Just a decade ago, those stats would’ve been gibberish to basketball fans and media members. Now, they’re everywhere.
Sites like Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com’s statistics page are a treasure trove for these numbers, and they’ve greatly helped us determine a given player’s worth beyond his raw stats. These numbers aren’t perfect, of course, and the eye test is needed to confirm and reject what the data says.
But today, it’s time to scrutinize some of the players of yesteryear by these newer stats.
Specifically, we’ll look at guys who would’ve benefited from playing in an era where advanced stats were commonplace. They may have been stars during their career, or they may have been role players — either way, their reputation would’ve improved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all of the following advanced statistics used are from Basketball-Reference.com. Here’s a glossary that explains each one.
Steve Kerr – 1988-2003 (Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers)
Career per-game stats: 17.8 minutes, 6.0 points, 1.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks
Key career advanced stats: 59.3 true shooting percentage, 0.140 win shares per 48 minutes, 122 offensive rating
There’s NO way a player of Steve Kerr‘s skill set plays only 17.8 minutes per game nowadays. He’s too dangerous of a catch-and-shoot three-point shooter for that.
Kerr’s best year came in the Chicago Bulls’ record-breaking 72-10 season. In just 22.7 minutes per game off the bench, the spiky-haired sniper nailed 1.5 three-pointers on 51.5 percent from downtown and averaged 8.4 points. Not only that, he had the league’s lowest turnover percentage (7.5) and sported an impressive 4.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Had he not just missed the qualifying standard, his insane offensive rating (141) would’ve led the league by a country mile.
Simply put, Kerr’s teams relied on him for top-notch three-point shooting and mistake-free play.
I don’t know about you, but his skill set reminds me of the Atlanta Hawks’ Kyle Korver. Korver thrived in 2014-15 as the Hawks’ No. 4 offensive option, but his shooting ability forced opponents to defend him like a superstar. Atlanta rode his elite skill for 32.2 minutes per night, and the shooting guard reaped the rewards with an appearance in the All-Star Game.
Kerr may not have ever made the midseason classic had advanced stats been around in his day, but his teams definitely would’ve milked his shooting ability for all it was worth with more specially-designed plays. And they definitely would’ve played him more than 17.8 minutes per game.
Bo Outlaw – 1993-2008 (Los Angeles Clippers, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies)
Career per-game stats: 22.7 minutes, 5.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.3 blocks
Key career advanced stats: 4.0 defensive box plus-minus, 28.4 value over replacement player, 57.2 true shooting percentage
In his prime, Bo Outlaw was a great contributor in every aspect of the game except for points, although he was an extremely efficient basket-maker when he shot (56.7 percent shooting for his career).
Unfortunately for him, points per game was a chief means of determining a player’s value during his era.
Outlaw was a talented, but also extremely underrated, defender. That was partly because there was no way to quantify defense outside of steals and blocks in the ’90s, but also because none of his teams ever made it past the first round of the playoffs. The exposure just wasn’t there.
Three times during his career, Outlaw led the league in defensive box plus-minus. That’s only been done by five other men in league history: George Johnson, Mark Eaton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Ben Wallace and Marcus Camby. Considering all five of those guys were also three-time (or more) shot-blocking leaders, they got considerable acclaim during their playing days for defense.
The 6’8″, 210-pound (although he put on muscle throughout his career) Bo was just an athletic freak who played with passion and hustled everywhere, frustrating opponents of all positions:
You can try and convince me a young Bo Outlaw wouldn’t be a max contract candidate if he were a free agent this summer. But you’d fail.
Dennis Rodman – 1986-2000 (Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks)
Career per-game stats: 20.8 minutes, 7.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks
Key career advanced stats: 23.4 rebound percentage, 54.5 total defensive win shares, 0.150 win shares per 48 minutes
Dennis Rodman was a more maniacal version of Bo Outlaw, only instead of just being pretty good on the glass, he was the best rebounder in NBA history and had the good fortune of playing on some amazing teams.
The fact that Tristan Thompson gets compared to Rodman is hilarious to me. For all of the foaming at the mouth people went through over the Cavs big man’s rebounding ability during the playoffs this spring, Rodman was still far, far better at corralling missed shots. He gobbled up 23.4 percent of available rebounds during his 14-season career, compared to 16.7 for Thompson. Thompson’s best season in that regard (17.5 percent in 2012-13) was a lower number than every one of Rodman’s seasons except The Worm’s rookie campaign. Rodman regularly grabbed close to six offensive boards per game during his prime, and Thompson’s never reached four.
Dennis was also a perennial All-Defensive Team selection during his prime with the Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. Thompson is pretty good on that end, but not close to being one of the 10 best defenders in the league.
Okay, rant over. I don’t hate Thompson as a player, it’s just annoying that he thinks of himself a max-level player and people compare him to Rodman.
Dennis, a five-time NBA champion, got his respect as a Hall of Famer, but he would’ve been seen as even better if people knew the importance of elite offensive and defensive rebounding.
Brent Barry – 1995-2009 (Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Seattle SuperSonics, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets)
Career per-game stats: 25.9 minutes, 9.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.6 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks
Key career advanced stats: 60.7 true shooting percentage, 0.143 win shares per 48 minutes, 27.2 value over replacement player
It’s hard to come up with a good comparison for Brent Barry in today’s NBA. Not many players have Barry’s combination of excellent athleticism, elite three-point shooting ability and passing fancy.
He wasn’t a guy who could carry an offense, but as a secondary ball-handler and spot-up shooter, he was perfect. Once a team finally gave him some leash to work with (like Nate McMillan’s Seattle SuperSonics did in 2001-02), Barry came through with a monster season.
His 12.1 win shares that year ranked ninth in the league, behind only Tim Duncan, Elton Brand, Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O’Neal, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and teammate Gary Payton, all superstars in their day.
In 2004, once he finally joined a contending team in the San Antonio Spurs, his athleticism had waned significantly, but he was as deadly a long-range sniper as ever. Barry was a key role player in two Spurs championships.
With today’s emphasis on the three-point shot both from the offense and defense, it would’ve been cool to see prime Barry get a featured role in a Golden State Warriors-like offense. He would’ve been amazing attacking closeouts and probably could’ve put up around 18 points and seven assists per game.
David Robinson – 1989-2003 (San Antonio Spurs)
Career per-game stats: 34.7 minutes, 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 3.0 blocks
Key career advanced stats: 26.2 PER, 0.250 win shares per 48 minutes, 7.4 box plus-minus
Was David Robinson a superstar in the 1990s? Yes. But would most NBA fans scoff if you suggested he might have an argument as a top 10 player of all time? Also yes.
Narratives held weight over stats in The Admiral’s career, and that’s why the prevailing perception around David was that he was talented, but didn’t have a will to win because he was out-dueled by Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1995 playoffs and didn’t win an NBA title until Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich came around:
Never mind that Robinson was still 32-14 against Olajuwon for their careers (including that one fateful playoff series) and put up much more efficient stats in their matchups. David’s statistics, both basic and advanced, showed him to be the more impactful player.
And what about Robinson’s five seasons leading the NBA in win shares per 48 minutes? Another six pacing the league in box plus-minus? Those accolades can only be achieved by a truly special talent.
Indeed, the Admiral’s game was a thing of beauty. He wasn’t as crafty as Olajuwon in the post, but he was still efficient down low and just as terrifying of a rim protector as the Nigerian center. His speed and leaping ability as a 7’1″ big man was amazing to behold:
You can call Olajuwon or Shaquille O’Neal the top center of the 1990s, but Robinson has to be a very close second or third and a top 20 player on your all-time list.
Marcus Camby – 1996-2013 (Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets)
Career per-game stats: 29.5 minutes, 9.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.4 blocks
Key career advanced stats: 81.6 total win shares, 4.0 defensive box plus-minus, 35.6 value over replacement player
One of the bigger misconceptions in recent history is that Marcus Camby was a total bust as the No. 2 pick of the 1996 NBA Draft.
Yes, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Ray Allen were all drafted after Camby, but the 17-season career the big man had with six teams was a fantastic one. His total career win shares ranked a solid sixth in possibly the best draft class in league history, ahead of more decorated players like Stephon Marbury, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Jermaine O’Neal, Derek Fisher and Antoine Walker. His value over replacement player actually slots him fourth, leapfrogging him over Nash and Peja Stojakovic.
What Camby provided throughout his career was some of the league’s best rebounding and rim protection. His defensive box plus-minus led the league an amazing five times, and he did win a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007, but he somehow never made an All-Star team.
With all the stats we have access to now, I assume Camby would’ve garnered at least one All-Star selection if he started his career 15 years later.
Donyell Marshall – 1994-2009 (Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Seattle SuperSonics, Philadelphia 76ers)
Career per-game stats: 26.2 minutes, 11.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks
Key career advanced stats: 16.8 PER, 0.113 win shares per 48 minutes, 19.1 value over replacement player
To be clear, the first half of Donyell Marshall‘s career wasn’t impressive from an advanced stats perspective at all. He fired away from the field for bad teams (predominantly the Golden State Warriors) and didn’t find his defensive stride until later.
However, when the athletic, energetic forward went to the Utah Jazz in 2000, he was a great fit. Not only did he start using his long, 6’10” frame better on defense, but he thrived having a clear role as the team’s No. 3 option after Karl Malone and John Stockton.
From then on, as his athleticism starting leaving him, he developed a deadly three-point shot to become one of the league’s premier stretch 4s. And I mean deadly, by the way:
In the era of advanced stats, does Marshall spend more time developing his three-point shot earlier in his career? Probably. With that in his bag of tricks, along with the above-average athleticism, defense, rebounding and inside touch he possessed before getting super old, what would stop him from becoming a legitimate star player?