Comparing the Laker careers of Magic, Kareem, and Wilt

Yesterday one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, embarrassed himself on the Mike & Mike in the Morning radio show by basically demanding that the Lakers erect a statue in his likeness and place it outside the Staples Center. Kareem, I believe, means well, but his social skills are so inept, he often comes across as a pompous jerk. This was one of those occasions.

I believe Kareem’s true beef had nothing to do with any statue, but rather had to do with the broader resistance throughout the NBA to his coaching overtures. This lack of opportunity must be frustrating for him, and I believe he clumsily chose the statue issue to make a symbolic protest against what he has perceived to be disrespectful treatment.

Anyway, I ran some numbers to determine whether Kareem’s career, as a Laker, deserves to be memorialized in bronze, as he seems to demand. My conclusion: eh, maybe. But the case is not as clear cut as he would like the public to believe.

Kareem’s best seasons, by far, were spent with the Milwaukee Bucks. After Kareem left Milwaukee, he posted some elite level seasons for the Lakers throughout the remainder of the 1970s, but he was pretty ordinary after the calendar turned to the decade of the Rubik’s Cube.

Magic Johnson, as I have argued before on this blog, is far and away the greatest Los Angeles Laker. His “Value” contribution to the team vastly exceeds Kareem. He most definitely deserved to be immortalized before the “Big Fella”.

In fact, the case for Kareem over Magic was so definitively in favor of Johnson, I wondered whether the short Laker career of Wilt Chamberlain exceeded Kareem. In other words, should Wilt be crying out from above for a statue?

Well, you could argue that he should. He was marvelous in all but one season with the Lakers, a season in which he injured himself. And though his total “Value” score falls well short of Kareem’s, that’s only a function of opportunity. Wilt only played five seasons in LA, but even his last season was MVP level. He should have continued his career. He had reigned his game in so beautifully late in his career, taking only high percentage shots, and commanding the boards, it ought to serve as a model of enormous win production and efficiency.

Here are the numbers. Here is the Glossary to tell you what the numbers mean. Also, if you wish, visit the “Pages” section to the right to learn more about the statistics used to construct this chart. 

Kareem vs. Magic vs. Wilt: their Laker Years

KAREEM WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% VALUE
75-76 22.87 12.66 5.11 1.369 19.3__(-5.2) 12.2 31.5
76-77 22.24 11.91 5.17 1.379 17.2__(-4.7) 10.9 28.1
77-78 22.28 12.39 4.95 1.349 12.7__(-3.3) 8.1 20.8
78-79 21.23 12.33 4.45 1.259 16.5__(-3.4) 9.9 26.4
79-80 19.86 11.89 3.99 1.181 15.3__(-2.3) 8.8 24.1
80-81 18.08 11.75 3.17 1.039 12.8__(-0.5) 6.6 19.4
81-82 15.98 12.86 1.56 0.771 8.5__2.5 3.1 11.6
82-83 15.73 11.79 1.97 0.839 8.9__1.7 3.6 12.5
83-84 14.17 11.63 1.27 0.719 7.8__3.1 2.3 10.1
84-85 16.52 11.42 2.55 0.939 10.2__0.7 5.7 15.9
85-86 13.01 11.94 0.53 0.599 6.5__4.4 1.1 7.6
86-87 12.11 11.51 0.31 0.559 5.6__4.5 0.5 6.1
87-88 15.98 11.93 2.03 0.849 8.1__1.5 3.3 11.4
88-89 7.51 11.83 -2.16 0.139 1.0__6.0 -2.5 -1.5
TOTAL 16.969286 11.988571 2.4928571 0.9278571 150.4__(-3.2) 73.6 224
               
MAGIC WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% VALUE
79-80 15.08 5.72 4.68 1.299 15.0__(-3.5) 9.2 24.2
80-81 18.37 5.41 6.48 1.611 9.2__(-3.5) 6.3 15.5
81-82 18.37 5.77 6.31 1.579 19.5__(-7.1) 13.3 32.8
82-83 18.15 5.93 6.11 1.541 18.6__(-6.5) 12.6 31.2
83-84 18.37 6.06 6.16 1.549 16.6__(-5.9) 11.2 27.8
84-85 16.88 5.97 5.46 1.429 16.4__(-4.5) 10.4 26.8
85-86 16.39 6.03 5.18 1.391 14.9__(-4.2) 9.6 24.5
86-87 17.36 5.59 5.89 1.509 18.3__(-6.2) 12.2 30.5
87-88 15.01 6.04 4.48 1.269 13.8__(-2.9) 8.3 22.1
88-89 19.36 5.88 6.74 1.649 19.6__(-7.7) 13.6 33.2
89-90 17.34 5.53 5.91 1.511 18.3__(-6.2) 12.2 30.5
90-91 16.95 5.21 5.87 1.499 18.1__(-6.0) 12.1 30.2
95-96 13.66 6.81 3.43 1.091 4.4__(-0.4) 2.4 6.8
TOTAL 17.022308 5.8423077 5.5923077 1.4559231 202.7__(-64.6) 133.4 336.1
               
WILT WS oppWS MWS W% W__L W>0.5% VALUE
68-69 24.45 14.33 5.06 1.361 20.7__(-5.4) 13.1 33.8
69-70 21.48 14.18 3.65 0.921 2.3__0.2 0.9 3.2
70-71 21.68 12.28 4.69 1.299 19.6__(-4.5) 11.9 31.6
71-72 24.74 14.54 5.11 1.368 19.6__(-5.2) 12.4 31.9
72-73 25.08 14.88 5.09 1.367 20.1__(-5.4) 12.7 32.8
TOTAL 23.486 14.042 4.72 1.2632 82.3__(-20.3) 50.9 133.3
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One Response to “Comparing the Laker careers of Magic, Kareem, and Wilt”

  1. jbrett Says:

    Ty,

    Forgive me if I’m late to the party, but is there a positional context to consider with these numbers? If we were picking teams, for example, would Magic, by virtue of playing an inherently less ‘productive’ position, be the most valuable because he would have a greater margin over his PG peers?

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