How do you think Russell would have fared in the 1970's against Kareem

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How do you think Russell would have fared in the 1970's against Kareem 

Post#1 » by coastalmarker99 » Thu Jan 14, 2021 2:44 pm

How do you think Russell would have fared in the 1970s against Kareem?

Let's just pretend that a young Russell who has recently come of collage is drafted by the suns with the second pick in the 1969 draft while the Bucks still pick Kareem with the First pick.

Who do you think would be the more successful player teamwise and individual wise throughout the 1970s would Kareem own Russell or would they split the decade just as Bird and Magic did in the 1980s
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Re: How do you think Russell would have fared in the 1970's against Kareem 

Post#2 » by sansterre » Thu Jan 14, 2021 3:02 pm

With the understanding that there are plenty of others that know these players (on a game-film level) better than I:

I think that Russell would have been less effective against Kareem than against most. I think Russell would have had a hard time blocking Kareem's skyhook and dealing with Kareem's height. I feel like the really strong centers (like Thurmond or Wilt) had more success against Kareem than Russell would have. That said, I don't doubt that Russell would stop Kareem's quickness a lot, and do a good job boxing Kareem out, so maybe I'm overstating.

But as far as how they'd be overall? I think it's pretty hard to say; Russell was clearly the better defender but Kareem was by far the better scorer. I personally lean Kareem but betting against Russell historically hasn't gone well for people.
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Re: How do you think Russell would have fared in the 1970's against Kareem 

Post#3 » by penbeast0 » Thu Jan 14, 2021 5:11 pm

I think it's safe to say Kareem wouldn't "own" Russell any more than Wilt ever did. Kareem would have much flashier stats, with more scoring (and less rebounding). Russell would still have the ridiculous defensive impact, (Wilt might have less as he didn't have Russell to emulate in the 60s) with his ability to impact all 5 players on the opposing team while still playing his man. Kareem had trouble with other top centers (Wilt, Moses) but Russell was more a superior version of Dave Cowens (quickness, intelligence) than of Wilt/Moses (strength, physicality) so I don't think Russell's style would trouble him more than Russell would trouble anyone.

Phoenix was up and down in the 70s. They had picked Neal Walk when they lost the coin flip for Kareem and picked up Connie Hawkins. They had a couple of decent years with Cotton Fitzsimmons without making the playoffs; the difference between Neal Walk and Bill Russell would mean they would certainly be contenders in those years (71 and 72). 70 they did make the playoffs but with a lesser team; this would be the Russell's rookie year but he wouldn't miss half the season for the Olympics this time. Russell almost always beat Wilt even when Wilt had superior talent around him and having Silas, Hawkins, Van Arsdale, etc. matches the West, Goodrich, Hairston Lakers (though no one was West's level) so I would assume he would still make the finals those years. IF you assume that suddenly Wilt solves Russell, you are changing history so much as to make the comp meaningless.

Then you have Phoenix facing Reed, Frazier and the Knicks in 1970. I'd be quite confident about Russell v. Reed; Russell's style is an excellent match for Reed, and Frazier is very much a slasher still at this point. They do have a lot of outside shooting with Barnett, DeBuschere, Bradley, etc. so if they have a good series from outside and Russell isn't too disruptive, the Knicks could win this but I'd favor Phoenix who took Wilt and the Lakers to 7 with Neal Walk at center.

71 is the great year for Kareem/Oscar. Phoenix improves in the regular season but in the real world, misses the playoffs anyway. The Suns were a solid veteran team and their scorers (Hawkins/Van Arsdale) were both excellent at drawing fouls and Kareem was still quite young though very technically sound. However, this is the year in Russell's career he is injured in the finals leaving an opening which Kareem (like Bob Pettit did) would explode into as Mel Counts could do little against him. Title for Milwaukee.

72 Russell is back with something to prove. This is Wilt's year but Wilt v. Russell is a match I like all day long. Wilt would be Wilt but Russell also had years and years of beating Jerry West too. I like Phoenix here.

Phoenix then goes through 5 rough years where they are a net negative SRS team. Russell would certainly strengthen them but Hawkins and Van Arsdale starting to decline then Hawk's next knee injury and picking up the selfish gunning of Charlie Scott isn't good for team chemistry. Would they feel a need to bring in Scott if Russell had built a winning culture there? Almost certainly. You always bring in that level of talent if you can. Could he be a team player on a Russell led team? I don't know if Russell could do much about this, the 70s were one of the more selfish eras in NBA history though it's possible. People were playing for contracts or threatening to jump leagues; cocaine had become a big problem in the league. Kareem wins nothing during this time either.

By 77, they have rebuilt around Paul Westphal and Alvan Adams (who can play forward next to Russell). This is a team that could do some real damage as they mature and learn to play together. Kareem, meanwhile, is now in Los Angeles and is also struggling to build team unity. Over the next couple of years they turn over the whole team bringing in Norm Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes, then Magic and Worthy.

Now it gets interesting. 80 is Kareem's second championship year and the year that they brought in Westhead and instituted "Showtime" (before Magic forced the coach out). They win 60 games with Nixon, Magic, Wilkes, Kareem and a deep bench that includes Michael Cooper and Spencer Haywood. Phoenix wins 55 that year and loses in the playoffs to the Lakers as undersized Alvin Adams is no match for Kareem. They feature Adams, Westphal, Walter Davis, Don Buse, and Truck Robinson is making a name as a breakout star (who would presumably be forced to the bench). Walk is gone, the only player they got for him that would matter is Ricky Sobers who was dealt for Buse so they might have to find someone to play next to Westphal (Davis moved to guard a year or two later) but they are overloaded with bigs with Russell still there plus Adams, Truck, and Gar Heard as well so let's assume they can move one for a PG. Now you have Kareem in his absolute prime v. Russell in late prime. Russell has good talent around him, Kareem has more but the team has been in a bit of turmoil (changing coaches in midseason) and Magic is very young. I'd bet on Phoenix in this one.

81, LA drops to 54 wins and loses to Houston in round one as Moses is the type of physical center that sometimes gives Kareem trouble. Phoenix wins the division with 57 wins (without Russell! but with Dennis Johnson having been acquired for Westphal) but is upset by KC and Otis Birdsong in the playoffs (coached by former Phoenix coach Cotton Fitzsimmons) -- that was something Russell always managed to avoid. Then, if Phoenix makes it out of the West, they face actual champion Larry Bird and the Celtics in the playoffs. I like Phoenix in this one. Parish was never a good post passer and Russell was a master of making opponents beat themselves. Cornbread Maxwell was the FMVP and he was an undersized postup forward that Russell could probably stop from having such a good inside scoring series. Bird is still Bird, but McHale is not yet a starter and Boston's guards aren't strong.

82, Russell's last year and he's slowing down a bit. Phoenix is down a bit in reality as the 69 Celtics were. In reality they lose to the Lakers 4-0 who are still the same team as 80 only having played together a bit, added Mitch Kupchak, and again changed coaches midseason as Westhead is fired and Pat Riley brought in. Walter Davis is injured and not playing well (like Sam Jones was in Boston that year), Hound Dog Kelly is playing more at center (again, they probably don't bring him in if Russell is still there). If they beat the Lakers, it would be a major upset and miracle win . . . of course that is EXACTLY what happened in 1969 when the odds were at least as long!

So, in answer, Phoenix probably wins the most titles in the league during Russell's career, probably not as many as he did in Boston but there are no dynastic powers in the 70s and Phoenix always had decent offensive talent without a great defensive stopper. Russell gives them that. Kareem wins over the injured Russell in 71 (in the WCF, Milwaukee was in the West that year) with one of the GOAT teams ever . . . then doesn't play in another final until 1980! In LA, I have Kareem challenging the resurgent Phoenix dynasty in 80 . . . and losing, with Phoenix winning in 80 and 81. Then in 82, it would take the kind of miracle/fate/karma for Russell and Phoenix to win over the revenge minded Lakers that it took for Russell and Boston to win in 69. There is no reason to expect it but again, Russell did it when he played, I think you have to credit him with at least one equivalent miracle upset.

And Wilt is the dynastic man in the 60s, replaced by Russell in the 70s (with Kareem always having the best stats but not the titles . . . see Wilt in reality) and Russell winning in 80-82 then retiring. Kareem then goes on to be the center on the Lakers 3 more titles but gets less credit for them than he does today as Magic is seen as the real leader and Kareem as the choker who always lost to Russell when Russell wasn't injured.

Russell is still a GOAT candidate as the leader of one of the NBA's dynastic teams only this time the big 3 today are LeBron, MJ, and Wilt (who had 5-8 titles in the 60s!), with Russell seen as a slightly lesser candidate (Tim Duncan level) and Kareem down in the Moses/DRob area.
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