Saturday, September 8, 2012

2012 Basketball Hall of Fame Puts 1980 NBA Finals MVP Up For Debate: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Jamaal Wilkes?

Jamaal Wilkes deserved to be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night, but did he or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also deserve to be MVP of the 1980 NBA Finals instead of Magic Johnson?


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put the Lakers up 3-2 in the 1980 NBA Finals with 40 points and 15 rebounds in Game 5 at L.A. He scored 14 points in the 4th quarter, including the game-winning dunk over Dr. J, on an ankle so badly twisted doctors said he couldn't play in Game 6. Kareem averaged 33 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks in the first 5 games of the series.

Jamaal "Silk" Wilkes, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last night, had his fellow UCLA Bruin's back. He outplayed Julius Erving in Game 6 with a career-high 37 points against Dr. J's 27 to help the Lakers win the second title in franchise history. Game 6 was tied at the half, but the Lakers blew it open by scoring 14 straight points to start the 3rd quarter. Silk scored 16 points in the period. He also finished the game with 10 rebounds.

The NBA legend of Magic Johnson began his rookie year with the 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists he racked up in Game 6 at Philadelphia after jumping center in place of the injured Kareem. The idea of Magic playing center for any significant portion of the game was a myth. Jim Chones spent most of the game in the middle and put up 11 points and 10 rebounds while Mark Landsberger grabbed 10 rebounds at power forward. Brent Musberger even says at the end of the game that Magic only "started" the game at center and played forward and guard the rest of the game. Regardless, the myth was born and Magic was crowned Finals MVP.

Did he deserve it?


This analysis uses Estimated Wins Produced, a statistic created by sports economist David Berri. Since an average team's winning percentage is 0.500, an average player produces 0.100 est. wins per 48 minutes (est.WP48). A star player produces 0.200 est.WP48 and great players produce 0.300 est.WP48. See the HEAT Produced Page for more information on Est. Wins Produced.

If Magic deserved to be 1980 NBA Finals MVP, then he should have been the most productive player in the series. The spreadsheet below lists the wins produced in the 1980 NBA Finals estimated from the composite box score available at

Magic produced an estimated 1.9 wins in 256 minutes (0.363 est.WP48) during the 1980 NBA Finals. Kareem produced an est. 1.2 wins in 203 minutes (0.277 est.WP48) and Silk produced an est. 0.1 wins in 252 minutes (0.024 est.WP48).

While Wilkes clearly doesn't belong in this discussion about 1980 Finals MVP, there is an interesting discussion for HEAT fans at the Court Bully blog comparing Wilkes' career as the 3rd option on the championship Lakers to Bosh's role on the Miami HEAT.

In this discussion, however, Magic clearly deserved the Finals MVP award after 6 games. What about after 5? The spreadsheet below lists the estimated wins produced by Magic and Kareem after 5 games.

Magic produced an est. 1.4 wins in 209 minutes (0.312 est.WP48) over the first 5 games while Kareem only produced an est. 1.2 wins in 203 minutes (0.277 est.WP48). The gap is closer but Magic was still more productive.

The difference between Game 5 and 6 also illustrates how big Magic's performance truly was. He produced 0.5 to 0.6 est. wins in Game 6 which puts him over 0.500 est.WP48 for the game - that's five times more productive than the average player on the floor in THE FINALS. John Hollinger ranked it the 2nd best performance in modern NBA history at, behind Dwyane Wade's performance in the 2006 Finals.

If Magic had not come up with that kind of performance, the Lakers may have lost to the 76ers. The Lakers only had two players provide above average production in the series: Magic (0.363 est.WP48) and Kareem (0.277 est.WP48). The 76ers had three: Dr. J (0.204 est.WP48), Mo Cheeks (0.200 est.WP48) and Bobby Jones (0.143 est.WP48).

It looks like Arturo was right and Magic definitely deserved to be named 1980 NBA Finals MVP.

This analysis was based on Magic playing the entire series at guard. Of course, that wasn't the case in reality. However, even if the analysis was done assuming Magic played the entire series at forward, he still would've ended the Finals with an est. 1.4 wins produced compared to Kareem's 1.2. After 5 games, Magic would've only produced 0.9 est. wins if he played all of his minutes at forward.

There were 576 minutes available at guard in the series and Norm Nixon, Michael Cooper and Brad Holland only used 452 of them. That leaves at least 124 minutes at guard for Magic and since Cooper was also used to play forward in some lineups, Magic may have played even more minutes at guard.

If Magic's production was split between guard and forward, his production only drops to around 1.8 est. wins produced after 6 games - far ahead of Kareem. After 5 games, Magic would have totaled an est. 1.2 wins if his production was split between guard and forward.

No matter how you slice it, Magic earned that Finals MVP award.

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