One of the most fascinating aspects of professional basketball is that there exists a continuous debate about which players are greater than other players. Who was better: Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell? Larry Bird or Magic Johnson? Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? As much fun as these debates are, though, they can never definitively be answered.
There are tools to help with these questions. Statistics like points per game or total rebounds tell part of the story. Advanced metrics like Player Efficiency Rating and Win Shares help illustrate a player’s contributions to his team. However, none of these measurements can quantify a player’s accomplishments throughout his career. This is why I am introducing a new measurement: the Player Career Score, or PCS.
So how does it work? PCS looks at the achievements that most clearly impact a player’s chances of being inducted into the Hall of Fame. It then weights those achievements based on their prestige and difficulty to accomplish, converting them into a calculable number. The numbers for each achievement are then added together into a single score. After the final score is tallied, it is then adjusted so that the top scorer (currently Michael Jordan) has a score of 1000.
The elements of the formula, listed from most heavily weighted to least, are: MVPs, championships, All-NBA team selections, postseason success, All-Star team selections, and regular season success. To answer the previous questions in terms of PCS, Bill Russell, with a score of 770.0, had a more accomplished career than Wilt Chamberlain, who had a final score of 699.2. Magic Johnson (734.2) bested Larry Bird (689.3). LeBron James, currently sitting at 874.8, surpassed Kobe Bryant, with a final tally of 747.6, in 2014 and never looked back. James, in fact, would be on pace to pass Jordan with three more MVP-caliber, championship contending seasons. (Very few scores reach those heights. Only 12 players have a score above 500. The threshold for guaranteed Hall of Fame election is 200, a mark 63 players have reached.)
Titles and MVPs, though, are not all created equally. The leader of a championship team, as measured by win shares, receives more points than role players or bench players. Jordan’s performance in the 1998 playoffs garnered twice as many points as Toni Kukoc’s performance, and over five times as many as Luc Longley. For MVPs, the voting totals matter. Stephen Curry’s unanimous MVP in 2016 was worth more than his contested MVP in 2015. In addition, despite not winning the award, Kawhi Leonard earned MVP points in 2016 since he received votes for the MVP.
One important note is that certain criteria also have to be met in order for a player to receive full marks. A player must be named to an All-NBA First Team, two All-NBA Second Teams or three All-Star teams to get full credit for their score. Otherwise, they receive half, two-thirds, or three-fourths credit depending on how many All-NBA and All-Star teams below those marks they accomplished. This system allows championships to be weighted as heavily as they deserve to be, while ensuring that players who were role players on multiple championship teams are not grouped together with the players who led fewer teams to titles. (For example, Robert Horry is currently on par with Deron Williams and Dan Majerle. Without the qualifying criteria, he’d be on par with Jerry Lucas and Tiny Archibald.)
I’ll get into the real nitty, gritty details of this thing at a later point, but for now, I think that’s a good primer.
Ultimately, the Player Career Score will likely never settle the debates about which player was better in his prime. However, It will be an important tool in deciding which player had the better career, and, in turn, which players are most deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.