Tim Duncan Is Still Setting the Bar

Written on:June 8, 2011
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Tim Duncan IS Still Setting the Bar
Evaluating the Greatest NBA Players in the Post-Jordan Era

With the news last week of Shaquille O’Neal’s retirement from the Boston Celtics and in the mist of an entertaining NBA Finals, I thought this would be an appropriate time to open up a debate here at about the best NBA player in the post-Michael Jordan era. I don’t mean since 2003, when Jordan limped off of the court as a Washington Wizard. I mean the true Post-Jordan era, since his retirement from the Chicago Bulls in 1998.

As we speak, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James are doing battle trying to seize an opportunity to erase their names from the list of best NBA players to never win a championship. But the question at hand is who has been the greatest player in the NBA since 1998. For the purpose of being thorough, I will open up the debate by ranking every player worthy of consideration from this era. Needless to say there are only three players on this list that someone could make a legitimate argument for being the greatest. They are, in no particuliar order, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan. So please, do not come on and make an argument that any player besides these three is the greatest of the era because we will be forced to put you in the penalty box for two weeks.

Let me begin by saying that my list is not subjective. It is based on a simple mathematical formula for determining NBA greatness. For the sake of keeping things entertaining, I will unveil my list first and then present the mathematical formula that determined it afterward. Let the blood boiling begin.

Greatest NBA Players in the Post-Jordan Era

18th – Jason Kidd
17th – Derrick Rose
16th – Allen Iverson
15th – Dirk Nowitzki
14th – Ray Allen
13th – Steve Nash
12th – LeBron James
11th – Kevin Garnett
10th – Pau Gasol
9th – David Robinson
8th – Chauncey Billups
7th – Paul Pierce
6th – Dwyane Wade
5th – Manu Ginobili
4th – Tony Parker
3rd – Kobe Bryant
2nd – Shaquille O’Neal
1st – Tim Duncan

Before you start typing your profanity laced responses about me being an idiot, let me lay out a couple of clarifications. First, this is a ranking of the “greatest” players of the era, not necessarily a ranking of the “best” players of the era. Obviously, a ranking of the “best” players of the era would have LeBron James much higher than Tony Parker, for example. I define greatness by winning championships and so my mathematical formula is heavily weighted towards players who have won rings. Secondly, whether my formula skews Chauncey Billups ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, for example, is irrelevant to the task at hand. As I stated before, there are really only three players in the conversation and I think that my formula gives a good perspective on how to determine between the true great players of the era. Consequently, I will show later that my formula puts Michael Jordan vastly ahead of all three great players from this era which should add some levity to the debate and perhaps muffle those of you who are foolish enough to argue Bryant is better than Jordan. So without further adieu, let me present my mathematical formula for determining NBA greatness. The complexity of this formula wll shock you.

1 point for each NBA MVP award won (regular season)
2 points for each NBA Championship won
2 points for each NBA Finals MVP won

According to the formula,

18th – Jason Kidd = 0 points (I put Kidd on the list because he was the only player I could think of in the era that should be on the list of greatest players but has not earned any points according to the formula. Perhaps that will change in the next week.)

17th – Derrick Rose = 1 point (2011 NBA MVP)

16th – Allen Iverson = 1 point (2001 NBA MVP)

15th – Dirk Nowitzki = 1 point (2007 NBA MVP)

14th – Ray Allen = 2 points (2008 NBA Champion)

13th – Steve Nash = 2 points (2005, 2006 NBA MVP)

12th – LeBron James = 2 points (2009, 2010 NBA MVP)

11th – Kevin Garnett = 3 points (2004 NBA MVP / 2008 NBA Champion)

10th – Pau Gasol = 4 points (2009, 2010 NBA Champion)

9th – David Robinson = 4 points (1999, 2003 NBA Champion – I put Robinson on the list for work done in the post-Jordan era, his career point total under this formula is actually 5 [1995 NBA MVP])

8th – Chauncey Billups = 4 points (2004 NBA Champion / 2004 NBA Finals MVP)

7th – Paul Pierce = 4 points (2008 NBA Champion / 2008 NBA Finals MVP)

6th – Dwyane Wade = 4 points (2006 NBA Champion / 2006 NBA Finals MVP)

5th – Manu Ginobili = 6 points (2003, 2005, 2007 NBA Champion)

4th – Tony Parker = 8 points (2003, 2005, 2007 NBA Champion / 2007 NBA Finals MVP)

3rd – Kobe Bryant = 15 points (2008 NBA MVP / 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010 NBA Champion / 2009, 2010 NBA Finals MVP)

2nd – Shaquille O’Neal = 15 points (2000 NBA MVP / 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006 NBA Champion / 2000, 2001, 2002 NBA Finals MVP)

1st – Tim Duncan = 16 points (2002, 2003 NBA MVP / 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 NBA Champion / 1999, 2003, 2005 NBA Finals MVP)

Here are a couple more notes about my ranking system. First, I did not include ranking role players, so that is why Derrick Fischer, Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Lamar Odom, ect. are not on the list. Every championship team of the era (with the exception of the 2004 Detroit Pistons) has had either two or three “great” players, so those are the players I ranked. Secondly, players with tie scores I made subjective determinations about their resumes to decide who I ranked higher. For example, in my opinion Shaq is second and Kobe is third because Shaq was the dominant player for three championships and a side kick on only one whereas Kobe was the dominant player on only two championships and the sidekick on three.

You could argue that Shaq should be tied with Tim Duncan in first place based on the point system because he was robbed of the 2005 NBA MVP which was given to Steve Nash. I would respond that you could make the same argument to give Tim Duncan two more points for the 2007 NBA Finals. Duncan was still the dominant player for the Spurs in 2007 and the only reason Tony Parker won the NBA Finals MVP trophy is because Cleveland did not put up a fight and got swept. The bottom line is that Tim Duncan has been the dominant player in winning four titles, Shaq has been the dominant player in winning three (Dwyane Wade was in 2006) and Kobe has only been the dominant player in winning two (Shaq was in 2000, 2001, 2002). This is why Tim Duncan is still setting the bar for greatness in the post-Jordan era and the formula bares it out.

By the way, for that perspective I alluded to earlier. Shaq is now retired with his 15 points under this formula. Tim and Kobe have a long way to go to try and get in the Michael Jordan conversation of greatness. Here is an evaluation of Michael Jordan based on this formula.

Michael Jordan = 29 points (1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998 NBA MVP / 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998 NBA Champion / 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998 NBA Finals MVP)

Hence, the phrase the post-Jordan era.

Let the official debate begin.

7 Comments add one

  1. Haha! I KNOW you didn’t just invoke mathematics to measure ‘greatness’! Your scoring mechanism is simple enough, and it does make sense, but I feel it leaves much room for argument. Your scoring mechanism is heavily weighted towards championship teams; if a player was never on a championship team they would get no score on 2 of the most weighted variables (championships and finals mvps). Now, I’m not saying that those categories shouldn’t be weighted like that, but such weighting IS subjective. I’ve spent the last 10 minutes composing what I call the Watts NBA Greatness Index, where the weighting of each variable can be adjusted to observe different results. I’ve also added in a few new categories that I think are also relevant to a player’s greatness (all star game appearances, points per game, assists per game, and rebounds per game). New varialbes can be added as desired (for example we could add in steals per game and/or blocks per game or 3-pointers per game), as long as the weighting sums up to 1. If I had all the player’s stats I could create a page where you could adjust the weights and view the results. If we really wanted to get creative, we could also add in some negative weights for things like fouls per game, or technicals or flagrants or turnovers, etc. So anyways, the point of this equation is to get real mathematic results based on subjective weighting; hence the weights become the debate. The equation should work across the entire history of the NBA, as long as the variables themselves are relevant, such as All Star Game Appearances which may not have started until a number of years after the NBA was created, or if Finals MVP awards were invented yet, etc, in which case would put those ancient players at a disadvantage. Anyways.. I present to you the “Watts NBA Greatness Index”:

    A = all star game appearances
    M = mvps
    C = championships
    H = finals mvps
    P = points per game career average
    S = assists per game career average
    R = rebounds per game career average

    Ax = maximum all star game appearances acheived by any player
    Mx = maximum mvps acheived by any player
    Cx = maximum championships acheived by any player
    Hx = maximum finals mvps acheived by any player
    Px = maximum ppg acheived by any player
    Sx = maximum assists per game acheived by any player
    Rx = maximum rebounds per game acheived by any player

    Lowercase variables below represent the weight of each variable; the sum of weights must equal 1.
    Weighting is subjective. Higher weights represent higher importance when calculating ‘greatness’.
    a = .2
    m = .2
    c = .2
    h = .1
    p = .1
    s = .1
    r = .1
    Sum of weights = 1.00

    WattsNBAGreatnessIndexScore = (A/Ax)(a) + (M/Mx)(m) + (C/Cx)(c) + (H/Hx)(h) + (P/Px)(p) + (S/Sx)(s) + (R/Rx)(r);

    Scale is from 0 – 1; closer to 1 is ‘greater’. If a player had the maximum value in every category, their score would be 1.

    Example: If a player won 3 championships (C), and the most ever won by any player is 6 (Cx), and the weight of (c) = .2, this segment of the equation would be:

    (C/Cx)(c) = (3/6)(.2) = (.5)(.2) = .1

    Apply this same idea to each segment, then sum the values of each segment to get the score.

  2. avatarTed James says:

    So who is number one between Kobe, Shaq, and Timmy according to Watts NBA Greatness Index? The most championships ever was Bill Russell with 11. By the way, for the Ted James NBA Greatness Index I wrote a mathematical equation to which I didn’t have to do any research because I could cumulate every player from the era’s total based on the information I already had stored in my brain. The only thing I looked up to write to piece was how to spell Dwyane 🙂

  3. Clarification: The max values used should be the maximum value in the dataset (amongst players being compared). In this case, the Cx value would be 5 champtionships (Kobe) in the post-MJ era.

    I also have no idea about the actual players’ stats.. I’m too lazy to gather that info haha. Equations are no sweat though 🙂 Depending on how you set the weights, you could get the exact same results as your list. Your weighting would be:

    1 point for each NBA MVP award won (regular season)
    2 points for each NBA Championship won
    2 points for each NBA Finals MVP won

    Based on that, your weighting would be:

    m = .2
    c = .4
    h = .4
    and the rest of the weights would be set to 0.0.

  4. avatarTed James says:

    You need a variable in the Watts NBA Greatness Index that accounts for “greatest references in a hip hop song.” If that was added into the equation, then Kevin Willis might be in the running for greatest player in the post-Jordan era.

  5. lol Kevin Willis.. hands down!

  6. avatarTed James says:

    And just like that, Jason Kidd has moved up the list on the Ted James NBA Greatness Index to 12th place (ahead of LeBron) and Dirk Nowitzki has moved into 6th place (ahead of everyone except Manu, Tony, Kobe, Shaq, and Timmy). Congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks.

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