While the NBA GOAT debate has gone on for years, the conversation typically revolves around Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
But if you had to rank players based only on their on-court performance rather than on the success of their careers, how different could the all-time list be? And what truly makes the greatest players of all time?
A new study by The Game Day analyzed the factors that statistically make the most successful players in NBA history, looking at stats, accolades, and impact on the court to determine who was actually the greatest – proven by data.
The research also looked at:
The average age that players peak in their careers.
Whether the order of draft pick selection has any impact on a player’s success long term.
And what brand of sneakers MVPs wore throughout the years.
The Top 3 NBA Stars in History According to Stats
Based on career average statistics – from the total number of rebounds and assists to turnovers and personal fouls – and an index score out of 100, the study reveals the statistically best players of all time are Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokić, and Larry Bird.
While each one is a beloved NBA legend, Durant, Jokić, and Bird are not normally recognized as the absolute best of all time, but these three have hundreds of rebounds and assists under their belts and have brought their teams to victory plenty of times.
Bird is widely regarded as basketball royalty, hitting nearly 90% from the free-throw line and almost 50% of field goals throughout his career.
Meanwhile, the legend of the game, Michael Jordan, takes spot number 10 in the ranking. Similarly, LeBron James is already regarded as one of the top NBA players of all time – but according to our data, he falls into 6th place statistically.
The All-Stars of the Future
Also in the top ten are Karl-Anthony Towns and Jayson Tatum, aged 26 and 24. Even though they are at the beginning of their NBA careers, Towns and Tatum’s achievements mark the start of something incredible – leaving plenty of room for them to become the All-Stars or Hall of Famers of the future, according to the study.
Games per year (Avg)
Score out of 13000
What Age Do Players Peak?
The study analyzed 23,489 NBA players to find, on average, when players reach their full potential, looking at average games and minutes played per season, number of wins, and average points scored. Our data found that even though 23 is the age where most players are active in the NBA, players actually perform their best at age 28.
MVP’s Favorite Sneaker Brands
A world-dominating athlete needs the gear to go with their game, and sneakers have become a massive part of any NBA player’s history.
The study looked into the shoes worn by each year’s MVP since 1987 to determine which one is the most popular among high-performing ballers – and whether there’s any correlation between sneakers and success.
Nike has dominated the footwear choices of MVPs for years (60% of preference), but Adidas has also been a popular choice (11%).
Almost the majority of MVP sneaker brands are named after the MVP.
46% of all MVPs wore shoes named after themselves.
Data analyzed includes 1. Which jersey number player scored the most points. 2. Average age of when players peak. 3. Which college produced the most players. 4. Players that have had the most wins. 5. Lucky draft numbers.
Data was collected from the official NBA website. Data is from the regular season and includes data from 1996 to 2022.
Data also looked into 6. Most popular color jersey that has won. Data was gathered from the basketball fandom site for each NBA team that won a championship each season. Then their primary team color was taken and put ranked into a list of which colors had won the most overall.
Data also analyzed the 7 most worn shoes by MVPs. Data was gathered from the ESPN website for the MVPs each season, and multiple other sources were used to determine which shoes each MVP wore during their MVP season.
Featured Image: The Game Day