Neil Paine takes a look at how the top three finishers in Win Shares have finished in the playoffs since 1984. I love this list. I have so many comments.
Adrian Dantley was really good.
Michael Jordan was really good. I wonder if "best ever" somehow underrates him. He starts his rise in the mid-80's: second best in 1985, not top-three in 1986, best in 1987, best by four Win Shares in 1988 (a typical league leader has 16-18, so to win by four is quite something), best by three in 1989, best in 1990, best in 1991, best in 1992, best in 1993, takes a few years off, comes back and is best by two Win Shares in 1996, best in 1997, second-best in 1998. Come on. That's absurd. He fails at baseball for two years, comes back, and is the best player in basketball again, and it's not even close? There was only one time in his run as the best player in the game when the race was even close: 1987, when he beat Magic by 0.1. How absurd is that?
Also, how bad was that 1988 team? He has 20 Win Shares and the Bulls get beat in the second round of the playoffs?
Kobe's only been top-three once in his career: 2007, when L.A. got knocked out by Phoenix in the first round (again).
There are only three "missed playoffs" on the list: Barkley in 1988, Elton Brand in 2002, and Garnett in 2005. Barkley's Philly team featured a very good Mo Cheeks, but really nobody after that. The NBA sent eight of eleven Eastern teams to the playoffs back then, and the Sixers still missed out. That's pretty terrible. Brand's Clippers finished 9th in the West, but five games back. Michael Olowakandi was the highest-paid player on the team, and Quentin Richardson was the second-best player. Ouch. Garnett's T-Wolves were three games over .500, but finished a game behind Memphis for the 8th spot. This was definitely the best of the three teams on this list, as Wally World was a solid second banana and Fred Hoiberg was an adequate third guy. Even at that point, though Sam Cassell had nothing left.
Guys that appear only once on this list: Sidney Moncrief (he had two better seasons before this list starts and two very good seasons after 1984 that just missed the top three before falling off the table); Horace Grant (3rd in 1992, just a peak season at 26, surrounded by a bunch of 8-10 WS seasons before and after); John Stockton (3rd in 1995, mainly because Jordan wasn't around to push him down a slot to his usual position just out of the top-three -- his season total wasn't really out of line with the rest of his 87-96 peak); Grant Hill (3rd in 1997 -- I'll just stop talking about him now or else I'll cry); Gary Payton (3rd in 2000 -- the very top of his 26-33 peak is all this was); Ray Allen (3rd in 2001 -- a weird early peak driven by a career-high FG%); Elton Brand (3rd in 2002 -- he actually had a much better year in 2006, but couldn't crack the list); Tracy McGrady (1st in 2003 -- the only player to lead the league but only appear in the top three once, also a little bit of a "what could have been"); Peja Stojakovic (2nd in 2004 -- he was 26, the same age a number of the players on this list were -- is 26 the equivalent of baseball's 27?); Shawn Marion (3rd in 2006 -- age-27 peak, similar but not quite as good years at 26 and 28); and the aforementioned Kobe.
There's also Dwyane Wade, but I'll be charitable and say he should/could make another top-three performance in the next year or two. Then again, he's 27 this year ...