Transplanting discussion to new thread....
penbeast0 wrote:Something I would need to get past to put Kareem top 3 (or even 4th). When he was at his most dominant, in the 1970s, in the weakest era of NBA history other than the segregated 1950s, his teams weren't. They seemed to underperform their talent level outside of the great run in 71. From what you hear from contemporaries, he very much withdrew from his teams and teammates in this period and it took Magic to bring him back out of his shell.
To be fair to him, his withdrawal was based on brutal and extremely nasty circumstances. He was a sensitive and highly intelligent man during one of the most racially divisive eras (even more than the early 60s) who made the choice to become a overt Muslim so there was a lot of blowback from fans (even hometown fans were often extremely hostile to him), Christian teammates, and the older white establishment owners and coaches. Then you had the group of Muslims murdered in Kareem's house. It's not surprising he withdrew into himself.
However, it seems to have made him a less effective team basketball player for most of a decade. He was always clearly head and shoulders talentwise about everyone else in the league including end of era Wilt and even the one relatively healthy year of Bill Walton. His teams were not like Garnett's Minnesota teams but had players who proved themselves championship caliber sidemen in other circumstances (Dandridge, Wilkes, etc.) but they never seemed to coalesce into great team ball.
The other top candidates here, Russell, Jordan, LeBron, took their teams further than the raw talent level of their teammates would indicate (see the many long posts I have made about the overrating of Russell's Celtic teammates outside of Sam Jones and 67-69 Havlicek). Kareem, except probably the ATG candidate 1971 Bucks team, didn't.
I don't think you're being entirely fair in essentially labelling [at least by insinuation] all of Kareem's teams in the 70s (except the '71 Bucks) as under-achievers. I'm gonna go thru this year-by-year.....'70
Kareem is just a rookie [as is Dandridge], and Oscar has not yet arrived. They have a very good [not great] SRS [is actually 2nd-best in league, albeit a distant 2nd] while winning 56 games [also 2nd in league].
They soundly stomp a pretty good Sixer team [led by Billy Cunningham and the backcourt of Hal Greer/Archie Clark] before getting stomped by the eventual champ [an outstanding Knicks team].
There's no way this team under-achieved based on the talent and circumstance.'71
As you said this was a great run, and truly a team for the ages. And they did this without much depth, fwiw. They had the great trio of Kareem/Oscar/Dandridge [and John McGlocklin was actually a really nice 4th banana].....but they otherwise only typically went seven deep in their roster, with an aging Bob Boozer and a young Lucius Allen being the only two who consistently played minutes that mattered off the bench [neither of them a prize at that stage]. McCoy McLemore [also no prize] was a mid-season acquisition that they used regularly in the rs, but not really in the playoffs. They only had sub-replacement level players and scrubs behind that: Dick Cunningham and Bob Zopf were the two most frequent recipients of “garbage time”.
If anything, this season is a marginal OVER-achieving year.'72
Although still a very good player, Oscar has likely inched into his post-prime by this year (and misses 18 rs games, too). They also shake up the roster mid-season, trading Greg Smith and getting Curtis Perry [who wasn't very good at all this year] in return. Few other changes to the bench.
They still achieve 63 wins and an all-time tier SRS in the rs.
In the playoffs they pretty soundly beat a fairly good Warriors team, before losing to another "team for the ages": the eventual champion '72 Lakers [which is on the shortlist of greatest teams ever assembled] in the WCF.
The series went 6 games, and the Bucks actually outscored the Lakers overall in the series. Individually, Kareem led BOTH teams in scoring in FIVE of the six contests, and led BOTH teams in rebounds [beating out Wilt!] twice.
This cannot really be seen as "under-achieving", imo. This is simply a circumstance where a "super team" ran into an even more
SUPER team in the conference finals, very analogous to when the '18 Rockets ran into the '18 Warriors in the WCF. That '18 Rockets team was better than anything the East had to offer, and would likely best the entire league MOST years.....'18 just happened to be one of the years they couldn't.
Same is basically true of the '72 Bucks.'73
Oscar is just further into decline, but this is the first year I'll agree they underachieved [in the playoffs], and Kareem under-performed too (not surprisingly it was while matched up against Thurmond, the GOAT low-post defender, imo).
This was the year of the murders, fwiw.'74
Although both Lucius Allen and Curtis Perry have improved some since earlier years, Oscar is now on his last legs [and McGlocklin seems like he's maybe showing signs of early decline].
They still appear the best team in the league in the rs: best record and best SRS; #1-rated offense and #2-rated defense [BOTH being built upon Kareem’s shoulders].
In the playoffs they knock off the Lakers 4-1, then sweep a very good Bulls team [wherein Kareem lights up the defensive-minded Clifford Ray and the #1-defense to the tune of 34.8 ppg @ 67.3% TS] to reach the finals once again.
In the finals they lose to a seemingly [based on rs performance] inferior Celtics team in a hard-fought 7-game series, although there’s A LOT of context to consider in this:
*Lucius Allen [Bucks starting guard, who’d been having his peak season up to that point, and with Oscar’s decline was arguably even their 3rd-best player] is injured late in rs and misses the ENTIRE PLAYOFFS; this was like Lebron losing Love in ‘15.
**Allen’s back-up [Ron Williams] misses one game in this finals series, as well.
***John McGlocklin I believe gets hurt in Game 1 (ankle, I think??), and only plays 12 minutes in that one, and then misses games 2 and 3 entirely. The Bucks lost game 1, and lost one of those next two.
And on paper---with a starting core of Havlicek, Cowens, Silas, Jo Jo White, and Don Chaney [ALL in their primes], and aging Don Nelson and young Paul Westphal off the bench---the Celtics actually look pretty comparable to the Bucks line-up. That is: I’d say Cowens’s [or Hondo’s, if you think he’s the alpha on the team] supporting cast looks every bit as good as [if not marginally better than] Kareem’s supporting cast, even at full strength. With Allen out and McGlocklin/Williams missing 3 games in the series, I would say Cowen’s cast looks EASILY better.
In short, I don’t think the Bucks under-achieved here at all. We talk about all the things that sometimes have to fall into place to win a title, including a bit of luck.
This year was just bad luck in the timing of Allen’s injury (because I doubt they lose the series if he’s playing, even with the McGlocklin/Williams minor injuries).’75
The Bucks do seem to fall off a cliff this year after the departure of their starting backcourt (Oscar retires, Allen was traded early in the year). They did still have a marginally positive SRS, fwiw, despite the losing record.
Though the WOWY kind of indicates just how inept they were without Kareem, as he actually misses 17 games this year: they’re 35-30 with him, but just 3-14 without him.
But yeah, I think they did underachieve a bit this year.’76
KAJ goes to the Lakers [largely replacing Elmore Smith at C], and while they do improve [amidst some other minor roster changes], it’s not as much improvement as one would hope to see.
So I’ll agree this year could be called an under-achievement.’77
This is the first year post-merger, so say what you will about the 70s prior to this, but I don’t think THIS year (or those that come after) can be labelled as weaker than the Russell-era (I don’t think ANY of the 70s can be labelled as weaker than the late 50s, personally).
And this year is definitely no under-achievement. His supporting cast was not that impressive. I mean, there were a couple bright spots on the bench [Washington, Tatum], though Washington was traded away after the punch incident [so not around for the playoffs]. And otherwise his best teammate is probably Cazzie Russell--->(to illustrate this relative to the depth of that Knicks team that bounced Kareem in ‘70: Cazzie was probably only the 5th or 6th-best player on that Knicks roster…..but here [no better, imo, than he’d been in ‘70] he’s the 2nd-best player).
Then you have some fair/decent players [not necessarily good starter-level
players, though] in Allen and Chaney, but not much else.
This team STILL posted the best record (though only 5th-best SRS) in the league. They then beat a very good Warriors team [that had much the same cast they’d won the ‘75 title with] in 7 games, with Kareem going off for 37 and 19 @ 64% TS% in the series: he led BOTH teams in points AND rebounds in FIVE of the seven meetings (and led BOTH teams in rebounds for one other).
They then got swept by the eventual champion Blazers [with Lucius Allen again missing two games, fwiw], though Kareem was dominant in the series, clearly out-playing Walton on an individual level.
In my Scaled metric studies
, ‘77 Kareem came out as the 2nd-highest scaled PER and 3rd-highest scaled WS/48 of all-time, during the rs.
In the playoffs, ‘77 Kareem is the highest ever scaled PER and tied for 2nd-highest scaled WS/48.
So he was CRUSHING the post-merger league; he just didn’t have a lot of help.
Overall, I do not think this team under-achieved on their talent level. And individually, Kareem over-achieved, imo.’78
This was the year he broke his hand punching Kent Benson [who had provoked him, though I’m not condoning the act]; played most of the year AFTER coming back from that injury, fwiw.
They do seem to under-achieve slightly, based on the talent “on paper”, winning just 45 games (though were 37-25 in the 62 games KAJ plays in [on pace for 49 wins], but just 8-12 without him), then losing 2-1 in the 1st round to the eventual WC champs.’79
I’m not sure what to think about ‘79. His cast is decent [but far from great]. They win 47 games and have a solid SRS; they beat a pretty talented Nuggets team in the first round before losing 4-1 to the eventual champion [Sonics] in the following round (the last two losses coming by a COMBINED 8 pts).
Kareem was fairly brilliant in that series: going for 29 and 12, with 4.6 apg and 61.7% TS. Kareem turns 32 as the playoffs wrap up, too.
So I don’t know if I can call this an under-achieving year. Marginally so, at worst.
So ‘73, ‘75, and ‘76 are the only years where I’d say they definitely under-achieved [and none of them to the degree that something like the '13 Lakers under-achieved, imo]. And I'll say "maybe marginally" for ‘78 and ‘79.
‘70-’72, ‘74, and ‘77, though…...absolutely not. One or two of those could even be called small over-achievements, imo.