A Very Short Post on the Magic-Bird Era

Posted on August 20, 2009 by

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Magic Johnson celebrated his 50th birthday this month.  It is generally believed that when Magic and Larry Bird entered the league in 1979, the NBA entered a new era.  This led me to wonder…

Who led the league in Wins Produced before Magic and Bird arrived?

and…

Who led the league in Wins Produced after the arrival of Magic and Bird?

For the answer to the first question, let’s look at the Top 40 players in the NBA (reported in Table One) during the 1978-79 season. Topping the list is Moses Malone. This marked the only time Malone led the league in Wins Produced, although he did place in the top 10 in each season from 1978-79 to 1984-85. 

Table One: Top 40 Player in 1978-79

Following Moses in Table One is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Kareem finished first in 1977-78, and as we see in Table Two, Kareem again led the league in 1979-80.  The next season, at the age of 33, he finished 5th.  And then Kareem failed to place in the top 20 the rest of his career.  Although one might suspect this is due to the emergence of Magic, I suspect it is mostly due to age.  Once a player passes 30 years of age his productivity tends to decline fairly rapidly.  So it should not be a surprise to see Kareem’s numbers decline after the age of 33.

Table Two: Top 40 Players in 1979-80

Despite the decline we see in the 1980s, it seems fairly clear that Kareem was clearly the dominant player of the 1970s.  In 1979, though, we see the beginning of the Magic-Bird era.  Each player ranked in the top ten in 1979-80.  And Bird went on to lead the league in Wins Produced in 1980-81. He then repeated this finish in 1984-85 and 1985-86.  Magic also took a turn leading the league, topping the list in each season from 1981-82 to 1983-84.  Yes, either Magic or Bird led the league in Wins Produced from 1980-81 to 1985-86.

The conventional wisdom tells us that Kareem dominated the 1970s and Magic-Bird led the 1980s.  It appears that Wins Produced confirms this wisdom. 

If we look over the two tables, though, I am sure there are a few results that defy conventional wisdom.  So this very short post has some value (although perhaps not much).

– DJ 

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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