PxPixel
NBA Analysis: Importance of Having "Great" Players - Opposing Views

NBA Analysis: Importance of Having "Great" Players

Author:
Publish date:

In 1979 an amazing thing happened. The Seattle Supersonics won an NBA title. What makes this event truly spectacular is that the team did it without a star player. James Brocato analyzed championship teams for the turnover era (1978-present) and a scary fact stood out:

  • To win a title you need a player playing a season that ranks in the top 5% of all time! 

Dave Berri has in fact pointed out you likely need more than one such player to truly compete. It’s a fun notion to talk team work but if your team doesn’t have at least one star then your shot at a title is non-existent. The lone exception is the 1979 Seattle Supersonics who won a title behind their “star” duo of Jack Sikma and Gus Williams. Here’s a break down of the NBA’s “stars” in 1979. For this exercise I’ve included all players with a WP > 9.5 (admittedly I used 9.5 instead of my usual 10.0 so Gus Williams would make the cut)

The Top Tier in 1979

Season
Player
Team
Pos
G
MP
WP48
WP

1979
Moses Malone
Houston
5.0
82
3390
0.333
23.5

1979
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
LA Lakers
5.0
80
3157
0.348
22.9

1979
Cedric Maxwell
Boston
3.8
80
2969
0.294
18.2

1979
Artis Gilmore
Chicago
5.0
82
3265
0.235
16.0

1979
Marques Johnson
Milwaukee
3.4
77
2779
0.265
15.4

1979
Dan Roundfield
Atlanta
4.0
80
2539
0.287
15.2

1979
George Gervin
San Antonio
2.0
80
2888
0.253
15.2

1979
Rich Kelley
New Orleans
5.0
80
2705
0.269
15.1

1979
Larry Kenon
San Antonio
3.3
81
2947
0.246
15.1

1979
Norm Nixon
LA Lakers
1.0
82
3145
0.217
14.2

1979
Wes Unseld
Washington
5.0
77
2406
0.277
13.9

1979
Kevin Porter
Detroit
1.0
82
3064
0.205
13.1

1979
George McGinnis
Denver
3.6
76
2552
0.240
12.8

1979
Kermit Washington
San Diego Clippers
4.0
82
2764
0.223
12.8

1979
Alex English
Indiana
3.0
81
2696
0.222
12.5

1979
Elvin Hayes
Washington
4.0
82
3105
0.190
12.3

1979
Otis Birdsong
Kansas City
2.0
82
2839
0.205
12.1

1979
Paul Westphal
Phoenix
1.2
81
2641
0.214
11.8

1979
Robert Parish
Golden State
5.0
76
2411
0.223
11.2

1979
Tom Owens
Portland
4.4
82
2791
0.193
11.2

1979
John Lucas
Golden State
1.0
82
3095
0.173
11.1

1979
Jack Sikma
Seattle
5.0
82
2958
0.173
10.6

1979
Walter Davis
Phoenix
3.0
79
2437
0.203
10.3

1979
David Thompson
Denver
2.0
76
2670
0.183
10.2

1979
Don Buse
Phoenix
2.0
82
2544
0.191
10.1

1979
M.L. Carr
Detroit
3.0
80
3207
0.147
9.8

1979
Gus Williams
Seattle
1.0
76
2266
0.208
9.8

1979
Julius Erving
Philadelphia
3.0
78
2802
0.166
9.7

Additionally here’s some brief perspective of how teams with more than one star looked.

  • Denver had 47 wins with the 13th and 24th best players
  • Detroit had 30 wins with the 12th and 27th best players
  • Golden State had 38 wins with the 19th and 21st best players
  • The Los Angeles Lakers had 47 wins with the 2nd and 10th best players
  • Phoenix had 50 wins with the 18th,23rd and 25th best players
  • San Antonio had 48 wins with the 7th and 8th best players
  • Seattle had 52 wins with the 22nd and 26th best players
  • Washington had 54 wins with the 11th and 16th best players

The Top Tier in 2011

Season
Player
Team
Pos
G
MP
WP48
WP

2011
Kevin Love
Minnesota
4.2
73
2611
0.474
25.8

2011
Dwight Howard
Orlando
5.0
78
2935
0.382
23.4

2011
LeBron James
Miami
3.2
79
3063
0.356
22.7

2011
Chris Paul
New Orleans
1.0
80
2865
0.358
21.4

2011
Dwyane Wade
Miami
2.0
76
2824
0.322
18.9

2011
Zach Randolph
Memphis
4.3
75
2724
0.291
16.5

2011
Pau Gasol
LA Lakers
5.0
82
3037
0.258
16.3

2011
Blake Griffin
LA Clippers
4.3
82
3112
0.248
16.1

2011
Kevin Garnett
Boston
4.0
71
2220
0.323
15

2011
Kris Humphries
New Jersey
4.0
74
2061
0.344
14.8

2011
Steve Nash
Phoenix
1.0
75
2497
0.283
14.7

2011
Landry Fields
New York
2.0
82
2541
0.273
14.4

2011
Lamar Odom
LA Lakers
4.0
82
2639
0.260
14.3

2011
Rajon Rondo
Boston
1.0
68
2527
0.265
14.0

2011
Kevin Durant
Oklahoma City
4.3
78
3038
0.216
13.7

2011
Al Horford
Atlanta
4.8
77
2704
0.242
13.6

2011
Jason Kidd
Dallas
1.0
80
2653
0.241
13.3

2011
Paul Pierce
Boston
3.1
80
2774
0.221
12.8

2011
Derrick Rose
Chicago
1.0
81
3026
0.197
12.4

2011
Gerald Wallace
Charlotte-Portland
3.0
71
2693
0.217
12.2

2011
Russell Westbrook
Oklahoma City
1.0
82
2847
0.201
11.9

2011
Andre Iguodala
Philadelphia
3.0
67
2469
0.228
11.7

2011
Tim Duncan
San Antonio
5.0
76
2156
0.260
11.7

2011
Tyson Chandler
Dallas
5.0
74
2059
0.269
11.6

2011
Kobe Bryant
LA Lakers
2.1
82
2779
0.200
11.6

2011
Manu Ginobili
San Antonio
2.6
80
2426
0.225
11.4

2011
Ray Allen
Boston
2.0
80
2890
0.185
11.1

2011
Deron Williams
New Jersey-Utah
1.0
65
2465
0.213
11.0

2011
Josh Smith
Atlanta
4.0
77
2645
0.196
10.8

2011
Andre Miller
Portland
1.0
81
2650
0.190
10.5

2011
Dirk Nowitzki
Dallas
4.0
73
2504
0.195
10.2

2011
Marcus Camby
Portland
5.0
59
1540
0.310
9.9

2011
Nene Hilario
Denver
5.0
75
2291
0.200
9.5

2011
Chris Bosh
Miami
4.1
77
2795
0.163
9.5

Here is how the our 2011 superteams stacked up

  • Atlanta had 44 wins with the 16th and 29th best players
  • Boston had 56 wins with the 9th, 14th, 18th and 27th best players
  • Dallas had 57 wins with the 17th,25th and 31st best players
  • The Los Angeles Lakers had 57 wins with the 7th, 13th and 24th best players
  • Miami had 58 wins with the 3rd, 5th and 33rd best players
  • Oklahoma had 55 wins with the 15th and 21st best players
  • Portland had 48 wins with the 30th and 32nd best players (and later the 20th best)
  • San Antonio had 61 wins with the 23rd and 26th best players

Let’s run down some key differences between 1979 and 2011 and see why Sikma and Williams were able to accomplish what LeBron and Wade could not.

Rare Teams have gotten Rarer

In 2011 eight teams were lucky enough to get more than one top player. In 1979 the same was true. A major difference though was the total number of teams in the league. In 1979 there were only 22 teams. Since then eight extra teams have joined the league. If the ratio of superteams had stayed consistent we’d expect at least two or three more teams with multiple star players. This hasn’t been the case so the advantage of top teams has increased, which is very clear when comparing  records from the two eras.

The Top Players have gotten Better

In comparing the top players only Larry Kenon at 9th best in 1979 beats his contempary counterpart of Kevin Garnett in terms of Wins Produced (by a very thin margin at that!). In 2011 the top 28 players produced 42 more wins than the top 28 players in 1979. While this isn’t a huge margin (it’s roughly 1.5 win a player) it does mean a star player is even more valuable today than they were 30 years ago.

Super Teams have gotten even more Super

Not only are super teams rarer today and consist of better players, they have more good players on them. In 1979 only the Phoenix Suns had more than two top players. In 2011 Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Portland all had three or more top players. In 1979 having two star players could put you in the top echelon. These days it makes you a playoff team but by no means guarantees title hope.

The Playoffs have gotten Harder

The playoffs used to let the top seeds have a bye in the first round. This meant that a team like Seattle didn’t have to worry about potentially getting upset in the first round by a lower seed. Since then the rules have changed. Any team can beat any other team on a given night and the playoffs are short enough to let upsets happen. By increasing the length of the playoffs for top seeds tbe NBA has lowered the odds of top teams always winning. Of course, this is not enough to overcome the fact that top teams have gotten much better.

Bringing it all together

So why were two good players able to team up and win it all when some of the all time greats (Wade and LeBron, Stockton and Malone, Drexler and Porter) have failed to do so? The answer is that they had perfect timing. They were in the league when the requirement to be a top team was much lower and the competitive advantage of a top team wasn’t as high. Additionally the playoffs were easier if you were a top team. Putting this all together let team work prevail! Of course as I’ve chronicled, this is not  the way things are any more. And that’s why modern superteams can still fail and why teamwork is no longer enough to win it all.

-Dre

undefined

Popular Video