Better Than Advertised: Kevin Garnett

His name should come to mind more often...
A few weeks back, I asked a few basketball people to rank these former league MVPs: Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. There wasn’t truly any consensus as far as the rankings went but for the most part I got answers that went this way:

1. Kobe Bryant (Lakers fans are everywhere I swear)
2. Tim Duncan
3. LeBron James
5. Kevin Garnett

Quite honestly, the answers stunned me. I can understand how Kobe Bryant ended at the top of the list but felt that Duncan was probably more deserving of the top spot (another topic for another day). But then I was perplexed by the choices of LeBron James and Steve Nash over Kevin Garnett. Although I understand that people probably looked at the amount of MVP trophies that both Nash and James had in comparison to Garnett when making their decision, I felt as though a more in depth analysis was required in determining the rankings.

Indeed, some might forget this now, but Kevin Garnett was during a period of time the best player in the NBA. The problem? Not everyone realized it at the time. Between the small market, the first round playoff exits, the lack of quality teammates and the rise of the internet (imagine if Twitter and League Pass existed back then), it was tough for people outside of Minnesota to see Garnett on the regular. Consequently, fans in general only really got a chance to see the Wolves play by the times the playoffs rolled around as Garnett’s teams were getting spanked by dominant teams such as Pippen’s Blazers, Shaq’s Lakers or Duncan’s Spurs.

During the time that we ignored Kevin Garnett, he spent a good three to four years playing the role of Kobe Bryant circa 2006 as he kept putting out work every single night and dominating his opponents only to see his teammates fail to give him the necessary support to be successful. Have a look at the Big Ticket’s production in Minnesota from 1999 to 2007:

Season
G
PPG
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
FG%
1999-00
81
22.9
11.8
5.0
1.5
1.6
0.497
2000-01
81
22.0
11.4
5.0
1.4
1.8
0.477
2001-02
81
21.2
12.1
5.2
1.2
1.6
0.47
2002-03
82
23.0
13.4
6.0
1.4
1.6
0.502
2003-04
82
24.2
13.9*
5.0
1.5
2.2
0.499
2004-05
82
22.2
13.5*
5.7
1.5
1.4
0.502
2005-06
76
21.8
12.7*
4.1
1.4
1.4
0.526
2006-07
76
22.4
12.8*
4.1
1.2
1.7
0.476
*led the league.

When looking at the numbers, we can see that Garnett was clearly an impact player during the regular season; but then again some of those numbers were accumulated against teams such as the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies to name a few. If we truly want to get a clear picture of Kevin Garnett’s individual brilliance, it makes more sense to have a look at his playoff numbers during the same stretch:

Season
G
PPG
RPG
APG
SPG
BPG
FG%
1999-00
4
18.8
10.8
8.8
1.25
0.75
0.385
2000-01
4
21.0
12.0
4.3
1.0
1.5
0.466
2001-02
3
24.0
18.7
5.0
1.7
1.7
0.429
2002-03
6
27.0
15.7
5.2
1.7
1.7
0.514
2003-04
18
24.3
14.6
5.1
1.3
2.3
0.452
Avg. 1999-2004
35
23.7
14.4
5.4
1.4
1.9
0.456

The playoff numbers are superior to the regular season numbers and yet these numbers seem to be quite a stretch. Allow me to ask a silly question: if no one had ever seen Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, could we really argue its merits as one of the best music videos ever? The obvious answer is no. And yet, that’s the problem that we have when talk about the best players of the past decade; KG’s performances have gone largely unnoticed.

Garnett shows off his MVP trophy.
One of the most respected advanced basketball stats that we have today is John Hollinger’s player efficiency ratings (PER). Its purpose is to rate a player’s per minute productivity. If you wish to get more information about it, click here. Although PER cannot arbitrarily tell us if player A is better than better player B; it can tell us which player is more productive with his time on the court. So for good measure, let’s have a look at the Kevin Garnett’s best seasons according to his PER:
Season
PER
NBA rank
2002-03
26.4
4
2003-04
29.4
1
2004-05
28.2
1
2005-06
26.8
5
2006-07
24.1
5
2007-08 (BOS)
25.3
4

Just as suspected, his best seasons coincide with the period that we have been talking about. Indeed, six times in the previous decade, Garnett has finished in the top 5 and twice finished with the best overall PER. Furthermore, he was selected four times to the All-NBA 1st team and eight times to the NBA All-Defensive 1st team.

Kevin Garnett will one day go into the Hall of Fame as a champion, former league MVP, former Defensive Player of the Year and one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game. So the next time someone asks you who the best players of the past decade are, make sure you mention the Big Ticket.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at Shyne@Sbgorillas.com. You can also find me on Twitter with the handle name ShyneIV.

2 Comments:

All Day E'ry Day Sportz said...

Younger NBA fans probably don't even remember Garnett for being anything but a Celtic let alone the absurd stat lines he put up for multiple years coming straight outta high school. In fact, I think if he hadn't won a championship with Boston, people would probably question whether he even belongs in that top 5!

J.M. Poulard said...

It's crazy right? But it seems that people have all forgotten that he used to play for another team and just how dominant he was in Minnesota. This guy is truly arguably one of the best power forwards ever....

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