I did some statistical analysis.
Using Basketball Reference, I pulled the top-ten all-time NBA/ABA leaders in each of the following categories:
- Minutes Played
- Games Played
- Free Throws Made
- Field Goals Made
- 3-Pointers Made
- Offensive Rebounds
- Defensive Rebounds
I then analyzed the number of times players appeared on each list. For example, this graph shows the total number of times each player appeared in any position (1-10) on more than one of those lists.
That isn’t all of the names on all of those lists, of course, it’s just the 26 players who appear on at least two lists.
One interesting fact that immediately jumps out: only four of those players are still active, LeBron James, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Russel Westbrook. (Dwight Howard is still active, but not in the NBA.) Does this suggest that these four players are the four most all-around talented, active individual players in the league? I’m not sure… but it might.
Second interesting fact is that LeBron heads the list, which isn’t surprising. But note that the next active player is Harden, who only makes three lists (free throws made, 3-pointers made, and triple-doubles). CP3 and Russel make two apiece.
I then awarded points for each time a player appeared on a list, awarding 10 points for first place, 9 for second and so on. When you total these awards, and re-rank the players, the list looks different. Here are the first 25 names, with current players’ names in bold:
Again, a couple of interesting things jump out:
First, LeBron doesn’t head the list… the Mailman does. This shocked me. I mean, it’s close, and all LBJ has to do is climb three spots overall to pass him, but still… Karl Malone?
Second, again, look how far ahead of the other active players LeBron is. The next player on the list, Chris Paul, is 32 points behind, a margin which seems insurmountable to me. When you restrict the list to only active players, you get a graph which suggests that nobody currently playing will ever pass LeBron:
A couple more points:
- The GOAT conversation is a pointless debate between LeBron and Michael Jordan. One the one hand, Jordan won six titles and LeBron has only won four. On the other hand, LeBron isn’t finished yet. On the third hand, more titles don’t seem likely for him. But, on the fourth hand, Michael only scores 24 points on this scale… over 15 seasons (1.6 points per season). LeBron has more than twice as many points in twenty seasons (2.45 pps). I know that I made this stat up but, still, perhaps this argues in favor of LeBron as the superior individual player?
- If you ask ten fans in a sports bar to name the league’s best individual player, you’ll hear names like Steph, Giannis, Jokic and Doncic. Nobody will mention CP3, Harden, Russel, or Dame. But the front-runner names in this debate are all newcomers… and the name nobody wants to hear (LeBron James) has played more seasons than any other NBA player (tied with Udonis Haslem, the league’s oldest active player, who is four years older). Maybe the reason people don’t consider James to be the best player in the league is simply that people are tired of him?