Drexler vs. Miller or Versatility vs. Efficiency

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Vinatieri's kick is goooooood!

Who is the second best shooting guard of the 1990s?  Jordan is the best, but who’s next?  NBA.com asked the question when compiling there all-decade team of the 1990s, and the voting results of the basketball-loving public were dead split between two players.  Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Reggie “My Sister’s Better Than Me” Miller.  It’s an interesting dichotomy.  The two players are so different it’s difficult to even consider them the same position.

Clyde was one of the great rebounding and passing swingmen of all time, big and strong enough to play the small forward just as well as the guard position, and a scorer who relied on his athleticism to generate points around the rim.  Reggie was pure catch and shoot.  He did very little rebounding, very little playmaking, and was undersized at the forward.  In terms a pure shooting guard, Reggie more exactly fit the model, but Clyde is more in line with the way the position has evolved.  Both are extremes, Clyde, the ultimate extension of versatility who did everything well but was never the best at any one skill at the position and Reggie pure efficiency, a player who was a star because of one skill.

So the question of who was the better player becomes something of a litmus test for the ranker’s belief system when it comes to versatility vs. efficiency.  There is a clear division in the two criteria.  The more responsibilities a player assumes on the court (versatility), the less chance he has to focus on being exceptional at just one thing.  And vice versa.  The more a player is called on to fulfill a singular role, the less he’s able to diversify his production for the team.

Have a look at Neil Payne’s Top 10 Shooting Guards as ranked by statistical plus / minus (statistical plus minus is a regression formula that predicts what a players actual adjusted plus minus might have been using box score elements).  Versatility is represented in the V.I. (Versatility Index) column which is a ranking created by PER-inventor John Hollinger and combines a players total assists, rebounds, and points.  Efficiency is represented in the TS% (true shooting percentage) column which is a stat measuring scoring efficiency by factoring 2 point field goals, 3 point field goals, and free throws, a more exact measure than simple field goal percentage.

If I dunk from the 3 point line, how many points is that worth?

You’ll notice that Drexler dominates the V.I. numbers.  Clyde’s worst season for V.I., his rookie year, he had an 8.1, higher than any year in Reggie’s career – Reggie peaked at 7.4.  In fact Drexler’s V.I. numbers are better than any shooting guards except Michael Jordan and Jerry West.  Rare Air.  But when we turn to TS% we see that Drexler peaked at 57.7% while Reggie only had one season in his career under 58%.  Overall Reggie Miller had more season where his TS% was over 60% than the rest of the field combined (Reggie did it 13 times.  Ray Allen did it 2 times, Jordan 4 times, Gervin 1 time).

So who was better?  Well, what do you value?  Is the ability to fill gaps in your teammates abilities what a superstar is supposed to do, or is ultra-efficient scoring the better attribute? In my opinion they are both worthy measurements and the argument goes to Drexler on usage.  Despite being less efficient, he still managed to score more while doing more of everything else.  Neil’s statistical plus minus backs that up, but I would have told you the same in 1998 when Drexler retired without a second thought.  I prefer a star who can fill many needs to an uber-specialist who can’t be stopped.  But of course if you asked me to pick between Robinson and Shaq, I’d pick the more specialized O’Neal and contradict myself.

By the way, this argument can also be made using Garnett and Nowitzki if Clyde and Reggie are too old for you (please feel free to substitute Duncan for Jordan and Karl for West, thank you).

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One Response to “Drexler vs. Miller or Versatility vs. Efficiency”

  1. pmadavi Says:

    Reggie is like Goldberg. Sure he’s selling the most merch ever, but he’s doing it on everyone one else’s bumps.

    That said, he’s probably the greatest shooter of all time. Now that some distance has come between him and all the cheating he did to beat my Knicks, I can recognize that.

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