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Paul Pierce, Mr. Consistency?

Posted by Neil Paine on January 20, 2009

Just the other day, I was glancing at Paul Pierce's stats from this year and something struck me -- Paul Pierce essentially has the same season (especially on offense) every year. It doesn't matter if he's been on a good team, a bad team, or whatever, his rate stats have been very stable. Translated to the 2008-09 scoring environment, here are Paul Pierce's career numbers:

Year    Ag      Tm      G       Min     trORtg  %Poss   trDRtg
-----+-----+--------+------+---------+--------+------+--------
1999    21      BOS     48      1632    112.3   22.7    106.3
2000    22      BOS     73      2583    113.3   23.8    106.8
2001    23      BOS     82      3120    111.9   29.2    107.2
2002    24      BOS     82      3302    112.4   27.9    102.4
2003    25      BOS     79      3096    108.0   32.6    103.6
2004    26      BOS     80      3099    105.9   30.0    107.4
2005    27      BOS     82      2960    115.8   26.1    106.4
2006    28      BOS     79      3084    113.9   30.5    107.8
2007    29      BOS     47      1740    111.5   29.7    108.9
2008    30      BOS     80      2874    115.2   24.5    100.0
2009    31      BOS     42      1543    112.9   23.9    102.0
-----+-----+--------+------+---------+--------+------+--------

Aside from some fluctuations in 2003 & '04, those look like some really consistent performances. Which had me thinking: who is the NBA's most consistent active player? And who are the most consistent players of all time?

Well, first we need to define "consistent". Some players are consistent quarter-to-quarter, some game-to-game, and some season-to-season; the latter is what I'm going for here, players who have seasons of similar quality year in and year out. Also, note the phrase "similar quality" -- we're going for consistency of value, not consistency of playing style. Some players are able to change what type of player they are over their career without losing a lot of performance, so while their playing style isn't very consistent, we'd still say their value is consistent. Finally, we're talking about cumulative regular-season value, not talent or ability. Frequently-injured players may keep the same skill level every year, but it doesn't matter all that much if they can't stay in the lineup consistently.

OK, so now that we've established the ground rules, how exactly do we go about measuring consistency? I'm going to use a formula introduced by Bill James in his Gold Mine 2008:

Consistency = (Career WS - 2 * Inconsistency) / (2 * Career WS)

Where "Inconsistency" is simply the sum of the player's year-to-year changes in Win Shares (including his rookie year, where he changes from 0 WS to his rookie total, and his last season, where he goes from his final-year WS back to 0). The result is a sort of percentage, measuring how close a player is to "perfect consistency", which of course would constitute no year-to-year changes in production except in one's first and last seasons.

I calculated this metric for every player's career starting in 1973-74, the first year that Win Shares are available (data from 2008-09 isn't included, as pro-rating the current numbers would throw things off a bit for guys who have missed some time with injuries). According to James' measure of consistency, who are the steadiest active players from year to year? And where does P-Double rank?

Rk   Player          Min     WS      Incon.  Con.
---+----------------+------+-------+-------+-------
1    Jason Kidd      38269  106.97   30.20   0.859
2    Kevin Garnett   37864  150.63   48.98   0.837
3    Ben Wallace     26577   80.88   26.51   0.836
4    Rip Hamilton    22444   51.26   17.13   0.833
5    Tim Duncan      30616  138.82   47.36   0.829
6    Dirk Nowitzki   27644  127.49   45.78   0.820
7    Mike Bibby      26185   58.09   21.05   0.819
8    Shaq O'Neal     37674  169.99   61.80   0.818
9    Michael Finley  34952   80.52   29.40   0.817
10   Rasheed Wallace 32044   93.45   34.23   0.817
11   Shane Battier   18677   50.26   18.55   0.815
12   Tony Parker     17879   52.20   19.30   0.815
13   Stephon Marbury 31479   78.19   29.72   0.810
14   Rashard Lewis   23996   68.22   26.11   0.809
15   Dikembe Mutombo 36695  115.46   44.21   0.809
16   Kobe Bryant     31572  125.78   49.29   0.804
17   Steve Nash      26528   97.72   39.33   0.799
18   Mike Miller     18229   42.05   17.42   0.793
19   Cuttino Mobley  27254   51.91   21.68   0.791
20   Jason Terry     24667   66.48   28.24   0.788
21   Shawn Marion    25550   97.12   42.51   0.781
22   Yao Ming        13139   53.83   23.75   0.779
23   Mehmet Okur     13250   40.77   18.08   0.778
24   Ray Allen       32223  101.22   45.19   0.777
25   C. Billups      24087   87.43   39.51   0.774
26   Antawn Jamison  26258   65.18   30.10   0.769
27   Vince Carter    26325   82.78   38.40   0.768
28   Brad Miller     19327   65.20   30.43   0.767
29   Juwan Howard    33715   55.78   26.08   0.766
30   Chris Bosh      13361   42.35   20.01   0.764
31   Ricky Davis     20643   28.64   13.61   0.762
32   Manu Ginobili   12056   53.55   25.59   0.761
33   Jermaine O'Neal 20431   51.07   24.50   0.760
34   Malik Rose      12933   26.54   12.79   0.759
35   Morris Peterson 17856   34.00   16.69   0.755
36   R. Nesterovic   16357   36.71   18.07   0.754
37   D. Marshall     24839   58.09   29.16   0.749
38   Jason Collins   12980   19.13    9.65   0.748
39   Kurt Thomas     22333   51.80   26.23   0.747
40   Paul Pierce     27490   95.16   48.68   0.744
---+----------------+------+-------+-------+-------
(Min. 10000 MP)

Well, it turns out Pierce wasn't quite as consistent (relative to his peers) as I had suspected -- of the "Big Three", he actually the 3rd most consistent! His slump in 2003-04 and the injury in 2006-07 are the major contributing factors; Kidd, by comparison, hasn't missed a significant amount of playing time since 1996-97, and while he's not as valuable as Pierce when each is healthy, he truly does have basically the same season every single year.

For comparison's sake, here are the most consistent players of all time (well, since 1974 at least):

Rk   Player          Min     WS      Incon.  Con.
---+----------------+------+-------+-------+-------
1    Karl Malone     54852   231.62  52.03   0.888
2    George Gervin   34908   117.02  26.36   0.887
3    Reggie Miller   47621   172.37  40.23   0.883
4    John Stockton   47764   205.35  48.00   0.883
5    Sam Perkins     36598   104.00  25.83   0.876
6    Charles Barkley 39330   175.95  44.63   0.873
7    Alex English    38063   106.51  28.42   0.867
8    Jack Sikma      36943   110.61  29.90   0.865
9    Dennis Johnson  35954    81.83  22.14   0.865
10   Bill Laimbeer   33956   104.62  28.82   0.862
11   Bobby Jones     25728    95.18  26.79   0.859
12   Kevin McHale    30118   111.97  31.57   0.859
13   Jason Kidd      38269   106.97  30.20   0.859
14   P.J. Brown      33823    88.11  25.02   0.858
15   Maurice Cheeks  34845   102.37  29.87   0.854
16   Robert Parish   45704   145.69  42.82   0.853
17   Gary Payton     47117   145.93  43.02   0.853
18   K. Abdul-Jabbar 43787   190.15  56.11   0.852
19   Sedale Threatt  22436    47.31  14.06   0.851
20   James Worthy    30001    80.82  24.08   0.851
21   Shawn Kemp      29295    89.64  26.75   0.851
22   Julius Erving   38721   158.30  47.31   0.851
23   Jeff Hornacek   33964   109.45  33.66   0.846
24   Hakeem Olajuwon 44222   163.39  50.35   0.846
25   Dale Davis      29607    85.24  26.56   0.844
26   R. Blackman     32087    73.88  23.22   0.843
27   Dan Issel       31409   122.33  38.81   0.841
28   Fred Brown      21743    61.16  19.42   0.841
29   Xavier McDaniel 25201    47.44  15.08   0.841
30   C. Robinson     42561    90.74  29.43   0.838
31   Kevin Garnett   37864   150.63  48.98   0.837
32   Scottie Pippen  41069   122.60  39.91   0.837
33   Clyde Drexler   37537   139.14  45.34   0.837
34   Horace Grant    38621   116.46  38.17   0.836
35   Ben Wallace     26577    80.88  26.51   0.836
36   Detlef Schrempf 33597   109.84  36.14   0.835
37   Brad Davis      22302    52.49  17.33   0.835
38   Johnny Davis    21200    38.00  12.59   0.834
39   Buck Williams   42464   121.80  40.39   0.834
40   Hersey Hawkins  32034    90.13  29.95   0.834
---+----------------+------+-------+-------+-------

Michael Jordan's 3 retirements leave him with a poor consistency score, ranking just 262nd overall, between those paragons of consistency Josh Howard and Dick Snyder. And the least consistent players of all time? A couple of ex-Clippers: Darius Miles and Michael Olowokandi, whose consistency scores are actually negative because the sum of their year-to-year changes in WS is actually greater than twice their career WS totals! Now that's inconsistency.

The good news for Paul Pierce is that he's on pace for 11.32 WS this season, which is right in line with the rest of his career numbers, so there's hope for him to move up that list yet. But right now, his Celtic teammates Kevin Garnett & Ray Allen have actually been steadier from year to year than PP.

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One Response to “Paul Pierce, Mr. Consistency?”

  1. Andy Says:

    In baseball, Pujols. In basketball.. Dirk is quite consistent. KG is but with the blowouts his minutes are down.