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Friday, May 11, 2018

Boston Versus Cleveland Preview

Eastern Conference Finals

# 2 Boston (55-27) vs. #4 Cleveland (50-32)

Season series: Cleveland, 2-1

Cleveland can win if…LeBron James continues his historic playoff run and if his supporting cast fills in the gaps at both ends of the court. James averaged 34.0 ppg, 11.3 apg and 8.3 rpg while shooting .553 from the field as the Cavaliers swept the Toronto Raptors in the second round; through two rounds, James is averaging 34.3 ppg, 9.0 apg and 9.4 rpg while shooting .553 from the field.

The Raptors posted the best record in the Eastern Conference (59-23) this season and featured both a top seven offense and a top seven defense but the Cavaliers just dismantled them. Game one was a heartbreaking overtime loss for the Raptors after leading throughout regulation but the Cavaliers dominated the Raptors in game two, held on to win a close game three and then stomped Toronto 128-93 in game four.

This outcome is not only a tribute to James' greatness--and to the ability of Coach Tyronn Lue to change his rotation on the fly in the playoffs (more about that below)--but it is also a devastating end to what had been the best season in Raptors' franchise history. The terms "MVP-caliber" and "elite" have always been thrown around way too liberally--and the body of work for Toronto All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, culminating in that second round debacle versus Cleveland, should remove both of their names from either of those conversations for the foreseeable future. James' greatness does not justify or excuse Toronto's total collapse, a collapse that is either a failure of coaching (not in this case, in my opinion) or a failure of effort/heart/focus among the players--and that kind of failure is largely the responsibility of the team's best players.

As for the Cavaliers, it is not that long ago that they were outscored over the course of a seven game first round series by an Indiana team that is hardly elite by any stretch of the imagination. Did Cleveland instantly become a contender, did James singlehandedly dismantle Toronto or did the Raptors--for lack of a better word--choke? There is probably a little bit of truth in each of those suppositions.

It does seem that Coach Lue has figured out the right rotation for the Cavs; putting George Hill in the starting lineup and shifting Kevin Love to center created a lot of matchup problems for the Raptors but it remains to be seen if those adjustments will be as effective versus the Celtics (or if Lue has further moves up his sleeve).

The Eastern Conference Finals will provide a much clearer answer regarding who the Cavaliers really are. I suspect that they may not be as vulnerable as they looked against the Pacers but I also doubt that they are as good as the Raptors made them look.

Kevin Love (20.5 ppg, .353 3FG%), Kyle Korver (14.5 ppg, .560 3FG%) and  J.R. Smith (12.5 ppg, .769 3FG%) provided a lot of help for James versus Toronto after each of those players looked terrible in the first round. The Cavaliers will need strong production from those players to get past the Celtics.

Boston will win because…the Celtics' collective effort and performance will outweigh the individual greatness of LeBron James. Some "experts" thought the injury-depleted Celtics would struggle to beat Milwaukee in the first round but the Celtics won in five games. Even more "experts" were convinced that the Celtics would lose to the Philadelphia 76ers, perhaps overly impressed by the 76ers' season-ending 16 game winning streak (at least six of those wins came against teams that were actively tanking, which is ironic considering Philadelphia's recent years-long tanking "Process"). Boston jumped out to a 3-0 lead and closed out the 76ers in five games.

How is Boston succeeding without injured All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward? No NBA team goes far without talented players. The Celtics have Al Horford, a strong two-way player whose individual statistics often do not fully capture his impact on winning. The Celtics also have a rising corps of young, scrappy players such as Terry Rozier (24 years old), Jayson Tatum (20), Jaylen Brown (21) and Marcus Smart (24). Those five players--plus 28 year old Marcus Morris--lead a balanced scoring attack, with each player averaging at least 10.6 ppg during the playoffs but no player averaging more than Tatum's 18.8 ppg. That depth and versatility makes it difficult to stop the Celtics. The Celtics are also strong defensively, with several individual plus defenders and a very strong defensive game plan.

That game plan comes from the mind of Coach Brad Stevens, who Horford called a "genius" during the Philadelphia series. Stephens has emerged as one of the NBA's top coaches. Unlike even some of the other top coaches, Stephens is an adept strategist at both ends of the court. He is consistently able to accentuate his players' individual strengths while hiding their weaknesses.

Boston's success is not a fluke and the Celtics will not be an easy out for anyone.

Other things to consider: Conventional wisdom would favor the team with home court advantage--not only because having an extra game at home provides a significant edge but also because that team proved to be better and more consistent over the 82 game regular season schedule. While it may seem that the most important aspect of home court advantage is having a potential game seven at home, it should be noted that game one winners win an NBA playoff series about 80% of the time. The adage about a series not beginning until the road team wins is not statistically or historically correct. Boston earned home court advantage by being more consistent than Cleveland and if the Celtics capture the first two games at home then the Cavaliers will face a lot of pressure to not only "defend" home court but to also win a pivotal game five in Boston.

On the other hand, conventional wisdom would also favor the team that has the best player. James is obviously the best player in this series; some voices are now contending that James is the best player of all-time, a statement that is impossible to prove--but James is without question a member of pro basketball's Pantheon and he has been for quite some time.

A great basketball player can impact team success to a much larger extent than a great baseball player or a great football player but even the greatest players need at least some help to win a championship. This season the Cavaliers remade their roster more than once in an attempt to surround James with the right supporting cast. No matter which combinations they tried, the defense was subpar but that seems to have changed during the playoffs.

It is possible that the Cavaliers have figured everything out after a season marred by injuries, dissension and several roster moves. Coach Lue's current starting rotation of LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and George Hill did not play together during the regular season but was extremely effective versus the East-leading Raptors.

James may also be the modern-day Shaquille O'Neal; O'Neal was blessed with so much size and physical talent that he could, at times, coast during the regular season only to turn up his level during the postseason. While James had a very good regular season on paper, it was obvious that his effort and intensity were below par--especially on defense. The Cavaliers had a solid month when they actually performed better when he was not on the court, which is unheard of during James' career (and very unusual for an MVP level player).

If James is the modern-day O'Neal and if the Cavaliers have figured things out, then the Celtics could be in trouble. Picking a depleted Celtics team against a surging LeBron James may be foolish and may look ridiculous a week or two from now--but I just believe that the regular season means something, that building habits over an extended period of time matters and that the Celtics have been underrated all season.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:38 PM



At Friday, May 11, 2018 7:48:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"Some "experts" thought the injury-depleted Celtics would struggle to beat Milwaukee in the first round but the Celtics won in five games"

It was actually seven games, but you're correct (and I was wrong) that the Celtics' depth ultimately overcame Giannis' greatness.

I've picked against the Celtics twice and been wrong twice; may as well go for the hat trick.

Brad Stevens is the real deal and their role players have all stepped up but ultimately unless Brown/Smart/somebody else can slow down Lebron that young team will crumble against the Cavs' 5-out offense and superior rebounders.

I love Al Horford but Lebron eats his lunch almost as often as he does Toronto's.

The blueprint for beating Lebron in the playoffs, historically, has required at least three of the following four things:

1) An elite rim protector to challenge him when he inevitably gets by his man (Duncan/Garnett/Howard/Chandler). Boston does not have this.

2) The ability to shut down Lebron's supporting cast almost entirely until it drives him into his despondent, checked-out mode (David calls it "quitting" but I think it is less intentional than that; regardless, it makes it hard for his team to win when he hits that point. Even if he does not back off, if you lock down his other guys enough, he can't win (Orlando in '09 comes to mind). Boston could possibly do this.

3) An elite defensive player to challenge Lebron on every possession and push his efficiency back towards the mortal (Bowen/Marion/Leonard/Iguodala). Boston probably does not have this but perhaps Brown or Smart will rise to that occasion.

4) A scorer or scorers who can, at least part of the time, go shot-for-shot with Lebron and keep his team from building too much momentum (Parker/Pierce/Terry/Curry/Durant) when he gets going. Boston probably does not have this but perhaps Horford, Rozier, or Tatum can temporarily rise to the occasion as Terry once did.

I have been wrong about Boston a lot recently and would not be shocked to be proved wrong again- Brad Stevens is for real- but I've seen Lebron come up against deep, well-coached Al Horford teams in the playoffs before and so far he's 4-0 against them.

Cavs in 6.

At Friday, May 11, 2018 11:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I hope that you did not take the "some 'experts'" phrase as a swipe at you. I honestly was not thinking of you when I wrote that but rather I was thinking of certain mainstream media pundits.

Your "blueprint" for beating a LeBron James-led team is very solid. I believe that the Celtics can execute that blueprint, for the reasons outlined in my article. It should be a very interesting series on many levels: coaching, individual player matchups, the endless discussions of James' legacy, etc.

At Friday, May 11, 2018 11:17:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Nah, we're good. I just meant I happened to side with those "experts" in this case; more the fool I.

You may be right about this series; I've had relatively few strong opinions this year, and even fewer right ones. I don't know if I'm slipping in my old age or if things are just more competitive this season, but these playoffs have me way below my usual batting average and confidence... and nowhere moreso than with the Celtics. Last time I remember being wrong about the same team twice in one playoffs*, they won the title (2011 Mavs, who I somehow picked against every single round).

*Technically this year I was wrong about the 76ers twice, too, but I'm reasonably confident they won't win the title this season.

At Friday, May 11, 2018 11:51:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I'm not sure if you're underrating the Cavs (LeBron) or overrating the Celtics. I think Brad Stevens is quite clearly the 2nd best coach in the league and he's obviously the biggest reason why the Celtics have won two series where a large number of people picked against them. I feel like you're making the same mistake when picking the Raptors last series. If Kyrie were healthy, this pick would make more sense to me, but I'd be very surprised if the Celtics won this series (then again I was surprised with how they handled the Sixers so handily).

At Saturday, May 12, 2018 2:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


David and Nick LeBron is the greatest player all time when it comes stats.

But skill set nah Jordan and Kobe slightly are better. I rank LeBron 5th all time behind Jordan Kareem magic Kobe.

I like the Celtics as well in the series.

Celtics haven't lost at home, they have four guys who can score 20 plus points, they better coached by far and play better defense.

Brad Stevens is best coach in nba he gets most out-of his players and he has best game plan and strategy.

I expect spilt in Boston and than split back in Cleveland. Boston win game 5 and 7.

At Saturday, May 12, 2018 12:16:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I agree that Lebron is pretty statistically impressive, though he is not in my personal "top 5." But then, neither are Magic or Kobe, either.

Whether he is more or less "skilled" thank Kobe and Jordan depends on how you define skilled, I suppose. Is guarding multiple positions a skill? Handling the ball one-handed? How about finishing through contact? Etc.

I think that Jordan and Kobe had better footwork and better jumpshots than Lebron, but I am not sure I would go so far as to say they were more skilled overall. Jordan at least--and probably Kobe as well-- did seem to be quite a bit more consistent in effort, though, and that's largely what elevates him/them beyond Lebron. That said, Lebron may eventually have a pretty strong longevity case over both; his prime is already about as long as Kobe's (and longer than MJ's entire career) and he doesn't seem to be slowing down much yet.

At this point I am not sure who I rank higher between Kobe/Lebron. They are both in the same "tier" for me, somewhere in the 8-16 range, along with guys like Magic/Bird/Shaq/Oscar/West/Barry/Pippen, though they are both probably nearer the top of that tier than the bottom; it would be difficult for me to take, say, Magic over them given that he was relatively unremarkable on the defensive end while they were both (for at least part of their careers) elite.

I have Jordan in the first tier, somewhere between 1-4 (although gun to my head I'd probably count him 4th).

At Saturday, May 12, 2018 3:43:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Looking at it again, I realize when I said "8-16" I probably meant more "8-19" or "8-20." I left out Moses, Pettit (who are both contenders for that #8 spot), Hondo and probably somebody else.

I should probably figure out a way to split that tier into two smaller ones, but I always get hung up in weird circles (I.E., I feel like in a vacuum Pippen is a little better than Magic and Magic is probably better than Barry but I also paradoxically kinda think Barry is better than Pippen).

I've also got a clear sense of what the difference between Tiers 1 and 2 (The best argument against Tier 1's GOAT cases is basically "yeah, but what about [Other Tier 1 or 2 player here] while Tier 2 guys have strong GOAT cases of their own, but with at least one major criticism endemic to them without bringing up another guy) or 2 and 3 (I don't think Tier 3 guys have valid GOAT cases while I think the Tier 2 guys do) are, but not sure what the definition demarcation would be between 3 and 4.

Shoot-from-the-hip attempt to split Tier 3 into two, without ranking within the tiers:

Tier 3: Moses, Pettit, Shaq, Lebron, Kobe, West

Tier 4: Magic, Bird, Oscar, Pippen, Barry, Hondo

Looking at that "going with my gut" list I guess the distinction would be that Tier 1 guys were fully elite (for at least part of their careers) on both ends while Tier 4 guys were significantly better on one end of the ball than the other.

I've thought even less about this, but Tier 5 would probably be much larger and the cutoff between that and Tier 4 would likely be, basically, the difference between a guy you could definitely win a title behind and a guy you could probably win a title behind (allowing for some additional nuance with regards to longevity, peak, skillset, etc.). Roughly something like: Elgin Baylor, David Robinson, Isiah Thomas, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Dirk Nowitzki, Charles Barkley, Artis Gilmore, Walt Frazier, Dave Cowens, Willis Reed, Bob Cousy, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Garnett. I'd put Steph Curry in this tier for now as well but depending on his longevity he could hypothetically move up at least to Tier 3.

Tier 6 would then presumably have guys like Jason Kidd, Paul Pierce, Hal Greer, Bob McAdoo, Steve Nash, George Gervin, Nate Thurmond, etc. The cutoff here basically being "You can maybe win a title behind him, but you need to build a very specific team that covers his limitations to do it."

Durant is extremely difficult for me to evaluate historically as I can't get as good of a handle on his impact on winning (or lack thereof) as I'd like, so I'll opt out of placing him for now. I'd likewise decline to rank George Mikan or anybody else with a pre-Russell peak because I just haven't seen them play enough/the league was too different.

At Sunday, May 13, 2018 3:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



No kobe magic or jordan in top 3?

That interesting. I wont say u are wrong that simply your opinion.

My top ten all time is this

1. Jordan
2. Kareem
3. Magic
4. Kobe
5 lebron
6. Bird
7. Duncan
8. Big o
9. Shaq
10. Hakeem

I think lebron great and all but he has a size advantage over kobe and jordan and i think kobe and jordan career was more succesful.

Your tier are pretty good tho.

I just dont get completely how u leave magic and kobe out top 5.

To me its about


And that what my ranking was

At Sunday, May 13, 2018 4:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


My "top 4" is so close as to make the distinction largely irrelevant; I wouldn't really argue with putting them in any order. Each tier is more of a tie within itself than a strict ranking. It's similar to David's Pantheon approach in that regard, just broken into more chunks. David declines to rank within his Pantheon and I prefer not to rank within my tiers.

Owing to this conversation, I have been thinking a lot more about my tiers and how I break them down, and have codified things somewhat. Essentially:

Tier 1: GOAT Candidates: Extremely strong GOAT cases with no major flaws. High peak, multiple titles, good longevity, near-perfect skillset. I consider these four players to have largely unimpeachable cases, and the best argument against any of them is to "whatabout" one of the others as an alternative.

Tier 2: Flawed GOAT Candidates: Strong GOAT cases but with with a "yeah, but..." component. Usually just one question mark (i.e., Russell's offense). This is where guys like Wilt and Russell fall for me, and the guys in this tier are very nearly tied with Tier 1; they just have something that at least requires some explanation or context when making their case.

Tier 3: Elite Two-Way Dynastic Talent The best non-GOAT contenders, A+ on both sides of the ball for several seasons. Single-handedly guarantees consistent contention. This is where guys who aren't quite as good as the GOAT guys (Kobe, Lebron) but are otherwise largely unimpeachable end up.

Tier 4: Elite One-Way Dynastic Talent: Very nearly Tier 3, but never quite reached that A+ level on one side of the ball. Still guarantees contention, but will need help to go deep in the playoffs. This is where somebody like Magic--who could dominate a game or series on offense but could not control the game defensively-- falls for me. On the flip side, somebody like PIppen or Havlicek--A+ defensive players and very good offensive ones that are just not quite as impactful on that end as the guys one tier up--are also in this tier.

Tier 5: Can Win A Title With Some Help: Comparable to Tier 3/Tier 4 guys on their best day, but lacking in longevity, consistency, skillset, playoff performance, or overall impact. This is where you find your Bill Waltons and such.

Tier 6: Can Win A Title With Ideal Help: Needs a lot of strong supporting players with complimentary skillsets to be the best player on a hypothetical title team, but can theoretically do it. This is where guys like Nash or Durant (for now) end up.

Tier 7: Can't Be Your Top Guy: Can't really win as a team's clear alpha, but good enough to win on a "superstar by committee" team like the '04 Pistons, '78 Bullets, '79 Sonics, or ABA Pacers.


At Sunday, May 13, 2018 4:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

As for why Magic and Kobe specifically don't make my top 5? I think Magic was a largely one-way player who benefitted from an extremely stacked supporting cast including a player who was, at least for the first chunk of their run, better than he was. As such, it's tough for me to take him over guys like Jordan or Duncan who dominated on both sides as their team's clear alpha dogs.

Kobe is very good and has a complete skillset but I think is pretty obviously a little worse than Jordan or Doc, so I can't put him in their tier. His defensive prime was shorter than his offensive prime and while he won 5 titles he was only the best player for 2 of those teams. Again, this doesn't make him "bad" but it does make it tough for me to take him over the seven guys I have definitively above him.

As a wing, even one of the greatest defensive wings, it's difficult for him to have the same kind of dominating defensive impact as a Russell, Wilt, or Duncan. The only perimeter players I have ahead of him are Doc (who was the one wing who could protect the rim/rebound like a big) and Jordan (who I think we can generally agree is the rich man's Kobe).

Overall, my list tends to favor bigs, but I think that's because, at least until very recently, so did the game of basketball. Six of my top seven are Centers or Forwards (and all six elite shotblockers). The third tier for me is three more bigs (Shaq, Moses, Pettit), a quasi-big (Lebron), and the two best non-Jordan guards ever IMO (West and Kobe).


At Sunday, May 13, 2018 5:29:00 PM, Anonymous Qatalyst said...

Skills wise I also have Kobe and MJ way ahead of Lebron. It's about soft skills- dribbling, jumper, footwork, as well as technical skills to thrive in a dynamic offense like the triangle.

As for the series, I have Boston winning. If Lebron can figure out a way to get his single coverage layups, then Celtics are in trouble, but a well defended paint from great team defense is going to be difficult for lebron.

At Monday, May 14, 2018 2:54:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Nick i see what u saying.

So u think doc j was as good as kobe or Jordan.

I always looked at the doctor as a great dunker look Dominique.

I feel like kobe and jordan to me was as good as u get.

They the only guards to lead team to titles playing with only one hall of famer.

I mean to me jordan and kobe could lead league in points and assists every year if they wanted too.

Niether had no weakness in game.

Lebron brute power and strength seperate him. But in this boston series it looks like he outnumbered.

The big man is still favored to me nick its just curry and thonpson got the whole league wanting to shoot threes.

U still need a big man on the defensive presence at the very least.

U think any modern day players can get into your tiers.

Like lonzo ball or ben simmons. Im high on they games

At Monday, May 14, 2018 4:18:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I think Doc was as good as it gets. He was just as dangerous a scorer as Kobe or Jordan-- and in fact, he shot a bit more efficiently than either-- but he also protected the rim like a big and rebounded well above his height. Defensively, he was one of the greatest ever at generating steals, is easily the greatest shot-blocking perimeter player ever, and was a very strong individual and help defender who could cover four positions (probably all five if he played in today's increasingly tiny league). You mention Kobe and Jordan won titles with only one other Hall of Famer apiece; Doc did it with zero in '74 and '76.

He was also an excellent passer, although unlike Jordan and Kobe he spent much of his career playing with strong distributing point guards and did not have to serve as his team's primary ballhandler as often as they did.

So yes, I think he was better than Kobe. He and Jordan are both in my very tippy top tier so I generally don't distinguish between them, but when somebody asks me who I think the single greatest player of all time is, if I'm only allowed to pick one, I'm picking Doc. I think his ability to play so far above his size, particularly defensively, is the difference maker between him and Jordan/Kobe/other great perimeter guys.

That said, as a forward, his role is slightly different than theirs. I would rather say he is the greatest 3 ever, while Jordan is the greatest 2 ever. I'd have Kareem and Duncan as the greatest 5 and 4 ever, and either West (if you go by Basketball Reference calling him a 1) or either Magic or Oscar (if you don't) as the greatest 1.

I love the big man but since the Warriors took over the league we haven't seen teams advancing especially far in the playoffs behind a dominant big. Someone like Shaq or Wilt could still dominate today, but with the elite teams shooting as well as they are from 3 for a big guy to be truly viable he needs to both be fast enough to stay in the game on defense and efficient enough that the 2-v-3 point disparity doesn't kill his team (probably about 60, 65% shooting).

A bunch of modern guys are in my tiers, depending on how you define "modern." I have Lebron in Tier 3, Curry in Tier 5, and Durant in Tier 6, for example. Klay, Draymond, and a half dozen or so other current players are in Tier 7.

As for Simmons and Lonzo, specifically, it's too soon to say for either, but forced to bet my money would be on Simmons more than Lonzo.

At Tuesday, May 15, 2018 5:58:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


How old are you?

At Tuesday, May 15, 2018 7:45:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I'm in my 30s. Why?

At Tuesday, May 15, 2018 10:46:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I was just curious. An old guy like myself (late 60s) has been around the game for a long time. I don't want to come off as dismissive or offensive in any way, but your ranking of players tells me did you didn't watch some of those guys in their prime. Ranking players is not a science, but there are some more-than-obvious aspects. Having Doc & Duncan on a tier separate from the likes of Wilt & Russell is just wrong unless you want to completely dismiss 60s basketball (even then 70s Wilt was a better defender than either of them).

Not once did I ever watch Duncan and think "Wow, this might be the best player ever". You weren't born during Doc's peak, but trust me, you would have been in the minority if you thought Doc was better than Oscar, let alone West or Baylor. Doc did nothing in his career to separate himself from the other Pantheon perimeter players. Regardless of what you think, he was not "clearly better" than Kobe and LeBron. On the contrary, one whom saw all of them in their prime would argue that both are "clearly better" than him.

You seem to have a bias towards two-way players and dismiss the fact that offensive impact is more important when comparing individuals (especially perimeter players). Your thoughts on Magic Johnson tells me all that I need to know. In no way is Scottie Pippen or John Havlicek in the same tier with the likes of Magic, Bird, or Oscar. Jerry West has said himself that Oscar was the best perimeter player of his era. I'm not sure how he's in a higher tier.

I don't want to accuse you of lacking basketball knowledge, but I think that you're just trying to be different and that's OK. All of this stuff is a matter of opinion anyway. Maybe do a little more research on some of these guys. I'm willing to wager my pension that you'd be extremely hard pressed to find a knowledgeable basketball fan old enough to watch all of these guys in their prime to agree with you.

At Tuesday, May 15, 2018 11:08:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Wow. I was sure that the Cavaliers would steal one of these first two games. David, your prediction might be right. This Celtics team is scary good.

At Tuesday, May 15, 2018 11:36:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

A lot is going to probably be made of that head check from Jayson Tatum but LeBron looked like he was headed to 50 points tonight and then his effort level clearly dropped off. I've immediately seen some things written about a concussion but if it was an actual concussion, he shouldn't have been playing. If he wasn't concussed, then I don't know how else to describe it besides that he quit. He very visibly stopped contesting shots, settled for a bunch of jumpers and mostly stood around the three point line.

Everyone here should obviously be familiar with this sort of behavior on his part. It's incredibly disappointing to see it reoccur again. Dropping 41 overall kind of deceptively masks he got nearly 30 of those points in the first quarter and then faded.

At Wednesday, May 16, 2018 4:45:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


You certainly do come off as dismissive, but I'll try not to take it personally.

For what it's worth, I have absolutely watched those guys in their prime; for about 15 years starting in the mid 90s I not only recorded/watched hundreds of games on ESPN Classic, but was also very active in the filesharing and to a lesser extent, tape trading scenes. Additionally, I grew up in a Lakers house with hundreds of hours of footage of Magic and Kareem on good old VHS.

I am curious how much of Doc you watched in your prime; did you track down a lot of ABA action? I understand it was hard to find pre-internet. I've seen (estimating) a couple dozen ABA Doc games; can you say the same? As David is fond of quoting, "if you didn't see Doc in the ABA, you didn't see the real Doc."

I have seen less of Wilt and Russell in their primes because there is less of it available, but I have tracked down everything I can.

As for your individual points:

* I don't care what "most people" think. A few years ago "most people" thought you couldn't win a title by shooting a ton of jump shots, and before Jordan came along "most people" thought you couldn't win a title without a dominant big

* Regarding Wilt vs. Duncan or Doc: if you read the tiers carefully, you'll see that the difference between tiers 1 and 2 is largely subjective; Wilt has an extremely strong GOAT case, but when making it you have to allow for/explain both his poor free throw shooting and his sometimes iffy priorities (say, leading the league in assists just to prove he could, or playing soft defense to avoid breaking his no foul out streak).

If I were forced to make the case for Duncan or Doc over Wilt, which I agree is a slim one, I would start by pointing out that they both needed considerably less help to win their titles (or at least, some of their titles). In Duncan's case, I would also point out that he played five years longer.

*"...the fact that offensive impact is more important when comparing individuals " You are confusing fact for opinion here. You are welcome to believe that, but I clearly do not. For what it's worth, the greatest winner in the sport was an elite defender and an unremarkable offensive player.

I don't remember the exact numbers, but a few years back on this very site I looked at every title team to that point and it turned out they were more likely to have more All Defensive Players than All NBA ones, despite there being more All-NBA players in the league at any given time post-Third Team. Defense is extremely underrated because it is not sexy, and it is much harder to quantify than offense, but it is literally half the game.

I think offense, in general, is a little more important for a perimeter player, but I think there is (or at least was, as the current NBA is metamorphosing away from tradition) nothing more valuable than a truly elite defensive big. Russell/Duncan/Kareem/Wilt/Hakeem are probably the five best ever by that count (though four of them also great offensive players) and it's no coincidence that they've got 26 titles between them (that's nearly half the total since Russell came into the league).

Part of why I hold Doc in such high esteem is that he was able to provide the offensive value of an elite perimeter guy while also doing a reasonable impersonation of an upper-tier defensive big when he needed to.

* It's nice that Jerry said that and he may be right, but if we go by what players say about other players we'll never get anywhere. Shaq says Doc is the best ever, Jerry says Oscar, Kobe says Jordan, etc. For my part I think they were comparable offensive players but I think Jerry's defense was stronger, and I think Jerry's teams tended to win a lot more than Oscar's (though some of that has to do with supporting cast).


At Wednesday, May 16, 2018 4:45:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

* Pippen vs. Magic is a pretty one-sided argument if your priority is offense. Mine isn't. Pippen was an extremely good offensive player and a best-in-a-generation defensive one. Magic was a best-in-a-generation offensive talent and a forgettable defensive one. Pippen won six rings as the second best guy on his team, Magic won five rings as arguably the second best guy on his team (though I would probably give him the nod in '87 and '88).

Pippen proved in '94 that he was good enough to lead a contending team (and put up MVP-ish numbers) with little A-list support (Charles Oakley and BJ Armstrong are not exactly Kareem and Worthy). You may be convinced by Magic's showmanship and reputation, but I think that PIppen ultimately did more with less, even when factoring in Jordan... unless you think Jordan+ Grant/Rodman > Kareem + Cooper + Wilkes/Worthy + Nixon/Scott + Green +...

Pippen also played five more seasons.

I am still not saying Pippen is better than Magic but there is absolutely a reason I have them in the same tier.

* "I think that you're just trying to be different and that's OK. " This is extremely condescending and doesn't have anything to do with your argument. If you're trying to avoid coming off as dismissive, I'd maybe leave comments like this out.

* "Maybe do a little more research on some of these guys." Respectfully, I've done literally thousands of hours of research on these guys.

* "I'm willing to wager my pension that you'd be extremely hard pressed to find a knowledgeable basketball fan old enough to watch all of these guys in their prime to agree with you."

I mean, David's got Doc and Duncan in his Pantheon of "arguably the greatest player ever" guys, and I'm pretty sure he's a knowledgeable basketball fan.


At Wednesday, May 16, 2018 11:31:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


Firstly, I want to point out that one of the downfalls of debating via text is that tone can not be accurately conveyed. I am in no way trying to sound condescending; maybe I need to pick my words better for the purpose of this discussion. I'll try to address all of your points.

Watching a guy in his prime years later is completely different from being alive to experience it because you can get good context. I'm not saying that good context cannot be researched and I won't accuse you of lacking context, but it's very easy to fall victim to your own bias. I've done it before.

I seen more than enough of Erving in my day, both ABA and NBA, to say that I have a strong enough idea of how good he was. I'm too young to remember a peak Russell, but I seen Wilt. The funny thing is that Tim Duncan does not have a single year in his career where he averaged more points, rebounds, or assists than Wilt's career averages in those respective categories. Not one year. I'd be willing to include steals and blocks, but unfortunately we don't have the numbers to back that up. Duncan was never the offensive player that young Wilt was and he was never the defensive player that old Wilt was. Doc has one season averaging more points than Wilt's career average and his career assists are lower. These guys in no way are on a different "tier". If you saw Wilt live, you would understand that if anything, he is in a tier of his own.

*Russell was not a unremarkable offensive player - there's more to offense than just scoring.

*Guys like Nate Thurmond and Ben Wallace deserves to be mentioned in the top 5 big men defenders.

*Doc is not a top 5 offensive or defensive perimeter player ever so I'm not sure how his combo of offense and defense matches him to someone like Jordan or even Kobe for that matter.

Take everything that Shaq says with a grain of salt. Everything that comes out of his mouth is so cringe-worthy. West is one of the most introspective players ever and he has nothing to lie about. Let's be clear - Jerry West is quite clearly the 3rd greatest shooting guard of all time and the 2nd best guard of his era. He was a phenomenal player, but he was not better than Oscar. He just wasn't. There's a reason that when Bird, Magic, and Jordan ascended, they were all compared to the Big O - not West. If Jerry West weren't white, Oscar would be the Logo. That was pretty understood at the time, but not widely publicized for obvious reasons. Oscar's attitude and the whole free agency thing didn't help either.

Magic Johnson has more All-NBA First Team selections (9) than Pippen made All-Star teams (7). To compare their championships is asinine. Magic was unarguably the best player on his last 3 championship teams and was a top 2-3 player in the league for each of them. He was 1A-1B with Kareem in 1982. If you can honestly tell me that it would take you more than 2 seconds to ponder over building a team around Magic or Scottie then we have nothing left to discuss. They are several "tiers" apart.

Your views on some of this stuff are "different" (for a lack of better words). You seem to be convinced that being a two-way player means more than being a generational offensive talent and have to stick to your guns by making peculiar takes when it comes to ranking players. It's kind of a square peg in a round hole thing. I'm not sure if you're over-evaluating or under-evaluating.

At Wednesday, May 16, 2018 12:54:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

The Pantheon is meant to recognize all of the super all-time great players. Sure, one could say that they all "have an argument", but some are clearly better than others. David has both directly and indirectly inferred this several times. I've followed David's blog for years and I share some similar views with him when it comes to his Pantheon. He has said several times that he thinks Jordan is indisputably the greatest "post-ESPN" player ever. I agree with that statement - which means that Jordan 9.9 times out of 10 should be ranked over Bird, Magic, Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, and LeBron. Logic would also tell you that those guys don't have incredibly strong arguments as the greatest player ever. They are in the Pantheon because of how great they were - not because you could make a definitive argument of their GOAT status.

*Sidebar - based on David's articles and comments in the past, it's clear to me that if he had a gun to his head and were forced to rank those "post-ESPN" guys we would put Jordan first and Shaq last (I would do the same). It's also clear that he thinks Magic > Bird and leans towards Kobe > LeBron. I am personally a little higher on LeBron than David is, but we do have similar critiques of him. Duncan is a little harder to rank because of his role as a big and a "super cog" in the Spurs system, but I personally would not take him over the wings because he was never seen as the dominant force that they were.

As for "pre-ESPN" guys: Russell, Baylor, Wilt, Oscar, West, Kareem, and Erving - I can tell you a couple things for certain. Oscar was widely considered the greatest perimeter player until Bird came along. He was the only non-center guy considered to be the greatest player ever. Baylor, not Erving, was considered the greatest forward though. I think it's arguable either way.

Your logic is just very inconsistent and I was curious why. In no world are Olajuwon, Moses, Pettit, AND Shaq better than Magic, Bird, AND Oscar and I can't believe that you truly believe that either. I'm sorry, but there were not 14 players better than all of them ever. Doc and Duncan do not have "extremely strong GOAT cases with no major flaws", while Russell and Wilt are "flawed GOAT candidates". It's crazy talk that Hakeem is a "flawed GOAT candidate", but all of LeBron, Kobe, Magic, Bird, and Oscar are "the best non-GOAT contenders".

Again, I know this may come off as dismissive, but your rankings are really "different" (again, for a lack of better words). Could it be possible that Julius Erving is your favorite player? David never claimed for some of these guys to be ranked in clear tiers above other guys that were clearly better than them. My statement remains... you aren't going to find someone old enough to have watched these guys live and claim stuff like Kobe and LeBron being clearly a little worse than Doc, Duncan being better than the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, AND Hakeem Olajuwon being considered a GOAT over Magic and Bird. It's just not true in any shape or form. Hondo and Pippen not only being considered better than Baylor, but on the level of Magic, Bird, and Oscar is mind-boggling alone.

At Wednesday, May 16, 2018 1:49:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I would agree that Nate Thurmond belongs in that conversation. Ben Wallace was also very good, but his size limited him some against the two guys he most needed to defend (Shaq and Duncan) and it probably cost his team the '05 and '06 championships.

I disagree that Erving was not as good offensively as Kobe or Jordan. Particularly in his ABA years, Doc was completely unguardable and carried teams with no Hall of Famers to titles over teams with multiple. He led three completely different supporting casts to the ABA or NBA Finals (how many other players can say that?) and in 1976 played probably the greatest series in playoff history despite being guarded by Bobby Jones, one of the greatest defensive forwards of all time. He did not average as many points as Jordan or Kobe largely because he did not need to; his NBA teams generally had several other strong scorers on them.

It is a more complex argument defensively, as they were arguably better defenders at their position, but Doc could guard more positions and protect the rim, which they could not. It is difficult to calculate how many shots per game were changed or not taken because of the threat of Erving's shot blocking (or Duncan's, or Russell's, Wilt's, etc.) but suffice it to say I feel confident that great shot blockers save their team plenty of points a night by sheer dint of being on the court, and that does not show up in their box scores. Despite changing teams several teams and significant turnover on his 76ers teams, Erving's teams were always Top 10 defensive outfits during his prime and usually Top 5. They were of course also regularly elite offensively, as well.

Wilt's stats are eye-popping to be sure, but there's so much more to it than stats. Duncan's teams on average did more with less help, and I would argue the two are comparable defenders. Comparing stats across eras is dicey for all kinds of reasons (pace is a big one) so I am not worried that Duncan did not average 20 rebounds a game; he was consistently one of the best rebounders of his era despite usually playing one of the slower paces in the league, and I feel confident that if he played in the 1960s he would rebound at least 19-20 RPG, and likely more.

I think his defense was as good as it gets; there's much more to it than steals and blocks. Calling out offensive sets, capably switching, denying entry passes, cutting off cuts...these are all things he did as well as anyone, whereas Wilt dominated defensively more by sheer force of will and athleticism. I am not saying one is better than the other, but I am pointing out that both were dominant, they just were dominant by different means.

Both were clearly top-2 big men in their respective eras; the difference for me is that Duncan played longer and won more.


At Wednesday, May 16, 2018 2:01:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Unremarkable =/= bad. Russell was a great screen setter, cutter, and passer... but relative to everyone else we're talking about here, he was not the same kind of offensive force.

I disagree with your take on West vs. Oscar, and once again am not particularly swayed by things being "widely understood" or what have you; James Harden and Russell Westbrook are "widely understood" to be two of the best five players in the NBA today, but I'd be astonished if either wins a title as his team's best player.

Re: Your comments on Scottie and Magic. I would think long and hard about which to build a team around, and my ultimate decision would likely come down to how easily I thought I could fill in their respective gaps, so I suppose we have nothing more to discuss.

Playing the exercise out anyway, I know that Magic guarantees me a top 5 offense by himself. Pippen probably guarantees me a top 15 offense and a top 10 defense; it comes down to whether I can surround Magic with enough defense to keep his team from being the 1980s Nuggets or *any Don Nelson team goes here* and whether I can find enough complimentary scorers for Pippen's team to be sufficiently dangerous offensively. In general I think it is probably easier to find a secondary scorer to help Pippen than it is to find multiple elite defenders to cover for Magic, but I am basing that largely on gut instinct and could be easily swayed if there is data to the contrary.

If I felt confident I could find a strong rim protector behind Magic and at least one All-Defensive caliber wing I would probably take Magic. If I didn't think I could do that, I would probably take Pippen. In his one season as "The Guy" in Chicago, Pippen averaged 22/8.7/5.6 on 49% shooting with 2.9 steals and an All-Defensive First Team nod. His team was the 6th best defense and 14th best defense in the league despite his next best two players being Horace Grant and BJ Armstrong. Pete Meyers started 81 games (Pete Meyers would not have even made the nine man rotation on any of Magic's teams). Pip finished third in MVP voting behind a ridiculous Hakeem season and an almost as ridiculous David Robinson season. I would put that Pippen season up against any Magic season and feel ok about it.

I have said before that All-NBA and All-Stars teams don't completely sway me as they tend to lean too hard into offensive numbers; just for one example, Ben Wallace made 4 All-Star teams while Carmelo Anthony made 10.

I disagree that comparing their championships is asinine; Magic had a much, much deeper supporting cast. Pippen had one transcendent teammate, but replacement level centers and his point guards ranged from decent (Paxson) to pretty good (Harper). He generally had a fringe All-Star Power Forward, though of course that system undervalues a guy like Dennis Rodman. His best bench guy was Toni Kukoc who, while good, was not exactly Michael Cooper or Bob McAdoo. Dismissing Pippen's role in getting those teams to titles simply because MJ was there is just as silly as pretending Magic ever won a title without three other All-Stars (one of them a 6x MVP) and at least two All-Defense caliber teammates.

I agree that my views are different. However, they've paid off for me as a gambler, and I'm right about predicting the outcomes of games/playoffs/careers much more often than I'm wrong (though I admittedly had an off first round this year).

I suppose it is possible I am over-evaluating or under-evaluating. I think, personally, that it is more likely that you are subscribing to traditionalist group-think and are missing some of the finer details that traditionalist group-think has no patience for.

I think, given that you consider my point of view to be "asinine" and clearly don't respect my opinion, it's probably pointless for us to continue this debate further.


At Wednesday, May 16, 2018 4:36:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Been following this blog for over a decade and have grown to truly appreciate Nick's POV, even if I don't always agree with all of it. I also appreciate different POVs when it comes to evaluating the game I love and I thank you for providing your firsthand insight. There is much to be learned from people that have lived history and saw it in person.

So, I think what you say about experiencing these players in the moment certainly has weight and power. At the same time, one can get caught up in the moment, and overemphasize its meaning (especially when revisited at a later date) based off of the emotional resonance it created. Also, emotionally weighted opinions can (and often do) influence how you perceive new things.

Regarding who I would start a team with -- of course Magic (lifetime Lakers fan). And, as a hypothetical business man in this hypothetical scenario, Magic would sell out multiple arenas on star/glamour power long before Pippen could sell out a single arena. His birth name is Ervin after all.

Magic was a smiling, attractive, dazzling, congenial burst of enthusiasm and transcended the game through sheer magnetism and play style. He literally changed the NBA in a way that only generational luminaries can. Pippen was a moody, unattractive asshole (there’s a youtube clip of Dirk Nowitzki talking about meeting his favorite player, Pippen, for the first time) with a game that the casual fan would call unsexy and/or not understand. He ascended to the pinnacle of his generation within the context of that generation’s play style.

But, if we're purely evaluating based on skillsets, talent, and the ability to win games -- Nick is right to have Magic and Pippen in the same tier (imo). Yah, I am not as old as you. Nor have I spent as much time watching old film as Nick. But age shouldn’t negate someone’s opinion as long as it is grounded in as much factual and/or logical evidence as possible.

Nick provides a lot of fantastic evidence to support his claims. Much of it can be found on this site in the comments sections (just look for the posts with 100+ comments :)

Arguing across generations is difficult. I’ve argued with David on here about – let’s call it mental fortitude. David correctly states that players like Bill Russell had to go through things today’s players do not have to experience (in large part, thanks to Russell). At the same time, players in the past never came close to experiencing what today’s players experience. Take Wilt for example. A person that thirsted for acceptance and took to heart the criticisms lobbed at him to such a degree, he spent an entire season passing up shots to get assists just to prove his critics wrong.

Imagine inserting that mentality into today’s NBA where – literally every single person on the planet is a critic that can easily voice his/her criticism to withering degrees from no less than a few dozen different (and highly visible) mediums. I’m not saying Wilt couldn’t adapt, I’m just saying based on the evidence we have – it’s my opinion Wilt would wilt under the scrutiny. Our president daily shows us what a needy narcissist that craves positive attention armed with a Twitter handle is capable of (or, incapable of). David and others on here have likewise projected backwards, that a player like Harden would struggle back in the day. I posit you may be doing the same.

The bottom line is none of us will ever know if we are correct or not when it comes to cross-generational player comparisons. We can only hypothesize.

Anyway, I wanted to post a response to you that calling someone’s logically thought out and evidence-supported, fact-based opinion – asinine – is not the best way to carry on a debate. It actually, tbh, depresses the value of what you are trying to say.

At Wednesday, May 16, 2018 8:12:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Your last comment had not yet posted yet when I replied. I will attempt briefly address a few of those last few points.

*If you read the coverage from the late 70s/early 80s there were plenty of people who thought Erving was the best forward ever, and some who felt he was the best player ever. I cannot recall the specifics from the top of my head but I believe David has quoted several of them here in the past.

* I would prefer not to put words in David's mouth. I agree that he seems like he'd take Jordan over Kobe, Magic over Bird, and Kobe over Lebron. I know he has said in the past however that he thinks a creditable "greatest of all time" case could be made for every player in his Pantheon (though obviously he would not necessarily agree with all those cases). He has explicitly said as much about Doc during past debates in these comments sections.

*It's not explicit in my list of tiers but I do kinda think there's a "must win a title" barrier to the top 4 tiers. That's what keeps Baylor out. Going solely on skillset and not results, he would belong in the same tier as Magic/Oscar/Pippen IMO.

* Regarding Hakeem, I think that he is historically underrated owing largely to Houston's inability to surround him with talented players. When he had a valid All-Star beside him he was an annual Finals threat, but from 1987-1994 (eight years of his prime) his best teammates were a never-healthy Ralph Sampson, 1x All-Star Sleepy Floyd (6 years but only 3 of them as a starter-caliber player), 1x All-Star Otis Thorpe (6 years) , and 2x All-Defensive member Rodney McCray (3 years). That he dragged the 1994 team- made up pretty much entirely of unheralded but capable role players- to an NBA title is one of the most impressive feats in basketball history.

His skillset is also beyond reproach. He is the only player to record both a 200/100 and 100/200 Blocks/Steals season, as well as the only one to record a 200/200. He was also an elite scorer who tended to score more in the playoffs (3x playoff PPG leader, including both his title seasons), an excellent rebounder (twice leading the league), and a gifted passer. He is statistically the greatest shot-blocker ever though of course the tracking of that stat does disservice to Russell & WIlt. He is also one of four players to ever record a quadruple double and very nearly did it twice.

Additionally, whenever he ran into someone else perceived as the "best center" in the playoffs, he annihilated them, taking out Kareem, Robinson, Ewing, and Shaq.

Given all that I think he is extremely unfairly undersold owing largely to that stretch of poor support. By skillset and playoff performance, I think a reasonable case can be made for him.

* I do not think my logic is inconsistent, but you are entitled to your opinion. I value overall skillset (beyond merely stats), team success, and context heavily when evaluating players; it has been my experience that many evaluators ignore that third factor, and it has likewise been my experience that defense tends to get undersold in these debates. I try to avoid doing either.

* You keep blasting the fact that I disagree with the conventional wisdom; I see it as a feature, not a bug. As discussed before, the conventional wisdom is often later proven wrong.


Thank you for your kind words. I likewise always appreciate your perspective.

At Thursday, May 17, 2018 10:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Since I am working on a multi-part series about the 50 Greatest Players List--and since I have already written a multi-part Pantheon series--I don't have much to add to the greatest players discussion in this thread at this time. I will say, though, that I agree with Qatalyst that Jordan and Bryant should be ranked ahead of James. Jordan and Bryant both had complete skill sets with no skill set weaknesses at either end of the court. James has added to his skill set during his career but he is still not the post up or midrange threat that those guys were. Also, Jordan and Bryant more consistently had a fierce, competitive mindset, while James has a puzzling tendency to coast/quit in important games.

James also brings a lot of baggage to a franchise. He will meddle in the front office, he will cause the team to vastly exceed the salary cap to sign "his" guys and there will be the nearly annual threat that he will pout and/or leave if the roster that he built does not meet his expectations. While Jordan and Bryant sometimes publicly complained about various front office decisions, they never bolted town and they never hijacked organizations. Pat Riley's parting shot to James--"No more smiling faces with hidden agendas"--speaks volumes.

James is without question one of the greatest basketball players of all-time and I tend to be disinclined to rank players in my top "tier" (to borrow Nick's term)--but I just cannot conceive of a situation in which I would take James over Jordan or Bryant.

At Thursday, May 17, 2018 12:28:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I certainly agree with you that James is not as good as Jordan. I probably also agree that he is not as good as Bryant, as well, though I think that's much closer (and consequently have them in the same "tier").

However, I think the devil's advocate case to be made is that while it is difficult to argue for having James over either of them for a series or a game, or even a season, his longevity is now hitting a point where it becomes a real factor. James has already played more basketball than MJ, and while Kobe has a pretty long prime himself (13-15 years depending on how generous you want to be to 99-00 Kobe) James will this season break his record for most All-NBA First Team selections and looks like he could continue to add to that total for a few years yet.

At what number of elite years does James' incredible longevity and durability outweigh his shortcomings relative to Bryant (or even Jordan)? Would you rather have 14 elite years of Kobe, 10 elite years of Jordan, or, say, 18 elite years of James? I don't know the answer, but if I were trying to make a case for James over either of them it would revolve chiefly around that and his superior size/positional versatility; in terms of focus and competitiveness, never mind titles, he can't compete.

At Thursday, May 17, 2018 5:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even with all of James' shortcomings and while I think he's highly overrated, he has accomplished a ridiculous amount of things. It's hard, even for me, not to place him a top 5-6 player all-time at worst. And agree with most in here that he shouldn't ranked ahead of Kobe or Jordan.

Kyle, it's a losing cause to get a good argument going about the all-time greats with Nick when, if I remember correctly, he has Pippen ranked #9 amongst other things, which puts Pippen ahead of all sorts of obvious players much much better than he has. Your comment about Magic having more 1st team all-nba(9) than Pippen's AS selections(7) pretty much sums it up. And it's not like Pippen's prime or years of being an elite players were that great or that long. Only 3 1st team all-nba selections for a supposed top 10 player all-time, hmm.

At Thursday, May 17, 2018 9:20:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

I keep getting mixed up with Kyle! The debate over Pantheon players is interesting but I am certainly not old enough to have seen anyone in the 60s or 70s.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 12:04:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


While I don't normally engage with Anonymous, in large part because he likes to put words in my mouth and argue against things I did not say or do not believe, I'd like to clarify that I do not have Pippen in my top 10.

I have Pippen in Tier 4, which would put him somewhere between 14 and 19 for me.

Until Marcel's question inspired me to codify my tiers more explicitly, I basically lumped everyone in Tiers 3 and 4, as well as a few players from 5 (Isiah Thomas, Baylor) in together as "that next tier behind the GOAT guys." I didn't spend a ton of time or energy ranking them against each other within that blob, though, and certainly didn't have a strongly held or established Top 10.

During that time it is possible I suppose that I listed Pippen in contention fo 9th or 10th at some point, but since I did not have a definitive ranking at that point, I assume if I did say something to that effect it was off-the-cuff and likely qualified with something like "without thinking about it too much, I might have Player X as high as Number Y."

More likely, I listed him as part of the group of guys I think would be contending for that spot, which is more how I generally think of these kind of things (and is the kind of thinking that ultimately led to these tiers).

I've also come to value longevity a little more over the last few years than I used to, which is something that hurts Pippen (as well as Magic and Bird) a bit against the Kobes and Lebrons of the world. Pippen played 16 years, but had a few weaker ones at either of that career.

At any rate, having now put in the time and effort to establish a little more order, I wouldn't have him any higher than 13th, or any lower than 19th.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 10:46:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

to play devil's advocate...

argument about "everyone" taking Oscar over Doc back then could possibly fall in the same category as "everyone" taking Harden over Durant or Westbrook today

I'm not saying who was actually better, I'm too young (and live in Europe where coverage was pitiful) to possibly have solid opinion, but I'd just like to point out "everyone" sometimes is wrong, so it's not that valid argument.

I agree with Kyle in general though.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 11:57:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

This debate about who does/doesn't have a GOAT case inspired me to go back and re-read David's excellent piece breaking down the Pantheon here: http://20secondtimeout.blogspot.com/2015/09/why-julius-erving-belongs-in-greatest.html

In it, he concludes or implies that Bird, Magic, Kobe, Lebron, Shaq, Baylor, and Duncan are ultimately great players but are difficult to argue as the *greatest* player. I agree with six of those seven (I think Duncan's peak value was a little higher than David gives it credit for owing mostly to his defense and intangibles, but he was certainly not the kind of every-night scorer Kobe/Jordan/Doc/Wilt/Kareem were).

That would mean that David has seven "true" contenders for GOAT: Jordan, Erving, Oscar, Kareem, Wilt, Russell, West.

I likewise have seven "true" contenders, five of whom overlap: Jordan, Erving, Duncan, Kareem, Russell, Wilt, Hakeem.

Our biggest disagreements there are Hakeem (who does not make David's top 14) and Oscar (who does not make my top 13). He has Duncan just out of contention and I have West similarly in my highest non-GOAT tier.

If we consider my first four tiers my "Pantheon" then there is only one member of David's Pantheon who is not in mine, meaning Baylor, who is held out by dint of not winning a title. If I were forced to make Top 20, he would probably be the guy I'd take for that last spot, although I'd also think pretty hard about Dirk Nowitzki (longevity) and Artis Gilmore (two-way dominance, pretty solid longevity as well).

If we instead consider my top three tiers (13 players to David's 14), then I have also dropped Magic, Bird, and Oscar but added Moses and Pettit. For what it's worth, if I were forced to add one player from Tier 4 to make it an even 14, it might be Oscar (though again I prefer not to rank within the tiers).

I admit this has made me curious which six players would make up David's next "tier" below his Pantheon, and how many of them make my list, as well. I suspect that while he and I disagree on some of the finer points (Hakeem and Baylor most of all, I suspect), our Top 20s would be very similar if not entirely identical.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 12:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keith, not sure if you were commenting to me, but I re-checked what I wrote, and I did mean Kyle

Nick, I do see up above you have Pippen in your Tier 4. But, I also remember you placing him #9 before, though could be wrong. Pippen in top 20 all-time is still ridiculous, but your Tier 4 is just slightly more sensible for him now.

Everything pretty much hurts Pippen against all the players contending for all-time great status, except his defense was better than some. Short prime, not that many AS nor 1st all-nba, 1-2 years at most being a legit MVP candidate, never the best forward in the game except possibly 1-2 years over Malone if you squint really hard. And maybe most importantly, only made 2 2nd rounds as 'the guy'. Really, wasn't even 'the guy' anymore in 1995 once Jordan came back. Tough losses in the 2nd round both of those in 1994 and 1995 and almost won in 1994, but still, and he had solid casts. Ewing outplayed him in 1994, and he was only the 3rd best player in the 1995 Orlando series. He's not even close to players like Kobe or James.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 1:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not quite Nick. David said he finds it hard to argue for Kobe over Jordan, and while it seems that he'd take Jordan personally, he wasn't leaving Kobe out of it necessarily. Kobe/Jordan are extremely similar players. There isn't another supposed all-time great similar to Erving, so no real comparison to him was made.

I don't want to get into Erving much here, but 2 ABA titles(even if we say the NBA and ABA were exactly equal-that's still equivalent to naming 2 title teams each year-so not really worth the same plus when there's only 8-10 teams in the league-not the same as today) sandwiched around the biggest choke in NBA history isn't going to get it done. His individual accomplishments pale in comparison to guys like Jordan, Kobe, and James to name a few as well as his team accomplishments. Hard to make a real legit case for him.

Also, no way is West even close to Kobe. Maybe David really does think West is better than Kobe, not sure, but I seriously doubt he is or anyone else for that matter. A small guard who accomplished much less individually and team-wise and couldn't dribble well with his left hand. Not a hard choice to make between those 2.

And get Hakeem out of here.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 2:10:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Working my way backwards -


Your assessment of David's stance is a little off. You say that based on David's article, you believe that he has seven "true" GOAT contenders: Jordan, Erving, Oscar, Kareem, Wilt, Russell, West... Look at that list and answer this for me: why do six of those players have their peak before 1978?

The answer is simple - most basketball fans did not witness the prime of those players. The fact of the matter is that David, and many other basketball fans, cannot truly evaluate Oscar and West in the way that he can Magic and Bird and conclude that Jordan was better. It's very easy to believe that LeBron or Kobe is not a "true" GOAT contender because you've witness their prime first hand. Do you honestly believe that if they played in the 60s, you would easily conclude that they are inferior to Jordan? No. You wouldn't. You have no true way to prove that they are in fact superior or inferior to Oscar/West/Baylor/Doc. It's pure speculation and therefore you cannot as easily dismiss Oscar/West like you can more contemporary players. This is the primary reason that you believe Doc to be better than he actually was.

I will comment more on these individual players in my next responses.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 2:23:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


Pippen is not a top 20 player of all-time in any shape or form. Pippen is not even top 7 in his position. Baylor, Hondo, Barry, Erving, Bird, LeBron, Durant are all superior. Pippen was always underrated due to pundits finding every possible to put Michael on a pedestal, but that does not mean he should be elevated to the platform that you put him on. Perhaps he is one of your favorite players? He's not even a top 5 player of his decade: Jordan, Olajuwon, Malone, Barkley, Robinson. I don't even think Scottie would agree with what you're saying.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 2:59:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

To All (on Kobe vs LeBron):

The LeBron vs Kobe is thing very difficult for me. Kobe, along with Bill Russell, is my favorite player ever. I am also a huge fan of LeBron, but I despise the media circle around him and his passiveness drives me nuts at times. I will say this: I called LeBron a modern day Wilt Chamberlain long before anyone in the media said it. I recall David bringing this up a while back.

Wilt Chamberlain's argument for GOAT has always been simple - he owns the record book. Here's the other thing: there are 4 tangible skills in basketball (scoring, rebounding, playmaking, and defense). IQ, drive-to-win, and sacrifice are the non-tangible ones. Chamberlain is the only guy that you can say is the arguably the greatest scorer ever, arguably the greatest rebounder ever, arguably the greatest defender ever at his peak, and arguably the greatest playmaker from his position. Now personally, I would only rank him first as a rebounder, but at minimum he's second to Jordan in scoring and is top 5 in defense and playmaking from his position.

If you took every guy at his peak and put them in a gym - in terms of talent, there is no right answer, but Chamberlain at the center position. The same is for LeBron for the forwards. He is simply more talented than any other forward ever. The problem is that both of them lacked that overdrive mode that Russell, Bird, Jordan, and Kobe had. If you poured a few ounces of those guys into Wilt and LeBron, there is no question who the two best guys would be. They are freaks of nature and would be the *clear* greatest if they had the will to be. It's part of the reason I love Westbrook so much. If LeBron had Westbrook's mindset, people would have declared LeBron the GOAT several seasons ago. Jordan was being called the greatest player ever before he ever won a ring.

So that's the problem. Russell over Chamberlain has always been easy for me. Their careers overlapped 10 years and Russell won both when his teams were better (probably 60-65) and when his teams were worst and he had nothing left to prove (68-69). Period. Kobe and LeBron aren't a direct overlap. By the time LeBron is done, he will have surpassed Kobe in literally everything other than probably championships. I can't use a direct comparison like Russell vs Chamberlain. However, because LeBron is like Wilt in so many ways, it is so difficult to evaluate for me.

Like I said, Kobe is one of my favorites if it were for my life, I'm taking Kobe all day every day. However, objectively speaking, LeBron has had a better career. Who's the better player if you take away all of the accolades? Kobe is a better "basketball player" in terms of pure skill-set. However, LeBron is a bigger "force". In the late 70s, Jerry West said that he believed Kareem to be a better "player", but refused to say that he was greater than Chamberlain. He called Wilt a "force" - an unstoppable one. I'll do the same. Kobe plays basketball better, but I think LeBron dominates it more. If Kobe had Jordan's number or accolades, it would be a little easier to distinguish the two... but then again Kobe would be Jordan.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 3:23:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Any comparison of players across eras is ultimately speculation, including your own. That said, I dispute your contention that anyone who was not actively watching those players in 1960 or whatever cannot intelligently evaluate them. For most of them, there's a lot of game tape available if you're willing to look for it, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of pages of coverage, interviews, etc. It is possible if not easy to form an intelligent, well-researched conclusion about most of those players, although I admit I am on shakier ground with someone like Bob Pettit, whom I have seen considerably less of and who has been revisited less frequently and less comprehensively by NBA historians/documentarians/etc., but we do the best with what we've got. These sorts of ambiguities are a large part of why I prefer a tiered ranking system as opposed to straight numerical ordering.

Given that I concluded that Oscar, West, and all but four other players who peaked before 1978 were not as good as Jordan, I suspect I would also conclude the same about Kobe or Lebron, though of course it is impossible to precisely predict what their impact would be in that era.

I likewise disagree that Pippen is not better than Durant, although there is still much of Durant's career yet to be played and I may eventually change my tune on that depending on how it goes. I would for now point out that the Bulls never got out of the first round without Pippen but the Warriors had already won a title and set the regular season win record before Durant came to town; it is my feeling that any of the forwards we're discussing, as well probably a half-dozen others (Paul Pierce, Bernard King, etc.) could probably win a title with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala beside them, so for me that title is "worth" less than, say, Pippen's or especially Hakeem's, Barry's, or (ABA) Doc's.

I have Pippen roughly equal with Hondo, Barry, and Bird in Tier 4 so I would not meaningfully disagree with someone who felt they were better than he is, but I do not think it is as cut-and-dried as you seem to. I agree that he was not as good as Doc or Lebron.

Baylor is an odder case, and his peak is as high as just about anyone's (at least statistically), but given that he did not win a title and that he had a relatively short career and prime (playing 332 fewer regular season games and 74 fewer playoff games than Pippen) and was an unremarkable defender, I would take Pippen's career over his, even if I might prefer Baylor for a single game or series (assuming a competent defensive supporting cast). There is a fair case to be made that Baylor on his best day was better than Pippen on his, but I don't think he was better enough often enough to make up the 400 game difference.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 3:30:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


For the record, Pippen is not one of my favorite players. I like his game and enjoyed watching him but he would not make my top 10 "favorites," a list characterized mostly by Phoenix Suns and ABA guys.

As a Suns fan, Duncan is one of my most hated players ever, behind only his own teammates Bowen, Ginobili, and Parker, but I can still admit that he is one of the greatest players ever.

Regarding your final comment about Pippen, he has recently both said that he thinks he is better than Lebron and that Lebron is better than Jordan, so I would be surprised if he felt he was not a Top 5 player of the 1990s. I have a lower opinion of Pippen than Pippen does, but I would take him over Malone (ritualistically choked in big game situations), Barkley (didn't play defense much, rarely in peak shape), or Robinson (short career, shorter peak, demolished by his rivals in the playoffs). I would not take him over Olajuwon or Jordan.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 3:41:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


Thanks for your kind words. I may sound harsh in my critiques of Nick's perspective and maybe it's my stuck-in-my-ways or old-man-screaming-at-the-clouds attitude sometimes. However, I'll give you an analogy... If someone asked you who is the greatest president of all-time, what would your response be? Most people are going to start with the guys on Mount Rushmore. Objectively speaking, those guys have the best case. Now let's someone made a claim that William McKinley (the 25th president) deserves to be mentioned with someone like Thomas Jefferson. Anyone who knows a fourth of their US History would respond, Why? This is where I am. Some of these guys are simply the beneficiaries of revisionist history.

* I thought that I made effort to say that age is not the ultimate end-all-be-all when it comes to talking about history. After all, can't we all talk about the dinosaurs? I don't want to use my age as a reason to have a better expertise over anyone. I know some really, really old dumb folks and some extremely intelligent young people whom I defer to on some subjects. However, there is a such thing as an "educated fool". An educated fool is an individual that can't always see the forest for the trees. It is possible to be so well versed in something that you are too deep into the details. Sometimes things don't matter as much as you think that they do, or things matter far more than you realize because you didn't experience them first hand. That matter of perspective is important in evaluating anything in life.

"But, if we're purely evaluating based on skillsets, talent, and the ability to win games -- Nick is right to have Magic and Pippen in the same tier (imo)" ... this is not true... at all. I mentioned the All NBA First Teams vs All Star Selections. What this means is that for 9 years, Magic was accepted as a top two guard in the league. During the same span, he was voted Top 3 in MVP voting every single year. What this tells you (regardless if you seen him play or not) is that he was in the running for best player in the league for 9 straight years at minimum.

On the contrary, Pippen finished higher than 7th in MVP voting only two times. He made 7 All-Star teams (should have been 9) and was selected to an All-NBA first, second, or third team only a total of 8 times. I can make a strong case that Magic was a top 3 player longer than Scottie was even a top 10 player. I do not want to make this a Scottie bashing thing because trust me it isn't. I always loved watching Scottie play. However, it is a total lack of respect and pure ignorance to compare Pippen to Magic. It's not close in the slightest. Their skillsets aren't close, their talents aren't close, and nor are their accomplishments. They are several tiers apart... several. I can't believe I've wasted this much time even addressing a comparison between the two.

* Wilt would do fine in today's game. Trust me.

* Maybe asinine was the wrong word, but the one I should've used isn't far from it. I can make a "logical" argument for a lot of things - it does not mean that it makes any sort of sense. It's possible to use the wrong logic when evaluating something. I worked/work in software for living by the way and can talk a ton about maths, logics, etc..

At Friday, May 18, 2018 4:39:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


We agree on Pippen.

Kobe is my favorite player ever, but Jordan was better (even if only slightly). I do not believe the gap between the two to be huge at all, but the divide is clear. One cannot make a credible argument for Kobe over Jordan. Kobe was slightly more skilled with the ball in his hands, but Jordan had more gifts and had the better career. I do believe that Kobe could have achieved more individually if he were given his own team from day one.

Nick and David are higher on Doc than I am. Based on David's past comments I think he believes that Doc might have been better than Bird. I disagree with that assessment, but that's maybe because Bird was my favorite player of the 80s. The thing about underrated players like Erving is that where do you draw the line? Players that are underrated by casual observers and the media tend to get overrated by more informed and hardcore fans and analysts. I am not insisting that Erving is in anyways overrated (other than by Nick), but I do not believe him to be better than Kobe or LeBron. Make no mistake about it, from 1973-1976, Erving was the 2nd best player in the world behind Kareem regardless of what league he was in. One could make the argument that he was better during a year or two like 1976. From 1977-1983, he was no worst than the 4th best player with the only debatable better players in different years being Walton, Moses, Bird, and Magic.

I do not dismiss his ABA accomplishments, but just like myself in the 70s, I struggle to weigh them. There can't be two champions in the 80s, 90s, and 00s so I'm not sure if he deserves "full credit", but the NBA champions don't deserve "full credit" either for that matter. The 70s were really weird man. It really was the dark ages of the league, but there were some great players and Doc was the best of them. There were so many people who did not consider any perimeter player better than Oscar during those days.

In 1980, when the 35th anniversary team was selected, Doc was pretty much 30 at that point. His best days were behind him and he wasn't getting much GOAT talk (this was before Bird and Magic). Coming into the 2000s I had the same top 10 as David and Doc hovered around the bottom with Baylor and West in some order. I think David's ultimate goal was to help people acknowledge an unappreciated treasure like Doc, not to make anyone believe that he was straight up better than everyone else - because he wasn't.

As for West, I wouldn't dismiss him so easily, but he wasn't better than Kobe. For that matter, there are many old heads that will tell you that Baylor was the better Lakers player. I do not recall seeing Baylor as his peak a ton. I was a little guy at that time. I think West is held in a higher regard because he won on the 72 championship team. Durant and Westbrook reminded me of the Baylor/West combo actually. As for your point, no, West was not a better player than Bryant. Size and athleticism is the primary reason why though. West was one of the most skilled players ever.

I agree, Olajuwon is extremely overrated by people today, but I won't dive into that now.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 5:05:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


First of all, Thomas Jefferson was an absolutely abhorrent monster of a human being, but this is probably not the place to discuss that.

Second, if you go purely by All-Star and All-NBA selections, you are already "not seeing the forest for the trees." Both All-Star and All-NBA trend towards more offensively dynamic players. Pippen is obviously not as good of an offensive player as Magic and nobody has suggested he is.

It is disingenuous, however, to list those as "proof" while leaving out that Pippen made 10 All-Defensive Teams (including 8 All-First Teams) while Magic made zero.

Furthermore, I reject the idea that they can be used as "proof" by themselves, anyhow. If we go purely by All-NBA and All-Star Teams, then Karl Malone is better than Magic, Jordan, Bird, or basically anyone but Kobe, Lebron, Duncan, and Kareem.

All-NBA and All-Star Teams are selected by voters, and are therefore subject to human error. They are also regular season awards, and don't take into account things like, say, Pippen and Jordan completely short-circuiting LA's offense in the 1991 Finals (a series in which Pippen outscored, outshot, and outrebounded Magic despite not making your vaunted All-Star or All-NBA teams that year).


At Friday, May 18, 2018 5:05:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"However, it is a total lack of respect and pure ignorance to compare Pippen to Magic. It's not close in the slightest. Their skillsets aren't close, their talents aren't close, and nor are their accomplishments."

Pippen played longer than Magic, won more than Magic, and did more things well than Magic. Magic was a superior passer (though Pippen was very good), a slightly better rebounder, and a better scorer by a fair but not overwhelming margin. It is worth noting, though, that Magic's per-game statistics are somewhat artificially inflated relative to almost any other great player as he tragically did not play the downslope of his career; had he played into his twilight, putting up more numbers like his brief 1996 comeback, his career rebounding and scoring per-game numbers would be much closer to Scottie's.

It is worth noting that Scottie's non-Michael numbers during his prime are competitive with any Magic season; Scottie's ultimate lack of All-Star and All-NBA nods is, as you yourself alluded to, likely more a function of the media's deification of MJ than it is a referendum on his skills or lack thereof.

Futhermore, it is important to remember when evaluating Magic just how much top-tier help he had. Kareem was a 6x MVP and 2x Finals MVP and perhaps the deadliest half-court weapon in basketball history, with or without Magic. In the early 80s, he was also an elite rim protector, though that faded as he aged. Michael Cooper was perhaps the best defensive guard of the 1980s, a Defensive Player of the Year, and an extremely overqualified sixth man who put up better passing number than some starting PGs; he would have been the second, third, or fourth best guy on every Pippen team and yet he couldn't even start for Magic's Lakers. Bob McAdoo was a former MVP. Jamaal Wilkes and James Worthy were All-Star caliber forwards. AC Green an All-Defensive forward. Norm Nixon a multiple time All-Star and capable scorer in his own right. Byron Scotty, Kurt Rambis, Vlade Divac, and Mychal Thompson were all strong role players.

Scottie obviously had some help too (MJ) but his teams were never as 1-7 deep and talented as Magic's, particularly in the paint, yet he ended up with 6 rings.

Ultimately, you think I'm an "asinine educated fool" because you do not believe that individual defense is an especially significant component in evaluating these players, and/or because you are indifferent to the context of who they played with. That's fine, but you've provided no evidence to support that point of view, and treated opposing views with contempt, derision, and a whole lot of condescension instead of making a meaningful counter argument beyond just shouting that "it isn't close" and citing regular season awards that are little more than media-voted popularity contests.

So far, your argument have mostly consisted of appeals to authority (a logical fallacy), and ad hominem attacks against your interlocutors (also a logical fallacy, and not especially classy besides). Old man screams at clouds, indeed.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 5:11:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I'm making my way up and want to address your earlier points. However, I don't want to get lost in sauce to I'll address your last two posts first.

I think that you misunderstood me. I am not saying that if you didn't watch the 60s players live, you can't intelligently evaluate them. I am more so getting at it's easier to dismiss guys like Kobe/LeBron than it is Oscar/West because you know first hand all of their downfalls. Oscar and the Royals missed the playoffs for 3 straight years from 1968-1970. LeBron has yet to miss the 2nd round in 13 straight years. Oscar nor West ever won a ring as the clear best player or without a player that is arguably the GOAT. It's easier to overlook stuff like that. David, as unbiased as he is, simply can't dismiss what he did not see and I respect that. I guarantee you that if Oscar and West had their exact careers during or after Jordan's, he and many other credible analysts would not be so reluctant to rank them under Jordan like they do Kobe and LeBron. It's a matter of benefit of the doubt and respect for the past greats.

* Your points on Durant are valid and I've never been incredibly high on him, but he's better than Pippen.

* As for Baylor, here's the thing: before all this data analysis and especially before Nike's massive campaign for Jordan - we didn't count championships like we do today. Baylor never won a championship and that was always held against him, but not as much as the fact that we never saw him continue his great play after he blew his knee out. For those that know a lot about 60s basketball, Russell Celtics won A LOT of their championships in very close series. Baylor was on 3 different Lakers teams that lost in 7 games to Russell's Celtics (1962, 1966, 1969) and 2 more that lost in 6 (1963, 1968). Sure he never won, but only a focused Chamberlain ever did. I can't hold that against Baylor when the same would have happened to almost any other player. Losing like that to Russell's Celtics so many times surely averaging 30+ points at times is still better most players ever. You have to understand that. It's not always about finishing first. It matters even more sometimes who you finish 2nd to.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 5:22:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


Good point about the Westbrook thing. When I say everyone, I generally mean the credible NBA people - not the ESPN buffoons looking for the next hot take or the widely misinformed casual fan with an agenda or the stat nerd that opened Microsoft Excel and thinks he's an expert on a game he's probably never played competitively in even a local YMCA. Durant over Westbrook is valid though and I might agree.

Who is better in a given year is different from comparing players all-time. Oscar was regarded as the best perimeter player by most players, coaches, management, fans, and analysts. He was viewed in the way that Jordan is today, minus the championships. If Doc was that great, he would have challenged that belief on a wider scale. Kareem challenged Russell's and Wilt's places in history enough during the same time period so I have no reason to believe that Doc was better than Oscar especially because I seen both (even though I do not recall seeing Oscar at his very very best a lot in the early 60s).

At Friday, May 18, 2018 6:06:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


This is for your earlier posts on the 16th.

* The four greatest scorers are Wilt, Kareem, Jordan, and Kobe in some order. Doc is not in that class. You can argue him in the next tier, but he's not at the top of the list. He did not score as much as Jordan and Kobe for as long because he was not that caliber of a scorer.

* Doc was an above average defender, but he was not all-time great. He was never a consistent lockdown defender. Not even close. Explain to me why he only made one All-Defensive team in his entire career? Even Bird, who is claimed to have never been a good defender, made 2nd team 3 times. Stop overrating his defense. Why can't he just have been a good defender and you leave it at that? His defensive impact is not close to that of a Jordan or Bryant.

* Wilt was just better than Duncan. No one ever watched Tim Duncan and said wow this guy might be the best player ever. Rule #1 about ranking players: if you have to wait until his career is basically over to evaluate how good he is amongst comparable players, then he probably wasn't as good. If Tim Duncan was better than Wilt Chamberlain then he would have been considered arguably the best big men ever in 2002 and 2003, his peak. However, that is so far from the truth. No one believed that. There are people still to this day, stupid as it may be, that believe that Garnett was as good as Duncan. I never bought into that nonsense, but if Duncan was that good, it would have been more obvious.

I brought up Wilt's stats to paint a bigger picture. Duncan couldn't dream of being the scorer that he was. Duncan never led the league in rebounds once. Chamberlain was the rebounding leader in 11 of his 14 years. 1 year he was injured and the other two, Russell, whom was also a far better rebounder than Duncan, led the league. It doesn't matter how many rebounds were available back then, Wilt was more often than not, the best. Wilt's career average in assists (4.4) is greater than any of Duncan's single seasons. Might I remind you that it was more difficult to get assists in the old days because players could not move their feet after a pass if the assists were to be counted for a made basket. Had assists been counted back then like they are today, Wilt's edge would be even higher. Don't get me started on steals or blocks! I strongly advise you to research 70s Wilt as much as possible - heck even late 60s Wilt on the Sixers. Duncan never even won Defensive Player of the Year (which is a travesty, but it tells you that he wasn't super super dominant defensively like Wilt). Russell himself said that Wilt was probably a better defender on the Lakers than he ever was (primarily because of his massive stature).

Drop Duncan in the 60s and he's just better than Pettit or something because he wasn't coming out with 5 rings to enhance his legacy. Wilt was probably better in every facet of the game other than knowing how to buy into a system to win more. Duncan played longer because the Spurs allowed him to age gracefully. Duncan won more because he didn't go up against the greatest winner of all-time - not because he was a better player. Context matters my friend.

The fact of the matter is that is it's not close... at all.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 6:40:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


* Don't take my word for it, but Oscar was better. West was elevated because the Lakers won on that great '72 team and because Oscar fell off before he did. Oscar was not widely liked, but was respected. Almost no one disliked Jerry West.

* "If you read the coverage from the late 70s/early 80s there were plenty of people who thought Erving was the best forward ever". Yes, that's true, but moreso in the late 70s. His only competition was Baylor, Hondo, and Barry though. You can still argue Doc over those guys, but this doesn't that say he was better than the other Pantheon members because Baylor is generally at the bottom of the pile anyway. "and some who felt he was the best player ever."... It's very easy to call a player the greatest while at his peak. Bird was considered the GOAT in the 80s, but as soon as he fell off, that talk went away. LeBron is getting all of this Jordan talk now, but watch it die down if LeBron disappears. People thought Shaq was better than Russell/Wilt/Kareem, but you saw how quick that went away. Heck, for as much as Kobe was hated in the mid-2000s, some at ESPN were claiming Kobe better than Jordan during that 2006 season. It happens man. It's called hype.

* Doc's prime was before Jordan was even drafted. If a player today averaged 23 points per game from ages 26-32 while winning one championship as the 2nd best player, regardless of what his situation is, no one, including David, is considering him better than Jordan. Like I said, it's far easier to evaluate post-Jordan players because we see them more often and there is a larger crowd of "experts" to offer their critiques of said players. Doc being even being considered Jordan's equal by anyone is due to the benefit of the doubt and/or clear bias. A "credible case" doesn't mean it's good or even close to the best argument. If Doc had his exact same career after Jordan, he would fall right in line with the other "post-ESPN" Pantheon members: great, but not great enough.

* Olajuwon is extremely overrated by today's fans. He's not a Pantheon member. He was not the player that he is perceived to be for his whole career.

* "You keep blasting the fact that I disagree with the conventional wisdom; I see it as a feature, not a bug. As discussed before, the conventional wisdom is often later proven wrong."... See my comment to Jordan where I referenced an "educated fool". I do not want to insult you by calling you a fool and I am merely using the term. My thoughts are not just conventional wisdom. Most of it is what I seen with my own eyes and lived through. I am far from being right about everything. However, your rankings play heavily into revisionist history. You speculate too much, ignore the obvious trying to find the hidden gem that doesn't exist, and only give the benefit of the doubt where you seem fit instead of, in my opinion, being unbiased. The devil isn't always in the details. I don't want to sound like I'm trying to talk down on you or something, because I'm not. I'm not saying that I don't respect your opinion. I am just strongly suggesting that either you are misinformed or did too much research without fully accepting context.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 8:35:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

@Kyle (with an apology to Keith),

I find the Pippen / Magic debate quite intriguing actually, as both had shorter peaks and both were considered the best at what they did best during their respective peaks.

All-star selections and All-NBA team selections, while telling, can be somewhat misleading – especially back in the pre-internet days. Now, voters of such things, have as much visual (video) evidence as humanly possible at their disposal. They also have advanced stats, assistant coaches whose job is to solely vet the opposing team’s players and strategies, and an inundation of writers/bloggers/vloggers/talking heads that provide opinions from the asinine to the eloquently thought out.

Historically, coaches and fans are the ones that vote for all NBA teams and all-star teams respectively. Even 15 years ago, coaches based their evaluations of their selections based on at most 4 games per season, but had not a lot of practical ways of evaluating each player over the course of an entire season. Certainly nothing like today. Which means when there is a lack of transparent information available, group think settles in. The media narratives take hold. And Magic was THE NBA story during the 80s.

Fans…are fans, and the NBA recently moved away from a pure fan vote (and jimmy-rigged the system back in Yao Ming’s heyday) to ensure that players actually deserving of an all-star selection, are, you know, selected.

So, using that as proof as to why Magic is clearly better than Pippen, just doesn’t do it for me. I agree that offense is more valuable than defense – but not THAT much. Magic was clearly the better offensive player. Stats, the eye test, the team’s offensive success, and even Nick all agree on that point. Magic was the offensive fulcrum for a Lakers offense that finished first in offensive rating from 1984 until 1990 (the Celtics eked out one first place finish in 87, the Lakers were a close second).

But, Pippen’s Bulls had at least as many years as the league’s best defense. And, if you start to break down the fact Pippen had Jordan (5-time MVP) and Rodman/Grant, then you’ll have to do the same for Magic who had Kareem (6-time MVP), Worthy, etc.


At Friday, May 18, 2018 8:36:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Awards also have a bit of bias built into them. I believe Kobe Bryant (also my all time favorite player), deserved most of his all-NBA defensive team selections, but the last couple at the end? He really had no business in the conversation. Even if we’re strictly talking about the ability to dial it up in a game or in critical moments (instead of focusing on game-in game-out performance across an entire season), Kobe still didn’t deserve it over other guards that were clearly better defenders.

So, when you cite their MVP finishes and all-star selections, there’s context that needs to be talked about.

That said, I’ll bite. If we are talking about awards, Pippen finished 7th, 3rd, 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 9th, and 7th in the defensive player of the year award. Of course, Magic never came anywhere near the top 10 in that. Pippen also had 8 all-first team defensive selections and a pair of second teams. Magic had zero. So, if you combine Pippen’s defensive accolades plus his offensive ones, the awards argument doesn’t look as good for Magic when strictly considering skillsets and holistic impact.

I think greatness and effectiveness often get conflated when we discuss Pantheon level players. But they aren’t the same thing. Pippen can’t hold a candle to Magic’s greatness. Like I wrote above, Magic transcended the sport and truly defined an era. No way Pippen compares to that. But, again, drilling down to effectiveness, Pippen was second to none when it came to defensive impact during his prime while also maintaining top 20 offensive ability. Magic can only claim being a top 2 (depends on which year) offensive player.

I think there is a debate to be had. One that shouldn’t be dismissed outright. Or, perhaps we should define the terms of engagement. Perhaps greatness should be included in any Pantheon level discussion. If so, then, I do agree with you. Magic > Pippen.

At Friday, May 18, 2018 9:12:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...


Regarding wilt, yes, on the basketball court he would dominate in any era. No question. Absolutely no question from an athletic ability standpoint. That wasn’t my point. I’m talking about how his off court antics and personality would be digested and critiqued by...everyone. This is a man who claimed to have bedded 20,000 women. How’d that fly in the #metoo era? What sort of backlash would that braggadocio bring upon him? Look what that sort of backlash did to Dwight Howard. It altered his entire career trajectory and perception. Not comparing them as athletes AT ALL. Just using him as an example. Howard has already accomplished enough to be in the HOF. But few view him that way. You talk about the difference between wilt’s mentality and Jorda/Kobe. How much easier is it to get distracted in the Tinder/YouTube/Instagram era? Temptation exists in any era, but today it is literally instantaneous. It’s stuff like this that makes cross generational comparisons so fun, but ultimately futile

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 12:18:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Am I being trolled?

Magic did not have a "short peak". 1987, the year most considered to be Magic's peak, he was the single best player in the world. For literally the next 4 years, he was at minimum, the league's 2nd best player behind Jordan. For literally 3 years prior to his peak, he was also at minimum the league's 2nd best player behind Bird. None of that is debatable.

All-NBA and All-Star selections aren't perfect, fine. Which MVP vote or All-NBA selection did Magic Johnson not deserve? Magic was THE story of the 80s because he was THE best player along with Bird. What's the point here?

I suppose that because Kawhi Leonard is an all-time great defensive player, has 2 DPOY's, a championship, FMVP, and is above average offensively, his skill-set is comparable to Magic's too? Or how about Kevin Garnett for that matter? He's tied for 2nd All-Defensive selections, is 20th in all-time points, was a better rebounder, and was a very good playmaker from the power forward position. Surely his "all-around" skill-set is quite possibly comparable to Magic's?

What is this crazy talk? At some point, a guy is just better. These two are worlds apart as players. Comparing players is not just about breaking down individual portions of skill-sets. It never was and never will be. Magic was so special that I would not be upset with someone taking a rookie Magic over peak Pippen. However you want to define "greatness", Magic has Scottie beat in virtually every category.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 12:34:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Wilt was a superstar in his own era. Everyone knew who he was. He was by far the most famous player in league history before Magic. He was larger than life and loved being the biggest guy in the room. Dwight is not a good comparison. He fell off because he never got better as a player. Rookie Wilt was better than Dwight ever was. Wilt's mentality stopped him from beating Russell, not being a dominant force on the court vs everyone else. He would love the attention from the media today, but that wouldn't stop him from being the best player. He wasn't some big goof ball like Shaq or Dwight. Wilt was probably the most conditioned athlete in any sport ever. He took his talents very seriously and Twitter isn't changing that. The only difference between 2000s Wilt and 1960s Wilt is:

1.) More people to marvel at the wonder that he was

2.) Even better conditioning due to sports health advancements

3.) Maybe another ring or two without Russell in his way

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 3:50:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Nick, how do you address the point that no player who has played against both has ever said they would take Scottie over Magic? In fact they would laugh you out of the room. Don’t you think this is a glaring point?

Bill Russell for example was very well respected. I haven’t heard any player who played against Russell scoff at the idea of him being the GOAT even if they personally felt Wilt was better.

The respect of your peers is a very important part of all time rankings and I think Scottie struggles here. I agree he should be ranked very highly, but putting him next to Magic is flying too close to the sun in my mind.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 3:53:00 AM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

I should add, I don’t think anyone who has been reading your comments for a while thinks you are a fool or an idiot. I’m not getting that impression from Kyle’s writing but maybe I’m being too kind to Kyle. I enjoy your perspective even why I disagree.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Lots to respond to here. I will try to respond to everything, but if I miss something I apologize.


I have not spoken with every player who played them both so i don't know what they would say, but I imagine most of them would tell you that they'd rather play with Magic, and they'd rather play against Magic. Magic made the game easier for his teammates and being guarded by Scottie was no fun.

I would hesitate before putting too much stock in "respect of their peers." Carmelo Anthony and James Harden are two players who seem much more respected by their peers--who see (or until recently saw) them as tippy-top guys-- while many if not most intelligent commentators see them as overrated one-way stars with gimmicky games.

I think (some) players are just as susceptible as anyone else to overvaluing offense and/or narrative. Especially offense; look how many of them never bother learning to play defense (and, incidentally, never win anything, either).

I would also like to clarify here that my contention is not that Scottie is better, only that they are comparable.

Re: Kyle "Somebody has to finish second"

This is probably the best point you've made, and I think it plays into almost everything we're arguing about on one side or the other.

Re: Kyle on Magic/Pippen

My point with the All-NBA/MVP citations was less that Magic got a bunch he didn't deserve and more that they underrate Pippen.

I suspect if you put peak Pippen on a stacked, contending team from 1987-1990, he might get at least one himself; Bird was on the downslope, and Jordan and Hakeem were stuck with minimal support and their teams were not yet Finals caliber. Meanwhile, Pippen's apex overlapped with the peaks of both Jordan (obviously) and Hakeem.

Putting aside popular perception, personality, and reputation, which do not interest me in these debates, it comes down to roughly this:

Ultimately, Magic is the clear winner in passing talent (though Scottie is a very strong passer in his own right), a mild winner in scoring talent, and the owner of (slightly) more individual accolades*. He also had the benefit of playing alongside many more great players than Pippen did, which I think is important context when comparing their accomplishments. On the flip side, to your "who finished second" point, I would also say that Magic's titles--or at least his first 3 or 4--came against tougher competition than Pippen's did.

*Though as you yourself point out, Pippen probably deserved more All-NBA/All-Star love than he got as well as at least one DPOY.

Pippen is likewise the clear winner in titles, longevity, and defense--the latter is the only category in which it is a total blowout, with Scottie one of the best two or three defenders to ever play his position, and Magic a largely unremarkable one. Scottie also pretty clearly outperformed Magic (and took Magic out of his game) in their one high-stakes head to head meeting.

Put even more simply, I think Pippen is an A+ defender and an A- offensive player, while I think Magic is an A+ offensive player and a C or C+ defensive player.

For me, I value defense enough and awards sufficiently little to see those two resumes as ultimately comparable. You do not. Fair enough, but I think my case is at least well-reasoned and supported enough to rise beyond the complete incredulity you're treating it with; if we allow the premise that defense is even 80% as important as offense, Pippen's gap there is so much larger than Magic's advantage on offense that I just cant' see the argument as a curb-stomp in Magic's favor the way you do.

Re: Kawhi Leonard point

This is a bit of a straw man; he has neither the longevity, versatility, or sustained record of success Pippen does. If he plays another nine years and racks up five more titles, then it's probably a fairer question.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 10:42:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Re: Baylor

I agree that he was losing to extremely talented teams and that context matters.

However, when talking about the very tippy top cream of the crop players, I think it is fair to expect them to at least once reach the pinnacle of their sport, regardless of context. Maybe that is unfair and I admit that it is the element of my evaluation I am most circumspect about (Baylor is the best player it hurt, but it also does no favors for John Stockton, Steve Nash, and many other players I think were pretty damn good).

Still, between that, a relatively short career/prime, and a largely one-way game, I just can't take Baylor any higher than Tier 4. It is not merely about who was the best at their best (a metric by which Baylor finishes considerably higher) but who was great for the longest. Bill Walton is another all-time great who is hurt (even more than Baylor) by his weaker longevity; I might take the eighteen months of healthy Bill Walton in '77 and '78 over just about any other player's best 18 month stretch, but there are dozens of guys whom I'd ultimately rank ahead of Walton. I feel similarly, if less extremely, about Baylor.

As I mentioned before, I'll take the extra 400 games and more well-rounded game of Scottie over Baylor's (considerably) higher scoring/rebounding ceiling.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 11:10:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Re: Doc's scoring

Kyle, you seem to be discounting Doc's first five years. If we do that, I agree that he is not a GOAT contender (though I would probably still have him in Tier 4 or so). However, as David is fond of pointing out, no player emerges looking great from having their first five years taken away.

Regarding your comments about Doc as a scorer not being in Kobe or Jordan's league:

First of all, Kobe scored less than a point more per game for his career than Doc and shot 5% worse. Kobe also played much of his career in an era where scoring was much easier, especially post-hand check rule (David and I have previously speculated that Young!Doc may have been capable of averaging 40 or so for a season under the modern ruleset).

Second, context is once again extremely important here. For the last 11 years of his career, Doc was paired with other high-tier scorers, ranging from the monstrous (Moses) to the merely very good (McInnis, Collins, Toney, Barkley, Free). As David has mentioned here before, Doc was explicitly told to shoot for averaging 20 rather than 30 during his early years in Philly, and when that dictum was removed his scoring jumped from 20ppg in '78 to about 26.9 in '80. His scoring again (understandably) dipped again when his team added Moses.

As such, you cannot simply look at raw numbers when looking at Doc's scoring output (although his raw numbers are still top 5). When called to, Doc could score as much as his team needed at a high clip. He could also put up top shelf scoring numbers while contending for a title; he won the '76 ABA scoring title and championship in the same season averaging 29.3 PPG, which is higher than any of Kobe's title years and one of Jordan's.

Nobody could guard him in his prime, including the two best defensive players of the era, Bobby Jones (who gave up 37.7 ppg to him in the '76 Finals) or Michael Cooper (who gave up 23.7 PPG on 52% shooting across 3 Finals). He also put up 28.2 on Willie Wise in the 1974 Finals; Wise was probably the 2nd or 3rd best defensive forward of the 70s behind Jones and maybe Havlicek. He put up 30.3 on 54% shooting against an excellent Portland defense in '77 as well.

I would take him as a scorer over Kobe as he was more efficient generally and more reliable in the Finals. Erving shot over 50% in 5/6 Finals appearances, shooting .469 in the other (still elite). Kobe shot .367, .415, .514, .381, .405, .430, and .405 in his Finals appearances. In addition to shooting more efficiently, Erving also averaged more points in the Finals even before counting his ABA numbers (which make it much more one-sided).

Doc also has three scoring titles to Kobe's two, though unlike Kobe, Doc was able to lead his league in scoring and contend for (and win) a title at the same time; Kobe's highest average in a title season is 28.5 PPG; Doc's is a full point higher at 29.4 (and 4% higher shooting, to boot).

I reject the idea that Doc was not as good a scorer as Kobe; in fact, I'd contend he was a better one.

He and Jordan were comparable scorers, but Jordan's teams called for him to score more.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Re: Doc's Everything Else But Defense

I think that Doc's performance in the '76 Finals trumps anything anybody else has done anywhere: 37.7 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 spg and 2.2 bpg against a team with three Hall of Famers (including killer defensive forward Bobby Jones on Erving) and an HoF coach (and 7 total multi-time All-Stars). A team so good it was literally the All-Star team that year. I can't find Erving's specific FG% for that series but he shot .533 for those playoffs so let's assume it was roughly around there. David, if you happen to have that number handy, please share; I'd be super curious.

Show me a higher peak performance at a better time than that one. There isn't one. None of Jordan's Finals performances top it, or even come especially close. In 6 Finals appearances he never topped those rebounding, steals, or blocks numbers. He once scored higher (though on a slightly lower percentage) and twice beat the assists. He sometimes had less than half the blocks and/or rebounds.

Wilt, Russell, Duncan, you name it: nobody else has put together as top-to-bottom dominant of a Finals as Erving did that year.

His "finished second" test plays out pretty well too. He lost to an apex Walton and deep Blazers team and two apex Kareem teams; basically he lost against teams that had the league's best center when he didn't, plus deep supporting casts including All-NBA guys like Magic and Maurice Lucas as well of loads of All-Defensive talents like Lionel Hollins, Jamaal Wilkes, Michael Cooper, and Bob Gross.

The teams he beat included the aforementioned star-studded Nuggets and a Magic/Kareem team with both guys near or at their apex.

So, given stakes, competition, and performance, I think it's safe to say that Erving has the highest proven ceiling of any player. Couple that with the fact that he was an elite player for a very long time (still an All-Star in his 16th season) and a basically annual threat to make the Finals during his prime (with 6 Finals appearances in 10 years), it's clear his longevity is strong too.

Factor in as well that Erving led three completely different supporting casts to the Finals (winning with two of them), a feat which puts him in rare company; I believe Shaq is the only other player to do so, and it is clear that he did not merely benefit from a great system or perfect set of teammates; Erving was a threat no matter his support.

He has excellent Finals numbers, great regular season numbers, a five-tool skillset (and was even the first player to record a Five-by-Five), annual contention, plenty of individual plaudits, and upper-if-not-top tier longevity...

At that point, what is missing from his GOAT case?

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

Re: Erving's Defense

Doc was a very good individual and help defender. MJ was a little better at both of those things, IMO, but Doc could guard more positions and most crucially, he could protect the rim (something no other perimeter player could really do). Despite playing for several different teams, his squads were always elite defensively during his prime.

His Nets teams finished 1st, 2nd, and 1st in defense. His 76ers teams were 4th, 8th, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 7th, 5th, and 4th through 1984. That's despite several years in there of playing alongside a steady dose of Daryl Dawkins and a season or two with George McInnis and World B Free (not exactly defensive world-beaters). Their worst defensive rating in the first 13 years of his career was 104.6 (good for fourth in the league that season) which is better than two of Jordan's title teams (and only 0.1 behind a third).

Doc's ability to guard any opposing forward or guard was extremely valuable, especially before Cheeks and Jones showed up. His ability to defend the rim helped compensate for his team's lack of an elite paint presence for most of his career. He led his team in shotblocking six teams and was second another six; the ABA did not record blocks in '72 but is safe to assume he was top 2 that year as well.

He blocked more career shots than Pau Gasol, Moses Malone, Kevin McHale, Elvin Hayes, or Tyson Chandler. Of the 22 players in basketball history who blocked more shots than he did, the smallest of them is 6'9 Ben Wallace. By blocks per game, Erving is "only" 42nd all time, though again everyone ahead of him is at least 6'9 (and he is likely hurt in both categories by the absence of recording in '72, when he was athletically beyond compare).

His career high of 2.4 BPG would have been second in the league this season. His career average of 1.7 would have been 6th.

I should not have to explain the tremendous additional value shotblocking--and moreso, the threat of shotblocking--adds to a defense. Given that, in addition to his very high tier individual and help defense, I think it's fair to classify Erving as one of the best defensive wings of all time, given that basically no other win provided that kind of rim protection.

As for why he didn't make more All-D teams? Same reason Larry Bird did make them: voters are wrong sometimes. It also didn't help that his prime largely overlapped with the primes of Bobby Jones and Dan Roundfield, among others.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Re: Duncan and Wilt

I am not really interested in arguing that Duncan was better than Wilt as I think both are GOAT candidates (though I think Wilt's case does have question marks that need to be addressed). Here is why I personally would take Duncan by a hair but I don't fault anyone who'd take Wilt and can certainly see the case.

I am not sure I agree that Wilt was such a better defender than Duncan. Wilt captained the league's best defense exactly once in his career (1978) though he also had a few 2nds and 3rd (though it is worth remembering the league was much smaller then). Duncan, meanwhile, captained the league's best defense 6 times, and was in the top 3 in another 9 seasons.

I would argue it was probably tougher to be a Top 3 defensive team in a 30 team league than an 8 team one, but I would also note that Duncan would probably have fewer #1 finishes in a league with Bill Russell in it for nine years.

Both had plenty of defensive help, though of course Duncan also had Tony Parker, a glorified matador, as his point guard for most of his run.

Additionally, Duncan cared about defense for his entire 19 year career, whereas Wilt came to emphasize it more about halfway through his (though he was never bad).

The All-Defensive Team existed for only five years of Wilt's career (though they were five of the years he was focused more on defense and less on scoring) but he made it only two of those years. Tim Duncan made 15 (which is one more year than Wilt even played, so even if he had made it all nine of the years before it officially existed, he would still be 4 behind Duncan). As I alluded to in Doc's section, All-Defensive Teams are not the be-all, end-all, but that does not mean they don't bear mentioning. I do think if someone is getting "best defender of all time" hype they should probably be making them pretty much non-stop, however.

You mentioned Duncan's ability to play/within a system: I think that matters. Duncan won a lot, Wilt won a little. Even factoring in the Celtics, Duncan had to contend with the Shaq/Kobe Lakers and the Big 3 Heat (and had a winning playoff record against both).

Duncan, tied with Kobe, was the winningest player of his era. Wilt trailed Russell, and was tied with Willis Reed (or Walt Frazier, or whichever Knick you prefer) for second.

Wilt was unquestionably a better scorer, but Duncan was a damned good one. Rebounding is difficult to evaluate given the difference in possessions/FG% in their respective eras, but Wilt is better; that said, Duncan's probably getting 20+ a game in the 60s.

Duncan was not a great free throw shooter but he was not as vulnerable of one as Wilt, and could safely play crunchtime in a way Wilt could not if he played in the post Hack-a-Shaq era.

Duncan's offensive and defensive peaks overlapped, while Wilt ultimately sacrificed some of his offensive dominance to improve his defensive focus.

Duncan easily wins the "does the most with the least" argument, winning the title with a very weak team in '03. Wilt's two titles came on teams loaded with Hall of Famers in their primes.

Duncan also wins on consistency, never missing the playoffs or winning less than 50 games. Wilt missed the playoffs once and had 4 sub 50-win seasons (actually more, but I'm not counting the ones from when they only played 75 games).

I think it's clear that Duncan's focus was always on winning while Wilt's focus could wander to point-proving and record-setting.

Ultimately, both were apex talents who guaranteed you title contention in their primes, and served as the backbone of your defense in the back end of their careers. The big difference for me is that Duncan did it for five more years and won more consistently despite iffier help. I will take the extra 450 or so games of Duncan over Wilt's higher offensive ceiling and free-throw shooting Achilles' Heel.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 1:24:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Re: Hakeem's GOAT case

I think this is the last thing, right?

I am aware that I am in the minority ranking Hakeem as highly as I do, but I think his case is solid. It has five basic tenants:

1) Bare-minimum requirements (longevity, titles, etc.) Hakeem had good longevity, two rings, plenty of accolades, etc. He was pretty cleanly the best center in the league from '86-'97 or so. That's as long a run as anybody except maybe Kareem (depending on how you feel about how he compares to late 70s/early 80s Moses) can claim.

2) Skillset: Hakeem was one of the greatest defensive players of all time, an unstoppable scorer, and a gifted passer. Perhaps Bill Russell or maybe Wilt were better shot-blockers (though I am not so sure) but if they were it's pretty much only them. Hakeem was fast enough to guard perimeter players and his timing was impeccable. His skillset had no holes and he was elite for his position at everything, including being the best ever at his position in terms of steals (and in contention in terms of rim protection).

Regardless of how he compares to Wilt/Russell as a shotblocker--an unwinnable argument in either direction-- he was clearly the best defensive big of his era.

His Dream Shake and turnaround fadeaway are probably the fourth and second most unguardable individual moves in basketball history behind Kareem's skyhook and sandwhiched around Dirk's one-legged fader.

3) Support: This one is two pronged. First, it addresses the biggest hole in Hakeem's case (relatively few contending years) as he did not have contentsion level support from 1987-1994.

Second, he won a title in 1994 anyway. Along with Duncan's '03 title, Rick Barry's '75 title, and Doc's '76 title, I think this is one of the most impressive four title runs of all-time. With a starting lineup of Otis Thorpe, Robert Horry, Kenny Smith, and Vernon Maxwell, Hakeem mowed through strong Blazers, Suns, Jazz, and Knicks teams all featuring stacked casts. The Blazers had 5 All-Stars, the Suns had 6, the Jazz had 3 (but two HoFers), and the Knicks had 4 (plus another All-D guy). Some of those "All-Stars" were one-timers (but many were not) but then so was Thorpe, Hakeem's only "All-Star" level sidekick.

Despite his poor support, he missed the playoffs only once during his prime ('92), by a single game. Hakeem missed 12 games due to injury that season, which was the difference.

4) Vs. The Competition

Hakeem tended to destroy other great centers in the playoffs. He demolished Kareem (and a very strong Lakers team) 4-1 in '86, and tore through Ewing, Robinson, and Shaq from '94-'95, destroying Robinson in particularly humiliating fashion and sweeping Shaq's Magic out of the Finals despite a strong supporting cast including Penny, D-Scott, Horace Grant, and Nick Anderson.


At Saturday, May 19, 2018 1:24:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

5) Raising His Game

Hakeem's regular-season offensive numbers do not hold up super well against most of the other best centers ever (Kareem, Russell, Wilt, Moses, Shaq), though they're still very strong relative to anyone else. However, unlike most players, Hakeem somehow got even better in the playoffs.

Hakeem scored 25.9 PPG in the playoffs (higher than any of them) for his career on .528 shooting (less than half a percentage point behind Kareem and about 3 behind Shaq, though of course he did not have Magic/Oscar/Kobe setting him up). Hie leads them all in playoff blocks (Wilt/Russ N/A) with 3.3, trails only Wilt/Russ in assists, and leads the field in steals with 1.7.

Every time he made the Finals he led the league in playoff points (Kareem also did it three times, Shaq did it twice, and Moses did it once). He led the Playoffs in PPG three times as well, including both his title runs (Kareem/Wilt/Moses/Russ never won while leading the playoffs in PPG, generally needing a more balanced attack, while Shaq did so once).

He also led the playoffs in rebounding and blocks several times.

Hakeem was even better in elimination games. Here are his scoring/rebounding/block totals from the last game of the playoffs each year through his last title (this of course leaves out non-Finals elimination games that he won, but I've only so much time in the day):

'85: 32/14/6
'86: 19/13/0
'87: 49/25/6
'88: 40/15/1
'89: 24/13/1
'90: 28/14/4
'91: 21/17/4
'93: 23/17/3
'94: 25/10/3
'95: 35/15/0 (not an elimination game for Hakeem, but last game of the playoffs)

It is also worth noting he won four straight playoff series on the road in '95, which I believe makes him the only guy to ever do so.

Moral of the story, while Hakeem probably isn't the greatest regular season center of all-time, he has a damned strong case as the greatest playoff center of all time. He did not have the benefit the other tippy top centers did of playing alongside a bevy of Hall of Famers (in his prime, he got two-and-a-half years of Drexler and one of fat Barkley and that was about it) for most of his career and he certainly never had the Pantheon-level help Wilt/Russell/Shaq/Moses/Kareem benefitted from, but he still dominated in the playoffs and won two titles.

I would ultimately still take Kareem over Hakeem by virtue of longevity, but I would absolutely take Hakeem over Kareem for a single playoff series or game.

I am not sure in what order I would put Hakeem/Russell/Wilt as they all excel in different categories. I think each of them has a case both for and against being the GOAT.

I think a case could be made for Hakeem as the greatest center (and therefore greatest player) ever based on his overall skillset, ability to elevate his game when it counted, dominance of his "peers," and ability to elevate middling supporting casts to title contention/wins. I personally would not put him over the four guys I have in Tier 1, but I would not think less of somebody who did.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 1:30:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Hakeem Addendum:

I forgot to mention in his "playoff" section that in terms of "who'd he lose to?" his '86 Rockets, which really only went 4 deep, managed to take two games off the '86 Celtics, one of the few teams in contention for "best team ever" (although I would personally take the '83 76ers at least over them).

Hakeem for his part averaged 24.7/11.8/1.8/2.3/3.8 on 48% shooting against Parish/McHale/Walton. Unfortunately for him, nobody else on his team averaged over 16 points and the Celtics were extremely good and deep.

Still, he took twice as many playoff games off that Boston team as the rest of the league combined.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 9:07:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


I don't think that Nick realizes how deep into the rabbit hole he's gotten himself. He's so stuck into his own logic of wanting to be different and "challenging conventional wisdom" that he can't see how silly his argument is. Your point on Russell over Wilt is excellent.


The "respect of your peers" in terms of Magic vs Scottie is completely different from the respect that Harden and Carmelo receives. No matter how overrated Harden and Melo are, they are still perennial all-stars. They deserve at least that much respect. Andrew is referring to the respect of a player whom is almost unanimously considered the greatest of his decade and debatable all-time vs a guy who is a whole nother lifetime away from that level of "respect".

Your point about players not respecting defense is mute. Andrew clearly said that Russell over Wilt is valid, if not the best option, but Wilt was immensely better offensively. How do you refute that? Clearly defense is respected in that regard.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

"I don't think that Nick realizes how deep into the rabbit hole he's gotten himself. He's so stuck into his own logic of wanting to be different and "challenging conventional wisdom" that he can't see how silly his argument is. "

There you go again, continuing to attack me and my motives instead of my arguments (which are allegedly so "silly" they should be fairly easy to bring down without resorting to ad hominem, right?). It's immature, it's not constructive, and it's rude. If that's how you prefer to debate, I'd just as soon not debate with you. Have a good one.


More on the "Respect of your peers" question:

For one thing, it relies on the assumption that everyone who played against both Scottie and Magic would take Magic. For starters, I am not sure I think that's true. I certainly think the majority of them would take Magic, and as I've repeated many times in this thread, I'm not sure I wouldn't either... but I would be surprised if that were a unanimous belief.

If it were, it would certainly give me a little pause, but ultimately it would still not discount the obvious gaps between the two men in defense and games played. My belief that they are comparable comes down primarily to two key premises:

1) Defense is as important, or perhaps in the case of perimeter players, nearly as important, as offense.

2) The gap between Scottie' D and Magic's is astronomically bigger than the gap between Magic's O and Scottie's.

There are other elements to my conclusion that they're in the same ballpark, of course-- Scottie had less help, Scottie outplayed Magic in the Finals, etc..-- but those are probably the bedrock claims. The things that would be more likely to persuade me to reconsider would be something that changed my belief in one of those two key premises. So far in this thread I haven't really seen a strong case made against either.

Not that the opinions of fellow players are without merit, but a few years ago they picked James Harden over Steph Curry for MVP (a proposition I consider much sillier than Pippen being in the same ballpark as Magic), so I also do not think they are a be-all, end-all for objective judgment.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 10:20:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

I was referring to Thomas Jefferson the president, not the person, but you get the point.

* You said that I don't believe that defense is significant in evaluating players... You know what kills that entire point? Bill Russell is one of my two favorite players ever and is the 1 and only guy, in my opinion, that has a bullet proof argument over Jordan. I obviously value defense a ton.

How is Pippen the clear winner in titles??? He was never close to being the best player on any of his teams - Magic was the best on 3-4. Magic played in 4 other finals as well. How does Pippen have more longevity??? Magic played 12 seasons until he was 31. After the age of 32 and only 11 seasons, Scottie averaged 11 ppg and less rebounds and assists than his own career average. Pippen isn't getting an edge for that. So Magic lead the league in steals twice and is 23rd all-time in steals and you award him a C in defense, while Scottie gets an A- in offense while never once averaging over 22 ppg or 7 assists in any given season. That is laughable at best. Your standards are low for a A- level offensive player.

I never said that All-NBA teams are the end-all-be-all. However, it says a lot when one player had more first team selections than another had all-star selections. See my response to Jordan. Why are you bringing up Kawhi's longevity and titles? You said that Scottie's skill-set was comparable to Magic's. Don't change the subject. Kawhi is similar to Scottie in some regards. Why isn't his skill-set comparable to Magic's too? Why did you completely dodge the Kevin Garnett thing? He has more individual accolades than Scottie, was a better rebounder, has better scoring numbers, and has more All-Defensive teams. Why isn't he comparable to Magic in your estimation? The answer is clear - because you choose to pick what you like to make a silly point. I'm not going to keep going back and forth about this. Believe what you will. Pippen could have played 40 years... he wasn't close to the player that Magic Johnson was. Nothing that you say will change that. I've wasted far too much energy debating this pointless argument. This will be my last response about Magic vs Pippen.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 10:21:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

Baylor was not like Stockton or Nash. Baylor lost FIVE 6 or 7 game finals to the greatest winner of all-time. Nash never even made it to the finals. It took Stockton 13 seasons as the 2nd best player to make the finals. If the Jazz won in 1997 and 1998, Stockton still wouldn't be ranked over Baylor so that point is moot. Take the 60s Lakers and put any other player in Baylor's position, what player is leading them over Russell's Celtics? That list is very very short and it's arguable that no player was winning. You cannot logically hold that against Baylor. I'm not giving credit for some player averaging 20 ppg winning against non-dynastic teams when Baylor was averaging 30+ and couldn't get past the Celtics. That's something that younger people after the fact can't grasp for some reason.

I am not discounting Doc's first five years. When did I ever say that I did? Kobe was a better scorer than Doc in almost every way other than slashing. Period. I'm not expanding on that. If want to center everything on Doc's 1976 finals, fine. Doc was amazing and was probably the best player in the world that year. However, several other players have multiple other series of pure excellence. Jerry West alone has a couple series averaging over 40 ppg. The voters did not screw up on 15 years of not selecting Doc to an All-Defensive team. He simply was not as good defensively as you think. What other player went their whole career without making multiple defensive teams when they should have, but is considered an all-time great defender? I'll give you hint - no one.

As for Duncan vs Wilt - where was this talk of Duncan being the best big man ever in 2002 and 2003? That was Duncan at his best so surely it should have been this obvious right? No, people weren't convinced that he was better than Kevin Garnett. Again - if Duncan played in the 60s, he was not winning 5 championships and he definitely wasn't being considered with the likes of Russell or Wilt as the best in the league. Duncan does not get bonus points for winning a championship in a lockout season (1999) and a championship where he wasn't even an All-NBA player (2014) over Wilt Chamberlain whom lost FOUR different 7 game series to Russell's Celtics by a total of NINE points. Duncan was an apex talent, but Wilt was THE apex talent.

I'm not wasting my time on debating you about Olajuwon. Dude wasn't as good as you're making him out to be. Accept it and move along.

* My arguments are not an "appeal to authority". I use what I've witnessed with my own eyes and have valued the opinions of players, coaches, journalists, etc since the 60s. It is you who chooses to indulge in too much speculation and severe revisionist history.

At Saturday, May 19, 2018 10:22:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

One could read my comments and think I'm bashing Scottie, Doc, and Duncan, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I always liked Scottie and hated when people felt the need to put him down to prop up Michael. Duncan has always had my upmost respect, especially because the Spurs camaraderie was so similar to Russell's Celtics. Doc was never one of my personal favorite players, but I always considered him one of the best when he was playing. I try to be as unbiased as possible. I just can't understand how some people come up with some of the craziest claims.

David please chime in and let me know your thoughts on what has been discussed.

At Monday, May 21, 2018 7:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

This has been an interesting, wide-ranging discussion. I have not chimed in to this point mainly because I think that I have already articulated my positions on most if not all of these matters; also, I am working on a multi-part series of articles about the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List that will delve further into the subject of comparing and evaluating various great players. I will provide some bullet point comments; apologies if this response misses any of the discussion threads:

In no order of importance, here are my thoughts on some of the players who have recently been discussed here:

1) Julius Erving belongs in the Greatest Player of All-Time conversation. As I have said many times, I don't believe that it is possible to definitively select one such player but I do believe that there are a small number of players for whom legitimate cases can be made--and Erving is one of those players, based on peak value, longevity, versatility and overall accomplishments. I would think that any player in any sport who wins four regular season MVPs, two Finals MVPs, three championships and finished his career third on the all-time regular season scoring list would obviously merit such consideration and respect (and that was only a very small listing of Doc's qualifications).

2) Magic Johnson is in my Pantheon and Scottie Pippen is not. Pippen is one of my favorite players of all-time and he is in the top half of the Top 50 without question but Pippen did not have one defined shot or move that he could use to carry an offense in the fourth quarter; Pippen was very good at most offensive skills other than free throw shooting but he was not necessarily great at any (other than finishing at the rim, particularly before his second back surgery). Magic had the "junior, junior sky-hook," he had other post up moves/shots and he always had a reliable set shot/tip-toe jumper from midrange. Pippen may have been as good or better than even Jordan in most categories but Jordan could get 15-20 fourth quarter points in an important playoff game against any defense and that is not something that Pippen could do.

3) Olajuwon was a great player who also must rank in the top half of the Top 50 but I do not have him in my Pantheon. There is not one definite reason that he is not in my Pantheon but rather just my evaluation that he was not quite as great as the players who I selected.

4) I have discussed Baylor at length. He is in my Pantheon and that was not a difficult decision for me based on his peak value, overall skill set and relative longevity at a high level (despite injuries that prevented him from being even more dominant for an even longer time).

5) Ranking Wilt Chamberlain based on unfounded assumptions about how he may have reacted to modern social media is way too speculative for my taste. I will stick to what actually happened on the basketball court. Chamberlain is the most dominant player in pro basketball history and he was the best player for arguably the two greatest single season championship teams in pro basketball history.

FYI, Chamberlain was the subject of a tremendous amount of media scrutiny during his time and that did not stop him from being dominant--and it is worth noting that Chamberlain regularly sought out media attention with comments he made and autobiographies that he wrote. He was no shrinking violet whose play was adversely affected by publicity and he was a nationally known figure from the time he was in high school.

The eternal question of what he would have done in Russell's situation compared to what Russell would have done in his situation can never be definitively answered. Russell clearly benefited from having a better (and more stable) coaching situation, as well as better teammates. On the other hand, it is hard to beat 11 titles in 13 seasons--but maybe Chamberlain could have matched that, given the same circumstances. Chamberlain was so much more dominant than Duncan that I cannot take Duncan over him.

At Monday, May 21, 2018 8:11:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Thank you for your comments. I won't fight you on Hakeem or Pippen right now--and I don't think we're really all that far apart anyway-- as we've discussed them both before. Wilt/Duncan is a newer one, but I don't disagree with your reasoning, even if I mildly differ on the conclusion-- they're two of the seven guys I personally think have a legitimate GOAT case, with Wilt's based around dominance (as you noted) and Duncan's relying more on longevity, consistency, and results. I did have two questions I was hoping you could answer, though, that may have been lost in the thread:

1) Do you happen to have the numbers for Doc's field goal percentage in the 1976 Finals? I can't find them online, but I figured it anyone would know, it'd be you. If you happen to have the 1974 numbers handy, too, I'd be curious about those as well; I'd love to be able to look at what Doc's Finals averages are all-up, but the ABA numbers can be a bear to chase down.

2) Who would be your next "batch" of guys after the Pantheon? You mentioned above that Pippen and Olajuwon are both Top 25 for you, so I feel safe assuming they're in that lot, but I'm curious who else you have down as the Best of the Rest, as it were.

At Monday, May 21, 2018 9:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Doc shot .590 from the field in the 1976 ABA Finals.

Doc shot .513 from two point range and 1-3 (.333) from three point range in the 1974 ABA Finals, which works out to .509 overall.

Pippen and Olajuwon are both Top 25 players in my book. I will discuss the rest in my ongoing series of articles about the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List.

At Monday, May 21, 2018 11:03:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Thank you. Can you recommend a good online resource for tracking down ABA box scores? I'd love to average Doc's ABA/NBA Finals numbers together for a more complete picture of the "average' Doc Finals performance, but basketball reference does not have the ABA FG/TRB/AST/BLK/STL numbers for either of his ABA series.

I look forward to seeing your Top 25. I'm not 100% what mine would be beyond my top 19, but off-the-cuff and without thinking it through I'd guess Baylor, Gilmore, Dirk, KG, Thomas, and Stockton would probably be my last six. Even just looking at that, though, I feel iffy about leaving off David Robinson, Dwyane Wade, and Connie Hawkins. It also feels like Curry and likely Durant are destined to end up on that list eventually barring catastrophic injury.

At Monday, May 21, 2018 11:52:00 AM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...


We pretty much agree on all of your points. I'd like to add a couple things.

1.) Maybe Russell's situation was perfect for him, but I don't believe that Chamberlain would have won 11 championships in any situation because of his mindset and style of play. Chamberlain did not have the drive to win that would have led to the absurdity of 11 championships in 13 seasons (maybe 12 because Russell was injured in the 1958 finals). I don't think that people understand how incredibly close Russell's Celtics were to losing some of those series. 5 of their finals alone were won in 7 games. He played in ten 7 game series and didn't lose one. Literally the only time he ever lost was with a broken foot and to a '67 Wilt, which is on the short list for single highest peaks ever. Russell's Celtics weren't uber dominant and straight up better than everyone else year-in and year-out like some may believe. It was Russell's and his teammates will to win that led them to those rings. It has always bothered me that people dismiss Russell's winning out of pure ignorance and wanting to prop up more contemporary players. The mental toughness you need to have to almost never have a year where you give in to another team because you were exhausted of winning is special.

Chamberlain's success as a 76er and Laker is all that one needs to look at as proof. In 8 seasons, he won only 2 championships and was 3-3 in game 7s. Chamberlain's teams from 1966-1969, were all indisputably better than Russell's (1966 is debatable, but the only major change in 1967 was the coach). Chamberlain was a more dominant player, but he wasn't close to being the winner that Russell was. I rank Russell over Wilt not because he won when his teams were better (1960-1965), but because Russell won in 1968 and 1969 when he literally had nothing left to prove and was the underdog. That validated Russell's greatness for me and Wilt did not do the same when given the chance.

2.) It's not that I don't think that Doc is on the shortlist, I more so have a bigger beef with him being considered on any higher level than guys like Russell/Wilt/Kareem. If one wants to consider him their equal - I mean that's fine - but I don't agree. In the 70s, I personally did not feel that Erving was better than Oscar. I considered Doc with Baylor and West in terms of finishing 2nd to Oscar for the greatest non-big.

The other thing that I've always found a little disingenuous for not only Doc, but Kareem, is listing their accomplishments without noting that two leagues existed. Kareem and Doc can't both be credited for 1974 and 1976 MVPs when the other Pantheon players had to finish 2nd in some of their great years. I personally count 1974 for Kareem because his team won more games and he was considered the best player in the world that year and I do the same for 1976 for Doc. I'm also not convinced that Doc's 1974 Nets were better than the '74 Celtics or Kareem's '74 Bucks. To each its own though - it's splitting hairs anyway.

3.) While Olajuwon is without question top 20, I'm not sure that Pippen is a surefire a Top 25 guy. I'm going to list 7 guys in each position in chronological order, who would you take him over? You don't have to go in-depth, but I'm curious.

Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Moses, Olajuwon, Robinson, Shaq

Power Forwards:
Pettit, Barkley, Malone, McHale, Garnett, Duncan, Dirk

Small Forwards:
Baylor, Hondo, Barry, Doc, Bird, LeBron, Durant

Shooting Guards:
West, Gervin, Jordan, Drexler, Iverson, Kobe, Wade

Point Guards:
Cousy, Oscar, Frazier, Magic, Isiah, Stockton, Kidd

* FYI I don't think that all of these guys are better than Scottie. I'm just playing devil's advocate and took a certain number of guys at each position.

At Monday, May 21, 2018 1:27:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


I am really not trying to troll you. I simply believe Nick makes valid points. Perhaps Magic wasn’t really as good as you and many others seem to think. (That very sentence is like visual bile to me btw as I bleed purple and gold).

Magic was not the single best player in the world in 86 or 87. I’d say the best player in the world was the unguardable guard that most everyone agrees is the GOAT?

MJ averaged 37 a game in 87. In 88, he led the league in scoring, steals, win shares, and minutes played.

Yah, Magic was racking up wins playing with Kareem, Worthy, Scott, Cooper, Green, Rambis, and Thompson. But, I wonder how many wins he’d get passing to Charles Oakley, John Paxson, Gene Banks, Dave Corzine, and Brad Sellers?

It would be a fascinating experience to swap in your “single best player in the world in 87” onto that 87 Bulls team, and give Jordan the 87 Lakers. I imagine what the group think thought and wrote about back then, would be a lot like what the group think thought and wrote about ad nauseam throughout the 89-94 and 95-98 seasons. (Of course, we can push back the timeline and posit that Magic was actually better than Bird during the 3 MVPs Bird won, but I don’t want to have any other tangential conversations).

Trust me. This sucks what I’m doing. I hate Michael Jordan with a passion and I love Magic Johnson. But context matters and popular opinion often reveals itself to be an untrustworthy indicator of true value. I have a feeling James Harden’s career will not justify the hype/press/love/MVP award he is currently receiving.

I hate trying to somehow compare others to Magic’s greatness. But, true analysis should be devoid of fandom. Objectively, Pippen is comparable to Magic regarding their overall abilities to help win basketball games (and, despite what you say, championships along with awards remain comparable across their careers, even if their “career averages” aren’t even close). You can spit hyperbolic statements all you want – and, my purple and gold blood will continue to scream in agreement with them – but none of that refutes the evidence Nick is providing.

I’m not trying to disparage Magic. And, as I wrote, Magic should be on Mt. Rushmore for his greatness. But, to me, greatness doesn’t equate to effectiveness. I wonder…if you replace Magic with another player, would the Lakers have achieved equal or greater success?

To me (and I think to Nick as well), Pippen makes a fascinating case.

The Showtime Lakers would morph into the Showstopper Lakers and win just as many games.

Also, if you put Magic with MJ, how would Magic be remembered today? MJ was and clearly proved to be the better player, so…much like Pippen (as would pretty much every other player in NBA history), Magic would have taken a backseat to Jordan as well.

At Monday, May 21, 2018 1:28:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


As for your list of top 25 guys. I’d take Pippen in a heartbeat over Wade (injury-prone and one dimensional offensive player, also undersized for his position – only won with Shaq and Lebron). I’d take him over Iverson and Kidd too. Way better defender than Iverson and more efficient offensively (though, he obviously didn’t shoulder the same scoring load), and a better offensive option than Kidd (and as awesome as Kidd was as a facilitator, it’s telling that as the main guy, his teams never led the league in offensive rating, and were actually quite average overall for the duration of his career).

I’d take Pippen over Barkley (during his “prime” Barkley was a ball stop black hole on offense and a matador on defense). While his career counting stats don’t come close to Stockton and Malone (the iron men of iron men that put Robert Downy Jr. to shame), very real cases can be made that at his peak, he was better than both. As of right now, I’d take him over Durant as well. He doesn’t touch Durant as a scorer or offensive go-to player, but I’d take 2017 Kawhi Leonard over Durant and Pippen was better than 2017 Kawhi imo.

Those are the players I actually saw play. Never saw Gervin, Hondo, Cousy and Pettit, so can’t really speak on their cases over Pippen or vice versa.

At Monday, May 21, 2018 1:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Russell did have a perfect situation. Hard to beat 11 titles in 13 years, but I'd think Wilt would've at least matched that, and I doubt Russell would've won 2 titles if he had Wilt's career path.

The 2 things that stand out to me between them is that Wilt absolutely dominated Russell H2H. Even if we say Wilt didn't have the 'drive,' he still dominated Russell. What his teammates do after that is beyond his control. Russell was rarely playing better in these closely contested series where BOS usually won, if ever. Russell also had by far the best coach at the time, whereas Wilt usually had bad coaches. Things would've been much different for Wilt with Auerbach and stacked teams with HOFers coming off the bench some years. The 2nd thing is that when Wilt aged, he played more of the 'glue guy' role that Russell always played, but just much better. Russell couldn't even dream of playing like young Wilt, and luckily had great teammates/coaches, so might as well fill in the gaps, which he did very well. Wilt, however, could play any role, and much better than Russell. He could be a dominant scorer, dominant defender/glue guy, facilitator or any combination. Russell deserves a lot of credit still, but he gets too much credit. His AS/HOF teammates/coaches deserve tons of credit, too.

Erving deserves to be included in any all-time greats list, and it's fine if someone takes David's approach and doesn't want to rank numerically. However, if someone takes Nick's approach which most probably do, Erving's case as the GOAT is very hard to see. He wasn't even close to the best player in the league during his career-that goes to Kareem. And hard to put him better than Magic/Bird, maybe Oscar.

I 2nd Kyle, in that Erving seems to be getting too much credit for titles/MVPs in years where there were 2 of each. He also achieved much less individually and team-wise when he went to the NBA. Guys like Kobe, Jordan, and James have achieved much more individually, and I'd say each more team-wise amongst other things. They were each much better offensively and defensively. 1 all-defense selection in the ABA doesn't do it for more. If he was as great defensively as Nick claims, he should've been picking these selections up perennially.

Pippen isn't even close to the top 15 guys. But, I could see him barely sneaking in at 25, though probably should be a lower. Unless you really weight Pippen's all-defensive teams significantly, you can't really put him ahead of KD even, who still has many years left. KD is a perennial MVP candidate and 1st team all-nba player if healthy enough. Pippen was kind of in the MVP conversation maybe 2x, only 7 AS, and only 3 1st team all-nba.

KD's also had a much better career than Curry so far. Curry has only had 3, maybe 4 elite years if you count his 51 games played this season. Curry has 2 titles to KD's 1, but KD leads 1-0 in Finals MVP, and KD would likely have 3 titles if he was on GS in 2015 and 2016 with Curry joining GS in 2017. Curry never would've won even 1 MVP if he wasn't playing on stacked GS teams

At Monday, May 21, 2018 2:05:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


I’m not ranking Wilt based on anything related to social media. Please. I know there’s a ton of writing for you to wade through and process, but I don’t want to be unfairly characterized for things I did not write. My point in bringing this up, is this attitude displayed by many of my elders who seem to belittle the mental fortitude of today’s players and their abilities to adapt, while making assumptions about clearly mentally flawed individuals of the past and their seamless adaptability to today’s game.

I don’t think it’s fair to assume only one way, without providing the same context going the opposite. Kyle has even mentioned multiple times in this thread Wilt’s mentality as a weakness compared to guys like Russell, Jordan and Bryant.

Kyle wrote: “It has always bothered me that people dismiss Russell's winning out of pure ignorance and wanting to prop up more contemporary players. The mental toughness you need to have to almost never have a year where you give in to another team because you were exhausted of winning is special.”

This is extremely well said and absolutely true. I couldn’t agree more. So, for a guy like Russell, based on everything we know as well as what he accomplished, it’s logical to assume he would overcome any sort of mental challenge in any era.

But, my point is a guy like Wilt, who had a lot of other things going on and despite his overwhelming talent / natural ability advantage, didn’t capitalize on it to the extent one would think he should. So, to automatically assume he’d be perfectly capable of handling the overwhelming inundation of negative voices in today’s society, despite often being affected by the select few during his day; and that he would be able to avoid the pitfalls of the #metoo era in the age of Tinder, for a guy who slept with 20,000 women during his day, is a stretch I’m certainly not willing to make. I don’t care if he was the most gentlemanly human since Jesus, there’s no way that he would be able to bed 20,000 women today and not have a single one speak out against him.

Which, to me, is what makes Lebron so great despite his history of curiously quitting at critical moments. Lebron has never been in any sort of trouble, despite being the most visible player in NBA history. The worst sin he’s committed is the Decision (and the passive aggressive criticism of all of his teammates).

At Monday, May 21, 2018 2:46:00 PM, Blogger Kyle Falls said...

As a follow-up, here are my thoughts:

No argument whatsoever (6): Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Shaq, Olajuwon, Moses (Gun to my head, I would rank them in this order, but I have vacillated in the past)
Debatable (1): Robinson

Power Forwards:
How someone ranks these power forwards tells you a lot about how one values players:
- Pettit is often overlooked. His peak season was even before Wilt entered the league. I have very little memories of seeing Pettit play live. However, given what he accomplished, I see no reason not to rank him as high as #2 all-time for power forwards.
- Peak McHale was an absolute stud. A strong argument can be made that peak McHale is at the top of the list, but that version of him existed for a very small amount of time. His individual accomplishments are probably at the bottom of this PF list.
- Peak Barkley was also an absolute stud. The problem is that he was a defensive liability and did not have the drive to win at all times.
- Malone has the supreme longevity, but dude was a choke artist if I ever seen one.
- Garnett has always been overrated, but had a pretty good career. Some thought he was Duncan's equal, but I never bought into that. Some still consider him better than Dirk, which I consider insane.
- Dirk didn't have the highest peak, but he was a great, great player. His longevity is also pretty impressive.

To be honest, I don't have a firm ranking on those guys except Duncan being far and away #1. One needs to figure that out before throwing Scottie in the mix. I thought that Barkley was better than Malone in their primes during the late 80s/early 90s, but it wasn't a huge enough gap for me to deny Malone's longevity by the end. I'd take both over Garnett easily. Now, if someone felt that Pettit, Dirk, and McHale were all better than Malone, Barkley, and Garnett, then I don't have a big issue with that. On the contrary, I think it's fair to still to rank Dirk in the middle of that somewhere and based on individual accomplishments, for McHale to be last. All in all, if someone felt that all 7 guys should go over Scottie, then I don't have a big beef.

No argument whatsoever (4): Duncan, Pettit/Malone/Dirk (pick for 2nd best)
Debatable (3): Barkley, Garnett, McHale

Small Forwards:
No argument whatsoever(4): LeBron, Bird, Erving, Baylor
Debatable (3): Hondo, Barry, Durant

Shooting Guards:
No argument whatsoever (3): Jordan, Kobe, West
Debatable (4): Wade, Iverson, Gervin, Drexler (Gun to my head, in that order)

Point Guards:
No argument whatsoever (3): Magic, Oscar, Isiah
Debatable (4): Stockton, Kidd, Cousy, Frazier (Gun to my head, in that order, but I have vacillated in the past)

So looking at that breakdown, there are 20 guys that I can't fathom Pippen having an argument over: Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Shaq, Olajuwon, Moses, Duncan, Pettit, Malone, Dirk, LeBron, Bird, Erving, Baylor, Jordan, Kobe, West, Magic, Oscar, and Isiah.

I don't think Scottie was a top 5 player of the 90s over Robinson or Barkley. Kevin Garnett in some ways is the PF version of Scottie in terms of skill-set. People need to go back and watch Hondo in the 70s. He is what Scottie would have been in some ways if Scottie had his own team longer. I'd take Barry over Scottie. I'd take Durant too, but understand if one wanted to wait before ranking him. I was a huge Iverson fan and he and Wade are considerable for me over Pippen.

So looking at that, I guess one could say Pippen was top 25, but I'm more comfortable with top 30. It's not that big of a difference anyway really.

At Tuesday, May 22, 2018 7:00:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Here are two sources that I have found useful regarding ABA boxscores (in addition to the ABA Guides published by the Sporting News):



At Tuesday, May 22, 2018 7:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Chamberlain versus Russell is an eternal debate. Chamberlain's advocates argue that he won when he had the horses and he dominated Russell individually, while Russell's advocates argue that Russell did whatever it took to win without regard to personal statistics/glory. There is some truth to both arguments and I have both players on my short list of legit Greatest Player of All-Time candidates.

I have never said that Erving should or must be placed above everyone else but merely that a good case can be made to put him in the Greatest Player of All-Time conversation.

Regarding ranking Pippen against the players who you listed, I intend to look more in depth at the 50 Greatest Players in the series of articles that I am writing. Glancing at your list (and reserving the right to tweak the following as I finish my series of articles), I would probably take Pippen over David Robinson, Barkley, Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, Garnett, Havlicek, Gervin, Drexler, Iverson, Cousy, Frazier, Stockton, Kidd (listing those players roughly in the order that you listed them, not necessarily how I would rank them against each other). Several of those players are close to Pippen but it is safe to say that I would feel comfortable taking enough players off of your list to rank Pippen among the top 25 of all-time.

At Tuesday, May 22, 2018 7:18:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I would give Magic a little more credit than you do. After he made the "junior, junior skyhook" against Boston, Bird said, "He's the best I've ever seen"--and this was after Bird's famous comment about Jordan being "God disguised as Michael Jordan."

Magic certainly was considered the best player in the world circa 1987 and he was talked about as possibly the greatest player ever as well. Perhaps Jordan was being sold short at that time but Jordan's critics felt that he had not proven that he could win big while playing the way that he did. In Sam Smith's "The Jordan Rules" (published in the early 1990s), Bill Cartwright lamented that even though Jordan was the greatest athlete he had ever seen Jordan did not understand how to play winning basketball.

At Tuesday, May 22, 2018 7:29:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You brought up social media and "Me Too" as reasons to believe/speculate that Chamberlain would struggle to some extent in the modern era, so it is disingenuous to suggest that you are not ranking him at least in part based on those things.

Chamberlain was a nationally known figure since he was a teenager and that did not stop him from setting individual records while winning two NBA titles. FYI, many players in his era were quite promiscuous, including several prominent ones who had wives/families; Chamberlain was single and there has never been the slightest hint that he ever did wrong by anyone, so it is really in bad taste to suggest that he would have/should have been accused of the type of conduct that has rightly ended the careers of several famous actors/entertainers/businessmen. Whatever one may think of Chamberlain's lifestyle, by all accounts he was a single man who only pursued single women for consensual relations.

Chamberlain may have not had the on-court mentality of Russell, Jordan or Bryant but that has nothing to do with social media or his personal life.

Did Chamberlain really not make the most of his talents? He retired as the leading scorer and leading rebounder in pro basketball history and to this day he still holds more NBA records than any other player, including several records that are likely unbreakable. He was the best player on two of the most dominant single season championship teams in pro basketball history, including the team that stopped Boston's record run of eight straight NBA titles. Chamberlain had some heartbreaking close losses to Russell's Celtics in the playoffs but it is not necessarily clear that Chamberlain should/could have done more considering the overall circumstances. The Celtics typically had better, deeper teams and a sounder organizational structure from top to bottom.

While Shaq clearly could/should have done more (based on the way he was often not in shape), Chamberlain was always in shape and he rarely missed games (other than the year that he suffered a serious knee injury).

At Tuesday, May 22, 2018 11:01:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Malone is easily better than Pippen: 14 straight years in top 10 for MVP. Pippen only had 5 years in top 10 for MVP. Malone's longevity and peak both much better than Pippen's, including 11 straight years on 1st team all-NBA. Pippen only made 3 1st team all-NBA. And Malone still made 4 all-defensive teams, too, so it wasn't like he wasn't a great defender. These two's careers overlapped almost identically. So, unless you think the voters really really messed up in all accounts, it's hard to see much of an argument for Pippen over Malone.

Pippen was great, and maybe the greatest #2 guy who knew and accepted his role, but not a true all-time great #1 guy. In the middle of his prime with pretty good casts, he couldn't make it out of the 2nd round as the #1 guy. Malone still made the Finals 2x, just had to go up against Jordan and great CHI teams both times. He outperformed Pippen each time, too. If Pippen was UTA and Malone on CHI, both series would've likely been sweeps instead of 6 games. Plus, Malone had Rodman guarding him while who was guarding Pippen: Jeff Hornacek? Big difference.

At Tuesday, May 22, 2018 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


Thank you! The only thing I still can't find is how many 3s Doc attempted in the '76 Finals (though I know he made 2). Any chance you have that one last number on hand?

At Wednesday, May 23, 2018 3:37:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

For fun (and because I'm an insane person) I built a table of the Finals stats for everyone in David's (top 14) or my (top 19) Pantheon (20 total). I'm not sure it'll format properly, but here it is for what it's worth...


Erving 6 3 33 10.7-19.9 .536 0.1-0.3 .363* 6.6-8.7 .77 9.3 5.1 2.2 1.8 28.1
Duncan 6 5 34 7.9-16.5 .485 0.0-0.1 0 5.1-7.1 .716 13.3 2.8 0.8 2.6 20.8
Kareem 10 6 56 9.7-18.6 .523 0-0 0 4.1-5.8 .7 9 3.2 0.9 2.2 23.5
Jordan 6 6 35 12.5-26 .48 1.2-3.3 .368 7.4-9.1 .806 6 6 1.8 0.7 33.6
Hakeem 3 2 17 11-22.5 .488 0.1-0.1 1 5.4-7.2 .74 10.7 3.4 1.9 3.2 27.5
Russell 12 11 70 5.9-13 .456 NA NA 3.9-7.5 .519 24.5 3.8 NA NA 16.4
Wilt 6 2 35 7.9-13.5 .559 NA NA 3.5-9.4 .377 24.6 3.8 NA NA 18.6
Moses 2 1 10 8.4-19 .442 0-0 0 6.9-10 .677 16.6 1.6 1.1 1.9 23.7
West 9 1 55 11.1-24.2 .459 NA NA 8.3-10 .826 5 7.4 NA NA 30.5
Shaq 6 4 30 11.3-18.8 .602 0-0 0 6.2-12.7 .484 13 3.6 0.5 2.1 29.3
Lebron 8 3 45 10.5-22.4 .473 1.5-5.2 .343 5-6.9 .726 10 7.5 1.8 0.8 27.6
Kobe 7 5 37 9-21.8 .412 1.3-4.1 .313 6-7.1 .848 6.8 4.7 1.5 0.9 25.8
Pettit 4 1 25 9.6-23 .418 NA NA 9.1-12.1 .752 16.6 1.6 NA NA 28.4
Barry 3 1 16 13.1-30.1 .435 1.2-3.8 .3 7.9-9.7 .819 6.7 4.6 3.5 0.8 33.9
Bird 5 3 31 8.4-18.3 .458 0.6-1.5 .413 5.7-6.6 .872 11.7 6 2 0.8 23.1
Magic 9 5 50 6.8-13.1 .508 0.2-0.9 .191 5.7-6.5 .874 7.9 11.7 2 0.3 19.4
Hondo 8 8 47 8.3-9.7 .421 NA NA 5.1-6 .847 7.4 4.1 1.1 0.2 21.7
Oscar 2 1 11 6.3-14.3 .472 NA NA 3.7-4.6 .804 4.2 8.7 0.3 0 16.3
Pippen 6 6 35 7-16.5 .425 0.9-3.3 .256 4.1-5.4 .747 8.3 5.9 1.9 1.1 19
Baylor 7 0 44 10-23.5 .427 NA NA 6.3-8.3 .755 13.7 3.9 NA NA 26.4

*May be too high; don't yet have his attempts stat for '76. Even one or two misses knock a ton off since he didn't take many.


At Wednesday, May 23, 2018 3:37:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...

This is more for reference than analysis-- looking at things this way really dings guys like Kareem/Duncan/Robertson who played in post-prime Finals as well as guys like Hondo/Kobe who played in Finals before properly peaking-- but I couldn't find anywhere else that had it and I thought it'd be interesting to see. A few things that jumped out at me:

* Wilt's FT shooting in the Finals was a real problem. He shot fully 10% worse even than Shaq, though he got hacked less.

* Doc, Jordan, and Shaq (in whatever order) are the MVPs of scoring voluminously yet efficiently in the Finals. West, Hakeem, Lebron, and Bird are probably next.

*Magic and Wilt scored very efficiently, too, but had enough help that they didn't need to score as often.

* By contrast, Pippen, Barry, Hondo, Pettit, and Kobe all kinda shot like crap, though Pettit can blame Russell for his and Kobe/Pippen can at least partially blame injury. Barry can probably blame Wilt. Not sure what Hondo's excuse is.

* Only Bird shot well from 3 in the Finals, though Jordan and (maybe) Doc were surprisingly ok.

* Magic stands alone as a passer. Hakeem's pretty far out ahead as a shot-blocker, but gets an asterisk for Russ and Wilt not being allowed to play in that category.

* Pippen, Barry, Bird, Oscar, Kobe, and Hondo all have worse numbers than I expected.

* Doc out-rebounding Kareem I did not see coming. Not shocked but still surprised to see Baylor out ahead of Hakeem, Duncan, Kareem, and Shaq.

* Exactly half of these guys averaged a double-double in the Finals, but only Magic did it with anything but rebounds (and Lebron could easily lose his double-double average with one more appearance).

* The one Finals where they were recording Barry's steals, he certainly got a lot of them.

* Only five guys shot over .500 for their Finals careers, and I'm surprised Moses isn't one of them.

* These stats obviously do very little to capture defense, so it'd be doubly silly to rank anyone by this chart alone, even if you filter out pre or post prime seasons.


At Wednesday, May 23, 2018 9:30:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


No, I do not know Erving's 3FGA numbers for the 1976 Finals.

You have assembled some interesting numbers regarding these players. There is a lot of context that should be remembered, of course, but those numbers may surprise some people. For instance, Erving's clutch Finals performances are very underrated. Erving's three Finals losses came to teams featuring HoF/Top 50 centers at the top of their games; for that matter, many of Erving's playoff series losses came to teams featuring HoF/Top 50 centers during an era when center was the most important position in the sport.

At Wednesday, May 23, 2018 4:42:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

A (Rockets fan) friend of mine just sent me an NBA Reddit thread that's mildly relevant to the Hakeem narrative.

1: Though I remain wary of overvaluing a given player's opinion on who the greatest is, Jordan said as recently as 2015 if he could build a team around any player (excluding himself), he'd take Hakeem Olajuown (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRvNz2TdAPM&feature=youtu.be&t=4m52s).

2: Regarding the popular myth that Jordan would have easily won two more rings if hadn't retired, in 1992, Jordan said to a reporter "You know it's a good thing these guys can't get out of the west." and the reporter asked "why?" and Jordan's response was (regarding Hakeem) - "we have no answer for that guy."

Ultimately these are more interesting anecdotes than "proof" of anything, but if you're the type that's especially swayed by the opinions of other GOAT candidates, those two are a pair of nice feathers in Hakeem's potential-GOAT hat.

At Wednesday, May 23, 2018 6:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Malone was a notorious playoff choker.

His main defensive technique was to slap down and hope to knock the ball away before his man jumped, as he was a poor shotblocker.

I give him credit for being durable and for being a prolific regular season player but I would never take him over Pippen.

At Wednesday, May 23, 2018 8:13:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Fair points. I sometimes take beliefs and try to prove them with subjects that may be above reproach. I still believe that what players go through today is similarly as difficult as what players went through in the past (the obvious exception is the violent racism and blatant discrimination of Russell's day which is something else entirely...no matter how much discrimination African Americans face continue to face in today's America...#blacklivesmatter, the kneeling issue, etc.).

Their challenges are vastly different -- but imo no less difficult. I reject the idea that today's players are spoiled and/or lazy in ways their predecessors weren't.

I never meant to belittle Magic or Wilt. Up until his last few posts, Kyle had been posting seemingly hyperbolic statements as support for his POV without providing much context and provable evidence while simultaneously belittling Nick's POV while Nick provided a lot of support for his argument. Kyle may very well be correct in his assertion that Magic was better than Pippen both as a basketball player and as a cultural luminary (the latter of which will get zero argument from me). But to say it's not even a discussion...because "everyone" thought Magic was the best baller on the planet back in 87, to me, doesn't make it true. As you pointed out, "Perhaps Jordan was being sold short at that time." Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't, but there is at least a discussion to be had right?

This blog has reinforced my belief in rejecting the collective group think if it is grounded in hype, false assumptions, and or some sort of agenda. Harden, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, etc. etc. are proof that the collective group think often gets it wrong.

NOT saying they got it wrong with Magic. I am saying that there is a sizable amount of factual and circumstantial evidence to at least question the collective group think surrounding him, one of my all time favorite players.

His deficiencies were real. And his circumstances were ideal.

At Wednesday, May 23, 2018 8:44:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Pippen led the exact same Bulls team sans Michael Jordan, to within an extremely, extremely questionable call, of the Eastern Conference Finals. He won 3 less games by replacing Jordan with Pete Meyers. Grant, Armstrong, Kerr, Longley, and a rookie Toni Kukoc. Your assertion that he had a "pretty good cast" is a bit of a stretch. He led or was second on that Bulls team in all five major statistical categories (points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks).

So...I don't know how that's not a legit number one option. If you want to argue that he wasn't the type of lead scorer that other all time greats are, I won't argue with you. But, comparing him to Malone -- who never played without Stockton (like, literally, since neither missed any games), and somehow positing that Malone was a superior number one option simply because Malone scored more points...isn't a strong argument.

Malone's supporting casts when he went to the finals were much better than Scottie's 94 team. I don't think there's any real way to argue against that fact. Scottie's game translates across any era. Malone's not as well.

Also, what David said.

Finally, it has to be noted that Pippen did more and went further without MJ, then MJ ever did without Pippen. That is a fact. And while it isn't a case shut sort of fact by any stretch of the imagination, it's a very real fact.

At Thursday, May 24, 2018 12:42:00 AM, Blogger Nick said...


I grew up in Nevada. I didn't have a team, at first (my family were Lakers fans, but I hated slow Old!Kareem and later floppy Vlade Divac so that was right out), and before I eventually moved to Arizona and fell in love with the Phoenix Suns, my early days "tiny white kid needs somebody to root for" team were the Utah Jazz. I *loved* Stockton and Malone.

And I am here to tell you, anybody who's taking Pippen over Malone is looking at Basketball Reference and not game tape. Karl Malone was an unstoppable system-based scorer in the regular season, and an admirable B+ defender (though he put in some epic defensive work against Duncan/KG/Dirk in his final LA season once his offensive role was reduced), but he was a notorious playoff bed-wetter and a poor rim protector for his size.

Don't believe me? Show me another all-time great who shed 6% off his shooting percentage in the playoffs (and it got worse in later rounds). Show me another "all-time" power forward who averaged fewer blocks per game than 6'4 Dwyane Wade.

Pippen, meanwhile, was a defensive killing machine who might or might not have his shot on a given night, but showed up when it counted the most, consistently put his teammates in a position to succeed on offense, and blew up the opposing team's first option as a defender a few dozen plays per night, forcing turnovers and/or lower percentage shots. Hard to say with any precision, but he was probably worth 15-20 points a night on defense at his apex. Maybe even more.

Not only was PIppen better, I don't think it was especially close, so long as the playoffs matter/count.

At Thursday, May 24, 2018 6:58:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We agree about Pippen versus Karl Malone.

I would take Magic over Pippen but you and Nick make good cases for Pippen.

Regarding Wilt specifically and old school versus new school in general, I feel that today's players have an easier path: less racism, better knowledge about diet/training, much better salaries/amenities and rules/style of play that limit physicality. I would rather be trolled on social media than deal with the mental and physical burdens that the players of earlier eras faced. You are correct that it is only speculation to say whether or not a particular player could thrive if transplanted to a different era, but I think that it is clear that the old school players faced more difficult challenges.

At Thursday, May 24, 2018 6:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


We agree about Pippen versus Malone and we agree that it is not particularly close.

At Friday, May 25, 2018 1:00:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Veering back to our original topic a little bit, it's astounding how James looked effortless and superhuman one round ago in dispatching the Toronto Raptors and now he's a game away from elimination and doesn't even seem like he wants to be on the court or playing for the Cavaliers. I think the Cavs could still take this because LeBron can always surprise you with monster games after pouting for several in a row but James and the rest of his team would be smoked by now if the Celtics had even just a healthy Kyrie Irving in my mind.

At Friday, May 25, 2018 4:08:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Regarding Wilt:

I think David and Jordan are both right about different things.

To David's point, the overall challenges for an athlete today are considerably diminished vs. Wilt's era. That kind of racism can't quite exist in the open anymore (although it's not as dead as we'd like it to be, sadly) and the physical conditions are obviously better.

That said, to Jordan's point, Wilt *did* care a ton about the perception of his game/reputation. A guy who leads the league in assists out of spite just to prove he's a good passer isn't going to love playing in the First Take era* and with more media attention/narratives, we might get more "well I'll show them!" type Wilt rampages. It wouldn't be shocking to imagine him adding a poorly advised three point shot to his game to prove he could, or whatever.

*Although, sliver lining, pretty good chance he puts Skip Bayless in a coma.

David is right that virulent racism is much worse than media criticism, but I think it's a much worse apple to an orange; Wilt proved he was a little sensitive to perception (see also: abandoning the more effective underhand free throw because it made him look "sissy," his chafing at Russell's superior reputation) and it's fair to hypothesize that vulnerability would be exacerbated in today's media climate.

None of that is to say he wouldn't still be dominant; he'd likely lead the league in scoring/rebounding every season for ten years, as there's basically nobody out there right now who could even pretend to guard him.

Where it gets interesting, for me, is in the playoffs. Wilt shot .465 from the free throw line in the playoffs for his career, and worse than that in the Finals (.377), but he didn't get hacked the way guys like Shaq and Deandre Jordan did/do, despite playing in an era with way more possessions. Could a smart playoff team basically keep Wilt off the floor down the stretch by fouling? Probably. Even against super elite defense, modern offenses average close to a point per possession (and teams like the Warriors average considerably more than that); if fouling Wilt is holding his team to much less than that... it gets dicey.

Of course, Shaq won a title in '06 shooting 37% from the line, so it's a hinderance, but not an insurmountable one.

At Friday, May 25, 2018 5:39:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I got curious based on all the "who says who is the best player ever" and tried to dig up as many "Top 5s" as I could. If anyone's curious, here's what I came up with (and there are some weird picks on it, be warned):

Hakeem: Shaq, Moses, Lebron, Jordan, Stockton
Doc: Wilt, Russell, Baylor, West, Oscar (Hawkins as 6th man. Picked when he was 14, never wants to change it)
Jordan" Hakeem, Worthy, Pippen, Jordan, Magic (Presented as the pickup team he'd most want to play with, not necessarily his "Top 5")
Shaq: Russell, Karl Malone, Erving, Jordan, Magic
Kobe: Hakeem. Lebron, Durant, Jordan, Drexler (Limited to players he faced)
Lebron: Bird, Erving, Jordan, Magic (Only listed 4, but kinda implied Magic would be 5th)
Durant: Shaq, Duncan, Kobe, Jordan, Magic (excluded current players but conceded Lebron would be on it eventually)
Barkley: Wilt, Russell, Kobe, Jordan, Oscar, Kareem (Has flip-flopped on Kobe or Kareem for fifth)
Iverson: Shaq, Lebron, Kobe, Jordan, Curry (also mentioned Westbrook and Kyrie Irving as contenders for Curry's spot)
Reggie: Kareem, Hakeem, Larry, Jordan, Magic (Wilt as sixth man, then Duncan, then Kobe, then Lebron, though this was before Lebron won his last ring which Reggie said could vault him up the rankings some)

I couldn't find Wilt's Top 5, but his Top 1 is such a strange pick I think I have to mention it: Meadowlark Lemon

I think the most surprising ones on there for me are James Worthy, Karl Malone, Clyde Drexler, and to a lesser extent, Stockton. Biggest takeaway is that guys (except Doc and Lebron) tend to favor the guys they played with/against.

At Friday, May 25, 2018 5:46:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Dammit, Kidd, Payton, and Karl Malone didn't paste over:

Kidd's picks: Shaq, Duncan, Pippen, Jordan, Stockton (interestingly, he mentions Magic specifically before ultimately choosing Stockton. He also mentions that while he left out Hakeem and Lebron they could both "easily be the best to ever play their position)
Karl Malone: Wilt, Lebron, Pippen, Oscar, Stockton (he explains that he'd take Pippen on the strength of that '94 year)
Payton: Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Doc, Magic

At Saturday, May 26, 2018 12:48:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


In your opinion do you feel like Game 6 was one of the best games of James' career? Obviously he did not have the kind of shooting display like he had in Game 6 at Boston in 2012, but I felt like he was aggressive all game attacking the basket and rarely settled for jumpers unlike in the past where he would have periods he was either passive or tired.

The one thing that irritates me though is the drastic difference in media perception of James in comparison to the likes of Bryant and Westbrook. James attempted 33 shots and made 17 which is efficient but no one ever accuses James for shooting too much. When they lose it's all because he had no help so it was justified for him to shoot more. However, if it was Bryant or Westbrook the media would have been all over them for shooting too much. Even if they won they would still nitpick their FG%...I remember this happened for Bryant during the 2010 NBA Finals when Gasol and his teammates did not bring their game and Bryant had to do it by himself against the great Boston defense. He had a fractured index finger and a banged up knee for that year's playoffs if I'm not mistaken and even though he did not shoot great he was effective in making plays and made shots when it mattered. But people still hated on him for shooting too much and inefficient with some even said he was carried by Gasol and Artest. The level of treatment between them by the media and fans is just crazy.

At Wednesday, May 30, 2018 10:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan, I said nothing about Malone's scoring, but since you brought it up, that's another huge factor in favor Malone.

Can't believe there's even an argument between Pippen and Malone, in favor of Pippen. Like I said before, Malone was a perennial MVP candidate and AS, including at the time, the first 11x 1st team all-nba selection. Pippen doesn't even come close to approaching any of these things. Malone had much better longevity, a much better peak, and a longer peak. Never that high on Stockton. He was consistent, but his peak was never that great, and those UTA teams really don't look that daunting, especially after Malone/Stockton. Pippen wasn't outplaying Malone, and Malone had a much tougher defender to go up against in Rodman.

Jordan won his first playoff series with a rookie Pippen, who was a full-blown role player. Jordan never had a chance to win much without Pippen with him-bad argument. I keep hearing about this 'bad call.' Do you really think there wasn't other bad calls during the series? Pippen had 2 other AS teammates in 1994, too. And when Jordan came back in 1995, Pippen was instantly and clearly not the #1 guy anymore.

At Friday, June 01, 2018 12:49:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sorry that there was a bit of a lag before the most recent comments posted.

Here are my thoughts:

1) I think that LeBron is playing about as well as he ever has overall. There have been some passive moments but this is happening far less than it used to happen--and he has been tremendous most of the time.

2) How Wilt might react to social media is so speculative that I just hesitate to even consider it as a factor when ranking players. Based on skill set and physical dominance, I believe that Wilt would have a field day in today's game. His value as a rebounder, shotblocker, passer and dominant scorer would more than negate his free throw shooting. If I were coaching him, I would leave him in the game and let the other team get in the bonus/foul out several players. I think that the "Hack a" strategy is overrated; it makes sense to get a two for one possession but a steady diet of it disrupts the fouling team's offensive rhythm and puts the other team in the bonus.

3) The "Top Fives" selected by other players are interesting. This is a subject that fits in more with my 50 Greatest Players series, which is an ongoing project. I am working on Part III now, but I am not sure when I will be able to finish it.

4) I think that Game Six was one of LeBron's best games and I agree with the notion that he is judged by a different, more favorable standard than Kobe and Westbrook, who were/are relentlessly criticized for supposedly shooting too much. It doesn't bother me if a truly great player takes 25-30 shots or more (unless the shots are really poor) and I have been consistent about that regardless of which player does that.

5) People who actually played with/against Pippen and with/against Malone understand why Pippen should be taken ahead of Malone. Malone was very durable and he was productive during the regular season but he was a notorious choker and not a particularly good defender. Pippen's emergence late in his rookie season and his elevation to a starting role in the playoffs played key roles in Chicago's ability to finally win a playoff series with Jordan. Yes, there may have been other bad calls but the Hubert Davis call is the one call that directly and obviously changed the outcome of a game. It is also the only call from that series that was subsequently publicly acknowledged to be a "terrible" call: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-10-13/sports/9410130277_1_knicks-guard-hubert-davis-bulls-hue-hollins

By the way, those who followed the Bulls closely during that era know that this was not the only bad call that Hollins made against the team. The '96 Bulls could have won 73 games instead of 72 if not for a bad Hollins call late in that regular season.

Jordan has said that without Pippen there would be no Michael Jordan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJmT8b0z6lQ Phil Jackson has said that Pippen was the best all-around player on the best team ever assembled (1992 Dream Team).

Pippen's two AS teammates in '94 only made the AS team when Pippen was the best player, even though they had played with MJ for years before that. I have talked to many players from those teams and they all say that Pippen was a better teammate than MJ. The Bulls had a good cop/bad cop leadership style but Pippen's good cop role was an essential contrast to Jordan's relentless bad cop.

At Friday, June 01, 2018 1:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I don't materially disagree with really any of that.

* Regarding Wilt, I less mean specifically social media and more just the 24-7 news cycle and hyper-loud media environment. We know for a fact Wilt's play could be influenced by his critics, and there are a lot more critics given a lot more bandwidth today. That's all I was getting at.

* I think we mostly agree on Wilt's overall impact today. I think he'd probably average something (assuming he's the first option) like 36/16/6/1/3 in today's game and presumably get at least one title with half-decent support, and a fair share of MVPs even without it.

* I would add that it is much harder to criticize someone for shooting too much when they're doing it at a .500+ clip. When I get on Westbrook, it's usually when he goes 6-28, not when he goes 22-35. And, in his case, a lot of those shots *are* bad. Lebron takes a few bad shots a night, too, in my opinion (over-dribbled threes) but they're a lower share of his overall shot-taking and he makes such a high clip of everything else it's tough to throw too many stones.

Kobe was somewhere in between; he took better shots than RWB but didn't make them at quite the same clip as James. I tend to think the criticism of his shooting totals was usually, but not always, unfair. He's a tough guy to talk about in general terms because he changed so much as a player/teammate so many times over the course of his career; Kobe in '04 and Kobe in '10 have very different strengths/weaknesses/attitudes/supporting casts, and it's almost weird that they're the same guy.

* You and I are in alignment with Pippen. I would add that BJ Armstrong is one of those Mo Williams-type All-Stars where even a year later it seemed silly.

As for Pip vs. Malone, I think if you want to win as many games as possible for as long as possible, you can take Karl Malone. If you want to win as many titles, playoff series, or important crunchtime possessions as possible, you take Pippen. Peak is higher, skillset is wider, cruchtime resume is way better.

Put another way: I'd take Pippen for one game to save my life, for a career in search of titles, or for any given playoff series and I'd do it without blinking. But if my only goal was to put out a decent team that made the playoffs every year for two decades, then I'd take Malone and look really, really hard for a #2 option with some next-level crunchtime bonafides... but I wouldn't really expect to win many/any titles.

At Friday, June 01, 2018 4:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As is often the case, we are pretty much on the same page about everything but Kobe and Westbrook. Kobe's FG% was negatively impacted by his willingness to take "hand grenade" shots with the shot clock dying. LeBron passes those shots to someone else--and Harden does the same, often blatantly so: at least LeBron makes on-target passes, even if the passes are to players who are not likely to be able to do much with :02 left on the shot clock, but Harden will throw a behind the back knuckle ball that is off target rather than take a late shot clock shot that could further lower his already poor FG%.

Westbrook takes more bad shots than Kobe or LeBron but Westbrook also averages 10 rpg and 10 apg while always playing hard (like Kobe but unlike Lebron--or, at least, regular season LeBron) so I probably give Westbrook more leeway on shot selection than I would give to other players. If Westbrook shot a little better but averaged 5 rpg instead of 10 rpg I am not sure that the net effect would be positive. Of course, ideally he would take better shots while also getting 10 rpg and 10 apg; maybe that evolution will still happen.

At Friday, June 01, 2018 5:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I am factoring in the hand-grenade shots, but I think we both also know that Kobe--and especially post-Shaq Kobe--liked to take mostly-stationary 3s with a defender relatively nearby a little more often that we'd like. Lebron sometimes takes those as well--and I mentioned that above-- but I feel like he takes fewer of them and makes more of them, likely owing to his height making him a bit harder to contest on those.

If Westbrook cut his 3pt FGA to 1.5 per game or so (ideally even lower than that, but I suppose there's a case that he has to shoot them sometimes to keep defenders from playing him like Ben Simmons) I would have little negative to say about him offensively, regardless of where his percentage ended up. A lot of his two-point shots are somewhat out of control layup attempts that have no chance of going in, but depending on the night he often gets a very friendly whistle on those attempts so I can't go so far as to call them "bad" shots (though I do think they hurt him a little in the playoffs when refs tend to allow a little more physicality, not entirely unlike Harden... though I do not think RWB embellishes nearly as much as Harden does).

Nonetheless, it still hurts his team when he jacks up 25 shots and makes 8, or whatever. Ditto Lebron; it just happens much less frequently to Lebron.

I don't think RWB plays particularly hard on defense, but that is old ground for us by now and we will apparently never agree unless his effort either increases or decreases. Lebron is definitely coasting in the regular season at this point, but by year 15 so was Kobe (though Kobe at that point would still at least play hard on defense in the 4th if the game were remotely close).

There are a few greats (Duncan comes to mind first) who were still putting in consistent defensive effort night in, night out in year 15 but the ones I can think of all had reduced offensive responsibilities by that point, while Kobe/Lebron were/are still their teams' offensive fulcrums. I am beginning to suspect it may not be realistic to expect guys at that point in their career to go all out on both sides of the ball (though it is fair to expect someone RWB's age to)... in which case there's a chance I've been a little too hard on Kobe for that period of his career.

Can you think of anyone who was still his team's primary offensive option continuing to play at an All-Defensive level through his 15th season? Not a rhetorical question, I'm legitimately curious; I've been racking my brain and come up empty.

At Monday, June 04, 2018 7:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is a very interesting question and the answer is that I cannot think of another player who was his team's primary option and an All-Defensive Team caliber performer through his 15th season.

At Monday, June 04, 2018 12:10:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


Yeah, me neither. Closest I can get are Duncan and Kareem, but both guys had plenty of offensive help by that time (and that was either just before or just after Kareem started to pick his spot on D, too).

Until somebody proves me wrong, I think it might not be fair to ask a 15 year vet to carry his team on both ends, but that's what the Cavs are asking right now. So far it hasn't gone great for them in the Finals, and I doubt their luck is going to change.


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