The Numbers Don’t Lie: Debunking Kevin Garnett’s Winning Reputation

April 28, 2002, with 2:58 left in the game Kevin Garnett gets a defensive rebound down 104-101 to Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks. For the next, almost, 3 minutes, like he always does against better opponents, Kevin Garnett completely disappears. While his team valiantly scraps and claws to avoid the sweep KG disappears. Losing 115-102. 

Chauncey Billups, who in the future will become an NBA champion, Finals MVP, and All-NBA point guard; is currently on Kevin Garnett’s Timberwolves, he went on to say this, “I really thought KG was the best four-man in the league. And I thought he really was going to lock Dirk down. I think he averaged 30 and 15 on us. KG was talking as much stuff as he could. We tried everything, and it was like, this dude is just different. He’s just different.”

Billips was wrong though, Dirk Nowitzki had averaged 33 and 16 while shooting 53/73/90 from the field. Yes, All-Defensive First Team Forward Kevin Garnett had locked up Dirk Nowitzki to only 33 points per game on a .686 True Shooting Percentage. In a sweep (Highlighted here), Dirk Nowitzki was a +32 in the 3 games; a perfect opposite to KG’s -32. It would take Kevin Garnett till 2010 to have a neutral playoff plus-minus. 

You see that was always the case in Minnesota, yes KGs teams were bad. But let’s not forget that he was part of the reason. In Minnesota from 96-07, Garnett averaged 22 points 12 rebounds, and 5 assists on 49/29/78 shooting but in the playoffs, it was still 22-13-5 but on 45/33/76. His slight drop in efficiency caused by him playing way over his head by being a number one option in the playoffs was part of the problem. 

For those of you who need reminding this is playoff KG. In the real world not 2k fantasy world KG struggled incredibly bad on offense in the playoffs. 

47% on the ghost of Charles Barkley for a non stretch big. 

48% on Detlef Schrempf

44% on Duncan

38% on Rasheed

46% on Duncan

42% on Dirk 

Finally 51% on Robert Horry 

45% on Rookie Carmelo Anthony 

44% on CWebb 

46% on Horry 

45% for his playoff career. KG wasn’t a 2 way player. He was a 1 way player given unlimited shots.

And let’s examine the offensive output of those opponents. Only Rookie Melo and for some reason Tim Duncan are statistically worse than their regular season output. 

Some players are lauded highly for their one success and others are derided for their one failure. Garnett has ridden that one title where all his weaknesses were covered up by a perfect roster around him into basketball immortality. 

17th all-time in the Athletic. 

15 on complex. 

20 on ESPN.

19 on Lines. 

18 on HoopsHype. 

16 on Sportsnaut.

While I don’t think he is totally overrated, I have him 25th all-time currently and even had him 19 a few years ago with the 75 at 75 list. However, recent Twitter controversies over whether he or Dirk was better had me re-examining KG in the context of where he played.

Most people remember KG as the Crazy Maniac who would do anything to win, but was that true? How much of that aura is as fake as him pretending to be tough, only until an actual tough player threatened him? I mean seriously, watch this. No player in history had to run away from more fights that they started than Kevin Garnett. 

To set the limits of this discussion. I am discussing what happened. Most people talking about KG only focus on fantasy lands where KG didn’t lose and was actually not a fake tough guy. This won’t be that. I won’t be playing the Genie from Aladdin sending Garnett to basketball Narnia where he’s the only good player and gets to play against G-leaguers and gets all the superstar teammates as most people argue when this is discussed. This will be based on what happened. Based on what Garnett did as a basketball player Not what would he have done if he for some reason gets magical help with his roster and everyone else magically gets none? For some reason, every other all-time great is measured by what they did. KG is only measured by fantasy dreams and lollipops. 

Kevin Garnett was not capable of being the best offensive player on a championship team.  Even for him to be the best overall player on that team was a tough task. The herculean effort required 2 of the top 75 players of all time on his team and a top 10 coach of all time. Even then, they could only catch that lighting in a bottle once. Speaking of the top 75… 

Kevin Garnett was 45-60 (.428) versus the 75 at 75 guys in the playoffs. Dirk was 39-32 (.549), Duncan was a monstrous 113-80 (.585), Even Karl Malone was 73-59 (.553) and Charles Barkley was 31-40 (.436). Of the great Power Forwards KG Faced when playing the best KG won the least amount of time. 

KG was on super teams for 7.5 seasons. His record vs the top 75 players in those years was 28-28 (.500 but if you can’t do that math, I’m sorry) so that does move him ahead of Barkley.

KG Routinely played a part in his team’s playoff failures, yet The Big Ticket is remembered fondly by people who embrace his attitude of bullying weaker opponents and disappearing against people even close to his size. There’s a reason his taunts were all based on his sexual exploits with weaker opponents’ wives (La La Anthony) it’s because he was too busy getting beaten by the good opponents to taunt them.  

Yes, Garnett is a top 75 player all time (25 all time by my count), however, nostalgia and his fake tough guy act have created a warped view of who he was. He was a front runner of all front runners. KG won 19 playoff games against better rosters than his own. Dirk (18 on my all-time list) won 12 in 2011 alone, Duncan (5 all-time for Jordan) and Kobe (11)  made it a habit. KG needs to be remembered as one of the greats but amongst the greats he played against, he won the least, even when he got the most help.

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Jordan Ennis lives in West Africa where he is a pastor at an international church, he also co-hosts the Assisted Development Podcast on the HoopSocial Podcasts feed. He can be found at Assisted Development Podcast on Facebook and @HoopSocialDraft on Twitter.