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Debunking NBA Myths: Did Wilt play in a ‘weak’ era?

This is one of the most common myths that perpetuate, that Wilt played in a weak era with 8 teams full of short white unathletic dudes and that’s why he dominated easily and dropped 50 a night. Well, I’m going to name a bunch of HoFers from his era, and tell you their best seasons. After all, if the league was not competitive, and full of short white dudes then guys other than Wilt shouldn’t be putting up great numbers at all right?

1960-1973 HoFer (except Wilt) best seasons:

Jack Twyman (1960) – 31.2 PPG / 8.9 RPG / 3.5 APG
Bob Cousy (1960) – 19.4 PPG / 4.7 RPG / 9.5 APG
Cliff Hagan (1960) – 24.8 PPG / 10.7 RPG / 4.0 APG
Tom Heinsohn (1960) – 21.7 PPG / 10.6 RPG / 2.3 APG
Bailey Howell (1961) – 23.6 PPG / 14.4 RPG / 2.5 APG
Elgin Baylor (1962) – 38.3 PPG / 18.6 RPG / 4.6 APG
Oscar Robertson (1962) – 30.8 PPG / 12.5 RPG / 11.4 APG
Walt Bellamy (1962) – 31.6 PPG / 19.0 RPG / 2.7 APG
Richie Guerin (1962) – 29.5 PPG / 6.4 RPG / 6.9 APG
Wayne Embry (1962) – 19.8 PPG / 13.0 RPG / 2.4 APG
Bill Russell (1962) – 18.9 PPG / 23.6 RPG / 4.5 APG
Bob Pettit (1962) – 31.1 PPG / 18.7 RPG / 3.7 APG
Jerry Lucas (1965) – 21.5 PPG / 21.1 RPG  / 2.7 APG
Sam Jones (1965) – 25.9 PPG / 5.1 RPG / 2.8 APG
Zelmo Beaty (1966) – 20.7 PPG / 13.6 RPG / 1.6 APG
Jerry West (1966)  – 31.3 PPG / 7.1 RPG / 6.1 APG
Chet Walker (1967) – 19.3 PPG / 8.1 RPG / 2.3 APG 
Rick Barry (1967) – 35.6 PPG / 9.2 RPG / 3.6 APG
Dave Bing (1968) – 27.0 PPG / 4.4 RPG / 5.0 APG
Dave Debusschere (1968) – 17.9 PPG / 13.5 RPG / 2.3 APG
Nate Thurmond (1968) – 20.5 PPG / 22.0 RPG / 4.2 APG
Hal Greer (1968) – 24.1 PPG / 5.4 RPG / 4.5 APG
Gus Johnson (1968) – 19.1 PPG / 13.0 RPG / 2.7 APG
Earl Monroe (1968) – 24.3 PPG / 5.7 RPG / 4.3 APG
Lenny Wilkens (1969) – 22.4 PPG / 6.2 RPG / 8.2 APG
Wes Unseld (1970) – 16.2 PPG / 16.7 RPG / 3.5 APG
Connie Hawkins (1970) – 24.6 PPG / 10.4 RPG / 4.8 APG
Willis Reed (1970) – 21.7 PPG / 13.9 RPG / 2.0 APG
Billy Cunningham (1970) – 26.1 PPG / 13.6 RPG / 4.3 APG
Elvin Hayes (1971) – 28.7 PPG / 16.6 RPG / 2.3 APG
Lou Hudson (1971) – 26.8 PPG / 5.1 RPG / 3.4 APG
John Havlicek (1971) – 28.9 PPG / 9.0 RPG / 7.5 APG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972) – 34.8 PPG / 16.6 RPG / 4.6 APG
Bob Lanier (1972) – 25.7 PPG / 14.2 RPG / 3.1 APG
Walt Frazier (1972) – 23.2 PPG / 6.7 RPG / 5.8 APG
Jo Jo White (1972) – 23.1 PPG / 5.6 RPG  / 5.3 APG
Gail Goodrich (1972) – 25.3 PPG / 3.0 APG / 5.2 APG
Dave Cowens (1973) – 20.5 PPG / 16.2 RPG / 4.1 APG
Spencer Haywood (1973) – 29.2 PPG / 12.9 RPG / 2.5 APG
Pete Maravich (1973) – 26.1 PPG / 4.4 RPG / 6.9 APG
Tiny Archibald (1973) – 34.0 PPG / 2.8 RPG / 11.4 APG

If you look at those numbers, you can tell that Wilt definitely was playing in a league full of some pretty talented guys, not just ‘short white unathletic dudes’ as casual fans just assume. And yet, Wilt outscored and out-rebounded them all. 

We all know Wilt’s best season but here it is – truly video game numbers – 50.4 PPG / 25.7 RPG / 2.4 APG on 50.6% shooting. Nobody since has ever averaged more than 37 pts in a season (Michael Jordan in 1987). Rebounding wise no one has even come close to Wilt’s career average in rebounding (22.9 RPG). In addition, no one has ever come close to the minutes Wilt played in that season either at 48.5MPG – that’s every second of every game including overtimes. 

I’ll give you Wilt’s worst season for comparison – his last season when he was 36 years old in 1973 – still averaged 13.2 PPG / 18.6 RPG / 4.5 APG, 72.7% FG% and went to the Finals that year. Think about that – in his last and worst season – he still led the league in rebounding with an average that was only ever equaled once since (Dennis Rodman in 1992), averaged 4.5 assists a game for a center, then had the NBA’s highest FG% in a season ever.

And yet, despite all this, many fans and analysts do not put Wilt in their top 5. This is a case where Wilt’s numbers worked against him in that he was so dominant that people just automatically assumed his peers were all nobodies.

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Sports

Who was the best NBA center of all time and why?

I think the main contenders for this spot is either Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

First off, out of these 3 I rank Russell the lowest because even though he was the best defender of the three, the greatest winner and arguably the best team player, he lacked the 2 way dominance the other two had. In terms of intangibles Russell might be #1, but I place him below Wilt/Kareem.

Now for Wilt vs Kareem it really depends on whether you value prime output or longevity. This is a big debate among fans and there’s no right answer. For example, would you take Robert Parish 21 years of above average play or Bill Walton 2 years of transcendental play? Would you take Bernard King a SF with an incredible unstoppable prime, or Paul Pierce an above average SF with a long career but a not so dominant prime?

Wilt has the most incredible prime out of any player in NBA history, MJ included. He averaged 50 points a game one season, scored 100 points in one time, grabbed 55 rebounds in one game, led the league in assists etc it goes on and on. However he only played 13 seasons.

Kareem along with Duncan, Malone, Stockton, Kobe, Lebron etc has one of the longest careers of exceptional play out of any NBA player but his prime doesn’t quite match Wilt’s. He played 7 more seasons than Wilt did, yet I believe that Wilt would have exceeded almost all of Kareem’s records (except for rings maybe) if he played just as long as Kareem did.

So for me I’m picking Wilt over Kareem because I believe that Wilt was the more talented player, post knee-injury Wilt was able to block prime Kareem’s skyhook and match him one on one and I do believe that if Wilt was in his prime, he would dominate Kareem. But it’s a close choice and I really don’t fault anyone for picking Kareem over Wilt as well as I understand the reasons behind it.

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Which NBA player (or future NBA player) can you see getting the next quadruple double?

Here’s an interesting thing: If you make a search on Basketball Reference with the criteria > 10 PPG, > 6 RPG, > 6 APG, > 2 SPG you will see the most well rounded guards/forwards: Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, Jason Kidd, Scottie Pippen, Walt Frazier, Rick Barry, Fat Lever etc these are the players most likely to get a quadruple double with steals.

Getting 10 steals is remarkably difficult though; I think its interesting that Jordan, Magic, Kidd, Lebron etc never got a quadruple double before.

Using the criteria for blocks, you have to set it to > 10 PPG, > 6 RPG, > 4 APG, > 2 BPG and you can see some of the most well rounded big men: David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett, Bob Lanier all appear on the list pretty frequently. Wilt Chamberlain would have also been on there. Curiously, none of them except Robinson have produced a quadruple double, and Hakeem doesn’t appear on the list. Kareem had several seasons of statlines like 27/14/5/4 so I’m surprised he never had a quadruple double too.

Modern day, players are averaging triple doubles left and right so I will start with the most likely candidates: Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons would be my picks. Davis is currently the player most similar to Hakeem and Robinson too.