to the level of Barry/Pippen/Havlicek/whomever. Especially Barry, who has beat Baylor's Finals scoring record. Not against Russell's Celtics, granted, but against the '67 76ers, who were no slouches themselves. He averaged "only" 9 rebounds, but played alongside a monstrous rebounder in Nate Thurmond who gobbled up 27 of them a night in that series, and against apex-Wilt, who netted 28.

If the answer is simply "he was the third best guy in the league for three years in the early 60s, and definitely the best forward during that stretch," fair enough. But can you at least see why that argument is not immediately obvious?

 
At Wednesday, March 15, 2017 9:06:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Andrew-

My understanding is that the Pantheon is solely about quality of play, not innovation. But it's David's ruleset, not mine, so I could be wrong.

I agree with you (mostly) about Russell. While he certainly had a lot of help he was also the best player and only constant element through those 11 teams. I have him 6th on my list. There's a case that's too low, but everyone I have above him are totally elite on both ends, whereas Russell was a transcendent defensive player but "merely" a very good offensive one.

Put another way, I would take Kareem's defense over Russell's offense by a wider margin than I'd take Russell's defense over Kareem's offense. Additionally, everyone I have above Russell played considerably longer than he did, which matters less, but still matters.

I really don't mean to sound like I'm "picking" on Baylor, but I am trying to see what David sees in him that I do not. I certainly agree that he's one of the 10 greatest SFs either, I just have a hard time making the jump from there to 10 greatest players ever, period.

If I were to go with a 10 player "Innovator" Pantheon, it would be Mikan, Russell, Wilt, Elgin, Doc, Pistol Pete, Magic, Bird, Jordan, and Steph Curry (just wait how many guys with 30 foot range we see coming out of college in 10 years. It's coming.).

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andrew:

1) I just do not know how to fairly and objectively rate the players who spent most or all of their careers in the pre-shot clock NBA. Mikan was the best player of the first half of the 20th century and he dominated the NBA until the shot clock was instituted and the lane was widened. His critics suggest that he would never have been as good if he had always played in a faster league with a larger painted area; his supporters would argue that age had more to do with his declining dominance than the rules changes. As a historical figure, Mikan is one of the most important players in pro basketball history; as a champion, he is one of the most decorated. I just am not sure how to rank him against or even compare him with players from subsequent eras. My personal belief is that the great players from any era in any sport would adopt to the modern era given time and opportunity but of course I can't prove that.

2) My Pantheon selections were not influenced by "innovation." I am not sure what an "innovators" basketball pantheon would look like but Baylor would be a strong candidate as one of the sport's first high flyers.

3) Baylor played in seven NBA Finals out of 11 playoff campaigns. The notion that he lacked "team success" is quite baffling to me. By the way, Baylor averaged 26.4 ppg in 44 NBA Finals games, ranking 9th all-time. He also ranks third in Finals total rebounds and fourth in Finals total points.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 1:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I am not a big fan of comparing players across eras by using "pace." I go by per game numbers or per minute numbers in certain situations or else I look at how each player ranked relative to his contemporaries. Using "pace" requires too many assumptions. We have no way of knowing how a player's body and mind would respond in an era that had a faster pace or a slower pace. I mean, it sounds like a good idea in theory to say that a player grabbed X% of the available rebounds in one era and therefore that is worse than someone who grabbed a lower percentage in a different era but there are too many variables that cannot be accurately established. I know that "stat gurus" love to downgrade Wilt's 50 ppg season by applying "pace" and thereby "proving" that MJ's 37.1 ppg was actually a better feat but the reality is that if MJ had played at a faster pace under 1960s conditions his body might have broken down, preventing him from actually matching 50 ppg. In a slower paced era, the indefatigable Wilt may have been even more unstoppable.

So, the whole way that you compare Olajuwon's stats to Kareem's stats just does not resonate for me. I disagree that Olajuwon was a better shotblocker and I vigorously disagree with your contention that the margin was wide in Olajuwon's favor.

What I see is that if blocked shots had been kept for Kareem's entire career he almost certainly would have finished with a higher total than Olajuwon. I also see that as soon as the stat was recorded Kareem finished first or second for seven years in a row, taking him well into his 30s. Olajuwon also had seven first or second place finishes but Kareem is shortchanged because the stat was not kept during his first four years.

Kareem was a top four rebounder eight times, compared to six for Olajuwon. Kareem won two scoring titles, averaged 30 ppg four times, owned the highest regular season career scoring average for several years, won six MVPs (the record) and won Finals MVPs 14 years apart. The list goes on and on--there are many indicators that he dominated his era more so than Olajuwon dominated his era.

You like making individual playoff series comparisons; I don't think that this is the best way to go but since you keep insisting on doing this let's look at 39 year old Kareem versus 23 year old Olajuwon (1986 WCF): 31 points, 21, 33, 24, 26, (27.0 ppg on .496 FG%), compared to 28, 22, 40, 35, 30 (31.0 ppg on .520 FG%). Of course, the younger Olajuwon bested Kareem on the boards and in blocked shots, though 2.4 bpg is not too shabby for 39 years old. Olajuwon had the better series and his team won but it's not like he was wiping the court with Kareem--and Kareem was almost old enough to be his father!

Forgive me if I am not buying some "pace" induced wizardry to conclude that if Kareem had been 10 years younger Olajuwon would have held his own. I'm sorry, but 29 year old Kareem would have given 23 year old Olajuwon the business. Younger Kareem was faster, had more stamina and could also have matched Olajuwon on the boards. Kareem was listed at 7-2 but he seemed like he was closer to 7-4, while Olajuwon is barely 7-0. Young Kareem with stamina would have skyhooked Olajuwon to death and would have been better equipped to guard Olajuwon as well.

By the way, when Olajuwon was 39 he averaged 11 ppg for Toronto, in what Jalen Rose would call the "lost tape years" (as in, we want to lose those tapes and remember him as a great player).

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 1:47:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Finishing up with Kareem:

It is true that physically strong centers could make Kareem work at times but in the long run Kareem outperformed and outlasted all of his challengers; he gave Wilt fits when Wilt was old but still formidable and then nearly 20 years later he went toe to toe with Olajuwon.

Kareem can be aloof, if not a jerk, and so the media has been disrespecting him for decades. The guy blew me off twice when I wanted to interview him; I would have loved to incorporate his own insights about his career and the sport into my writings about him but he wasn't interested--but, unlike other writers, I don't let that cloud my judgment about his greatness. Julius Erving still insists that Kareem was the greatest player he ever faced and Erving was still in the league when MJ was averaging 37.1 ppg (not to mention that he played against Bird and Magic and Moses and Hakeem, etc.). Doc likely would have won two rings without Moses if not for Kareem.

Kareem did not win without Oscar or Magic but they also did not win without him--and no, I am not going to start comparing supporting casts, beyond making the obvious statement that all great players need help to win, whether that help is another superstar or a deep ensemble cast of role players. Kareem was a key figure for six championship teams, including two Finals MVP performances (and, arguably, he should have won the award in 1980, since his overall level of play was higher than Magic's but of course Magic stole the show in game six when an injured Kareem sat out).

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 2:02:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

You asked what are you missing. Here is my take of some of what you are missing with Baylor:

1) Baylor was the best player in the league at his position for a solid decade and was widely considered the best player at his position for the first 30 or so years of NBA history. You say his peak was short but few players can match 10 All-NBA First Team selections. Within that 10 year span, Baylor had a three year run of scoring/rebounding that is unmatched by any small forward in pro basketball history (and please don't tell me about pace; no one thought that a player could average 15-plus rpg in the 1990s until Rodman started doing it, so while pace may be meaningful at the team level it does not define or limit what individually great players can accomplish).

2) Baylor was an elite scorer, rebounder and passer. He was not a great defender and his FG% was not tremendous but his defense was adequate at least and his FG% was above the league average, which is significant considering the scoring load that he carried.

3) Baylor was a tremendous postseason performer, setting records that still stand today.

Your take on Baylor's individual matchups seems very cherry picked and one-sided. Baylor was likely being guarded by Sanders, not Havlicek, in most of those games. Havlicek was swinging between guard and forward. You surely also understand that you can't just evaluate players based on head to head scoring and the team result when there are so many other factors at play. You rank Dragic ahead of Irving, Wall, Lillard and a bunch of other guys. Does Dragic outscore them head to head and enjoy a winning record against them?

Whatever you think of my methods or conclusions, I use stats/context in a consistent manner. It seems like you grab whichever stat or contextual information favors the player for whom you are advocating. If you are going to tear down Baylor because of his head to head record against Havlicek and Barry (ignoring that they probably did not even go head to head the way that you seem to think and ignoring any context about Baylor's injury status in some of those encounters) then the next time you post about Dragic I want to see his head to head scoring and W/L numbers versus all of the so-called one way players who you rank behind him--and don't make excuses for Dragic being hurt or tired or lacking a supporting cast, because you have made a ton of posts here tearing down Baylor without the slightest mention of context (though you now claim to be aware of it) until I started bringing it up.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 2:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Regarding Olajuwon, I think that you are ignoring the evidence that he is--at best--the fourth or fifth ranked center of all-time. If you buy that premise, as I do, then you understand why he is not in a 10 player Pantheon that is constructed like a regular roster; I was not going to pick four or five centers.

I also think that at times your overrate or overstate the defensive impact that certain players have, with Olajuwon being one of those players.

Finally, you are arguing that Olajuwon was clearly the best center in the NBA for more than a decade. I would say that he was clearly one of the best for more than a decade but within that span there were times that other centers performed at a higher level (or at least the same level).

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 4:37:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-


Re: Pace

I agree with you that adjusting for pace is imperfect, largely for the reasons you suggest. However, I feel strongly that not adjusting for it is even less perfect; in 1961, 6 players in an 8 team league averaged over 14 rebounds per game. In 2017, in a 30 team one, one does. While I suppose it is possible that those six players are all better rebounders than all 350 or so current players, I think it is more likely that those numbers are inflated by their era, given that there were an extra 50 or so rebound flying around per game.

Similarly, in '61, four players averaged over 27ppg. That's one in every two teams. Today, five players average over 27 ppg (1 in every six teams). Players today are much more efficient on balance then, and there are fewer shot attempts (17 players shot over 1300 field goals in '61, a maximum or 3 or 4 will attempt that many this one), I think it is again more likely that those showier scoring numbers are at least partially a function of pace.

I think treating them as if they are not is a grave disservice to later players. While per-possession numbers have some fatigue-related caveats, they seem to me a much fairer way of doing things. There is no perfect system for comparing across eras, which is why we need context and induction, but the least-perfect system is pretending that those numbers are remotely objective across decades.

I also think the margin of error is even lower for per-possession numbers with Pantheon-class players, who are generally impossibly gifted athletes who seem to be able to play at a peak level regardless of fatigue, at least relative to their respective competition. I feel comfortable assuming for the most part that Hakeem or Jordan would have the athleticism to keep pace with the athletes of the 60s in a faster paced game, and am similarly comfortable assuming that Baylor or Wilt are gifted enough athletes to thrive in a modern era full of bigger and buffer opposition.

Re: All-NBA

I don’t love them as metric for X is better than Y, but I factored them into my supporting cast spreadsheet stuff because they’re a convenient shorthand for “he had a guy that was really good.” Obviously there’s a world of difference between, say, a World B Free and a Kareem Abdul Jabbar (who’d each be counted as “1” per season), but getting granular with the supporting casts of 15 players with average peaks of 14 years seemed a bit unwieldy for an alternative.

Here are some reasons I don’t like them:
* They are way easier to make in the 60s when there are 8 teams than in the 2000s when there are 30.
* They are subjective, and worse, they’re chosen by the media. They make mistakes, and they’re human beings who can get sucked into the narrative as easy as anyone (for proof, watch as Harden steals the MVP). Heck, they create those narratives most of the time.

* The difficulty in making it any given year varies dramatically. A lot easier to make a guard spot in, say, 2014 than 1989 (James Harden & Chris Paul ain’t exactly Magic and MJ). There are probably five different centers from ’95 (Hakeem, Shaq, Ewing, Robinson, Mourning) who would take the 1st team slot in a walk if they played today, but had to scrabble over each other back then.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 4:38:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Kareem and Hakeem

I agree that Kareem's longevity is more impressive than Hakeem's, and that is probably the biggest reason I have him ahead of Hakeem on my own list. I disagree that the gap between the two of them is such that a reasonable case cannot be made for Hakeem. I do value peak value *more*, but longevity still counts, and only Duncan even really sniffs Kareem’s.

If some of the Pantheon decision-making was based on having "the maximum" number of whatever position, then Hakeem's exclusion makes a bit more sense to me. I am less confused by seeing him placed behind Kareem or Russell than I am by seeing him placed behind relatively one-way players with shorter careers/primes such as Baylor, Magic, or Bird.

For whatever it’s worth, my Top 10 currently has 6 centers in it (plus Duncan, who’s more of a center than he’d like to admit).

Re: Defense

You feel I overvalue it, I feel you undervalue it. Fair enough.

I feel pretty strongly that Hakeem's was better than Kareem's, though. Kareem played for four awesome defensive Bucks teams in his 2nd-5th seasons but otherwise never anchored a top 5 defense. For the next six years of his prime, his teams were 8th*, 13th (out of 18), 10th, 11th**, 10th, and 9th (out of 22). From there his teams were 6th, 10th, 13th, 9th, 7th, 7th, 7th, 9th, and 7th*** (out of 23). He had a lot of great defensive teammates in Cooper, Wilkes, AC Green, Rambis, etc. but then we don't want to talk about supporting casts.


*He missed 15 games this year, Bucks went 3-14
**Missed 20, 8-12
***By this point Kareem wasn't helping much. In their first two years without him they were 8th and 5th.

Hakeem, for his part, had 8 top 5 defenses in his career. In order: 4th, 14th, 3rd, 4th (of 23), 4th (of 25), 1st, 2nd, 10th*, 3rd, 2nd, 12th** (of 27), 14th***, 10th, 25th****, 15th, 19th, 17th*****, 9th.

*We talked about this season earlier, where Hakeem missed 12 games and the team cratered at 2-10 for the stretch.
** Hakeem missed 10 games, they went 3-7.
*** Missed 10, 1-9.
**** Missed 35, 15-20.
***** This was Hakeem's last HOU season, and he was basically the only thing their defense had going for it. The next season they dropped to dead-last in the league.

In his prime (and when healthy), Hakeem guaranteed you a strong D. The same just wasn't true to the same extent of Kareem, despite having more All-D type defensive teammates, although his teams were certainly better with him out there on D than not.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 4:51:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Head-to-Head

We'll have to agree to differ here, and there is no way to know for sure. What I do know is that Hakeem, in his prime, made a point of besting other "top" centers and that Kareem did not have that level of success against his own peak rivals, being knocked out of the playoffs in his prime by both Walton and Moses, as well as Old Wilt, Willis Reed, and Dave Cowens (all MVPs in their own right, if not Pantheon level). Hakeem did not lose a playoff series to a top center until '99. Of course Kareem and Hakeem did not play those centers in a vacuum and Kareem’s individual numbers sometimes beat theirs, but as I think I’ve made clear no argument about supporting casts is going to favor Kareem in this discussion. Hakeem was not as physical as Moses but he was certainly physical (Shaq has a pretty hilarious interview where he talks about how frustrating it was trying to get physical with Hakeem who dished it out as well as he took it and was completely unfazed no matter how many times Shaq dished it back), and he was as explosive as any big man ever except possibly for Russell. Nothing is as unguardable as the Skyhook, but Hakeem’s turnaround fadeaway probably comes the closest. The Dream Shake was nothing to laugh at, either.

I am also not sure that the gap between ’76 Kareem and ’86 Kareem is as large as you think. Obviously he was more athletic younger, but part of Kareem’s appeal is that he did not decline much with age. He was scoring 4 more points in ’76 but taking 4 more shots to get them, and was actually a bit less efficient (not having Magic feeding you will do that). His rebounding was obviously much better, but then Magic, Worthy, AC Green, Rambis, and Lucas were all strong rebounders beside him in ’86 (and while you are unimpressed by rebounding rate, even his ’76 rebound rate is only slightly higher than ’86 Hakeem’s, while his block and steal rates are still lower).

I am not saying there is not a gap, but at least in terms of scoring ’76 Kareem was actually less efficient (due mostly I suspect to a higher workload and less help). ’76 Kareem also, you know, didn’t make the playoffs despite playing all 82 games, so I am dubious that he was all that dominant. His team allowed the second most PPG that season and was a bottom third defense, so I am even more dubious that his D was the kind that neutralized opposing stars.

Re: Hakeem’s run as the best.

During Kareem’s prime, as you pointed out, other guys played at a comparable level as well. Cowens, McAdoo, Walton, Moses, and Reed all won MVPs during his apex so if Hakeem is not the best guy over the stretch I outlined because other centers made All-NBA teams ahead of him or put up comparable numbers for a season here or there (despite Hakeem consistently unseating them and their stronger supporting casts in the playoffs), then Kareem’s longest “reign” cannot be more than two years given that other players were winning the MVP at his position throughout his peak, so clearly he was not the “consensus” best center during those seasons.

Only one other center won the MVP during Olajuwon’s 15 year peak. It did not end well for him when he ran into Hakeem in the playoffs.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 4:53:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Baylor

1) If you truly believe Baylor would average 19 rebounds per game regardless of era, I don’t know what to tell you. Pace absolutely matters at an individual level. I’m sure Baylor would be an elite rebounder at his position no matter what era he played in but pretending that 19 boards in ’61 is the same thing as 19 boards in ’77 or ‘86’ or ’17 is just silly.

3) I admit that I was unwilling to spend hours researching each individual matchup beyond the box score. In these cases, while I agree (and proselytize) that the box score does not tell the whole story, it was what was readily available and at least offers the basics. Moreover, in the context of the discussion, where part of the Hakeem crit had been that he wasn’t ‘the best’ center over a long enough span, and your repeated claim that Baylor was the best SF for 10 years, it seemed relevant that he sported a losing record against both Barry and Havlicek in both the playoffs and regular season during that span and inferior numbers to Barry in both (and Hondo in the playoffs). Baylor was certainly the best SF in the world for 3 years, and probably even for 5, but as you have pointed out he was not the same guy after the injuries, and despite a loaded team throughout that second act he did not do well against the cream of the SF crop. By what metric besides All-NBA selections- a metric I think I’ve made my dissatisfaction with pretty clear- was Baylor “clearly” the best SF in the world from ’64-’69, as he must be for your claim to be accurate? Heck, from ’68 on are we sure he was better than Connie Hawkins or Billy Cunningham, nevermind Hondo or Barry?

Re: Less With More

It’s clear that one of the big things we differ on is how important doing “less with more” is. It factors pretty heavily into my all-time ranking. I am more impressed by Hakeem winning two titles with who he did than I am by, say, Bird winning 3 with who he did. I am more impressed by Duncan’s ’03 win than any win by anybody who had another All-NBA teammate helping them.

It’s fine that you don’t agree, but perhaps stating it explicitly will help you understand why I have guys like Hakeem and Duncan near the top of my list, and guys like Baylor or Bird who had all the help in the world (and weren’t nearly as two-way besides) a bit lower.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 4:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Dragic

This is a long thing to get into here, so let’s save most of it for the end of the season. As your long-time readers know my contentions regarding Dragic rely a lot on how he’s being used (like last year, they’ve used him much more intelligently in the second half of the season), but for what it’s worth so far this year he’s 2-0 against Wall (11-5 all-time), 1-1 against Curry (9-12 all time), 1-1 against Kyrie (6-4 all time), 0-1 against Lillard (8-5 all-time), 0-1 against RWB (9-12 all time), 0-1 against Lowry (13-12 all time), 1-2 against Kemba (14-8 all time).

Last but not least, he is 0-2 against Thomas so far this year, and only 7-8 all time. That said, here are their averages against each other so far this season:

Dragic: 29 (18 FGA 56%, 63% 3pt) 12 APG, 3 RPG
Thomas: 24 (19.5 FGA 41%, 31% 3pt) 6 APG, 3 RPG

Here are their averages against each other since they were both trade from PHX:

Dragic: 21.3 (15.7 FGA, 54%, 42% 3pt), 7, 3.7
Thomas: 16.8 (14.3 FGA, 33%, 35% 3pt), 5.1, 2.3

So, I’m feeling pretty comfortable with the idea that Dragic is winning that particular individual matchup. It’s almost like defense matters, or something.

While Dragic does fine in them, head-to-heads are obviously not a be-all, end-all way to evaluate players but especially in the playoffs they seem a fair way to stress-test claims like “he was the best SF in the league for 10 years”, and they’re a fun microcosm to look at for claims of X is better than Y (particularly in the playoffs).

Obviously supporting casts matter a ton both here and with Baylor (but apparently not with Kareem and Hakeem, for those keeping score at home). My questions about Baylor were not solely based around his head-to-head record against other SFs, but also his defensive inadequacies (relative to guys like Doc/Lebron/Hondo), his lack of a title, what his numbers *actually* mean, his relatively short peak, etc.

For the most part, your answers have not been particularly compelling (to me) for his “best 10 guys ever” case, given that they mostly boil down to “He had three transcendent years (never mind the pace) that nobody else could touch (nevermind they weren’t even the best three years of those three years) and he got hurt after that so it’s ok that he was consistently outperformed in the playoffs by other guys at his position for the second half of his career (or that he was an average-ish defender), nevermind that he played with two other Pantheoners and several other All-Stars and never won a title.”

That probably reads more sarcastically than I intended it to (which was not at all), and I apologize if so, but it was the shortest way I could manage to summarize the case as I understand it.

We’re obviously at an impasse at this point on both Baylor and Hakeem/Kareem, so I’m fine with putting those parts of the thread to bed if you are, but I’d be curious to hear more about your thoughts on raw numbers vs. percentages or per possession numbers. I understand the fatigue argument but it is difficult for me to consider that a bigger factor than, say, fifty extra rebounds flying around a night.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:38:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, interesting points about Baylor. I have to disagree with Leonard/Iggy vs James. Heck, we even saw guys like Rondo/Terry outplay James in the playoffs. For someone who constantly says defense is so important, I'm surprised by this. Leonard outplayed James the final 3 games of the 2014 Finals, and his overall defense was A+++, which was much better than James, this is why I say Leonard was better, even if James was better in games 1/2 and had better stats, which are often meaningless with him. Iggy has a similar story. James put up video-game stats, but shot very poorly and looked disinterested at times. Iggy played great defense and hit many big shots.

David, it is a fair argument against Baylor for 'never' winning a title, and he played with another of your Pantheon members(West) for most of his career, and another(Wilt) for a few years. Yes, there were some circumstances a few years with injuries, but he still had a lot of chances. And if injuries are coming into play that often, then that's a big factor. Look at how much better someone like Grant Hill could've been without injuries. It's unfortunate, but still reality. At some point, he has to break through. At the time he retired, yes, definitely top 10 all-time, but after another 45 years of basketball, there's just too many other better cases for top 10.

And I don't even like Harden for the 100th. I just dislike it when players are greatly disrespected. And why are you even comparing Harden to Baylor? Though Baylor had about 10ish chances to win a title, while Harden maybe has had 2 if you squint hard enough. And the only time Harden has had a top 5 teammate(which Baylor had for his entire career), his team did make the Finals. That was when he was 21, which Baylor didn't start in the nba until he was 24.

Baylor was amazing, but compared to the other 13 of your Pantheon member, he doesn't stack up very well overall, though just my opinion. I could possibly see a case for him being top SF of all-time though would disagree, but 4th sounds right. He did have team success, but he has to be able to win a title to be on the same echelon as guys like Kareem/Magic/Kobe/James, etc, especially playing with West and sometimes Wilt. Oscar is another player I don't rank as high as others, but his career is much different than Baylor's. Oscar didn't have that one other great teammate until his last few seasons with Kareem, so I don't blame him as much for not winning a title as a first option. However, his team success for his 10 years in CIN still should've been a lot better if we're going to put him as highly as we do.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Pace is too "imperfect" for me. I prefer using per game stats and/or looking at ranking by position/overall.

All-NBA teams are not infallible but, writ large, they are relatively accurate. Looking at the list of who has the most appearances is usually pretty good shorthand for finding the best players of all-time/best players by position.

Supporting casts matter but this was not a criterion for Pantheon selection. I focused on peak individual dominance plus durability combined with a high level of play. I was not trying to figure out who did more with less. I expect a Pantheon player to get the maximum out of whatever was realistically possible.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

What metric did you use to rank team defenses?

Supporting casts are obviously important in terms of team defense but I did not select the Pantheon players based on team defensive (or offensive) rankings. Your repeated sarcastic remarks about supporting casts not mattering make it seem like you don't understand this rather simple distinction.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 12:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Baylor was the best at his position for about a decade based on his scoring/rebounding/passing prowess. No small forward could match his overall skill set during that time frame.

The idea that you have to win MVP every year to "reign" is silly. Did MJ not "reign" for over a decade?

Baylor was the most productive sf circa 1959-1968, with one down year due to injury. Kareem was the most productive center circa 1969-1985. Moreover, Kareem was further ahead of his contemporaries in championships, MVPs, All-NBA selections and scoring titles (among other things) than Olajuwon was ahead of his peers.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 1:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Baylor played in seven Finals in 11 full seasons. He set Finals records that still stand. If Selvy makes a jumper, Baylor has a ring. Why would I take Baylor out of the Pantheon on that basis? Baylor averaged 40-17 in that series.

I brought up Harden because you are essentially saying that what Baylor failed to do with bad knees at 35 should be held against him. If you feel that way, then say the same things a decade from now when Harden is ringless and don't give him any breaks for age/injuries/supporting cast/whatever else.

Grant Hill had a briefer peak at a much lower level than Baylor, who was All-NBA First Team for 10 years. I am not giving Baylor a pass for being injured; I am objectively evaluating his accomplishments.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 2:59:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Addendum:

It is also fair to note that Kareem racked up his best statistical seasons, and most of his MVPs, during the league's most diluted period, with many of the game's best players in the ABA at that time. This is not a criticism of Kareem, but it would certainly have been more difficult to lock up as many MVPs competing against apex Doc or as many All-NBA 1sts vs. apex Gilmore. Hakeem would likewise have benefitted if the best perimeter player of his era (Jordan) and the second best center (Robinson) did not show up until the eighth year of his career, and if 15 or so of the best players in the world were not playing in the same league as he was.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 3:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, yes, I understand how close Baylor was, and this goes for many players, but he had lots of chances and didn't get it done while playing with West/Wilt. Could you imagine a prime James playing with a slightly past-his-prime Kobe alongside a slightly older Duncan and not winning? Or just Kobe/James playing together for several years and not winning? I understand their competition, but there's great competition almost every year. I'm not talking about 3, 4, 5... titles, just 1.

Selvy made 2 clutch shots, then missed one. Baylor/West are sure asking for a lot from a 3rd wheel. Like I said before, Baylor in your original 10 makes sense. Some other guys have cases, but I probably agree.

Yes, I do hold 1970 Finals against Baylor some if we're going to compare him favorably to guys like Kobe/Jordan/Magic/Duncan..., and against West/Wilt, too, but not to guys like Harden, who isn't an all-time elite player. Baylor toughed it out, but he still could play well, and LAL should've been able won. But, it's not just that year, it's his entire career with many many chances to win. I wouldn't expect Harden to even if he's still playing, though he'd be a much older 35 in basketball years than Baylor was. But, I also doubt old Harden or any other older player could boast playing with players like an old Wilt(still very good) and prime West.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 3:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick, Hakeem/Duncan did well when they won titles, but their casts in 1994/1995/2003 were still very good, and played like top 3 casts at worst throughout the playoffs. It's similar to 2011 DAL. Dirk was good overall, but not extraordinarily good. His cast on paper doesn't look that great, even though still top 5-6 on paper at least. It was deep, but not super talented. However, they played like the best cast in the playoffs. Cherry-picking 1-2 years out of a 15-20 year careers for players seems odd to elevate certain guys so high. There's a lot more to look at. Hakeem was great when he won titles and won in a Jordan-less era, but he just had too many head-scratching results throughout most of his career. So many 1st round exits. His casts were good enough for him to do more than what he did if we're going to put him in the Pantheon. His teams only won 50 games 5x, just not good enough.

Regarding your last post about Kareem. Yes, kind of. But, even more so the other way. The NBA was twice the size of the ABA and had the better overall players. The 2nd best player in the ABA was probably Barry. He dropped over 9ppg and went from a perennial 1st-team all-aba to 2nd-team all-nba his first year, though he picked up some 1st team all-nba after that. Gilmore 3rd best player in ABA history? He goes from a perennial 1st team all-aba player, even winning ABA MVP once to never making an all-nba team, and never really being an MVP candidate ever in the NBA, and he joined the NBA at 27 in his prime. His scoring average dropped 6ppg in his first season. His CHI teams made the playoffs only 2x in 6 years, winning just one series.

Hakeem wouldn't have benefited at all if Jordan wasn't around as he only made 2 Finals(both against non-Jordan teams). Robinson actually showed up in his 6th season, only 2 off.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 6:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Again, you are really reaching here with the "dilution" stuff. One could argue that Olajuwon's era is diluted by the addition of so many teams and the expansion of rosters.

That is why my Pantheon criteria are not based on evaluating supporting casts or calculating pace or assessing "dilution." I looked at a player's peak value (in per game stats and in ranking in the league/at his position) and I looked at how long a player performed at a high level. For me, Baylor checks off all of the boxes rather easily. Olajuwon had a great career, just not one quite at the Pantheon level.

The more one sorts through this somewhat bloated comment thread, the more one appreciates the wisdom of the simple, consistent and direct criteria that I applied when I selected my Pantheon members.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 6:23:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I had two other posts before that addendum responding to some of your comments. Did they not come through?

Re: Dilution

You could perhaps make that case for overall level of competition (though I wouldn't, given that Hakeem's prime overlapped with four of the consensus best teams of all time in the Lakers/Celtics/Pistons/Bulls while the mid 70s NBA teams are generally somewhat less historically significant/dominant). What I was also getting at, though, was the level of competition for All-NBA or MVP selections was different in Kareem's heyday than in Hakeem's. It is totally possible that Kareem would have had the exact same number of both selections if the ABA had merged his rookie year, but I personally find that unlikely. It is also possible that had his career overlapped with the same talent (and voting body) as Hakeem's did, he would have had fewer, the same, or more plaudits than Hakeem did.

That being the case, I hesitate to look at those as 1-to-1 comparisons and prefer to look at the other considerations I've gone over above.

Re: Your final comment

I agree that your method was simple and direct, and that is certainly its strength, but the downside of that method is that it ignores much of the complexity and context inherent to these sort of debates. I certainly respect your acumen and your process, and would probably have 11-12 of the same guys in my top 14 if I sat down and wrote it out today, but I think a few guys benefit a bit too much from that methodology and a few guys perhaps too little.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 6:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Yes, I can imagine LeBron playing with a stacked team and not winning. I don't even have to imagine it: I saw it firsthand in 2009 and 2010 and it has happened in other seasons as well.

If Kobe Bryant and LeBron James played together in their primes against Michael Jordan and Shaq isn't one duo going to come up short? Baylor and West faced a Boston team stacked with HoFers and coached by a HoFer. Baylor and West pushed the Celtics to seven games on multiple occasions. They drew enough defensive attention to give Selvy the opportunity to be the hero. I don't buy the idea that you have to win a title to be a Pantheon player; I do buy the idea that if you did not win a title then you better have posted dominant stats--and Baylor fits that description quite well.

The 1970 Knicks had a bunch of HoFers in their primes, while two of the Lakers' Big Three were hurt; in fact, Baylor essentially was done after that series, playing only 11 more games in two years before retiring. I am baffled that you cannot understand that it is not reasonable to expect old, broken down Baylor to somehow magically take over a series with prime Reed, Frazier, et. al. on the other team--but this reminds me of the foolishness that indicts Pippen for not winning a title without Jordan in 2000, never mind that Pippen had sustained a serious back injury two years earlier that severely limited his explosiveness (and, of course, Pippen's critics just gloss over the "minor" detail that Jordan never won even a playoff series without Pippen).

The Lakers team that won without Baylor had since added HoFer Goodrich and also featured a healthy Wilt (well, his knee was healthy--he actually had a hand injury during the Finals but he was able to overcome an injury that did not affect his mobility).

I agree with you that Nick's analysis of the supporting casts is not quite on point--but, as I have stated repeatedly, the supporting cast analysis did not figure in my decision making regarding the Pantheon.

I could not disagree with you more about the ABA. The first post-merger All-Star Game, All-NBA Team and NBA Finals were stacked with former ABA players. Erving, Malone and Gervin became perennial All-NBA fixtures from the 1970s into the 1980s. David Thompson was an elite player until drugs and then a knee injury took him down (in Alvan Adams' NBA Rookie of the Year acceptance speech he thanked Thompson for signing with the ABA). The Nuggets and Spurs entered the NBA as instantly credible playoff teams--and the Nets would have been as well if they had been able to keep Erving.

Mind you, I don't think that any of this is very relevant to the Kareem-Olajuwon comparison specifically or the Pantheon in general, but the ABA was a high level league, particularly after its first couple seasons.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 6:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Every comment of yours that I have seen has been posted.

Kareem's prime coincided with the 69-win Lakers, a two-time champion New York team stacked with HoFers, a Boston team that won two titles (and won 68 games in another season before their title hopes were derailed by Havlicek's shoulder injury) and a Portland team that was a potential budding dynasty before Walton got hurt (championship in 1977, 50-10 in 1978 before Walton went down).

I don't know how to fairly and objectively select a Pantheon based on pace, dilution and a comparison of supporting casts. Maybe there is a way to do it, but if that way exists I have not seen it here in this thread.

Some of the theoretical arguments you raise are interesting but I saw shaven headed, 270 pound Kareem at least hold his own against young Hakeem so I am not buying any theory that posits that young, slim, 235 pound Kareem would not be significantly better than young Hakeem. That projection/theory/hypothesis of yours is just not credible to me. It does not pass my eye test. You say that Kareem aged well and was not that much worse in 1986 than 1976 but that defies the eye test, the science of gerontology and plain old common sense.

I don't think that my method of choosing the Pantheon ignores complexity or context; I just refused to go into areas that involve more speculation than fact. Pace, dilution and comparisons of supporting casts across eras/rule sets/playing conditions strike me as extremely speculative. You assert many of your points with apparently high confidence but I am not sure why, because one can never be certain about those particular contentions.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 7:03:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Drat. Well, briefly, the gists were:

Re: League-leading defenses

I used D-RTG, which I think is a fair stat at the team-level.

Re: Jordan's reign:

No, but did another 2 guard win the MVP during Jordan's prime? Did another PG win during Magic's? Another SF during Bird's apex? The MVP voters (who at the time were players) felt five times out of ten that someone else was a better center than Kareem, so the idea that he was any more the "consensus" best center in the league for ten years than Hakeem was does not pass muster with me.

Re: Baylor

I do not agree that he was a meaningfully better scorer at that point than Barry, a remotely better defender than either Barry or especially Havlicek, a better passer than either (who both have higher career APG without ever getting to pass to Wilt, who just happened be on the team in Baylor's two best passing seasons). We can agree to differ here, but I just do not see the case for post-65 Baylor as best SF on the planet, and his inability to outperform his rivals in the playoffs does not help.

Re: Pace/Era

I disagree that factoring these considerations in is any less flawed than ignoring them. I agree there is no perfect system, but feel more comfortable evaluating players on a per-possession basis (assuming they played starter's minutes, at least) than taking their numbers at face value when they had, say, 50 extra rebounds flying around.

Re: Kareem/Hakeem head to head:

I have seen the '86 series semi-recently and disagree that Kareem "held his own," for starters. Hakeem did not only outscore him by 4ppg on significantly fewer shots, he butchered him on the glass and was a defensive menace not just for Kareem but the entire Lakers team, seemingly everywhere and blowing up plenty of possession on which he did not register a block or a steal. Kareem also had over double Hakeem's turnovers (and nearly triple his TO%), including 7 in the elimination game.

More importantly, a large part of Kareem's greatness was his longevity; he was actually a less efficient scorer in '76 (not having Magic probably a factor there), though he was a better rebounder. However you feel about pace, if they played in '86 Kareem would not get the same number of boards he got in '76, while if they played in '76 Hakeem would get more than he got in '86. I do not feel confident that Kareem was at Hakeem's level defensively, and given Hakeem's sterling record against other top centers I think it unlikely that Kareem would have given him "the business" in any year, given that nobody gave Hakeem "the business" in any year, and Kareem in '76 was so good that he played 82 games without making the playoffs in a pre-merger NBA.

Frankly, if he was as much better than his '86 counterpart as you seem to think, I don't see how he wasn't enough to at least drag his team to .500. with an HoF coach and strong #2 in Gail Goodrich.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 7:26:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: My Confidence

I try to qualify my statements and explain my reasoning, but all of them are founded in skillset, context, and whatever numbers are available. There is a certain level of inductive supposition necessary for any of these conversations, and it is possible either of us are way off base (perhaps Kareem would have won 12 titles in Houston, perhaps Hakeem would have won 10 straight in the 70s. No way to know for certain!) but I like to think I have a decent handle on things. I, like you, make a lot of predictions about various NBA teams and players and I am certainly not always right, but when I am wrong it is most frequently due to an unforeseen injury (the '15 playoffs were especially rough for me, with four injuries on teams I'd bet on in a two-night period). When I am wrong and it is not that, it is most frequently the product of a player taking an unforeseen skillset leap (I did not think Kawhi Leonard would become this sort of an offensive player, for example).

My batting average is pretty high, though, so I trust myself to be in the ballpark when I make hypotheses across eras. You and I may value different qualifications differently, but I think we both at least try to have a holistic approach to these conversations, which is part of why I enjoy these talks, for the most part.

Re: Kareem's prime

All of those teams are good. None of those teams are 80s Lakers/Celtics or 90s Bulls dominant, and only one of them sports another Pantheon player on it (albeit that one sports 2). That said, I meant the mid-70s moreso than the early 70s, as I'm a big fan of those Lakers and Knicks teams myself.

Still, it was probably easier to make the 1st team consistently against aging Wilt/Reed* or a one-way star like McAdoo than it was against David Robinson, Shaq,etc. Similarly, it was probably easier to rack up MVPs in a league with no other prime Pantheon guys than in one with Bird/Magic/Jordan vying for the award.

*I would actually take either of these guys over, say, Patrick Ewing but at this point in their careers they were not putting up especially gaudy voter-bait enough numbers.

Again, this is not to diminish Kareem, but to illustrate why I find cross-era All-NBA or MVP totals to be a somewhat flawed metric to rely on.

The two things that Kareem was definitely better than Hakeem at were FG% and longevity. These are inarguable (though it is fair to speculate that the margin would be much closer for FG% had Hakeem spent 3/4s of his career with a Pantheon PG). I would agree Kareem's probably a better passer, though it is difficult to say for sure given the disparate quality of support they each had. On any other count, you can make a strong case for Hakeem, and a pretty nearly inarguable one on the defensive end, where he trumps Kareem in both individual and team metrics almost across the board.

I think the million dollar difference between us on this, though, is *how* much we think Hakeem impacted the game on defense. That's tough to prove, and we reasonable men can... well, you know the rest. But I happen to think Hakeem was almost a one-man top 5 defense and a candidate for greatest defensive player ever (and certainly no lower than third), while Kareem was "merely" a great defender.

(And again, for all this, I still have Kareem an inch ahead of Hakeem... though I would probably bet my life on peak-Hakeem in a single season or series before peak-Kareem. Given that Hakeem, not Kareem, was your pick for starting center on your all-time team that started this digression, I wonder if you might as well?)

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 7:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

1) I prefer defensive field goal percentage.

2) The player voters awarded Kareem more MVPs than any player in NBA history, but you somehow twist this to mean that Kareem did not dominate his era? Again, you are reaching here.

3) Four times, Baylor ranked in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists in the same season. It is true that at some point the rising Barry surpassed the injury-riddled Baylor. I don't know exactly what day that happened but Baylor's stats, rankings and All-NBA First Team selections are objective indicators that he dominated his position for about a decade. If you want to posit that by the end of that decade, after multiple injuries, Baylor was number two (but still on the All-NBA First Team) and Barry was number one that is reasonable. That would not take Baylor out of the Pantheon or put Barry in it, though. Baylor was the best small forward for about a decade, as was Erving, followed by Bird. LeBron has held the title for about a decade and counting. I can't think of another sf who could plausibly make a similar claim. It is not a coincidence that those guys are all in my Pantheon (with LeBron added to the original 10 alongside Shaq, Duncan and Kobe).

4) I have never been a big advocate of per possession stats but I know that a lot of people like them. I just saw a piece in which the "stat guru" plurality consensus is that Harden is the MVP this year, with Westbrook not receiving a single vote because his triple doubles are supposedly meaningless because they do not materially affect OKC's likelihood of winning a championship. Forgive me if I feel very skeptical about the "stat guru" perspective of player analysis; I've been fighting this nonsense ever since the late 1980s when the original "stat gurus" argued that Jordan's 37.1 ppg is equal to Wilt's 50 ppg, based on the same kind of reasoning that you are applying to dismiss Baylor's career. I did not buy this thinking in 1987 and I don't buy it in 2017.

5) Hey, I saw the 1986 series, too. Congratulations to prime Hakeem for outplaying a guy almost old enough to be his father. Kareem still scored at a high rate with a high FG%, despite pushing 40 and being about 30 pounds heavier than his prime weight. If Hakeem were as great as you suggest, then old Kareem would not have been able to get off a shot against him. Kareem was not less efficient in 1976; he was playing under a different rule set that permitted a lot more body contact and in a climate where fighting was still permitted (Kareem broke his hand hitting Kent Benson after he felt that Benson had gotten away with a cheap shot). This is why you can't compare FG% and other stats across eras, because it leads to absurd conclusions like old Kareem was more efficient than young Kareem. Trust me, young Kareem would have given old Kareem the business.

As for why 1976 Kareem (who finished second in scoring, first in rebounding, first in blocked shots, fifth in FG% and had 119 steals en route to winning his fourth MVP in a six year span) only led the Lakers to a 40-42 record it might be the same reason that Hakeem's teams finished with between 40 and 42 wins three different times--and whatever those reasons are, they don't have much to do with the Pantheon based on the criteria I used, because what I look at when I see 1976 Kareem is a dominant performer.

It is interesting that in this era if Kareem put up those numbers for a .500 team he would lose the MVP race in a landslide to "stat guru" darling James Harden.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 8:14:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

1) In my opinion, there is a difference between success at wagering on team outcomes against a point spread and ranking individual players against each other. I may be wrong about this and I am sure that you would vigorously disagree with that contention. Abbott loved to quote the individual player evaluations of successful professional gamblers but I found such commentary to be hit or miss. A gambler has to find "value" between his assessment of a team's strength and the assessments made by a lot of people who are wagering based on feel or rooting interest; that skill set is not necessarily transferable to understanding why Russell Westbrook is better than James Harden or why Kobe Bryant is better than Steve Nash. In other words, I think that a person could get those individual assessments wrong and still make a lot of money wagering on team outcomes.

2) We could argue forever over how teams from one era stack up against teams from another era. I just don't believe this is a good way to choose a Pantheon and that is why I didn't do it that way.

3) I chose 95 Hakeem for my hypothetical five earlier in this thread because I knew off the top of my head that this was Hakeem's best season and I was not sure how to pick among Kareem's six MVP seasons (and other great seasons) without doing more research/reflection that I had time to do at that moment.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 8:42:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

1) Ok, let's see how those do. I prefer D-RTG since it factors in things like turnovers and FTs, but to each his own:

Milwaukee Kareem: NBA, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2
LAL 70s Kareem: 6, 4, 7, 11
80s Kareem: 7, 4, 10, 15, 6, 5, 9, 6, 9, 9

Hakeem: 6, 13, 5, 7, 2, 5, 4, 10, 3, 3, 5, 14, 11, 23, 10, 20, 21, 11

That is admittedly closer, so if you prefer that metric, I can understand seeing the two as closer. Given Hakeem's propensity for generating steals, though, as well as his higher career defensive rebounding percentage (though Kareem has the highest individual season, though Hakeem has most of the top 10), it seems like Opposing FG% undercuts him somewhat.

2) I am merely applying the same sort of logic you applied declaring that Hakeem was not clearly the best center from '86-'97. I agree that it is silly, which was my point.

3) I guess we mostly just differ on when Barry passed him and if/when Havlicek did (give how we feel about defense, this is not shocking). Fair enough.

I would add Pippen to the list of guys who were clearly the best SFs for about ten years, though, from '90 to '00. Hill might have a season or two on him there, but that seems little different than Barry snaking a few from Baylor.

4) You have a habit of lumping ANY use of "advanced" stats in with the worst use of advanced stats. That is no better than pointing to Harden's assist numbers and declaring him one of the three greatest passers ever, or looking at Gilbert Arenas' peak years and revering him as the greatest scoring PG since Tiny. Any stat, advanced or otherwise, can be misused. Obviously I do not agree with the patently ridiculous uses you are referencing, but I do not think that using something like rebound percentage to normalize the difference between the 70s and 80s is remotely the same thing.

Comparing Wilt to Jordan with pace has a lot of flaws beyond pace. You get a lot more worn out getting points Jordan's way than Wilts, given the size difference and the way guys whack guys that are scoring that way, for starters. There is also a big difference between normalizing pace between the early 60s and late 80s then between then mid 70s and mid 80s; much less had changed, so there's a lot less noise.

5) The efficiency point is probably a fair one. Nonetheless, there are some easy buckets Old Kareem got by dint of playing alongside Magic et. al that would not have been there for 70s Kareem.

Re: Hakeem's 40-42 win teams

Two of those cases are certainly injury related, with Hakeem missing at least 12 games in each of them. The other is a bit more of a head scratcher and a lot more similar to Kareem's case, but they did go 41-41 and make the playoffs in spite of it. Forced to speculate, I'd put the most blame on Don Chaney, and his inability to build a cogent offense despite the presence of Hakeem, Thorpe, and Floyd. Chaney coached above 500 only twice and at it twice (though he was fired partway through the second one and the team, with minimal roster turnover, followed it with a 55 win season, then followed that with two titles), all with Hakeem, while recording a 173-360 (.273) coaching record without him. Sharman, by contrast, was an unimpeachably great coach who'd previously won an ABA and NBA title back-to-back (and coached the longest win streak in basketball history) so I am less willing to make him the goat for that Lakers season.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 8:59:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

RE: Gambling

Fair enough, but I am also usually on-the-money with my predictions for individual players (though, as with anything, I am sometimes wrong). There are certainly players who have proven me wrong- Kawhi the most extreme recent example, as I simply didn't expect him to ever learn how to shoot/create at the level he has- but I am right much more often than not, and try to learn from my mistakes.

The two teams I was wrongest about this year so far were OKC and HOU.

For this season, nobody prominent has especially surprised me. I was not sure if RWB would average a triple double, but I certainly thought it possible. I did not expect OKC to win quite as much as it has, though I expected it to be close, mostly because I assumed given the increase workload RWB would likely miss significant time with injuries, or that Adams or Oladipo would miss significant time and leave the supporting cast too thin (and indeed they won below .500 while Oladipo was out). I maintain that I was correct that OKC was (at least prior to their midseason additions) very poorly equipped to deal with injuries, but they have been very fortunate in that regard this season.

I similarly did not expect Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to be so uncharacteristically healthy, and expected the defense to be a bit worse than it's ended up being in Houston. Turns out Clint Capela is pretty good.

There are other teams I'm going to end up varying degrees of wrong about, but pretty much all due to injuries (although the league's most injured team, Miami, may yet rise within a win or three of my initial prediction).

I don't know that there is a particular player making me look especially dumb this year (there's usually at least one, there are a lot of players out there), but Dwight Howard and Steph Curry are both performing a bit worse than I expected. Al Horford's numbers are a little lower than I though they'd be, but his team in winning at about the rate I though they would and will likely end up within one spot of the seed i predicted, and he's been very good in the role they've used him in (and he's been a sneaky-awesome passer for the Celtics).

The player I was probably wrongest about was either Justise Winslow (who I expected to improve slightly and did the opposite) or Josh Richardson (who I expected to remain at least a competent shooter), but both have played relatively few games, and even fewer healthy ones, so I'm not being *too* hard on myself about them.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 9:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I don't think you necessarily have to win a title either to be a Pantheon player if extended out to 14 as you have, but not if we created today and kept it at 10. However, it's not like Baylor didn't have opportunities and plenty of them at that. If he only had averagish casts, then that'd be different, but he didn't. He had 10 seasons with West, and 2 seasons with Wilt/West. The year he only played 1 playoff game(1965), West still leads LAL to the Finals. I wouldn't expect West/Baylor to win more than those BOS teams did; however, I would expect them to win at least one if we keep them in a 10-player Pantheon.

And yes, James has missed the Finals with stacked teams(though he's still made 7 Finals); however, that's not what I asked. I asked if James played with Kobe for 10 years(probably at least 5-6 seasons when each were in their primes), in any era; there's no way they don't win at least one title, and especially if they had an aging but still very good/great all-time great big man for 2 additional years.

I'd give Baylor a pass for 1970 if he had won a title at some point, but he didn't. He didn't get the job done and had about great 10 chances. At some point, regardless if you played great usually in the playoffs, you need to get the job done. It's just not 1970, and I understand he was hurt and only the #3 guy(I blame West/Wilt even more), but his entire career.

Of course, I know you have a soft spot for the ABA. Malone entered the NBA at 21 and didn't become a star for several years, so that's moot. Actually, that hurts your case some. He's an AS in 1975 in the ABA at 19, then doesn't make the AS team in 1976(looks like he was hurt-but didn't play well when he did play), and takes 2 years to make the AS team in the NBA> Erving sure, but his stats greatly decreased and never led a team to a title. Gervin solid, but never made an NBA Finals. I already mentioned Barry/Gilmore, probably #2-3 best players in ABA history. Especially with Gilmore, he goes from an MVP-caliber player every season in the ABA to never in the NBA. McGinnis is another one. He joined the NBA in 1976, and his stats greatly decreased. But yes, the ABA had some great players.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 11:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

1) Defensive FG% has always been my preferred metric for team defense.

2) You are not applying the same reasoning I applied. My reasoning is that circa 1969-85 Kareem accumulated more honors and better stats than any other center. He "reigned" as the best center overall and pretty decisively so. I tend to agree that Olajuwon was the best center for roughly the time period you defined but I don't agree that the margin between him and number two was as great as the margin Kareem enjoyed. Even ignoring the fact that no other center spanned that entire period, no center came close to accomplishing what Kareem did in that time frame. Perhaps Moses was the closest in terms of MVPs/scoring prowess/rebounding prowess. Robinson, Ewing and young Shaq were all closer to Olajuwon than Kareem's peers were to him.

3) I don't know that Pippen was clearly the best sf for that entire decade to the same extent that Baylor/Erving/Bird/LeBron led their eras but I suppose a case could be made. I would say that Pippen's best years were 91-98. He made three All-NBA First Teams, though I thought he deserved more than that.

4) I just prefer comparing raw numbers within an era to "normalizing" the numbers. I never said that Baylor would average 19 rpg today but I disagree with reducing his numbers when making comparisons. He actually averaged 19 rpg and no other sf was doing that in his era. That means something.

5) You only seem interested in context when it favors your case. I agree that there are contextual reasons for those various 40-42 win seasons by both players but those seasons only came into play when you did not have a good answer for my very reasonable contention that young Kareem would give young Olajuwon the business. That is when you decided that if young Kareem were that good then his team would have won more games. Of course, you had to cherry pick about the worst team record of Kareem's entire career--and your answer skirted the main issue that I raised, namely that young Kareem was 30 pounds lighter and much quicker than the old Kareem who dropped 27 ppg on young Olajuwon in the WCF--to make that point. All of this is just a smokescreen that distracts from my main point and the reason that Kareem is in the Pantheon while Olajuwon is not: Kareem dominated his era in a way that Olajuwon did not dominate his, a few random 40-42 win seasons by either player notwithstanding. I could explain what was happening with Sharman that season and some other things but that would only feed into the false notion that any of this has relevance regarding the Pantheon.

 
At Thursday, March 16, 2017 11:42:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

It makes no sense to say that if Baylor had won in his prime then you would give him a pass for being old and broken down in 1970 but if that is how you think then I expect you to apply that same line of thinking to Harden.

If LeBron played with Kobe for 10 years but each of them missed significant time due to injuries and if they had to deal with a super team led by the league's best center, best point guard, top three shooting guard, best sixth man, assorted other good/great players then it is conceivable that LeBron and Kobe would have ended up ringless. LeBron got swept in one Finals, got outplayed by Jason Terry in the clutch in another Finals, failed to lead two 60-plus win teams to the Finals and has had other puzzling postseason moments. The interesting question is whether or not Kobe would have forced LeBron to grow up the way that Wade influenced LeBron.

Regarding the ABA, I don't have a "soft spot." I just cite facts and you can read them in my previous comment. Also worth noting is that if you lop off the first five years of any player's career--even a Pantheon-level player--you will wipe out several of his best seasons. So, it is not reasonable to just discount what Dr. J and McGinnis and Gilmore and others did in the ABA and claim that the allegedly tougher competition in the NBA affected their production. Dr. J's numbers went down due to his role on the team and then, even as he passed age 30, his numbers went back up. McGinnis was an All-Pro in both leagues but he heavily relied on his physical skills and he did not maintain his conditioning, so his decline was not surprising and would have happened regardless of league. Gilmore's career arc was perhaps like Walt Bellamy's, another HoF center who had his best seasons early in his career.

 
At Friday, March 17, 2017 12:58:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

1) Fair enough. You and I differ here, and that may influence how we evaluate certain players and teams. This thread is already very long, but if you feel like elaborating, I would be curious to hear why you prefer team FG% to D-RTG.

2) If that is what you were contending, then I am a lot closer to agreeing (although I would say that reign ended pretty decisively by '79, and arguably by '77, and not '86 as you claim). I also don't think it's a great metric for inter-era comparison then, either, as again the level of competition varies; there was no Shaq or David Robinson in the mid 70s, in my opinion, although I do think that Dave Cowens is historically underrated.

4) I cherry-picked nothing; you said 10 years, so I took the Kareem from 10 years before. You picked the season, not me.

His record was also not my primary point. My main points were that his larger rebounding numbers were primarily a function of pace, that I did not think he was as good defensively as Hakeem was even then, and that Hakeem tended to raise his game against top caliber competition while Kareem did not.

Kareem vs. Walton scored 4 points fewer than his season average (I do not have more complete box scores but suspect his also saw reduced efficiency and/or rebounding). Walton scored about half a point more than usual.

Against Moses in '81, he scored about half a point more than his average (though he jacked up his rebounding impressively). but shot 11% worse than his season average. I cannot find Moses' stats for the series* except scoring, where he put up 31, a little over three above his season average, but I remember him being something of a monster on the boards (being Moses and all).

In '83, his scored about 2 points above his season average against Moses, but shot a bit worse (3%). Moses, meanwhile, added 2.5 points and 3 rebounds to his average.

*Basketball reference is weird in this era; they have overall playoff numbers for everyone, but not by series beyond scoring.

In '72 against Old!Wilt, he scored about a point under his usual rate, though of course Old!Wilt is still pretty awesome and did not need to carry his team's offense on the other end. He did hold Wilt 3 points below his season average.

In '71, he scored almost 7 points under his usual average against Wilt, though his team won the series. Wilt gained about a point on his season average, but efficiency numbers/rebounding are not available.

None of those performances are bad, but neither are any of them dominant. Hakeem, by contrast, when up against his toughest rivals (Kareem/Robinson/Shaq/Ewing), Hakeem did the following:

in '86 he averaged 7.5 points above his season average against Kareem, and maintained his rebounding/shotblocking/FG%. Kareem to his credit upped his scoring and rebounding (though not nearly to the same extent), but lost 7% off his efficiency.

In '95, Hakeem put up his season average in points vs. Ewing (though his FG% was 3 lower), lost three rebounds, and added half a block. He did, however, shut down Ewing, holding him to 5 points below his season average on 13% worse shooting.

In '96, he added 7.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 0.7 blocks to his season averages against reigning MVP and former DPOY David Robinson. He also held Robinson to 3.5 fewer points and 8% lower shooting.

In the Finals, he added 5 points, a little under 1 rebound, and 2 assists to his season averages (though he lost some blocks) while dropping about 4fg% against Shaq. Shaq, to his credit, only dropped a point and gained a rebound and 3 assists without much of a reduction to efficiency, but he did gain 3 TOs per game, and was pretty easily swept.


1/2

 
At Friday, March 17, 2017 12:58:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Given that Kareem tended to see a reduction in his scoring and/or his efficiency against elite competition, whereas Hakeem consistently saw a spike in scoring and usually in efficiency, I am comfortable assuming that Kareem would not have "given him the business"in a potential playoff series, no matter how younger and spryer relative to '86 he was. Walton and Wilt are better defensive comps for Hakeem than Moses, and they both held him well below his season average when they faced him in the playoffs, while nobody seemed to have too much of a negative effect on Hakeem, who consistently scored well above his usual rate against 1st Team All-D types.

On the other end, Kareem's foes often put up better scoring against him than their average, even in his prime. Hakeem held Shaq, Robinson, and Ewing all below their season averages, and held Robinson, Ewing, and Kareem well under their usual efficiency.

More simplistically, Hakeem consistently won his matchups, at both an individual and team level, against other All-NBA type centers. Kareem did not.

Perhaps Kareem would have outmatched Hakeem in the regular season, but given their respective track records against top quality playoff competition, I don't think Kareem would have outperformed him, nevermind dominated him the way you seem to think he would have.

 
At Friday, March 17, 2017 1:08:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: The ABA

Here, I totally agree with you David. About half of the best guys in the world in the 70s were playing in the ABA, including Doc, Gervin, Cunningham, Barry, Gilmore, Issel, McGinnis, Thompson, Roundfield, Bobby Jones, and Moses. Those are the ones who came over and had NBA success.

There were also a host of great ABA stars who either did not come over or were already past their sell-by date, such as Roger Brown, James Silas (though he had some decent NBA seasons in a reduced role), Bob Netolicky, Willie Wise, Louie Dampier, Mel Daniels, and Warren Jabali, as well as another dozen or so I forgot.

Gilmore was a good NBA player but was just not the same guy physically. He gained weight and lost some explosiveness, though I can't say for sure in what order. But ABA Gilmore was as good as just about anybody, and he's arguably one of the best ten centers of all time.

Doc, as awesome as he was in the NBA, had also lost a teeny bit of pop in his knees. Whether or not that would have been the case had he started out in the more well-funded NBA is anybody's guess, but everyone I've spoken to who saw him play live in both leagues insists that he was even better in the ABA (and the ABA footage I've been able to find backs this up; even if doubters were right about the quality of play been higher in the NBA (they aren't ) Doc ran faster and jumped higher in the ABA, and that has nothing to do with who is guarding him).

 
At Friday, March 17, 2017 10:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

1) Many of the top defensive coaches who I have interviewed and/or researched consider Def FG% to be a key metric.

2) At this point, we are talking past each other regarding Kareem versus Olajuwon. You asked why Olajuwon is not in my Pantheon, I answered based on the criteria I used and your response is that if I used different criteria then perhaps Olajuwon would belong.

I have made it clear why I consider Kareem the dominant center circa 1969-85. You apply different criteria to reach a different conclusion.

Regarding "1976/10 years earlier," my point is that if 39 year old Kareem can drop 27 ppg on young Olajuwon then young Kareem would certainly do better. The Lakers' record in 1976 or how Kareem did against Walton in 1977 (very well individually, not so well as a team) is just not relevant in this context. I am sorry if you can't see that or if you refuse to accept that 29 year old Kareem was way better than 39 year old Kareem. Note that, whatever you want to do with pace, 1976 Kareem was a dominant scorer/rebounder/shot blocker, while 1986 Kareem was very good but not dominant, particularly in the latter two categories.

 
At Friday, March 17, 2017 2:10:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I guess I still don't fully understand the criteria, as the goal posts seem to move a bit. I do understand that if you see him as the fourth (or fifth) best center and do not want the Pantheon to be center-dominated, though. My goal was never, despite appearances, to convince you to put him into the Pantheon, but to understand more clearly why he was not. I at least understand the road taken there, now, although I may disagree with some of the choices along that road.

I guess can see the argument for Hakeem as "not a Pantheon player," which runs on very specific criteria, but I don't really see the argument for "not one of the ten best ever." That is an important distinction I probably should have made earlier.

If I had to take one player's career to build a franchise around, or one player to bet my life on in a playoff series, Hakeem would not be my first choice, but he would be my fifth or sixth, ahead of many Pantheon members. In the playoff series scenario, he might be as high as fourth.

I also do not disagree that '76 Kareem was better than '86 Kareem (though I may disagree to what extent). I do disagree that he would therefore automatically demolish Hakeem in the playoffs, particularly when given their respective track records in marquee matchups. My suspicion is that if Young Kareem scored, say, three more points than old Kareem, hyper-competitive Hakeem would just score another three more of his own.

It is true that Young Kareem was a better scorer and rebounder than old Kareem, but it is equally true that he was more foul and (probably, based on career trends) turnover prone, both death against Hakeem, who was pretty great at generating both. Old Kareem averaged about 4 of each in that series; it does not matter how much better Young Kareem is if he cannot stay on the floor or keep control of the ball.

All of this speculative, of course, but then so is the idea that young Kareem would "certainly give Hakeem the business."

 
At Friday, March 17, 2017 2:35:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Re: Defense

Out of curiosity, did you get a chance to ask any of those coaches why they did not like (or not prefer) D-RTG? I generally like it, but if it has flaws I am not aware of, I would like to know about them. My only real beef with it is that it incorporates defensive rebounding, which as previously discussed I kinda think should be it's own third category for the most part.

 
At Friday, March 17, 2017 3:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, it does make sense now that we have so many more years of basketball history. You have to be able to win on the biggest stage at some point, especially if given as many chances as Baylor had. There's just too many guys with great resumes winning at least one title to fill a top 10 if we keep it at 10. If we expand it to 14 like you, then yea, Baylor probably should belong. The same logic goes for anyone. However, very few players ever played with another top 20 all-time guy for 10+ years and then 2 top 20 all-time guys for another 2 years and never won. Actually, I think Baylor is the only player that fits these specs, and I don't think anyone else is even close to that. If Harden or anyone else is able to play with another top 5 guy(at worst) for 10 years, and then throw in an Anthony Davis/Tim Duncan type player for 2 more years or have some combination of a great cast for his entire career, then yes, regardless of how great that player might be, he has almost no business being in any top 10 list now if he can't win at least one title. Through mid 1990s I can see Baylor deserving top 10 status, but not after another 20 years where 4 additional guys have clearly established themselves as all-time greats.

I'm not lopping/excluding years. I'm looking at what they each did when they came to the NBA, and many were still in their primes. There are some exceptions, but the overall ABA players' stats were inflated and went down in the NBA. Gervin is one exception, but still never made one Finals. I don't think the difference between each league was that big, though twice as many NBA teams as ABA teams. Erving's role might have something to do with it, but I don't buy into that too much because almost all of his stats went down a decent amount, not just scoring, and for several years. And if he has 2 other guys capable of scoring around 20ppg, he should've been winning a lot more. I think it's wrong for many to ignore the ABA as they do or think of it completely as a gimmicky league, but there's usually some truth to things like that.



 
At Saturday, March 18, 2017 12:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I did not "move the goal posts." You just want to use different goal posts altogether.

Hakeem is no higher than fifth on my list of centers, behind Russell/Chamberlain/Kareem/Shaq (listed in chronological order). I consider the battle for fifth between Hakeem and Moses to be a close call but there is a decent gap between those two guys and my four Pantheon centers.

Hakeem is not in my top 10 list of overall players regardless of position, either. Hakeem is somewhere around 15th-20th all-time. Again, I believe that there is a perhaps small but nevertheless clear gap between the 14 players I mentioned in the Pantheon series and the next 10-15 players.

Obviously, any comment about '76 Kareem versus '86 Hakeem is speculation but to me it is less of a reach to assume that '76 Kareem is better than '86 Kareem (and thus would give Hakeem the business, since old Kareem pretty much held his own) than it is to start manipulating numbers based on pace and supporting cast and what Kareem did or did not do against other centers in other years. Old Kareem scored 27 ppg against young Hakeem in the '86 WCF. That is a fact. Young Kareem was better than Old Kareem. I consider that a fact, though you seem unsure. Therefore, based on those two facts, I think it is reasonable to suppose that young Kareem would do quite well against young Hakeem. You disagree. I don't see what else can be said at this point.

No, I did not ask the coaches about other metrics. I asked some variation of "When you are evaluating your team/other teams, what defensive stats or metrics do you consider to be most relevant/meaningful?" I was focused on defense because I was working on some articles on that subject. Then I just listened to what they said. Most reporters ask leading questions to try to generate the answers that they want but I just let the coaches lead me wherever they wanted to go and then I wrote what they said.

 
At Saturday, March 18, 2017 1:24:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

If you look closely at the 1960s NBA, you will notice that because of the small roster sizes and small numbers of teams that in some years there were teams that did not make the playoffs despite having multiple HoFers. So, I don't blame Baylor or West for not winning a championship when Russell's Celtics ruled the world.

Strictly speaking, I suppose the Pantheon consists of the 10 players in the original series of articles. Those players were all retired when I wrote the articles and I stated that I was only considering retired players--but I wrote one more article looking at the four then-active players who were clearly on a Pantheon-type trajectory. At this point, three of those players are now retired and LeBron eliminated the one possible hole in his resume by winning multiple titles (the one problem for LeBron until 2012 was not so much the lack of a championship but rather his poor performances in the Finals, something that was not a problem for Baylor). Although I don't think I have ever explicitly done so, I am comfortable expanding the Pantheon to 14 to include Shaq/Duncan/Kobe/LeBron. I have not changed my opinion about the players who retired prior to the original Pantheon selections, nor have I seen any other post-Jordan era players who are Pantheon-worthy at this point. I don't think I would expand the Pantheon much beyond 14 or 15; I would reluctantly have to start taking some players out but that would not be easy for me because of the great respect that I have for all of those players.

I have written quite extensively about the ABA. I would encourage you and any other ABA skeptics to read these articles and become better informed.

When you say that this player or that player did not do much after joining the NBA, you are excluding years because you are implying that what those players did in the ABA did not count or at least did not count as much. Bird only won one title and one MVP after his fifth year. Is that because the league became so much stronger or just because he peaked early? Similarly, Gilmore (who was not a Pantheon player but was a legit HoFer) was an MVP-level player early in his career, then he became more of an All-Star level player. That is not as unusual as you seem to think.

Gervin actually performed at a higher level individually in the NBA than he did in the ABA and he was already an All-Star before the merger. Each player has his own unique story but it is telling that right after the merger the ABA players featured prominently on the All-Star teams, the All-NBA teams and the NBA Finals' starting lineups. You said earlier that you don't believe in coincidences, so applying that thinking here means that the ABA must have been a pretty strong league to produce so many All-Stars, All-NBA players and players who started in the Finals.

 
At Saturday, March 18, 2017 1:52:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Nick,
thanks for playing this game.

Your counter-picks are solid, and could give my hypothetical team a run for its money – particularly Jerry West against Steph Curry. While the latter had greater range, and would force West to face guard him, play a lock-and-follow defense, keeping him out of the passing lanes, West would invariably wear down Curry over a long series due to greater toughness and higher motor. And Curry wouldn't be able to effectively guard the taller and longer West. :(

Bryant would not have as much trouble with Scottie Pippen, despite being an all-world defender at his peak, because Bryant was quite possibly the most skilled guard in league history.

I would not be as worried as 76 Doctor J in the halfcourt as the open court, something Durant is better at. I will demand Durant to stop taking threes in the fourth and he'll be even more clutch – his midrange is unparalleled.

But the biggest edge I have over your team is Duncan over Davis. Davis is a lithe athlete, but he lacks the physical strength and power to effectively guard Duncan. It would be a repeat of Hakeem's domination of Robinson, the closest analogue to 2017 Davis we have in the historical record.

And Bill Russell wouldn't be fooled by any of Hakeem's shake and bake moves like Robinson was. He'd be more disciplined, play him three quarters, or keep him out of his favorite spots, and control the boards, negating your team's ability to fast break, and neutralizing the good Doctor's clear advantage in the open field.

For what it's worth, Hakeem's jumper was not that accurate beyond 15-17 feet, unlike Duncan's patented bank shot.

It will be very close, though, and dependent on luck as well as strategy. But I have the hottest scorer in Bryant, who should detonate at least once a series, and Durant will rain over your smaller defenders. This will eventuate in a 6 game victory – hard fought, well earned. :)

 
At Saturday, March 18, 2017 2:05:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Did the coaches cite any other defensive stats they found important?

 
At Saturday, March 18, 2017 2:43:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Awet-

I totally agree that I lose the Davis/Duncan matchup, but Davis is not there to outplay Duncan, but to pull him out of the paint. On the other end I would have Hakeem, not Davis, covering Duncan, and put Davis on the less offensively threatening Russell. Russell was a world-class pick-setter, but Davis is an excellent PnR defender. Moreover, Davis could more safely hedge off of Russell to help elsewhere if needed (though not too far off, as Russell was a pretty stellar cutter).

I agree that Hakeem would have a harder time scoring against Russell, but again he can pull him (at least) 15-17 feet out of the paint (while Russell cannot pull Hakeem or Davis out on the other end), leaving Doc/Jerry (both of whom could pretty easily burn their respective defenders) room to operate. While the Dream Shake may or may not work against Russell, Hakeem's turnaround fadeaway is probably the second most unblockable shot in basketball behind Kareem's skyhook, and for all his excellent skill and timing I don't think Russell has the raw size or length to stop it.

Kobe is a monster scorer without a doubt and would certainly get his numbers but he did tend to see dips in his efficiency against elite defense ('04 vs. Det, '08 and '10 vs. Boston). I feel a lot better about Doc scoring efficiently on Durant than I do about Kobe scoring efficiently on Pippen. On the other end, I am not relying much on Pippen for scoring (though he does have a significant size and length advantage if needed), and I feel confident that Doc could make Durant work for his.

My goal, ultimately, is to take the paint away from your team on offense and force Durant/Curry and especially Kobe (who is going to get his shots up one way or another) to jack up contested 3s or long 2s against West/Pippen/Doc. On offense, my plan is to drag your two excellent paint defenders far enough away that if they rotate to help Curry/Durant when they get beat, they're conceding open bunnies or cut-ins to Davis and Hakeem. While obviously both Russell and Duncan were great help defenders, Doc and Jerry were similarly great drive-and-kick players, as well as excellent finishers against elite D. Doc put up great numbers even against apex Kareem and Walton inside, and West is perhaps the only 60s guard who was able to put up stellar numbers even with Russell patrolling the paint, so I like my chances there, too.

To be fair, though, I had the luxury of building my team specifically to counter yours, whereas yours was built to counter Simmons'. It is likely your team, having a significantly better PF overall, and a weird spacing anomaly in Curry, would post a better regular-season record or do better against other hypothetical super teams, I just think mine matches up favorably with yours (particularly since I engineered it to do so).

Obviously we both think our teams would win, but this is a fun game and I'm glad you brought it up :)

 
At Saturday, March 18, 2017 7:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

A typical answer would be something along the lines of "We look at defensive field goal percentage first and our goal is to hold our opponents below [number might vary]. We also are interested in points allowed and our goal is to hold opponents below [number might vary]. We will look at free throw attempts allowed, turnovers and rebounds, because if we are holding our opponents to a low field goal percentage but giving up scoring opportunities other ways then our defense is not really good. But we look at defensive field goal percentage and points allowed first."

I am working off of memory here because I don't have the interview transcripts handy but that is an amalgamation of several interview answers that I remember quite well. No NBA coach or scout ever mentioned Defensive Rating to me, nor did I ever explicitly ask about it. I spoke to multiple coaches who had worked for Popovich and they all stated that Popovich did not rely on advanced basketball statistics. One coach told me that when P.J. Carlesimo was a Popovich assistant Carelesimo was always keeping track of various advanced basketball statistics and feeding them to Popovich, who reacted very dismissively to this input. I know that there are media accounts that suggest that the Spurs heavily use advanced basketball statistics but I was told a different story by coaches who were assistants for San Antonio championship teams. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to have an in depth discussion with Popovich about this.

 
At Saturday, March 18, 2017 8:44:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Ah, that actually makes sense. From a coaching POV, I suspect D-RTG is probably too general (similar to PPG) to be used too much in a planning session; it tells you how good a team's overall defense is, but not specifically why. Looking at EFG%, Turnovers, and rebounding independently would paint a more comprehensive picture for game planning, I imagine. A great defensive EFG% team could still be average defensively overall if they aren't good on the boards or generating TOs, or if they just foul too much, but as a coach you'd still want to be aware of how they do each of those things individually.

As a commentator, though, for a catch-all stat, I think D-RTG is about as useful of a single defensive stat as I'm aware of at the team level. I don't know of any *great* defensive stats at the individual level (though D-RTG is ok when comparing across similar positions, it still allows some noise as an individual stat), sadly. Most of them are silly counting stats that rely on questionable valuation of what "matters" on defense and pay little attention to context (it is, for example, a lot easier to hold your opposing matchup to a lower FG% if they're also terrified of the shot blocker you have behind you).

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 3:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

FYI, after Lillard and Portland torched the Heat, Spoelstra stated that the Heat's targets are to allow less than 100 ppg and less than 40% FG.

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 5:49:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

Yeah, that was ugly game. Dragic picked about the worst possible night to have maybe his worst shooting game of the season, with Waiters out and Whiteside in foul trouble (and no real defenders on the other team), and Spoelstra's weird insistence on trying to cover Lillard with Tyler Johnson led to, what was it, 49 points?

As for Spo's comments, yeah, doing both those things together is a good idea. It'd probably lead to a good D-RTG, which I maintain would tell you more than either of those stats individually. You can hold a team to 40% FG and still get cooked if they shoot a ton of FTs, and you can hold a team to 99 and still get worked on that end if the pace is slow enough.

You post a 98 D-RTG, though, you're probably winning unless your offense totally poops the bed.

That said, I'd probably take FG% + PPG as a combo over D-RTG myself; two more specific stats over one more general one are usually gonna win out, and by putting them together you can kinda guesstimate what happend w/r/t FTs and TOs. I also think it's a lot easier to tell your players "keep them under 100 for the game' than to expect them do do the math to calculate D-RTG on the fly :)


But I still fail to see any one defensive stat that gives you a better picture of how good the team's overall D is than D-RTG.

 
At Monday, March 20, 2017 6:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I'm not knocking FG% or PPG, obviously. But I can't look at either of those stats in a vacuum and know for sure that a team played good defense (unless they're super extreme). I can look at D-RTG for a game/season and know pretty well whether or not the team played good defense.

Just as an arbitrary example, look at the '92 Lakers. They were fifth in the league in Opp PPG. They were 19th (of 27) in FG%. Either of those two stats alone is going to tell me a pretty extremely different story, painting them as either one of the better or one of the worse defensive teams in the league.

Now, if I factor in their pace (second to lowest in the league), opposing TOs (15th), and their defensive rebounding* (25th), i realize they're a mediocre to poor defense that artificially depresses their Opposing PPG with molassy pace that lends itself to low FGs against set defense on both ends.


*I don't like counting rebounds a part of defense (especially for individual players) but everybody else does.

Or I could look at their D-RTG, which factors all that in for me, and tells me they're the 17th most effective defense in the league. Less useful for getting any kind of granular, for sure, but for quick-and-dirty "who's got the better overall D?" comparisons, it can't be beat (so far as I know).

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 12:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I fully understand the state of 1960s NBA, but I still think he needs to break through. BOS didn't win every year either. I don't blame Oscar for not winning as the #1 guy, though he did win as a #2 guy, because Oscar didn't have a West to play with or Wilt West/Wilt for 2 years. But, I don't look as highly on Oscar as most others it seems, primarily because he only made the playoffs half the time as a #1 guy. That's just not good enough for me to be in the top half all-time greats at the very least.

I understand your Pantheon logic, and it makes sense. I also didn't realize initially you weren't necessarily taking the players you deemed top 10 all-time. I think you said you were building a team kind of which consisted of 10 players. I have a few questions about that:

1. Were there any other players who you thought were Pantheon-level, even though you decided to stop at 10?

2. Were these the 10 best players you thought ever at the time? If not, because you were building a team of top players, who was left out because you had too many centers or not too many SFs, etc.?

It's hard for me to see someone even like Moses who won 3 MVPs(not sure how many were deserved, but still) and led a team to a title or Hakeem not placed ahead of Baylor, or West for that matter. Though all 4 of these guys are probably pretty close to each other. And for what's it worth, West/Baylor are your only Pantheon members to never be considered the best in the game at any time.

I understand the ABA, and I give it much more worth than most, but yes, I don't value it quite the same as the NBA. I did say earlier that I don't think there was much of a difference between the two leagues, primarily the ability of the average player of each. The NBA was bigger, had twice as many players, and was the premier league. What I see from a good percentage of ABA players joining the NBA in 1977 is that they had worse stats and won fewer awards. There's just more players and better overall competition to go against than in the small 8-9 team ABA. It's not just that Gilmore never made an all-nba team, it's that his teams were bad in the NBA with him overall. Bird was still making a lot of all-nba teams after his 5th year.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 8:35:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

1) No, Russell's Celtics did not win every year--"only" 11 out of 13!

2)I will repeat what I said before: "Baylor played in seven NBA Finals out of 11 playoff campaigns. The notion that he lacked 'team success' is quite baffling to me. By the way, Baylor averaged 26.4 ppg in 44 NBA Finals games, ranking 9th all-time. He also ranks third in Finals total rebounds and fourth in Finals total points." If Selvy made that jumper would Baylor be a Pantheon player to you? Keep in mind that Baylor averaged 40-plus ppg and 17 rpg in that series, so if the Finals MVP award had existed at the time he might have won it even in a losing effort and he clearly would have won it if Selvy had converted.

I just cannot go along with a player evaluation "system" that rates championships as highly as you do or that rates championships so far above multiple Finals appearances.

3) I consider my Pantheon players to be the 10 best (retired at the time of selection) players of all-time; I consider the Pantheon players plus the four "modern era's best" players (Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, LeBron--in chronological order) to be the 14 best players of all-time. All I meant in this thread was that--in addition to the many other reasons that I provided--it would have been difficult for me to put the fifth or sixth best center of all-time (Olajuwon, by my reckoning) on a top 10 players list. I would do it if I thought that was correct but it would be an odd look.

4) Baylor was the best player at his position for a solid decade. My selections did not come down to a series of one on one battles but if you want to compare Baylor to Moses Malone I would say that (1) Baylor was the best small forward for a longer time than Moses was the best center and (2) Baylor was a better all-around player, in terms of scoring/rebounding/passing/defense. Malone was a great rebounder and a very good/great scorer but he was not a great passer and his defense varied widely in quality during his career. I would take both Baylor's best three year run and Baylor's best 10 year run over Malone's respective bests over both time spans. You and Nick may both disagree and that's OK.

In terms of "close calls," I have already said that I see a perhaps slight but nevertheless distinct difference between the Pantheon players and the next group. Moses Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon are without question members of that next group and they would be at or near the top of the group. Malone and Olajuwon are close enough in my book that it would be hard for me to include one without including the other.

It is worth recalling, as I noted in the first article in my Pantheon series, that just a few years before I selected my top 10 the Associated Press balloting (in 1999) for the best basketball players of all-time included Baylor and West but left out Malone and Olajuwon. I don't necessarily agree with everything that the media in general or the AP in particular puts out but I agreed with that AP list, to the extent that instead of changing that list I decided to provide explanations/analysis supporting 10 selections that make sense in terms of peak value and durability combined with high performance.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 8:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

What I "see" from the ABA is that the smaller, newer league won more of the head to head games (and players from both leagues took those games very seriously), the ABA players were a significant presence in the All-Star Game, All-NBA teams and Finals after the merger and several ABA players earned MVP/All-NBA/All-Star recognition well into the 1980s.

Context matters and there are valid reasons why various ABA players put up the stats that they did after the merger and those individual cases do not provide convincing evidence that the league itself was weaker than the NBA, particularly after the ABA's first or second year.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 9:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

FWIW, Malone is the other center not in your Pantheon that I have way up there. I think the biggest difference in our respective top 14s is actually, primarily, that mine trends more towards bigs (with 6 centers plus Tim Duncan. Pettit is not in mine but maybe should be, I just haven't seen enough of him to make a call confidently either way). As you are fond of saying "size matters in the NBA."

This is not meant to start another argument, only to say that I agree with you about Malone being very near to Hakeem, and that I think I better understand now part of where we disagree w/r/t guys like Baylor and Magic*, who are at or near the top all-time in their position, but fall a bit in my rankings vs. larger players at other spots, specifically those who could control the rim/glass. It is perhaps worth noting that all 14 of your Pantheon are in my top 19, so whatever dissension there is between the two lists is largely by inches (for the record, the other five I have in that top 19 are Hakeem, Moses, Barry, Pippen, and Havlicek).

*... though of course Magic is the same size as Bill Russell, but Russell was larger for his era than Magic was for his.

I agree that Moses' D varied across his career, but I would certainly contend that his defensive peak was well beyond Baylor's, and I am not sure his nadir was much below. Healthy, engaged Moses was a good-not-quite-great rim protector and an excellent post defender (and obviously a god-tier rebounder, if you count that in the equation, though I generally don't). Usual caveats about having seen less Baylor than Moses apply, but I've never seen a Baylor performance that I'd consider more than defensively adequate, and I've seen several that I'd consider weak (but don't really wanna fight about it beyond stating this little bit of dissension, I'm spent on Baylor for the nonce).

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 11:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, we're talking about the best players all-time, not just some top 50 list. I'm not saying Baylor didn't have any team success, he just didn't have the ultimate team success. Other than Baylor, West, and Oscar, I can't imagine any of your other Pantheon members not breaking through if they had numerous casts similar to West/Baylor, though West finally did break through with Wilt, though after Russell retired, but this is purely speculative obviously, but that's what we kind of have to do comparing all eras to find the best players ever. And I'm not talking about multiple titles, I'm talking about just one. At some point, I think you need to be able to win at least one, especially since someone like Baylor all about 10+ great chances.

Selvy still made 2 shots down the stretch. Like I said before, Baylor as a Pantheon member through mid 1990s looks right probably. But, if we or you made a Pantheon from scratch today with only 10 players, I wouldn't include Baylor even if he won one title. This isn't a knock being in the 11-14 spot somewhere, but 4 of your 14 Pantheon players have to be outside of the top 10, just the way it'd have to be, can't have 14 guys in the top 10. While you say you more-or-less don't rank your Pantheon members, you do have to rank the guys who just missed the cut as #11, #12, etc., before you added your 4 new members.

I understand your position argument for Baylor, but the center position was much deeper for someone like Moses. Moses won 3 MVPs, while Baylor won none. If Baylor played center, he'd be no better than the 3rd best center in the league for his entire career, save a few seasons before Wilt joined the league.

 
At Wednesday, March 22, 2017 11:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Yes, I think if one expands the view to 19 or 20 players then our lists are very similar in terms of which players we both included.

I can't pretend that there is some grand science to this; I selected my Pantheon based on my interpretation of the criteria that I value but if someone interprets those criteria differently or has different criteria altogether then of course that person's list will most likely not be the same.

I would rank Pettit higher than many people probably do, as I value his long run as the league's top power forward, but his career is a little harder to assess than Baylor's; Pettit entered the league in the first year of the shot clock era and he logged some seasons (and one of his two MVPs) before Bill Russell came on the scene. However, one could argue that Pettit "validated" his early success by putting up even better numbers after Russell, Baylor, Chamberlain and other Pantheon members joined the NBA and I believe that Pettit would do quite well in any era but some question if he would be big enough/strong enough to play power forward in the decades after he retired (ironically, he would fit in nicely in today's NBA as a "stretch 4" who could run and gun yet would not shy away from getting rebounds). I see no reason that Pettit could not lift weights and put on muscle just like everyone else does now; in fact, it is rather comical to me that people make these comparisons as if the 1950s player would be wearing Chuck Taylors and never lifting weights but they never apply the reverse logic and speculate about how today's players would look/play if they had to play against Pettit et. al. under the conditions that prevailed in the 1950s.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:08:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

You keep saying that Selvy did enough by making two shots down the stretch but the point is that the reason he was open and getting the ball is that the Celtics had to focus on trying to stop the guy who was basically giving them 40 and 20 every game. Selvy was a proven shooter/scorer in college and the pros and I am not going to change my evaluation of Baylor based on one shot. I could see your point if Baylor did not make it to seven Finals or did not play so well in those Finals or did not push the Celtics to seven games more than once--but Baylor did all of those things.

I have never come up with a hard and fast limitation on how many players could be in the Pantheon. I started out with 10 players, all of whom had to be retired at the time I made my selections and I thought that it would be cool to pick out the then-active players who I felt had distinguished themselves from their peers. I did not "add" the new guys in place of other retired players, so I don't see how that process affects my original evaluation that I would take Baylor over Olajuwon. In other words, saying that Shaq/Duncan/Kobe/LeBron are performing like Pantheon level players has nothing to do with how to rank the players who were already retired.

My gut feeling is that a Pantheon should not be larger than 15, so perhaps in another 10 years if I revisit the topic I may have to take somebody out but it would not be a matter of replacing Baylor with Olajuwon; it would be about adding a new player who I believe has surpassed not only Olajuwon, Malone and the rest but also at least one of my Pantheon members.

I am not sure if it is possible to make a fair 10 player Pantheon from scratch now; the first Pantheon essentially encompassed 45 years (roughly 1955-2000, as I did not consider pre-shot clock era players or players who were still active when I wrote the articles) and now we have two more decades of players to consider.

Perhaps you agree with the person who suggested that the Baseball Hall of Fame should only have a fixed number of players and that no one should be inducted after that number is reached unless someone is taken out. I don't like that concept, either for the HoF or for the Pantheon.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:18:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I agree with all of that about Pettit. The main reason I hesitate to rank him is I've only seen maybe 8-15 full Pettit games (and none in the last 5-7 years), and I feel like I can't really responsibly rank somebody off that small a sample, even if I have all their numbers/box scores/etc. Baylor is the Pantheoner I've seen the least of, but I've seen basically all of the Finals footage we have from his career (albeit not recently) and an assortment of other games. I would estimate that I've seen 25-35 Baylor games, and I still feel iffy making strong declarations about his overall skillset (watch me waffle back and forth on how bad I think his defense was in this very thread.) I just haven't seen enough Pettit to feel like I can reliably compare him to everybody else with any coherency.

I think re: Pantheons we have similar-but-different criteria, and there are definitely parts of it we weight differently.

Re; Pantheon size

I get where you're coming from with the idea of capping it at 15, but at the same time if your qualifier is that every member has a similarly strong case for "greatest ever," and there were, say, 20 guys who fit that criteria... is 20 so bad for a league that at that point would likely be 100 years old?

I personally have a shorter list of "GOAT" candidates (I really think it's four guys (Doc/Duncan/Kareem/MJ), up to six if one put a higher premium on championships (Russell) or stats (Chamberlain) than I typically do), but if I did feel there were 20 guys who might be the best ever, I wouldn't have any problem with saying "yep, it's a complicated game and these 20 dudes are too close to call." Just my two cents.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Good point regarding Pantheon size. Perhaps what I am really saying is that I just don't see anyone out there right now (other than LeBron, who I grouped with Shaq/Duncan/Kobe nearly a decade ago before LeBron had even peaked) who has either the requisite peak value or the combination of durability/high level play to warrant Pantheon consideration. I just can't put Durant or Curry or Westbrook at that level--and I feel sick to my stomach when "stat gurus" start comparing the "advanced basketball statistics" of Anthony Davis (or Joel Embiid???) to Wilt Chamberlain.

One interesting thing that we have learned this season is that Durant>Curry; both stars are in their primes and when they landed on the same team it was apparent very quickly that the Warriors became Durant's team. We saw an even more dramatic example of that with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Some might also cite Moses/Doc in 1982-83 but the difference there is that Moses was 25/26 while Doc was 32/33--and both finished in the top five in MVP voting in their first season together, so that was more like Shaq-Kobe circa 2002/2003 in terms of the top two players on a team being 1A/1B as opposed to clearly 1/2. If Doc and Moses had joined forces a couple years earlier, then it probably would have been 1A/1B in the other direction.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:59:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Back on the (long ago) original topic, if RWB is serious about the stuff he was talking about after tonight's game, he's gonna be even more incredible. The issue has never been him taking too many shots, but taking too many bad shots; if he's committed to making sure he's on balance/efficient (and can maintain something approximating his current scoring), and especially if he's willing to pass up rushed early-clock 3s to look for something smarter, he's gonna be one of the scariest offensive players ever.

Re: Durant/Curry. Durant's D has taken a big jump on D over the last two years, and it's really impressed me. We saw it some in the playoffs last year, and it's carried over to this year. I'm still not quite as hard on Curry as you are; I think the extra space he creates with is super-range is really valuable and difficult to quantify with any precision. Durant's certainly benefitted from it at least a little bit, as he's getting into the paint a lot easier than ever before. Obviously the Warriors are better with Durant out there (he's one of the best five guys in the league), but I suspect they'd suffer similar if not equal slippage without Curry (who's probably also still one of the best five guys in the league). They definitely remind me more of Shaq/Kobe situation than a Lebron/Kyrie one.

Re: Doc/Moses. That team is my pick for greatest team ever, and while Moses had the bigger numbers I think it's hard to say for sure who was more important; Moses certainly put them over the top, but Doc was the on-court coach and still a top-3 guy in the league for my money. They may actually have had the best two players in the NBA that season, which is just bananas to think about; imagine if Kobe/Lebron or Jordan/Hakeem had teamed up?! Kobe Shaq is probably the closest we've seen to that, but Kobe wasn't quite KOBE! until Shaq was starting to slack on D. Ships passing in the night.

Of course, Doc/Moses also had Toney (a top 5 or so shooting guard), Cheeks (a top 5 PG), and Bobby Jones (the league's best defender). That team was scary good, and I'll never fully understand what happened to them in '84.

RE: Future Pantheon guys. I may have mentioned this earlier, but there are a few guys I think could conceivably *get* there, but nobody who's there yet. If RWB averages a triple double* for the next few years and starts playing D, say, or if Curry puts together four or five more seasons like last year, either would have a case. Durant, Giannis, and Wall could all conceivably convince me someday as well, tough of course I'm not predicting that for any of them (or Curry/RWB).

*For what it's worth, I'm more impressed by his than I am by Oscar's (for one season, anyhow). He's getting there on a lot fewer possessions, with a lot fewer rebonds laying around. Assists are easier to come by, but I think that's largely mitigated by the pace factor.

 
At Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:13:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, no, I certainly wouldn't take anyone out of the MLB HOF. But, that's a lot different than selecting the elite of the best. All I'm saying is that if someone decided to make a 10-player Pantheon list today, then 4 of your 14 Pantheon members have to be excluded. It doesn't take anything away from those 4 excluded members, though.

I also agree nobody else today is rather close, but KD can get there by playing on AS teams in GS. I think most people don't like his decision to go to GS, but he now has a much better chance to becoming one of the greatest.

Curry was better in 2015 and 2016 than he is this year, and he also had to take a backseat a little to KD this year. KD's had the better career, but I'd take Curry's combined 2 year-run in 2015/2016 over any 2 years of KD.

 

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