- Kevin Pelton, ESPN Staff Writer
In ESPN Insider's "What if they played now?" series, we'll translate the statistics of stars of the 1980s and '90s to the present-day environment, giving an idea how they might have stacked up to their new contemporaries. Each season's stat line is compared to the league average at the time then projected using the current NBA averages. Next up: Lakers legend James Worthy.
Few top prospects have been dropped into a situation more ideal than James Worthy with the Los Angeles Lakers. In a shrewd trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lakers ended up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1982 NBA draft just three weeks after they beat the Philadelphia 76ers for the second of their five championships in the 1980s. Worthy got to play alongside the league's best point guard and an MVP center as part of an up-tempo Showtime offense that played perfectly to his ability in transition.
In "The Book of Basketball," Bill Simmons considered those advantages and wondered what might have happened if Tom Chambers and not Worthy had played for the Lakers during the 1980s: "Would he have taken the '88 Finals MVP, made the Hall of Fame and cracked the NBA's top 50 instead of Worthy? It's not inconceivable, right?"
To try to get some idea of how much Worthy benefited from his situation, we'll place him in a new context by moving his career up two decades. We'll still have Worthy get drafted by the Lakers after a championship -- in this case, 2002, the last of the team's three titles in the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal era. Worthy would have completed his ninth NBA season in 2010-11 and be heading into the decline phase of his career.