Chris Mullin is the next Michael Jordan

I have in this space previously discussed how to find how similar any two players are, based solely on their boxscore statistics, and attempted, to some extent, to justify myself theoretically. Now, to unveil the results: For my dataset of all modern (1979-2007) NBA players, I subsetted the top 500 according to the formula (min^(10/9))/gp, which is a kind-of weighted minutes-per game statistic that values both playing time and longevity. Thus, I could extract some of the best (admittedly measured poorly, by playing time) younger players, and a good number of veterans at the same time. I summed their career statistics across the entire time period, and ran them through the distance finding algorithm discussed in the previous post. This resulted in a matrix of distances, which I offer to you here as a 501 x 501 cell .csv file, which I’ve zipped to about 1.3 MB:

Top 500 distance matrix

However, I’ve also got a selected subset (due to size considerations) of comparisons posted to Google Docs, and it should be sortable, but not editable:

Selected distances Google Spreadsheet

Now, for the punchline: a method such as this can be used to give us new insights. If we accept that the comparisons it makes are valid in general, then we may be able to accept the comparisons that surprise us. For example, if the matching algorithm tells us that the players most statistically similar to Michael Jordan are Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Dwyane Wade, Vince Carter, Clyde Drexler, and Paul Pierce, I would be tempted to accept the validity of such comparisons. Thus, I would argue that I should be willing to accept the conclusion that the player most similar to Jordan is none of these, but rather, Chris Mullin (who is of course frequently compared to Larry Bird, seeing as they are both Caucasian, but to whom I have never heard Jordan compared).

To conclude, I urge you to play around with both the Google Spreadsheet and the entire .csv matrix on your own. Please let me know if you find the comparisons to ring generally true, and if so, whether there were any that surprised you.


7 responses to “Chris Mullin is the next Michael Jordan

  1. Hi,

    If you do not factor in winning in your comparisons, then your analysis is not worth much.


  2. Hey,

    Iv’e heard of this guy, he’s really good!

  3. To Charles:
    I have to disagree with your contention that without winning, my analysis is not worth much. Rather, I would suggest that it does a good job at parsing out similarities in playing style, which is what I was going for–winning and losing are only marginally related to playing style. For example, when Kevin Garnett moved from Minnesota (a losing team) to Boston (a winning team), would we expect his playing style to change? I agree that playing with better players in a winning system may have some impact on the nature of a player’s game (i.e. Garnett may have to carry the offensive load less in Boston, and so may shoot less), but it seems to me that this sort of change would be idiosyncratic, and not particularly useful for statistical comparison. Since I was interested, however, I re-ran my analysis, including the wins and losses of the teams for which each player played, and got the following results for Jordan:

    32 kobe bryant 0.03164291
    10 lebron james 0.03859031
    73 dwyane wade 0.04982301
    60 tracy mcgrady 0.05485190
    90 julius erving 0.05613495
    43 clyde drexler 0.05696678
    25 dominique wilkins 0.05773910
    23 vince carter 0.06392734
    89 carmelo anthony 0.06555709
    81 chris mullin 0.07069066
    78 rolando blackman 0.07268651
    6 larry bird 0.07428374
    2 karl malone 0.07543253
    21 paul pierce 0.07666367
    4 latrell sprewell 0.07788166

    Note that now Karl Malone is ranked above both Pierce and Sprewell. I refuse to believe that Malone’s playing style is more similar to Jordan’s than is Pierce’s or Sprewell’s. I am not sure if the increased superficial accuracy at the top of the list is worth the loss of accuracy further down.

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  6. Mullin is very ‘unlike’ Michael Jordan. Mully shot FTs & hit HRs much more surely. While both were swingmen, their respective rebounding abilities were disparate — Jordan’s consistently better. Michael also consistently passed better, & their defensive comparison is laughable.

    Comparing Mullin to Bird because “both are white” is a straw man. Mullin is better compared to the New Age Imports, except he mixed it up more & drew contact (FTAs) in his prime. Rather a Ginobili offensively w/out the defensive prowess (altho their thievery is similar).

  7. I can’t really engage the logic behind the matrix itself, but I thought it was interesting that Kobe and Lebron came out to be so similar (.012710595) – more like each other than they are like Jordan.

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