NBA Metrics 101: Undisputed GOATs for Every Team

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 10, 2018

NBA Metrics 101: Undisputed GOATs for Every Team

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    The NBA as a whole can only have one GOAT, though the battle between Michael Jordan and LeBron James still rages (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the periphery). But once we narrow the focus to one franchise at a time, many legends enter the conversation. 

    Just as was the case when we looked at current players who have earned the pole positions for their respective squads, we're evaluating these GOAT determinations through a combination of accolades, statistical achievements and team-based successes. The choices are determined in subjective fashion, though plenty of numbers color our decision-making process.

    But rather than jump from one franchise to the next in alphabetical order, we're splitting the winners into seven categories:

    1. Current-Player GOATs
    2. Soon-to-be-Surpassed GOATs
    3. Pre-Merger GOATs
    4. Emerging-from-the-Pack GOATs
    5. Heavily Contested GOATs
    6. Runaway GOATs
    7. Freight-Train GOATs

    Can you guess all the featured players? Better still, can you forecast in which category each of them lands?

Current-Player GOATs

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Five of our 30 franchise GOATs are still rostered by the organizations they've staked claim to. We've already covered this quintet in more extensive fashion, but we'll quickly rehash them here before moving on to the new entries. 


    Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki

    Career Per-Game Stats for Mavericks: 21.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Career Advanced Metrics for Mavericks: 22.6 PER, 57.8 TS%, 206.1 WS, 0.196 WS/48, 3.3 BPM, 3,159.42 TPA

    Dirk Nowitzki basically is the Dallas Mavericks. He has been since he recovered from a shaky start to his NBA career (admittedly as a 20-year-old coming across the pond), and he will be until the day he retires.

    This big man has earned a staggering 206.1 win shares for the Mavs throughout his illustrious career, and that's more than the combined total of any other three men in franchise history. Rolando Blackman, Derek Harper and Jason Terry are the leading trio, and their cumulative effort leaves them at 196.6 win shares


    Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry

    Career Per-Game Stats for Warriors: 23.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Metrics for Warriors: 23.8 PER, 62.1 TS%, 93.3 WS, 0.208 WS/48, 6.5 BPM, 2,872.08 TPA

    Though Wilt Chamberlain has a strong argument, Stephen Curry has already displayed the peak performance and longevity necessary to surpass his forebear in the team annals. And the gap will only grow as he keeps drilling triples and leading a dynastic Golden State Warriors squad to more titles. 

    Yes, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have made his life far easier. He's still the driving force behind this Bay Area juggernaut, though, putting up numbers that have helped redefine the point guard position.


    Memphis Grizzlies: Marc Gasol

    Career Per-Game Stats for Grizzlies: 15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.5 blocks

    Career Advanced Metrics for Grizzlies: 18.7 PER, 55.7 TS%, 73.5 WS, 0.146 WS/48, 3.5 BPM, 1,605.39 TPA

    Perhaps you're sold that Mike Conley is a legend of Memphis Grizzlies lore. Maybe you'd like to hearken back to the Vancouver days and highlight Pau Gasol's early-career excellence. You may even be bullish on the lesser contributions of Tony Allen, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Zach Randolph, considering what they meant to the organization. 

    But let's be real. No one is touching Marc Gasol, a low-end MVP candidate and Defensive Player of the Year during his best days who lent his identity to the Beale Street residents on both ends of the floor. Between his instinctual positioning and pinpoint passing, he was a two-way force, the likes of which this squad hasn't otherwise seen. 


    Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade

    Career Per-Game Stats for Heat: 23.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Career Advanced Metrics for Heat: 24.5 PER, 56.0 TS%, 113.7 WS, 0.176 WS/48, 5.2 BPM, 3,072.92 TPA

    Seriously? Who else would it be?

    James had a few excellent seasons for the Miami Heat. Ditto for Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning. But other than those four and Dwyane Wade, not a single player in Heat history has graced one of the three All-NBA squads. Wade has done so eight times, while the other four aforementioned standouts have combined for 11 appearances. 


    Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry

    Career Per-Game Stats for Raptors: 17.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Career Advanced Metrics for Raptors: 20.3 PER, 57.4 TS%, 56.3 WS, 0.181 WS/48, 5.5 BPM, 1,599.64 TPA

    Expansion teams always push us into interesting territory because of temporal limitations, but the Toronto Raptors make it easier because only a select few standouts have soared to celestial levels. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have done so in recent years, while Chris Bosh and Vince Carter did for earlier iterations. But if we turn to NBA Math's total points added (sorry, but the metric doesn't like DeRozan's defensive woes or volume-shooting tendencies), the true leader becomes clear. 

    Including both the regular season and playoffs, Lowry leads the pack with 1,697.56 TPA. Carter is No. 2 (1,219.98), while the next three men on the list (Bosh, Amir Johnson and Doug Christie) have combined to earn 1,588.6 TPA. 

Soon-to-Be-Surpassed GOATs

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    Brian Drake/Getty Images

    If you're looking to appreciate these four franchise GOATs, do so quickly. All hold the crowns for their respective organizations, but current contributors look capable of surpassing them. 


    Charlotte Hornets: Larry Johnson

    Career Per-Game Stats for Hornets: 19.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Hornets: 18.4 PER, 55.9 TS%, 41.1 WS, 0.135 WS/48, 2.9 BPM, 857.22 TPA

    The Charlotte Hornets' history is complicated because of the portion absorbed by the New Orleans Pelicans. The Hornets came into existence for the 1988-89 campaign, but the books now feature a brief two-season hiatus before the Charlotte Bobcats debuted in 2004-05. Unfortunately, that means some players (Baron Davis, most notably) shifted franchises in 2002 even without technically changing teams. 

    But if the Hornets' archives are divided into those two distinct segments, they have an obvious standout in each. Gerald Wallace led the charge most recently, highlighted by his tremendous work in 2009-10 while leading Charlotte into the postseason. Larry Johnson did so throughout the teal era in the '90s.  

    During the regular season, Johnson may well have been the inferior player. Few could stack up against the all-around excellence of prime Wallace. But the former also spent far more time on the postseason stage, to the point that his win-share total more than doubles that of the latter. 

    At least Kemba Walker should ensure that this isn't much of a competition if he remains in the Queen City beyond his contract life, which is set to expire after this season.


    Denver Nuggets: Alex English

    Career Per-Game Stats for Nuggets: 25.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Nuggets: 20.9 PER, 55.4 TS%, 84.2 WS, 0.135 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 1,471.37 TPA

    Nikola Jokic is coming. 

    The rising Denver Nuggets star already has the first- and sixth-best season scores in franchise history, according to NBA Math's GOAT rankings. And if the second half of his most recent campaign is any indication, he's only getting better, continuing to trend toward potential placement among the 10 best players on the planet. 

    But Jokic still has territory to cover before he can topple Alex English, who outshines David Thompson, Dan Issel, Dikembe Mutombo, Bobby Jones, Fat Lever and all the other notable figures in the Mile High City. Whereas others have reached similar peaks, not one has sustained their level of play for quite so long. English, after all, owned the 1980s. 

    Throughout that decade, English scored 21,113 points for the Nuggets. Lever, Issel and Kiki VanDeWeghe combined for 22,727, and they're the next three on the leaderboard. In fact, English scored twice as many points in the '80s as all but three Nuggets have scored throughout their careers with the team: Issel (16,589), Carmelo Anthony (13,970) and Thompson (11,992). 


    New Orleans Pelicans: Chris Paul

    Career Per-Game Stats for Pelicans: 18.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 9.9 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Pelicans: 25.2 PER, 57.1 TS%, 76.4 WS, 0.233 WS/48, 7.4 BPM, 2,153.15 TPA

    Chris Paul was excellent for the Los Angeles Clippers (more on that to come). He thrived during his first season with the Houston Rockets, and he'll likely continue to dominate alongside James Harden. But he reached his zenith with the New Orleans Hornets in 2008-09, averaging 22.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 11.0 assists, 2.8 steals and 0.1 blocks per game while slashing 50.3/36.4/86.8. 

    To be clear, Paul was unbesmirchable throughout his New Orleans tenure, ranging from a historically great rookie campaign in 2005-06 until his final go-around in 2010-11. That's what pushes him past a charging Anthony Davis, who should have the longevity necessary to assume the No. 1 spot if incessant trade speculation doesn't become an actual deal. But Paul's 2008-09 was on a different level. 

    His 11.2 box plus/minus remains the top mark in team history and has room to spare: 

    1. 2008-09 Chris Paul (11.2 BPM)
    2. 2007-08 Chris Paul (9.2)
    3. 2014-15 Anthony Davis (7.1)
    4. 2010-11 Chris Paul (6.4)
    5. 2005-06 Chris Paul (6.1)
    6. 2003-04 Baron Davis (5.6)
    7. 2017-18 DeMarcus Cousins (5.5)
    8. 2017-18 Anthony Davis (5.2)

    No one else has crested the 5.0 threshold. But that's not the only way to highlight the astronomical nature of that number. Paul's 11.2 BPM trails only marks earned by Curry, James (four times), Jordan (twice) and Russell Westbrook throughout league history. 


    Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant

    Career Per-Game Stats for Thunder: 27.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Thunder: 25.0 PER, 60.5 TS%, 107.9 WS, 0.214 WS/48, 4.8 BPM, 2,298.67 TPA

    The NBA includes the Seattle SuperSonics as part of Oklahoma City Thunder history, and that won't change unless the Pacific Northwest gets another franchise and absorbs the archives. So if you want to give this spot to Gary Payton, then that's your prerogative. Valid arguments exist for both him and Kevin Durant, as the two have risen above Shawn Kemp, Fred Brown, Jack Sikma, Nate McMillan and everyone else who populates the squad's lengthy annals. 

    But either way, Westbrook will take the No. 1 placement soon. Merely replicating his 2017-18 efforts—flawed as they may have been as the result of a few too many takeover possessions and defensive lapses—would push him to the necessary level. 

    Durant was incredible before he jetted to the Golden State Warriors in 2016, spearheading a multifaceted attack that led to some unforgettable regular seasons and one push into the NBA Finals. Not a single player in NBA history has matched his career per-game line for the Thunder, and only a dozen have done so if we look at single seasons rather than lifetime efforts. 

    Westbrook is one of the dozen, and the dynamic point guard is also about to move into the No. 2 rung on the franchise scoring ladder while sitting at Nos. 2, 3 and 3 in career assists, rebounds and steals. 

Pre-Merger GOATs

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Maintaining legendary status makes for a difficult endeavor. The game has advanced, and recency bias—no matter how we strive to fight against it—can make us look more favorably on new-age standouts. But these six luminaries, all of whom played out their primes before the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, have withstood all challenges and remain the pre-eminent figures in their franchises' histories. 


    Atlanta Hawks: Bob Pettit

    Career Per-Game Stats for Hawks: 26.4 points, 16.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists

    Career Advanced Stats for Hawks: 25.3 PER, 51.1 TS%, 136.0 WS, 0.213 WS/48, 3,390.02 TPA

    Wait? What?

    This isn't Dominique Wilkins? 

    Defense matters, and that's not great news for one of the most entertaining dunkers the league has seen. Nor is Wilkins' distinct lack of playoff success—his 1988 head-to-head battle with Larry Bird notwithstanding. He never even advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, whereas Bob Pettit led the charge when the organization won its lone title over the dynastic Boston Celtics in 1958. 

    A direct comparison of these two legends, both of whom have feasible claims on the crown, is rather difficult because they played in such disparate eras and had mind-blowingly different styles. But Pettit was just...better. 

    Standing out in a portion of league history dominated by Chamberlain and Bill Russell is no easy feat, but Pettit did that. A two-time MVP who finished within the top six of the balloting on seven other occasions, he helped revolutionize the power forward position with his scoring touch and still contributed in all other facets. Maybe he didn't provide the glamorous highlights Wilkins submitted on a regular basis, but his impact rises above that of any other Hawk. 


    Boston Celtics: Bill Russell

    Career Per-Game Stats for Celtics: 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists

    Career Advanced Stats for Celtics: 18.9 PER, 47.1 TS%, 163.5 WS, 0.193 WS/48, 5,559.32 TPA

    Good luck picking between Russell and Bird. The selection just depends on whatever you're valuing most, though it's worth noting that any other choice is flat-out wrong. Sorry, Cedric Maxwell

    From a statistical perspective, Bird might get the edge since he dominated in so many different areas against a league that featured so much more depth. NBA Math's GOAT rankings have the small forward rising above the center, if only by a slim margin. 

    But what about the subjective elements? Does the early-era dynasty that earned Russell more rings (11) than any other player in history outweigh Bird's three championships in the brutally difficult '80s? How do we factor in Russell's leadership as a player-coach? Do we give Bird a slight nudge because he could've done even more without the back injuries that plagued the tail end of his career?

    Ultimately, this competition is close enough that we're rewarding Russell for functioning as the sport's greatest winner. Maybe that's unfair in a condensed league that featured a simple path toward the biggest stage. But it's not like the center was some slouch as an individual, either. 


    Milwaukee Bucks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

    Career Per-Game Stats for Bucks: 30.4 points, 15.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 3.4 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Bucks: 26.7 PER, 57.7 TS%, 114.7 WS, 0.276 WS/48, 8.3 BPM, 3,751.26 TPA

    No such difficulties exist here, and they won't unless Giannis Antetokounmpo continues his upward trajectory and remains with the Milwaukee Bucks for the majority of his career. But to put Abdul-Jabbar's dominance into perspective, and not even worrying about the subjective element of his rising to the top of the Association so soon after he thrived at UCLA, let's compare the two standouts, along with everyone else in franchise history.

    These are the top single-season TPA marks by Bucks: 

    1. 1971-72 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (863.38 TPA)
    2. 1970-71 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (736.62)
    3. 1972-73 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (729.01)
    4. 1973-74 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (662.24)
    5. 1974-75 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (473.29)
    6. 2016-17 Giannis Antetokounmpo (425.68)

    No one else has broken past the 400-TPA threshold. 

    Case closed. 


    New York Knicks: Walt Frazier

    Career Per-Game Stats for Knicks: 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Knicks: 19.3 PER, 54.4 TS%, 108.8 WS, 0.18 WS/48, 4.5 BPM, 2,923.02 TPA

    When Willis Reed walked out of the tunnel for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, he stole the show. The big man wasn't expected to play after a torn thigh muscle had prevented him from suiting up in the previous contest, but he inspired the crowd with his emergence...even if he scored only four points in the game.

    Walt Frazier was the real hero. 

    The fashion icon/point guard exploded for 36 points, seven rebounds and 19 assists while shooting 12-of-17 from the field and 12-of-12 from the stripe, and that helped deliver the first of two titles in New York Knicks history. Nonetheless, Reed won Finals MVP, just as he would three years later after he and Frazier teamed up to win another championship. 

    Frazier didn't get enough credit then, and if anyone wants to place Reed or Patrick Ewing above him in the historical hierarchy for this franchise, he still isn't getting enough.


    Sacramento Kings: Oscar Robertson

    Career Per-Game Stats for Kings: 29.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 10.3 assists

    Career Advanced Stats for Kings: 25.0 PER, 57.2 TS%, 154.2 WS, 0.224 WS/48, 3,605.17 TPA

    Dating back to the days of the Rochester Royals, the Sacramento Kings franchise has only seen 13 individual campaigns result in at least a dozen win shares. Jerry Lucas and Peja Stojakovic each claim one, while Tiny Archibald has a pair. That leaves nine, and they all belong to a certain triple-double artist. 

    In fact, Oscar Robertson has the six highest scores in the team's record books. He's in a class of his own, and that remains true if we look at different numbers. 

    He has nearly 6,169 more points than any other relevant player, and his assist tally more than doubles everyone else's. Only Lucas and Sam Lacey have more rebounds—not too shabby for a point guard. His 25.0 player efficiency rating easily dwarfs those of DeMarcus Cousins (22.4), Chris Webber (22.3) and Archibald (20.9), which gives him a remarkable combination of volume and efficiency. After all, he sits at No. 3 in games played, behind only Lacey and Jack Twyman. 

    Any other GOAT pick for the Kings would simply be wrong. 


    Washington Wizards: Wes Unseld

    Career Per-Game Stats for Wizards: 10.8 points, 14.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Wizards: 16.0 PER, 53.7 TS%, 110.1 WS, 0.147 WS/48, 4.4 BPM, 2,971.7 TPA

    First, let's take the five players who have earned the most win shares in the history of the Washington Wizards franchise, which dates back to the Chicago Packers' 18-62 record in 1961-62:

    1. Wes Unseld (110.1 win shares)
    2. Elvin Hayes (80.0)
    3. Walt Bellamy (57.0)
    4. Greg Ballard (48.6)
    5. John Wall (43.2)

    Already, it should be obvious that Wes Unseld exists in a class of his own (and his career admittedly stretched a bit beyond the NBA-ABA merger, even if his best years came before the agreement). The big man started with a bang by winning Rookie of the Year and MVP in 1968-69 for the Baltimore Bullets, and he continued to thrive as an individual with his outlet passing, tenacious defense and rebounding prowess, even if he didn't earn a ring until 1977-78. 

    But take a gander at the MVP award shares earned by the five members of that leading franchise quintet: 

    1. Wes Unseld (0.655 MVP award shares)
    2. Elvin Hayes (0.566)
    3. John Wall (0.007)
    4. Walt Bellamy (0.002)
    5. Greg Ballard (0.0)

    It's still obvious that Unseld leads the field. 

Emerging-from-the-Wealth-of-Options GOATs

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    Dick Raphael/Getty Images

    Some legends have it easy. Others have to stave off hordes of contenders, due mostly to the storied natures of the franchises for which they plied their trades. These three Hall of Famers boast some of the most famous names in NBA history. All of them can reasonably be considered top-30 players of all time.

    They still don't have it easy. 


    Detroit Pistons: Isiah Thomas

    Career Per-Game Stats for Pistons: 19.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Pistons: 18.1 PER, 51.6 TS%, 80.7 WS, 0.109 WS/48, 2.2 BPM, 1,628.3 TPA

    The numbers don't love Isiah Thomas. His low shooting percentages and occasional trouble with turnovers hold back many of his offensive metrics, while his inability to make an impact on the defensive glass stops his point-preventing efforts from looking stellar. That's why each of the advanced stats you see above isn't as impressive as what's boasted by many of his cohabitants in the Hall. 

    Accordingly, his status as the Detroit Pistons' headliner isn't guaranteed.

    Ben Wallace deserves a shot for his awe-inspiring defensive work throughout the early 2000s, especially because he served as the best player on a title-winning team. Grant Hill reached arguably the highest level of any player in Pistons history before injuries wrecked his career trajectory. Bob Lanier was thoroughly dominant during an earlier era. We can't overlook what Chauncey Billups meant to this organization. 

    But even if the numbers don't love Thomas, they don't hate him, either. He trails only Bill Laimbeer, Lanier and Joe Dumars in career win shares. No one can match his lifetime mark in value over replacement player, though we don't have a complete history for Lanier. Thomas is the franchise leader in scoring, steals and dime-dropping. 

    Couple that with the legendary leadership, most notably when he toughed out an impressive showing on a badly sprained ankle in Game 6 of the 1988 Finals, and you have a recipe for success in spite of the crowded Motor City field. 


    Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson

    Career Per-Game Stats for Lakers: 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 11.2 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Lakers: 24.1 PER, 61.0 TS%, 155.8 WS, 0.225 WS/48, 7.2 BPM, 5,039.22 TPA

    Magic Johnson has stated that Kobe Bryant is the greatest Los Angeles Laker, but let's not view that as gospel. Bryant even responded by rebutting the claim.

    Picking between the two is difficult enough. It only grows more challenging when we bring Jerry West, Chamberlain, George Mikan, Shaquille O'Neal, Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor into the mix. (Sorry, LeBron James fans, but he's beginning his Lakers career at too advanced an age to ever work his way into this conversation.)

    But Johnson still reigns supreme. He has the personality and flair for the dramatic. He has the individual accolades. He has the championships, earned during a difficult era in which he consistently had to work his way past other legends. And he has the numbers, which were driven up by efficient scoring and, well, magical passing throughout his Tinseltown career. 

    Take a look at the TPA leaders (regular season and playoffs combined) for this marquee franchise: 

    1. Magic Johnson (6,179.54 TPA)
    2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5,038.31)
    3. Kobe Bryant (4,361.47)
    4. Jerry West (4,198.06)
    5. Shaquille O'Neal (3,170.87)
    6. Wilt Chamberlain (1,706.32)
    7. Elgin Baylor (1,466.05)
    8. James Worthy (1,437.02)
    9. Pau Gasol (1,434.2)
    10. George Mikan (1,273.74)

    That's only one number, sure. It's still a remarkable gap between Nos. 1 and 2. 


    Philadelphia 76ers: Julius Erving

    Career Per-Game Stats for 76ers: 22.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.5 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for 76ers: 22.0 PER, 55.8 TS%, 106.2 WS, 0.178 WS/48, 5.1 BPM, 3,171.03 TPA

    Charles Barkley. Allen Iverson. Dolph Schayes. Chamberlain. Moses Malone.

    This franchise is replete with legends, and that's before we go a tier up or down. Bobby Jones, Andre Iguodala, Maurice Cheeks, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham and more make up an impressive tertiary collection of stars, and that's even without prorating the sure-to-be-notable careers of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

    But everyone still lags behind Julius Erving. 

    The Doctor made a whopping 11 All-Star appearances in 11 seasons, which trails only Schayes (12) in franchise history. He earned a spot on the All-NBA squad seven times, which leaves him tied with Barkley, Greer and Iverson while trailing—again—just Schayes (12). Five of those selections came on the First Team, which places him behind—you'll never guess—only Schayes (six). 

    But Erving didn't have the luxury of dominating a lesser league in the '50s. He instead won a title in 1983, interrupting a decade of Lakers-Celtics dominance, and earned a staggering 3.551 MVP award shares. Of the 11 figures who have topped that tally, Chamberlain (1.986 of his 4.173 in a 76ers uniform) is the only man who's played for the Philly-based organization. 

Heavily Contested GOATs

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Orlando Magic: Dwight Howard

    Career Per-Game Stats for Magic: 18.4 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Magic: 22.5 PER, 60.1 TS%, 87.5 WS, 0.187 WS/48, 3.3 BPM, 1,407.91 TPA

    Who ya got: Shaquille O'Neal or Dwight Howard? 

    You can see Howard's stats above. But for the sake of comparison, we'll also tell you O'Neal averaged 27.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.8 blocks per game during his time in pinstripes. He earned a 26.6 PER, shot well enough to post a 58.8 true shooting percentage and racked up 48.3 win shares, 0.208 win shares per 48 minutes, a 5.0 BPM and 1,089.24 TPA.

    The two centers are the leading individuals in the short history of the Orlando Magic franchise, narrowly outpacing the likes of Tracy McGrady, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway and others. But longevity matters, and that's what allows Howard to surpass his predecessor—who was admittedly better on a per-game basis. 

    Before O'Neal left for the Los Angeles Lakers (the second stop in a long list) in 1996, he suited up just 295 times for the Magic. Howard registered 621 appearances before similarly departing for the Purple and Gold in 2012, which leaves him trailing only Jameer Nelson (651) and Nick Anderson (692) on the franchise leaderboard. He's also No. 1 in minutes played. 

    Howard and O'Neal both have the accolades. They both carried Orlando to unexpected levels of team-based success. But one did so for far longer than the other. 


    Utah Jazz: Karl Malone

    Career Per-Game Stats for Jazz: 25.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Jazz: 24.1 PER, 57.7 TS%, 230.3 WS, 0.207 WS/48, 5.5 BPM, 5,649.34 TPA

    Separating Karl Malone and John Stockton is a difficult endeavor. The two enjoyed a symbiotic relationship throughout their time with the Utah Jazz; the former wouldn't have found nearly as much offensive success without the setup feeds from his point guard, and the latter wouldn't have become such a legendary floor general without the finishes of his big man. (Head coach Jerry Sloan also deserves a lot of credit for the innovations that helped popularize the pick-and-roll sets in which this duo dominated.)

    To be clear, they'd still have been great as solo stars. But their legacies are, in part, dependent on what they did together. 

    Malone was still better, though. In fact, he's better by a substantial margin, despite the complexity that stems from severing the partnership. And no disrespect meant to Adrian Dantley, Jeff Hornacek, Andrei Kirilenko, Deron Williams and other standouts in Salt Lake City history, but winning that two-man competition means emerging victoriously from the overall franchise war. 

    According to value over replacement player, Malone is in the lead by enough that his individual mark (101.0) almost tops the combined efforts of the next two men on the leaderboard: Stockton (65.9) and Kirilenko (38.9). That's only one metric, but it's telling. 

    From an objective standpoint, Malone probably belongs in our runaway section. But it's out of respect to the partnership that we're allowing this to remain a heavily contested fight. 

Runaway GOATs

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    These aren't tough battles. The runaway GOATs may have needed to topple some legendary names and memorable faces, but they did so with plenty of room to spare.  


    Brooklyn Nets: Jason Kidd

    Career Per-Game Stats for Nets: 14.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.3 blocks 

    Career Advanced Stats for Nets: 19.4 PER, 50.5 TS%, 56.6 WS, 0.145 WS/48, 5.1 BPM, 1,734.23 TPA

    Vince Carter was great for a few seasons. Ditto for Micheal Ray Richardson and Derrick Coleman. But none of those top performers in Brooklyn Nets history (which includes the New Jersey Nets era) stuck around as long as Jason Kidd, who played out much of his prime for the organization in question. 

    Somewhat shockingly, only three players in a Nets uniform have ever made the All-Star squad on multiple occasions, though 11 more have done so once. Buck Williams and Carter each accounted for three such appearances, while Kidd checked in with five. Shift the focus to All-NBA recognition, and the story remains the same: 

    1. Jason Kidd (three times)
    2. Derrick Coleman (twice)
    3. Stephon Marbury, Drazen Petrovic and Buck Williams (once)

    Kidd reached the highest level in franchise history, and he sustained that peak for quite a bit longer than the other leading standouts. 


    Houston Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon

    Career Per-Game Stats for Rockets: 22.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 3.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Rockets: 23.9 PER, 55.5 TS%, 160.6 WS, 0.18 WS/48, 5.1 BPM, 4,376.76 TPA

    If it weren't for James Harden, who's played MVP-caliber basketball for a few consecutive seasons and established himself as an offensive deity, Hakeem Olajuwon would fall into the next grouping. Putting him in the runaway section is still almost selling him short. 

    But who else is challenging the man known for the Dream Shake?

    Steve Francis, Tracy McGrady or Moses Malone? Please.

    Otis Thorpe, Yao Ming, Shane Battier or Calvin Murphy? C'mon now. 

    Olajuwon meant everything to the Rockets, carrying them to the franchise's lone titles in the mid-'90s while capitalizing on a Jordan-less Association. He was a defensive dynamo capable of using his athleticism and lanky arms to swat shots into oblivion, and he was a walking nightmare when he went to work with his back to the basket. Few centers have been superior on one end of the court, much less both at the same time. 

    Kudos to Harden for preventing freight-train status, but Olajuwon—the career leader in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks for Houston—still wins in a runaway. 


    Los Angeles Clippers: Chris Paul

    Career Per-Game Stats for Clippers: 18.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 9.8 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.1 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Clippers: 26.3 PER, 58.9 TS%, 78.2 WS, 0.27 WS/48, 7.8 BPM, 2,103.8 TPA

    The Los Angeles Clippers don't have a storied history. Though they've been around for 48 seasons, they've only advanced to the playoffs 13 times and never worked past the conference semifinals. Worse still, they've earned a total of 27 All-Star appearances—accounted for by just a dozen players.

    First came the Bob McAdoo era. Decades later, after so many dry spells and forgettable campaigns, Elton Brand dominated. Most recently, Paul led the charge for the first squad in the franchise archives to advance past the regular season in more than three consecutive go-arounds. 

    That level of team-oriented success pushes Paul, who is the only man in NBA lore to earn the GOAT spot for multiple organizations, into the runaway category. Though he's the all-time leader in PER, win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, BPM and VORP, he only wins the volume sections by minimal margins—a function of spending so much time in other uniforms throughout his ongoing career.

    But combine those slim advantages with the team's success, his leadership and his overwhelming superiority in rate statistics, and you get the distance necessary to give him this spot. 


    Phoenix Suns: Steve Nash

    Career Per-Game Stats for Suns: 14.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 9.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Suns: 20.8 PER, 61.7 TS%, 82.7 WS, 0.174 WS/48, 1.4 BPM, 651.64 TPA

    Steve Nash's numbers don't necessarily blow Shawn Marion, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kevin Johnson, Alvan Adams, Charles Barkley, Larry Nance, Dan Majerle and others out of the water.

    The Phoenix Suns have a rich history filled with high-level figures, and they tend to keep pace with the legendary point guard because of his unabashed defensive incompetence...and the inability of many common-use metrics to properly evaluate the impact he had on his team's offensive success. He's No. 3 in career win shares, for example, sitting behind both Johnson and Marion. 

    But Nash was so vital to those seven-seconds-or-less Suns that he can still earn that coveted runaway status, and we can prove it by turning to MVP award shares. Take a gander at this franchise leaderboard: 

    1. Steve Nash (2.423)
    2. Charles Barkley (0.955)
    3. Jason Kidd (0.175)
    4. Dennis Johnson (0.073)
    5. Kevin Johnson (0.063)
    6. Amar'e Stoudemire (0.059)
    7. Connie Hawkins (0.041)
    8. Tom Chambers (0.037)
    9. Walter Davis (0.03)
    10. Paul Westphal (0.014)

    Not only does Nash win the competition with room to spare, demonstrating his unmatched value to the teams he led, but he also has nearly a full MVP award share more than the combined efforts of every other Sun in the record books. 


    San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan

    Career Per-Game Stats for Spurs: 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Spurs: 24.2 PER, 55.1 TS%, 206.4 WS, 0.209 WS/48, 5.5 BPM, 4,887.29 TPA

    Though the San Antonio Spurs haven't boasted a short-term dynasty in the traditional sense, they've basically been a dynastic force since Gregg Popovich took over as head coach early in the 1996-97 campaign. They got David Robinson back from injury that offseason and selected Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick of the 1997 NBA draft, and they haven't missed the playoffs since. 

    Truthfully, Popovich should receive consideration for status as the franchise GOAT. But we're limiting the scope of our analysis to players, which allows Duncan to separate himself from Robinson, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, George Gervin and all the other stars in this model franchise's history.

    The big man played nearly 200 more games than anyone else in Spurs digs, and his career-minutes advantage over No. 2 Parker stands at 10,092. For perspective, that's the equivalent of just over 210 full games. But most impressively, Duncan didn't let that jaw-dropping volume affect his per-minute efficacy at any stage of his career. 

    As a rookie fresh out of Wake Forest, he averaged 19.4 points and 11.0 rebounds per 36 minutes with a 5.5 BPM. Throughout his peak season in 2001-02, he posted 22.6 points and 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes with a 7.6 BPM. During his final go-around, he threw up 12.2 points and 10.5 rebounds with a 4.1 BPM.

    Duncan was eerily consistent, and his contributions never dropped below an impressive, seemingly unattainable level. Even during that final season, he paced the entire qualified NBA in the defensive portion of BPM. 

Freight-Train GOATs

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    We'll keep these short and sweet, because the final five players to earn featured status don't have legitimate competition for these spots. They've become something beyond runaways, and we'll make that clear by leaning on win shares (admittedly a flawed metric, but still a telling one while setting a general baseline) to indicate the gaps between them and the franchises' runners-up. 


    Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan

    Career Per-Game Stats for Bulls: 31.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 2.5 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Bulls: 29.1 PER, 58.0 TS%, 204.5 WS, 0.274 WS/48, 9.0 BPM, 6,369.04 TPA

    I think the world of Scottie Pippen and recently wrote about how his brief stint without Jordan helped shine a light on how underrated he's become. But he's still not in the same ballpark as Jordan. Nor is Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Chet Walker, Artis Gilmore or anyone else you'd like to name from the Windy City. 

    Jordan earned 204.5 win shares for the Bulls. That's more than the next two men on the leaderboard—Pippen (99.7) and Walker (67.0)—racked up in joint fashion. In fact, bringing No. 4 Gilmore (66.5) into the mix pushes that trio only 28.7 win shares clear of the greatest 2-guard in NBA history. 


    Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James

    Career Per-Game Stats for Cavaliers: 27.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Cavaliers: 27.0 PER, 57.5 TS%, 154.1 WS, 0.223 WS/48, 8.9 BPM, 5,666.38 TPA

    From one overall GOAT candidate to the next. 

    LeBron James meant everything to the Cleveland Cavaliers during both of his tenures with the Northeast Ohio organization. The Cavs were competitive with him. Without him...they weren't. 

    Brad Daugherty, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kyrie Irving, Larry Nance, Mark Price and everyone else existed more than a few tiers below his excellence. Name a stat, and James is likely the best at it in Cavs history. Win shares is no exception. 

    James, all on his lonesome, tallied 154.1 win shares. Much like Jordan with the Bulls, that's easily loftier than the combined efforts of the next two men on the ladder: Price (65.4) and Daugherty (65.2). 


    Minnesota Timberwolves: Kevin Garnett

    Career Per-Game Stats for Timberwolves: 19.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.6 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Timberwolves: 23.7 PER, 54.3 TS%, 139.8 WS, 0.185 WS/48, 6.3 BPM, 4,283.46 TPA

    Had Kevin Love remained with the Minnesota Timberwolves for his entire career, he might have pushed Kevin Garnett down into the runaway category. Karl-Anthony Towns might eventually get there.

    But no one has reached the level this power forward hit during his MVP campaign in 2003-04, and he's played nearly double the number of minutes registered by any other player in franchise history. That combination of volume and peak performance might belong in a better classification than this one. 

    Turning back to win shares, Garnett's total (139.8) rises above the cumulative efforts of the next three men on the individual hierarchy. Only when we add No. 5 Sam Mitchell (32.9) into the mix along with Love (47.0), Wally Szczerbiak (41.0) and Towns (34.9) does this do-everything big man fall behind. 


    Indiana Pacers: Reggie Miller

    Career Per-Game Stats for Pacers: 18.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Career Advanced Stats for Pacers: 18.4 PER, 61.4 TS%, 174.4 WS, 0.176 WS/48, 3.3 BPM, 2,981.74 TPA

    See if you can find the outlier on the Indiana Pacers' leaderboard for career win shares

    1. Reggie Miller (174.4)
    2. Roger Brown (63.5)
    3. Dale Davis (58.5)
    4. Rik Smits (56.6)
    5. Billy Knight (53.4)

    I'll give you a hint: It's the one that's nearly three times larger than any other score in frachise history (and is three times larger than all but two). 


    Portland Trail Blazers: Clyde Drexler

    Career Per-Game Stats for Trail Blazers: 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.7 blocks 

    Career Advanced Stats for Trail Blazers: 21.3 PER, 54.5 TS%, 108.7 WS, 0.177 WS/48, 6.3 BPM, 3,729.19 TPA

    Injuries helped earn Clyde Drexler that sought-after freight-train status. Not maladies the shooting guard himself suffered, but the ones that cut short the primes of Bill Walton and Brandon Roy, keeping them from even sitting within the top 10 for win shares earned with the Portland Trail Blazers. 

    The 2-guard doesn't dominate the statistic quite as much as those joining him in this classification; his tally of 108.7 can't outpace the combined efforts of Terry Porter (79.3) and LaMarcus Aldridge (69.4). But that's still a massive advantage, and he does more than double the second- and third-place finishers in VORP. 

    Drexler is the weakest inclusion of the five freight-train GOATs, but he's still the only person you should think about in the Rip City conversation. Unless Damian Lillard keeps playing like he did in 2017-18 for a handful more years, no one will touch his unquestioned status atop the pecking order. 


    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats courtesy of Basketball Reference,, PBPStats.comNBA Math or


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