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Early Fishin’ Trips… With the NBA’s Best Players

Posted by Neil Paine on April 30, 2009

In the wake of an epic, unprecedented evisceration at the hands of Denver in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets were finally eliminated from the playoffs Wednesday night with a 107-86 loss to the Nuggets in the Pepsi Center.

(Incidentally, I was dying to write something about that brutal 58-point blowout, but that game was so one-sided that I couldn't really find something historical to compare it to for a post topic -- we don't even have a box score for that 1956 Lakers-Hawks game, the blowout whose record NOH tied in Game 4. That's how historically disgraceful their performance was.)

A few hours earlier, the Atlanta Hawks took a 3-2 lead in their quarterfinal series against Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat. What do these two events have in common? Both dealt with Top-3 NBA players (by Win Shares) being ousted from the postseason -- in CP3's case, completely eliminated, and for D-Wade it pushed him to the brink of elimination. That's 2 of the 3 best players in the league, unceremoniously booted from the postseason less than 2 weeks in.

How common is this? Take a look at the Top 3 players by Win Shares for every season since the playoffs expanded to the current 16-team format in 1984:

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1984
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1. Adrian Dantley-UTA   15.1    2nd Round
2. Larry Bird-BOS       13.3    NBA Champ
3. Sidney Moncrief-MIL  12.1    Conf. Finals
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1985
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1. Larry Bird-BOS       15.6    Finals
2. Michael Jordan-CHI   13.6    1st Round
3. Magic Johnson-LAL    12.9    NBA Champ
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1986
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1. Larry Bird-BOS       15.7    NBA Champ
2. Adrian Dantley-UTA   12.9    1st Round
3. Magic Johnson-LAL    12.2    Conf. Finals
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1987
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1. Michael Jordan-CHI   16.1    1st Round
2. Magic Johnson-LAL    16.0    NBA Champ
3. Larry Bird-BOS       14.9    Finals
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1988
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1. Michael Jordan-CHI   20.3    2nd Round
2. Charles Barkley-PHI  16.1    Missed Playoffs
3. Larry Bird-BOS       14.8    Conf. Finals
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1989
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1. Michael Jordan-CHI   19.1    Conf. Finals
2. Magic Johnson-LAL    16.0    Finals
3. Charles Barkley-PHI  15.7    1st Round
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1990
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1. Michael Jordan-CHI   18.7    Conf. Finals
2. Charles Barkley-PHI  17.0    2nd Round
3. Magic Johnson-LAL    16.2    2nd Round
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1991
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1. Michael Jordan-CHI   19.8    NBA Champ
2. David Robinson-SAS   17.2    1st Round
3. Karl Malone-UTA      15.1    2nd Round
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1992
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1. Michael Jordan-CHI   17.3    NBA Champ
2. Karl Malone-UTA      14.9    Conf. Finals
3. Horace Grant-CHI     13.8    NBA Champ
-----------------------------------------------
1993
-----------------------------------------------
1. Michael Jordan-CHI   16.5    NBA Champ
2. Hakeem Olajuwon-HOU  15.4    2nd Round
3. Karl Malone-UTA      15.3    1st Round
-----------------------------------------------
*1994*
-----------------------------------------------
1. David Robinson-SAS   18.9    1st Round
2. Shaquille O'Neal-ORL 16.9    1st Round
3. Hakeem Olajuwon-HOU  14.3    NBA Champ
-----------------------------------------------
1995
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1. David Robinson-SAS   17.8    Conf. Finals
2. Shaquille O'Neal-ORL 14.4    Finals
3. John Stockton-UTA    13.9    1st Round
-----------------------------------------------
1996
-----------------------------------------------
1. Michael Jordan-CHI   20.3    NBA Champ
2. David Robinson-SAS   18.6    2nd Round
3. Karl Malone-UTA      14.8    Conf. Finals
-----------------------------------------------
1997
-----------------------------------------------
1. Michael Jordan-CHI   18.3    NBA Champ
2. Karl Malone-UTA      16.7    Finals
3. Grant Hill-DET       13.7    1st Round
-----------------------------------------------
1998
-----------------------------------------------
1. Karl Malone-UTA      16.2    Finals
2. Michael Jordan-CHI   15.6    NBA Champ
3. David Robinson-SAS   13.5    2nd Round
-----------------------------------------------
1999
-----------------------------------------------
1. Karl Malone-UTA       9.4    2nd Round
2. Shaquille O'Neal-LAL  9.3    2nd Round
3. Tim Duncan-SAS        8.7    NBA Champ
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2000
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1. Shaquille O'Neal-LAL 18.7    NBA Champ
2. Karl Malone-UTA      14.7    2nd Round
3. Gary Payton-SEA      14.0    1st Round
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2001
-----------------------------------------------
1. Shaquille O'Neal-LAL 15.0    NBA Champ
2. Dirk Nowitzki-DAL    14.9    2nd Round
3. Ray Allen-MIL        13.9    Conf. Finals
-----------------------------------------------
2002
-----------------------------------------------
1. Tim Duncan-SAS       17.7    2nd Round
2. Dirk Nowitzki-DAL    13.7    2nd Round
3. Elton Brand-LAC      13.5    Missed Playoffs
-----------------------------------------------
2003
-----------------------------------------------
1. Tracy McGrady-ORL    16.5    1st Round
2. Dirk Nowitzki-DAL    16.4    Conf. Finals
3. Tim Duncan-SAS       16.3    NBA Champ
-----------------------------------------------
2004
-----------------------------------------------
1. Kevin Garnett-MIN    18.1    Conf. Finals
2. Peja Stojakovic-SAC  13.9    2nd Round
3. Tim Duncan-SAS       13.0    2nd Round
-----------------------------------------------
2005
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1. Dirk Nowitzki-DAL    15.9    2nd Round
2. Kevin Garnett-MIN    15.8    Missed Playoffs
3. Amare Stoudemire-PHO 15.4    Conf. Finals
-----------------------------------------------
2006
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1. Dirk Nowitzki-DAL    17.2    Finals
2. LeBron James-CLE     16.1    2nd Round
3. Shawn Marion-PHO     15.4    Conf. Finals
-----------------------------------------------
*2007*
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1. Dirk Nowitzki-DAL    15.9    1st Round
2. LeBron James-CLE     13.5    Finals
3. Kobe Bryant-LAL      13.3    1st Round
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2008
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1. Chris Paul-NOH       17.3    2nd Round
2. Amare Stoudemire-PHO 15.3    1st Round
3. LeBron James-CLE     14.9    2nd Round
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2009?
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1. LeBron James-CLE     19.6    2nd Round +
2. Chris Paul-NOH       17.5    1st Round
3. Dwyane Wade-MIA      14.4    1st Round?
-----------------------------------------------

As you can see, it's pretty rare to have 2 of the Top 3 players in basketball get bounced in the 1st round during the same year. Prior to 2007, the only time it had happened in the modern playoff era was 1994, when the Spurs and Magic both got ousted in Round 1. But unless Wade can pull off a major miracle in the Heat-Hawks series, it looks like we're going to see this phenomenon again in 2009.

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12 Responses to “Early Fishin’ Trips… With the NBA’s Best Players”

  1. Jason J Says:

    True it's rare for two top 3 players to wind up out in the first round, but it's surprisingly common for at least one of top 3 to be a first round exit or even miss the playoffs entirely.

    Oh and uh... How did my old buddy Ho Grant wind up with the third highest Win Share in 1992? Did he get extra credit for the sweet goggles?

  2. AhmedF Says:

    Is this where we mention how Kobe is impossible to find? :)

  3. Tsunami Says:

    ROFL @ Ahmed

  4. hurley Says:

    Kobe and Wade huh

  5. jeremy Says:

    dirk catches a lot of flack for being so high so many years

  6. Rick Says:

    2 of the top 3 players?
    I'm sorry but kobe and lebron didn't lose their series' so i have no idea who you are talking about. win shares? honestly?

    stop using completely lame random stats and you won't find statistical anomolies like this. 2 of the top 3 players lol...that's some good stuff you're smoking.

  7. Caleb Says:

    LOL @ Rick. You're joking right?

  8. Tsunami Says:

    Guaranteed that Rick is a hyperventilating Kobe fan.

  9. Mike Says:

    Well, it's clear that Paul isn't one of the 3 best players in the league. Just like David Robinson wasn't better than Olajuwon and Moncrief and Dantley weren't better than Magic. We shouldn't be surprised by results like this when we're dealing with such an imperfect measure of value. Any formula that makes Dirk look like the best player of the last several years is clearly flawed.

    And I am not a Kobe fan. Personally, I think LeBron and Wade are the only 2 players in the best player conversation. Give me healthy Duncan and Ginobili after that. I'd take a motivated Vince Carter over Bean...

  10. Regenerator Says:

    Oh, yr right, Dirk isn't one of the best players of the last 5-7 years, but Manu Ginobli is?! Give me one fact to back that up. Dirk led the league three years straight in Win Shares, as you can see here. He lead twice in that period in Player Efficiency Rating. His overall career efficiency numbers compare favorably with none other than Larry Bird! Don't like complex or potentially misleading/vague metrics (as some may call them)?

    Ok, here's some hard facts - Dirk won MVP of the freakin' league in 2007. The two years previous to that he was 3rd in voting. I'd say that, combined with some of these other numbers, indisputably makes him one of the 3 best players in a span of several years. Still not convinced? Oh, Dirk's MVP season was a joke because he choked in the playoffs, you might say?? What about the fact that Dirk is one of only 5 players EVER to average 25 points and 11 rebounds per game CAREER in post-season play. The others are Shaq, Elgin Baylor, Bob Petit, and Hakeem. Does that list look impressive to you? You see Tim Duncan on that list?? Or even Larry Legend?

    The point isn't that Dirk is better than some I've mentioned (certainly he's better than Ginobli or Vince Carter, for god's sake), but just that he absolutely, unarguably DOES belong in the discussion of best players in the league, and has for most of his career. I guess people will always just refuse to give Dirk his proper dues. It boils down to this - Dirk is an absolute, sure-fire 1st ballet hall-of-famer, and if you don't know that, you are not an informed fan of NBA basketball.

  11. Caleb Says:

    "Well, it’s clear that Paul isn’t one of the 3 best players in the league."

    Huh?

  12. Dave Says:

    Perhaps more interesting is that we have not had ANY of the top 3 players (by Win Shares) win the championship since 2003 ... Perhaps this is a consequence of the new rules ... it only happened 88-90 with the Bad boy TEAM - when MJ was great but didn't play on a great team and again in 1995, when Olajuwon's Rockets beat both The Magic and the SAS on their way to an upset championship, Dream missed 10 games that season, but with Clyde on the team didn't need to carry as much of the load.