In the wake of their nearly simultaneous retirement announcements, there have been a lot of articles written about co-1995 rookies of the year, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. I’ve watched the two of them over their entire 19 year careers, and I’m a fan of both of them. If you’re reading this, and you’re under 25, you’ve probably never seen either player at his best. In this post and the post about Hill, we’ll look at the types of players Hill and Kidd were at their primes, how they played, how they stacked up against the competition, and where their best seasons rank all-time.
Kidd is a remarkably difficult player to put into perspective. By all reports he was a high-flying speed demon in high school who played the point primarily because his biggest basketball influences were Gary Payton and Gary’s father Al, who coached both future superstars. In college and the bulk of his NBA career, Kidd was a do-it-all point guard who controlled the pace of the game with superior skill pushing the ball end to end, and he was one of the all-time great defenders of both guard positions. In his elder days, Jason became a spot up three point shooting specialist who retained his preternatural court vision but lost the quickness to play point guard at both ends. His advanced statistics were never great, but you could easily make the case that he was the best point guard of his generation. He brought two relatively weak New Jersey Nets teams to the NBA Finals, but the entire Eastern Conference was very weak in those seasons, so it’s hard to rate those accomplishments. See? Difficult to find perspective.
If the 2010 era has been a golden age of point guards, the late 90’s early 2000’s when Kidd was at his peak were the opposite. The game at the time was a slowed down, brutal big-man’s paradise where Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Chris Webber, and Kevin Garnett were kings. The combination of the league allowing hand-check and not allowing zone defense to double big men away from the ball coupled with a preponderance of defensive-minded coaches minimized the statistical impact of guards. Using the 6 best consecutive seasons method we employed with Grant Hill, here’s the best guards of Jason Kidd’s best career stretch:
1999-2004 Guards Advanced Stats By Win Share
The actual advanced numbers aren’t that great. 20 PER, .160 WS/48, and under 50% eFG (he shot under 50% eFG all his career until he got to Dallas and because a three point specialist) while not bad exactly certainly aren’t elite stats. The trouble with rating Kidd with stats is that he wasn’t an efficient scorer, and metrics don’t think much of assists for the most part. I don’t want to waste too much time discussing the value of assists, but I will say this – there’s a difference between a scorer like Wade or Kobe dishing the ball to an outside shooter when a trap comes and hoping a teammate makes the open shot versus Jason Kidd or Steve Nash pushing the ball in transition and creating an open shot for a player who otherwise might be useless or a rebounder only in the half court. The work Kidd did to generate offense for those very challenged Nets teams is hard to overrate. He made that offense NBA viable. Without him it was Kenyon Martin operating in the post. Ugh.
One thing we do see in those stats that demonstrates Kidd’s end-to-end ability is the high rebound rate coupled with the high assist rate. Kidd’s averages of 10+ TRB%, 40+ AST% and 20+ USG% is a rare feat. In the last 25 years only Magic and LeBron have matched those numbers:
Where the stats love Kidd and may actually overrate him a little bit is on the defensive end. His defensive win shares are the highest all time for a guard, and at his peak his defensive rating was under 100, a really amazing number for a guard. Take a look at all guards in the 3 point ear ages 25-30:
The reason I say this defensive rating is probably a little too generous is that Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Gary Payton are all so much worse. This is partly an era issue and partly an issue of how defensive rating is credited, and it just gives a lot of credit for defensive rebounds. Guards collect defensive boards largely based on team need and player role. None of which is to say Jason isn’t a great defender, just that using these metrics may overvalue his defense somewhat in comparison to other guards.
However, by total WS for guards aged 25-30 Kidd for seasons 1980-2013 is a top 11 player, and for a point guards top 5 behind only Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Gary Payton, and Chauncey Billups. That actually seems about right to me when I think about it. Maybe flip flop him and Billups, maybe not, but top 5 in the 3 point era sounds right.
Not to be underrated is Kidd’s contribution to the 2011 Dallas Maverick’s championship team. His defense on Kobe, Wade, and LeBron was fantastic in short bursts. He hit crucial threes. He moved the ball. He just did all the little things the Mavs needed to get over the hump even through he was already well over the hill. He was equally important to the 2008 Men’s US Olympic gold medal team playing the cool-headed veteran role. As the third or fourth most important on a title team and a gold medal team, his jewelry probably doesn’t factor too highly in his legacy, but he earned it all, and overall 5th best point guard since 1980 is pretty damn good legacy with or without the title and the medals (He also got one with Kevin Garnett, Alonzo Mourning, and Vince Carter in 2000). Kidd is a sure-fire first ballot hall of famer, and I could definitely see him coaching sometime soon.
Tags: Al Payton, alonzo mourning, championship, chauncey billups, chris webber, Dallas Mavericks, gary payton, Gold Medal, Grant Hill, Hall of Fame, Jason Kidd, kevin garnett, lebron james, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, NBA, nba career, New Jersey Nets, retirement, shaquille o neal, sports, Team USA, vince carter