I would say Kareem was the best basketball player of the 1970s, followed by Dr J talking about overall achievements. Kareem – 5 MVPs, 1 championship, 1 FMVP. Dr J – 3 MVPs, 2 championships, 2 FMVPs. Dr J of course dominated the ABA when he was at his peak.
However, when it comes to individual seasons, it’s quite different. I’m going to rank my top 10 individual seasons from the 1970s, and the players on this list might be a surprise to some people:
1) 1972 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 34.8 PPG, 16.6 RPG, 4.6 APG, 57% FG%
As great a season as any player has statistically had, Kareem just dominated his opponents in his Bucks peak and this was his best year stats wise. He accrued 25 win shares just in this one year alone. For comparison, that’s how much Andrew Toney (the Boston Strangler and offensive dynamo for the Dr J 76ers) got in his entire career.
2) 1975 Bob McAdoo – 34.5 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 51% FG%
Yes this is the second most impressive season from a 1970s player. McAdoo was virtually unstoppable in his prime from anywhere on the floor. McAdoo won MVP this year putting up crazy numbers, and upped his numbers to 37 PPG in the playoffs but succumbed the far more talented Unseld/Hayes Washington Bullets.
3) 1970 Spencer Haywood – 30 PPG, 19.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 49% FG%
Surprised? Haywood was dominant in his prime and he was just a rookie in the ABA when he put up these jaw dropping numbers. In the playoffs he upped his averages to 37 PPG / 20 RPG and dragged a below par Denver Rockets team past the first round where they succumbed to the LA Stars.
4) 1973 Tiny Archibald – 34.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 11.4 APG, 48% FG%
In his Kings prime, Tiny put up tremendous numbers as well. He was a crafty quick scorer who despite being 6′1, led the league in both scoring and assists in the same season, still the only player to do so. This is one of the most incredible seasons for a 1970s player so I had to put it on my top 5.
5) 1975 George McGinnis – 29.8 PPG, 14.3 RPG, 6.3 APG, 45% FG%
Another dominant player in his prime, George McGinnis put up an MVP season and led the league in scoring, also carrying the Pacers to the Finals that year averaging 32/16/8 in the playoffs. Although not well remembered today.. McGinnis deserves to be remembered for his short but dominant prime and his championships with the Pacers. He was basically a 1970s Lebron without as much basketball IQ, and of course without the conditioning to extend his career that Lebron had.
6) 1972 Julius Erving – 27.3 PPG, 15.7 RPG, 4.0 APG, 50% FG%
That’s right, Dr J was dominating right from his rookie year as a Virginia Squires player. He actually had arguably his best statistical seasons as a Squires player compared to his Nets days. He actually took Rick Barry’s Nets 7 games in the playoffs – quite impressive for a rookie! And yeah Dr J didn’t make my top 5 individual seasons… surprising right?
7) 1971 John Havlicek – 28.9 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 7.5 APG, 45% FG%
Look at those all around numbers.. Hondo was also a beast in his prime. He did everything on the court for his team and this season I think is one of the most underrated seasons. Whenever I bring up Havlicek people just assume he was some role player on the Russell Celtics, but that’s not true. Havlicek was a superstar in his own right, 29/9/7 is not a statline from a ‘role’ player. That’s Lebron James numbers.
8) 1979 Moses Malone – 24.8 PPG, 17.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 54% FG%
Well it’s clear how dominant Moses would become, but this was his first MVP year and his rebounding prowess on full display. 17 RPG? and shooting 54%? He was basically Wilt Chamberlain this year. Nobody was stopping his scoring or rebounding. And he was just 23 years old at this time.
9) 1971 Elvin Hayes – 28.7 PPG, 16.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 43% FG%
As a San Diego Rocket, Elvin Hayes put up these numbers basically carrying that team, however we all know that this was not where he would find his greatest success – he would later team up with Wes Unseld the next year and start a Bullets dynasty that would reach the Finals 3 times in 5 years.
10) TIE – 1971 Dan Issel – 29.9 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 48% FG%
Issel as a rookie was dominant and unstoppable. He was like McAdoo an uncharacteristic big man who could also shoot from the perimeter. Of course, after Artis Gilmore arrived, they would form the first ‘twin towers’ decades before Hakeem/Sampson or Duncan/Robinson did it and win a championship together for Kentucky.
10) TIE – 1972 Artis Gilmore – 23.8 PPG, 17.8 RPG, 2.7 APG, 60% FG%
Funny enough, I can’t decide which rookie season was better – Issel’s or Gilmore’s and they both played on the same team! Gilmore actually won an MVP in his rookie season though, so maybe his might be a bit better, but oh well they both dominated as soon as they entered the ABA. Gilmore put up ridiculous rebounding and FG% numbers. Many people called him the Wilt of the ABA due to his size and strength.
Honorable mentions: 1970 Connie Hawkins (25/10/5/49%), 1972 Rick Barry (31/6/7/46%), 1970 Jerry West (31/5/7/50%), 1972 Charlie Scott (33/5/5/45%), 1970 Billy Cunningham (26/14/4/47%)