Three Degrees to Michael Jordan: The Ultimate NBA Stats Game

Published: May 25, 2010

So the other day I was poking around the Hornets season stats, and noticed just how amazing Thornton had been this season with his turnover rate. I dug a little longer and found out that he had the lowest rate of any qualified guard in the entire league.  Considering the amount of time he’s moving and slashing, that’s a pretty crazy stat. 

So . . . I pinged John Hollinger and asked him if he knew of any other players who had put up similar numbers while shooting as much as he did.  He directed me to’s Player Season Finder, where he had found quite a  number of players who had posted similar numbers.(though only one rookie!)  That, of course, started me playing with the tool, and I  quickly put together Marcus’ three best stats into a query that told me that there have only been four players in the history of the NBA who have put together seasons with 100 made threes, a Turnover Rate under 7.5%, and a Usage Rate over 25%:  Marcus Thornton, Antawn Jamison,  Michael Redd, and . . . Michael Jordan – and Thornton was the only one who did it in his rookie year!

That set me to giggling.  The Rookie of the Year award had recently been given out, and I’d been bombarded with the oft-repeated stat that Tyreke Evans had just joined LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Oscar Robertson as the only rookies to ever average 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game.  You see, though I like comparisons, comparing Tyreke’s 20.1, 5.3 and 5.8 to Jordan’s 28.2, 6.5, and 5.9 or Robertson’s 30.5, 10.1, and 9.7  – has always made me chuckle.  Just those numbers aside – it completely disregards the quality of all the other stats a player produced over a season.

Still, it’s a common thing.  Every time a guard or swingman does something spectacular in a game – or posts a few high numbers in a season, comparisons are drawn between them and, of course, Michael Jordan.  Database queries are then run that seem to prove those wild claims, but here’s the rub – Michael Jordan was extraordinary in every category.  Even with assists, blocks and rebounds, the domain of big men and point guards, he was extraordinary for his position.  Michael Jordan is the NBA Stats equivalent of Rome – all roads lead to him.

In fact, to tie a player to Jordan and a couple other greats, all you really need is a player’s best three stats from a semi-solid season.  Let’s take Julian Wright, someone whom we can all agree has never reached his true potential.(to put it mildly)  Well, Julian Wright is part of a very select list of players: He is one of only four swingmen aged 21 or younger who posted a True Shooting Percentage of 58% or higher while registering steals on 2% or more or their defensive posessions and blocks on 1% or more of their defensive posessions.  The other swingmen?  James Worthy, Andre Igoudala and, you guessed it,  Michael Jordan.

Not enough?  Let’s go with Morris Peterson.  In his last year in Toronto, he posted a season that made him one of only four players EVER to post a True Shooting Percentage of 55% or higher, a Turnover Percentage 8.5% or lower, and a Rebound Rate higher than 9.2%.  The other players?  Shawn Marion, Dominique Wilkins, and . . . wait for it . . . Michael Jordan!  Makes him definitely worth every penny of that $24 million contract, right?

That is really all it takes.  Three degrees of measurement, a complete Basketball Stats Database – and you can get to Michael Jordan and a short list of “other” guys.  I guess there is more in common between Michael Jordan and Kevin Bacon than those creepy Hanes underwear ads.

Oh – I should note this:  Hilton Armstrong?  No matter how hard I tried(and believe me, I tried) I couldn’t tie him to Jordan.  He must be at least four degrees away.  Or more.


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