Over the last couple seasons, I’ve noticed that the opinion held by many NBA fans/analysts/etc. is that the league is currently in a golden age of point guards while the traditional dominant centers of yesterdecade are becoming an endangered species.
Additionally, other assumptions I’ve heard thrown around is that the league has little to no depth of quality wing players and this is why Gordon Hayward should be in the conversation as one of the top small forwards in the league (a big fish in a small pond type of scenario).
Well, I set out to try to quantify these and other opinions by determining how to tell if this is a golden age of point guards as well if good wings are becoming rare. I went through a few stat choices and settled on win shares for this analysis. If you loathe the win share stat for any reason, you should probably stop reading now as this is the basis of what this study gets its results from. I find it as a decent (not perfect by any means) one-size-fits-all stat that solidly conveys a quantifiable value of how much a player contributed in a given season.
I did a 30-year analysis (1986-2015 NBA seasons) and took the top 300 players in the league by win shares each season and did some simple analysis. I also focused on separating the players by their position according to basketball-reference.com.
Some context for win shares for those who are interested, achieving at least 10 win shares in a season is a solid feat and would place a player in the all-NBA conversation as only about 15 or so players achieve this in any given season. 5-9.9 win shares is a range where the next 75 or so players get grouped in and appropriately are usually comprised of players who are a top 3 player for their given teams. 3-4.9 win shares is the range for the next 80 or so players and typically is comprised of the rest of the starting lineup as well as your sixth men type players.
Prepare to feast your eyes on some of the findings that were made in this study.
Here is a look of the best of the best each season with each line representing the best at that position each season according to their win share value and the player who was the complete top of the league in that season has their head gracefully placed on the chart.
Some things to note from this graph:
Michael Jordan was extremely dominant for an unusually long time, many people consider him the best player of all time for this and many other reasons.
LeBron James is the closest thing we have gotten to a player who just straight-up dominates year-in and year-out since then.
Superstar Point Guards are rare.
Karl Malone was the best player in the league for 2 seasons!
Since Michael Jordan’s departure from the Bulls, the shooting guard position has been the weakest in terms of the best player at each position. Maybe Kobe is not as good of a player as the media and Laker fans would like us to believe.
I then went on to try to determine depth of the players at each position and compiled average win shares of the top 5, 10, 30, 50, etc. I settled on 10 having the most meaning for this discussion. Somebody in the top 10 for their position should be a top 50 player in the league if all positions were created equally. Let’s take a look at the averages:
I added some blue and purple areas to emphasize when a position was notably strong or weak in a given year.
There are quite a few interesting takeaways from this chart:
Power Forward is consistently one of the deepest positions (talent-wise) in the NBA.
Small Forward is consistently one of the shallowest positions.
1998-2006 was an incredible era of power forward domination in the league. The climax in 2006 with the highest average of any in this 30-year span was comprised of the following 10 power forwards: Dirk Nowitzki (17.7 win shares), Kevin Garnett (14.9), Elton Brand (14.8), Shawn Marion (14.6), Pau Gasol (12.0), Tim Duncan (10.8), Mehmet Okur (9.3), Lamar Odom (9.2), and Rasheed Wallace (8.9). (Yes, this was the one season Okur was a power forward for the Jazz due to Collins starting at center).
The Center position isn’t particularly weak right now.
The Point Guard position was fairly strong last season but according to win shares, this is no golden age for them. However, the position has been improving immensely since being the weakest position in 2010.
From the averages over the 30 year span for nearly all the groupings (top 5, 10, 30, 50, etc.) the ordering of positions is consistently in this order as far as how good they are compared to each other:
PF > > PG > C > SG > > SF
Also, here are the graphs showing how many All-NBA level players at each position by season, followed by graphs showing top 3 option level players.
Notice the disparity between the talent level of big men and point guards compared to wing players; it's quite the noticeable gap.
2015 Win Share Averages by Position:
Last season, the league's point guard talent was very top heavy (5 point guards with 10+ Win Shares is insane) but not particularly deep after the top 10. The NBA is currently flush with talented big men as their averages are the highest once you look beyond the top 10 averages. Wing talent across the league (especially small forwards) have quite the gap to fill.
So, how close are the Jazz players to becoming forces to be reckoned with?
Jazz Breakdown Position-by-Position:
PG: The Jazz did not have a top 50 point guard according to win shares.
SG: Hood finished in 39th place for shooting guards while Burks was on track for 12th if he played the full season, but since he did not he finished at 49th.
SF: Hayward was 2nd to LeBron in win shares last season for all small forwards (18th overall)
PF: Derrick Favors was 6th place for power forwards last season (25th Overall), the 5 ahead of him: Davis, P. Gasol, Duncan, Girffin, Love
C: And finally, Rudy Gobert finished 4th place for centers last season(15th Overall), the 3 ahead of him: Jordan, Chandler, M. Gasol
This metric (and many, many others!) point to the Jazz having one of the best frontcourts in the league last season! Unfortunately, the Jazz backcourt was also one of the worst. But this is due to our shooting guards being decimated by injuries as well as our point guards being very raw and inexperienced. If we can just get our point guard and shooting guards to play closer to top half of the league level, the Jazz are going to be an extremely pesky team to keep out of the playoff picture. Hopefully Quin and these players can make that magic happen.
All the best,