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Comparable Careers By Quality and Shape

Posted by Neil Paine on February 18, 2010

Two summers ago, Doug made a great post over at PFR that asked a simple question: Who is the current Dave Duerson? If you don't know who Duerson was, he was a good (4-time Pro Bowl) but not great (he won't make the Hall of Fame) safety for the Bears in the mid-1980s; seeing as I was born in December '85, I only know who he was because I've watched tapes of the 1985 Patriots and he was one of the Chicago defenders in that regrettable game that ended the Patties' season. Anyway, the point of the question was to find a bridge that related Doug's frame of reference (he was a huge sports fan by the time '85 rolled around) to that of someone my age who didn't compulsively watch old Patriots tapes and therefore wouldn't have any way of knowing who a semi-notable SS from 1985 was.

To that end, Doug built a simple similarity system using Approximate Value that would find players with careers of similar shape and quality -- this wouldn't find players who played a similar style to Duerson, of course, but it could give you a broad idea of how good Duerson was and how he fit in the world of football in 1985 by finding players who were basically as good as Duerson that you have actually heard of. So for someone my age, Duerson is Merton Hanks, he's Mike Brown, he's Blaine Bishop -- guys who made a couple pro Bowls, pretty good players but not all-timers. And as a result, everyone now has a common frame of reference.

It's a terrific concept, and it's easy to pull off in any sport that has an all-in-one, single-number value type of metric. Luckily for us at BBR, we happen to have just such a metric: Win Shares. Now, in Doug's method he started with 100 "similarity points" and subtracted one similarity point for each point of difference between 2 players' best-season AVs, .95 of a similarity point for each point of difference in their second-best-season AVs, .90 of a similarity point for each point of difference in their third-best-season AVs, and so on, which has the effect of really emphasizing that 2 players have peaks of similar quality. But I want to find players whose entire careers look the same year-by-year -- their first seasons are similar, their 5th seasons are similar, their 12th seasons are similar, etc. To accomplish this, I used least squares to measure how similar a player's WS were to another at every season of their careers, and minimized the sum of squared errors. Here's an example, Kobe Bryant through 14 NBA seasons (2010 WS were pro-rated to 82 games):

Yr# Year Age WS
1 1997 18 2
2 1998 19 6
3 1999 20 5
4 2000 21 11
5 2001 22 11
6 2002 23 13
7 2003 24 15
8 2004 25 11
9 2005 26 8
10 2006 27 15
11 2007 28 13
12 2008 29 14
13 2009 30 13
14 2010 31 11

So among guards (or G-F), whose careers end up looking similar to Kobe's through 14 pro seasons?

Gary Payton
John Stockton
Reggie Miller
Steve Nash
Julius Erving
Ray Allen
Clyde Drexler
Jerry West
John Havlicek
Chet Walker
Jeff Hornacek
Jason Kidd
Scottie Pippen

Here are Bryant and Payton side-by-side:

Bryant Payton
Yr# Year Age WS Year Age WS
1 1997 18 2 1991 22 3
2 1998 19 6 1992 23 4
3 1999 20 5 1993 24 8
4 2000 21 11 1994 25 9
5 2001 22 11 1995 26 12
6 2002 23 13 1996 27 11
7 2003 24 15 1997 28 13
8 2004 25 11 1998 29 12
9 2005 26 8 1999 30 7
10 2006 27 15 2000 31 14
11 2007 28 13 2001 32 11
12 2008 29 14 2002 33 13
13 2009 30 13 2003 34 9
14 2010 31 11 2004 35 8

Yes, the numbers came at different ages, and Bryant is clearly better, but it does give a nice idea of how the two fit together in the history of the NBA -- you could explain to someone who didn't know GP in his prime that Payton was to PGs what a slightly lesser version of Kobe Bryant would be to SGs.

It's even more useful for past players you may not know... for instance, who was Guy Rodgers?

Win Shares by Season#
Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Rodgers 2 4 5 2 2 4 3 2 6 0 1 1 0
Greg Anthony 2 5 5 3 5 3 3 3 4 2 1 0 0
Kevin Porter 2 5 6 1 3 4 6 2 6 0 0 0 0
Ricky Sobers 3 5 5 4 2 4 1 2 3 0 2 0 0
Gerald Wilkins 1 3 3 4 4 3 4 3 7 0 2 -1 0
Voshon Lenard 1 7 7 0 3 3 2 2 4 0 0 0 0
T.R. Dunn 2 4 3 2 4 4 4 4 5 2 3 1 1
Freddie Lewis 0 5 5 4 5 4 4 2 5 2 1 0 0

Rodgers was Greg Anthony; Kevin Porter; Gerald Wilkins; Voshon Lenard. And now everyone has a frame of reference.

Here are some other older players and their more modern equivalents:

Calvin Murphy = Andre Miller, Stephon Marbury
Darrall Imhoff = Will Perdue, Aaron Williams
Willie Naulls = Antoine Walker, Ken Norman
Phil Jackson = Malik Rose, Luc Longley
Dan Roundfield = Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Corey Maggette
Don Buse = Vinnie Johnson, David Wesley
Marques Johnson = Andrei Kirilenko, Anfernee Hardaway
Bob McAdoo = Grant Hill, Yao Ming
Sam Jones = Glen Rice, Jason Terry
Joe Caldwell = Travis Best, Bobby Jackson

I can do this for any player in NBA history, so let me know in the comments who you want to see the equivalents for, and I'll post them below...

21 Responses to “Comparable Careers By Quality and Shape”

  1. edkupfer Says:

    ANTOINE WALKER!!!! (And Shane Battier, Eddie House, Brad Miller.)

  2. Harry Says:

    I'm curious about old-time Knicks who scored 50 points at MSG who were before my time:

    Richie Guerin

    Willis Reed

    Bernard King


  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Haha, okay...

    Antoine = Willie Naulls, Cliff Levingston, Morris Peterson, Bill Bradley (now there's a comp), Tom Van Arsdale, Tom Gugliotta

    Battier (thru 9 seasons) = Tommy Heinsohn, Dan Majerle, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jack Marin, Jack Twyman, Michael Finley

    House (thru 10 seasons) = Anthony Johnson, Keyon Dooling, Keith Erickson, Jud Buechler, Jaren Jackson, Tyronn Lue

    Miller (thru 12 seasons) = Bill Bridges, Jerome Kersey, Happy Hairston, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Shawn Kemp, Billy Cunningham

    Because, hey, who makes you think "Shawn Kemp" more than Brad Miller?

  4. Neil Paine Says:

    Guerin = Larry Costello, Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Dick Barnett, World B. Free, Jack Marin

    Reed = Chris Bosh, Calvin Natt, Shane Battier, Rudy Tomjanovich, Larry Foust, Billy Cunningham

    King = Alvan Adams, Danny Ainge, Bryon Russell, Dan Majerle, Grant Long, Chris Mullin

  5. Josh Says:

    It's funny to see complete opposites that have a similar career in terms of shape and value. Dan Roundfield and Corey Maggette. Don Buse and Vinnie Johnson. Shane Battier and Jack Twyman.

  6. AYC Says:

    "King = Alvan Adams, Danny Ainge, Bryon Russell, Dan Majerle, Grant Long, Chris Mullin"

    Does this mean Bernard King played like a "white guy"?

    More seriously, what about the best of the best from the 50's and 60's?


  7. kjb Says:

    Umm, is it too much to ask for everyone? :) Seriously, it would be great if this could be an added feature at the bottom of every player profile. But if we're only taking requests, how about Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood, Michael Ruffin and Charles Jones (who used to man the center position for the Bullets)?

  8. Neil Paine Says:

    "Does this mean Bernard King played like a "white guy"?"

    Ha, well, remember, these players are similar in production only, so there's absolutely no guarantee of stylistic similarity. It just means King was injured a lot and peaked early -- just like Alvan Adams.

    Russell = Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dan Issel, Kevin McHale, Shaq, Dolph Schayes
    Baylor = Wes Unseld, Jack Sikma, Bobby Jones, Cedric Maxwell, Cliff Hagan, Bob Dandridge
    Robertson = Charles Barkley, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Dirk Nowtizki
    West = Barkley, Adrian Dantley, Erving, Kobe, Ray Allen, Magic
    Pettit = Bailey Howell, McHale, Jerry Lucas, Shawn Marion, Elvin Hayes, Bill Laimbeer
    Cousy (remember, Cooz had no WS as a rookie b/c they didn't keep minutes) = Steve Smith, Dennis Johnson, Mo Cheeks, Rolando Blackman, Dan Majerle, Fred Brown
    Arizin = Shawn Marion, Kevin Johnson, Walt Frazier, Cedric Maxwell, Rudy T., Dandridge
    Schayes = Patrick Ewing, Laimbeer, McHale, Anthony Mason, Alex English, Glen Rice

    Arenas (thru 9 seasons) = Reggie Lewis, Archie Clark, Andre Iguodala, Doc Rivers, Scott Wedman, Phil Chenier
    Haywood (thru 9 seasons) = Ed Pinckney, Larry Smith, Mark Olberding, Joe Smith, Sam Mitchell, Ruben Patterson
    Ruffin = Jawann Oldham, Calvin Booth, Greg Foster, Greg Dreiling, Malik Allen, Marc Iavaroni
    Jones = Tom McMillen, John Tresvant, Joe Kleine, Barry Clemens, Harvey Catchings, Sidney Green

  9. Neil Paine Says:

    You know, I think I might try a more ambitious version tomorrow that uses ages instead of seasons in the league, and tries to match offensive & defensive WS for a better stylistic comparison...

  10. Neil Paine Says:

    Also, I need to pro-rate pre-1968 guys to an 82-game season, because I think this method is shortchanging some of the older guys.

  11. Jason J Says:

    Sidney Moncrief

    Scottie Pippen

    Tom Chambers

    James Worthy

    Robert Parish

  12. AYC Says:

    Neil, your comment about old-timers getting short changed due to shorter seasons brings up a pet peeve of mine; why do we always see total win-shares used rather than WS per game, or per minute?

    Nobody thinks Kareem is the best scorer ever because he's the all-time leader in points; we all know points per game is a better measure, and consider MJ the best scorer ever accordingly (putting aside the importance of shooting percentages). Even in baseball, they finally realize per-game stats are better than totals.

    Anyway, I would love to see WS per 82 games, and WS per 36 min on the leader page.

    PS Can anyone explain to me why advanced stats underrate Larry Bird so much; how is it that Reggie Miller rates as a better offensive player? WS seem to both underrate Bird on offense and overrate him on D.

  13. Ian Says:

    I'd love to see comparisons for some of my favorites:

    Adrian Dantley

    Dikemne Mutombo

    Jerome Kersey

    Hersey Hawkins

    Xavier McDaniel

    Detlef Schrempf

    Brandon Roy

  14. Gabe Says:

    Chris Mullin
    Paul Pressey
    Fat Lever
    Marques Johnson
    Sidney Moncreif
    Mitch Ritchmond
    Bill Walton
    Max Zaslofsky

    Thank you!!!

  15. P Middy Says:

    Drazen Petrovic

    Sarunas Marciulionis

    Mark Price

    Scott Skiles

    John Starks

    Derek Harper


  16. Ricardo Says:

    Bobby Jones.

  17. Jason Lisk Says:

    Scott Wedman, Otis Birdsong and Phil Ford.

  18. Neil Paine Says:

    Yeah, I'm definitely going to work on a follow-up this afternoon that gets all of these requests. In fact, hopefully I can make a table that literally has comps for everyone, or Justin can make an app that lets you search for comps, or something -- somehow we'll figure it out.

  19. Neil Paine Says:

    Part II:

  20. Travis Says:

    Gary Payton's 1999 season was abbreviated (for obvious reasons). Not that it throws a monkey wrench into the observation, but he'd look slightly better with another 10 to 11 WS season in his column, and bring him marginally closer to Bryant.

  21. Mike Goodman Says:

    Win Shares are highly dependent on the team a player is with, so it's really just a randomizing factor here.
    As such, you'll get opposite types like Heinsohn and Battier, rather than actually similar players.