NBA

The 20,000 Point-8,000 Rebound-5,000 Assist Club

On Twitter recently, I saw a meme giving tribute to the 5 players in NBA history to accumulate 20,000 points, 8,000 rebounds, and 5,000 assists in their careers: Havlicek, Jabbar, Bird, Malone, and Garnett.  As somewhat of an NBA history buff, I thought to myself, “Self, one of those players is not like the other.”  4 of these 5 players fit the same profile…long careers for players who played near or to the age of 40. The other one is Larry Bird, the Celtic legend whose back problems led to a couple of subpar seasons at the tail-end of his career (missing 59 games his last two seasons) and a relatively young retirement age of 35. This led me to ask the question, how did Bird land himself on this list of distinguished legends without the typical long career?  Here’s what I found.

Larry Legend made this list in 897 games. The others played in 373 (Havlicek), 527 (Garnett), 579 (Malone), and 663 (Jabbar) MORE games than Bird. Almost more impressive is how many players played significantly more games than Bird who failed to make this list: MJ, Kobe, Wilt, West, Barry, the Big O, Duncan, Dr. J (who would have made the list counting his 5 ABA seasons), Barkley, Pierce, Pippen, Dirk, and every other NBA Great. This list includes even Lebron James who at the end of the 2014-15 season had played 14 games more than Bird did in his career, and sits 1,498 rebounds short of making the club. 

So really, how unique was Bird? Whenever, I look at these types of stats I like to look at it through the lens of per game averages. Bird’s career averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists don’t seem eye-popping until you consider them in comparison to all the other greats who averaged 20 PPG and 10 RPG. Thanks to basketball-reference.com I can do that. 

For whatever reason, the “20-10” has become the baseline for statistical greatness for Forwards and Centers and there are very few career 20-10 guys. Some of the all-time greats like Jordan, Kobe, Magic, Stockton, Duncan, Russell, Dr. J, and Dirk, were not 20-10 guys. So just being a 20-10 guy puts Bird in an elite category. Not only that, but no career 20-10 guy achieved as high of a statistical level in the third category as Bird.  The highest assist averages of the other career 20-10 guys are 4.4 (Wilt), 4.3 (Baylor), and 3.9 (Barkley) with most of the players on this list averaging less than half of Bird’s 6.3 APG. In other words, the next closest APG average of a career 20-10 guy is 1.9 APG less than Bird’s average.  1.9 APG is the difference between Jason Kidd and Mookie Blaylock, the difference between Isiah Thomas and Rod Strickland, or the difference between Bob Cousy and Terry Porter. In other words, it’s a big difference, and that is just the difference between Bird and the NEXT CLOSEST 20-10 guy.  For most of these guys the difference is more like the difference of John Stockton and Baron Davis. Throw Bird’s shooting from all distances (FG, FT, 3PT%) into the equation and only Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant can compete there amongst Forwards and Centers, but Dirk and Durant’s rebounding and assists are vastly inferior to Bird and both fall significantly short in those categories. 

PPG

RPG

APG

Bird

24.3

10.0

6.3

Jabbar

24.6

11.2

3.6

Wilt

30.1

22.9

4.4

Barkley

22.1

11.7

3.9

K. Malone

25.0

10.1

3.6

M. Malone

20.3

12.3

1.3

Pettit

26.4

16.2

3.0

Bellamy

20.1

13.7

2.4

Baylor

27.4

13.5

4.3

Hayes

21.0

12.5

1.8

Olajuwon

21.8

11.1

2.5

Shaq

23.7

10.9

2.5

Robinson

21.1

10.6

2.5

One could say, there has never been a big man with the passing ability of Bird or, for those of you who don’t want to call Bird a big man, there has never been a wing player to be such a force on the boards.  There simply has never been another dominant scorer who was also so dominant rebounding and passing the ball.  Statistically, Bird is completely in a class by himself and his non-statistical impact through his clutch shooting and flare for the dramatic makes him truly one-of-a-kind, even as a member of the exclusive 20,000/8,000/5,000 Club. 

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