Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Best Basketball Players: "Pound Per Pound"

In an article somewhere I've read on line - I'd give it credit, but I honestly can't remember what it was - a WNBA defender spoke about the foolish dismissals of the WNBA where some fool makes the argument because "my favorite NBA team/college team/local high school team could be a WNBA team". The approach to this defense was one I formulated before, but the article beat me to putting it in print.

Namely, that this argument is never made in boxing. Could Vladimir Klitschko beat up Manny Pacquiao? Probably, since Klitschko is physically stronger than Pacquiao and none of Pacquiao's opponents have hit Pacquiao as hard as Klitschko could. In boxing fandom, there is much discussion as to who is the best "pound per pound" fighter - who is the best fighter taking into account the differing weight classes.

As it turns out, we have a nice "one value" metric to assign worth to a ball player - John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating, or PER. PER can be calculated for both NBA players and WNBA players. I therefore decided to count NBA PER as essentially equal to WNBA PER. This equalizes male and female basketball players.

For WNBA players, only players who have played more than 5000 career minutes are included. Sorry, Cynthia Cooper. You probably would have been on this list, but the WNBA started too late.

Top PER Values for NBA and WNBA Players
(min 5000 minutes WNBA, min 15000 minutes NBA)

1. Lauren Jackson (28.55)
2. Michael Jordan (27.91)
3. LeBron James (26.86)
4. Tamika Catchings (26.67)
5. David Robinson (26.18)
6. Wilt Chamberlain (26.13)
7. Dwyane Wade (25.67)
8. Yolanda Griffith (25.49)
9. Bob Pettit (25.37)
10. Tim Duncan (25.02)
11. Neil Johnston (24.72)
12. Diana Taurasi (24.67)
13. Charles Barkley (24.63)
14. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (24.58)
15. Lisa Leslie (24.24)
(T) Sheryl Swoopes (24.24)
17. Magic Johnson (24.11)
18. Karl Malone (23.90)
19. Dirk Nowitzki (23.76)
20. Kevin Garnett (23.59)

So is Lauren Jackson better than Michael Jordan? That's up for you to decide. (As for me, go Lauren.)

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