Posted by Neil Paine on July 20, 2009
Last time around, we ran a study using a system of estimating Win Shares in seasons prior to 1978, and I wanted to touch a little on how that was done. Basically, I ran an OLS regression on all pre-1978 players, based on player stats (plus age & height) from 1978-2007, that estimated their "missing" totals -- turnovers prior to '78, TO/BLK/STL prior to 1974, etc. Whenever team stats were available, I scaled up/down the individual numbers to match team totals. When team numbers weren't available, I had to estimate them as well using the same method, and then makle sure the individuals matched the teams. In other words, the team numbers always superceded the individual totals.
Now, do I think this is the perfect way to estimate pre-1978 stats? No. For instance, we're estimating stats for 1952-1977 (an era with no 3-point shot) based on a 1978-2007 sample that almost completely includes the 3-pointer. We're also neglecting differences in height, playing style, pace, etc. across multiple eras of the game. So there's certainly ample room for improvement. I also know that WhatIfSports has apparently estimated these old numbers as well for their sims, but I have no idea what method they used (maybe I should just ask?). Either way, there will be better ways in the future, but for now, as a quick-n-dirty way of comparing players from pre-1978 with modern ones, I think this method suffices.
Anyway, I was examining the expanded Win Shares database I have thanks to the estimation process, specifically looking at career per-minute WS rates among players with a certain number of minutes played. Since 1952, there have been 1,614 players who have 3,000 or more combined career MP in the NBA and the ABA. Among those players, the best career per-minute WS rates belong to George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain. And only two players have a lifetime WS/3000 MP rate of worse than -1.00: Barry Parkhill and Adam Morrison.
Who exactly was Barry Parkhill? Like Morrison, Parkhill was a college star. At the University of Virginia, the 6'4" guard averaged 21.6 PPG as a junior in 1972, and was named both the ACC Men's Basketball Player of the Year and the ACC's Athlete of the Year that season as he led the Cavs to only their second postseason appearance ever. His numbers fell off quite a bit as a senior (21.6 PPG/4.5 RPG/4.3 APG/.450 FG% in '72 slipped to 16.8/3.7/5.0/.402 in '73), but the school retired his number after the season, and his college career was good enough to warrant being named to the ACC 50th Anniversary Team in 2002 as one of the 50 greatest players in ACC history.
Also like Morrison, Parkhill was a 1st-round choice in the NBA draft, albeit going 12 picks later (the Blazers picked him 15th overall in 1973). But instead of playing for Portland, Parkhill decided to spurn the NBA and play in the ABA for his hometown Virginia Squires. The Squires had actually drafted Parkhill after his standout 1972 campaign, but the pick was voided by the league because he was not a senior. Upon joining the Squires, Parkhill played horribly in 1974, averaging 4.7 PPG on .371 shooting, and he was reduced to 14.5 MPG on a team for which he could have conceivably carved out a role as a sixth man, had he simply lived up to his billing at UVA. In 1975, Parkhill played almost 2,000 minutes and was essentially just as horrendous as he'd been the year before, and after spending '76 languishing on the bench for the Spirits of St. Louis, Parkhill's career in hoops was done by age 25.
As for the 25-year-old Morrison, he's getting some summer league burn right now and playing well, hoping to recapture whatever is left of the promise he showed as a collegian. And let's get one thing straight: he was a better prospect than Parkhill ever thought about being (3rd overall in a 30-team league >>> 15th overall in a 17-team league). Plus he has the excuse of missing all of his age-23 season with an injury. But it's mind-boggling that we can even make a comparison between the two, given the hype that surrounded Morrison in 2006. In both cases, gaudy junior-year stats (does 28.1 PPG in the '06 WCC = 21.6 PPG in the '72 ACC?) and accolades drove unwarranted expectations and absolutely hideous numbers once they reached the pros. No player has ever played remotely as badly as Morrison and Parkhill did in their first three seasons, so we're sort of charting new territory here: if Morrison somehow manages to turn things around and become a serviceable player at this point, it would be unprecedented in the history of pro ball. And if not? Well, he becomes another footnote in basketball history, going down in the record books alongside the likes of Barry Parkhill.