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Comparable Careers By Quality and Shape, Part II

Posted by Neil Paine on February 19, 2010

Yesterday I outlined a method for determining how similar the quality and arc of two players' careers were -- in case you missed it, the basic gist was that I minimized the sum of squared differences between year-by-year Win Share totals for any two players to find the best matches. I was surprised/overwhelmed by the response we got, so today I decided to take it a step further and try to match players' offensive and defensive Win Shares by age (instead of just total WS by season # of the player's career), which should give better matches than yesterday's method. Also, I felt old-school players were being shortchanged by a shorter schedule, so I pro-rated everyone's totals to 82 games, including this year's in-progress WS totals.

With those changes in mind, here are some of the players we looked at yesterday (active players are through current age):

Player Pos Comp1 Comp2 Comp3 Comp4 Comp5
Adrian Dantley F-G Kobe Bryant George Gervin Ray Allen Magic Johnson Kevin Johnson
Allen Iverson G Hal Greer Hersey Hawkins Vince Carter Rod Strickland Mark Jackson
Antoine Walker F LaSalle Thompson Jim Brewer Cliff Robinson Rich Kelley Stromile Swift
Bernard King F Larry Kenon Mike Newlin Purvis Short Caron Butler Jack Marin
Bill Russell C Ben Wallace Elvin Hayes Hakeem Olajuwon Patrick Ewing Wes Unseld
Bill Walton C-F Gheorghe Muresan Greg Smith Jamaal Magloire Jim Brewer Pervis Ellison
Bob Cousy G Eddie Jones Hersey Hawkins Mark Aguirre Doc Rivers Byron Scott
Bob McAdoo C-F Marques Johnson David Thompson Yao Ming Elton Brand Cedric Maxwell
Bob Pettit F-C Dirk Nowitzki Magic Johnson George Gervin Dolph Schayes Bailey Howell
Bobby Jones F Dale Davis Dan Roundfield A.C. Green Eddie Jones Tom Chambers
Brad Miller C Billy Cunningham Otis Thorpe Horace Grant Mehmet Okur Bill Laimbeer
Brandon Roy G Anfernee Hardaway Michael Redd Rolando Blackman Dwyane Wade Billy Knight
Brendan Haywood C Byron Beck John Block Phil Hubbard James Edwards Michael Cage
Calvin Murphy G Dick Van Arsdale World B. Free Jason Terry Rolando Blackman George Gervin
Charles Jones F-C Corie Blount Francisco Elson Walter Simon Michael Curry Mark Bryant
Chris Mullin F-G Joe Dumars Terry Porter Derek Harper Dan Majerle Byron Scott
Dan Roundfield F-C Greg Ballard Michael Cooper Truck Robinson Nick Anderson Shane Battier
Darrall Imhoff C Aaron Williams George Ratkovicz John Tresvant Antoine Carr Coby Dietrick
Derek Harper G Dan Majerle Byron Scott Danny Ainge Paul Westphal Randy Smith
Detlef Schrempf F-C Alex English Sam Perkins Dale Ellis P.J. Brown Ricky Pierce
Dikembe Mutombo C P.J. Brown Clifford Robinson Bill Laimbeer Robert Parish Sam Perkins
Dolph Schayes F-C Bob Lanier Bailey Howell Larry Bird Kevin McHale Clyde Drexler
Don Buse G Freddie Lewis Bill Bradley Chris Ford Rick Fox Junior Bridgeman
Drazen Petrovic G Jim Baechtold Flynn Robinson Vincent Askew Sarunas Marciulionis Steve Blake
Eddie House G Anthony Johnson Jon Barry Jud Buechler RasuAl Butler Clint Richardson
Elgin Baylor F Chris Mullin Horace Grant Eddie Jones Clyde Drexler Dan Majerle
Fat Lever G Richard Hamilton Jay Humphries Paul Pressey Alvin Robertson Dave Twardzik
Gilbert Arenas G Brandon Roy DeRon Williams Kevin Martin Anfernee Hardaway Otis Birdsong
Guy Rodgers G Darrell Griffith Bonzi Wells Quinn Buckner Lionel Hollins Jack McMahon
Hersey Hawkins G Jason Terry Hal Greer Steve Smith Rolando Blackman Maurice Cheeks
James Worthy F Pau Gasol Richard Hamilton Billy Cunningham Shareef Abdur-Rahim Rashard Lewis
Jerome Kersey F Dan Roundfield Greg Ballard Shane Battier Jim Chones Mickey Johnson
Jerry West G-F Charles Barkley Ray Allen Bailey Howell Moses Malone Clyde Drexler
Joe Caldwell F-G Travis Best Phil Hubbard Bingo Smith Foots Walker Kenny Carr
John Starks G Bill Bradley Craig Ehlo Charlie Ward Tyrone Corbin Slater Martin
Kevin Garnett F Moses Malone Clyde Drexler Tim Duncan Julius Erving Dolph Schayes
Kobe Bryant G Magic Johnson Adrian Dantley George Gervin Ray Allen Julius Erving
Larry Bird F Dominique Wilkins Dolph Schayes Kevin McHale Scottie Pippen Horace Grant
Mark Price G Jason Terry Jimmy Jones Mark Aguirre Richard Hamilton Rolando Blackman
Marques Johnson F-G Shareef Abdur-Rahim John Drew David Thompson Isiah Thomas Bob McAdoo
Max Zaslofsky G-F Major Jones John Wetzel Dick Mehen Mike Barrett Louis Amundson
Michael Jordan G-F Charles Barkley Moses Malone Jerry West Clyde Drexler Ray Allen
Michael Ruffin F Mark McNamara Kevin McKenna Bob McCann Greg Foster Tommie Bowens
Mitch Richmond G Tim Hardaway Steve Smith Earl Monroe Hal Greer Gail Goodrich
Oscar Robertson G-F Jerry West Charles Barkley Bob Pettit Dirk Nowitzki Ray Allen
Otis Birdsong G Eddie Johnson Phil Smith Johnny Davis Brian Winters Jason Richardson
Paul Arizin F-G Jerry Lucas Dick Van Arsdale Jason Terry Bailey Howell Hersey Hawkins
Paul Pierce F Julius Erving Rasheed Wallace Jerry Lucas Hal Greer Bob Dandridge
Paul Pressey G-F Chris Mills Bill Bradley Roger Brown Clem Haskins Greg Ballard
Phil Ford G Mike O'Koren Sonny Parker Chris Duhon Chico Vaughn Bob Gross
Phil Jackson F-C Kenny Gattison Steve Jones Derek Strong Keith Askins M.L. Carr
Richie Guerin G Archie Clark Brad Davis Larry Costello Randy Smith Dick Barnett
Robert Parish C Sam Perkins Dikembe Mutombo P.J. Brown Detlef Schrempf Clifford Robinson
Sam Jones G-F Don Nelson P.J. Brown Eddie Jones Rod Strickland Dale Davis
Sarunas Marciulionis G Jim Baechtold Bill Melchionni Levern Tart Duane Ferrell Tyronn Lue
Scott Skiles G Earl Boykins Flynn Robinson Steve Jones Chuck Williams Chris Whitney
Scott Wedman F-G Mack Calvin Vern Fleming Sidney Wicks Xavier McDaniel Jerry Stackhouse
Scottie Pippen F-G Eddie Jones Sam Jones Maurice Cheeks Horace Grant Jack Sikma
Shane Battier F Sam Perkins Jerome Kersey Dan Roundfield Greg Ballard Happy Hairston
Sidney Moncrief G Peja Stojakovic Walt Frazier Mark Aguirre Jim Paxson Michael Redd
Steve Nash G Jeff Hornacek Gary Payton Dominique Wilkins John Stockton Reggie Miller
Tom Chambers F-C Armen Gilliam Bobby Jones Michael Cooper James Donaldson Randy Smith
Willie Naulls F-C Mike Bantom Mike Woodson Ben Poquette Harvey Grant Xavier McDaniel
Willis Reed C-F Scott Wedman Jack Marin Billy Cunningham Shane Battier Shawn Marion
Xavier McDaniel F Charlie Scott John Salley Brian Winters Dave Greenwood Cliff Levingston

As was the case yesterday, I'll take requests until Justin makes a tool that allows you to make these kinds of comparisons on the site.

15 Responses to “Comparable Careers By Quality and Shape, Part II”

  1. Jake Says:

    You need Jerry Sloan on here! That would be great to see.

  2. Gabe Says:

    Bill Walton C-F Gheorghe Muresan Greg Smith Jamaal Magloire Jim Brewer Pervis Ellison

    I can't remember the last time I felt this vindicated.

    Also, just a couple of observations.

    First, maybe it's just my perception, but I'm seeing a few names that keep coming up in a lot of the comps: Greg Ballard, Bill Bradley (which one?), Richard Hamilton, Jason Terry. Not saying there's anything wrong with this, just saying I noticed it.

    Second, I think it's interesting that Paul Pressey shows up as the 3rd comp for Fat Lever, but Lever is nowhere to be found among Pressey's top 5 comps. I'm not sure if that says more about Lever's uniqueness, or Pressey's.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Yeah, I noticed that too -- my guess is that some guys come closer to the "typical NBA player career arc" than others, and as a consequence they tend to show up as comparables for a lot of players. (BTW, "Bill Bradley" refers to the former US Senator.)

    As for Pressey-Lever, that's an interesting observation; in fact, even if you take away the position-matching requirement, Lever isn't one of the 40 most closely-matched careers for Pressey. But Lever is a bizarre case anyway, a PG having apparently followed the career arc of a big man (ignoring positional matching, his 6 top comps are all centers or forwards, and an inordinate # of his top 40 comps are big guys). This isn't even tracking stylistic similarity either, so all those rebounds don't even matter... He just aged like Billy Cunningham more than he aged like Gary Payton.

  4. Matt Says:

    Interesting that the following guys aren't in the Top 5 of anybody above:

    Lebron James
    Dwight Howard
    Chris Paul
    Carmelo Anthony

    Who do these guys compare to?

  5. Neil Paine Says:

    I think they aren't in the top 5 of any players listed above because they're so young -- most of those guys are retired and played a full career, while Bron, Dwight, CP3, and Melo are still in their mid-20s. If you look at them through their current age, though, you get:

    LBJ = Dantley, Bosh, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, T-Mac
    Dwight = KG, Duncan, Magic Johnson, Shawn Kemp, AK-47
    CP3 = Magic, Kobe, David Thompson, Marques Johnson, Kevin Johnson
    Melo = Rashard Lewis, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Bosh, Gasol, John Drew

  6. Gabe Says:

    So basically Lever is just so far out there. This leads to Pressey having a whole bunch of players who are much closer to him than Lever is. Is that what you're saying?

  7. Anon Says:

    A few observations: I always thought that Ben Wallace (especially in his prime) was probably the closest player to Bill Russell in the modern era, a player who was about as dominant on the defensive end as I have ever seen. I know this isn't a stylistic comparison, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. I also liked the Kobe/Magic comparison especially considering how people usually see Kobe as having a playing style more like MJ than Magic.

    I would like to see an analysis done for The Admiral, The Dream, Pat Ewing, and my favorite underrated player in history, "Miller Time" (Reggie).

  8. Gabe Says:

    Okay, so I bit the bait and clicked the link to John Drew. Every time I read about him, I just get sick to my stomach. Sad thing is, he's not even the biggest drug-related flame-out from the '73 draft class.

  9. NickS Says:

    Tom Chambers ... Bobby Jones, Michael Cooper

    ??? How does he end up compared to two all-league defenders?

  10. Gabe Says:

    '74. I meant '74 draft class.

  11. Ben Says:

    I'd like to see Lebron, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, and Sabonis.

  12. Jared Ras Says:

    I don't know about these positions... I mean, Oscar Robertson (PG) drawing relation to Dirk Nowitzki (PF)? I can't wrap my head around it.

    Although, with more variables, you could probably find similar play-styles as well.

  13. Travis Says:


    Michael Cooper was an all-NBA defender on reputation only. DRtg does not indicate he was any better than league average. Kind of like another prominent Laker who plays at SG.

    As advanced stats evolve and gain more attention in the mainstream of sports opinion, people will begin to look at overrated defensive players, much like they are (kind of) starting to do now with inefficient scorers.

  14. Travis Says:


    This comparison isn't necessarily looking at playing styles. It is looking at offensive and defensive win shares by age. MJ blows out Kobe in both offensive and defensive win shares, but compares to Charles Barkley, who had one of the greatest four year runs of offensive efficiency ever seen in the game of basketball (and did so at the same time and age Jordan was putting up his ridiculous numbers).

  15. deflated Says:

    Fun idea, but it throws up some pretty odd comps. Tell an old-school Bucks fan that Michael Redd is a good comparison for Sidney Moncrief and their head will probably explode.

    That said I'd still like to see who compares to Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman.