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A brief statistical digression on Kobe/Duncan/LeBron/MJ/Bird/Magic

JustAnotherGuy

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I wanted to assess several careers against one another – Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan provided the initial analysis, and I wanted to have a glimpse into the future and a past measuring stick, so I included LeBron, Jordan, Bird, and Magic. I hadn’t see anyone do the Bryant/Duncan comparison in exactly the way I would have. I dragged myself over to basketball-reference.com because those guys have a great variety of information available. I’m more inclined to trust advanced statistics than the traditional ones, as some of my other commentary on here may suggest. That being said, I’m taking three approaches here on each of three chief statistics. I’m using PER, Box Plus/Minus, and WS/48.

First, we ask the simple questions: for each metric, how many times was each player in the top 10, top 5, top 1?
Second, I compare their best seasons, second best seasons, on down to the tenth best (i.e., how do their best years stack up against one another?), and finally, I compare based on age (at 19, 20, etc., how do they compare?).

The first is the easiest:
PER: Bryant: 11/5/0, Duncan: 13/9/0, LeBron: 11/8/6, Jordan: 11/11/7, Bird: 7/6/2, Magic: 10/6/0
BPM: Bryant: 7/1/0, Duncan: 12/8/1, LeBron: 11/11/8, Jordan: 10/10/5, Bird: 11/9/4, Magic: 11/10/1
WS/48:Bryant: 7/1/0, Duncan: 13/5/0, LeBron: 10/7/5, Jordan: 11/11/8, Bird: 7/6/2, Magic: 10/7/1

As between Bryant and everyone else, the verdict is clear. As among everyone else, it’s fair to say LeBron belongs in a discussion with anyone. The records of Magic and Bird are impressive, as they go. And Holy Hell, what if Michael didn’t miss those years? Tim Duncan -- steady as she goes, more years in the top ten for all three stats than anyone else in the sample.

The second is below:
PER:




BPM:
WS/48:


Brief analysis: again, LeBron looks (by all three measures) to measure up to the folks widely regarded as among the best of recent eras. The numbers that didn’t like Kobe much in terms of his ranking against his contemporaries don’t favor him much as against history, either. Michael’s career looks even more incredible standing next to Bird’s and Magic’s. For WS/48, out of sixty seasons represented here, LeBron and Michael have the top eleven. Besides LeBron, nobody on the table would place any of their seasons above eighth on Michael’s list. Kobe would place eleventh. Tim Duncan appears to be fighting undefeated Father Time almost to a draw.

Speaking of Father Time, the third comparison is age-driven:

PER

*Played only 6 games **Less than 20 games

BPM

*Played only 6 games **Less than 20 games

WS/48


*Played only 6 games **Less than 20 games

I’m not trying to draw any big-picture conclusions from this. It looks, of course, like the advanced stats aren’t as big on Kobe as his most vocal supporters are. Below are a few possibly disjointed thoughts regarding the players in question:

(1) Tim Duncan, since the 1997-1998 season, has not turned in a season where he didn’t contribute significantly – per WS/48, 60% more than an average player to his team’s chance to win by being on the floor. That’s a phenomenal run.

(2) One wonders what would fill in the DNP’s for Jordan and Magic. There was a serious falloff for each in between – would it have been a slow decline? Would they have achieved at a higher level than they did if they hadn’t had the layoff?

(3) This makes me less optimistic than I had previously been about the shape of LeBron’s career going forward.

(4) From this whole picture, here, I don’t see an argument from these statistics for Kobe as among the very top NBA players all-time. Obviously, scoring is a popular metric for analysis, as are RINGZZZZZZ and playoff performances. From a regular-season, analytic measure, I’m curious who might create a better pool of comparables for Kobe. I don’t have the patience for plotting out additional iterations of part 2 and 3 above – but I will likely follow up with a broader collection of players (KG, Shaq, Dirk, Stockton, Malone, e.g.) in the comments to follow.

(5) At his peak, of course, LeBron was at a dizzying height. It will be curious to come back and re-run this comparison to see how Kyrie, Love, Curry, Westbrook, Harden, AD, et al. fit into the analysis.
 

Zog

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This is great work. Can you add some sort of marking on LeBron's numbers (similar to the * for Jordan) denoting his first year in Miami and his first year back with the Cavs? The charts showing by-age are obvious which years were his first with Miami/back with the Cavs, but the others are not. And there is a large drop off in his first Miami year vs. 2nd.
 

All4One1ForAll

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Good work. I wish RAPM was available a few decades ago. I think it's easily the best stat in terms of measuring how impactful a player is in his given role. Of course, like any stat, it's not perfect, but I think it would be cool to measure LeBron, Bird, Magic, and Jordan against each other in order to determine how many standard deviations each was above league average in RAPM at their peaks or over a stretch of years. That would give a pretty good idea of their comparative individual dominance.
 

JustAnotherGuy

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Amending the images would be a pain in the ass.
LeBron's four years in MIA are below:


They are the 2/4/5/8 for PER, 3/5/7/8 for BPM, 1/4/5/6 for WS/48 (and I typoed the initial table--should be .264 rather than .266.

I'm not 100% sure that it's fair to characterize him as dropping off after year 1 in Miami. Year 3 was his best in all 3 metrics, and year 1 the worst.

Still need to follow up looking for a few more suitable comps for Kobe on test #1.
 

JustAnotherGuy

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For each player, that's the top 10/5/1 finishes for each of the three statistics, and then some more musings.

PER:


BPM:


WS/48:


Karl Malone. Yow. I mean. Yow.
Shaq. Also.
Those two are my runaway top pair here.
With Malone having the results here, I'm surprised about where Stockton falls -- last in this particular comparison to my eyes.
KG and Dirk flipflop based on which metric you prefer, and for PER, how you feel about top 10 finishes vs. #1.

Elgin Baylor, by the by, for PER has 11/8/1, and for WS/48 4/2/0.

And to make you sick by comparison -- Kareem had 17/15/9 for PER, 10/8/6 for BPM, and 16/13/9 for WS/48.

I think that the farther apart in time, and in number of teams in the league, you get, the less useful comparisons like these can be. That said...Kareem.

If I'm lucky, I'll take the time to come back here and follow up some more. Since I'm a jerk who enjoys provoking "RINGZZZZZ" type Kobe stans, I may come back after digging through the season-by-season leaders for these stats to see the folks who led more seasons than Kobe...which is to say, ever.
 
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JustAnotherGuy

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Previously unlisted Player X:
Per: 8/6/1
BPM: 6/6/1
WS/48: 6/4/0

I'd take that over Kobe's.

He has 3 seasons that beat Kobe's top for WS/48.
4 for Box Plus/Minus, and 2 better, and 1 dead even with Kobe's top for PER.

Their eras substantially overlap.

Dwyane Wade. He's only got 3 RINGZZZZ and he never hung 81 points in a game, though. Kobe's clearly the far superior player. (or not)
 

JustAnotherGuy

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So...This is both a moment to share some data in follow-up, and to point out that the younger dudes (with the possible exception of KD) are just not yet ready to be lumped into any of the foregoing comparisons.

But, a contemporary of LeBron and Kobe who absolutely and unequivocally should have been in the comparison, despite his tragic lack of RINGZZZZZZZZZZ or great playoff success

Is Chris Paul.

I've lost my initial spreadsheet, so I've limited the comparison to Kobe here. You can eyeball the rest if you'd like.
Here are their best PER seasons side-by-side (CP3 on the right)
28.0​
30.0​
26.2​
28.3​
26.1​
27.0​
24.5​
26.4​
24.4​
26.2​
24.2​
26.2​
23.9​
26.0​
23.7​
25.9​
23.3​
24.4​
23.2​
23.7​

Of the best 10 years, CP3 has 7.

How about WS/48 minutes?

0.224​
0.292​
0.210​
0.287​
0.210​
0.284​
0.208​
0.278​
0.206​
0.270​
0.202​
0.270​
0.199​
0.265​
0.199​
0.264​
0.196​
0.253​
0.178​
0.232​

Of the best 10 years, CP3 has 10.

What about Box Plus/Minus?

6.4​
11.2​
5.8​
9.2​
5.7​
8.8​
5.4​
7.9​
5.3​
7.8​
4.7​
7.5​
4.7​
7.5​
4.6​
7.4​
4.5​
7.1​
4.4​
6.4​

It's a tie! (between Kobe's best and CP3's 10th).
 

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