Sharing the Excellence

With the graduation of J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams at the end of last season, I wondered how they rank among the greatest players in Duke history. Many Duke fans have posted their list of the greatest Devils, and their all-time starting line-ups. But most Duke fans choose players that they have seen, and they have biases for more recent players.

I wanted to see how J.J and Shelden would compare, not only to Shane Battier, Grant Hill and Christian Laettner, but also Bob Verga, Art Heyman, Jeff Mullins, Mike Gminski, and Johnny Dawkins.

I wanted to create a formula that gave credit to players who filled up the stat sheet, but gave credit for contributing to a winning team. I decided to have two factors. The first one is based on his individual stats. The formula is:

Efficiency = Points – Half of the Missed shots – Missed free throws + Assists + Rebounds + Blocked shots + Steals - Turnovers

Some of these stats aren't available in every season, but it doesn't matter. The next step is to add up the efficiency points for everyone on the team, and then divide each player's total by the team total.

What this does is it allocates the percentage of each team's efficiency points to each player on the team. The second factor is based on the team's winning percentage. Players who accomplish more on great teams get more credit than the players on weaker teams. The formula for that is:

Factor = 100 x (0.500 + Winning Percentage) / 2

I multiply these two numbers together to get a player's share for each season.

Let's look at a couple of examples. We'll start with J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams from 2006. Here are their individual stats:

NAME

PTS FGA FGM FTA FTM AST REB BLK

J.J. Redick

964 643 302 256 221 95 71 2

Shelden Williams

677 410 237 270 201 39 384 137

Team

2921 2011 979 905 689 546 1097 202

NAME

STL TO EFF PCT WP SHARE

J.J. Redick

52 90 888.5 22.9 .889 15.90

Shelden Williams

60 89 1052.5 27.1 .889 18.84

Team

337 491 3880 100 .889 69.44

Shelden had 27.1% of the team's efficiency points for the year, and the team's winning percentage means that the players on the team share 69.44 total points.

I am a little surprised that Shelden contributed more to Duke's wins last season than J.J., but that's what the formulas does, and when you look at it, it kind of makes sense. J.J. scored 287 more points, but he took 233 more shots, and Shelden had 313 more rebounds and 135 more blocked shots.

Now let's look at Cherokee Parks in 1995.

NAME

PTS FGA FGM FTA FTM AST REB BLK

Cherokee Parks

589 443 222 147 114 45 289 55

Team

2410 1864 886 616 413 476 1039 132

NAME

STL TO EFF PCT WP SHARE

Cherokee Parks

26 68 797.5 25.8 .419 11.84

Team

177 446 3096 100 .419 45.97

The Chief didn't quite put up as many numbers as J.J. did, but his teammates didn't either, and he gets a higher percentage. He gets credit for 25.8% of the team efficiency points, but because the team lost more games than they won, there are only 45.97 points to share around. He's a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Next, we add up the seasons of each player's career, and sort by the total. This gives us a list of the greatest players in Duke history.

I went back to 1954. That's the first year of the ACC. I miss out on Dick Groat that way, which is too bad. There are 705 player-seasons during that time, from 266 different Duke players. On the list we have:

#216. Joey Beard, 1994 (0.36). Highly rated, Beard didn't pan out and transferred.

#213. Eric Boateng, 2006 (0.40). The same story, although perhaps not as highly rated as Beard.

#187. Andre Buckner 2000-2003 (1.19). Little more than a practice player picked up after the mass defections after the 1999 season, Andre was very popular with his teammates.

#141. Matt Christensen 1996-2002 (5.03). If you could harness Christensen's energy and put it in a body with talent, what would you get? I'm hoping the answer is "Lance Thomas".

#125. Greg Paulus 2006 (6.92). The obvious question is how does Greg compare to Bobby Hurley as a freshman? Hurley was better; he scored 6.94.

#120. Corey Maggette 1999 (7.19). I think that Corey's Duke career is overrated. He was a good player, but there were so many good players on that team. Corey just didn't play enough minutes as a Dukie to be an all-time great.

#114. DeMarcus Nelson 2005-2006 (8.98). As the team veteran, it seems like he's been here for longer than two injury-plagued seasons.

#96. Luol Deng 2004 (12.24). Luol's season is the best of any player that was only at Duke for one year. As a comparison, Josh McRoberts was at 9.19 last year, and so he's back to try to improve on that mark.

#81. Shavlik Randolph 2003-2005 (16.93). I know most people think that Shav was a disappointment, but with a solid senior season, he could have ended up in the top 50 on this list. If he matched Josh's 9.19 points, he'd be 48th.

#77. Billy King 1985-1988 (17.71). King's main ability was defense, and that doesn't show up on the scoreboard as well as other player's contributions. So I'd rate him above this subjectively. I'd find a spot for Billy on my bench on an All-Time Duke team.

#67. Dahntay Jones 2002-2003 (19.61). In 2003, he was our scoring leader and defensive stopper. But he falls behind Roshawn McLeod (64th, 20.56) as Coach K's most successful transfer.

#59. Elton Brand 1998-1999 (21.91). Elton's 1999 season is worth 15.34 by itself. Elton is the top Duke player who only had two seasons as a Devil.

#57. Steve Wojciechowski 1995-1998 (22.28). I said it. Wojo was better than Elton Brand! But I won't say it too loud! (Imagine if Elton had been healthy as a frosh and stayed for four years).

#52. Tate Armstrong 1974-1977 (23.25). Tate is hurt by the fact that the teams he played on were so weak.

#45. Jay Bilas 1983-1986 (25.91). Part of a strong class. The 1986 class does quite well in these rankings.

#38. Mike Dunleavy 2000-2002 (29.92). Had an excellent career.

#31. Chris Carrawell 1997-2000 (31.71). One of my favourites.

#25. Trajan Langdon 1995-1999 (34.60). Beat out Carlos Boozer (26th, 33.39) as the top Alaskan.

#24. Doug Kistler 1959-1961 (34.85). Does anyone remember Doug? He's never listed as one of the greatest players in history. But look who he beats!

#23. Bob Verga 1965-1967 (35.55). Verga is better remembered than Kistler, probably because his teams were better. This is the heart of the Vic Bubas era.

#22. Chris Duhon 2001-2004 (35.77). Duhon's inclusion among the Duke greats confirms for me the validity of the formula.

#21. Bobby Hurley 1990-1993 (37.12). Subjectively, people put Bobby in the top 10. But he shared credit for great teams with other great players.

#20. Jason Williams 2000-2002 (37.52). Hurley or Williams for the greatest Duke point guard ever? The numbers here side with Jason, but it's as close as any spirited debate.

#19. Jack Marin 1964-1966 (37.65). Another star from that era – players of this era do spectacularly well, as benches weren't as deep, so it isn't really a disadvantage to be in the era without freshmen eligibility.

#18. Carroll Youngkin 1959-1961 (40.03). Kistler and Youngkin, stars of a forgotten era in Duke history.

#17. Cherokee Parks 1992-1995 (40.13). The Chief is better than I remembered him. Then again, he was some player.

#16. Jim Spanarkel 1976-1979 (42.08). The third wheel in the great 1978 squad that went to the championship game.

#15. Randy Denton 1969-1971 (44.04). He's the only star player between the Bob Verga-Mike Lewis team and Tate Armstrong team.

#14. Ronnie Mayer 1954-1956 (44.91). Duke's first ACC star.

#13. Mark Alarie 1983-1986 (46.49). Solid across the board in multiple categories. He's another underrated star.

#12. Grant Hill 1991-1994 (46.63). He's almost unanimous on everyone's all-time Duke line-up. Doesn't quite crack the top ten because he deferred to Christian and Bobby early in his career.

#11. Shane Battier 1998-2001 (47.55). He deferred to his teammates too much in his first two seasons to make the top ten.

#10. Mike Lewis 1966-1968 (48.75). Lewis is the last surprise name on this list. He was a very good player. But top ten?

#9. J.J. Redick 2003-2006 (49.07). This is where your scoring leader ends up.

#8. Danny Ferry 1986-1989 (50.44). I think that Ferry is much overlooked by fans today. He's the bridge between the Dawkins era and the Laettner era (he played with both guys), and Ferry led Duke to the Final Four in three of his four seasons.

#7. Johnny Dawkins 1983-1986 (51.43). Subjectively, most people rate him higher. But it's a tough list to crack, and the leaders are all pretty close.

#6. Jeff Mullins 1962-1964 (51.72). Rates this high because he contributed a high percentage of his teams efficiency points all three years and all three teams won a lot of games.

#5. Christian Laettner 1989-1992 (53.26). Not number one? Because he shared the glory with guys named Hurley, Hill, and Ferry.

#4. Art Heyman 1961-1963 (53.61). The greatest Duke player of his era. He's certainly deserving of a spot on Duke's all-time top 5.

#3. Gene Banks 1978-1981 (54.03). He combines Mullins' attributes (high efficiency) and high winning percentage with a fourth season.

#2. Shelden Williams 2003-2006 (55.35). It's a surprise that Shelden is number two on the list, but on the other hand, imagine what Duke would have done without him the last four years.

Congratulations to Shelden for the recent announcement to have his uniform number retired.

#1. Mike Gminski 1977-1980 (59.48). Gminski was a big part of all four teams that he played on. I wouldn't say that he was one of Duke's top 5, but he certainly should be in any discussion of Duke's greatest players.


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