LV
Earlier this year

Comparing players from different eras

There's this idea that you can't compare players from different eras.

It's easy to see why:

- Basketball has changed. Secondly, it’s officiated differently and rules change. The 2020 version of basketball - 3 point centric, contact free - bears little resemblance to the physical 1980's game where the mid range jumper was considered a devastating weapon, instead of something to be avoided. And less resemblance again to the pre 3 point line era.

- The NBA itself changes. When the Boston Celtics won championship after championship in the 1960’s, there were 9 teams in the league and no salary cap. Today there’s 30 teams and a soft cap.

- Professionalism and analytics. On both a team and an individual level. Analytics has taken over- teams have dedicated practice facilities with markings on the courts indicating preferred spots for taking three pointers. Players are better prepared- Lebron allegedly spends $1.5million a year looking after his body- diet, trainers, equipment. Sports science.

- Human adaptation and change. Players are bigger, faster and stronger. This would mostly result from the previous point- better sports science. Better diet etc. But it’s worth mentioning because this result of that sports science is particularly important.

- Knowledge development. Consider that basketball was invented in 1891. That’s only 1 and a half lifetimes. Knowledge develops. Not just team strategies and systems, but even simple skill development, like: What’s the most effective way to shoot a three pointer? The best shooting action? The best drills to help you learn? Kids today can learn off Curry and emulate him. Who was Reggie Miller learning from? He wasn’t learning off anyone that could shoot threes, because the three pointer didn’t exist when Miller was a kid. There is an entire science of skill development showing how humans adapt and learn better ways of developing new skills.

Putting all of this together, it might be senseless comparing say, Bill Russell and Anthony Davis.

If you had a time machine and you could implant 2020 Lebron James into a 1975 basketball game, he would destroy them.

But everybody knows all this stuff. Or should. When someone says "Lebron is better than Larry Bird" they are already taking all of that into account.

So when we compare players from different eras, what are we actually discussing?

- How dominant they were in their own era, against their peers. The achievements that made them the greatest basketball players in history at that point in time, in their own sporting primes.

- How they contributed to their team’s success and what made them valuable on the court.

- Their clutch ability to come up big in the big moments.

- Intangibles: Personality, leadership. Their influence on their teammates and opponents.

- How they influenced the world around them and contributed to the game of basketball’s continued adaptation. Eg: Curry, Harden and their 3 point shooting.

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Jack Toft  
Earlier this year

Years ago someone accepted this challenge and they did it statistically.

They was it was done was using standard deviations. I'll pick on cricket because of Don Bradman. So, the statistician looked at average scores of teams and batsmen and then looked at the standard deviation. For those of you who were asleep in maths, or whose school time was some time ago, 68% of the population should be within 1 SD, 95% 2 SD and 99% 3 SD.

So knowing the average batting score was X in the 1930s, they found that Bradman's average was 4 SDs away from the average. The same could be done with basketball and was done with Michael Jordan, who I think scored 3. something SDs.

So, comparing Larry Bird and Lebron James would be "relatively simple", but to do so and in order to acknowledge the difference in the games styles, it could be done statistically by looking at their performances compared to the rest of the league and working out what SDs they are away. I suspect you would look at the key statistics of obviously PPG, Shooting %, FT%, 3P shots, rebounds per game (O and D) as well as turnovers and steals. From there, one could accumulate the SDs and work out who has the higher number and who is the better player.

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

Yes, it is now possible to reasonably compare players statistically across eras. But there is a limit to how important a statistical comparison is. It paints part of the picture (maybe a big part) but not all.

I personally don't understand how anyone can compare Player X to Player Y in instances where:
- They have zero understanding of the non-statistical intangibles related to one of the players, either because they've done no research or there is limited information available
- They never actually saw one of those players play the game, and I don't mean watched a 3 minute highlight video on YouTube. I mean, never watched them play consistently throughout their whole career.

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

You can compare. You just compare them directly. It's not a new players fault that they play in the 'new era' and its not the old players fault they didn't. If a new era player has better stats than an older player because of the three point shot etc.. tough shit. The different era, tougher in the 80's, no three point line arguements are getting so old and tired. New school players have access to much better science and conditioning and therefore will end up accumulating more career stats. If that ends up meaning they have a BETTER career then suck it up, tough shit. You achieved less.

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

It's impossible, just enjoy it for what it is.

Reply #803798 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

If you play 10 years longer your accumulative stats are bound to be better. Just because your stats were better due to longevity doesn't make you a better player.

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

Lebron is better than MJ

Reply #803800 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

"You can compare. You just compare them directly. It's not a new players fault that they play in the 'new era' and its not the old players fault they didn't. If a new era player has better stats than an older player because of the three point shot etc.. tough shit."

You're not comparing like for like if you do that.

"The different era, tougher in the 80's, no three point line arguements are getting so old and tired. New school players have access to much better science and conditioning and therefore will end up accumulating more career stats. If that ends up meaning they have a BETTER career then suck it up, tough shit. You achieved less.

All of what you wrote in the second half of your post is an argument for why you can't "compare them directly" and why it's important to take into account all of the contextual differences of each player's era.

If it was as easy as you say, there would be definitive answer to the question of who was better. There is no definitive answer, which is why the debate goes on and on without the possibility of it ending.

Reply #803801 | Report this post


maxymoo  
Earlier this year

Russell
Jordan
Le Bron

Agree with all that is said - however Jordan and Le Bron had it so easy off the court.

Russell had to cope with being African American ina time of turmoil.

Reply #803805 | Report this post


Senator11  
Earlier this year

I think you need to have lived through and observed every generation starting with Wilt to now, only those ppl would be able to have an unbiased view.

Reply #803806 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

1. Lebron
2. Curry
3. Westbrook
4. Harden
5. Jordan

Reply #803870 | Report this post


LV  
Earlier this year

Jordan
Daylight
Kareem and Lebron

Those seem a clear top 3.

After that, tough to split them.

Reply #803871 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

#870 clearly home schooling lol

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maxymoo  
Earlier this year

LV - no Bill Russell?

What's the logic there?

Reply #803873 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

"1. Lebron
2. Curry
3. Westbrook
4. Harden
5. Jordan"

Are you high?

Reply #803875 | Report this post


D2.0  
Earlier this year

The idea that you can't compare across eras is nonsense.
It's difficult sure, because the individuals didn't play against or alongside one and other, but the excuse that "the game has changed" is a furphy.

Firstly, different doesn't necessarily mean better or harder. Secondly a player can only be measured against the competition available to him.

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

"The idea that you can't compare across eras is nonsense"

"Secondly a player can only be measured against the competition available to him."

Don't these two statements contradict each other?

Reply #803883 | Report this post


LV  
Earlier this year

[LV - no Bill Russell?

What's the logic there?]

I apply a bit of a discount because there were only 9 teams and no salary cap when Russell's Celtics were winning year after year.

Also, although Russell won 5 MVP's, he wasn't alone as a dominant big man in his own era- in his first 3 MVP seasons he didn't even make the All NBA first team. Dolph Schayes and Wilt Chamberlain got in ahead of him.

Reply #803884 | Report this post


Very Old  
Earlier this year

""The idea that you can't compare across eras is nonsense"

"Secondly a player can only be measured against the competition available to him."

Don't these two statements contradict each other?"

not if you really think about it.

I a player plays in an era where the dilution of talent was immense, and the difference between top on bottom near insurmountable, then a "superstar" who played in a team full of mediocrity, and thus got huge minutes, 80% of plays run for him/her may well get some individual awards and personal recognition, but can reasonably easily be seen as not so great as a player who was in a tight tough league within a team that they were very important, but not 80% important

eg
Joe Hurst vs Leroy Loggins
Reg Biddings vs Dwaine McClain

it makes for an interesting "what if" discussion, but if a player is totally respected and even feared as competitors by other "superstars" of their time, and there are enough of THOSE in numbers and quality to make it an interesting era vs era discussion, then the two can be compared and have a solid majority consensus choice between the two players.

eg
Heal vs Cal Bruton , i'd say a solid 75%+ majority of those players who played with/against those two, and the few who overlapped both. would go with Cal

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

Ok I misinterpreted the second comment.

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

Hahaha. Y'all never saw Russell, West, Wilt, Oscar. Most y'all porbs never even saw Kareem in his peak. Some of ya'll porbs never even saw Magic or Bird at their peak, for that matter. Most y'all got no clue what you talk about. All stats, all counting titles, but y'all never sat the eye test with these players. Y'all just spouting opinion. And nothing more meaningless in this world than opinion, besides to the person holding it.

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

Hey don't call me a porb

Reply #803892 | Report this post


LV  
Earlier this year

[And nothing more meaningless in this world than opinion, besides to the person holding it.]

Maybe so, but why are you posting on a basketball forum full of opinions?

And I guess you watch basketball games with the commentary turned off?

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

Y'all

Reply #803898 | Report this post


koberulz  
Earlier this year

Most y'all got no clue what you talk about. All stats, all counting titles, but y'all never sat the eye test with these players. Y'all just spouting opinion.
Wait, what? You're saying the stats are irrelevant because they're just opinions, as opposed to the more objective eye test?

Are you an idiot?

Reply #803899 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

((Maybe so, but why are you posting on a basketball forum full of opinions?))

To entertain myself with how silly everything is. It porbs need to be pointed out that I'm a small, petty, boring man.

((And I guess you watch basketball games with the commentary turned off?))

No, because not all commentary is opinion. Some is comments on the action on the floor.


But a lot of it is opinion, yes. Lots of debate between commentators. I usually either endure it by rolling my eyes, sometimes sigh loudly to noone, often times I scoff, and other times I laugh loudly but not so much since Bill Walton stop commentating the NBA.

Reply #803900 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

No Kobe. Just most opinions are informed by stats and stats only because that's all anyone's got because they never saw nothing. But the stats don't tell the whole story. You know - qualitative and quantitative. Yeah? The old Qual and Quant?

Reply #803901 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

Ahh yes. The old quant. His name is Bruce I think.

Reply #803907 | Report this post


At A Place Called Vertigo  
Earlier this year

Doesn't change the fact the Sixers looked weak for not handling Julius Hodge's behaviour before it got so bad everyone was "relieved" he was gone.

Reply #803910 | Report this post


Anonymous  
Earlier this year

I think the turning point was in the late 70s. Anything prior to that just doesn't compare as the professional game was still in its infancy. By the late 70’s though, most of the elite players from then on would be successful in any era.

For example, if you parachuted a prime Larry Bird into today’s game, he would still be a weapon, just based on his fundamentals and toughness but maybe even more so with today’s training regimes. Jordan too would dominate just based on the soft D in today’s game. Back then, there was physical D the whole game, hand checks on the ball and if you took it to the basket, you were met with big bodies. Players in that era (late 70s-90s) had to bring toughness or they wouldn’t survive. While today’s players are very skilled and athletically incredible, they lack the toughness previous eras had.

Going back from the 70s, I don’t think the guard play would translate well. Guards like Bob Cousy and Jerry West were great in their time, but they would be very limited athletically in today’s game and would just not have the influence.
Big man play is different though and would translate a lot better between eras. Guys like Wilt and Russell, then Kareem, Moses Malone etc would still dominate. After all, Kareem was still playing strongly into his late 30s in mid 80s when Jordan entered the league and he was a completely different animal at his best in the 70. Wilt too would be a load just due to his size and athleticism. He wouldn’t be scoring 50 a game but he would be very solid in today’s game

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Anonymous  
Earlier this year

Just adding to the last post... it's hard to rank the greatest players as they are all great but here’s my top 10

Jordan (5 x MVP, 6 x Champion)
Kareem (6 x MVP, 6 x Champion)
Russell (5 x MVP, 11 x Champion)
LeBron (4 x MVP, 3 x Champion)
Wilt (4 x MVP, 2 x Champion)
Magic (3 x MVP, 5 x Champion)
Bird (3 x MVP, 3 x Champion)
Duncan (2 x MVP, 5 x Champion)
Shaq (1 x MVP, 4 x Champion)
Kobe (1 x MVP, 5 x Champion)

Others who just missed out...
Robertson, Olajuwon, Garnett, Durant, Nowitzki

Reply #803928 | Report this post




 

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