Shaquille O’Neal gave his fans a question to think about in a recent Instagram post. O’Neal posted an image depicting him, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and asked his fans:
“Who is the GOAT for the [Los Angeles] Lakers?”
O’Neal then implied that he would not mind if someone did not vote for him:
“Any answer is the correct answer.”
The statement exudes some confidence on O’Neal’s end that the Lakers’ Greatest Of All Time will just be between them four. The Instagram image had the players’ six basic and advanced basketball stats, aside from their respective accomplishments.
Among the four Los Angeles Lakers legends mentioned, Shaquille O’Neal led everyone in points with 27.0 per game during his stint with them.
Kobe Bryant, O’Neal’s partner during their three-peat run to start the 2000s, was second with 25.0 points per game.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is third with 22.5 points per game, which was still impressive enough considering that he joined the Lakers when he was reaching the twilight of his career.
Magic Johnson is fourth with 19.5 per game, which is not surprising he is more known for his assists.
If you are 7-feet-1 and 325 pounds, you should dominate the paint, and that’s exactly the case for O’Neal as he led the four Laker legends in rebounds with 11.8 per game.
Abdul-Jabbar, listed at 7-feet-2, is second with 9.4, Johnson at 6-feet-9, third with 7.2, and Bryant at 6-feet-6 tall, is fourth with 5.2.
As mentioned above, Johnson should rule the assists department since he is the OG point guard, averaging 11.2 dimes per game.
Bryant is second with 4.7, Abdul-Jabbar is third with 3.3 and O’Neal is fourth with 3.1.
You have to consider that Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal’s career Laker averages in assists are good enough for big men.
Despite having the size of a big man — he would play power forward during his final season in the 1995-1996 season — Johnson actually excelled more in steals primarily because he played point guard.
Johnson averaged 1.9 steals per game during his entire career with the Lakers.
Bryant is second with 1.4, Abdul-Jabbar is third with 0.9 — a nearly one-steal-per-game average is impressive enough already for a center — and Shaquille O’Neal is fourth with 0.6.
Of course, this category belongs to both centers. O’Neal and Abdul-Jabbar averaged 2.5 blocks per game as Lakers. Bryant is third with 0.5 per game, and Johnson is fourth with 0.4.
The Player Efficiency Rating or PER, as defined by its inventor, John Hollinger, “sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.”
Hollinger then categorized PER in such a way that the league average would be set at 15.0. That is, a player with a PER higher than 15 has star potential at least.
The PER advantage belongs to O’Neal, who averaged 28.9 during his Lakers career and is considered a “strong MVP contender” if he is still playing today.
Johnson is second with 24.1, Abdul-Jabbar is third with 23.4 and Bryant is fourth with 22.9, all outside of the MVP contender range even if they won the said award in the past.
However, note that Shaquille O’Neal spent his prime days with the Lakers before spending the rest of his NBA career with other teams.
Also, Bryant and Johnson spent their entire careers as Lakers, which included their twilight days when their PER dwindled significantly.
Finally, Abdul-Jabbar had to play until he turned 42, where his PER was also way below MVP standards.
The only stat Bryant won is the win shares category. David Corby of Basketball Reference defines win shares as “an effort to credit a player’s total measurable contribution to his team’s win total during the season.”
Corby’s boss, Justin Kubatko, redesigned win shares, originally an advanced stat for baseball formulated by Bill James, to make it work for basketball, too.
Bryant had 172.7 win shares, Abdul-Jabbar is second with 158.7, Johnson is third with 155.8 and Shaquille O’Neal is fourth with only 97. O’Neal had the shortest tenure as a Laker among the four.