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Isiah Thomas was better than Kevin Johnson

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Myles Brown and Bomani Jones had a discussion on Twitter last night that began with Strauss declaring Kevin Johnson was better than Isiah Thomas. What followed was Brown and Jones telling Strauss he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Brown and Jones are correct. Isiah Thomas was better than Kevin Johnson.

Before explain why, here’s what everyone said:

The exchange

Strauss:

Kevin Johnson was better than Isiah Thomas. Had we known that, Isiah might not have been granted free reign to destroy the Knicks

Brown:

@SherwoodStrauss No.

Strauss:

@mdotbrown Yes. http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/j/johnske02.html …http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/t/thomais01.html …

Brown:

@SherwoodStrauss No. This is inarguable.

Jones:

@mdotbrown @SherwoodStrauss k.j. better than zeke? that’s cute.

Strauss:

@bomani_jones @mdotbrown KJ was better statistically. He just didn’t play on the league’s best defensive team (Also got hurt a lot)

Brown:

@SherwoodStrauss @bomani_jones He also didn’t beat Bird, Magic or Jordan in their prime. Or lead a team, much less in the manner Zeke did.

Jones:

@mdotbrown @SherwoodStrauss think about it: zeke turned his game DOWN to get the most of that roster with no other star.

Strauss:

@bomani_jones @mdotbrown The title Pistons weren’t a great offensive team & Zeke wasn’t responsible for that defense

Strauss:

@bomani_jones @mdotbrown Also, the people deeming this opinion ridiculous should at least acknowledge that the numbers don’t flatter Zeke

Brown:

@SherwoodStrauss @bomani_jones It may be childish and dismissive, but there’s few other ways to say it: Fuck yo numbers. Zeke was better.

Strauss:

@mdotbrown @bomani_jones I’d say fuck our old non-League Pass, non-Internet era (and the memories it produced)

Strauss:

@KNelsonDX @bomani_jones @mdotbrown Why’s the burden of proof on me to show that a statistically worse player is worse? It should be on you

Strauss:

NBA isn’t MLB, but the numbers have to mean SOMETHING. It’s that or our collective memories are always perfect & can’t be questioned

Jones:

@SherwoodStrauss @KNelsonDX @mdotbrown yeah, but you told us we’re just old and on some "good ol days" noise. what would you listen to?

Strauss:

@bomani_jones @KNelsonDX @mdotbrown Nah. The claim is that our old days memories suck, given those old contraints

Jones:

@SherwoodStrauss @KNelsonDX @mdotbrown except when they both played, and folks were in the present, nobody said this sh t you’re spittin.

Strauss:

@bomani_jones @KNelsonDX @mdotbrown Nobody says it because they’ll get THIS kind of response. But there’s plenty of reason to say it

Strauss:

@bomani_jones @negativedunks @mdotbrown Okay, hypothetical. Zeke never plays with a top-5 defense. How do we remember him?

Strauss:

@bomani_jones @negativedunks @mdotbrown KJ led two consecutive No. 1 offenses. Did Zeke ever do that?

Strauss:

To those asking, I’m not citing PER in this Zeke-KJ thing. Don’t need to. PER, Win Shares, Wins Produced, all the aggregate stats agree

This went on a bit longer, and you can check the various Twitters to read it in full, but I’m going to stop here.

The reasoning

PER

  • Isiah Thomas: 19.8
  • Kevin Johnson: 19.1

Win shares

  • Isiah Thomas: 12.5
  • Kevin Johnson: 9.4

Win shares per 48 minutes

  • Isiah Thomas: .143
  • Kevin Johnson: .117

Why do my numbers favor Thomas when Strauss’ numbers favor Johnson? I’m looking at the playoffs. He’s looking at the regular season.

Can’t we all agree the playoffs are more important than the regular season?

Plus, factor in that Thomas, in sum, advanced further in the playoffs than Johnson – meaning Isiah’s playoff numbers presumably came against tougher competition than Johnson’s – and Thomas blows Johnson out of the water.

88 Comments

  • Jul 30, 20125:01 pm
    by apa8ren9

    Reply

    I may be way off base, but there is no way in the world this guy watched basketball in the mid 80′s early 90′s.   There is no way you could say that if you saw those games and really believe it.   I liked KJ, he was nice, really nice but he wasnt better than Isiah.   KJ has some really good games and some really good highlights (dunk over Olajuwon) but when wasnt going it was bad.  How many times did Phoenix flame out in the first round with him running the show.  Kids these days and their numbers! LOL

    • Jul 30, 20125:05 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      KJ played in 70 or more games only once in his last seven seasons, so the discussion may have been different if he’d had better luck with injuries/health. But he didn’t, so there is no comparison whatsoever.

      • Jul 31, 20124:16 pm
        by BIGMARV

        Reply

        IDK pat cause I cant even compare Kevin Johnson to John Stockton even if he had a healthy carreer he was a good pg dont get me wrong I think I’ll put him more on a level of a Gary Payton or a Tim Hardaway. He was just a all around solid PG that was a key part to a winning team.

        • Jul 31, 20125:10 pm
          by tarsier

          Reply

          I think this is the typical perspective on KJ. And that is why we have people here talking about how underrated he is. KJ was a phenomenal PG who has been kinda sorta forgotten about.

  • Jul 30, 20125:07 pm
    by Scott Free

    Reply

    How many championships does Kevin Johnson have again?

    • Jul 30, 20125:17 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      See, I don’t agree with Strauss’ reasoning in the argument for KJ. But the whole ‘how many championships’ isn’t a strong counter to me.

      Isiah and the Pistons won their titles in the short window when Bird/Magic were winding down and just before Jordan figured it out. The Pistons were certainly one of the great teams of that era, but if they didn’t win those titles, Isiah would still be better than KJ in this discussion.

      Conversely, KJ’s best Suns team just so happened to come along when Jordan was at his peak. That Barkley-KJ Suns team was championship quality.

      To me, the argument has little to do with titles. KJ was a fantastic talent, is underrated by history, but because he struggled to stay healthy for so much of his career, he’s just not in the discussion with the all-time greats. Isiah was great for a long period of time, incredibly durable for as small as he was and for as often as he went inside and absorbed contact and, as Dan Feldman pointed out above, statistically raised his game in the playoffs. Those are the things that win this argument for Isiah, not comparing championship rings.

      • Jul 30, 20126:00 pm
        by Scott Free

        Reply

        Chicken and the egg, Isiah wouldn’t have won those championships without the intangibles Dan pointed out (his ability to pick up his game when he really needed it, i.e. the playoffs).

        Its not like comparing Robert Parish’ number of collected titles while riding the bench on good teams to Patrick Ewing.  These are starting point guards whose job first and foremost is to win championships… One was successful toward that goal.  One wasn’t.  I don’t think you should discount that.

        • Jul 30, 20127:36 pm
          by tarsier

          Reply

          Except championships are:
          a) not an individual accomplishment
          b) not always against the same degree of difficulty

          If two players are playing in almost identical circumstances, this argument has significant merit. Otherwise, number of championships just doesn’t tell much. It is still one factor that can be brought up, but besides not being the whole argument, it should not even be a dominant point int he argument because it can always be explained away by circumstance. It is a great point for when discussing who had a more successful career but not who was a better player.

        • Jul 30, 20129:14 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          I’m not discounting it. I’m just saying that I don’t hold it against Johnson for not winning one. He was the first or second best player on some very good teams. If injuries weren’t a factor and his peak lasted for more than three or four years, it would be easier to make a case for him, championships or not. Still not saying he’d be better or anything, I just don’t really hold not getting a title against any 90s star because of the Jordan/Bulls dynasty.

          • Aug 1, 201210:52 am
            by Scott Free

            Yeah, I see your point.  (I’m sure Karl Malone and John Stockton would say the same thing.)  And I fully admit that KJ is very underrated (though I DO think he went to the Jason Kidd school of padded numbers).   

            All-in-all I think my point was a more poorly voiced interpretation of Strauss’:  Isiah could elevate his game when he needed it most.  I’ve only seen that ability from the other true greats like Bird, Jordan, Bryant, Magic ect.  I admit I didn’t watch many suns games (though they were my favorite western team in that period), but I never saw KJ impose his will on a game the way Isiah could.

            Due deference to Jordan, I think the narrative that “The Pistons were just holding the titles for Jordan’s ascendance” is a bit insulting to one of the best squads fielded in one of the most difficult eras to win in basketball history.  And it discounts players like Isiah’s ability to control games, and win titles.  Jordan and Pippen were playing together in that era and the Pistons got the better of them.  KJ can’t claim that either.

  • Jul 30, 20125:11 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    KJ is pretty widely under appreciated. Better than Zeke? I agree with PH. Injuries make it a moot point.

  • Jul 30, 20126:12 pm
    by RyanK

    Reply

    I always thought KG was much more into stats than Isiah.  I remember once KG pulled a rebound away from Barkley because “I’m working on a triple double.”  Isiah put up some great numbers, but definitely took a hair cut to his stats for the team’s sake.
     
    I’m a piston fan, so obviously I’m taking Isiah has the best player in history under 6’5”.  He was better than Iverson, KG, and Chris Paul.  I always ask people who challenge my opinion: You have a must win playoff game…who would you pick to be on your team?  When you put it that way, you usually end the conversation.

    • Jul 30, 20127:44 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      Two things:

      1. It’s KJ. KG is Kevin Garnett.

      2. In a must win playoff game, I’d be torn. It would really depend who the other players on the team are. Because CP3 is so, so damn good. On those bad boy Pistons, yeah, I’d take Zeke over any of those other guys. but on a team loaded with gifted, but not necessarily incredibly efficient scorers–especially big ego guys who want to believe they are the alpha dog–give me Paul all day, every day.

      If I’m on the other team, I find Thomas more intimidating, but Paul more impossible to force mistakes out of. Iverson and KJ don’t even seriously make it into the discussion, phenomenal talents though they both were.

    • Jul 30, 20129:18 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      By the time Chris Paul is done, I think he’ll go down as a better PG than Isiah. Maybe won’t win more titles, but if he stays healthy and maintains his peak another 3-4ish seasons or more, he’ll be an all-time great as well. He’s a different type of PG than Isiah was though.

      I’m taking nothing away from Isiah by saying this, but he played with some incredible talents — 3 HOFers in Dumars, Dantley and Rodman and a fourth in Laimbeer who has a better HOF case than most give him credit for. The talent on the New Orleans team that Paul dragged to the second round of the playoffs was not good. The talent on the team that he led to two wins in the first round over the Lakers was awful. I think the only player in the league who makes his teammates better than Paul does is Lebron.

      • Jul 31, 20128:41 am
        by RyanK

        Reply

        From a statistical standpoint I can see why you might think Paul will rank ahead of Zeke in the end.  From a big moment standpoint Isiah raised his game to levels I have seen only a handful of times in the NBA.  Younger guys who didn’t get a chance to see it don’t understand.  25 points in the third quarter of game 6 on one leg…16 points in 90 seconds in another playoff game…these kind of performances seem to be forgotten.  The fans always knew Isiah had that in him and could break it out at any moment…it was his greatness.  Greatness I haven’t seen from anyone else under 6-6 in this game.
         
        I haven’t see Paul lift his game to these levels in critical moments and until I do, Zeke is clearly a notch above.

        • Jul 31, 20129:01 am
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          Scroll down to Paul’s playoff stats:

          http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/p/paulch01.html

          They’re insane. He has that Isiah/killer instinct in him. He just hasn’t been on a team talented enough to make a deep playoff run yet. That Laker series in particular his last season in NOLA — 22 points/7 rebounds/11.5 assists/2 steals per game, 54 percent shooting, 47 percent from three.

          I think he’s finally on a team good enough to advance to the Western Conference Finals if everyone stays healthy and if Vinny Del Negro stays out of the way. He’s still one of the best kept secrets in the league. People just haven’t seen enough of him b/c he was in NOLA so long. He’s in the convo with Durant and Dwight for second best player in the league.

          • Jul 31, 201212:30 pm
            by RyanK

            You can have Paul on your team, I’ll take Isiah on mine.  If you saw the things Isiah did to help his team win, you wouldn’t be okay with that.
             
            Stockton and Rondo (in recent years) both put up glaring stats as well, but both of them are in the same boat as Paul.  Neither has lifted their game in critical moments to a level that no one else in the gym can match.  Isiah put on Jordan like performances at 6 feet tall.  Until I see that from Paul, I’ll keep saying Isiah is my guy.
             

          • Aug 1, 20127:43 am
            by tarsier

            Did you watch games 1 and 4 of the LA-NO series? How is that not “lifting his game in critical moments to a level that no one else in the gym can match”?

        • Jul 31, 20129:15 am
          by tarsier

          Reply

          Of course he hasn’t raised his game in moments as big as Zeke did. He hasn’t gotten to such big moments. That is obviously still a point for Thomas as he has shown something CP3 may or may not have. But that is only one portion of the argument. Paul will almost certainly beat Thomas statistically. And of course, there are many other factors to consider. If CP3 is never on a great team in his prime, I doubt most people will rank him over Zeke at retirement. But that won’t mean he wasn’t the better player, just that we won’t have had the full opportunity to find out whether or not he was. So it could well end up much like Duncan and KG–situations reversed, I bet KG would have the higher all-time ranking. If they had had the same situations, who knows.

          For what it’s worth, in some of the biggest moments that Paul has gotten to, he has dominated. Take games 1 and 4 against the Lakers in the 2011 playoffs. He did 33-7-14-4 and 27-13-15-2 respectively. And he was the best player on the Clippers in their first round win against Memphis in the 2012 playoffs.

          I’m not saying CP3 is better than Zeke. I’m saying I don’t know. But that if you put me in that must-win-playoff-game situation, it is not that easy a call. Hence why I would need to take the makeup of the rest of the team into consideration. Don’t forget, it’s not like Thomas always made the most of must-win games. That Larry Bird steal is still haunting.

          • Jul 31, 201212:06 pm
            by RyanK

            If you had a good basketball coach at any point in your life, you are told not to back away from the inbounds passer…move toward him.  Laimbeer was backing up.  There’s blame to share for that pass, but the fact remains that if Laimbeer would have been using basketball good fundamentals, that steal wouldn’t have happened.
             
            Lets not forget the getting screwed moments either.  If not for a phantom foul on Kareem, Isiah’s 25 point third quarter on one leg would have been the first of three championships.  Jordan got the flu and they’re still showing gatoraid commercials about it…what about Isiah not being able to walk and lifting his team to what rightfully should have been an NBA championship?!?

          • Jul 31, 20122:10 pm
            by tarsier

            I’m not trying to take anything away from Zeke. And I recognize that not only is there blame to share, there is also credit to be given to Bird. My only point was that while Thomas was amazing in some big moments, a big moment did not ensure brilliance from him.

          • Jul 31, 20122:14 pm
            by tarsier

            And yes, that incredible game should be one of the all time great replayed playoff moments. but the phantom foul happened and so they didn’t win. It is what it is. An incredible performance is just not as memorable in a loss even if it should have been a victory. Also, there’s the fact that MJ is the most marketed player ever. Even if Zeke had a moment that topped his in every way, I still don’t think it would be reshown as much just because Thomas (fairly) doesn’t have the GOAT label.

          • Jul 31, 20127:07 pm
            by C-Foe

            tarsier,  Why is it “fair” that Isiah Thomas doesn’t have the GOAT label?  What does it take to get the GOAT label?

          • Aug 1, 20127:40 am
            by tarsier

            It is fair because Thomas was an incredible player. But he definitely wasn’t the best ever. There are only a couple players who could make any claim to that title at all. In fact, I have only ever heard 5 names that anyone consider the greatest: Jordan, Magic, Kareem, Russel, and Wilt. Those 5 each had, in some way, a career better than anyone else’s.

            Thomas is generally considered somewhere from the 2nd best to the 5th best PG of all time. He is near unanimously ranked behind Magic and is in the mix with Stockton, Robertson, and Cousy. And when Chris Paul retires, I expect he’ll be right there with them.

            If you are pretty much unanimously considered, at best, the second best player ever at your position (which is high praise, by the way), it is fair that you don’t have the GOAT label.

          • Aug 3, 20129:22 am
            by C-Foe

            Tarsier… Wilt, Russell, and Kareem all played the Center position, so two can’t be considered GOAT right?  My point isn’t to nitpick your statement but to point out that it’s a subjective argument so it’s hard to justify “fair”.  The criteria that’s used is not consistent.  Big media outlets (read ESPN) love to shove this down our throats to promote players they love.  Russell is considered GOAT because of his defensive dominance and the multiple championships with Boston, but many would argue Kareem and Wilt were better players based on PPG stats (Wilt – 30 PPG, Kareem – 24 PPG, Russell – 15 PPG).   Even in this blog you see that writers use different criteria when deciding if Isiah is better than Kevin Johnson.  Sometimes individual stats are used, sometimes it’s championships, all-star appearances, etc.   From the PG position, Isiah can be considered one of the Greatest of All Time because of all-around accomplishments and so can Stockton and Robertson because as you established you can have multiple players from one position.

  • Jul 30, 20128:40 pm
    by Max

    Reply

    At their best, I thought KJ was worse than Johnson, Thomas and Payton but better than Stockton, Price or Hardaway.  He didn’t have nearly the career of any of them other than Price though and the reason for both of them falling far below was health.
    Specifically, Thomas is the kind of player who was much better than his stats even suggest because he could take over games in big moments, was an ultimate winner and understood minutely how to control and swing games.   Individual numbers can be very misleading when the point is contributing to a five man lineup.
    One of the best examples of how wrong numbers can be is Reggie Miller.   According to the basketball reference site’s hall of fame probability numbers, Reggie Miller has the 192nd best chance of getting in and thus had the 192nd best career according to the site.  Baron Davis is 191 and Bill Laimbeer is well ahead.  There aren’t nearly 192 players in the hall of fame based on their NBA careers and yet their was nearly universal disapproval and condemnation regarding his not getting in on his first ballot and the opposite when he did get in on his second try.
    Reggie Miller is a case of the numbers getting it very wrong for some of the same reasons why a per game regular season numbers debate gets it wrong about Isiah versus KJ even there.   Miller was at his best in 4th quarters and crunch time and like Isiah tried to figure out what the team needed from him from game to game in order to win.   KJ’s career never really allowed him to become as veteran savvy as Miller and Thomas became on the court because they understood that they could pace themselves and became better players for it.   KJ’s numbers are mostly like a very young Isiah and Miller were when they played balls out and had great individual seasons.  Both Thomas and Miller were actually better later in their careers when they learned how to let other people take some of the spotlight so they could finish off games and keep everyone happy.

    • Jul 30, 20129:37 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      “One of the best examples of how wrong numbers can be is Reggie Miller.”

      That is totally fair. This is a good example of numbers getting it wrong. According to the numbers, the site guesses that Miller had a relatively low shot of getting into the hall. However, his odds were actually really good it would seem if he made it just the second year he had the opportunity to do so.

      “According to the basketball reference site’s hall of fame probability numbers, Reggie Miller has the 192nd best chance of getting in and thus had the 192nd best career according to the site.”

      That is not even slightly accurate. HOF probability was never intended as a player ranker. If it were, one would think they could come up with a better title for it that implies as much–like all-time player rating or some such. That is the easy way to determine that your deduction of what HOF probability implies is wrong. The slightly more involved way is to actually read the site’s explanation for the “stat”. As they clearly explain, they look at variables that they think might influence probability of induction into the hall and observe the influence of each factor independently. Then they use that to guess who is most likely to get in. It is neither a ranking of all-time greatest players nor even a ranking for who they think is most deserving of HOF induction. It is a way of estimating who they think is most likely to get in–just from the numbers.

      • Jul 31, 20127:37 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        What a prig…..

        • Aug 1, 20127:28 am
          by tarsier

          Reply

          I’m a prig for pointing out that your claim about what a site is trying to say is completely different from what they claim they are trying to say?

          If I said player x was the 13th most sought after teammate for other players to want to play with, you claimed I was calling player x the 13th best player in the game, and someone else pointed out that you were severely misquoting me, would that person be a prig as well?

          • Aug 1, 20129:50 pm
            by Max

            You completely ignored the meat and intent of what I wrote to priggishly focus on a detail that was almost like a throwaway on my part and isn’t so far off anyway.   When I wrote, “and thus” I was clearly, as far as I was concerned, stating that a HOF probability monitor is like a gauge of who the NBA best players ever were in my interpretation, but you are right that the site does not state anything to the effect.   However, what is the metric if not a measure of who had the best NBA career with their stats, height (?) and accomplishments as the factors?  The point wasn’t a priggish one on my part at all since I was casting such a wide net.  The numbers say Reggie Miller is far from deserving according to the metric so I wasn’t using it to determine the players at the top where near delineation would be required.   A prig is someone who irritates by rigid adherence to narrow properties…………and I wasn’t severely misquoting anyone.

          • Aug 2, 201212:44 am
            by tarsier

            I ignored the intent of what you were saying? Did you read my first paragraph? I completely agreed with you. Then I just went on to point out that a detail you included was errant. It doesn’t invalidate your argument or take away from the fact that I had already agreed with your main point. I just wanted to point out your misconception because it bugs me when people essentially put words in others’ mouths.

            As for the primary difference between HOF probability and best player: besides the fact that HOF probability obviously only takes into account stats and only NBA stats at that, I believe, it is a predictor not a judge. This is like the difference between if I write a list of who I expect to be on the all-NBA first, second, and third teams and if I write a list of who I think should be on them. Most of the time, those two won’t be the same.

            I apologize if I came off as trying to dismiss your point on a technicality. I thought it was clear from my first paragraph that that was not my intent.

    • Jul 31, 20128:41 am
      by GarageTalk

      Reply

      Max I totally agree…Crunch factor is a major measurable IMO, being the best player on the court when the game is at its most critical moments Is what defines a career…Career Stats are of course important but I will always weigh heavly on the playoff stats when discussing “better than”…

      • Aug 1, 201212:05 pm
        by Scott Free

        Reply

        Good career stats are an excellent means to get one into the playoffs.  But theres a lot of good individual players in the playoffs with excellent numbers (especially in the eras of Isiah and KJ)… they can’t all win titles.  What wins championships is that ability to go beyond those numbers to control games.  Its what separates phenomenal players such as Isiah, Jordan, Bryant, ect from excellent players like KJ, Mark Price, & the Hardaways…  Well that and solid teams.

  • Jul 30, 20129:39 pm
    by ray

    Reply

    Great …Now who can I argue with, and say “Before there was Lebron James there was Grant Hill?”

    I would love a really good Grant Hill article showing why he was One of Kind…only just being replaced by Lebron

  • Jul 31, 201212:38 am
    by Lapin

    Reply

    I guess “The Eye Test” is a casualty of sabermetrics. I feel for all the poor scouts that are going to be out of jobs now that we can judge players on advanced stats alone. I think Mark Twain would have something to say about that…

    • Jul 31, 20128:32 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Why can’t it be both? That’s the problem right there, too many people believe it has to be one way or the other — all advanced stats or no advanced stats. In reality, it should be a hybrid of using both statistical analysis and common sense.

      • Jul 31, 20129:23 am
        by tarsier

        Reply

        Exactly, I am a huge supporter of stats like PER. But it is so frustrating because then people argue against it saying “player x has a higher PER than player y but player y is clearly the better player so PER is a total crock”. That would only be a valid argument if PER supporters held it up as some kind of infallible overall player ranker. But that is neither its purpose nor a claim that anyone makes except in strawman arguments.

        The eye test is still important but it also shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing tool. Numerous studies on Kobe’s crunch time shooting, for example, have shown how easily we can get things wrong with our eyes.

        Let’s use all the tools we have, realize that still isn’t perfect, but also know that it is a lot closer to perfect than going all in on one of the tools.

        • Jul 31, 201210:09 am
          by G

          Reply

          The main fallibility of PER is that it’s a rating of a player’s offensive efficiency. It all but ignores defense and doesn’t factor in a player’s role. For example, a big man that just grabs rebounds and scores off put backs and easy dishes will get a better PER than the guy who has to create his own offense.

          Stats are tools, but if they don’t back up what we see on the court, then we have to ask why. Why are Kevin Johnson’s regular season numbers better than Isiah’s? Well, the East was the tougher conference in those days, defenses were tougher in the East, and the Pistons played at a slower pace through their peak years. The first 5 years of Isiah’s career they played at a pace closer to what the Suns played. Then they slowed it down to focus on defense and Isiah’s numbers were a casualty.

          • Jul 31, 20122:21 pm
            by tarsier

            Heck, it’s not even really all about offensive efficiency because it misses all sorts of other things like picks set, balls tapped out, etc. PER is the best stat we have for rolling together an entire box score into a single number. but obviously, if it’s something that doesn’t make it into the box score (like off-ball movement or like quality of competition), that doesn’t get taken into account in PER. That’s why it is absurd that anyone would expect it to be able to function as a player ranker in and of itself.

            I agree with you wholeheartedly. Stats are where I will start most comparisons because they are relatively simple and completely objective. And if they agree with what we see, that’s basically it, case closed. But if they don’t, then it is time to try to figure out why.

      • Jul 31, 20121:49 pm
        by Lapin

        Reply

        It was more a facetious comment on Strauss’s argument. I don’t think advanced stats are total bullshit, but I do think they are being totally over-used by a lot of analysts and those dudes are really annoying. Moreover, I think that trying to use advanced stats to compare very different players (even though they played the same position) from different eras is just plain silly.

        • Jul 31, 20122:23 pm
          by tarsier

          Reply

          One could say that trying “to compare very different players (even though they played the same position) from different eras is just plain silly” in general. But the nature of sports is that people want to answer the question of was player x or player y better even though they played 30 years apart. So if, for some reason, someone wanted to compare such players, why wouldn’t you include advanced stats in that comparison?

          • Jul 31, 201211:59 pm
            by Lapin

            Actually, what I should have said was “solely on advanced stats”, which is what Strauss is doing. My bad for not being more concise. My PER on having conversations over message boards is terrible still.

          • Aug 1, 20127:22 am
            by tarsier

            No problem. I totally agree. And yeah, there are always communication issues on message boards.

      • Jul 31, 20128:45 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        @Patrick…..it can be both but the reason we are even having this conversation is because some whippersnapper, I’m just shy of 40 btw, who wasn’t around when KJ and Isiah is paying so much attention to his kind of stats that he actually thinks those two players should be brought up in the same breath.

  • Jul 31, 20129:11 am
    by G

    Reply

    I love advanced stats, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. If they did, I could make a pretty compelling argument that Adrian Dantley was a better player than Kobe Bryant (he wasn’t). When Simmons wrote the Book of Basketball, he watched a TON of old games to get a feel for the players, because looking at old stats doesn’t cover it.

    I love KJ, but he never took a game over like Isiah did in the ’88 Finals game 6, or in any of the games in the ’90 Finals. Plus, KJ was more like Steve Nash on defense. The argument that KJ led a better offense is less valid than bringing up Isiah’s championships, since both rely on the team. And for the record, those Piston teams had a much better offense than they get credit for, but they played at a much slower pace and in a more defensive-minded era.

  • Jul 31, 20129:30 am
    by G

    Reply

    I’ll go a step further – replace 26 year-old KJ on the ’93 Suns with the 26-year-old version of Isiah and the Suns get the title.

  • Jul 31, 20122:20 pm
    by Derek

    Reply

    KJ had the talent.  He was explosive. 

    KJ played with

    Charles Barkley (superstar)
    Tom Chambers (scoring machine)
    Richard Dumas (incredible talent, insatiable lover of the canabis)
    Dan Majerle (rugged all-around baller with limitless range)
    Cedric Ceballos (one of the most versatile scorers in the game)
    Danny Ainge (most annoying player ever!)
    Mark West (rugged inside defender)
    Oliver Miller (enigmatic talent with great potential and a greater appetite)
    Frank Johnson (solid back-up)
    Negele Knight (one of the best young back-up pgs at that time)

    No one back then would have argued that the Pistons had better personnel.

    Isiah did more when it counted the most. 

    • Jul 31, 20122:26 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      That’s a hilarious comment. I hope you’re not serious. Barkley is a legit Hall of Famer. Chambers, Ainge and Majerle were very good complimentary players. The rest of those guys were journeymen, early flameouts and players who never amounted to much. Negele Knight was one of the best backup PGs of all-time? Negele Knight?!

      • Jul 31, 20123:30 pm
        by G

        Reply

        Yeah, I wouldn’t say that depth was a strength of those Suns teams. Barkley was better than anybody Isiah ever lined up with though, and Chambers too (although he was well past his prime in ’93). Comparing the ’92-’93 Suns with the ’88-’89 Pistons, I’d rank the players like this:
        1. Barkley
        2. Isiah
        3. KJ
        4. Dumars
        5. Majerle
        6-9. Um, pretty much the rest of the Pistons starters and Mark Aguirre/Dantley
        10. Dumas
        11. Vinnie Johnson
        12. Ceballos
        13. Chambers

        I think Negele Knight would fall somewhere between Buddha Edwards & Darryl Dawkins on that list. Dude shot below 40%, I’d say there were better backup PG’s in ’93 (Greg Anthony, Dee Brown, Terrell Brandon, Dana Barros, Rod Strickland, etc.).

      • Jul 31, 20125:15 pm
        by tarsier

        Reply

        There was a solid but not phenomenal team around KJ. But in fairness to Derek, he did say Knight was one of the best young backup PGs at the time, not one of the best backup PGs of all time. So not only does that mean he is only being compared to other backup PGs then, he is only being compared to the younger ones. It is not that high of praise to say he was one of the best of a group of maybe 20 or so guys.

        • Jul 31, 20125:29 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          I know, corrected that below. I mis-read the first time.

          But it’s still a stretch to say that Knight was even one of the best young backup PGs at the time. As G pointed out, that group at the time included really good players — Barros, Strickland, Brandon, Dee Brown, Greg Anthony, Rummeal Robinson, Bimbo Coles, Brian Shaw, Robert Pack, Gary Grant and Randy Brown were all backups, all still relatively young and all better than Knight. Hell, Knight wasn’t even a backup on that team, he was third string behind KJ and Frank Johnson.

          • Jul 31, 20127:15 pm
            by tarsier

            I noticed as much after I’d made my comment. I guess I should probably finish out the string before harping in.

  • Jul 31, 20123:21 pm
    by Derek

    Reply

    Patrick read my comment again.  I didn’t say Negele Knight was the best of all time.
    Dumas was a possible star who couldn’t win the battle against drugs.
    Miller was a possible star who didn’t win the battle against food.
    West was a physical defender and rebounder with limited offensive skills.
     

    • Jul 31, 20123:24 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      My fault, misread that.

      Regardless, though, that team did not have better personnel than Isiah’s Pistons teams. No one thought that at the time and no one would think that now.

      • Jul 31, 20124:06 pm
        by Derek

        Reply

        Well I could go back forth and say “they did”.  I’ll just leave at the Phoenix Suns were a really strong team that ran through the league and through a strong Western Conference. 

        They were widely favored to win.

  • Jul 31, 20123:23 pm
    by Derek

    Reply

    Keep in mind that ’93 Phoenix team was FAVORED to beat the Bulls.  That wouldn’t have been the case if they were just a bunch of bums. 

    KJ had the personnel to win. 

    Isiah did more when it counted the most.

    • Jul 31, 20123:27 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Isiah played with three other Hall of Fame players, for a Hall of Fame coach and with two other players in Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer who would’ve been starters on that Phoenix team.

      I am not arguing that Johnson was better than Thomas, but the personnel thing doesn’t hold. Thomas was the better player, but he also played on far better teams than Johnson did.

      • Jul 31, 20127:53 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        The Pistons were much better better because the Suns couldn’t muster nearly as good play at center or on defense.   That said, Isiah was the only essential cog in any given series as VJ could finish games for Dumars and could possibly have filled in if he got hurt,  They one title with Rodman hurt.  They could never have won anything with Thomas down.
        The Suns depth was such that they could never have gone anywhere without Barkley or KJ, Personally, I would put Isiah and Barkley on the same tier and Dumars and KJ two tiers down together.
        Slam magazine’s top 500, which they put out last year, ranks Isiah 19th all time and Barkley 20th, Rodman is 48th, Dumars is 78th and KJ is 102nd but I always thought KJ was underrated.  Still, pretty ludicrous to even mention Isiah from an all time perspective as a comparison.

      • Aug 1, 201212:17 am
        by Lapin

        Reply

        If I remember right most of KJ’s statically best years were pre-charles. The run-and-run KJ, Hornacek, Chambers, Majerle Suns. They were way better than the Piston on Temco Basketball on SNES.

  • Jul 31, 20124:09 pm
    by BIGMARV

    Reply

    How many 8 balls they smoked? Im not even gonna discuss this. Kevin Johnson couldnt even hold Isiah’s Jock strap on a good day. The national media hate on Zeke too much because hes not the good ol’boy like Magic or Bird and he beat up on the NBA’s money making son Michael Jeffery Jordan. If it aint pippen its the dream team hating on him, if it aint the dream team its the media, if it aint the the media its his own former peers in the league. Leave him alone every time people talk about Isiah its not about his hall of fame carrer its always about how he messed up the Knicks. Respect this hall of famer champion just like we respect the others, we even put the players that didnt even win the ring on a higher step makes no damn sense.

    • Jul 31, 20125:18 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      I doubt Thomas actually cost Jordan any championships. When the Pistons were beating the Bulls, I don’t think the Bulls would have gotten past the Celtics anyway. But of course that is pure speculation.

      • Jul 31, 20127:58 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        He couldn’t have run into the Celtics in the finals.  Don’t think Jordan would have won his first ring in 90 against the Blazers?  Isiah cost Jordan at least one ring there by my count.

        • Jul 31, 20129:38 pm
          by tarsier

          Reply

          Yeah, you’re right, I was mixing up my years. Whether the Bulls would have beat the Lakers/Blazers is purely speculative. but they would have had a good shot against either.

  • Jul 31, 20124:15 pm
    by Derek

    Reply

    Thomas was better.  We can agree on that.

    Phoenix Suns team back in 92-93 had the best record in the NBA during a time win Jordan’s Bulls were dominate.  They were regarded as a pretty stacked team.

    When my beloved Pistons were winning, they didn’t have the most talented team.  They were simply the toughest and smartest with great mixture of skill and a heavy mixture of grit.

    The personnel argument holds, you just simply don’t agree.  I think that’s a more accurate statement.

    • Jul 31, 20124:43 pm
      by G

      Reply

      Look at those Piston teams again before you write them off. Barkley, KJ and Majerle were the Suns big 3, but they didn’t go very deep. The Pistons lacked the star power other than Isiah, but they had 4 guys that would’ve started at center ahead of Oliver Miller. Dumars was better than Majerle, and Rodman was better than Dumas.

      Don’t get it twisted, Isiah was better, be he also had a better all-around team.

    • Jul 31, 20124:44 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Let’s pretend for a second Phoenix had more talent in 92-93. They didn’t, but we’ll go with it.

      Basically, it was assembled for a very short amount of time. Dumas and Oliver Miller were promising and both flamed out relatively quickly. Chambers was gone after that 92-93 season. Ceballos was gone after 93-94. So that team had, what?, a two-year window at title contention?

      Not only did Thomas have teammates that had much better careers than every guy you listed save for Barkley and maybe Chambers, he played on a team that was a championship contender for five straight years. You are severely, severely underselling the talent on those Pistons teams. Seriously … we’re talking about Ced Ceballos, Richard Dumas, Mark West as comparable talent to what the Bad Boys Pistons had?

      • Jul 31, 20125:00 pm
        by G

        Reply

        Plus Chambers was 33 at the time and just about done, Ainge was also 33 (and looked 43) and just about done… Oliver Miller averaged less than 5 rebounds a game! They had some scorers, but they didn’t do much else and it cost them vs. the Bulls. Keep in mind, it was pretty trendy to pick against the Bulls in ’93. They’d won the last 2 titles, and people were getting bored by Jordan winning. Barkley won the MVP that year even though Jordan had the better year.

      • Aug 1, 201212:31 am
        by Lapin

        Reply

        What about the talent that Isiah had around him earlier in his career? KJ was still really young on the Suns teams you’re mentioning. I’m not arguing I’m asking a legitimate question here. I didn’t get really into following the Pistons until Dantley time.

  • Jul 31, 20125:08 pm
    by Derek

    Reply

    We don’t have to pretend, they actually did have more talent.
    They were together for a short period of time.  I have already spoken to the flaming out of Miller and Dumas.
    I don’t mean to cast the Bad Boys, my favorite team ever, in scrubby light.  That’s not my intent.  I’m just attempting to make the point that Isiah led his troops against the odds.
    KJ led a favored team into underachieving against a Jordan team they could have beaten.
    When the momement was big, KJ was smaller than his stated size, while Zeke was a little big man in a game made for giants.
    That being said I absolutely loved
    Zeke
    Dumars
    Vinne Johnson
    Laimbeer
    Mahorn
    James Edwards
    John Salley
    Dennis Rodman
    Adrian Dantley
    Mark Aguirre
    Sidney Green
    Fennis Dembo
    Michael Williams
    Scott Hastings
    David Greenwood
    Kelly Tripucka
    John Long
    They were my dudes
     
     
     

    • Aug 1, 20122:34 pm
      by Scott Free

      Reply

      The Suns had more individual talent, the Pistons functioned better as a team.

  • Jul 31, 20126:08 pm
    by Kevin P

    Reply

    Trying to put KJ in the same category with Zeke is a terrible JOKE, and a waste of time.  There is absolutely no comparison.  Isaiah Thomas is really in a category of his own just like MJ.  No one has come into the league that can compare to him, and not even Chris Paul.  What set Zeke, MJ, and Bird apart from the rest of the pack was not only were they tremendously talented, they were Fierce competitors.  End of story.

    • Jul 31, 20127:18 pm
      by tarsier

      Reply

      How does that set them apart from the likes of Olajuwon, Paul, Duncan, Stockton, or Russel to name a few?

      • Jul 31, 20128:29 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        I’ll give you Russell.   Zeke, MJ, Bird and Russell were vicious killers who wanted to destroy their opponents.   Stockton actually did have some of those characteristics but he lacked the alpha dog gene and shot himself in the foot by not being willing to be shoot enough,  Russell knew better and Zeke, Bird and Jordan would never allow that to happen.  Olajuwon and Duncan are too nice to class with those Kevin P named.  They are gentlemen and only hate the opponents who wrong them and for whom them feel personal dislike.   Zeke, MG, Bird and Russell hated their opponents universally and when they were acting like their friends, they were playing the Godfather’s game of keeping their enemies closer.   There is a major difference between having a great competitive streak and work ethic like Olajuwon and Duncan while remaining balanced individuals and being like an Isiah or Jordan, or Tiger Woods when he was right, where they just have to prove over and over and over that they are the best and winning and adulation is never enough.   The difference since you ask is that Jordan, Russel, Bird and Isiah were practically psychopaths about not losing.  There are other players like them but Duncan and Olajuwon are more congenial.  Kevin McHale was one of the greatest players ever and some put in the top 3-5 power forwards ever.  Larry Bird has gone on record that Dennis Johnson was the best player he ever played with though and the reason seems simple enough to me.   McHale is congenial, he’s balanced and lets things roll off his back.  Even though McHale brought it on the court and was tough as anyone—his career ended partially due to playing while injured throughout a playoff run–that wasn’t enough for Bird and DJ was more like him; serious as an executioner, on point and cold blooded.  McHale was a nice guy, like Duncan.

        • Jul 31, 20129:41 pm
          by tarsier

          Reply

          You don’t have to hate your opponent to be an all-time fierce competitor. Duncan and Paul are the perfect examples there. Do you really think any amount of emotion could push them any further than they push themselves?

          • Aug 1, 20126:42 am
            by Max

            It could certainly make them more intimidating, both for their opponents and teammates.  Do Paul’s teammates fear him to the extent that they keep things all business all the time?  Clearly not by my count.  Jordan was never his teammates friends and he treated them all like whipping boys; reaming them out at every opportunity.  Isiah broke his fist on Laimbeer’s face in practice.   Garnett did the same thing without breaking his hand to Wally world.  Times are different but Garnett still proves there is big time value in treating all of your opponents like the enemy but Paul is everybody’s friend.  Don’t you think opponents are more afraid of players like Jordan and Isiah who wanted to embarrass everyone and rip out their hearts?  Don’t you think they are more thrown off their game by a relentless trash talker like KG does everything he can to make them dislike him?

          • Aug 1, 20127:19 am
            by tarsier

            I could be wrong but honestly, no, I don’t. If people make it this far in sports, they are familiar with rivalries and bad blood and all of that. I am certain you are right that some players are cowed by people so aggressive. And others respond by fighting back all the harder. It’s much like putting an “energy guy” on the court. Some players will be reminded of how tired they are by watching him fly all over the place. Others will push through it to keep up with him.

            It seems to me that it should be particularly obvious that this is true as you were referencing basically the same behavior with MJ’s (or KG’s or Zeke’s) teammates and opponents. You can’t just assume that it will affect all of his teammates in one way and all his opponents in the opposite manner.

            On the balance, I don’t know whether the nastiness will positively or negatively affect others’ performance. But I am guessing the majority of players are mostly unaffected. And again, if there were just those few players like that, it would seem not to really influence winning much. Being nasty might be how some people get themselves to their aspirations. Being friendly is how others do it. Taking themselves out of it and just being calm is how others do it. But there is plenty of evidence to support that there is not a standard “champion personality”.

        • Aug 1, 201210:02 pm
          by Max

          Reply

          I don’t know how to convince you but everyone who played Jordan, with a few exceptions, were terrified of him and it was both a measure of his greatness and a big asset.    This was not about standard champion personality but who were the fiercest of competitors.  I’d take Duncan’s personality over the alpha cold blooded killer one any day because things would be more harmonious but notice Duncan never won two in a row.
          To finish up, Paul doesn’t compare as a fierce competitor with John Stockton because he never punches a big in the solar plexus when they are not ready for it as the run down the court like Stockton did a few dozen times.   Once players knew he would do it when they and the refs weren’t looking, they had to pay attention to him all the time.   He was like a little Laimbeer and they don’t come fiercer.  Paul is like a ballet dancer compared to Stockton.

    • Jul 31, 20129:55 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      @Kevin P:

      I like Isaiah Thomas, but he’s only been in the league for one year. I think it’s a little too early to compare him to MJ yet.

  • Aug 1, 20128:04 am
    by ryan

    Reply

    The all time point guard list (as far as I’m concerned) goes like this.
    1 Oscar Robertson-probably the best all around player ever.
    2 Earvin Johnson-42, 15 and 7.
    3 Isiah Thomas-talented and ruthless.
    4 John Stockton-consistently excellent the downside of his career would be enough by itself to get onto a hall of fame ballot.
    5 Chris Paul-even though I can’t stand the Clippers.

    • Aug 1, 20122:08 pm
      by G

      Reply

      I agree with that top 5, maybe not in that order. I think the next five, in some order, have to be Jason Kidd, Nash, Tiny Archibald, KJ and either Cousy or Payton.

      • Aug 1, 20123:23 pm
        by tarsier

        Reply

        I’m not sure Paul belongs int he top 5 yet. Although he certainly will by the time his career is over. But by then D-Will, Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, and maybe one or two others will be making solid cases for the top ten too. And then there’s also Parker, Billups, and Iverson. We really are in a golden age of PGs.

      • Aug 1, 201210:10 pm
        by Max

        Reply

        TOP 10 PGs
        1. Magic Johnson
        2. Oscar Robertson
        3. Jerry West – put up the assists, handled the ball and was of a height that he’d mostly likely play the spot in any era that didn’t just call them guards.
        4. Isiah Thomas
        5. Bob Cousy
        6. Walt Frazier
        7. Jason Kidd
        8. Gary Payton – Watch Payton in his prime versus Stockton in his prime and tell me you are picking Stockon.  Pull out the archives, I dare you.
        9. John Stockton
        10. Chris Paul — I can see him getting past Kidd, Payton and Stockton but not the top 6 and Rose, Rondo, Westbrook and the like will never crack the top 10.

        • Aug 2, 201212:55 am
          by tarsier

          Reply

          Frazier is much too high. Stockton is much too low. And I certainly don’t expect that Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, and Williams will all be in the top 10. But I’m betting at least one of them makes it and at least one more is debatable/on the cusp (which is pretty much the same as what I said earlier: “making solid cases for the top ten”).

          Payton in his prime may have been better than Stockton in his. May have been, mind you, not definitely was. But longevity has to count for something. And Stockton’s prime lasted forever.

          • Aug 2, 20122:29 am
            by Max

            Frazier is the only player other than Isiah that deserves the lion share for all of his titles as the team’s best player.   He’s underrated as he would have gotten a lot more assists by the way they later tracked them and he’s probably the second best defensive guard in the whole top 10.  He’s also a player who stepped up under presure, had great size, was a complete and had no weaknesses.   Why exactly do you say I ranked him too high.  Slam Mag named him 36 overall in their top 500 all time and placed him between Kidd and Payton amongst point guards.

          • Aug 2, 20124:28 pm
            by Max

            Also, on Stockton versus Payton.  I get the longevity issue but winning needs to count for something too and the Sonic Jazz series in the 90s seemed like decisive knockout blows for Payton in my mind regarding who was the better player.   People used to debate who was better between Olajuwon and Robinson and many were so blind that Robinson won MVP.  Well, no one ever had the debate again when Olajuwon smoked Robinson in the playoffs and ended the argument for all time.   Longevity had nothing to do with it.  Once they met in the playoffs and Olajuwon absolutely dominated him, it was over.  That is how I feel about Payton because he dominated Stockton with his size and athleticism, took him out of his game, constantly trapped him and made him give up the ball.  Having seen it, I could never say Stockton was better than Payton.

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