John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating pissed me off more when it was used to prove LeBron was better than Kobe a few years back.

It doesn’t annoy me as much as it used to. I’m now satisfied with believing that LeBron’s the better athlete while Kobe’s the better player — putting aside his recent struggles handling the ball. But it worries me to think that people are looking only at PER to determine a player’s value or using the stat to judge high school and college talent. It worries me more that it’s become so mainstream and that other columnists use it to measure a player’s success in the same way they use points scored.

An ESPN columnist himself, Hollinger developed PER to standardize the measure of a player’s total performance. He combines the individual player’s statistics with team statistics, weighting each individual stat differently. With some help from PEMDAS, the numbers plug into the formula to yield a number rounded to the hundredth. Hollinger sets the average PER in the NBA to 15.00. The best players have PERs in the 20s.

Michael Jordan owns the best career PER by one full point at 27.91. Of course he does. LeBron’s in second place at 26.91. Kobe? He’s at No. 18, sandwiched between Dr. J and Larry Bird.

Maybe the formula is accurate. Maybe it proves that Michael Jordan is truly the best there ever was. At least, the best there ever was after 1978, when the league started calculating usage rates used in the PER formula.

Or maybe Hollinger manipulated the weighting of each of the statistics included in PER to ensure MJ was the best. Making MJ the best gives PER legitimacy. What if, back in 2006 when he published the details of PER in his basketball prospectus, Hollinger had weighted the numbers to prioritize rebounding a little more? Shaquille O’Neal is at No. 3 on the PER list as it currently stands. What if he were the face of Hollinger’s baby?

Chances are good that ESPN wouldn’t have embraced it as much as they have. The notion that Michael’s the best ever is probably the least controversial of all the “Best of” notions you can make about the NBA.

Advanced statistics in basketball simply don’t dictate player value very well. Hollinger himself admits that PER fails to quantify the value of defensive specialists — such as Bruce Bowen — who tend to guard the best players but don’t produce many steals or blocks. Even this season’s likely MVP Derrick Rose is victimized by PER, cracking the top 10 but losing to the likes of the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and the Timberwolves’ Kevin Love.

The statistic is intended to be an all-encompassing basketball rating. If it doesn’t account for the value of “X-factor” plays that players make, what’s the point?

Give me points, rebounds and assists. Give me blocked shots and field-goal percentage. Hell, give me the number of championship rings. There’s no statistical truth deeper than the ones you can calculate by simply tallying up totals.


Daily Nexus NBA columnist Ravi Bhatia’s work PER is surprisingly low. It probably doesn’t include dick size.