Backpicks GOAT: #8 Kevin Garnett

Key Stats and Trends

  • Dominant box and non-box metrics due to versatile skills on offense/defense
  • Strong team offenses in Minnesota, all-time level team defenses in Boston
  • Elite court awareness on offense (passing) and defense (rotations)

Scouting Report

Kevin Garnett was a video-game creation —  a quick 7-footer with guard skills and the highest revving motor in NBA history. In his second year, he emerged as an All-Star, flying all over the court on defense while planting the seeds of his scoring arsenal, unveiling spins, fades and stepbacks:

In those early years, he was a lockdown perimeter defender, often assigned to unsuspecting guards who had to face some sort of supersized Sydney Moncrief incarnation that made finding clean looks a nightmare:1

His quickness and length shrunk the court, allowing him to help then recover, which played into one of Garnett’s greatest strengths, his defensive rebounding. He would rotate and roam constantly until a shot went up, then dive toward the rim and inhale the board:

Once he became a full-time power forward, Garnett’s relative defensive rebounding rates were among the all-time leaders, posting five consecutive seasons above the 96th percentile and leading the league twice in the category. His four-year peak of +15.8 percent ranks eighth since the stat was kept in 1974.

On offense, he used quickness to attack bigs, often facing up on the perimeter like a guard and driving. As Garnett moved into phase two of his career, his passing emerged, finding teammates off of penetration like this:

He developed into one of the greatest passing big men in NBA history, dolling out eye-popping interior dishes, touch passes, or point-center dimes from the pivot, as he demonstrates in the first clip below after forcing Michael Jordan’s doppelganger into a turnover:

In tracking over 1,000 of Garnett’s possessions from 1997-2009, his rate of quality passing was near John Stockton’s, and using just his games from 2003 to 2008, his rate of “good” passes was over 4 per 100, comparable to Jason Kidd. While Garnett’s on-ball load dipped in Boston, his passing was better than ever, making life easier for the offensive weapons around him. He was also the most prolific creator of any big man in history (if we don’t count Larry Bird). In tracking Garnett, his creation rates were similar to his estimated non-3 Box Creation marks — in the 7 per 100 range — placing him at the top of the heap since this stat became available in 1978.

Over the years, he developed a mid-post repertoire of fakes, spins and of course, his bread-and-butter fadeaway:

I tracked 151 Garnett on-ball scoring possessions in his sample, and he averaged a stellar 1.08 points per play on such attacks.2 It’s a small sample, but nearly identical to Tim Duncan’s 1.07 points per play in my tracking, mirroring Synergy’s “post up” similarities between both players.3

However, Garnett struggled to generate easy points for himself in the half court. While other greats like Duncan could use power to bang into traffic for free throws, Garnett relied more on quickness and finesse. His free throw attempts weren’t low, per se — between about 8 and 9 per 100 during his best offensive years — but Duncan was at 11 or 12. KG wasn’t quick enough to regularly turn the corner and absorb contact, yet his high center of gravity prevented him from rooting deep in the lane or dislodging defenders for easy put-backs. In that last clip, a stout Chuck Hayes pushes him about five feet off his spot. Notice how he scarcely improves his positioning on this repost against a slimmer Robert Horry:

He did pick up layups in transition, especially when younger; he was always one of the first players down the court, running like an automaton the moment his team possessed the ball. Notice on this play, after one of his typical trampoline closeouts, how he outruns two defenders by instantly bolting when Boston gained possession:

And he used that speed and energy on defense more than most players in history:

Garnett was a diverse defender, owning brown and black belts in multiple disciplines. His hands and feet were always active, sometimes making basic entry passes difficult:

He lacked historically good shot-blocking numbers, but was a strong rim protector, using length and verticality to swat away countless attempts:

Garnett was able to contest like this while rarely fouling, ranking as one of the lowest-fouling bigs on record since 1997. After watching tape on him for a while, it’s not the highlight blocks that stand out, but instead how well positioned he is on nearly every play. He tracks the ball, slides in step with pick-and-rolls and reacts to threats like a basketball T-cell:

To borrow Bill Russell’s vernacular, his “horizontal game” was better than his vertical one. He could switch onto bigs and smalls and was constantly in the right position to deter attacks. Even in his Celtic days, he could totally disrupt wings or help on the biggest of centers:

Overall, Garnett’s athleticism, awareness and motor made him one of the best team defenders ever. In my sampling, from 2003-09, he committed defensive errors at a rate of just 0.7 per 100 (96th percentile). This was nearly identical to his rate during my 2010 and 2011 tracking (which included 2,500 more Garnett possessions). Additionally, his frequency of “good” help plays is second in my historical tracking to only a young Hakeem Olajuwon, at over 7 occurrences per 100, ahead of Tim Duncan’s peak rates of more than 6 per 100. (Olajuwon had far more elite blocks, but Garnett was capable of mind-bending blocks too.) Even in his 16th season, he was still a rotation machine, instantly switching and recovering wherever offensive threats emerged:

Unlike most great players, Garnett’s offensive and defensive peaks nearly overlapped. He likely maxed out on D in 2003 — it was the height of his tracking numbers in my sample and the last year before he started to lose a bit of his invaluable motor — while his offense crested from 2004-06 as his passing continued to grow and his post game added polish.

In 2005, a sore knee inhibited his movement and likely eroded some of his defensive value, and in 2007 he was shut down at the end of the season with a nagging thigh injury. After a major injury ended his 2009 campaign , he returned as a defensive specialist, with a strong argument for DPOY in 2011 at age 34. His size and immense basketball IQ helped him retain defensive value until 2013.

Impact Evaluation

Garnett’s robust skill set produced one of the greatest analytics portfolios in league history. He repeatedly elevated marginal teams in Minnesota, then led some of the best defenses ever in Boston. On the few occasions he was surrounded by viable talent, he guided his teams into the upper-echelon — including a transcendent Boston team — and he did this with nearly unrivaled impact metrics. Only his imperfect scoring prevented him from landing on basketball’s Mt. Rushmore.

Garnett’s development as a player in Minnesota coincided with the Timberwolves steady ascension from expansion-doormat to playoff team. In Year Two of the KG era, the Wolves drafted Stephon Marbury and crossed the 35-win plateau, and in Year Three, Minnesota played like a 45-win team before Tom Gugliotta’s season was ended by injury. Minny then started with a bang in the shortened 1999 season (53-win pace for 18 games) before contentiously trading Marbury for Terrell Brandon.

But then the Wolves spiraled into an historically unmatched stretch of personnel corrosion. First, they were stripped of three first-round draft picks for illegal contract shenanigans with Joe Smith. Then Brandon was forced into early retirement due to knee problems, playing his last full season in 2001. Two years later, Wally Szczerbiak, Minnesota’s only notable addition between 2000 and 2003, missed 30 games and hobbled around for 28 more in ’04. After the ’02 season, the Wolves couldn’t afford to re-sign their best young asset, Chauncey Billups, and even worse, guard Malik Sealy died tragically in a car accident. While many superstars enter their primes with a fully stocked kitchen, Garnett was left with a bare cupboard.

Minnesota’s roster was offensively slanted, with players like Brandon (a borderline All-Star who struggled defensively), Anthony Peeler (a streak shooter who fared well from downtown from ’01 to ’03), Szczerbiak (an excellent shooter who also lacked defensive prowess), and Troy Hudson (a solid pick-and-roll scorer who was a defensive sieve).4 During those years, the Wolves hovered around a 50-win pace, and in 2002 played at an impressive 48-win clip (2.3 SRS) in 51 games without Brandon.

Their modicum of offensive firepower paid off when everyone was healthy, likely boosted by Garnett’s elite passing and strong creation: In 2000, they were 4.5 points better than league average in relative efficiency (rORtg); in 2001, +2.2; in 2002, +4.5 in 40 games without Brandon; and in 2003 an elite +5.4 with Szczerbiak. For perspective, if those were full-season averages, Minnesota’s five-year offensive rating from 2000-04 would be +3.9, nearly identical to the ’83-87 Celtics (+4.0) and the ’00-04 Lakers (+3.9).

Garnett never captained an historically dominant offense, likely caused by his inability to collect easy points and a lack of accompanying firepower. Similarly, he never generated great scoring and efficiency rates in the postseason — his playoff numbers dipped slightly more than expected — although the sample sizes are too small to put much stock in. Over a larger sample, against quality defensive teams, he didn’t appear to decline in any abnormal way. Here’s how he stacks up in the Big 3 box score dimensions among the great modern bigs, where he was the least impressive scorer, but the most prolific creator:5

This kind of profile — lighter on scoring, strong on playmaking — is the inverse of someone like early-’60s Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt could score oodles of moderately efficient points, sometimes single-handedly swinging games, but he couldn’t help his teammates enough to generate efficient offenses in the long haul. On the other hand, Garnett couldn’t ramp up his scoring like some of the behemoths, but when surrounded with weapons, his passing and creation unlocked their potential.

His team’s defense, however, was another story during those years. Minnesota lacked defensive talent, and the Wolves constantly floated around league average with Garnett on the court and then struggled mightily when he was off it. In 2001 and 2002, they were nearly dead average with him in the game and about 4 points worse without him.  Those defenses were held back by quirky lineups; in ’01, Garnett played 1,200 minutes at center next to defensive milquetoast LaPhonso Ellis in a small-ball lineup, then in ’02 logged over 1,500 minutes alongside two other bigs in oversized lineups. In 2003, playing more at his natural power forward slot, the Wolves were 1.2 points better than average with him on the court and a disastrous 7.3 points below average with him on the bench.

In 2004, Minnesota upgraded its roster, acquiring Sam Cassel, just the second teammate of Garnett’s from ’98-07 to make the All-Star game.6 The Wolves balanced their lineup with more defensive talent, and while the offense posted a mark comparable to prior years (+3.0 rORtg) it was the defense that finally brought them to the fringe of title contention, posting an rDRtg 3.2 points ahead of the league. This wasn’t a dominant defensive team, but such heights were unlikely under Flip Saunders without another star defender next to KG.7

In 2005, the Wolves roster issues came home to roost. Latrell Sprewell, on his last legs, clanged his way to a dreadful -4 percent relative true shooting percentage (rTS), and the Wolves played at a 37-win pace (-1.4 SRS) in 29 games without Cassell. In those games, the offense regressed to right around average while the defense dipped below-average, the likely penalty for trotting out Hudson, Spree and Michael Olowokandi. With Cassell, they played at a 50-win pace (3.0 SRS), making them arguably the best team in league history to miss the playoffs. In 2006, the band broke up, the roster was scrambled, and they sank into the lottery.

In the first half of the ’06 season, Minnesota hovered around .500 before panic-trading for flotsam, and in 2007, again floated at .500 before a coaching change formally derailed the year. In those two seasons, they were outscored with Garnett off the court by 11.9 points per 48 in 2,021 minutes, approaching some of the extreme lows in history. It was commendable that those teams sniffed .500 given that the roster was replete with replacement players who could barely make the league.8

When Garnett arrived in Boston, his pinpoint rotations and blanket court-coverage spearheaded the second-best relative defense since 1970, 8.6 points better than league average. Boston was strong offensively as well, posting a +3.7 rORtg when healthy. In his first two Celtic seasons, Garnett missed 39 games in which the other starters played, and without him, Boston performed like a 51-win team (3.4 SRS). But with him, they played at a 65-win pace (9.0 SRS), a degree of lift rarely matched in NBA history.9 KG missed another 19 games in 2010 and 2011 and the Boston defense dropped by a substantial 4.9 points without him. Even with Garnett’s missed time, the Celtic’s five-year run of defense ranks second since 1970.

Garnett’s non-box value-signals extend beyond his missed time. He’s arguably the king of adjusted plus-minus (APM), as he’s the only player on record with a top-40 (scaled) four-year peak in both offensive (26th) and defensive APM (first), reflecting the balance he shows on tape. His 2004 season is the best single-year on record and 13 of his seasons as a heavy-minute player fall in the top-200 ever recorded. APM is excellent at describing situational value — who correlates with changes in the scoreboard based on their presence on that particular team — but sometimes huge APM marks are merely the result of a good fit and targeted coaching. Yet Garnett posted three of the 20-best APM seasons ever with different teammates of varying style and skill, demonstrating his incredible portability:10

While many people might balk at ranking him this high, Garnett is the poster child for multiple biases discussed in Thinking Basketball. His strengths — off-ball defense and passing — are historically overlooked by telescoping on isolation scoring and block totals. Before the stigma of the first-round curse and the collapse of the Timberwolves, KG was widely argued as an equal to Duncan and hotly debated as the game’s best player. From 2000 to 2005 he won an astounding nine Player of the Months (POMs), including six of nine starting in early 2003. For comparison, Shaq claimed five POMs in that time span, Kobe four and Duncan won three in his entire career.11 Garnett was second to peak Shaq in MVP voting in 2000, then claimed 73 percent of the share in 2003, narrowly losing out to peak Tim Duncan before grabbing 99 percent of the vote in 2004. Along with Kareem and Karl Malone, he’s a member of the 25-14-5 club and is third all-time in NBA All-Star selections.

Even at eighth, I still question whether I underrate him. He achieved his incredible statistical profile on a broken franchise with mediocre coaches, whereas someone like Duncan played under a metric-enhancer in Gregg Popovich. While Garnett’s scoring limitations and lack of base strength prevented him from a GOAT-level peak, there’s a viable argument, especially from the film, that I’m slightly underselling his offense by taking his small-sampled postseason scoring efficiency at close to face value.12

He and Duncan are the most balanced megastars among the all-time greats, although Garnett leaves a slightly larger impact footprint, trumping Duncan in both (regular season) box and non-box metrics. He was a longevity giant, stringing together 13 All-NBA quality years and eight strong MVP ones by my estimation. Most importantly, his elite passing and high-post offense — which opens the lane for isolationists and allows him to pair with ball-dominant guards — is far more scalable than any other all-time great big. That’s a difference-maker at these heights, and gives Garnett a top-10 peak, just enough to propel him above Wilt for the eighth-best career in NBA history.

Backpicks GOAT: #15 David Robinson

Key Stats and Trends

  • Dominant, all-time level box score and non-box score metrics
  • Regular season box stats overstate offense, but still excellent secondary piece
  • Huge peak/prime but lacks longevity compared to other greats

Scouting Report

After serving in the Navy, David Robinson entered the league as a polished 24-year old. He was explosively quick for a 7-foot-1 center and parlayed his physical package into a basic offensive repertoire that would stay with him throughout his career. His agility and strength allowed him to blow by opponents:

And much of his offense revolved around facing up and using that quickness, like this:

Per Robinson’s preference, those drives were to his right. When opponents respected his quickness, he created space with a jab step for his bread and butter face-up jumper:

This served him well as a finisher and high-low threat — he could catch-and-shoot successfully from beyond 15 feet — but his lack of deadly post moves sometimes limited him. In the following play, Robinson’s essentially “stuck,” forced into an awkward contested release:

This lack of a resilient set of moves sometimes limited him against stingier defenses (more on that later). He also habitually brought the ball down where little guys could swat it away, contributing to slightly elevated turnover rates compared to other great big men. He fumbled like this frequently — every 2 plays per 100 in my sampling:1

He tossed in the occasional rolling hook too, but the rest of his offense came from cleanup duty, where he used his athleticism as an offensive rebounder.

As a passer, his instincts were quite good. He was always a willing distributor, quickly flicking it out of double-teams and finding teammates on the opposite side of the court. Here he shows a feel for his strong interior passing:

He could also find inconspicuous openings as he surveyed the court from the high post:

However, he rarely threw elite passes and was sometimes a touch slow in his reads, mixing in the occasional bad pass or softball that killed a power play. In sampling Robinson, I graded 2.5 “good” passes per 100 — a strong rate — but also 1.5 per 100 that were “problematic” (slow, missed the mark, deflected, etc.). That’s the profile of a good-but-not-great passer.

Defensively, Robinson was a monster. He exploded off of the floor, challenging shots on short order like this:

He possessed strong awareness and could cover huge swaths of hardwood. Below, he provides excellent help on the entry and still recovers back to his man:

He hand-grenaded a number of possessions like this and was agile enough to contain perimeter players, then still rotate back to the rim. Below are two more complete Robinson defensive possessions: In the first clip, isolation wizard James Worthy doesn’t dare challenge him, yet he still alters both attempts at the hoop and ensnares the board. In the second, he’s ready to help in the post, then shows pick-and-roll range before recovering to blow up the play:

Robinson was a relatively low error defender (just over 1 error per 100 in my sampling), but suffered his share of delayed rotations. His length and quickness often bailed him out, but nonetheless he had a number of mildly tardy reactions when he wasn’t totally locked in to what the offense was planning. This is nitpicking though, as he was often in ideal position; notice how his textbook shade to the ball-side sets him up to slide to the rim, where he quickly reacts to the entry pass:

Robinson’s post defense was generally strong, using length and quickness to shut down most opponents. He tended to overplay the middle, taking away left-shoulder moves against righties. Notice how he’s all over this hook shot (typical of Robinson), and in the second clip, Shaq settles for a tough shot after feeling Robinson body-up toward the middle:

But these tendencies could be exploited in select instances. He was quick to leave his feet, which worked well against most mortals, but brutes could push him off his mark because Robinson lacked a low center of gravity. He was vulnerable to counters, which created a perfect storm in ’95 against Hakeem, who was one of the most counter-heavy post players in history. Below, Robinson overplays the middle and is thrown off balance slightly by a huskier Elden Campbell, freeing up a clean turnaround:

These defensive holes were small and subtle, but collectively they prevented Robinson from looking like the best defender of the 3-point era. His block rates were elite, topping out at 7.4 percent — the 34th best rate since blocks were kept in 1974 — with multiple years around 6 percent. (He shares the record for seasons over 5 percent with Marcus Camby and Hakeem Olajuwon.) His defensive rebounding added to his value on that end, with three of his first four seasons in the 90th percentile.

Robinson’s game was so consistent throughout his career that it bordered on monotonous. He was always willing to pass on an open shot, but seemed to do this more when playing alongside Tim Duncan, strategically scaling back his own offense. His athleticism waned around the turn of the century, but even then, he was surprisingly nimble until 2002, when his back became an issue and his movement stiffened before retiring in 2003.

Impact Evaluation

Robinson left the statistical imprint of a goliath, dominating both box score and plus-minus metrics. He was arguably the best post-merger rookie ever, and like Larry Bird, the centerpiece of an enormous improvement. He anchored dominant defenses for years, and then his team fell apart without him in 1997. And he left strong value-signals after returning from injury in 1998.

Robinson joined the Spurs for the 1990 season as part of a complete roster overhaul, and San Antonio catapulted from irrelevance to the playoffs behind the Admiral, Maurice Cheeks (and later Rod Strickland), Terry Cummings and fellow rookie Sean Elliot.2 While comparing the ’89 and ’90 Spurs is comparing apples to oranges, the Spurs defensive ascension is noteworthy since Robinson was their only rim protector. San Antonio moved from league average in ’89 to nearly 4 points ahead of the league (-3.9 rDRtg) in 1990 where they would remain for Larry Brown’s tenure as coach.

It’s worth taking a moment to discuss Brown. He’s on the shortlist of greatest defensive coaches, dating back to the ABA, where he coached the top defense in the league in Denver, who then finished atop the NBA after the merger in ’77. When Brown left in 1980, the Nuggets lost nearly 3 points of defensive efficiency (to 2.3 points below average) with a nearly identical core. He then joined the Nets in 1982, and with an overhauled roster, New Jersey rose from a below average defense to elite, posting -4.6 and -5.8 relative efficiencies in Brown’s two years, before dropping back 3 points after he departed.

This pattern continued when he returned from coaching in college: When Brown arrived in Indiana (1994), a more defensively inclined roster improved 4 points on D (to a -2.1 rDRtg). When he took over in Philadelphia in ’98, the Sixers also jumped 4 points on defense (with upgraded personnel), and then another 5 points in his second season (to a -4.6 rDRtg). In 2009, Charlotte improved by 4 points in rDRtg and in Detroit in 2004, the Pistons improved with Brown’s arrival and then, after trading for Rasheed Wallace, were arguably the greatest defense in league history, posting an unheard of -10.9 rDRtg in their 45 games with Sheed.

Brown’s arrival in San Antonio was no different, coinciding with a 5-point improvement in defensive efficiency (to about league average in 1989). In 1991, with the same core, the Spurs jumped to a 56-win pace when healthy (5.4 SRS), an improvement from the previous season’s 50-win clip (3.6 SRS). But Brown was sort-of-fired midway through the ’92 season, replaced by Bob Bass. With Bass at the helm and Robinson in the lineup, San Antonio posted an rDRtg of -2.9, down slightly from Brown’s two-hand-a-half years with Robinson.

The Admiral missed 17 games in 1992 with Bass coaching — a small sample — but he left a clue to his defensive impact. The Spurs were nearly 8 points worse in rDRtg without Robinson, forced into a small lineup without a suitable replacement.3 From 1993-95, San Antonio’s defensive ratings hovered between 1 and 3 points better than average on the back of Robinson.

In 1994, Robinson’s scoring expanded to historic levels, hitting 29.4 points per 75, by far his best rate, and the 40th-best mark in NBA history. It’s difficult to tell on film if he improved, or if he was simply more aggressive (and San Antonio ran more through him with Elliot and Strickland gone). Robinson’s scoring rates remained in the 98th historical percentile through 1998 with relative efficiency (rTS) 4 to 6 percent better than league average.

However, per the scouting report, his scoring game wasn’t robust and his postseason metrics are better indicators of his offensive prowess. He is one of a few notable players who seemed to struggle with stronger defenses, and his straightforward offensive approach likely contributed to his falloff in the postseason. Here are Robinson’s Big 3 offensive dimensions — scoring, creation and efficiency — scaled in the regular season among all-time big men:

His scoring volume during his peak seasons was second among the group, only a point per 75 possessions below Shaq. In the playoffs, however, Robinson’s efficiency collapsed, dragging down his scoring. Here’s what the same chart looks like using postseason numbers from those years:

The sample size isn’t great — 29 games for Robinson — but the trend stands out across his entire career. Robinson was still quite good, but his regular season numbers overstated his scoring skill. This Costanzian shrinkage occurred both early in his career and later alongside Tim Duncan (although Robinson maintained a more respectable efficiency with Duncan).

This phenomenon played out in 2000, when Robinson logged 12 games without Timmy. The Admiral cranked up his scoring rates to pre-Duncan levels, averaging 27 points per 75 on around +4 percent rTS. Robinson’s free throws spiked in those games, an indicator of increased aggression. But in four postseason games sans Duncan, he again looked like his mid-’90s self, losing some of that volume as his efficiency plummeted to -5.6 rTS in a four-game series against Phoenix.

After a year of co-captaining the ship in 1998, Robinson gracefully handed the offensive baton to Duncan in ’99 and settled into a secondary role. His minutes were selectively reduced — although he still played a massive role through 2000, as indicated by his playoff minutes residing in the upper 30s per game — and his twin-tower backline with Duncan unleashed one of the stingiest defenses in history. From 1998-2001, the Spurs posted the best stretch of playoff defense since the 1960s, with a postseason rDRtg of -6.9. Their regular season five-year run from ’98-02 was the second-best five-year period between 1970 and 2005:4

Robinson remained a defensive presence in his final few seasons, although in restricted minutes. In the 2002 playoffs, an injured Admiral averaged only 20 minutes per game, and in his final season in 2003, 23 minutes per night, down from 26 per game in the regular season. Still, he only suffered a slight decline in defensive rebounding and block percentages, and his scaled adjusted plus-minus (APM) values from those years are among the top-100 defensive scores ever recorded; his 2001 season is 27th of all-time, his 2002 season is 97th and his 2003 season is 35th. The limited minutes take some of the shine off those numbers, but they are impressive for a specialized role.

There’s more though. Robinson was also a lockdown individual defender, rarely exploited in isolation (per the scouting report). From 1990-96, he played 101 games against All-Star centers5 and held them 1.1 points below their per 36 scoring average and a whopping 5 percentage points below their true shooting efficiency. While those numbers fall just short of the all-time shutdown artists, they are still superb.6

On a list like this, Robinson’s hamstrung by a lack of longevity. While he finished in the top-10 in MVP voting 11 years apart, he also missed the ’92 and ’97 playoffs and squandered more value with an injury in the 2002 postseason. To boot, he entered the league late after serving in the Naval academy.

However, his total body of work is exceptional. His defensive indicators were massive, and Robinson is one of the kings of plus-minus data. Five of his scaled APM seasons are in the 98th percentile or better, peaking in 1995 with one of the best years on record. His five-year average from that data set would rank eighth (at +6.8) if his injured 1997 were excluded (instead of the +5.8 on his player card at the top of this profile). Similarly, he has the strongest game-level plus-minus in NBA history, making a legitimate claim as the most “valuable” player ever.

It took me a while to come around on Robinson, but mapping his film to the spreadsheet says a lot. His good passing not only helped teammates, but helped him mesh with others well. His scoring style wasn’t suited for the load that he tried to carry in the mid-’90s, but his finishing, offensive rebounding and face-up shooting fit well with more ball-dominant teammates (like Duncan). And of course, his all-time defensive metrics rightfully portray him as one of the most valuable players on that end since the merger.

The result is a top-15 peak ever and eight strong MVP-level seasons. He tacked on two more All-NBA years on the backend of his career, enough to earn him considerable mileage on this list. Unless stifling defenders like him are (somehow) less valuable than plus-minus splits suggest, it’s hard for me to value Robinson’s peak much lower than this. On the other hand, while it’s clear on tape that he’s no offensive savant, his statistical profile is so impressive that I wonder if he could be valued even higher. Either way, it’s difficult to move him out of this group of players from 12-17, so by virtue of his peak, he grabs the No. 15 spot.