John Stockton – MVP?

November 5th, 2010 | by K.Malphurs
John Stockton wasn’t much of a self promoter. Many of you might not agree with a lot of what I write in this article, but hopefully every single reader can agree with that first statement.  It isn’t like you saw any “Republicans buy sneakers too” quotes from Stockton.  There were no “Be Like John” add campaigns.  John Stockton never referred to himself in 3rd person a la Rickey Henderson.  Because of that he can be overlooked at times. That’s a shame since I consider him to be the most valuable basketball player in NBA history.

The key to this statement is that I am not writing that Stockton is the best player of all time (even a biased Jazz fan would have a hard time making that argument). I want to focus on the word value. How do I describe value in how it relates to an NBA player?

  • Contributions
  • $$$ cost
  • Impact on team chemistry
  • Intangibles

Someone like Michael Jordan (conventional wisdom’s pick for greatest of all time) would score extremely high marks on contributions, but he also was very well compensated.  Since both were drafted in the same year it is easy to compare their salaries over the years.  In fact if you look at Salary divided by Win Score then you will get an estimate of how much each team paid for each win the player the produced.  Let’s call this new stat Cost Of A Win.  Let’s compare Jordan and Stockton:

  • 1984-1993: This would be the best apples to apples comparison since there were no retirements or anything that would mess up the analysis. Jordan COW = *$90K. Stockton’s COW = $72K

*The way that you read this stat is that the Chicago Bulls effectively paid $90K for each win that Jordan contributed to the team from 1984-1993.  The Utah Jazz only paid $72K for each win Stockton contributed. It is of a better value for the COW to be low.

  • 1995-1998: This was after Jordan’s first retirement and both perennial All Stars had larger contracts. Stockton made $4.6M a year and Jordan made $22.3M a year.  What was the result in terms of COW?  Stockton’s COW jumped to $400K.  Jordan’s COW jumped to $1.2M!
  • Career: This is not the best apples to apples comparison since there were large gaps in between Jordan’s career since he retired twice. However, the overall COW for Jordan was $421K compared to Stockton’s $321K.

Now it would take close to forever to look up everyone, but I did check a few of Stockton’s 1984 draft counterparts. The #1 pick from that draft Hakeem Olajuwon’s career COW of $657K was higher than both Jordan and Stockton.  The 5th pick of the draft, Charles Barkley has a bit of a more interesting case as it relates to Stockton.  From 1985 to 2000 (according to basketball-reference’s salaries) John Stockton made $40.8M, while Charles Barkley made $40.3M.  If Stockton had retired the same year as Barkley then they would have played in the same amount of seasons.  At the time Stockton would have made $40.8M for 177.1 wins, while Barkely would have made $40.3M for 177.2 wins.  For two such dissimilar players and personalities the total salaries and win score are very, very close.  However, Stockton played three more years and produced the equivalent of 30 more wins. Barkley spent that time getting ready for his career with TNT.

It is clear that Stockton was a valuable player, but a quick look at his stats on confirms that assumption.  A summary of some of the ones I like:

  • Assists-#1 by 5,576 assists.  There are many things you can do with his amazing total numbers of 15,806 assists. The difference in assists between Stockton and Jason Kidd produces enough assists to rank an individual 37th all time. Right behind Michael Jordan & Allen Iverson, and right above Hall of Fame point guard Dennis Johnson. Again that is the difference between Stockton and the #2 player in all time assists.
  • Assists (continued) – He is also #1 in assists percentage at 50.2%. He led the league in assist percentage for 15 seasons including his last season at the age of 40.
  • Steals – #1 by 751 steals.
  • Win Shares – 207.7, which is 5th all time behind Kareem, Wilt, Malone and Jordan.
  • True Shooting Percentage9th
  • Minutes/Games played – 6th and 3rd respectively.

I think I have sufficiently covered the contributions and the cost aspect of Stockton’s career.  However, I think there are things that can’t be covered with numbers (I know this might be shocking to those who are evenly slightly aware of my writing style).  I think there is a certain unquantifiable value in a player who comes to play every day (Stockton played in 98.5% of the Jazz games from 1984-2003), without an attitude and just goes about his business.  It is hard to imagine another player ever being like John Stockton.  There was no ego, no controversy, no decline in play and nothing that ever distracted the Jazz from winning basketball games.  Also, there were no retirements, no hitting his teammates and nothing but year after year greatness.

Because of that I think Stockton is the most valuable player in NBA history.


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  1. Jefferson says:

    I’m as biased as any Jazz fan – growing up in Utah cheering for the Jazz, attending Stockton’s alma-mater (Go Zags!), and even drinking a [near]beer at Stock’s own Jack & Dan’s Bar on occasion.

    That being said, I think this analysis would be more appropriately coined “most-cost-effective-player” – doesn’t seem to have the same “ring” to it [pun intended], huh? Surely John Stockton was a great player would have been a bargain at twice the price – perhaps, though, this analysis would yield a different result if we factored in time value of money and compared him to Big “O” or some of the past royalty…

    IMHO, most “valuable” player should be determined not by how efficient the player was, but what that player did for the game of basketball and the advancement of the league. I hesitate to even begin a list, but several names come to mind – Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Dr. J, George Mikan, George Gervin, Kareem, Wilt…heck, the entire 1992 Dream Team deserves mention (less, of course, Laettner).

    In any event, great read – and a pretty persuasive comparison favoring Stock as a better value/more cost-effective player than MJ.

  2. Brett says:

    That gap between Jordan and Stock narrows considerably if you include postseason Win Score as well. Jordan produced nearly 2x as many wins in the playoffs and counting that bumps it to $356K per and Stock to $291K.

    • Gaby says:

      was such a fun session for me I took Jordan’s nebworn pictures (you can see them here) back in April. a0And he’s still so smiley!! a0It was great meeting his big brother too

  3. Jeff Lind says:

    When you look at Stockton’s raw numbers, it’s mind blowing… especially when you consider all the off court intangibles and ability to stay healthy. It’s hard to list different players in order of value since different players mean different things to different teams, but Stockton meant everything to the Jazz. His work ethic and style of play left an imprint on the Jazz that they’re still living with today… and that’s a really, really good thing.

    Nice stuff.

  4. Crawdad says:

    Non-Jazz fan here (Warriors fan, actually—heap your scorn upon me), but I enjoyed this. “Valuable” is a nebulous concept (see Kobe/Shaq/even MJ’s relative lack of MVPs while they were by popular consensus the best players in the league), but no one would quibble that Stockton is if not the best PG of all time—I have Magic—one of the select few.

    What I do want to add is the comparison you missed: Tim Duncan. He only missed a significant chunk of games once, during his second season, completely informs his team’s overall philosophy, and has barely declined at all due to age. He’s a consummate leader and professional and has the wins, the rings, and respect to back it up. What I’d argue is, while it’s hard to imagine another player like Stockton, you should just turn on a Spurs game and remember we have one playing now, still, at an All-Star, all-time level.

    Now, I’ll go lick my Nellie-inflicted wounds. Thanks.

  5. anil says:

    nice article, i like stockton a lot too. cant believe nobody before me mentioned this, but if you are defining more valuable the way you are you also need to think about the revenue brought in by each player. so the correct stat would be return on assets and john stockton most likely didnt even bring in one tenth of the revenue to the jazz that michael jordan brought to the bulls. other than that, i thought it was a well thought out and unique piece.

  6. Bob Koca says:

    Something very major is missing. How would it look if you compared cost per championship?

  7. Bill says:

    No championships. End of story.

  8. Konstantin says:

    One of the biggest things your leaving off this list of defining value is how much money he brings the team. Like how many asses he puts in seats. These are some of the biggest reasons guys get paid the big bucks.

  9. C33 says:

    Love the premise of the post as well as the style (easy to read). Well done!

  10. The J says:


    Jordan = 6
    Stockton = 0

    Hmm…How much would you Jazz fans be willing to pay for just one of those?

    I know that was an easy shot, but at the end of the day, each player’s job is to win championships, more than individual games. In fact, if you were to truely argue worth, games in the playoffs should be worth more than regular season games because that is what they are truely paid to do. And games in the finals should be worth more, and finally a championship winning game should be worth the most. It’s kind of like what is worth more to you: Lebron’s most wins in the regular season last year, or Kobe’s championship?

  11. Kevin Malphurs says:

    The main point that I should have made is that I don’t think it is Stockton’s fault that the Jazz didn’t win any championships during his time. He was productive in the regular season and productive in the playoffs. If this was tennis I would agree with the “No championships. End of story.” comment, but basketball is a team game. Since it is a team game it hurts Stockton that he didn’t have as many productive players around him as Jordan.

    Still the comments have got me thinking about how to incorporate the playoffs into the Cost of Win statistic. I can agree that a playoff win is more important and there should be some way of weighting that more heavily.

    Other than that I was looking at more of a 1-1 microeconomics view of the value of a player. If we considered total economic impact then Jordan probably would be worth 5X what he was paid. I can’t take into account everything (like impact on the game, which would be great but tough to quantify), so I tried to just look at the what was easily judged.

  12. janglesjr says:

    Who spiked Elton Brand’s Kool-Aid and why is Paul Millsap holding a bottle of cyanide?

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