[Editor's Note: I recently exchanged emails with cocanat about his interesting take on tracking historicals on big men and he agreed to do a write up it. -jrw]
A few years ago, by accident, I was scanning a season's statistical sheet and since I didn't have much else to do at the time, I began scribbling out some of Tim Duncan's stats for the particular season. For no particular reason, I added his points per game, his rebounds per game, his assists per game, his steals per game and his blocks per game. I then divided the total by his minutes per game, and found that the quotient gave me a number of a little over 1. I checked the other bigs on the team at the time (Fabricio, Nazr) and found that their number was half, or a little less than half of Tim's number. I then turned over to David Robinson's career stat page and found that his total stats divided by minutes played also came out to a little over 1 per minute played.
I wondered if I was on to something. I've always been attracted to ratings systems, and sometimes wonder if we make them too complicated. It was time to consider whether a simple total of the measurable stats was enough information to evaluate and compare players. Is a rebound as valuable as a point scored? Is a block as important as an assist? I decided that the correct answer to those questions was, "Depends on who you ask."
I did some more playing with the stat, and concluded that the real test for any system is to look at the results it gives you, and see if it makes sense. For instance, if my system came to the conclusion that say, Elton Brand was a better player than Tim Duncan, then it would be time to chuck the system. On the other hand, if the system put the stars in an order that separated the known stars from the rest, then it might have some merit.
For the most part, I'm going to skip over the individual computations and go to the results, and you can determine for yourself whether you think this system is a valid one for comparing the contribution of the Bigs in the NBA.
Formula: PRABS = (Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) / Minutes played.
1. I'm only interested in comparing players with starter's minutes, so I only considered players averaging over 26 minutes per game.
2. I'm only using this tool to compare centers and power forwards.
3. The median "Big" who plays starter's minutes has a percentage of .713 stats per minute
I pored over a ton of NBA career stats, and found that there are 14 players who played (or are still playing) with 10 NBA seasons or more who had career PRABS of over 1.00
1. Wilt Chamberlain 1.354*
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1.166
3. Shaquille O'Neal 1.153
4. David Robinson 1.112
5. Karl Malone 1.099
6. Bill Russell 1.098*
7. Charles Barkley 1.090
8. Hakeem Olajuwon 1.086
9. Bob Lanier 1.078
10.Tim Duncan 1.059
11.Moses Malone 1.058
12.Patrick Ewing 1.052
13.Kevin Garnett 1.036
14.Walt Bellamy 1.005
That's all of them. Just fourteen. There are a few who are very close (Dirk Nowitzki ranks 15th at 0.994), but these are the guys who filled the stat sheet. And, when you look at it, I think it shows that my PRABS has brought the cream to the top, making me think it's going to be a pretty reliable stat for comparison purposes.
2012 Leaders, after games of April 1
1. Kevin Love 1.098
2. DeMarcus Cousins 1.089
3. Dwight Howard 1.071
4. Tim Duncan 1.004
5. Al Jefferson 1.003
6. Blake Griffin 1.003
7. Josh Smith .992
8. Dirk Nowitzki .957
9. Andrew Bynum .955
10.Paul Millsap .943
11.DeMarcus Aldridge .934
12.Greg Monroe .929
13.Carlos Boozer .909
14.David Lee .903
15.Marcin Gortat .893
(No Gasols since they just rank 16th and 21st. You can do the math yourself to figure out which is which.)
So, Tim Duncan is filling up the stat sheet at a better rate than all but three Bigs this season. You can use your own judgment to insert the intangibles you consider important in adjusting these rankings. But, for instance, byt this measue I would consider a comment that, "Marc Gasol is a more dangerous player than DeMarcus Cousins" to be mindblowing.
Going back to Duncan's season, let me give you a list of NBA players who had a PRABS of over 1.00 in their 15th season or after:
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3 times)
2. Karl Malone (2 times)
3. Tim Duncan
So, what is the value of PRABS?
Well, for one thing, it gives you OBJECTIVE ammunition to shove back at anyone who promotes some of that "Duncan is not what he used to be" baloney. And if someone ridicules your comment that "David Robinson was one of the five best bigs of all time," you can tell them to look it up, and you'll be right. At least statistically. Supported by PRABS.
I first mentioned this method of computation last week in a thread where we were discussing what kind of contract that Tim Duncan might sign for after this season. Naturally, none of us know what Timmy is thinking, but the fact that he is playing at the same level that Kareem and Malone played at, late in their careers, makes me think that any thoughts that we can sign him at less than the neighborhood of $10M per year are incredibly optimistic. Unlike Toby Keith, Tim IS as good as he once was. He's just cut his minutes by 20%.
Disclaimer: Nobody is more aware than I am that raw stats don't tell the whole story. In Duncan's case, all the intangibles work toward his favor. Primarily, Tim more than any of the game's superstars, seems to play a game where he totally oblivious to the fact that anybody is actually keeping stats. Two or three times a game, he will allow a teammate to collect a rebound that he could easily have (Rodmanlike) claimed. I've never seen him work his scoring stats late in a game. In my mind, Tim is not only the GOAT Power Forward, I'm about convinced he's the GOAT Big ....... period.
* There are no official figures for blocks or steals for Chamberlain and Russell, who played before those stats were officially recorded. I provided my SWAG estimates to complete their figures.