February 19, 2020, 5:57 pm
Thought we’d have a little fun this week since it’s been the All-Star break. It’s all name brand players this time around. In fact, we’re only going to check out the namiest of name brand guys here. Let’s compare some of the greatest fantasy players of all time.
I love going back in fantasy basketball history to see how the rankings shook out (or would have shaken out had people been playing fantasy in the sixties, seventies and eighties). Everything I’m using today comes from Basketball Monster’s awesome Historical Rankings section. It’s a player rater for every single NBA season back to George Mikan and Bob Cousy finishing just behind Paul Arizin for the top spot in the 1951-52 season.
Can we definitively determine the fantasy GOAT? Probably not without some gray area, but let’s see what we can do. I decided to focus on the relatively modern NBA, mainly because steals and blocks weren’t officially tracked until the season after Wilt Chamberlain retired in 1972-73. Then the turnover stat showed up in 1977-78. And 3-pointers weren’t a part of the NBA game until Larry Bird and Magic Johnson’s rookie season of 1979-80. So I’ve selected a handful of huge names in reality and fantasy from the last four decades as potential candidates for best fantasy career. But I couldn’t leave some of the early greats out, so you’ll see three of them with their incomplete fantasy values.
The rating method I’m using is the 9-category total player rater value by season, so games played have a big impact. I normally make most of my decisions based on per-game values and rankings, but totals will tell us more about how much fantasy value was actually produced during these careers.
I’m adding up each season’s total values, so longevity helps here. That means that even though he played for four seasons before he got credit for his great steals and elite blocks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will be near the top. And poor Wilt will be without some of the craziest blocks and steals numbers ever seen (there are some unofficial defensive stats out there for him that are mind-boggling).
Aside from the missing stats, GOAT debates are often derailed by issues with comparing eras. That’s not much of a problem with this method, since a player rater value shows how great a player was relative to the rest of the league in that season. One issue, though, is that when players missed the majority of a season, their total player rater value was negative. And since players get a score of zero when they sit out a whole year, be it for Kevin Durant’s injury this season or Michael Jordan playing some minor league baseball, I thought it would make more sense to remove the negative values when adding up total career fantasy value. In doing that, of course, I am rescuing a couple of these guys (like Kobe and Jordan) from bad, relatively complete seasons when their careers were winding down in which they produced negative fantasy value while healthy.
One last issue is that when I use this season’s values (in italics), they’re inflated since they’re scored as though it’s already been a full season. These numbers assume that these four guys will continue on a similar games-played pace. The method isn’t without it’s flaws, but it’s still fun to line up and add up the numbers.
Just one more thing before I get to the 12 players I selected for this exercise. Here are some honorable mentions, players that have had (or nearly had) multiple seasons atop the 9-cat total fantasy value rankings:
Back in the fifties, Neil Johnston finished first three times and Dolph Schayes did it twice. Dr. J, Julius Erving, was the best player twice in the seventies. The nineties saw David Robinson do it twice and Hakeem Olajuwon nearly completed that feat, topping the list once with some second place finishes. Kevin Garnett did the same shortly after that. Shawn Marion had a three-peat, and now Anthony Davis has one title with a chance at plenty more.
And back to the old days, there are certainly many more players that would make this leader board, like Elgin Bayor and Jerry West, but I decided to keep it to just three of the most well-known stat-producing old-timers. I’ve included the number of first place finishes for each of these 12 players, as well:
So here are all the fantasy value season totals sorted by age for the best of the best. I’m considering the modern era to start at Bird, for our purposes at least, since his career and those after it had the same set of recorded stat categories. But check out those greens in the old-timers’ rows. What does this mean? Why does Oscar have a 3.19 when Jordan peaked at 1.54? That means that even though Jordan finished first in many of his seasons, Oscar and Wit and Kareem weren’t just better than the rest of the league in their time. They were significant outliers.
For the next table, I kept a running total of the player rater values for each career so we could see who had gathered the most value by each age. I like being able to see the current players’ pace so we have an idea of where they might end up before they retire. Final/current career value is also next to the players’ names.
Of the modern players, Jordan definitely did the most damage per-season. LeBron could catch him, but he’s already played far more games. Then again, it’s not his fault MJ retired twice for a total of four and a half seasons. Depending on how Kevin Durant looks when he returns next season, he still has a chance to be the modern champion as well. And then there’s Oscar Robertson…
We’ll keep doing our best here to help you identify the next contender for fantasy GOAT. Maybe we’ll see Luka Doncic or Zion Williamson on the list someday. They’re certainly starting young enough to compile a ton of stats. Enjoy the resumption of the season, friends.