Top 20 Prime Stat Lines since 1980

 

 A few weeks ago, I did a four-player comparison on Twitter. After looking at the numbers myself, I was taken aback by the comparison of some legendary current players and legends of other eras. I compared Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Dirk Nowitzki without saying their names, this way because it eliminates the bias for those who would just choose a player because of narratives or opinion. When only stats were presented, the results came back as follows:

  • 1st – Kevin Durant (49%)
  • 2nd – Larry Bird (25%)
  • 3rd – Kobe Bryant (14%)
  • 4th – Dirk Nowitzki (12%)

Here’s the full thread:

I was intrigued by the results of this poll because usually when these players are thought of, it’s with Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant at the top, followed by Dirk, and lastly KD. But when only numbers are shown, the results are completely different. After this I looked into the primes of about 50 historically great players, which inspired the following list.

When comparing separate eras, it is unfair to compare with per game and even per minute production, since pace has drastically changed over the years. For this reason, all of the following stats will be on a per possession scale.

In order to qualify for these rankings, players needed a minimum of a five-year prime and their prime had to have started no earlier than the 1979-80 season (so accurate per 100 possession statistics could be found). To be clear, these rankings are purely based off their regular season stat lines. Championships, success, longevity, and accolades are not taken into account for the rankings.


Rankings

1.) Michael Jordan (1985-86 to 1997-98)

  • 42.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 3.3 steals, 1.2 blocks
  • 50.5 FG% / 33.7 3P% / 83.7 FT%
  • 29.4 PER, 57.9 TS%, .279 WS/48

2.) LeBron James (2004-05 to 2015-16)

  • 37.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.1 blocks
  • 50.5 FG% / 34.3 3P% / 74.3 FT%
  • 28.5 PER, 58.9 TS%, .255 WS/48

3.) Shaquille O’Neal (1993-94 to 2002-03)

  • 38.4 points, 16.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 3.4 blocks
  • 57.8 FG% / 53.6 FT%
  • 29.1 PER, 58.4 TS%, .241 WS/48

4.) Kevin Durant (2009-10 to 2015-16)

  • 38.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.4 blocks
  • 49.2 FG% / 38.3 3P% / 88.6 FT%
  • 27.1 PER, 62.1 TS%, .253 WS/48

5.) Chris Paul (2007-08 to 2015-16)

  • 28.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 15.1 assists, 3.5 steals, 0.2 blocks
  • 48.1 FG% / 37.3 3P% / 87.2 FT%
  • 26.5 PER, 58.5 TS%, .266 WS/48

6.) Magic Johnson (1980-81 to 1990-91)

  • 25.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 15.1 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.5 blocks
  • 52.0 FG% / 30.1 3P% / 85.1 FT%
  • 24.5 PER, 61.0 TS%, .231 WS/48

7.) Larry Bird (1981-82 to 1989-90)

  • 31.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 1.1 blocks
  • 50.5 FG% / 37.3 3P% / 89.1 FT%
  • 24.9 PER, 57.5 TS%, .221 WS/48

8.) Stephen Curry (2011-12 to 2015-16)

  • 34.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 10.4 assists, 2.6 steals, 0.3 blocks
  • 48.0 FG% / 44.5 3P% / 89.9 FT%
  • 25.7 PER, 62.7 TS%, .244 WS/48

9.) David Robinson (1989-90 to 1997-98)

  • 34.0 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.1 steals, 4.7 blocks
  • 52.4 FG% / 74.5 FT%
  • 27.8 PER, 59.0 TS%, .261 WS/48

10.) Russell Westbrook (2010-11 to 2015-16)

  • 35.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 11.8 assists, 2.8 steals, 0.4 blocks
  • 44.2 FG% / 31.1 3P% / 82.3 FT%
  • 25.3 PER, 54.0 TS%, .195 WS/48

11.) Tim Duncan (1997-98 to 2009-10)

  • 31.1 points, 17.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 3.4 blocks
  • 50.8 FG% / 68.7 FT%
  • 25.0 PER, 55.3 TS%, .219 WS/48

12.) Kobe Bryant (2000-01 to 2012-13)

  • 37.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.6 blocks
  • 45.4 FG% / 33.6 3P% / 84.1 FT%
  • 24.3 PER, 55.7 TS%, .190 WS/48

13.) Karl Malone (1987-88 to 1997-98)

  • 36.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.1 blocks
  • 53.1 FG% / 27.9 3P% / 73.6 FT%
  • 25.4 PER, 59.1 TS%, .226 WS/48

14.) Dwight Howard (2007-08 to 2011-12)

  • 29.3 points, 19.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.6 steals, 3.6 blocks
  • 59.0 FG% / 57.9 FT%
  • 24.5 PER, 60.9 TS%, .216 WS/48

15.) Charles Barkley (1986-87 to 1996-97)

  • 32.0 points, 15.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.1 blocks
  • 54.5 FG% / 27.3 3P% / 74.0 FT%
  • 25.8 PER, 61.9 TS%, .229 WS/48

16.) Dwyane Wade (2004-05 to 2015-16)

  • 35.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 2.5 steals, 1.3 blocks
  • 48.9 FG% / 28.4 3P% / 76.8 FT%
  • 25.2 PER, 56.4 TS%, .184 WS/48

17.) Kevin Garnett (1998-99 to 2012-13)

  • 29.1 points, 16.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 2.1 blocks
  • 49.9 FG% / 28.1 3P% / 79.7 FT%
  • 24.2 PER, 55.2 TS%, .203 WS/48

18.) Dirk Nowitzki (2001-02 to 2013-14)

  • 34.1 points, 12.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks
  • 47.9 FG% / 38.6 3P% / 88.7 FT%
  • 24.3 PER, 58.4 TS%, .218 WS/48

19.) Hakeem Olajuwon (1985-86 to 1995-96)

  • 31.8 points, 15.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.5 steals, 4.7 blocks
  • 51.4 FG% / 72.1 FT%
  • 24.9 PER, 55.7 TS%, .191 WS/48

20.) John Stockton (1987-88 to 1997-98)

  • 21.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 17.8 assists, 3.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
  • 52.4 FG% / 39.4 3P% / 82.9 FT%
  • 22.7 PER, 62.0 TS%, .220 WS/48

Honorable Mention

Moses Malone (1979-80 to 1992-93)

  • 30.4 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks
  • 48.8 FG% / 77.8 FT%
  • 22.5 PER, 56.8 TS%, .181 WS/48

Scottie Pippen (1990-91 to 1997-98)

  • 27.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 3.1 steals, 1.3 blocks
  • 48.4 FG% / 33.8 3P% / 70.5 FT%
  • 21.2 PER, 54.6 TS%, .185 WS/48

Clyde Drexler (1985-86 to 1997-98)

  • 29.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.8 steals, 0.9 blocks
  • 47.1 FG% / 31.9 3P% / 79.1 FT%
  • 21.4 PER, 54.9 TS%, .180 WS/48

Allen Iverson (1998-99 to 2007-08)

  • 35.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.8 steals, 0.2 blocks
  • 42.3 FG% / 31.0 3P% / 79.1 FT%
  • 21.9 PER, 51.8 TS%, .139 WS/48

Synopsis

At first glance, you look at the names. Steph Curry 8th? Kevin Durant 4th? Kobe Bryant only 12th? Yes. It’s a crazy reality that some modern NBA players are amongst the all-time greats in terms of stats. Sometimes these superstars are taken for granted. Look at James Harden. Everyone knows the dumpster fire that is the All-NBA voting, and how Harden was left off all three teams in the 2015-16 season. His prime stat line would be right in this mix had it been a few years longer.

Looking back at the rankings above, it’s very easy to realize Jordan has the best stat line. The way I look at it, it’s Jordan, a drop off, followed by a tier 2 of LeBron and Shaq. The next group is quite cluttered. Magic, KD, Chris Paul, Larry Bird, and Curry were all close for tier 3. After that there was an appearance from Russell Westbrook, which may be surprising to some. If you were surprised go re-read his stat line…you’re not surprised anymore are you? Narratives, popular opinions, and bias all contribute to why some may disagree with these rankings, but imagine if the stats were anonymously represented, the numbers would speak for themselves.

Continuing on to number 14, Dwight Howard. Wow. These numbers were shocking. Dwight’s stats were better than Hakeem, Dirk, KG, and Barkley. Granted this is only a five year prime for Dwight, that wasn’t the point, the point was to show the most dominant players in the NBA since 1980, and Dwight on the Magic is easily deserving of this high rank. The next surprising numbers I came across were Hakeem Olajuwon. Before my research, I was led to believe he would be in the top 10-12 area. He wasn’t, which is kind of understandable in that a lot of his greatness was on the defensive side, which is hard to show in these basic stats.

In the Honorable Mentions section, there are two players averaging a near triple-double and another with 30 and 17 averages per 100 possessions. This just goes to show that there have been 20 players more dominant than these stat lines since 1979-80, which seems insane.


All stats via Basketball Reference.

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