NBA Metrics 101: Which Current Players Are Franchise GOATs?
Climbing to the top of a franchise's individual hierarchy is no easy feat, regardless of which NBA organization takes center stage.
Even the youngest of the league's 30 teams (the New Orleans Pelicans, since the Charlotte Hornets absorbed some of their history) has had 173 players take the hardwood in its uniform. The newest expansion clubs are in similar situations, as 216 and 218 contributors have registered minutes for the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors, respectively.
But five players have already become the cream of the crop for their squads, and a handful more are close to grabbing franchise crowns:
- Russell Westbrook, despite his stat-chasing reputation and defensive flaws, is oh-so close to moving past Gary Payton and Kevin Durant in the joint history of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Seattle SuperSonics.
- John Wall needs a bounce-back campaign before he can leapfrog Wes Unseld for the Washington Wizards.
- Nikola Jokic has to prove his staying power, but his trajectory indicates he'll take Alex English's spot atop Denver Nuggets greats.
- Kemba Walker must lead his team back to the playoffs before he can jump beyond Gerald Wallace and Larry Johnson for the Charlotte Hornets.
- Anthony Davis might use 2018-19 to end debates over him and Chris Paul in New Orleans Pelicans history.
Each member of that quintet could join a future iteration of this article. But for now, they're on the outside.
The five featured contributors, though, have the combination of accolades, statistical achievements and team-based successes (determined subjectively while using plenty of numbers to color our decision-making process) to merit the ultimate placement atop their respective organizations.
Three are obvious inclusions, but the other two may surprise you.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
- 1964 Wilt Chamberlain: 998.23 TPA
- 1962 Wilt Chamberlain: 878.1
- 2016 Stephen Curry: 777.67
- 2015 Stephen Curry: 669.99
- 1960 Wilt Chamberlain: 656.51
- 1963 Wilt Chamberlain: 651.97
- 1961 Wilt Chamberlain: 625.57
- 2017 Stephen Curry: 541.51
- 1975 Rick Barry: 497.94
- 2016 Draymond Green: 467.04
Career Per-Game Stats for Warriors: 23.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
This is a tough claim to make, but Stephen Curry has earned the title even if we don't allow for prorations of his career's remaining years. That's not the product of winning three titles in dynastic fashion, either.
Despite the plethora of standouts who litter this organization's archives (Paul Arizin, Rick Barry, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Hardaway, Neil Johnston and Chris Mullin, among others), no one has better demonstrated a combination of peak performance and longevity. Let's tackle the former first, peering at the top single-season scores for the Golden State Warriors (or other iterations of the franchise) in NBA Math's total points added while manually combining regular-season and postseason output:
Though we should never lean on a single metric too heavily, that makes it clear this is a two-man competition between Chamberlain and Curry.
But that's where the combination of peak performance and longevity matters, since the latter has already suited up in 250 more contests than the former, falling behind only Mullin, Nate Thurmond, Jeff Mullins, Al Attles and Arizin on that leaderboard. (He has a chance to move up to No. 3 with a healthy 2018-19.)
Chamberlain is a valid answer to this question, especially given the early-career numbers for the Philadelphia and San Francisco Warriors that saw him drop 100 points in a single game, average 50.4 points for a season and essentially break the NBA record book. But with no postseason hardware on the resume and so much less time spent playing for the Dubs, he falls slightly behind the sharpshooting point guard in our analysis.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
- 2014-15 Marc Gasol: 0.002 MVP shares (tied for eighth place)
- 2012-13 Marc Gasol: 0.001 MVP shares (tied for 12th place)
- 2013-14 Mike Conley: 0.001 MVP shares (tied for 15th place)
Career Per-Game Stats for Grizzlies: 15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.5 blocks
Dating back to the Vancouver Grizzlies' inaugural season in 1995-96, only the following franchise representatives have received an MVP vote, ordered to highlight those who garnered the most shares in a year:
The team doesn't have a long history of excellence. In fact, it's only made the playoffs on 10 occasions, and it's never advanced further than when Marc Gasol led it to the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
But that just makes it easier for this Gasol brother to stand out, as he overtook his older sibling (Pau Gasol, 38) for the franchise lead and ran away with the competition some time ago. The two Spanish big men join Mike Conley as the obvious inclusions on a Grizzlies version of Mount Rushmore, whereas a handful of other players (Tony Allen, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Zach Randolph) have to contend for that coveted final spot on the hillside.
No one is within 10 win shares of Gasol's career tally for the Grizz. He's the lifetime leader in box plus/minus and value over replacement player. Conley has played two additional games, but Gasol sits at No. 1 in minutes played and total points scored.
Sure, we could go on. But this 7-footer is the obvious answer to the titular question.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
- Kyle Lowry: 1,697.56 TPA
- Vince Carter: 1,219.98
- Chris Bosh: 705.5
- Amir Johnson: 554.41
- Doug Christie: 328.69
Career Per-Game Stats for Raptors: 17.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
We're not alone.
Raptors HQ recently ranked every player in Toronto Raptors history, and Kyle Lowry came out atop the pile. Here's what Sean Woodley wrote:
"Whatever it is you're looking for in the number one Raptor of all time, I can guarantee you Kyle Lowry checks each box.
"You want winning? With apologies to the King, DeMar, Lowry has been the best player on the most successful batch of teams Raptors fans have ever gotten to pleasure to watch. He's been the blood-pumping core of three-straight 50-win teams — the only such squads in Raps history — and while injuries have caused his performance to drag in a few playoff runs, Toronto likely doesn't have four of its five playoff series wins without him. Lowry's career has set a new bar for winning that all future Raptors will have to live up to."
The competition is surprisingly stiff for a recent expansion team. Chris Bosh, Vince Carter and DeMar DeRozan all deserve mention before we drop off into lesser tiers. But Lowry, much to the chagrin of those who have refused to recognize his two-way excellence over the last half-decade, stands above the pack.
Lowry trails Bosh in career win shares for the Canadian franchise. He's fourth in scoring, sixth in rebounds, second in assists and second in steals. No basic category exists in which he clearly rises to the top...until we look at those advanced metrics that provide better peeks at all-encompassing value.
And that's poetic. Lowry has never provided glamorous jams like Carter, submitted eye-popping point totals like DeRozan or climbed quite as high on positional ladders as Bosh. He's just quietly dominated and elevated the level of his team since he arrived in Toronto in 2012.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
- 2006 Dirk Nowitzki: 17.7 win shares
- 2007 Dirk Nowitzki: 16.3
- 2003 Dirk Nowitzki: 16.1
- 2005 Dirk Nowitzki: 15.6
- 2001 Dirk Nowitzki: 14.6
- 2002 Dirk Nowitzki: 13.4
- 2008 Dirk Nowitzki: 12.9
- 2010 Dirk Nowitzki: 12.3
- 2003 Steve Nash: 11.6
- 2004 Dirk Nowitzki: 11.5
- 2011 Dirk Nowitzki: 11.1
- 2009 Dirk Nowitzki: 10.9
- 2014 Dirk Nowitzki: 10.9
- 2007 Jason Terry: 10.8
- 1987 James Donaldson: 10.4
Career Per-Game Stats for Mavericks: 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks
Do we have to justify this?
Dirk Nowitzki is the best player in Dallas Mavericks history, to the point that we can use win shares—an admittedly flawed metric that shouldn't normally be taken as gospel—as both judge and jury.
The German 7-footer has earned 206.1 for the only organization he's ever known, and that number is growing as he moves deeper into his 40s. Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper and Jason Terry are the next three men on the leaderboard, and they've combined for 196.6 win shares.
That's the career-long approach, but the single-season look is just as telling:
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Career Per-Game Stats for Heat: 23.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.9 blocks
We have to give shoutouts to LeBron James and Alonzo Mourning, both of whom excelled for the Miami Heat. But the award still goes to Dwyane Wade, who has spent his entire career* suiting up for the franchise and establishing a legacy that has made him a veritable lock for the Hall of Fame.
Singling out what Wade has done on the floor is too easy. He's among the franchise leaders in just about every notable category. James-Mourning, James-Udonis Haslem and Mourning-Haslem are the only duos who can match his win shares. He's played a key part in all three Heat championships.
So instead, let's focus on the recognition Wade has received throughout his career.
Five players have earned All-NBA selections in Miami. James, Tim Hardaway, Mourning and Shaquille O'Neal have combined for 11 such honors; Wade himself has made the squad eight times. The 2-guard is one of six Heat players to earn an All-Defensive nod, and only James has more showings while wearing a Miami uniform. His 12 All-Star appearances are more than the next two on the eight-man list combined: Chris Bosh (six) and Mourning (five).
We can pretend this is a close competition.
There's just one problem: It isn't.
*This isn't exactly true because of brief stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, but we'd like to pretend those ventures never happened. Humor us.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.