The GOAT List

Disclaimer & Functional TLDR Suggestion

If you're really only curious about, or even just most curious about the List and the Order of GOATs themselves, by all means, please do Skip To The End!

That's where the cool stuff is anyway. (And please do comment with whatever you agree/disagree about, or just thought was cool. Whether it's in the result or in the process, because as you'll see from the length of this, and the fact that it's not the first draft, I don't mind fine-tuning.)

And this is one time that I don't mind being read out of context... Because the context is here if needed - meaning there's no worries about misinterpretations or deflections - it's simply more useful/functions better as supplemental support.

Everything between here and the List is more to back up and produce the List at the end. And it leads up to it, mostly to show that my work's the result of a followed process. So I (or anyone else) might be able to refer back to it; so any of us can use the framework established (which all the many words to come describe in ways the flat math can only really suggest), if ever that becomes helpful.

So let this be a good excuse to Too Long, Didn't Read... BUT ...Did Read The Last.


The idea to rank order anything of interest, in a sequence that makes sense to a mind's eye, has probably been around since time immemorial. We're interested in basketball, and basketball players, hence the thought to try this. But beyond a natural inclination, the idea to see if I could produce a sensical GOAT List was probably seeded, in me, by at least two major prompts.

First, was a notion that Stiffs strongly impressed upon me a few years ago - about Efficiency being primarily crucial, as I seeking inputs to attempt to come up with a mathematical equation or representation of how good a player was...based on only publicly available counting stats, in order to be comprehensive but keep the end algorithm more intuitively accessible than so many of the proprietary (and even publicly available) "Advanced Stats."

Second, were the external notions - and the noticeable change in tune of (some of) them recently - in the collective consciousness associated with the Denver Nuggets and Jokic observations.

Basically, after having come up with "Human's Equation" back in 2020-21 (and tweaks thereafter) - i.e. a Counting Stat based Aggregate Stat that rank-orders Players in order to approximate Season "Greatness" or "Best-ness" - I saw where some of its utility and some of its accessibility was good, and where some of it wasn't ideal. So just this week I suppose (likely inspired by getting to attend two games), I decided I'd like to try to create an even simpler (i.e. simple enough) model to figure out, mathematically, where exactly Nikola Jokic actually fit in with Historical Players we have a sufficient amount of Career Data and Collective Consciousness about.

At least where he fits in with more precision than where the narrative pressures would imply, which would've had us believe the Most Valuable in the League was, "Not even Top 5 in the League" - in terms of "Greatness" or "Best-ness."

That same narrative we've heard for years... at least until midway through this season...
Even though he'd already won 2 League MVPs; after he'd gotten to the conference finals the year [months] prior by beating the Vegas-Odds Champion Favorite in a playoff series; even though he'd already won another playoff series with Facu Campazzo & Austin Rivers as his Backcourt; and even though he'd only ever lost in playoff series - for the last 3 consecutive seasons, regardless of teammates - to the eventual Conference champion (x3) if not also the Finals champion (x2).

...Since only now is his team atop the conference standings and his teammates are finally healthy.

And even now, it's still practically a national media-generated narrative given that he just can't be the "Greatest" or "Best" currently playing; that he basically has about the same share as a handful of others in the tier below whoever's at the top - be that Giannis or LeBron or Steph or Durant or Tatum or Luka, or even Embiid at Jokic's same position.)

Well, I wanted to test this notion.

First historically, relative to career data and past (and relevant current) players.
And second presently - though not in this Fan Post, for it'll be plenty long enough without that - i.e. relative to the 2022-23 season.
To see if the same model can be applied in some "MVP Tracker" sense, ala Basketball-Reference.

And assuming it is sufficiently valid and transpose-able, it's possible that either it or some small-tweaked version of it might be applied to perhaps any individual player. (I.e. be treated as a different, more digestible/easy-to-use version of "Human's Equation.")

Because just like I've long-since tired of hearing the national narrative downplay Jokic for years, I'm likewise tired of hearing our local narrative downplay Jarred Vanderbilt, Bol Bol, DeMarcus Cousins, and other former Nuggets who weren't played to "fit" as best as they were equipped to here (esp considering they [could've] had Jokic [at times]); and were then moved/moved on from. (And before a chance/decline, unlike fondly remembered former Nuggets.)

Heck, that same downplaying applied - and even still does at times, i.e. before Jeff Green got hurt - to some still current (young-ish) Nuggets like Michael Porter Jr, Zeke Nnaji, Vlatko Cancar, and occasionally Bones Hyland.

So if I can get this model working from a more understood and accepted as properly-enough aligned with our collective sense of things and consciousness, using players we all have a pretty decent understanding of, my theory is that it could be likewise applied to help put to bed some of the, "who's actually good/who's actually bad," endless arguments here. And if not put an end to them - bc, let's face it, ends don't happen - at least give us all a more understood and shared basis to reach some sort of common ground for why Player X either actually is or actually isn't necessarily as good/bad as the narrative, which has a bias/interest in showing him in that light, argues.

Of course, the GO'22-23 List will have to be a separate Fan Post, or maybe a comment follow-up to this one. For what follows will be to build the structure to address the All-Timers. Enjoy.

Definition of Terms

My reason for being exhaustive in the explanations of the following Categories and their Point Scales & Variances with each category is first to show my work, so to speak; but also it's for the sake of that second aforementioned goal of eventually applying this model more broadly, to a single season's pool. In case this methodology can produce a Sequential Order of GOATs that Stiffs believe aligns well-enough with their sense of the Historical GOATs. It seems it could, given the positive reception an earlier draft Top 30+ posted in the @Clippers Recap Thread received, which made me think it worth turning into my second-ever Fan Post, which'll be a better point of reference as time goes on.

Here are the 3 Major Categories to be multiplied or added* together:

  1. Success of Impact (Top-weighted, exponential-ish Tiered Scale, out of 100pts) +
  2. Efficiency of Quantity; AKA Impact per Involvement (linear Scale of ~70-115pts) +
  3. Quality Volume of Impact (Top-weighted, exponential-ish Tiered Scale, out of 100pts).

*To multiply the Major Categories together (or at least Efficiency x Volume, then + Success), instead of doing simple addition for all 3, each category and the degrees of variance in the ranks within them would have to be properly weighed. And while I think I have figured out a good enough weighing system for addition, I don't know exactly how to make it sufficient for multiplication, even if that could be the preferred method (considering 3 dimensional math).

There are 2 Minor Categories to be added in, to provide what I believe is the right amount of "wiggle room," solidly and reasonably based.
  1. Extra Credit for Dependability OR Debit for the Opposite (up to +5pts; down to -5pts) +
  2. Extra Credit for Intangible(s) OR Debit for the Opposite (up to +5pts; down to -5pts). **

**Any one player cannot be shifted up or down more than 20pts using these two 10pt-swing minor categories. That's about 6% of a player maxing out the 3 Major Categories, and about 13% of a player ranked in the 20s. And again, 20pts is the maximum swing.

Few of the players considered move up or down very significantly (i.e. more than 5pts) in ranking. In part bc almost all of the players considered are All Time Greats, who largely needed to demonstrate Dependability and Intangibles in order to become All Time Greats.

There are the exceptions, particularly as Today's Game has trended towards and produced more efficient players than we saw in the past; and these "extra credit" adjustment options are meant to help check that. (For AD and KAT - for example - who are two players who's efficiency would put them high among the All Time Greats, but who's other factors, including ability to be relied upon to healthily perform when it matters, and to be just as impactful as expected or more, might move them down that list...certainly from a collective consciousness perspective.)

  • Success = best educated guess, based strongly on # of championships and "Impact"
1.Bill Russell (100pts), 2.MJ (90pts), 3.Duncan (80pts), 4.Magic (70pts), 5.Bird (60pts);
6.Kareem(+5), 7.Isiah(+4), 8.Kobe(+3), 9.Hakeem(+2), 10.Steph(+1) get 50(+)pts each;
11.LeBron(+5), 12.Shaq(+4), 13.Cousy(+3), 14.Wade(+2), 15.Pippen(+1) get 40(+)pts;
16.KG(+5), 17.Chauncey(+4), 18.Kawhi(+3), 19.Frazier(+2), 20.Walton(+1) get 30(+)pts.

#21-on get 20(base)pts +2(extra)pts for every ring they contributed to; and +4(extra)pts for every Ring they carried their team to. (Ex. Dirk/Giannis' 1 Ring - also considering their PO Careers besides just that one run - earned +4.)

Moreover, particularly substandard Playoff performances, particularly if outsized relative to the sample size, can lose a player -5(flunk)pts. (See, for example, KAT's PO Career thru 2022.)

Success seemed to me to be an actually rather straightforwardly obvious Category to measure Historically. The "How many rings" Argument works as a fairly large and simple basis from which to then make best guess differentiations.

I understand there is subjectivity in placing say Isiah and Hakeem (and their 2 rings) in the same Success tier as 5-ringed Kobe and 4-ringed Steph (and ahead of even more ringed Robins like Cousy and Pippen). But I'm also hoping that subjectivity can be understood and seen to be using the rational bases it intends to be anchored by.

And with reference to potential transposition to single season greatness lists, the "How many rings" Argument will not work as the main basis for evaluating In-Season Success. So, if my intention is to later use this model to evaluate Current NBA Players in terms of their 2022-23 only, I'm going to need to adapt this category especially. To that end, I'm thinking of using some simple arithmetic, but perhaps in an unanticipated way or two.

Here's a taste of where my mind's at with respect to that work that is not yet in progress: In noticing how great Aaron Gordon and KCP's On-Off Splits are this year, in very significant part thanks to playing with Jokic (and how he had a similar effect on Will Barton and Monte Morris' On-Offs last year... both of whom are almost on the opposite end of the spectrum now as Wizards)... just as Steph+Dray together has a similar rising of tides effect on their teammates who share the court when they're on it... I was thinking about maybe using the On-Offs of Player In Question's most-common [3?] court-mates. (Rather than the straight On-Offs of the Player In Question.) In order to perhaps better address this rising tide impact. It's just a consideration for now; maybe it's actually less useful than a simpler Individual On-Off. Maybe it's more applicable to a different category (i.e. Volume, in the Quality Volume sense).

Suffice it to say, I'm aware that tweaks will need to be made in order to translate this Historical Model into a Single-Season Application.
But regardless, the 3 Major Categories will remain Success (however I can figure how to best represent that, record-wise and other-wise), Efficiency, and Volume (that is perhaps a little bit more Quality-focused, due to the small differences that'll have to be evaluated).
And this will be the last note on any further applications. From here on, it's GOATs only.
  • Efficiency = flat Career PER score Divided-By Career USG score Times 100pts
1. John Stockton (115.34pts = 21.8PER/18.9USG x100pts),
2. Magic (108.17pts), 3. Paul (104.26pts), 4. Jokic (103.16pts), 5. Kareem (>101.15pts).

#6-10, #11-15, #16-20, and #21-on ALL simply get whatever their 100*PER/USG comes out to...
Or the approximation thereof - for the Old-Timers who were under-counted in their Real Production originally - whether bc of the absence of STL and BLK tracking til 1974, or the absence of USG tracking til 1978, etc.
Any approximations are by me-but I am trying to be as "collective consciousness" about it as I can be. (See the Top 20 in Success to check my bias.) And I of course will also be doing this same [slight] approximation process again, to break ties in the tiers of the next Category: Quality Volume.
  • Volume = best educated guess, based strongly on Career PER ranking; specifically with respect to groups of players that can be joined or separated into tiers without stretching the application of logic that differentiates the tiers - when where to draw those lines is actually at issue (which it won't be for most players) - by considering the Quality of Volume or [positive] Impact of Volume.
1. Wilt Chamberlain (100pts)

Here's why. He has the 7th Best Career 26.2PER - by fewer than 2pts - without STL or BLK Included, which we know he regularly enough had double-digit amounts of in many games. And bc we understand he was the most prolific - i.e. voluminous - Scorer, Rebounder, heck practically Anything he decided he was going to do in a particular Season, Series, or Game. Must I really cite a Stat that didn't exist at his time to establish he's #1 in [Quality] Volume?

I understand there is the, "He was a Stat-Stuffer, who's volume was not 'quality' contributions to his team/winning," camp; primarily full of folks who never saw the man play themselves.
To them I would say, imagine not watching Jokic play and deciding whether he stuffed stats ala Westbrook... or don't imagine so much as recall what Nick Wright and Stephen A Smith publicly share about the 2x defending MVP to date.
I would also cite Wilt's demonstrable willingness to adapt - deferring scoring and focusing on rebounding to win his first NBA championship with Philadelphia, and also leading the league in assists and turning himself into a playmaker to win his second NBA championship with LA.
Perhaps coaching, or whatever other factors (including as him being the largest African American man in the building during the 1960s and 70s), may have contributed to us - most of who came to basketball appreciation long after his time - [mis?]remembering him and his play orientation as being less positively impactful from a team/winning perspective, and perhaps more individual (no matter that he played obvious restraint when you see old video, compared to say Shaq-who came 40 years later) than was true and accurate.

He played every minute of every game. He would be the unquestioned Top Fantasy Basketball Player if ever their was such a thing based on Yearly Production from a past career. Etc. Etc.

At any rate, given his Volume is so much greater than the next closest to it - Michael Jordan - I've got to give Wilt the benefit of the doubt that it was Quality enough, to hold the Top Spot.

2. MJ (90pts. Bc #1 PER Rank + #1 Winning-est Player using Volume-thus producing Quality);
3. LeBron (80pts. Bc #3 PER Rank + #3 Winning-est Player thru Volume and Quality thereof);
4. Shaq (70pts. Bc #5 PER Rank ...#4 is AD/would be Embiid so... + #4 Winning-est via Vol);
5. Kareem (60pts. Bc #13-undercounted-PER Rank [tho not as undercounted as Wilt's] + #2 Winning-est via Volume).

#6~10, #11~25, #26~50, #51~100, and #101-on are ALL based on [approximate where nec] Career PER RANKING. Tier tie-breaking is rare, and based on a best guess of Quality or Impact of the Volume represented by the PER Rank.

For example: Nikola Jokic is #2 in Career PER. And even though those of us who've watched closely enough to understand his Volume is as Quality as it comes, I'm not giving him anything higher than the #6~10 Tier.

In part bc nobody I've interacted with on Stiffs seems to particularly like PER as a fully-reliable measure of Volume nor Quality Volume. And while I believe PER is still extremely useful as a means of grouping players by Volume (esp when combined with a sense of their Durable production if not also Longevity totals), I'm fully aware of how flawed a metric it is when used to judge a player by Valuable/Quality Volume, or Volume of Impact, or even Total Volume.

Given all that has been written in the History Books already by Wilt, MJ, LeBron, Shaq, and Kareem thru the Volume (and its impact) they contributed - and they all were indeed more prolific scorers even if they were not as efficient at scoring as Jokic, which again, is another category already being considered separately - I cannot, using that "collective consciousness" goal, put Nikola ahead of any of those guys in this category. At least not in 2023.

Moreover AD is right in that same next tier as Nikola... as less "quality" as his volume may be... both to check against my own bias that'd favor Jokic over AD, and to also stay true to only using the quality consideration when a player is on the line of 2 tiers. And AD is indeed a Top 10 Volume Player per Game or Minutes Played - which is the heart of the measured category - as much as his durability and consistency issues have limited his number of games and minutes and meaningful impact, and have thereby shrunk his career Total Volume of a kind. So, to both check my or anyone else's bias from over-correcting to better address Total Volume or other aspects of Volume that become too mutable definitionally, I left the smaller vents of the Dependability and Intangible Minor, corrective, Categories.

Volume is the one category where high Usage should hurt no one (as long as it contributes positively to one's team); and where Production, or more accurately Impact (on Team and the Game) Share, is the critical bit of information at issue.

I realize PER is a coarse way to aggregate Production, and doesn't quite get to the Volume of Impact on the player's team and the game being played to win... but it's also not so far off.
For Wilt, MJ, LeBron, Shaq are all right at the top of Career PER. And maybe the only reason Kareem is [barely] outside the Top 10 is that his first 4 - prime, bc he was a 22yr old rookie - years don't count his STL or BLKs.

So I'm using it as the base, to then add in a few judgement calls. (Like promoting Old-Time Greats who were under-counted; breaking approximate ties when determining an 11~25 Quality Volume player vs a 26~50 one; and so on.)

Regarding the remaining Tiers of Quality Volume:
#6~10 get 50pts; #11~25 get 40pts; #26~50 get 30pts; #51~100 get 20pts; #101-on get 10pts.

So, now that the Algorithm and Variables are defined and bookmarked... Without further ado...


1. 90 (#2Success) + 83.81 (31~50Eff) + 90 (#2Vol) +5D +5I = 273.81 = MICHAEL JORDAN
2. 24 (+2rSuccess) + ~100? (6-10?Effi) + 100 (#1Vol) +5D +5I = ~234 = Wilt Chamberlain
3. 100 (#1Success) + ~100? (6-10?Effic) + 20 (51~100Vol) +5D +5I = ~230 = Bill Russell
4. 55 (#6Success) + >101.15 (#5E) + 60 (#5Vol) +5D +5I = >226.15 = Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
5. 70 (#4Success) + 108.17 (#2Effic) + 40 (11~25Vol) +5D +3I = 226.17 = Magic Johnson
6. 45 (11Success) + 86.33 (25~30Effic) + 80 (#3Vol) +4D +5I = 220.33 = LeBron James
7. 80 (#3Success) + 89.70 (20Effic) + 40 (11~25Vol) +5D +5I = 219.70 = Tim Duncan
8. 44 (12Success) + 89.59 (21Effic) + 70 (#4Vol) +3D +3I = 209.59 = Shaquille O'Neal
9. 60 (#5Success) + 88.68 (22Effic) + 40 (11~25Vol) +3D +5I = 196.68 = Larry Bird
10. 52 (9Success) + 87.05 (25~30Eff) + 40 (11~25Vol) +5D +5I = 189.05 = Hakeem Olajuwon

11. 20 (+0rSuccess) + 103.16 (#4Effic) + 50 (6~10Vol) +5D +5I = 183.16 = Nikola Jokic
12. 51 (10Success) + 83.28 (31~50Effic) + 40 (11~25Vol) +3D +5I = 182.28 = Stephen Curry
13. 24 (+2rSuccess) + 99.92 (6~10Effic) + 50 (6~10Vol) +3D +5I = 181.92 = David Robinson
14. 20 (+0rSuccess) + 115.34 (#1Effic) + 30 (26~50Vol) +5D +5I = 175.34 = John Stockton
15. 22 (+1rSuccess) + ~97.5? (11-15?Effic) + 45? (6-20?Vol) +5D +5I = ~174.5 = Oscar Rob.
16. 22 (+1rSuccess) + ~97.5? (11-15?Effic) + 45? (6-20?Vol) +5D +4.5I = ~174 = Jerry West
17. 22 (+1rSuccess) + ~97.5? (11-15?Effic) + 45? (6-20?Vol) +5D +4I = ~173.5 = Bob Pettit
18. 43 (13Success) + ~100? (6-10?Effic) + 20 (51~100Vol) +5D +5I = ~173 = Bob Cousy
15. 24 (+1RSuccess) + 86.63 (25~30Eff) + 50 (6~10Vol) +5D +5I = 170.63 = Giannis Antetok.
16. 20 (+0rSuccess) + 104.26 (#3Effic) + 40 (11~25Vol) +2D +4I = 170.26 = Chris Paul
17. 35 (16Success) + 91.90 (18Effic) + 30 (26~50Vol) +5D +5I = 166.90 = Kevin Garnett
18. 20 (+0rSuccess) + 99.31 (6~10Effi) + 40 (11~25Vol) +3D +3I = 165.81 = Charles Barkley
19. 53 (#8Success) + 72.01 (51+Effic) + 30 (26~50Vol) +5D +5I = 165.01 = Kobe Bryant
20. 24 (+2rSuccess) + 83.60 (31~50Effic) + 50 (6~10Vol) +3D +3I = 163.60 = Kevin Durant

21. 26 (+1+2rSuccess) + 86.69 (25~30Effi) + 40 (11~25Vol) +5D +5I = 162.69 = Julius Erving
22. 20 (+0rSuccess) + ~88.0? (23-24?Effic) + 40 (11-25?Vol) +5D +5I = ~158 = Elgin Baylor
22. 33 (18Success) + 92.83 (17Effic) + 30 (26~50Vol) +0D +2I = 157.83 = Kawhi Leonard
23. 22 (+1rSuccess) + 95.32 (16Effic) + 50 (6~10Vol) -5D -5I = 157.32 = Anthony Davis
24. 42 (14Success) + 74.78 (51+Effic) + 30 (26~50Vol) +3D +5I = 154.28 = Dwyane Wade
25. 20 (+0rSuccess) + 78.51 (51+Effic) + 50 (6~10Vol) +0D +3I = 151.51 = Joel Embiid
26. 24 (+1RSuccess) + 86.96 (25~30Effi) + 30 (26~50Vol) +4D +5I = 149.96 = Moses Malone
27. 20 (+0rSuccess) + 70.79 (51+Effic) + 50 (6~10Vol) +5D +4I = 149.79 = Luka Doncic
28. 20 (+0rSuccess) + 81.30 (31~50Effic) + 40 (11~25Vol) +5D +3I = 149.30 = Karl Malone
29. 24 (+1RSuccess) + 84.53 (31~50Effic) + 30 (26~50Vol) +4D +5I = 147.53 = Dirk Nowitzki
30. 54 (#7Success) + >71.54 (Dribbling: 51?Eff) + 10 (101+Vol) +5D +5I = >145.54 = Isiah Th.

~31 20 (+0rSuccess) + 81.06 (31~50Effic) + 40 (11~25Vol) +1D +2I = 144.06 = James Harden
32+ 41 (15Success) + 82.67 (31~50Effic) + 10 (101+Vol) +4D +4I = 141.17 = Scottie Pippen
33+ 31 (20Success) + ~97.09 (11~15Effic) + 10 (101+Vol) -2D +5I = 141.09 = Bill Walton
34+ 32 (19Success) + ~88.02 (23-24?Effic) + 10 (101+Vol) +5D +5I = ~140.02 = Walt Frazier
35+ 15 (-1FSuccess) + 91.87 (19Effic) + 40 (11~25Vol) -3D -3I = 140.37 = Karl-Anthony Towns
36+ 34 (17Success) + 85.84 (31~50Effic) + 10 (101+Vol) +5D +5I = 139.84 = Chauncey Billups

This all means...

The Top 10 GOAT List is:

2. Wilt Chamberlain
3. Bill Russell
4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
5. Magic Johnson
6. LeBron James
7. Tim Duncan
8. Shaquille O'Neal
9. Larry Bird
10. Hakeem Olajuwon

With the greatest current players today (Jan 2023) on the outside looking in... for now:

11. Nikola Jokic
12. Stephen Curry
15. Giannis Antetokounmpo
16. Chris Paul
20. Kevin Durant
22. Kawhi Leonard
23. Anthony Davis
25. Joel Embiid
27. Luka Doncic
~31 James Harden
35+ Karl-Anthony Towns

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