Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Clyde Drexler and a Retroactive League Pass Alert

History will not be kind to Clyde Drexler. Sure, he will be remembered as one of the greats of his era, but the narratives surrounding the second half of his career (the half that most everyone best remembers) do not easily lend themselves to idolatry and lionization.

Bounced from the 1990 Finals in five games. Upset in six games by the aging, post-Showtime Lakers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals. Eviscerated by Michael Jordan the following spring. Traded two and a half years later by the franchise he once personified… in exchange for Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola (!) and a 1995 draft pick that ultimately became Randolph Childress. Hell, even his championship ring has attached to it the caveats (valid or not) that Michael Jordan had yet to regain his post-baseball sea legs when Clyde, now starring alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, hoisted hardware in Houston.

(I know what you’re thinking – I thought it too – but we’re not going there)

Obscured by this, however, is the fact that over the course of his brilliant career, Drexler assembled an all-around statistical resume on par with that of any perimeter player in the game’s history:
In 15 NBA seasons, Drexler averaged 20.4 points (19+ 12 times), on 47.2% FG, 6.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists and a pair of steals per game, posted (per Basketball Reference) a PER of 21.1 and accumulated 135.6 Win Shares, good for 25th all time (just shy of Bob Pettit’s 136) and decidedly better than the career totals of John Havlicek, Scottie Pippen and Patrick Ewing.

An awesome 13 times Drexler posted a PER of at least 19.7, matching the career totals for Bird, Magic, Jerry West, David Robinson and (so far) Kobe Bryant, one shy of Michael and Moses, and once more than Wilt. And six times he managed a PER of at least 22 – one fewer than Larry Bird and Moses Malone.

In his first six NBA season (through 1988-89) he grabbed nearly 300 more offensive rebounds than any other guard (1277; Fat Lever, who entered the league with Drexler, had 985), Lever and Magic Johnson were the only guards to outrebound Clyde overall, and only Lever (1,134) and Alvin Robertson (1,128) topped Drexler 1,101 steals. As a scorer over the same stretch, Drexler was bested by only Isiah Thomas and Rolando Blackman, each of whom was two years into his career when Drexler was drafted, and, of course, Michael.

16 times in NBA history has a guard turned in an Offensive Rebound Rate of at least 9% - no one more than Drexler’s three times. In 1988-89 he averaged 3.7 offensive boards per game, still the single-season record for guard. In doing so, he topped his own record (3.2) from the year before. In addition to the top two spots on the list, he’s also responsible for the 6th, 7th, 12th 18th and 19th highest ORB averages for a guard.

Since the league began tracking steals in 1973-74, two players have had produced six seasons with averages of at least 25 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.5 steals – Clyde is one of them. Drop the scoring bar to 20? Fine. The list doesn’t get much longer.

Wondering about the murderer’s row that sustained these averages for an entire career?

Pretty solid crew, right? How about some raw numbers? 20,000 points, 6,000 rebounds and 6,000 assists – illustrious and exclusive. Again.

The bottom line? Clyde Drexler was fucking awesome. But that's also not why we're here.
I was playing around at work yesterday with Basketball Reference’s Play Index. Just goofing off. Looking for ridiculous single-game performances. And then I stumbled upon this gem from February 26, 1988, in which Clyde Drexler became the only man in NBA history to score 40 points, hand out 8 assists and swipe 5 steals without turning the ball over, with 42, 9 and 8 (!!)  with no turnovers, and, summarily dominated Michael Jordan. (Seriously, take 10 minutes and watch both clips. This seems like it would have been a fun one in the League Pass/Twitter era.)

Thing is, Michael managed a businesslike 52 along the way. And a little something for Clyde at the end.

Dumb luck is why we’re here.

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