As we discussed in yesterday’s podcast, and as I’m sure any fan that is diehard-enough to read a blog like this already knew anyway, Jordan recently said in an interview that he thought he could score 100 points in a game against today’s defenses thanks to the rules limiting perimeter contact. He also mentioned that he thought Kobe was a “top ten guard.” Here’s a nice write-up of both points on ESPN.If you read down a little ways you’ll see that statistical wizard John Hollinger doesn’t believe Jordan could reach 100 points. His methodology was to take Jordan’s highest scoring season (when he was 23) and project what those numbers might be in 2010. Obviously any look back at what Jordan has previously done is going to “prove” that he could not score 100 points. But the same looks back at Kobe Bryant prior to 2006 would show that he could not possibly score 81 points in a game, and similarly David Robinson could not possibly score 72 points in a game, and Wilt could never score 100 points in a game. Until they all did it. If we took not a 23 year old Jordan with a suspect jumper but a 26 year old Jordan with no holes in his game and the full athleticism of youth, put him in a position against teams like the 2006 Raptors or one of Don Nelson’s Warriors teams in the ’90s, and Jordan’s goal was only to score 100 points, things change.
Hollinger (and this is a problem of statisticians in general) did not factor in that Jordan’s actual ability peak and his usage peak might not have happened at the same time. Because the Bulls were a strong team and MJ no longer needed to take a disproportionate amount of all their shots, that doesn’t mean all of the sudden he couldn’t have done so. And that goes for all players. I would love for our mathematically-inclined brethren to be able to take the context of a player’s career into consideration when analyzing stats. Isiah Thomas did not peak at age 23. That was just the last year he played an up and down style prior to Dantley joining the team. Ewing didn’t forget how to play offense when Pat Riley came. The team focus switched to the other end, and Pat got rid of his best set up point guard. Production is obviously a necessary factor in determining ability, but there’s more to looking at a player’s ability that production. We need a wider lens.
Now to the other controversy in Jordan’s interview. MJ said he thought Kobe was “probably a top 10 guard” in an all-time context. That is some b@!!$#!%. As Paul and I agreed in our podcast, there’s no way any reasonable person could rank Kobe lower than the 5th best guard of all-time. Guards who could be ranked ahead of the career 28 point per game, MVP, 2 time finals MVP, 5 ring wearing Bryant: Jordan, Magic, Oscar, and West. And quite frankly a couple of those names might be debatable. Nobody else has an argument. Now I don’t know if Jordan was sending out a barb at Bryant or if he just hadn’t been given the question beforehand and that was an off-the-cuff answer because he didn’t want to say something stupid. What if he said top 10 players of all time, and that turned out not to be true? It was either a petty underrating of a modern player (possible considering it’s Jordan) or a conservative underrating of a modern player (possible considering it’s a professional talent evaluator).
Out of personal curiosity, I wanted to take a look at whether there’s a spot for Bryant in a Top 10 All-Time NBA Players list. We’re talking about individual production, accolades, and team achievements all being considered. Here’s a research-free guestimate:
1. Michael Jordan
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
3. Wilt Chamberlain
4. Bill Russell
5. Magic Johnson
6. Larry Bird
7. Tim Duncan
8. Shaquille O’Neal
Okay. That’s enough. I’m not at all sure of the order of those 8, but I feel pretty confident that they belong. After that it gets a little iffy. Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant, Moses Malone, Julius Irving, Karl Malone, LeBron James, David Robinson… everybody has an argument of one kind or another, and they are all after 2 open slots. Frankly of the players I’ve seen, I think I would put Kobe next. If I think of what player I’d want to start a team with I’m not sure he’d make it over Hakeem and LeBron, but his accomplishments probably rank him 9 or 10. No matter how you look at it, no player on this list belongs in the “probably a top ten guard” list. John Stockton, Gary Payton, Walt Frazier, Bob Cousy, Clyde Drexler… these guys belong in the “probably a top ten guard” list. Kobe is disqualified on account of his all-time awesomeness.