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Inner-Circle Hall of Famers: 1970s

Posted by Neil Paine on December 21, 2009

Required reading material:

Who Are the “Inner-Circle” Hall of Famers? (Part I – Intro to Method)
Inner-Circle Hall of Famers: 1950s/1960s

1970s

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ("The Captain")

Position: Center
Height: 7-2 Weight: 225 lbs.
Born: April 16, 1947 in New York, New York
High School: Power Memorial in New York, New York
College: University of California, Los Angeles

Year Age Team MediaPts Rank StatsPts Rank Composite %Possible Rank
1970 22 MIL 319.0 6 323.0 2 321.0 99.1% 3
1971 23 MIL 354.0 1 354.0 1 354.0 100.0% 1
1972 24 MIL 360.0 1 360.0 1 360.0 100.0% 1
1973 25 MIL 344.0 1 344.0 1 344.0 100.0% 1
1974 26 MIL 344.0 1 344.0 1 344.0 100.0% 1
1975 27 MIL 349.0 11 357.0 3 353.0 98.3% 5
1976 28 LAL 344.0 1 344.0 1 344.0 100.0% 1
1977 29 LAL 295.0 1 295.0 1 295.0 100.0% 1
1978 30 LAL 276.0 10 285.0 1 280.5 98.4% 3
1979 31 LAL 277.0 4 280.0 1 278.5 99.5% 2
1980 32 LAL 287.0 1 287.0 1 287.0 100.0% 1
1981 33 LAL 302.0 3 302.0 3 302.0 99.3% 2
1982 34 LAL 305.0 12 308.5 8.5 306.7 97.1% 10
1983 35 LAL 308.0 9 309.0 8 308.5 97.6% 7
1984 36 LAL 307.0 4 292.5 18.5 299.7 96.7% 9
1985 37 LAL 315.5 5.5 315.0 6 315.2 98.5% 6
1986 38 LAL 322.0 4 319.0 7 320.5 98.6% 4
1987 39 LAL 315.0 21 294.5 41.5 304.6 90.9% 23
1988 40 LAL 312.5 20.5 267.0 66 288.9 87.0% 28
1989 41 LAL 330.0 24 212.5 141.5 264.8 75.0% 28

Already the greatest college basketball player of all time, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. made the transition from NCAA fame to NBA superstardom with as little difficulty as any player ever, landing with the Bucks in the '69 Draft and instantly establishing himself as a Top-5 player in his first season (by comparison, LeBron James -- granted, 3 years younger than KAJ when he came out -- was merely the 20th-best player in the NBA by these metrics as a rookie, waiting until his 2nd year before joining the Top-5). Changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ("Generous Servant of Allah") the day after the Bucks won the 1971 championship, his game remained the same, and he was a fixture among the 10 best players in basketball every season from 1970 to 1986. The stats in particular love Kareem, as he ranked 1st overall by the metrics a downright UCLA-like 9 times in 10 seasons between 1971 and 1980 (years in which he was unfairly denied a number of MVP awards). Oh, and I forgot to mention that Jabbar also won 6 NBA titles as a player and is the league's all-time leader in points scored. If that's not a full basketball resume, I have no idea what is.

Julius Erving ("The Doctor")

Position: Forward-Guard
Height: 6-6 Weight: 200 lbs.
Born: February 22, 1950 in Roosevelt, New York
High School: Roosevelt in Roosevelt, New York
College: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Year Age Team MediaPts Rank StatsPts Rank Composite %Possible Rank
1972 21 VIR 330.0 31 342.5 18.5 336.2 93.4% 15
1973 22 VIR 309.5 35.5 339.0 6 323.9 94.2% 19
1974 23 NYA 313.5 31.5 340.5 4.5 326.7 95.0% 13
1975 24 NYA 328.5 31.5 358.0 2 342.9 95.5% 14
1976 25 NYA 310.5 34.5 343.0 2 326.3 94.9% 13
1977 26 PHI 290.0 6 291.5 4.5 290.7 98.6% 3
1978 27 PHI 280.5 5.5 269.5 16.5 274.9 96.5% 10
1979 28 PHI 262.0 19 267.5 13.5 264.7 94.5% 13.5
1980 29 PHI 286.0 2 286.0 2 286.0 99.7% 2
1981 30 PHI 304.0 1 303.5 1.5 303.7 99.9% 1
1982 31 PHI 314.0 3 315.0 2 314.5 99.5% 2
1983 32 PHI 312.0 5 310.0 7 311.0 98.4% 6
1984 33 PHI 305.0 6 307.5 3.5 306.2 98.8% 4
1985 34 PHI 305.0 16 296.0 25 300.5 93.9% 17
1986 35 PHI 305.0 21 284.0 42 294.3 90.6% 25
1987 36 PHI 315.0 21 251.0 85 281.2 83.9% 27

As has been customary since this post, I penalized Erving's ABA performance by 25%... And he still comes out as an Inner-Circle legend. Instead of waxing poetic about Dr. J, I've found the best way to appropriately pay tribute to his career is through the good, old-fashioned mixtape (BTW, he has to be the first great player you can say that about):

John Havlicek ("Hondo")

Position: Forward-Guard
Height: 6-5 Weight: 203 lbs.
Born: April 8, 1940 in Martins Ferry, Ohio
High School: Bridgeport in Bridgeport, Ohio
College: Ohio State University

Year Age Team MediaPts Rank StatsPts Rank Composite %Possible Rank
1963 22 BOS 93.0 25 95.0 23 94.0 80.3% 19
1964 23 BOS 91.0 21 97.0 15 94.0 84.6% 15
1965 24 BOS 47.0 68 85.0 30 63.2 55.4% 34
1966 25 BOS 103.5 8.5 84.0 28 93.2 84.0% 16
1967 26 BOS 108.5 15.5 115.5 8.5 111.9 91.0% 9
1968 27 BOS 298.0 9 285.0 22 291.4 95.2% 11
1969 28 BOS 304.0 8 285.0 27 294.3 94.6% 12
1970 29 BOS 316.5 8.5 316.5 8.5 316.5 97.7% 8
1971 30 BOS 348.5 6.5 350.5 4.5 349.5 98.7% 4
1972 31 BOS 358.0 3 353.5 7.5 355.7 98.8% 4
1973 32 BOS 342.0 3 334.5 10.5 338.2 98.3% 5
1974 33 BOS 340.0 5 328.5 16.5 334.2 97.2% 9
1975 34 BOS 354.0 6 337.0 23 345.4 96.2% 12
1976 35 BOS 336.5 8.5 290.0 55 312.4 90.8% 25
1977 36 BOS 276.0 20 239.0 57 256.8 87.1% 26
1978 37 BOS 267.0 19 215.0 71 239.6 84.1% 25

Havlicek's enduring trait (beyond 8 career championship rings and an indefatigable perpetual-motion style on the floor) is his durability and longevity. By these metrics, only Kareem, Karl Malone, Dr. J, and Shaquille O'Neal had more years among the game's Top 25 players than Hondo's 14; he was a Top-25 guy in all but two of his seasons. He peaked relatively low for an Inner-Circle legend -- in the early 1970s, when the media ranked him 3rd overall -- but he had a sneaky long, consistent career as one the best all-around (offense + defense) players ever, and was arguably the best Sixth Man in league history as well (if nothing else, he certainly defined the role during the sixties). Admittedly, he's probably one of the most doubtful of the "no-doubters", but I think there's something to be said for consistently very good (if not great) production over a long period of time, as opposed to players with high peaks that only last a few years at most.

Elvin Hayes ("The Big E")

Position: Forward-Center
Height: 6-9 Weight: 235 lbs.
Born: November 17, 1945 in Rayville, Louisiana
High School: Eula D. Britton in Rayville, Louisiana
College: University of Houston

Year Age Team MediaPts Rank StatsPts Rank Composite %Possible Rank
1969 23 SDR 282.5 29.5 295.0 17 288.7 92.8% 16
1970 24 SDR 295.0 30 311.0 14 302.9 93.5% 14
1971 25 SDR 323.5 31.5 341.0 14 332.1 93.8% 16
1972 26 HOU 330.0 31 349.5 11.5 339.6 94.3% 11.5
1973 27 BAL 337.0 8 312.0 33 324.3 94.3% 18
1974 28 CAP 339.0 6 337.0 8 338.0 98.3% 5
1975 29 WSB 358.0 2 353.5 6.5 355.7 99.1% 3
1976 30 WSB 338.0 7 326.5 18.5 332.2 96.6% 9
1977 31 WSB 292.0 4 293.0 3 292.5 99.2% 2
1978 32 WSB 267.0 19 265.0 21 266.0 93.3% 16
1979 33 WSB 278.0 3 271.0 10 274.5 98.0% 5
1980 34 WSB 270.5 17.5 258.5 29.5 264.4 92.1% 21
1981 35 WSB 135.5 169.5 241.5 63.5 180.9 59.5% 70.5
1982 36 HOU 142.5 174.5 250.0 67 188.7 59.7% 70
1983 37 HOU 143.0 174 212.5 104.5 174.3 55.2% 105
1984 38 HOU 142.0 169 43.5 267.5 78.6 25.4% 267.5

Hayes' career is an interesting study in contrasts: He was underrated for a great deal of his career, yet for some I'm sure it "feels" like he's being overrated here by being named to the Inner Circle. He has a rep for shrinking away in clutch situations, yet he was the most dominant player in the 1978 playoffs (despite the memory of Wes Unseld being named Finals MVP while Hayes fouled out of Game 7 vs. Seattle with just 12 points). In fact, for the majority of Hayes' tenure with the Bullets, he -- not Unseld -- was their best player, and on top of that he had just as many playoff Win Shares as Unseld over the same span. Pretty outlet passes or not, history has unfairly overrated Unseld at Hayes' expense over the years, which is bizarre because Hayes is the clear member of the Inner Circle, and Unseld has as much claim to the honor as do Tim Hardaway and Jack Sikma.

On the outside looking in: Rick Barry, Artis Gilmore, George Gervin

Inner Circle according to HoF Probability: Jabbar, Havlicek, Erving, Dave Cowens

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60 Responses to “Inner-Circle Hall of Famers: 1970s”

  1. kevin Says:

    I would put Walton in there too. Granted, he was only great for a year and a half. But that 1 1/2 years produced the most awesome basketball I ever saw. He was probably also the best basketball player in the world while he was still in college.

  2. kevin Says:

    Cowens was certainly more deserving than Hayes.

  3. Justin Kubatko Says:

    From the post:

    In fact, for the majority of Hayes' tenure with the Bullets, he -- not Unseld -- was their best player [...]

    Are you sure about that? Hayes and Unseld played together from 1972-73 through 1980-81. Here are their Win Shares during that time:

    +---------+-------+--------+
    | Season  | Hayes | Unseld |
    +---------+-------+--------+
    | 1972-73 |   7.6 |   10.7 | 
    | 1973-74 |  10.6 |    3.6 | 
    | 1974-75 |  12.5 |   10.6 | 
    | 1975-76 |   8.1 |    9.5 | 
    | 1976-77 |  12.1 |    6.2 | 
    | 1977-78 |   8.3 |    6.8 | 
    | 1978-79 |   9.4 |    8.7 | 
    | 1979-80 |   6.2 |    8.4 | 
    | 1980-81 |   5.1 |    5.5 | 
    +---------+-------+--------+
    

    Hayes had more WS in five of the nine seasons, but I don't think that is enough to definitively say he was their best player during that time period. Here are their WS prorated to 3000 minutes per season:

    +---------+-------+--------+
    | Season  | Hayes | Unseld |
    +---------+-------+--------+
    | 1972-73 |   6.8 |   10.4 | 
    | 1973-74 |   8.8 |    6.3 | 
    | 1974-75 |  10.8 |   11.0 | 
    | 1975-76 |   8.2 |    9.7 | 
    | 1976-77 |  10.8 |    6.5 | 
    | 1977-78 |   7.7 |    7.7 | 
    | 1978-79 |   9.1 |   10.9 | 
    | 1979-80 |   5.9 |    8.4 | 
    | 1980-81 |   5.2 |    8.1 | 
    +---------+-------+--------+
    

    On a per-minute basis, Unseld was the better player in six of the nine seasons, with a seventh season essentially a push.

  4. kevin Says:

    Also, the available statistics give defense short shrift and so players that feature defense tend to get screwed by retrospective analysis while those who feature offense tend to get overrated. Unseld was the superior defender. He was also a GREAT outlet passer, but outlet passers don't get credit for anything because the ball usually hits the floor or gets passed again before the basket is made.

    Hayes was an awful passer. Once he got the ball, movement on offense stopped, usually because his teammates knew it was going up.

  5. Neil Paine Says:

    Well Justin, sum up the WS, too, Hayes comes out with 10 more over the same span. There isn't a lot of room to spin it -- Hayes was a better offensive player than Unseld and not really that far behind defensively. Just because he was a jerk and nobody liked him doesn't mean he wasn't an all-time great.

  6. kevin Says:

    The numbers underestimate the defensive difference, Neil.

  7. kevin Says:

    One other thing about Unseld. He set the greatest picks in the world. You could eat breakfast, balance your checkbook and take a crap, and you'd still have time to get your shot off. Those things don't show up in the boxscore.

  8. Neil Paine Says:

    Yeah? Well here are their year-by-year media rankings based on MVP voting, All-NBA teams, and All-Star selections:

    Year Unseld Hayes Adv
    1969 1.0 29.5 Unseld
    1970 187.0 30.0 Hayes
    1971 31.5 31.5 Tie
    1972 31.0 31.0 Tie
    1973 15.5 8.0 Hayes
    1974 197.0 6.0 Hayes
    1975 12.0 2.0 Hayes
    1976 50.0 7.0 Hayes
    1977 162.0 4.0 Hayes
    1978 156.0 19.0 Hayes
    1979 153.0 3.0 Hayes
    1980 155.5 17.5 Hayes
    1981 169.5 169.5 Tie

    If Unseld was truly better than the numbers say, especially to the extent that it made up for Hayes' clear quantitative advantage, why did the voters only consider Unseld better once in the 13 years their careers coincided?

  9. Romain Says:

    It's just not fair to compare KAJ and LBJ rookie seasons, and you know that... KAJ had 4 years at UCLA and LBJ came straight out of high school, so you have to compare his rookie season to Kobe's or Garnett's.

  10. kevin Says:

    I would reply to that to reassert the media doesn't know what they're talking about half the time. They over focus on offense, especially scoring, and just don't get defense at all.

    And explain to me how Unseld actually wins the darn thing as a rookie and then does so poorly the rest of his career? He goes from 1 to 187 in 1 year? What was that about? His numbers were just as good.

  11. Justin Kubatko Says:

    Neil Paine wrote:

    Well Justin, sum up the WS, too, Hayes comes out with 10 more over the same span.

    Yes, but about 70% of that difference is due to the 1973-74 season, when injuries held Unseld to 56 games, not to mention that he averaged about nine fewer minutes per game compared to previous seasons.

    There isn't a lot of room to spin it -- Hayes was a better offensive player than Unseld and not really that far behind defensively.

    I don't believe that Hayes was a better offensive player. When they were both with the Bullets, Hayes is credited with 27.7 Offensive Win Shares while Unseld earned 29.5, this despite the fact that Hayes played almost 6000 more minutes during that period. Looking at their entire careers, Hayes had 37.1 OWS in 50,000 minutes while Unseld had 46.0 in 35,832 minutes.

    Just because he was a jerk and nobody liked him doesn't mean he wasn't an all-time great.

    I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree, because I just don't see Hayes in that light. You stated that Unseld has been overrated at the expense of Hayes, but I don't think that's the case. Look at some of their career statistics:

    +-----------+------+-------+-------+
    | Player    | G    | MP    | WS    |
    +-----------+------+-------+-------+
    | Hayes     | 1303 | 50000 | 120.8 | 
    | Unseld    |  984 | 35832 | 110.1 | 
    +-----------+------+-------+-------+
    

    Despite appearing in 319 more games and playing 14,168 more minutes, Hayes only has an advantage of 10.7 Win Shares over Unseld, and as I mentioned before about 70% of that difference is due to one season when Unseld missed significant time due to injury. If I was ranking these players I wouldn't hesitate to put Unseld ahead of Hayes.

  12. Neil Paine Says:

    OK, I'll grant you Unseld's OWS. I guess for me the question is, do you want a guy who shoots a .537 TS% but averages 10.7 P/36, or a guy who averages 19.7 P/36 on a .491 TS%, in the same era, basically on the same teams? Who was more valuable to the offense? That's the question we're all still grappling with. But another question is, if Unseld was such a better defender than Hayes, why was he never named to an All-Defensive team when Hayes was named to two? I just see Unseld's legend as indicative of so much of our tendency to boost "intangibles guys" completely out of proportion because you can't disprove the intangibles. Someone says his outlet passes were worth 10 PPG? (which I'm just making up, but I'm sure something like that has been said) Well, I can't prove they weren't. And it's always conveniently in an area the stats don't cover, where you can't prove it one way or another, so we tend to just dump all of our feelings about players and their personalities into that category as well. But I can only go on the objective (or at least semi-objective) evidence, and by that evidence it's no contest between Hayes and Unseld.

  13. Anthony Coleman Says:

    Oh man Neil I remember when I started that MVP thread years ago. Good times. Anyway I predicted the choices pretty accurately for the first three decades, but lets predict the 80s:

    Johnson, Bird, Moses's selections are unquestionable after that I would put Thomas in, even though he only played half of the decade I would also like to put Jordan on the list too because he was the best player in basketball that last half of the decade. By the way, can we put Kareem into the inner circle for a second time? Because it is damn obvious he is an inner circle guy in that decade too.

    90s: Jordan and Olajuwon are the clear obvious choices here, after that you have to reduce the criteria. Its pretty hard to add the inner circle when 8 out of ten titles (including half of the regular season, and finals MVPs) were won mainly by two guys. That is a big part of the criteria, so now we go by other accomplishments. David Robinson will get in because of his regular season dominance and MVP, despite the fact he could rarely replicate that dominance in the playoffs. And I don't care what anybody says: Stockton and Malone both deserve to be on the all decade list. I weren't fans at the time (and I must say that from all accounts, The Mailman is an asshole). But the best point guard and forward of the decades shouldn't be denied entrance because of failures in the post season.

    00s: no brainers here
    Shaq
    Duncan
    Garnett
    Kobe
    Lebron

  14. Downpuppy Says:

    Hard to think of Artis Gilmore as anything but the statue the aging Celtics picked up to make Parish feel less old, so I guess there weren't that many near misses in the 1970s.

    He's a bit of a goofus, with a stumpy body made up for by endless arms, but Charles Barkley was tremendous in the 90s. If you move Jordan to the 80s, and ask Barkley or Thomas? it's not even close.

  15. Justin Kubatko Says:

    Neil Paine wrote:

    I just see Unseld's legend as indicative of so much of our tendency to boost "intangibles guys" completely out of proportion because you can't disprove the intangibles. [...] But I can only go on the objective (or at least semi-objective) evidence, and by that evidence it's no contest between Hayes and Unseld.

    It's not like I'm making stuff up about Unseld or exaggerating his accomplishments. Look at the table above once again. Hayes, in what amounts to four extra seasons worth of games, only had 10.7 more Win Shares than Unseld. Do you really think it's "no contest" between these two players?

  16. Jason J Says:

    how far off the pace was dave cowens?

    i'm very interested in who will be in the '80s with Moses, Larry, and Magic. My favorite center ever, Robert Parish, might have a shot if he'd made more All-NBA teams.

  17. Josh Says:

    I don't know what the defensive gap between Hayes and Gilmore was, but it would have to be very large to make up for Gilmore's offensive advantage. Gilmore was a better rebounder, shot for a much higher %, was putting up 23 and 13 even after he got to the NBA, so you don't want to discount his ABA performance too much, and did lead an ABA team to a championship when the ABA was actually pretty good.

  18. kevin Says:

    "...And it's always conveniently in an area the stats don't cover,..."

    Actually, I find the areas that aren't covered by conventional statistics, like the pass that creates the pass that creates the basket or picks set or deflections that lead to turnovers etc, etc most inconvenient, because it makes retrospective evaluation impossible and makes it harder to deconstruct flawed analysis. Do you think I'm making the argument for Unseld over Hayes just because I have a peculiar and irrational bias in favor of Unseld? Why in the world do you think that? And what would be the basis for it, for god's sake?

    I saw both of them play, from the time they were rookies until after both retired. During their time in the league, Unseld was more highly regarded. The stats you cite don't measure everything. In fact, the stats you are using to create Win Shares etc have inherent flaws and gaps. You can't just come up with a number and be satisfied with that while not acknowledgiing the gaps, and realizing the gaps are so large that if it were possible to fill in the missing pieces, the evaluations would be radically different. Unseld and Hayes, are two players for whom the existing statistics don't tell the whole story, and that's even after the WS data hich Justin has pointed out.

  19. kevin Says:

    "how far off the pace was dave cowens?"

    In the mid-seventies, he was as good as there was. he gave kareem real problems because he could shoot well enough to drag him away from under the hoop. kareem was a bad perimeter player, on both ends. Cowens was also quick enough so that, if he had to switch off on a guard to cover the pick and roll, it was the gurad who had to deal with the mismatch, not Cowens. That explains why the mid-seventies Celtics were so good defensively despite not having any significant shotblocking. Cowens problem is he had a rather short career and once he hurt his back in '78-79, he wasn't all that good anymore because he couldn't get off the floor like he did before and his rebounding suffered greatly.

  20. Neil Paine Says:

    By the method presented here, it really is no contest from 74-80:

    Unseld Hayes
    Year Age MediaRk StatsRk OverallRk Age MediaRk StatsRk OverallRk Adv
    1969 22 1.0 8.0 3.0 23 29.5 17.0 16.0 Unseld
    1970 23 187.0 6.5 48.0 24 30.0 14.0 14.0 Hayes
    1971 24 31.5 14.0 16.0 25 31.5 14.0 16.0 Tie
    1972 25 31.0 34.0 27.5 26 31.0 11.5 11.5 Hayes
    1973 26 15.5 10.5 11.0 27 8.0 33.0 18.0 Unseld
    1974 27 197.0 106.0 113.0 28 6.0 8.0 5.0 Hayes
    1975 28 12.0 11.0 9.0 29 2.0 6.5 3.0 Hayes
    1976 29 50.0 11.0 23.0 30 7.0 18.5 9.0 Hayes
    1977 30 162.0 38.5 45.0 31 4.0 3.0 2.0 Hayes
    1978 31 156.0 33.0 40.5 32 19.0 21.0 16.0 Hayes
    1979 32 153.0 18.5 29.5 33 3.0 10.0 5.0 Hayes
    1980 33 155.5 22.5 29.5 34 17.5 29.5 21.0 Hayes
    1981 34 169.5 60.0 68.0 35 169.5 63.5 70.5 Unseld

    After splitting the first 5 years of their careers, Hayes totally crushes Unseld over the next seven.

  21. izzy Says:

    Haha, the point of the Inner Cirle is for there to be NO debate. As much as I love this debate, and as much as I love both players (I'm from DC, so i have to rep our franchise), maybe we should just exclude them both and let in Gilmore because, hey, it's unfair he's not in the REAL HOF. I nominate you, Artis Gilmore, to take Elvin Hayes' spot on the BBR Blog in the 1970's Inner Circle HOF.

  22. Neil Paine Says:

    True, Izzy, and Hayes' % was in fact lower than other Inner Circlers, raising questions about his "no-doubt" status anyway. Perhaps instead of arbitrarily picking 4 players from each decade/era, I should have arbitrarily put the cutoff for "induction" at 97% -- in which case the inner circle so far would look like: Mikan, Pettit, Russell, Baylor, Chamberlain, Robertson, West, Jabbar, Erving (no Hayes, no Schayes, no Havlicek).

  23. Neil Paine Says:

    How can you possibly say "Unseld was more highly regarded"? Hayes had more than twice as many All-Star selections, six times as many All-NBA nods, finished higher in the MVP voting every season except Unseld's win in '69, and had two more All-Defense selections. If anything, it looks like Hayes was easily more highly regarded around the league.

  24. Anon Says:

    "I saw both of them play, from the time they were rookies until after both retired."

    And do you remember every single play, every single point scored, every single stop, every single pick set, and every single deflection from their careers? Do you even remember HALF of their plays from their entire careers? Do you even remember ANY of the plays that they made outside of the small handful of ones you might recall or the ones that are available on highlight reels?

    I certainly agree with you that statistics never tell the entire story. But as Neil stated earlier, people often pull the "intangibles" card and don't realize that by doing so, they introduce a new problem to the evaluation by often exaggerating the occurrence of plays that aren't tracked by the box score, and this piece of evidence can neither be proven nor disproven. Personally, I'd rather use the evidence that we DO have available in the metrics and let the burden of proof fall of the person who seeks to argue against my position, rather than rely on my limited human memory of plays that took place over a player's career to say one player is better than another. Perhaps the statistics do not paint a perfect picture of what actually took place on the court, but it sure beats the evaluation of players that may be skewed by memory and recollection bias. And I haven't even touched upon the problem of personal bias that basketball fans have for or against certain players in the league.

  25. P Middy Says:

    I'm with Anon here. As much as I love Pat Ewing, and as much as I feel his numbers will never really represent his value, I have to admit that (at some point) my own subjective memory is not good enough a measure of his value compared to 'Keem, D Rob, and Shaqtus. We keep the numbers for this very purpose. They are cold and unchanging, unlike our memories and affinities.

  26. Luke Says:

    I really like this idea, but just can't get past this "each decade gets 4 players" concept, especially considering that most players' careers straddle two decades anyway. I feel like the 80's might only have 3 players who are no doubt about it, where the 90's and 00's might have 5 (depending on how you want to designate guys who played in multiple decades). If a player is a "no doubt about it Hall of Famer" then it shouldn't matter how many other players in his era were "no doubt about it Hall of Famers" as well.

  27. Justin Kubatko Says:

    Luke wrote:

    I really like this idea, but just can't get past this "each decade gets 4 players" concept, especially considering that most players' careers straddle two decades anyway.

    I tend to agree with this. Another issue is that while there were 381 distinct players in the 1960s, there were 1016 distinct players in the 1990s. In other words, if you randomly select one player from the 1960s there is a 0.262% chance he is an "Inner Circle" player, but if you do the same thing for the 1990s there is a 0.098% chance he belongs to the "Inner Circle" group.

  28. kevin Says:

    "How can you possibly say "Unseld was more highly regarded"? Hayes had more than twice as many All-Star selections, six times as many All-NBA nods, finished higher in the MVP voting every season except Unseld's win in '69, and had two more All-Defense selections."

    Was Unseld ever traded straight up for Jack Marin? Or even anybody better than Marin? What does that tell you about how highly regarded Hayes was? Who was selected MVP? Who was selected playoff MVP, when they were teammates? They were both rookies the same year? Who was selected rookie of the year? Who did the Bullets hang onto and make a part of their organization after retirement? Heck, a lot of people then thought that after Unseld, Bobby Dandridge was the next key guy, not Hayes. hayes is one of those guys who falls into the category of putting up great numbers but who had trouble translating the numbers into a winning formula. In a sense, Hayes was a poor man's Wilt and Unself a poor man's Russell.

    And criminy, don't you know the sportswriters still get things bass side ackwards when it comes to player evaluation? Why do you think they all believe Allan Iverson is still a great player? Because they look at who scores the points and so automatically assume that's the guy who is creating the offense. Which is ridiculous.

  29. Neil Paine Says:

    Well, I read your anti-Iverson screed, so I think it's funny when you say you don't have "a peculiar and irrational bias" against certain players... :)

  30. kevin Says:

    "And do you remember every single play, every single point scored, every single stop, every single pick set, and every single deflection from their careers? Do you even remember HALF of their plays from their entire careers? Do you even remember ANY of the plays that they made outside of the small handful of ones you might recall or the ones that are available on highlight reels?"

    This is kind of a ridiculous argument, wouldn't you say? NOBODY remembers every play, even the players themselves.

    That's what's so great about being there, you don't have just highlight reels and statistics to go on. You remember the ebb and flow of games, who was doing what and who wasn't. You remember the defenses teams would construct to stop someone and how that player coped with that. You remember the sets teams would run, and the roles each player had on the team.

    For instance, I remember in the 1975 playoffs how Hayes kept trying to shoot over the top of Clifford Ray and George Johnson, a series in which his heavily favored team got swept in the Finals. I remember how he stubbornly refused to pass out of the double team on the block, and in the few instances he did pass, it wasn't a pass that created anything but a concession to start the offense over again. I remember his penchant for dribbling it himself upcourt after a rebound, rather than getting it to Kevin Porter, perhaps the best fastbreak guard in the league at the time.

    That's what I remember.

  31. kevin Says:

    Neil, just a question here. I'm looking at Hayes' BB-ref page. At the bottom, the defensive Win Shares tally has Hayes #1 3 times and in the top 10 for 12 years in a row.

    How did you come up with those figures, especially early on when no defensive statistics were recorded then, not even defensive rebounds?

  32. kevin Says:

    W"ell, I read your anti-Iverson screed, so I think it's funny when you say you don't have "a peculiar and irrational bias" against certain players... :)'

    It was neither irrational nor a screed. It is a simple fact that the teams Iverson plays on have trouble winning. The language I used was disdainful but, nevertheless, quite accurate.

  33. Neil Paine Says:

    The point Anon is making is that "the feeling of the ebb and flow" lies to you. Your eyes lie to you. Here's what Bill James once said on the matter:

    "Think about it. One absolutely cannot tell, by watching, the difference between a .300 hitter and a .275 hitter. The difference is one hit every two weeks. It might be that a reporter, seeing every game that the team plays, could sense that difference over the course of the year if no records were kept, but I doubt it. Certainly the average fan, seeing perhaps a tenth of the team's games, could never gauge two performances that accurately -- in fact, if you see both 15 games a year, there is a 40% chance that the .275 hitter will have more hits than the .300 hitter in the games that you see. The difference between a good hitter and an average hitter is simply not visible -- it is a matter of record.

    "But the hitter is the center of attention. We notice what he does, bend over the scorecard with his name in mind. If he hits a smash down the third base line and the third baseman makes a diving stop and throws the runner out, then we notice and applaud the third baseman. But until the smash is hit, who is watching the third baseman? If he anticipates, if he adjusts for the hitter and moves over just two steps, then the same smash is a routine backhand stop -- and nobody applauds ... So if we can't tell who the good fielders are accurately from the record books, and we can't tell accurately from watching, how can we tell? By counting things..."

    This is why we need to rely heavily on the numbers -- and why we certainly need to give them more weight than people's memories.

  34. Neil Paine Says:

    As for pre-1978 defensive Win Shares, read this:

    http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ws.html

  35. Anon Says:

    "This is kind of a ridiculous argument, wouldn't you say? NOBODY remembers every play, even the players themselves."

    Of course, it wasn't meant to be taken literally. I only made that statement to elucidate my point.

  36. latopia Says:

    Someone says his outlet passes were worth 10 PPG? (which I'm just making up, but I'm sure something like that has been said) Well, I can't prove they weren't. And it's always conveniently in an area the stats don't cover, where you can't prove it one way or another, so we tend to just dump all of our feelings about players and their personalities into that category as well.

    Unseld was before my time, but I've heard/read that too -- that Unseld was an "exceptional" outlet passer.

    So I asked myself: what stat might conceivably reflect "exceptional" outlet passing?

    One number that came to mind: PACE.

    Unseld was apparently durable but he did miss 20+ games in 1973-74. Personnel changes aside, did Unseld's absence affect team PACE and, by extension, scoring?

    If you compare the seasons prior & next -- maybe. There's no pace computed for 1972-73 but the Bullets did avg 105 ppg. In 1974-75, when Unseld returned for a full slate, the Bullets finished 6th (of 18) in pace & averaged 104.7 ppg. However, in Unseld's abbreviated 1973-74 season, the Bullets ranked 11th (of 17) in pace and averaged 101.9 ppg.

    Except. Though the Bullets jumped from 11th (1973) to 6th (1974) upon Unseld's return, the actual improvement in pace was no improvement at all: 1973-74 106.3, 1974-75 106.1.

    Another number that might corroborate "exceptional" outlet passing: team FGAs.

    The Bullets did get off more FGAs in the seasons before and after Unseld's injury season, but you'd have to eliminate several other factors, including Unseld's rebounding, to link FGAs & outlet passing.

    Verdict: no verdict. But thanks for the interesting discussion.

  37. kevin Says:

    Baseball is different from basketball, Neil. James wrote that about baseball. Scouting is a lot easier for basketball than baseball. If shortstops handled the ball 40-50 times a game instead of 4 or 5 and outfielders went to bat 20-30 times instead of 5 the way it is now, you could get a good read on a guy after watching him play just a few games.

  38. kevin Says:

    I think the inherent flaw you are making, Neil, is in assuming that what James did for baseball can be directly transferred over to basketball. It just doesn't work that way.

    There are 2 large reason why it doesn't:

    1) The statistics that the NBA keeps are vastly inferior to the ones MLB keeps.

    2) The team-oriented nature of basketball is very different to that of baseball.

  39. Anon Says:

    "I think the inherent flaw you are making, Neil, is in assuming that what James did for baseball can be directly transferred over to basketball. It just doesn't work that way."

    In a sport that is known for its aesthetics and "flashy" play, the phenomenon James describes is certainly applicable.

  40. kevin Says:

    Maybe to you it is. Not to me.

  41. P Middy Says:

    Not so sure why you're this far up Neil's ass, Kev. He can pretty much ONLY deal with numbers, and the numbers tell the story he's laying out. Short of getting into a time machine with a camcorder there's not a whole lot more the guy can do . . .

  42. Anon Says:

    "Maybe to you it is. Not to me."

    Ever come away from watching a basketball game where the spectacular dunking, fadeaway jump-shooting, circus-layup making guard appeared to have had the better game than the "slow and boring" center who quietly scored more points with a slightly higher efg%? Many fans often do, and unless you look at the actual records of the players' performances it's easy to come away with the impression that the guard was simply "so much better" than the center when he really wasn't.

    And this is just one example where your eyes can "lie" to you.

  43. Jason J Says:

    Latopia - Nice try! Not sure pace is the best place to look though. Better outlet passing doesn't necessarily cause the other team to miss more or turnovers - so total possessions might not change that much. Another place to look for the impact of good outlet passing might be team eFG%. More fastbreaks ought to mean more easy looks.

  44. kevin Says:

    "Ever come away from watching a basketball game where the spectacular dunking, fadeaway jump-shooting, circus-layup making guard appeared to have had the better game than the "slow and boring" center who quietly scored more points with a slightly higher efg%?"

    No. 2 points is 2 points. That's why I trash Iverson so much. He seems a lot better than he really is because he can sometimes make high degree of difficulty shots. But his shooting percentages are not good and even on a game to game basis, and he struggles in a hal;fcourt offense, when the defense is set up to close the seams he needs to be effective. You pick up on that pretty quickly. He takes too many shots that are difficult to make.

  45. Anon Says:

    You might see it that way, but a lot of other fans do not. Especially when a few shots can make the difference between 40% and 50% from the field in a game, and fans tend to remember things on a game-by-game basis - and sometimes not even that - rather than what happens over a period of multiple games. Unless you actually keep track of what takes place by counting things, it's easy to make irrational conclusions about a player's performance during the season.

  46. Jason J Says:

    Anon - I think what you're talking about is the Sportscenter effect on perception. A guy like Nate Robinson could look like a god by getting a big block and hitting a key three on an SC highlight reel, and people don't see the undisciplined defense or terrible shot selection and develop an opinion of him that is out of line with his real value.

  47. kevin Says:

    "Not so sure why you're this far up Neil's ass, Kev. He can pretty much ONLY deal with numbers, and the numbers tell the story he's laying out."

    This is a cogent question that deserves a lengthy answer.

    I don't mean to be up Neil's ass, P. I appreciate what Neil is trying to accomplish and respect him for doing so.

    There was a reason why I asked for a description of how the defensive Win Shares was calculated. Since the NBA didn't record blocks, steals, turnovers, etc. prior to 1973, I was flabbergasted that Neil decided to finesse this vast gap in information in the way he did. For instance, since there are no steals data, he made the assumption that the ability to make steals was related somehow to the ability to generate assists and used assists as a proxy for steals. Likewise, since there are no blocks data, he made the assumption that the ability to rebound somehow correlates with the ability to block shots.

    From a statistical POV, this is wrong to do. On an individual basis, blocks do not necessarily correlate with rebounds and assists do not correlate with steals. Players like Bailey Howell and Larry Smith were very good rebounders but lousy shotblockers. But by Neil's methodology, they would be wrongly credited with superior shotblocking ability based on their rebounding totals and given defensive value which they don't deserve. Conversely, someone like Manute Bol, who was a so-so rebounder but a phenomenal shotblocker, would be burned by Neil's system, completely burned.

    Likewise, assists and steals don't necessarily correlate on an individual basis. Mark Jackson is 3rd alltime in assists but 25th in steals. Scottie Pippen is 26th in assists but 5th in steals. If Pippen had played in the 60's, the assumption based on Neil's model would be that he was not a historically great defender. He would be a worse defender than Mark Jackson, Bob Cousy and Steve Nash. Pippen was a waay better defender than Jackson, Nash and Cousy.

    Additionally, even the defensive statistics that are available now stink. There is more to defense than blocks, steals and defensive rebounds. Drawn offensive fouls are not counted, deflections that lead to turnovers are not counted, offensive and defensive fouls are not distinguished, blocked shots that lead to a turnover or a change in possession vs the kind where the shooter gets the ball right back and puts it in are not distinguished.

    So, when you know you have bad data or no data, it is better to just admit you don't know rather than try to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and create numbers that are knowingly false. It sucks that the numbers needed to do the things Neil is trying to do are not available but that's just the way is it. An assist is an assist, not a pseudo-steal.

    I remember a few years ago, basketball-ref tried similarity scores. I looked at Bill Russell's similarity score list and I think Dick Barnett was #2 on the list. The only similarity Dick Barnett had as a basketball player to Bill Russell is that they were both left handed. That they turned up on each others similarity score list screams out loud how bad the available statistics are in trying to use them to make retrospective evaluations. It's far better to leave questions open than to get knowingly worn information down on paper.

    Neils' Defensive Win Shares system give Elvin Hayes credit for being #1 in defensive value 3 times(!). There is no way on god's green earth that Elvin Hayes was the best defensive player in the NBA 3 times. He was never the best defensive player once. He wasn't even the best defensive center once. That honor would go to Kareem or Chamberlain or Cowens or Thurmond or Reed or Parish or yes, Unseld. Hayes was a good defender but not a great one. He was a good shotblocker and rebounder but only a so-so team defender. He had some trouble with bigger, taller players.

  48. AYC Says:

    Whoa, whoa, whoa! I thought this was a site where we judged players by STATS, not faded memories and anecdotes! Unseld is a classic example of a player who is OVERRATED, because he "played the right way" and was likable; Hayes was clearly the better player, by any measure besides the anecdotal. It's also highly debatable that Unseld was even a better defender than Hayes, who was one of the best shot-blockers of that era. Personally, I think Cowens was better than both...

    PS Doesn't Rick Barry's career fit the criteria for this list a lot better than Havlicek's? He was 1st team All-League 9 times, and has higher averages and PER

  49. P Middy Says:

    Thanks for the lengthy explanation, Kevin. I have a much better understanding of your complaints, and I look forward to Neil addressing what seem to me to be legit concerns about methodology.

  50. kevin Says:

    "...than to get knowingly worn information down on paper.

    "worn" was meant to be spelled wrong.

  51. Justin Kubatko Says:

    Don't blame Neil for any perceived shortcomings in the Win Shares system, as the system is mine and mine alone. And I'm sorry, but I don't have the time or the energy to rebut what Kevin wrote, so let me just say that I disagree with most of his comments.

    As for Bill Russell being similar to Dick Barnett, you never saw that on my site. You must be thinking of this site.

  52. kevin Says:

    My bad, Justin. It was about 3 years ago I saw that. All these sites look the same to me :). Still, the stats that site uses and the one this site uses are the same statistics. You can't get away from the fact the pre-73 stats are horrible, and even the ones available today are inadequate, certainly not as good as they could be. An enterprising person (perhaps you, Justin?) could vastly improve the stats available just by being creative with the game logs that are fee on NBA.com. You could duplicate Bill James by offering "12 NBA statistics you won't see anywhere else!".

    And I was wrong, Barnett was #3 on the list, not #2.

    So my memory isn't so bad after all. I may have been a little imprecise on the minutiae of the facts but got the overall impression correct.

  53. Justin Kubatko Says:

    Kevin, no worries. Sorry, as I re-read what I wrote it sounds like I'm blowing you off, but I honestly don't have the time to give you a good answer right now.

  54. Rock Says:

    Hayes, Unseld, Cowens, Gervin...you know what? Rick Barry was better than any of them and should be the inner circle pick here. And I'd agree with AYC--Barry was probably better than Havlicek as well. One of the most underappreciated great players ever.

  55. Josh Says:

    The other player who might deserve to be on that list is Walt Frazier, who (considering his defensive reputation) was probably the best guard of the 70s. Over 20 points a game (with very good efficiency), 6-8 assists, great defense, and he was (by Win Shares) the best player on two championship teams. At his best, I think he was better than Hayes and Havlicek, although he doesn't have their longevity.

  56. Mike Says:

    Why bother coming up with a "system" if you're going to tack on ridiculous benchmarks and requirements.

    The championship requirement is absurd.

    Gary Payton won a title with the Heat at age 37 (PER: 10.7). So he's in.
    Karl Malone, arguably the greatest power forward ever - nope.

    4 players per decade? Makes no sense whatsoever.

  57. mrparker Says:

    I want to comment on the ascertion that there is something wrong with picking 4 guys per era. Yes, there are more players now than ever. However, that just makes for a watered down league. We could go back to the 8-10 team league and watch much better basketball. I'm not going to let more players into my HOF because the league/s decided to let more inferior players in.

  58. Melvin Says:

    No way Walton belongs there. Great for 2 years, but that's all. And he was not the best player in the world during those 2 years, Kareem was still better. Suggesting that Bill was the best while still in college is just plain silly. That's like saying Kareem was better at UCLA than Wilt was during the same time in his prime with the 76ers. And I always love the myth that Walton dominated Jabbar in the '77 WCF. Walton owned the first half of game 1 and the fourth quarter of game 3 and that's it. Kareem won the other 13 quarters in the series and he killed Bill statistically despite receiving a lot more help defense on him. Portland with their speed and depth at gaurd and Lucas at the 4 was the best team the West easy when fully healthy - a lot of people don't give them enough credit - and while Walton did play well it was Lucas and the Portland guards that really killed LA. LA played above its head all season and with Allen hobbled and Washington out during the playoffs Kareem had almost no help at all - he practically had to beat Golden State by himself in 7 games for LA to even reach the WCF. I do agree that Cowens should be above Hayes, not sure about Unseld though.

  59. GURU Says:

    KAJ / MMalone
    E.Hayes /
    Dr J / R Barry
    J West / PMAravich

  60. dukan Says:

    Yo aun necesito buscar mas sobre este tema para poder seleccionar la opcion mas de acuerdo para mi. Actualmente busco informacion sobre lo que se denomina de la "dieta dominguera".