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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 justinwehr@gmail.com.

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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Total comments: 10
  • rockets best fan says 1 YEAR ago

    I'm with Rahat on this one, but I think it goes beyond sports. I think part of the human condition is to look back with nostalgia, unevenly comparing the past with the present in many different arenas.

    That said, I'm really excited for Justin Wehr's new posts, and found this one to be well-researched and interesting. Can't wait to read more!

    I 2nd that.................as for Kareem........I have lost all respect for the man. this statement by him was classless. I agree with rocketrick's assessment that Kareem earned most of his championships riding on superman's cape. Kareem sounds like a rejected FLAKER FAN. couldn't decide whether to call him a flake or faker....so just settle on flaker :lol:

  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    People have been telling me to check out R for a while, might just have to give it a go. Excel/Calc does the job, but I've always felt like the graphing functionality was bolted on the side and it can be surprisingly fiddly to get it to do what you want sometimes. Doesn't help that I'm stuck with OpenOffice Calc which uses completely different formula syntax to Excel...semicolons to separate arguments gets me every time :(.


  • j_wehr says 1 YEAR ago

    ST, I used good ole' Excel for the graphs (although you'll probably also see me do some work in R and Stata; R is particularly good for graphics). Excel can produce some clean-looking graphs if you fiddle with the defaults.

  • Rahat Huq says 1 YEAR ago

    ^really good one coming up tomorrow. i've already read it

  • Drew in Abilene says 1 YEAR ago

    I'm with Rahat on this one, but I think it goes beyond sports. I think part of the human condition is to look back with nostalgia, unevenly comparing the past with the present in many different arenas.

    That said, I'm really excited for Justin Wehr's new posts, and found this one to be well-researched and interesting. Can't wait to read more!

  • Rahat Huq says 1 YEAR ago

    One thing I find interesting is how common revisionism is among all-time former greats. They always have an inflated sense of the past and their own accomplishments. Like how the current guys on TNT or NBAtv will talk about how it's a soft league nowadays and no defense is played when in actuality, defense is tougher than ever due to the rule changes and the thibodeau ideology. another example, most famously, was larry bird and magic johnson laughing about how they'd never team up, completely omitting the fact that they played with rosters stocked to the brim with future hall of famers and all-stars.

  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    Stuff like this only adds weight to my belief that nobody should give any weight to anything that people say on First Take. It's tabloid shock-journalism that values inciting reactions over saying anything remotely correct. Even if it's Kareem saying something on there, it seems best to ignore it.

    On a separate note, I enjoyed your post Justin. What are you using to generate your graphs? They look pretty clean. When I need graphs I go to OpenOffice Calc, but I'm not particularly happy with it...


  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago Yes, Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won his first NBA Title in only his second season of becoming a Pro. I realize I did not make that point as clear as I should. However, without Oscar Robertson at the helm, I seriously doubt Milwaukee would have won an NBA Title in 1971.

    The point I was trying to make was the fact Jabbar won most (all but 1) of his titles after he had been in the league for well over 10 years and always with NBA Superstars at his side.

    D12 didn't have an Oscar Robertson on his Magic team that went to the NBA Finals.
  • rocketrick says 1 YEAR ago

    I believe that it is important to take into consideration that Jabbar was a key member of several NBA Championships only after he had been in the league for well over 10 years. In 1971, he won his first NBA title as LewAlcindor in Milwaukee, in only the 3rd year of that franchise's existence. Oscar Robertson was a key acquisition for the team prior to the Championship run and no doubt Milwaukee would not have won the NBA title without Oscar Robertson, although in the twilight of his career, at the helm.

    In 1980, Jabbar won his 2nd NBA Championship. However, this was the season when Magic Johnson was a rookie and was the starting Center for the Lakers in the determining game of the series after Jabbar was injured and not able to play.

    The remainder of Jabbar's championships came during the Laker's "Showtime" Era which also included surprising and unexpected losses to the Houston Rockets in 1981 and 1986.

    The point I am trying to make here is that Jabbar was much older than D12 currently is before he started winning NBA TItles plus he needed and required the help of Superstar teammates to accomplish those goals.

    For Jabbar to speak so derogatively of our D12 is certainly upsetting to a fan of the game. My very first memory of competitive basketball was the "Game of the Century" when Lew Alcindor and UCLA Bruins were defeated by Coach Guy Lewis's Houston Cougars led by Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney 71-69 at the Astrodome in January 1968. The very first nationally televised regular season college basketball game if I recall correctly.

    Jabbar should know that D12 has many more productive seasons, assuming good health, and that D12 has yet to peak in his career. For Jabbar to be so negative is quite surprising considering how soft spoken he has always been.

  • CC. says 1 YEAR ago

    This is not to my credit, as I did not point it out...but a commenter on youtube noted how Kareem opened up his discussion-"...the most important muscle that you use on the court is between your ears." When Ha! The brain as a wholeis not considereda muscle...what irony! :lol:

    He might be a legend, and I hold somerespect for that, but this was complete bias and I will not take one bit seriously... If Dwight was in LA Kareem would not have the guts to say that in public television, please. He acknowledges Dwight with great athletic ability, but that Dwight can't be a dominant force on both ends of the court. Kareem also remembers Dwight at the Finals...but according to him, he did not lead the Magic all the way there (?) He's not capable of doing that (?) It's like Dwight was never a DPOY back to back years....

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