Magic Johnson was the greatest Laker, not Kobe

Kobe Bryant is a very productive player.  But he’s not near the player the media proclaims him to be.  He just is not.

After the Lakers won the World’s Championship, Mark Jackson and many others dubbed Kobe the Greatest Laker.  No way.  Magic Johnson was so much better win producer for the Purple and Gold.  Much, much better.

Lets look at the numbers.

You can see Kobe’s win numbers from the last two seasons by clicking here and clicking here.  They are very good (and consistently good… he almost always posts an above +2.00 MWS), but Magic’s win production was in the stratosphere.  He was a brilliant player, a player for the ages.

Magic retired suddenly in the exhibition season prior to the 1991-1992 regular season.  The NBA lost one of its all-time greats.

In the season prior, his last full season, at the age of 31, Magic posted a better Marginal Win Score per 48 (+5.56) than almost EVERY player posted this season.  At the age of 31.

Consequently, I credit Magic with producing 17.6 wins for the Lakers in that last season and (-5.4) losses.  Folks, those are better-than-LeBron numbers… and he was 31! (Did I mention that?)  I’m not even going to post his preceding season numbers, because if he’s producing like that at 31 you know he did it throughout his career.

How close to correct are my numbers?  Here’s a bit of circumstantial evidence.  In 1990-91 the Los Angeles Lakers won 58 games.  In 1991-92, without having the time to adjust their roster for the loss of Magic, the Lakers won 43 games, a drop of 15 wins.  Fairly close to the 17.4 wins I credited him with the season before (the Lakers pythagorean wins in ’92 were even lower, suggesting the gap should have been even closer to that 17.4).

Lets consider one other piece of indirect evidence.  With Magic Johnson on their roster the Lakers never won less than 54 games.  This is with and without Kareem.  That’s compelling.

By comparison, when Kobe had to play without Shaq and prior to Gasol, the Lakers posted 34 wins, 45 wins, and 40 wins.

That’s not conclusive evidence, but I consider it very, very persuasive.

ADDENDUM:  I just tested my numbers against the front end of Magic’s career.  In his rookie season I credit Magic Johnson with producing 14.9 wins for the Lakers.  This squares with what happened.  In Magic’s rookie season the Lakers improved by 13 games (47 wins in ’78-’79  to 60 wins in ’79-’80).


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