Top Schools by Win Shares: A Closer Look at #1-5

On Saturday, we started to take an in-depth look at the Top 10 NCAA programs by Wins Shares, examining schools #6-10. Today we’re going to finish up by talking about teams #1-5:

    | college_name                             | overall |
    | 1. University of North Carolina          |    83.0 |
    | 2. University of California, Los Angeles |    57.9 |
    | 3. Georgetown University                 |    51.0 |
    | 4. Duke University                       |    47.5 |
    | 5. Michigan State University             |    45.3 |

5. Michigan State Spartans
Notable coaches: Gus Ganakas, Jud Heathcote, Tom Izzo
NBA Players since 1973-74: 26

12 best players by Win Shares:

Player             WS
Magic Johnson    155.8
Steve Smith       81.7
Kevin Willis      81.2
Eric Snow         43.1
Jason Richardson  36.0
Morris Peterson   34.0
Scott Skiles      30.7
Jay Vincent       27.2
Zach Randolph     24.6
Sam Vincent       10.8
Greg Kelser        8.7
Charlie Bell       8.4


  • Michigan St. is another school that’s heavily dependent on front-line talent for its ranking. Magic Johnson is obviously the headliner (according to WS, he’s the 11th-best player in the entire NBA since 1973-74), but next on the list are 3 surprisingly underrated Heathcote-era players in Steve Smith, Kevin Willis, and the recently-retired Eric Snow. Give J-Rich some time and he’ll pass Snow (perhaps even this year), but I’ll bet you didn’t know that Smith and Willis rank 83rd and 86th all-time in Win Shares, respectively.
  • Here’s another bit of trivia: Willis and Smith were actually traded for each other on November 7, 1994.
  • Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans have consistently been one of the country’s finest teams, winning 305 games in 13 years, making the NCAA Tournament 11 straight times (and counting), reaching 4 Final Fours, and winning the 2000 NCAA Championship. In fact, ESPN’s Andy Katz argued that they were the very best program in college hoops from 1998-2007. But for all of the team’s success, Izzo has not produced many big-time NBA players during his tenure in East Lansing: aside from Richardson, Peterson, Randolph, and Bell — none of whom are true stars — MSU’s only pro exports have been minor players like Paul Davis, Maurice Ager, and Shannon Brown. And who was the biggest college star out of all of Izzo’s Spartan players? None other than Mateen Cleaves… with -0.9 career Win Shares.
  • How good was Scott Skiles’ senior year at MSU? He scored a whopping 26.1 P/36 on a 61.0 TS%, doled out 6.2 A/36, and turned the ball over on only 12.9% of his plays. That 20.9 Game Score/36 minutes is good for 4th among all Top 10 roster members.

4. Duke Blue Devils
Notable coaches: Bill E. Foster, Mike Krzyzewski
NBA Players since 1973-74: 37

12 best players by Win Shares:

Player              WS
Grant Hill         82.2
Elton Brand        81.3
Christian Laettner 64.0
Mike Gminski       55.7
Shane Battier      50.3
Corey Maggette     48.3
Carlos Boozer      43.1
Danny Ferry        33.2
Gene Banks         31.5
Mike Dunleavy      30.3
Luol Deng          25.6
Johnny Dawkins     21.8


  • People always complain about Coach K’s players being busts in the pros, but they’ve still managed to produce a number of very solid NBA players during the Krzyzewski era. The highest-drafted Blue Devils since Krzyzewski took over in 1980-81 are: Elton Brand (1st overall), Danny Ferry (2nd), Jay Williams (2nd), Christian Laettner (3rd), Grant Hill (3rd), Mike Dunleavy (3rd), Shelden Williams (5th), Shane Battier (6th), Bobby Hurley (7th), Luol Deng (7th), and Johnny Dawkins (10th). As you can see, there’s a good deal of overlap between that list and Duke’s 12 best by WS, especially when you consider that the WS list includes years before Krzyzewski was coach, Hurley and Jay Williams’ careers ended prematurely due to freak off-court injuries, and Shelden Williams has only been in the league since 2006-07. You can take issue with isolated picks like Ferry being taken 2nd overall in 1989, but you can’t argue that Duke’s 12-man roster isn’t a very formidable group of pro players.
  • I didn’t know this before doing my research for this post, but Grant Hill’s stats declined sharply in his senior year at Duke. As a junior in 1993, Hill was brilliant, tossing in 20.5 P/36 with a 61.6 TS% and 4.4 Stl+Blk/36 (also, he won the Henry Iba Corinthian Award as the nation’s top defensive player). But as a senior, his numbers were down across the board: 17.5 P/36, 53.7 TS%, 3.1 SB/36, plus fewer rebounds and a higher turnover %. However (like me before I looked it up), nobody else really noticed Hill’s drop-off, mainly because Duke won 4 more games in ’94 and went to the National Championship Game, losing there only because of Scotty Thurman’s clutch 3 in the final minute. Besides, it didn’t matter anyway — Hill was still drafted 3rd overall, and he went on to have some really nice seasons in Detroit before injuries robbed him of his prime years.
  • Carlos Boozer’s numbers during his final year at Duke weren’t really that different from Elton Brand’s. Yes, Brand was a sophomore and Boozer was a junior, but look at them side-by-side:
    Player         Year  School  G  MPG   P/36  TS%   A/36 R/36  ToR  SB/36 GSc/36
    Elton Brand    1999  duke   39  29.3  21.8  64.9  1.3  12.1  11.2  4.3  20.8
    Carlos Boozer  2002  duke   35  28.4  23.1  69.6  1.4  11.0  12.4  1.9  20.0

    Aside from the obvious discrepancy in SB/36, it’s really not clear that Brand had the better season — yet EB was taken 1st overall in the draft and Boozer had to wait until Round 2, with the 34th pick, to hear his name called. No matter, though: in the pros, Boozer (10.09 WS/3000 min) has offered almost identical production to Brand (10.38).

3. Georgetown Hoyas
Notable coaches: John Thompson, Craig Esherick, John Thompson III
NBA Players since 1973-74: 22

12 best players by Win Shares:

Player              WS
Patrick Ewing     124.8
Dikembe Mutombo   115.5
Allen Iverson      97.2
Alonzo Mourning    88.4
Sleepy Floyd       51.3
Jerome Williams    37.8
Reggie Williams    26.7
Othella Harrington 23.0
Don Reid           13.5
David Wingate      11.8
Jaren Jackson      11.4
Jahidi White       10.5


  • That’s a ton of front-line talent! Among qualified schools, only UNC and UCLA can match the Hoyas’ big guns; Georgetown boasts four of the NBA’s 62 best players by career Win Shares, including #21 (Ewing) and #25 Mutombo. Add to that the fact that Iverson (#45) is still going strong with his new team in Detroit, and you’ve got a lot of star power for one university.
  • Unfortunately, the rest of Georgetown’s 12-man roster isn’t nearly as impressive — literally all of their players outside the top 4 were true journeymen in every sense of the word. Floyd played for 4 teams, the Williamses combined to suit up for 10 franchises, Harrington played for 5, Reid 3 (with 2 separate tours of duty in Detroit), Wingate 6 (2 tours with Seattle), Jackson 9, and White 3.
  • Alonzo Mourning’s senior year stands as one of the greatest in NCAA history: 23.3 P/36, 66.3 TS%, 11.7 R/36, 6.1 SB/36, and a Game Score/36 min of 22.7, tops among all Top 10 roster members. No wonder Charlotte took him 2nd overall in the ’92 draft, and no wonder Miami lavished a then-record $105 million contract on him in 1996.
  • Wondering how Dikembe Mutombo is 25th all-time in Win Shares? In a word, defense. Mutombo ranks 8th in defensive WS; a full 58.6% of his career value is attributable to his D alone.

2. UCLA Bruins
Notable coaches: John Wooden, Walt Hazzard, Jim Harrick, Steve Lavin, Ben Howland
NBA Players since 1973-74: 55

12 best players by Win Shares:

Player            WS
Reggie Miller   172.4
Marques Johnson  79.4
Kiki Vandeweghe  79.0
Jamaal Wilkes    72.2
Baron Davis      55.8
Dave Greenwood   46.4
Mark Eaton       44.8
Bill Walton      39.2
Swen Nater       36.7
Pooh Richardson  26.1
Tracy Murray     24.5
Mike Sanders     17.9


  • First of all, we’re doing the Bruins a huge (albeit necessary) disservice by throwing out the stats of all players whose careers started before the Win Shares era began in 1973-74. Here are some notable players UCLA didn’t get to include because they played before WS can be calculated: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Gail Goodrich, Sidney Wicks, Willie Naulls, Lucius Allen, Walt Hazzard, Keith Erickson, Curtis Rowe, and Henry Bibby, among others. Heck, Kareem alone (190.2 career WS, 4th all-time) would greatly close the gap between UCLA and UNC in our rankings.
  • Reggie Miller was as prolific an offensive player in college as he was in the NBA. In his final 2 seasons in Westwood, he averaged 23.1 P/36 on a 64.0 TS%, with a microscopic 10.2% turnover rate. In the pros, Miller’s career numbers were 19.1, 61.4, and 10.5% — which helped him accumulate the 4th-highest offensive Win Share total ever.
  • UCLA has sent 55 players to the NBA since 1973, which is the most of any school in the NCAA. North Carolina, with its 48 NBA alums, ranks second behind the Bruins.
  • You can file Bill Walton’s entire career under the category of “what might have been?”. When Walton was relatively healthy for parts of the 1977 and 1978 seasons, he was absolutely dominant, averaging 13.3 Win Shares/3000 minutes. But the big redhead was rarely at full strength, ultimately succumbing to foot and ankle problems after only 468 career games. Had he stayed injury-free for any extended period of time, there’s no doubt Walton would have at least matched Marques Johnson’s 79 career WS, and he probably would have accrued many more. But, unfortunately, we’ll never know for sure just how spectacular Walton’s career would have been if not for his many injuries.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels
Notable coaches: Dean Smith, Roy Williams
NBA Players since 1973-74: 48

12 best players by Win Shares:

Player             WS
Michael Jordan   208.5
Sam Perkins      104.0
Rasheed Wallace   93.4
Vince Carter      82.8
James Worthy      80.8
Walter Davis      78.8
Bobby Jones       74.2
Antawn Jamison    65.2
Brad Daugherty    63.8
Jerry Stackhouse  51.3
Kenny Smith       46.6
Rick Fox          45.7


  • Want to know why UNC is tops in depth by a wide margin? Their 12th man, Rick Fox, would rank 4th for Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech, 5th for Houston, 6th for Georgetown and Michigan, 7th for UCLA and Duke, and 8th for Arizona.
  • Michael Jordan may be second to Karl Malone in all-time Win Shares, but Malone did it in 13,839 more minutes. In terms of WS/3000 min, Jordan owns The Mailman, 15.3 to 12.7. So even though he’s not the all-time career WS leader, it’s still okay to go ahead and call His Airness the GOAT.
  • You probably wouldn’t expect Sam Perkins — who famously graced the cover of SI alongside MJ in 1983 and was drafted just one slot behind him in ’84 — to show up as UNC’s 2nd-best player, but the Big Smooth did maintain a 114.7 offensive rating over 17 seasons and logged the 2nd-most NBA minutes (behind Jordan) of any UNC alum.
  • Arguably the best individual season among the players on UNC’s 12-man roster belonged not to Jordan, Perkins, Rasheed Wallace, or even Brad Daugherty, but rather to Antawn Jamison in 1997-98. En route to winning just about every Player of the Year award out there during his junior year, Jamison scored 24.1 P/36 on 60.7 TS%, turned the ball over on only 8.3% of his plays, and pulled down 11.4 R/36 en route to a 19.3 GmSc/36.
  • One really scary thing about North Carolina is that 4 of their top 12 players — Rasheed Wallace, Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, and Jerry Stackhouse (all of whom have 50 or more career WS) — are still in the league, meaning the gap between the Tar Heels and the rest of the NCAA is only going to get wider. In fact, no other school has more than 5 players with 50 WS period, much less among active players.

About Neil Paine

I work for I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on November 17, 2008, in NCAA, Win Shares. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. That was fascinating reading.

  2. I got nervous for a while there when I saw Reggie Miller’s WS of 172.4. But MJ does it again! Clutch!

  3. Really, great stuff to read, thanks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: