The Stats Say: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is only sort of right about Dwight Howard

I’m Justin, Red94’s new stat geek. (Although I prefer to think of myself as a “data jock.”) Every Wednesday, I will be delivering juicy data morsels. Posts I have planned include statistics that suggest this year’s Rockets might bulldoze the rest of the league, statistics that suggest Terrence Jones might soon become the third best Rocket, and statistics that suggest the Rockets’ championship window might last until the end of the decade. I also hope to analyze text from  the Rockets’ interviews/pressers if I can get my paws on transcripts (I could use help with that). I do a lot of text analysis in my day job as a research economist. I’m glad to be sharing my geekiness with you. Feel free to email me at

On ESPN’s “First Take” Thursday, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar praised Dwight Howard’s athleticism and charisma before calmly dropping the he-can’t-play-basketball bomb. The criticism was as brutal and as cutting as anything ever spoken in a voice with which one normally narrates children’s books. You can listen to it here. The meat of the criticism is that Dwight does not have what it takes (basketball IQ, a go-to move, Kobe work ethic) to be a “dominant” player. The geek in me wishes he would’ve phrased the criticism in a bit more precise terms so that we could have something resembling a testable hypothesis. Instead, I’m left fumbling with my spreadsheet of career statistics, creating charts in an attempt to put this whole “dominance” thing in perspective…

dwight vs kareem

Here’s the thing: If “dominant” means that you need to be as good as Kareem or better, then there have been exactly three players who have dominated: Kareem, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan. (I’m using career PER, WS48, and WS between the ages of 23 and 33 to make that judgment.) But let’s be more generous. Let’s say that you “only” need to be as good as the average hall of famer to qualify as dominant. By those standards, Dwight safely dominates. Here’s a list of the only players to have a higher PER than Dwight between the ages of 23 and 33: LeBron, MJ, Kareem, Shaq, Wilt, David Robinson, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Charles Barkley, Bob Pettit, Tim Duncan, George Mikan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Julius Erving, and Oscar Robertson. If Dwight returns to pre-back surgery Dwight, he could plausibly leapfrog half of that list in no time. By any reasonable estimation, Dwight dominates.

The bottom line is that Kareem is one of only about a dozen living individuals with a statistical resume big enough to be able to say that Dwight is somehow sub-dominant.

P.S. – You really should read Henry Abbott’s excellent post on the matter.

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