What do the statistics say about who should be the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T)? PART 1. (link to the PART 2) (link to the PART 3)
What I wanted to look at for a long time was : What do the statistics say about who should be the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T)? Effectively, outside of statistics, we all have a point of view about who is/was/should be considered the G.O.AT. Just to name a few that are widely considered as a reference over the decades:
- Bill Russell with his eleven titles,
- Wilt Chamberlain with the most impressive statistics ever for a player,
- Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer,
- Michael Jordan, a guy called "God" by mister Bird,
What all these great professionals have in common is to be the winner of multiple championships and to have amazing individual statistics. But, otherwise, we have to admit that it is difficult to compare/decide who is/should be considered the G.O.A.T for two main reasons: (1) how to compare players who played decades apart and (2) how to compare a guard and a center for example?
This is why I decided (1) to compare individuals who played during the same period and (2) to use statistics that do not disadvantage players due to their position.
Accordingly, I have decided (1) to use statistics to find a G.O.A.T per decade since the 60's, knowing that a player can compete for only a decade (the one where he played the most or was the most dominant statistically speaking).
Regarding statistics, I have chosen 5 variables that encompass/focus on both attack and defense according to my simple definition of a "good basket-ball player": (a) Be able to defend (including rebounding, blocking, stealing and limiting points by opponents) and (b) be able to attack smartly (basically find the open guy or take the most efficient shot).
- For points (related to (b) attack), I put the minimum at 18 points/per game as I do not want to disadvantage individuals who played within a very talented team.
- For rebounds (related to (a) defense), I put the minimum at 6/per game as I do not not want to disadvantage guards/smaller players.
- For assists (related to (b) attack), I put the minimum at 2.5/per game as I do not not want to disadvantage forwards and centers (players that do not necessarily need to make assists as they play near the basket).
- For True Shooting Percentage (TS%) (related to (b) attack), I put the minimum at 52.5%/per game as I do not not want to disadvantage guards who use to play far away from the basket and I want to avoid players that do not take efficient shot (or do not find the open guy when available).
- And finally, for fouls (related to (a) defense), I put the maximum at 0.10416/per minute played (or 5 fouls maximum per 48 minutes) as I do not want to allow bad defenders to pass the test (the caveat being the intentional fouls at the end of the game). Because data on blocks, steals and defensive rebounds are only available since the mid 70's in NBA, the defense of players before this decade is difficult to assess except using fouls (however, there is other statistics to gauge defense, like Defensive Rating, that I will use in future articles about "who is the best defender according to statistics").
And, because it is championship that matters at the end of the day, I will only cover playoff data. While this choice of data can be discussed, you will see however, that the result for each decade bears little to no surprise... and you will find all the big names that are usually included in discussions about who is the G.O.A.T... Furthermore, personal statistics can help to explain why certain players failed to win the championship (while we must also take into account, among other explanations, their competitors and the weakness of their own team)...
To summarize, I will elect our G.O.A.T for every decade since the 60's by looking at data for every player that fits, in playoffs only, the following benchmark:
- Statistics per game during the playoffs: At least 18 Points, 6 Rebounds, 2.5 Assists, 52.5% TS% and less than 5 faults per 48 minutes.
I will begin with the 60's. This decade was dominated by one team (the Boston Celtics) and the game of some amazing players (Mister 100 points, Mister 11 championships and Mister triple double).
Here is the result for players reaching my benchmark of 5 variables/statistics in at least 2 years of playoffs (you can click on any player in the table below to reach his complete statistics; season and playoffs. Otherwise, if you click on any player in the text about his statistic, you will attain its bio, if there is one on nba.com):
TOTAL G.O.A.T SCORE (years my benchmark have been reached by the player)
In % of years played in playoffs
a. The top 3 of the 60's decade?
- With a little bit of surprise, Jerry West is the G.O.A.T of the 60's ahead of two of the best centers ever (Wilt Chamberlain & Bill Russell) with a total of 5 years. While he won only one championship (because of the Celtics), his playoffs statistics are nevertheless impressive: 29.1 Pts, 5.6 TRB, 6.3 AST & 54.1% TS% per game over 13 years (the link to his statistics).
- The seconds, tied, are Wilt Chamberlain & Oscar Robertson with a total of 4 years. Wilt Chamberlain missed my benchmark mainly due to his True Shooting Percentage (7 times). However, over his playoffs career and his 2 championships, his statistics are simply unbelievable: 22.5 Pts, 24.5 TRB, 4.2 AST & 52.4% TS% per game over 13 years (the link to his statistics).
- Oscar Robertson is the most penalized player by the weakness of his team within the top 3 (he didn't go to the playoffs 4 years over his illustrious career of 14 years and won only 1 championship). Nevertheless, he reached my statistical benchmark 4 years (40% of the time he went in playoffs, which is the record of the players of this generation) and displayed more than solid personal statistics: 22.2 Pts, 6.7 TRB, 8.9 AST & 54.4% TS% per game over 10 years (the link to his statistics).
- Elgin Baylor is another legend who never won a championship during his career (due again to the supremacy of Boston). However, his personal statistic are impressive: 27 Pts, 12.9 TRB & 4 AST & 49.7% TS% per game over 12 years. He missed my benchmark mainly because of his True Shooting Percentage (10 times).
- Jerry Lucas and Walt Bellamy are the two other players of my list to reach my statistical benchmark for at least 2 years (however with statistics in playoffs a notch below the four previous players ranked above). The former won a championship at the end of his career (at the beginning of the 70's) while the latter is only one of 7 players in NBA history to reach at least 20000 points and 14000 rebounds over his career (in season).
- Finally, the most surprising statistic of the 60's is the fact that Bill Russell never reached my statistical benchmark. It's only due to points (he reached the 18 points only 5 times but due to a so talented team) and True Shooting Percentage (he reached the 52.5% level only once in 13 playoffs seasons) in what should be considered as his biggest weakness (the link to his statistics). However, he won 11 championships in 13 years which is still, by far, the record. Furthermore, he posted amazing numbers over his career in playoffs: 16.2 Pts, 24.9 TRB & 4.7 AST & 47.4% TS% per game.
NEXT ARTICLE IN THE SERIE: STATISTICS ABOUT BASKETBALL GOAT. PART 2.