As noted in previous postings, I believe that conversations comparing players to each other are often too limited; we often talk about championships a player has won and the quality of that player’s supporting cast without going any further.
There are a few other facts that are too frequently overlooked:
Team record. A player who is a star will regularly get his team to the playoffs once he gets his professional legs under him. Real stars can join a terrible team and make it a perennial playoff team. In 2002-03, the Nuggets were 17-65. Then they got Carmelo Anthony. They have won at least 43 games every season since. In ’02-03, the Cavs were also 17-65. Then they got LeBron. They won 35 games during his rookie year, and at least 42 games ever since. In ’07-08, when Dwyane Wade spent much of the season injured, the Heat were 15-67. With Wade healthy last year, they won 43 games.
The point is that stars play on winning teams. If your team is 30-52 during a year when you were generally healthy, you ain’t a star.
This year will tell us a lot about whether some of the league’s premier players deserve to be classified as “stars,” or are merely above average: Hedo Turkoglu, Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Kevin Durant, Elton Brand, Barron Davis, Danny Granger, and Stephen Jackson.
Playoff series wins. Often, people talk about championships, but ignore victories in other playoff series like they don’t mean anything. Why? If you can take a miserable team, like, say, the Knicks of ’85, and make them a contender, haven’t you accomplished something?
That’s what Patrick Ewing did, and, yet, numerous people think of Ewing as a failure because he never won a championship. To me, a guy who regularly leads his team out of the first round is a superstar. Whether or not he’s able to take them further often says more about his supporting cast than it does about him. (To be clear, I’m arguing that a weak supporting cast is rarely a reason for a star to fail to lead his team to the playoffs, but may be a reason for a superstar to fail to lead his team to a championship.)
Statistics. If your team is regularly losing in the first round of the playoffs, you might be a superstar, but rarely. To meet that description, your numbers must be gaudy. It’s hard to say what the threshold is, but your average per game totals of points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks should be above 40. (As a point of reference, Wade’s per game averages last year were 30 points, 7.5 assists, 5 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 1.3 blocks — for a “total” of 46.)
In today’s game, I think the only superstars are Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Anthony, and, possibly, Howard, Nowitzki, and Paul. (Historically, Duncan was, but I don’t think he will continue to be going forward).
Over the next few weeks and months, we’ll regularly compare players to each other, whether in the context of discussing All-Star selections, award winners, or free agents. I hope we’ll use some of these metrics, so we can compare two players without simply talking about the quality of their teammates.