Comparing Larry, Michael, and Magic using Marginal Win Score

I’ve done complete career Win Resumes for Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson using Marginal Win Score to determine which of the three great players was the most valuable.  Jordan fans will not be happy with me.  By my numbers, Jordan was the least valuable of the three.  I note that Marginal Win Score loves “all-around” players like Bird and Magic, and Win Shares favors Jordan over the other two.

Nevertheless, using my system, and using the distributional “opponent” statistic method I have developed, it appears that Magic Johnson was the most valuable player of the three.  In fact, it would appear that Magic is the second most valuable MWS player of all time, just behind the Boston Celtic center Bill Russell.

Here are the Win Resumes for Magic, Bird, and Jordan:

 Michael Jordan Win Resume

  WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5%
84-85 13.53 6.24 3.65 1.131 14.7__(-1.7) 8.2
85-86 9.32 7.68 0.82 0.649 1.2__0.7 0.3
86-87 11.74 6.21 2.77 0.979 13.3__0.3 6.5
87-88 15.51 5.57 4.97 1.349 18.5__(-4.8) 11.6
88-89 18.76 6.37 6.21 1.559 21.1__(-7.6) 14.3
89-90 17.29 7.21 5.05 1.359 17.9__(-4.7) 11.3
90-91 17.05 5.12 5.97 1.519 19.1__(-6.5) 12.8
91-92 14.94 4.73 5.11 1.369 17.5__(-4.7) 11.1
92-93 14.72 5.76 4.48 1.269 16.1__(-3.4) 9.8
94-95 8.98 5.11 1.94 0.831 2.3__0.5 0.9
95-96 14.57 4.14 5.22 1.388 17.8__(-5.0) 11.4
96-97 12.78 4.48 4.15 1.207 15.6__(-2.7) 9.1
97-98 9.41 4.18 2.61 0.945 12.4__0.7 5.8
2001-02 5.86 6.41 -0.27 0.457 4.0__4.7 -0.3
2002-03 7.72 5.81 0.96 0.665 8.3__4.2 2.1
  12.812 5.668 3.576 1.1117333   114.9

Magic Johnson Win Resume

  WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5%
79-80 15.08 5.72 4.68 1.299 15.0__(-3.5) 9.2
80-81 18.37 5.41 6.48 1.611 9.2__(-3.5) 6.3
81-82 18.37 5.77 6.31 1.579 19.5__(-7.1) 13.3
82-83 18.15 5.93 6.11 1.541 18.6__(-6.5) 12.6
83-84 18.37 6.06 6.16 1.549 16.6__(-5.9) 11.2
84-85 16.88 5.97 5.46 1.429 16.4__(-4.5) 10.4
85-86 16.39 6.03 5.18 1.391 14.9__(-4.2) 9.6
86-87 17.36 5.59 5.89 1.509 18.3__(-6.2) 12.2
87-88 15.01 6.04 4.48 1.269 13.8__(-2.9) 8.3
88-89 19.36 5.88 6.74 1.649 19.6__(-7.7) 13.6
89-90 17.34 5.53 5.91 1.511 18.3__(-6.2) 12.2
90-91 16.95 5.21 5.87 1.499 18.1__(-6.0) 12.1
95-96 13.66 6.81 3.43 1.091 4.4__(-0.4) 2.4
  17.022308 5.8423077 5.5923077 1.4559231 202.7__(-64.6) 133.4

Larry Bird Win Resume

  WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5%
79-80 14.72 6.12 4.31 1.241 15.1__(-2.9) 9.1
80-81 14.51 6.24 4.13 1.211 16.2__(-2.8) 9.5
81-82 16.72 6.05 5.34 1.411 17.1__(-5.0) 11.1
82-83 18.06 6.34 5.86 1.501 18.4__(-6.1) 12.2
83-84 16.74 6.98 4.88 1.329 16.5__(-4.1) 10.3
84-85 18.83 7.54 5.65 1.471 19.4__(-6.2) 12.8
85-86 18.21 7.04 5.59 1.461 18.8__(-5.9) 12.3
86-87 18.45 7.31 5.57 1.451 18.0__(-5.6) 11.8
87-88 19.03 8.15 5.44 1.431 17.6__(-5.3) 11.4
89-90 15.21 7.75 3.73 1.141 13.9__(-1.7) 7.8
90-91 14.15 7.31 3.43 1.091 10.2__(-0.8) 5.5
91-92 15.85 7.54 4.01 1.191 8.2__(-1.3) 4.7
  16.706667 7.0308333 4.8283333 1.3275 189.4__(-47.7) 118.5

As you can see, Magic Johnson’s career production appears to exceed either Larry Bird or Michael Jordan.  Though I must mention that Jordan had the single best season of the group, his 1988-89 season.

But, if you take their entire careers, and you measure them by the number of Wins Above 0.500% each player produced per 3000 minutes of playing time (roughly a full season), the rankings would look like this:

1. Magic Johnson +12.0
2. Larry Bird +10.3
3. Michael Jordan +8.4

In fairness to Airness, the totals include his two abortive seasons (when he injured his foot, and when he came back the first time) plus his two seasons with the Wizards.  If you look, his first season with the Wizards was his worst ever, but his second season was not bad at all, except by his standards.

But Magic on the other hand never had a “down” season, whether he was playing with Kareem or with Vlade Divac.  His career was really remarkable. 

If you add in some of the other legendary players I have done Win Resumes for over the years, here’s the ranking:

1. Bill Russell +13.1
2. Magic Johnson +12.0
3. Wilt Chamberlain +10.7
4. Larry Bird +10.3
5. Michael Jordan +8.4
6. LeBron James +7.2
7. Jerry Lucas +7.0

Those are the only seven I have done.  LeBron’s numbers are somewhat misleading, because he came straight out of high school.  If you take only the last 3 seasons (including this one) his number would be +10.2, just behind Bird. 

The next two players I will add to the list will be Kareem and Oscar Robertson.  But for now, it appears that by my system of win evaluation, Magic Johnson is the greatest player of our time, and I’m doubting that anyone I will evaluate in the future will surpass him.

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6 Responses to “Comparing Larry, Michael, and Magic using Marginal Win Score”

  1. Chicago Tim Says:

    Magic Johnson’s career was cut short. What would have happened if he had played longer, including a long decline? Would the numbers have been better, or worse?

    How much of Magic Johnson’s defensive numbers (that’s what oppWS is supposed to measure, right?) can be attributed to playing with better teammates than Jordan did half his career? After all, other than rebounding, Magic Johnson was never considered a great defender. Most people thought Johnson and Bird saved their energy on defense, while Jordan was considered a spectacular two-way player.

    If Marginal Win Score favors all-around players, I wonder what it will say about Charles Barkley.

  2. Chicago Tim Says:

    Also, what if you compared their best three-season stretches to try to see who was better at their peak? Would Jordan’s play from 88-91 outdo Magic’s play during that same period, or Bird from 84-87?

    What would have changed if Jordan hadn’t retired in 1993?

    As for Bird, what if he had left college earlier and hadn’t developed a bad back later?

  3. Chicago Tim Says:

    Back to the point about good teams and bad teams, do Garnett’s numbers remain consistent during his last two years with Minnesota and his move to the Celtics? If so, then perhaps team defense doesn’t warp the stats.

    • tywill33 Says:

      Tim,

      You bring up a lot of interesting points. I will check out Barkley’s career and Garnett’s.

      I’m halfway through Kareem’s career. His early numbers with the Lakers are very similar to the numbers he put up with the Bucks, but that doesn’t mean that will be the case with everyone.

      You bring up solid points, though, about Jordan. You get to the big conundrum… how do you grade two different players over the course of their careers? By their body of work? By their best seasons? Its hard to do, and always arbitrary.

      I’ve never been a huge Magic Johnson fan. I was a little surprised at how consistently good he was throughout his career… even in that ridiculous “comeback” try he had, he put up a good account of himself.

      • Chicago Tim Says:

        I’m too young to remember Kareem moving to L.A. Were the Bucks bad when he left? I thought they were pretty good, in which case the quality of his teammates may not have changed dramatically as they did for Garnett.

  4. arturogalletti Says:

    Ty,
    Tim asked my question. Barkley is the lifetime WP leader and Garnett will end up the WP lifetime leader. Love to see them (and maybe Rodman?)

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