Monday, May 21, 2007

The 1961-62 Basketball Season Will Blow Your Mind

As I watch these NBA playoff games, I'm often browsing (an incredible database--easy to access information on statistics, awards, leaders, teams, etc.). Sometimes while browsing I find interesting things: interesting things like the 1961-62 season. And I realize this post is going to provide no original content, no insight, and no timely news. I don't care: I want to share the '61-'62 season with you anyway.

You've heard about this season. It is the season that Wilt Chamberlain had his 100 point game and averaged 50.4 points per game. It is the famous year that Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double. The Big O didn't average any 10-10-10, though; he averaged 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, and a league-leading 11.4 apg (you also might not know that Oscar averaged a triple-double over a 5-year period of his career, from '61 to '65).

With Wilt averaging 50.4 ppg (and a league leading 25.7 rebounds per game--this was one of five seasons Wilt led the league in scoring and rebounding, and he's the only player to do both in the same season. Wilt is also the only player to lead the league in rebounds per game and assists per game in the same season, which he did in '68. Tiny Archibald is the only guy to lead in scoring and assists the same year), and Oscar averaging a massive triple-double, which one of these guys won MVP?

Actually, neither. That would be Bill Russell, who led the Celtics to 60 wins (with 18.9 ppg and 23.9 rpg). That's sort of weird, too, since Russell wasn't even All-NBA first team. Bob Pettit did make All-NBA first team, despite leading his Hawks to a mere 29-51 record (of the MVP and All-NBA team, one or the other must have been voted on by reporters and the other by players).

An incredible six players averaged 30+ ppg in 1962: the aforementioned Wilt, Robertson, Pettit (31.1), and also rookie Walt Bellamy (31.6 ppg), second-year guard Jerry West (30.8 ppg), and Elgin Baylor (38.3 ppg, but he missed about half the season with military obligations).

The playoffs must have been exciting too. The Celtics won the championship, beating Wilt's Warriors in 7 games and the West-Baylor Lakers in 7 games (and in the playoffs West and Baylor pretty much matched their regular season numbers). This is also the year Oscar averaged a triple-double in the playoffs (though his Royals were upset in the first round by the Pistons).

Thank you, for distracting me from these playoff games and for making me wish Doc Brown and Marty McFly would come along in the Delorean to bring me to spring 1962--just for a few weeks. Though to be honest if I had a few weeks to spend in spring 1962, I'm not sure I'd spend much of it watching basketball.


  1. Anonymous3:08 PM

    That era is interesting... I think the stats are a product of both the style that was played at the time and a lack of sophisticated defensive techniques and coaching.

    The offensive style at the time was similar to today's Warriors (or any other recent Don Nelson-coached team), minus the 3-point line: the ball was run quickly up the floor, and the first player to get an open shot usually took it.

    The average 1961-62 game featured 215 shots taken (one every 13.4 seconds), as opposed to 159 today (one every 18.1 seconds). However, contrary to the opinion of pundits who speak out about lack of fundamentals, teams only made 42.6% of their shots back then, as opposed to 45.8% nowadays. I think this suggests a lower emphasis on getting "quality" shots in the NBA of yesteryear.

    In addition, subjectively teams placed a lower emphasis on defense back then. Defensive technique consisted simply of positioning yourself between the ball and the basket and putting up your hands - no hand-checking, trapping, bumping, or attempts to run through screens. Maybe the general lack of contact explains the number of shots, as well as the ability for players who smoked cigarettes at halftime to run for 48 minutes.

    As an aside, going back to your rebounding column, there were an average of 124 missed shots per game back then, as opposed to 86 now - another factor to explain how someone can get (a still amazing) 25 boards per game.

  2. I've always wondered what impact the three point line had (on all the factors you describe). The massive rebounding numbers were declining throughout the 70s, but the numbers for the best rebounders seemed to start slipping as the three point line was instituted and became popular.

    I'm with Bob Ryan--abolish the three point line. Do it for a season, see what happens.