Which all-time NBA player had the most impact on their team’s success?

Although obviously there’s other roster changes and coaching changes that might be involved, we can take a look at how much a team improved their wins after an all time NBA player joined the team as a full time starter.

Jordan – Bulls went from 27 wins (1984) to 38 wins (1985) – 11 win improvement

Lebron – Cavs went from 17 wins (2003) to 35 wins (2004) – 18 win improvement

Kareem – Bucks went from 27 wins (1969) to 56 wins (1970) – 29 win improvement

Russell – Celtics went from 39 wins (1956) to 44 wins (1957) – 5 win improvement

Wilt – Warriors went from 32 wins (1959) to 49 wins (1960) – 17 win improvement

Magic – Lakers went from 47 wins (1979) to 60 wins (1980) – 13 win improvement

Bird – Celtics went from 29 wins (1979) to 61 wins (1980) – 32 win improvement

Duncan – Spurs went from 20 wins (1997) to 56 wins (1998) – 36 win improvement

Kobe – Lakers went from 61 wins (1998) to 67 wins (2000) – 6 win improvement – Note for Kobe I used his last full season as a bench player (1998) against his next full season as a starter (2000) since 1999 was a lockout season and hard to compare the wins

Hakeem – Rockets went from 29 wins (1984) to 48 wins (1985) – 19 win improvement

Shaq – Magic went from 21 wins (1992) to 41 wins (1993) – 20 win improvement

Curry – Warriors went from 29 wins (2009) to 26 wins (2010) – 3 win decrease

Dr J – 76ers went from 46 wins (1976) to 50 wins (1977) – 4 win improvement

West – Lakers went from 25 wins (1960) to 36 wins (1961) – 11 win improvement

Oscar – Royals went from 19 wins (1960) to 33 wins (1961) – 14 win improvement

KD – Sonics went from 31 wins (2007) to 20 wins (2008) – 11 win decrease

The surprising thing might be that Russell only improved the Celtics by 5 wins.. although he brought them their first Finals appearance and championship that same season as a rookie. With Curry and KD it’s interesting that they actually led to decreases in their team’s total wins although for KD they lost a few key players and changed their coach and Curry was a late bloomer as he developed over time and his early career was filled with injuries.

Duncan had the biggest single season improvement although this is due to both Robinson coming back full time healthy again and Duncan joining the team. Bird might be the most impressive given that the roster didn’t change too much except for him joining the team – and they had a massive 32 win improvement (McHale and Parish wouldn’t join until 1981).

By this metric I would say Larry Bird be one of the most impactful NBA players ever.


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