Resetting The Bill Russell Scale for Stephen Curry's pursuit of the NBA's pantheon

In anticipation of the NBA's 75th anniversary team last season, I set out to create "an unbiased ranking of unassailable players" and came closest with the 100-point system we now know as The Bill Russell Scale.

In honor of Russell's passing over the summer, I wanted to start this season — and each successive one — with a reminder of how close to perfection his career actually was, and then hold everyone to that standard.

What is The Bill Russell Scale?

Criteria for The Bill Russell Scale came from the idea that the NBA's 50th anniversary team included:

  • Every MVP but Bob McAdoo

  • Every nine-time All-Star but Dominique Wilkins

  • Every six-time All-NBA selection but Wilkins

  • Every three-time top-five MVP finisher but McAdoo and Wilkins

  • Every face of a championship team (post-BAA/NBL merger) but Bob Davies and Dennis Johnson

  • All but four Finals MVPs (Johnson, Jo Jo White, Cedric Maxwell, Joe Dumars)

  • All but four top-40 all-time scorers (Wilkins, Alex English, Adrian Dantley, Walt Bellamy)

  • Everyone with at least 100 win shares and 11 playoff win shares but Maurice Cheeks

  • All but five players with a qualified Player Efficiency Rating greater than 20 and a playoff PER greater than 19 (George Yardley, Bob Lanier, Marques Johnson, Kevin Johnson and Dan Issel)

Seventy-four players met two or more of those parameters at the start of last season, and the addition of McAdoo and Wilkins to the 75th anniversary team further solidified these barriers to entry among all-timers.

Ten of those 74 players did not make the NBA 75 cut: Chauncey Billups, Adrian Dantley, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Dwight Howard, Dennis Johnson, Neil Johnston, Nikola Jokic, Tracy McGrady and Tony Parker.

And 12 players who met none or just one of those criteria made the cut (note that the NBA 75 actually includes 76 players): Nate Archibald, Dave Bing, Billy Cunningham, Dave DeBusschere, Sam Jones, Jerry Lucas, Pete Maravich, Earl Monroe, Dennis Rodman, Bill Sharman, Nate Thurmond and Lenny Wilkens.

Those two lists make for a pretty good collection of players who could have fallen on either side of the dividing line for the final grouping. One more reason why we need a statistical model to settle debates!

So, I concocted The Bill Russell Scale, using this logic:

The point of the game is to win, which is how I came to this system of ranking a player's legacy. I tinkered with several weighted scoring structures based on the above criteria and a number of statistical standard-bearers until I settled on what will now be known as The Bill Russell Scale.

We can debate whether Michael Jordan, LeBron James or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest player in NBA history, but there is no career you should want more than Russell's. He played 13 seasons, never finished lower than seventh in the MVP voting and won 11 championships. His only career playoff losses came against two of the 11 players ever to meet all the above criteria.

Russell's accomplishments also do not fit neatly into a statistical box. He was not an all-time great scorer, and PER fails to properly capture the impact he clearly had. This is why setting him as the gold standard makes so much sense. His profile is one of a winner in whatever form it takes to chase perfection. With all that said, The Bill Russell Scale's 100-point scoring system:

19.1: Russell's average PER and playoff PER. The max score.

16.4: Russell's regular-season win shares divided by 10. The max score.

14.5: Russell's career scoring total divided by 1,000. The max score.

12: Russell's number of All-Star appearances. The max score.

11: Russell's number of All-NBA appearances. The max score.

11: Russell's number of top-5 MVP finishes. The max score.

11: Russell's combined championships and Finals MVP awards. The max score.

5: Russell's number of regular-season MVP awards. The max score.


100: The Bill Russell Scale

(The NBA did not name a Finals MVP until 1969, when Jerry West became the only player ever to win the award in a losing effort — to a retiring 34-year-old Russell. Since no one is likely to win 11 titles again, combining rings and Finals MVPs — the award later named for Russell — gives a player of Jordan, Kareem or LeBron's caliber a shot to hit that mark or approach it.)

Who scores highest on The Bill Russell Scale?

The 75 greatest players in NBA history, according to the 100-point scale:

  • 1. Bill Russell (100)

  • 2. Michael Jordan (99)

  • 3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (97)

  • 4. LeBron James (96)

  • T5. Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant (92)

  • 8. Shaquille O'Neal (89)

  • 9. Larry Bird (87.1)

  • T10. Bob Pettit, Oscar Robertson, Karl Malone (84)

  • 13. Hakeem Olajuwon (83.9)

  • 14. Jerry West (82.9)

  • 15. Kevin Durant (82.1)

  • 16. Moses Malone (80)

  • 17. John Havlicek (79.2)

  • T18. Wilt Chamberlain, Dirk Nowitzki (79)

  • T20: Kevin Garnett, David Robinson, Chris Paul (78)

  • 23. Charles Barkley (77)

  • 24. Bob Cousy (76.7)

  • 25. James Harden (73.7)

  • 26. George Mikan (73.2)

  • 27. Stephen Curry (72.7)

  • 28. Elgin Baylor (72)

  • 29. Rick Barry (71.9)

  • 30. Dwyane Wade (71.7)

  • 31. John Stockton (71)

  • 32. Dolph Schayes (70.8)

  • 33. Patrick Ewing (70.3)

  • 34. Julius Erving (69.2)

  • 35. Dwight Howard (68.8)

  • 36. Scottie Pippen (67.6)

  • 37. Russell Westbrook (67.2)

  • 38. Elvin Hayes (66.7)

  • 39. Steve Nash (66.6)

  • 40. Allen Iverson (65.5)

  • 41. Jason Kidd (65.3)

  • 42. Gary Payton (65)

  • 43. Paul Pierce (64.6)

  • 44. Dominique Wilkins (64.4)

  • 45. Paul Arizin (63.5)

  • 46. Robert Parish (63.3)

  • 47. Clyde Drexler (64.2)

  • 48. Sam Jones (62.5)

  • 49. George Gervin (62.4)

  • 50. Giannis Antetokounmpo (62.3)

  • 51. Isiah Thomas (61.7)

  • 52. Carmelo Anthony (61.3)

  • 53. Walt Frazier (61)

  • 54. Pau Gasol (60)

  • 55. Ray Allen (59.6)

  • 56. Tracy McGrady (59.3)

  • 57. Tony Parker (58.8)

  • 58. Hal Greer (58.5)

  • T59. Willis Reed, Chris Bosh (58.2)

  • 61. Anthony Davis (57.8)

  • T62. Reggie Miller, Bill Sharman (57.3)

  • 64. LaMarcus Aldridge (57.2)

  • 65. Kevin McHale (56.9)

  • 66. Dave Cowens (56.8)

  • 67. Damian Lillard (56.1)

  • T68. Kawhi Leonard, Bob McAdoo (55.5)

  • T70. Chauncey Billups, Jerry Lucas (55.4)

  • T72. Vince Carter, Bob Lanier (55.3)

  • 74. Adrian Dantley (55)

  • 75. Paul George (54.9)

Again, not a bad list! We are approaching the point where 60 is the passing grade to become an all-timer. (And, yes, this is evidence that we are absolutely underrating Gasol as one of the game's true greats.)

A few observations from this year to last:

  • With his 12th All-Star appearance, 10th All-NBA selection and an uptick in career win shares, Kevin Durant eclipsed Moses Malone for 15th on this list — higher than any active player but LeBron, whose score of 96 can only be improved with another MVP award, championship or Finals MVP honor.

  • Stephen Curry's fourth championship and first Finals MVP award powered his leap from 35th to 26th. Curry passed John Stockton and moved within striking distance of both Bob Cousy and Chris Paul. Among point guards, only Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson rank ahead of them — in the top 10.

  • Somehow, Harden is still two spots ahead of Curry. This may be a weakness of the model, but it rewards Harden's regular-season durability and cautions against vaulting Curry into the pantheon too soon. These are good things. Curry has far more room to move up than Harden (and we will get to that).

  • Anthony Davis, you have so much more room to rise and so much more time to do it, if you stay healthy.

  • Nobody made a bigger leap last season than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who moved from 74th to 50th, thanks to another monster statistical season and his fourth straight top-five finish in the MVP voting.

Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry shows off his NBA championship ring during a ceremony prior to their season opener. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

How high can Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo climb this season?

LeBron has maxed out every score on The Bill Russell Scale but championships and MVPs (both regular season and Finals). It is the only way he can catch Russell, Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar. Likewise, Paul has hit the ceiling in five of the eight categories. He has settled into this zone Harden is also approaching, along with Charles Barkley, where only another top-five MVP finish or a championship can inch him any higher.

Curry, on the other hand, has yet to hit a number of benchmarks, and he already has banked the four championships. Even a routine season for Curry at this point — All-Star, All-NBA and pushing double-digit win shares — would vault him into the top 25. Another top-five MVP finish would match Cousy. A third MVP or a fifth championship would have him knocking on the top 20. Both, with another Finals MVP, would send him into the pantheon, right behind Durant, with still more room to rise into the top 10 the following season.

The most points Antetokounmpo could hope for this season is probably 7.5 — All-Star, All-NBA, a baker's dozen win shares, MVP, champion, Finals MVP and more than 14,500 career points — which would launch him ahead of (non-ABA) Julius Erving. Not bad for someone who will only turn 28 years old in December.

Who could crack The Bill Russell Scale's top 75 this season?

Guys like Nikola Jokic (50.5), Joel Embiid (43.1) and Luka Doncic (37.1) can add even more to their scores with a perfect season, since they are still thousands of points shy of Russell's career total. Consider Abdul-Jabbar's 1970-71 campaign. He was the regular-season and Finals MVP, stacked a whopping 22.3 win shares, scored 2,596 points and won the championship, totaling 10.8 points on The Bill Russell Scale.

Jokic has the most to gain among the handful of players who could possibly duplicate that kind of season. Double digits on The Bill Russell Scale this season would send Jokic close to 50th on this list from around 100th. Embiid would be knocking on the door of the top 75 with that kind of season. Doncic, Jayson Tatum and Ja Morant are still several years from cracking the list. The Bill Russell Scale rushes to no judgment.

I'm not sure anyone else could realistically move into the top 75 this season. Blake Griffin (53.3) is closest, but he would need to win a title with the Boston Celtics and log more win shares than he has in four years. Likewise, Kyrie Irving (51.4), Jimmy Butler (50.8), Kevin Love (50.3), Kyle Lowry (49.3) and DeMar DeRozan (48.6) are all hovering on either side of 50 points — right around where the Hall of Fame discussion begins.

Could Russell Westbrook drop on The Bill Russell Scale

It is possible for a player's score on The Bill Russell Scale to fall, but Russell Westbrook should be safe from dropping behind Elvin Hayes on this list — for now. Negative win shares and a plummeting PER can lower Westbrook's score (and have by a fraction of a point). Antetokounmpo may also catch Westbrook, but it would take a monumental collapse in the one-time MVP's career to drop lower than 38th this season.

Where do active stars rank on The Bill Russell Scale?

For reference when we revisit this next season, here is where every active player who has made at least one All-Star appearance ranks on The Bill Russell Scale (keeping in mind that the model better represents a player's legacy with a fuller picture of his career, rather than measuring his current standing in the league).

  • 1. LeBron James (96)

  • 2. Kevin Durant (82.1)

  • 3. Chris Paul (78)

  • 4. James Harden (73.7)

  • 5. Stephen Curry (72.7)

  • 6. Dwight Howard (68.8)

  • 7. Russell Westbrook (67.2)

  • 8. Giannis Antetokounmpo (62.3)

  • 9. Carmelo Anthony (61.3)

  • 10. Anthony Davis (57.8)

  • 11. LaMarcus Aldridge (57.2)

  • 12. Damian Lillard (56.1)

  • 13. Kawhi Leonard (55.5)

  • 14. Paul George (54.9)

  • 15. Blake Griffin (53.3)

  • 16. Kyrie Irving (51.4)

  • 17. Jimmy Butler (50.8)

  • 18. Nikola Jokic (50.5)

  • 19. Kevin Love (50.3)

  • 20. Kyle Lowry (49.3)

  • 21. DeMar DeRozan (48.6)

  • 22. Al Horford (47)

  • 23. Paul Millsap (45.8)

  • 24. Joe Johnson (45.5)

  • 25. Andre Iguodala (44.6)

  • 26. Marc Gasol (44.5)

  • 27. Klay Thompson (43.9)

  • 28. Kemba Walker (43.2)

  • 29. Joel Embiid (43.1)

  • 30. DeMarcus Cousins (42.6)

  • 31. Rudy Gobert (42.5)

  • 32. Karl-Anthony Towns (42)

  • 33. Brook Lopez (41.9)

  • 34. Mike Conley (41.7)

  • 35. John Wall (41.3)

  • 36. Bradley Beal (41.2)

  • 37. Derrick Rose (41.1)

  • 38. DeAndre Jordan (40.4)

  • 39. Nikola Vucevic (39.4)

  • 40. Rajon Rondo (39.3)

  • 41. Andre Drummond (38.9)

  • 42. Jrue Holiday (38.1)

  • 43. Luka Doncic (37.1)

  • 44. Isaiah Thomas (37)

  • 45. Draymond Green (36.9)

  • 46. Devin Booker (36.8)

  • 47. Khris Middleton (36.3)

  • 48. Goran Dragic (36)

  • 49. Jayson Tatum (34.9)

  • 50. Gordon Hayward (34.4)

  • 51. Donovan Mitchell (33.4)

  • 52. Trae Young (31.9)

  • 53. Andrew Wiggins (31)

  • 54. Pascal Siakam (30.5)

  • 55. Ben Simmons (30)

  • 56. Domantas Sabonis (29.6)

  • 57. Kristaps Porzingis (29.1)

  • 58. Victor Oladipo (28.7)

  • 59. Bam Adebayo (28.3)

  • 60. Brandon Ingram (28.2)

  • 61. Jarrett Allen (27.6)

  • T62. Julius Randle, Zach LaVine (27)

  • 64. Ja Morant (26.7)

  • 65. Jaylen Brown (26.2)

  • 66. Fred VanVleet (24)

  • 67. D'Angelo Russell (23.3)

  • 68. Dejounte Murray (22.6)

  • 69. Zion Williamson (17.5)

  • 70. LaMelo Ball (13.7)

  • 71. Darius Garland (12)

Best of luck to everyone still building his NBA legacy, and we will check your progress again next year.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach