Ranking Every Player for the Los Angeles Lakers since 1977

Okay, let’s continue with the “history” theme.  Previously I posted rankings of every player in the history (since 1977) of the Utah Jazz and the Boston Celtics (see below):

Ranking Every Player in the History of the Utah Jazz

Ranking Every Player for the Boston Celtics since 1977

Given the response to these “rankings”, I thought I would analyze another team.   Across the past three decade no other team has gone to the finals as often as the LA Lakers.  So in honor of their latest trip, here is what every player on the Lakers has done with respect to Wins Produced since 1977.

Table One: Ranking the LA Lakers (1977-78 to 2008-09)

Recently much has been said about the relative value of Kobe and LeBron.  And some have even compared these two players to Michael Jordan.  However, maybe people should think about Kobe and Magic.  If Kobe and the Lakers prevail – over the Magic – Kobe will have won four titles.  This is only one less than Magic (the player, it would be four more than the Magic franchise).

So is Kobe that close to Magic?  Table One suggests otherwise.  In 13 seasons, Magic produced nearly 300 wins and posted a 0.429 WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  This mark leads the franchise across the past thirty years.  Second on the list is Kobe.  But as one can see, it’s a very distant second.  In 13 seasons (and more than 1,000 additional minutes), Kobe has produced 149 wins with a 0.207 WP48.  It’s important to emphasize, Kobe is twice as productive as an average NBA player (average WP48 is 0.100).  But he has never offered anything close to what we saw from Magic.

Kareem vs. Shaq

Just like we see with the first two names on the list, there may also be a debate about the next two players listed, Kareem and Shaq.  The ranking is based on Wins Produced since 1977, and as one can see, Kareem did produce slightly more for the Lakers across the years examined.  But if we look at WP48, Shaq is clearly the more productive player.  Before fans of Kareem get too upset, it’s important to note that Kareem was 30 years old in 1977-78 and his numbers reflect what he did until the age of 41.  Kareem did manage to produce 12.3 wins [with a 0.225 WP48] at age 37 (which is great for an old guy).  But in his last four seasons Kareem only produced 14.0 wins (which is still pretty good for a really old guy).

In contrast to Kareem, Shaq’s numbers begin at age 24 and end when he is 31.  So we are looking at Shaq in his prime.  If we compare Shaq and Kareem at age 30 and 31 we see the following:

Kareem at 30: 18.6 Wins Produced, 0.394 WP48

Kareem at 31: 22.9 Wins Produced, 0.348 WP48

Shaq at 30: 17.0 Wins Produced, 0.321 WP48

Shaq at 31: 14.8 Wins Produced, 0.287 WP48

In sum, I think Kareem in his prime did more than Shaq.  Of course, if Shaq could have hit his free throws more consistently it might have be a different story.

It’s also important to remember when looking at this list that it is simply a ranking of what each player did – with respect to Wins Produced – since 1977 (in other words, it is what it is).  The Shaq and Kareem comparison tells us that you have to think about why each player posted the numbers we observe (in the case of Kareem, age is clearly an issue) before leaping to any conclusions.

The Top Ten

For those who don’t wish to click on the above table, here is the list of top 10 players (again, with respect to Wins Produced for the Lakers since 1977).

1. Magic Johnson

2. Kobe Bryant

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

4. Shaquille O’Neal

5. James Worthy

6. A.C. Green

7. Vlade Divac

8. Michael Cooper

9. Lamar Odom

10. Byron Scott

There are 193 players ranked, so you will have to look at the table to see more.

Let me close by essentially repeating what I said when I posted the ranking for the Celtics.

In general, reactions to such analysis follow two paths.  If the person reacting likes the analysis (i.e. I always knew Magic was the best), then the reaction will look like this… “Professor Berri – with some of the best analysis I have ever seen – has confirmed that Magic is the greatest player for the Lakers since 1977.”

If the person, though, does not like the analysis (i.e. Kurt Rambis is 11th?), then you see… “Berri – who no one thinks knows what he is talking about – actually thinks Rambis is a great player.  That is all you need to know to see how stupid all the advanced stats are.  Why can’t these geeks put the computer down and watch a freakin’ game.”  Or something like that (usually the language is more colorful).

Although I like the first approach (and I am not too keen on the second), both reactions have the same problem.  In both instances the person reacting is arguing from conclusion back to evidence.   In other words, their reaction to Wins Produced is entirely dictated by whether or not what it says confirms what the person already believed.  If it does, then Wins Produced is great.  If not, then it’s stupid.

Unfortunately, this is not how one should do analysis.  When we do research we start with the evidence and work to the conclusion.  And if we think a conclusion is incorrect, we have to actually go out and find sufficient evidence that allows us to reach a different conclusion.  Oh, and by sufficient, I mean the new evidence shouldn’t be accurately described as “horseshit”.

Okay, after I said that on the post for the Celtics there were still a few comments (just a few, I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush) that suggested reading comprehension is not important to every fan of the Celtics (or to put it another way… my impression of the unhappy fans was pretty good).  Now we get to see if fans of the Lakers react any differently.

- DJ

The WoW Journal Comments Policy

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

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

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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