2011 Remix: The NBA's 50 Greatest Players Of All-Time
February 5, 2011The announcement of the 2011 NBA All-Stars triggered the expected debates about who is or isn't one of the top 24 players in the game this season.
Those debates are fine, but the 2 Live Stews debated a much more interesting topic on their sports talk radio show last week.
If they updated the NBA's 50 Greatest Players of All-time, then who would be added to the list and who would they replace?
The original 50 greatest NBA players were selected by "a blue-ribbon panel of media, former players and coaches, current and former general managers and team executives" in 1996 and honored at halftime of the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland.
How can we determine which players should be honored at halftime of the 2011 All-Star Game in Los Angeles (if the NBA was inclined to do such a thing)?
Wins Produced is a great metric for that kind of debate, so let's see what the numbers have to say about the NBA's 50 Greatest Players.
This article will use Win Score and Estimated Wins Produced, statistical models created by Professor David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal, to measure how much a player's box score statistics contributed to their team's efficiency differential and wins. An average player produces 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (WP48), a star player produces 0.200+ WP48 and a superstar produces 0.300+ WP48. More information on these stats can be found at the following links:
Simple Models of Player Performance
Wins Produced vs. Win Score
What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say
Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics
Before we get started, let's establish some ground rules for updating the list of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players:
- Since Wins Produced can only be calculated with statistics that go back to the 1977-78 season, any one that played the majority of their career before 1978 cannot be removed from the list.
- Wins Produced is great for measuring the production of a player's game, but the 50 greatest players should have form and function. They have to look like a great player and this has to be validated by a group similar to the one that selected the original 50 greatest players. To meet that criteria, the only players that will be considered for addition to the list will be those that have a greater than 50% chance of being selected to the Hall of Fame, according to basketball-reference.com's Hall of Fame Probability model.
That's it, those are the rules.
Let's start the update of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players with the guards...
There were 18 guards selected to the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list and 12 of them played the majority of their career before 1978. That leaves six players whose spots are up for grabs:
- John Stockton, 311.1 Wins Produced
- Magic Johnson, 297.3 Wins Produced
- Michael Jordan, 283.6 Wins Produced
- Clyde Drexler, 222.9 Wins Produced
- George Gervin, 106.7 Estimated Wins Produced
- Isiah Thomas, 97.4 Wins Produced
The Wins Produced numbers for Stockton, Johnson, Jordan and Drexler were taken from this post by WoW Journalist Arturo Galletti.
Wins Produced numbers for Gervin were estimated from data at basketball-reference.com using this method.
Wins Produced numbers for Thomas were taken from the Wages of Wins Journal.
According to this post from Arturo Galletti, there are five guards that rank in the NBA's top 30 for career wins produced but were not selected for the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1996:
- Jason Kidd, 278.5 Wins Produced, 91.1% probability for Hall of Fame
- Mark Jackson, 174.1 Wins Produced, 0.5% probability for Hall of Fame
- Gary Payton, 169.5 Wins Produced, 87.4% probability for Hall of Fame
- Reggie Miller, 162.9 Wins Produced, 5.5% probability for Hall of Fame
- Kobe Bryant, 159.0 Wins Produced, 100% probability for Hall of Fame
It looks like Kidd and Payton bump Gervin and Thomas from the list and Kobe's lurking to pick off any low hanging fruit from the forwards and centers.
Speaking of forwards...
There were 17 forwards selected for the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list and 10 of them played the majority of their careers before 1978. That leaves seven players whose spots are up for grabs:
- Charles Barkley, 313.6 Wins Produced
- Karl Malone, 291.6 Wins Produced
- Larry Bird, 262.6 Wins Produced
- Scottie Pippen, 198.1 Wins Produced
- Julius Erving, 165.8 Estimated Wins Produced
- Kevin McHale, 112.3 Wins Produced
- James Worthy, 77.6 Wins Produced
The Wins Produced numbers for Barkley, Malone, Bird and Pippen were taken from this post by WoW Journalist Arturo Galletti.
Wins Produced numbers for McHale and Worthy were taken from the Wages of Wins Journal.
The Wins Produced by Erving were estimated from data at basketball-reference.com using this method.
According to this post from Arturo Galletti, there are seven forwards that rank in the NBA's top 30 for career wins produced but were not selected for the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1996:
- Kevin Garnett, 282.7 Wins Produced, 99.8% probability for Hall of Fame
- Dennis Rodman, 242.6 Wins Produced, 45.5% probability for Hall of Fame
- Tim Duncan, 235.8 Wins Produced, 100% probability for Hall of Fame
- Buck Williams, 197.5 Wins Produced, 1.8% probability for Hall of Fame
- Shawn Marion, 176.1 Wins Produced, 16.7% probability for Hall of Fame
- Larry Nance, 154.6 Wins Produced, 4.5% probability for Hall of Fame
- Charles Oakley, 152.4 Wins Produced, 0.2% probability for Hall of Fame
Garnett and Duncan bump McHale and Big Game James from the list, and then things get interesting. The Wins Produced by Dr. J were estimated to be 165.8, but since Arturo's post didn't include him in the list of the top 30 players in career wins produced (where the 30th-ranked player produced 151.4 wins) it's safe to say that estimate is a little too high. Therefore, Bryant bumps Dr. J to the front of the waiting list with McHale, Gervin, Thomas and Worthy in case any centers come up short.
Let's take a measure of the centers...
There were 15 centers selected for the NBA's 50 Greatest Players list and eight of them played the majority of their careers before 1978. One of those eight players was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem entered the NBA in 1970 and played until 1989. Technically, he played the majority of his career after 1978, but the majority of his most productive seasons came before then, so I'm granting him the same immunity as the other legacy players.
So with the Kareem exception, that leaves seven players whose spots are up for grabs:
- Hakeem Olajuwon, 261.8 Wins Produced
- Shaquille O'Neal, 251.1 Wins Produced
- David Robinson, 250.2 Wins Produced
- Moses Malone, 237.1 Wins Produced
- Robert Parish, 207.6 Wins Produced
- Patrick Ewing, 172.2 Wins Produced
- Bill Walton, 117.1 Estimated Wins Produced
The Wins Produced numbers for every center except Walton were taken from this post by WoW Journalist Arturo Galletti.
Wins Produced numbers for Walton were estimated from data at basketball-reference.com using this method.
According to this post from Arturo Galletti, there are four centers that rank in the NBA's top 30 for career wins produced but were not selected for the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1996:
- Dikembe Mutombo, 208.0 Wins Produced, 3.3% probability for Hall of Fame
- Ben Wallace, 192.2 Wins Produced, 0.5% probability for Hall of Fame
- Jack Sikma, 152.7 Wins Produced, 58.8% probability for Hall of Fame
- Bill Laimbeer, 151.4 Wins Produced, 13.8% probability for Hall of Fame
An argument could be made for Sikma (fear the permafro!) but since he was originally passed over for Walton in 1996, I'm not going to put him ahead of Walton in 2011. I will, however, knock Walton off the list for Dr. J since he seems to have been the much more productive player over his NBA career (even if health was the primary reason).
To rewind, I think the following players should be removed from the 50 greatest players list (this hurts):
- Bill Walton, 117.1 Estimated Wins Produced
- Kevin McHale, 112.3 Wins Produced
- George Gervin, 106.7 Estimated Wins Produced
- Isiah Thomas, 97.4 Wins Produced
- James Worthy, 77.6 Wins Produced
And the following players should replace them:
- Kevin Garnett, 282.7 Wins Produced, 99.8% probability for Hall of Fame
- Jason Kidd, 278.5 Wins Produced, 91.1% probability for Hall of Fame
- Tim Duncan, 235.8 Wins Produced, 100% probability for Hall of Fame
- Gary Payton, 169.5 Wins Produced, 87.4% probability for Hall of Fame
- Kobe Bryant, 159.0 Wins Produced, 100% probability for Hall of Fame
Here's the NBA's 50 Greatest Players - Remixed for 2011 (in no particular order):
- Bob Cousy (G) - Six titles, One MVP, 10-time All-NBA First Team
- Bill Sharman (G) - Four titles, Four-time All-NBA First Team
- Sam Jones (G) - 10 titles, Five-time All-Star
- Hal Greer (G) - One title, 10-time NBA All-Star
- Oscar Robertson (G) - One title, One MVP, Nine-time All-NBA First Team
- Jerry West (G) - One title, One Finals MVP, 10-time All-NBA First Team
- Lenny Wilkens (G) - Nine-time NBA All-Star
- Dave Bing (G) - Two-time All-NBA First Team
- Walt Frazier (G) - Two titles, Four-time All-NBA First Team
- Earl Monroe (G) - One title, Four-time NBA All-Star
- Tiny Archibald (G) - One title, Three-time All-NBA First Team
- Pete Maravich (G) - Two-time All-NBA First Team, Five-time All-Star
- John Stockton (G) - 311.1 Wins Produced
- Magic Johnson (G) - 297.3 Wins Produced
- Michael Jordan (G) - 283.6 Wins Produced
- Jason Kidd (G) - 278.5 Wins Produced
- Clyde Drexler (G) - 222.9 Wins Produced
- Gary Payton (G) - 169.5 Wins Produced
- Kobe Bryant (G) - 159.0 Wins Produced
- Dolph Schayes (F) - One title, Six-time All-NBA First Team
- Paul Arizin (F) - One title, Three-time All-NBA First Team
- Bob Pettit (F) - One title, Two-time MVP, 10-time All-NBA First Team
- Elgin Baylor (F) - 10-time All-NBA First Team
- Dave DeBusschere (F) - Two titles, Eight-time All-Star
- John Havlicek (F) - Eight titles, One Finals MVP, Four-time All-NBA First Team
- Jerry Lucas (F) - One title, Three-time All-NBA First Team
- Rick Barry (F) - One title, One Finals MVP, Five-time All-NBA First Team
- Billy Cunningham (F) - One title, Three-time All-NBA First Team
- Elvin Hayes (F) - One title, Three-time All-NBA First Team, 12-time All-Star
- Charles Barkley (F) - 313.6 Wins Produced
- Karl Malone (F) - 291.6 Wins Produced
- Kevin Garnett (F) - 282.7 Wins Produced
- Larry Bird (F) - 262.6 Wins Produced
- Tim Duncan (F) - 235.8 Wins Produced
- Scottie Pippen (F) - 198.1 Wins Produced
- Julius Erving (F) - One title, One-time MVP, Five-time All-NBA First Team
- George Mikan (C) - Four titles, Five-time All-NBA First Team
- Bill Russell (C) - 11 titles, Five-time MVP, Three-time All-NBA First Team
- Wilt Chamberlain (C) - Two titles, One Finals MVP, Four-time MVP
- Nate Thurmond (C) - Seven-time All-Star
- Willis Reed (C) - Two titles, One-time MVP, One-time All-NBA First Team
- Wes Unseld (C) - One title, One Finals MVP, One-time MVP
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (C) - Six titles, Six-time MVP
- Dave Cowens (C) - Two titles, One-time MVP
- Hakeem Olajuwon (C) - 261.8 Wins Produced
- Shaquille O'Neal (C) - 251.1 Wins Produced
- David Robinson (C) - 250.2 Wins Produced
- Moses Malone (C) - 237.1 Wins Produced
- Robert Parish (C) - 207.6 Wins Produced
- Patrick Ewing (C) - 172.2 Wins Produced
Disagree with the list? Leave a comment.
When will a Miami Heat player crack the list? Well, Dwyane Wade has produced 102 wins in his career to-date (see NerdNumbers) and probably needs 50 wins to pass Dr. J. Wade's career average WP48 is 0.254. He would need to maintain that average for another 9,500 minutes (or about four seasons) to produce enough wins to crack the NBA's 50 Greatest Players. That will be a tough task at 33 years-old, but if Kobe can average 0.214 WP48 at that age, then Wade can definitely do it.
So five years from now I expect to be updating this list with Wade's name and numbers.
LeBron James, however, produced 139.6 wins coming into this season and he's produced 153 wins to-date, including this season (see NerdNumbers). So next season, LeBron will replace Dr. J on this list without question. The question is whether he'll be the ninth player on the list without a ring...
I think we all know the answer to that.