What players are statistically elite? Last season, Steph Curry had an amazing season, one of the finest ever, and barely enters the conversation of the statistically elite. In looking at the most statistically dominant players to have ever played in the league, here are a few I found interesting.
PPG– Wilt has registered 5 of the top 6 scoring seasons ever. Wilt’s scoring numbers are a thing of legend. Prior to the NBA rule changes for 3-seconds, offensive goal-tending, and widening the lane to 16 feet, Wilt’s scoring numbers were ridiculous. These numbers will likely never be challenged on a single season basis. The fact that MJ was able to surpass Wilt’s career scoring average despite Wilt’s monster scoring seasons is a tribute to just how great MJ was, but Wilt’s 50.36 PPG will likely stand forever as the greatest scoring season ever. Only Jordan’s 37.09 PPG in 1986-87 prevents Wilt from owning all of the Top 5 marks.
Assists– Stockton is the assist king for a reason. He owns five of the top six and seven of top nine assist seasons in history. There have been only nine 1,000 assist seasons recorded in history and seven of them are Stockton’s. Stockton’s dominance is perhaps even more impressive than Wilt’s scoring dominance based on the fact that there have been no rule changes making it more difficult to get assists since Stockton set his marks (unlike Wilt’s big scoring seasons coming before rule changes). The only player that came close to Stockton’s record was Isiah Thomas, who had 1,123 assists in 1984-85. Isiah did so with six teammates averaging double-digits, Stockton had 1,164 with just three double-digit scorers to pass to. Chris Paul in 2007-08 was the only player since 1996 to top even 900 assists, finishing with 925, good for the 17th best assist season ever.
PER– It makes sense that the greatest player of all-time is the most dominant in what many view as the “King” of all statistical measures–Player Efficiency Rating (PER). MJ owns 4 of Top 10 PER seasons in history. Wilt had three Top 10 seasons, LeBron had two, and Steph Curry had the other. MJ owns a record four seasons with a PER over 31. With LBJ’s PER dropping last season to 27.55 at this stage of his career it is unlikely that he will reach a PER of 31 again, making MJ’s dominance in PER look to be safe for a while. Curry was a phenom last year to even get into this conversation. Curry is still young, but time will tell what playing beside Kevin Durant will do to Steph’s efficiency long term and whether Steph will ever statistically replicate what he did last season.
Minutes Per Game– Each of the top seven seasons in Minutes Per Game belong to Wilt Chamberlain. People don’t talk about it, but in Wilt’s 3rd season when he average 50.36 PPG, he also averaged 48.5 Minutes Per Game, more minutes than are actually in a regulation game. This means that he never came out and played all of the overtime minutes too. People always think of Wilt as a scoring machine, but they should also think of him as one of the sport’s first ironmen. MJ averaged 37 PPG in 40 MPG or .9275 Points Per Minute. Wilt Averaged 50.36 PPG in 48.5 Minutes or 1.038 Points Per Minute. Impressive.
BPG– Mark Eaton owns two of the top four BPG seasons and three of top eleven. If you didn’t grow up as a Jazz fan, this one probably shocks you. The most dominant shot blocker on the basis of dominant shot blocking seasons, is not Hakeem or Kareem, David Robinson or Alonzo Mourning, but Mark Eaton. He wasn’t much offensively and never scored in double digits in a season, but nobody wanted to challenge “Big Mark” at the rim. His 5.56 Blocks per Game in 1984-85 is still a record and no active player has topped even 4 blocks per game in a season, so Big Mark is looking pretty good here.
Box +/- – Lebron James has posted four of top seven seasons (and five of the top ten) in Box Score Plus/Minus. This means that Lebron has done statistically more for his team and more consistently than anyone ever to play the game. MJ had two top five seasons, Westbrook has two of the top ten seasons, and Curry and Chris Paul each had one top ten season. For Lebron to be that dominant sure helps his case that he has done more with less than other stars. He has been in a position where much of the load falls on his shoulders and, based on the numbers, he has borne the burden better than anyone else ever has.
3PT%– There is a reason Steve Kerr is known as a three-point specialist. He owns three of top eight seasons for highest three-point field goal percentage. The only other player with multiple top ten seasons is Kyle Korver and Kerr is the only player with multiple 50%+ seasons from deep. Now he finds himself coaching three of the best three-point shooters in the game. There is something about this guy and that three-point line that is magical.
FT%– Mark Price has always been known as an elite shooter, but when it comes to Free Throw Percentage, nobody is more statistically dominant. He is the only player with multiple top ten seasons and has two of top seven free throw shooting seasons ever.
Turnovers– Despite leading the league in assists per game four times and leading the league in total assists three times, Chris Paul’s worst turnover season was not in the Top 250 on the all-time list of most turnovers in a season. Other assist leaders have all had worse turnover seasons than Paul: Stockton (52nd most), Magic (46th most), Isiah (12th, 21st, 28th most), Kidd (19th most), Nash (93rd most), Steph Curry (98th most), and Westbrook (13th most). Paul’s worst turnover season was 231. To rank in the top 250 he would have needed 265. One of the most underrated parts of Paul’s game is how he takes care of the ball better than any other high assist point guard ever to play the game.