NBA Analysis: Was John Stockton Better than Karl Malone?

| by David Berri

In past years I would offer some discussion of each game in the NBA Finals.  This year, though, Arturo Galletti has that job covered.  Not only does he do more work than I ever did, his posts offer much more information.  And his posts appear soon after each game is ended (see his post after Game Five from Thursday night).

A topic related to the current NBA Finals is “who are the best players to never win an NBA title?”   Of course, James Brocato covered this topic about two weeks ago (apparently leaving me nothing to say).  Last Saturday, Kelly Dwyer at Yahoo.com also chimed in on this subject.  Dwyer’s discussion ranked Karl Malone and John Stockton as the two best players to never win a title.  In discussing this ranking, Dwyer offered the following observation:

Advanced statistics won’t rank these two as equals, Malone’s ability to rebound and score at a high efficiency rate without turning the ball over place him far ahead of Stockton in this realm.

It is not really clear what “advanced stats” Dwyer is looking at, but if we look at Player Efficiency Rating (does this really count as “advanced”?), we see that Malone had a career mark of 23.9 while Stockton’s career PER was only 21.8.

And if we look back at what Dwyer says, Wins Produced must tell the same story in this instance.  After all – as we often hear – WP favors players who rebound.  Across his career, Malone averaged 10.1 rebounds per game while Stockton only averaged 2.7. So WP must also favor the Mailman.

Just for giggles, though, let’s look at the WP numbers of each player (again, I am just looking for something I could say).  Across his entire career, Karl Malone posted the following numbers:

  • Wins Produced: 291.6
  • WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes]: 0.255

At his best (from the 1989-90 season when Malone was 26 years old) Malone posted the following numbers.

  • Wins Produced: 22.8
  • WP48: 0.350

Now let’s look at Stockton’s career.

  • Wins Produced: 311.1
  • WP48: 0.313

Stockton’s best season was the 1987-88 season (when Stockton was 25 years old):

  • Wins Produced: 23.2
  • WP48: 0.392

As we can see, across each player’s entire career, Stockton was more productive.  And when we compare each player’s peak, Stockton again offered more.

How is this possible? The key issue is shooting efficiency.  Malone was an efficient scorer, with a career effective field goal percentage of 51.6%. Stockton’s career mark of 54.6%, though, was just amazing, especially for a point guard.  So although Malone scored more points and grabbed more rebounds, Stockton’s amazing ability to hit the shots he took gave him the edge.  At least with respect to Wins Produced.

Let me close with another comment on rebounding and Wins Produced.  A few days ago I linked to an article by Jonah Lehrer.  And in response, Arturo offered an extensive discussion of rebounding.  So after you finish his discussion of the NBA Finals, check out what Arturo has to say about Wins Produced and rebounds.

- DJ