Monday, January 28, 2013

NBA players in 1987 vs 2013

Scott O'Gallagher (and a few others) contended with me on Twitter today that NBA talent has gotten worse since the 1980s.  Scott's arguments are that the 80s had some of the all-time greatest players and also hosted some of the all-time greatest teams. 

I however contend this is NOT the case because Scott is only looking at the top talent and not the league as a whole.

1987 Players sorted by position and Win Shares (the actual WS score doesn't actually matter for this case-study).  I used 1987 because I wanted a 25 year gap and forgot it's not 2012 anymore >_<

15.9 Magic Johnson (MVP, All-NBA 1st)
10.3 Doc Rivers
10.0 Sleepy Floyd
9.7 Fat Lever (All-NBA 2nd)
9.4 Derek Harper
7.9 Maurice Cheeks
7.6 Isiah Thomas (All-NBA 2nd)
7.0 Vern Fleming
6.8 Terry Porter
6.0 John Paxson
5.6 Rickey Green (backup John Stockton w/ 6.7)
5.2 Dennis Johnson
4.5 Jay Humphries
4.3 John Lucas
4.1 Nate McMillian
3.3 Ennis Whatley
3.0 John Sundvold
2.9 Gerald Henderson
2.6 John Bagley
1.1 Darnell Valentine
0.7 Pearl Washington

Aside from Magic Johnson, point guard in 87 gets WAXED by today's NBA talent.  Lafayette Lever was All-NBA 2nd team which pretty much says it all.  Fast forward to today and Stephen Curry was just snubbed from the All-Star team.  The majority of these players were not better players than Charlotte Bobcats' starter Kemba Walker or his backup Ramon Sessions.  In fact, the vast majority of NBA backups are better players than the worst 8 starters in 1987.  Nobody is taking John Bagley over Kirk Hinrich much less backups Nate Robinson, Andre Miller, Jarrett Jack, or Kyle Lowry.  NOBODY.

PG is the position that has evolved most in the NBA.  The quality of guard play has improved throughout the years, and it's not just the rules changes that have made them more effective.  Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and John Wall are athletic PGs with blinding speed who can throw it down on opposing defenders with even the slightest separation.  Magic Johnson didn't exactly have to deal with that when he was guarding Vern Fleming.  The only players with that level of athleticism were wings like Jordan, Drexler, and Dominique Wilkins.  Now it is common place.

16.9 Michael Jordan (All-NBA 1st)
10.3 Clyde Drexler
9.3 Dale Ellis
8.0 Rolando Blackman
7.7 Byron Scott (backup & Defensive Player of Year Michael Cooper w/ 6.1)
6.7 Danny Ainge
6.2 Reggie Theus
5.8 Walter Davis
5.6 Jeff Malone
5.3 Alvin Robertson
5.2 Chris Mullin
4.2 Joe Dumars (Sixth man Vinnie Johnson w/ 4.8)
4.2 Ron Harper
4.2 Randy Wittman
3.5 Julius Erving (36 years old)
3.3 Gerald Wilkins
2.9 Sidney Moncrief (Sixth Man of Year Ricky Pierce w/ 9.4)
2.6 Bob Hansen
2.4 T.R. Dunn
2.1 John Long
1.6 Derek Smith
1.3 Tony Brown
0.9 Mike Woodson (yes, that Mike Woodson)

Shooting guard of course was headlined by Michael Jordan, the man who revolutionized the position.  Before Jordan, there were no superstar SGs.  Of course, with that groundwork laid, we now have a league with Kobe, Wade, and Harden producing at a high level (whereas only Drexler was anywhere close to MJ), with a collection of elite 6th men scorers like Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, J.J. Redick, and Ray Allen, far replicating the microwave scoring players like Vinnie Johnson started.  For every Danny Ainge or Reggie Theus there is an Andre Iguodala or Joe Johnson, a former star w/ an all-around game sacrificing touches.  Paul George is an All-Star 6'10" shooting guard which should say it all about how far the position has come.

On the George note, perhaps most important is the growth of the position.  When Jordan burst on the stage he was considered a big guard.  Most SGs were 6'3" to 6'4".  Jordan changed all of that.  6'6" guards are far more common, and we've seen wingspan of these players grow as well.  We have long, athletic, tenacious defenders like Thabo Sefolosha, Avery Bradley, and Tony Allen pairing the effectiveness of guys like Sidney Moncrief and Alvin Robertson with the 3pt shooting that most SGs frankly lacked in the 80s.  Starters like John Long, Derek Smith, etc would not even sniff the D-League in todays game, which of course does not speak very highly of most backup players.

15.2 Larry Bird (All-NBA 1st)
12.2 Dominique Wilkins (All-NBA 2nd)
10.8 Kiki Vandweghe
10.3 Adrian Dantley
10.2 Larry Nance
9.4 Rodney McCray
9.3 James Worthy
8.9 Mark Aguirre
8.1 Alex English
7.4 Xavier McDaniel
6.8 Orlando Woolridge
6.4 Jerome Kersey
5.6 Chuck Person
5.5 Paul Pressey
4.5 Roy Hinson
4.2 Robert Reid
3.7 Rod Higgins
3.6 Gene Banks
3.6 Terry Cateledge
3.3 Phil Hubbard
3.3 Kelly Tripucka
3.1 Kenny Walker
2.9 Terry Tyler (6th man Eddie Johnson w/ 4.3)
2.2 Walter Berry
1.0 Rory White

Bird, Nique, Kiki versus LeBron, Durant, Melo?  No contest up top.  With respect to Larry Legend, LeBron is an all-time great on the heels of Jordan.  Save the Bird comparisons for silky All-Around Kevin Durant, the perennial MVP candidate who can do no wrong on or off the court.  Nobody is taking Kiki or Dantley over Melo right now (Dantley was basically Melo w/o 3pt range).  After that, it's a bit of a dropoff for the modern era but 35 year old Paul Pierce, even in his advanced age is a more valuable offensive player than most 1987 small forwards.

SF has evolved over the years.  In the 80s it was a position where you'd get volume scoring whereas now SFs are all-around wing players, defensive stoppers, three point gunners.  English and Kiki's no-defense gunning approach might have worked in 1987 but coaches nowadays prefer guys like Andrei Kirilenko, Nicolas Batum,  Luol Deng, and Shane Battier, players who can defend multiple positions and kill you with the three ball w/o dominating the ball on offense.

14.8 Kevin McHale (All-NBA 1st)
12.0 Charles Barkley (All-NBA 2nd)
9.0 Otis Thorpe
8.8 Terry Cummings
8.6 Kevin Willis
7.9 Buck Williams
7.6 A.C. Green
7.5 Sam Perkins
7.5 John "Hot Rod" Williams
7.4 Tom Chambers
7.2 Michael Cage
6.9 Karl Malone
6.2 Ed Pinckney
6.2 Dave Greenwood
5.8 Bill Cartwright
5.4 Larry Smith
4.7 Herb Williams
4.7 Jim Peterson
3.5 Charles Oakley
3.5 John Williams
3.4 Sidney Green (rookie backup Dennis Rodman w/ 2.9)
2.6 Caldwell Jones

McHale, Barkley, and Karl Malone pioneered the PF position, as prior to those players there was no such thing as a star PF.  The league revolved around centers until these PFs came in and changed the game.  In 87 we can clearly see most PFs were blue-collar rebounding types, but that responsibility has now shifted to that of the center (Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, DeAndre Jordan, etc).  Instead we now have a collection of highly-skilled post-up PFs like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, Zach Randolph, Carlos Boozer, LaMarcus Aldridge, David Lee, David West, Luis Scola, and Blake Griffin.  Sam Perkins was the first good 3pt shooting stretch-four, something Dirk, Ryan Anderson, and Kevin Love ran with far beyond what anyone imagined possible in 1987.

10.9 Hakeem Olajuwon (All-NBA 1st)
10.5 Bill Laimbeer
10.4 James Donaldson
9.4 Moses Malone (All-NBA 2nd)
9.2 Robert Parish
9.0 Steve Stipanovich
7.5 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (39 years old)
7.4 Jack Sikma
6.0 Brad Daugherty
6.0 Tim McCormack
5.4 Mike Gminski
4.9 Artis Gilmore (37 years old)
4.9 Tree Rollins
4.6 Joe Barry Carroll
4.5 LaSalle Thompson
4.4 Steve Johnson
4.2 Dave Corzine
4.1 Alton Lister
3.6 Mark Eaton
3.5 Patrick Ewing
2.8 Alvan Adams
2.0 Wayne Cooper
1.1 Benoit Benjamin

One of Scott's biggest contentions is that few centers can play with their back to the basket nowadays.  Well, looking at this list, it's not like Tim McCormack and Tree Rollins were big back to the basket players.  Aside from the big names we're all familiar with, there are a lot of BUMS on this list, and this is ONLY THE STARTERS we're talking about, not the backups.

You don't have to like Chris Bosh's faceup game, but it doesn't (or at least shouldn't) take a rocket scientist to figure out that he would have his way with the majority of these players both offensively and defensively (Bosh's defense is easily the most underrated part of his game).  Though I digress that Bosh is a natural PF and we're talking about a league with Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Al Horford, Nikola Pekovic, Larry Sanders, etc not being able to match up with the likes of Mike Gminski on a nightly basis.  These guys all would have had their way with these scrubs just as Hakeem did.


Overall what we see is that the top 10 players in the NBA match up well, but after that it's a significant drop-off in talent.

There are 30 NBA teams today, yet players of Kyle Lowry, Andre Miller, Javale McGee, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Ryan Anderson, Manu Ginobili's caliber (etc, etc, etc) are coming off the bench.  The quality of depth in the NBA and THE WORLD increases with every passing season and you'll be hard pressed to convince me the 80s were more skilled based on a top 10 players list.

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