3-time NBA All-Star
Join Date: Dec 2009
Re: What were Wilt's #2 best and #1 worst season?
This '70 season, at least based on what we have in those nine games, gives us yet another indication on just how well Chamberlain adapted to whatever his COACHES asked him to do. Before the start of that season, the new Laker coach, Joe Mullaney, asked Wilt to become the focal point of the offense. The result, at least up until injury? 32.2 ppg, along with his usual 20 rpg, and on what might have been at around a .600 clip.
For those that have ripped Wilt as a "ball-hog", ...has there ever been a dominant super-star who was asked to change their game, as much as Wilt? In his first four seasons, his coaches, either lazy or realistic, just asked that Wilt score. And, with as poorly as his teammates were shooting the ball, even given the era, it would be hard to argue against that philosophy.
However, is new coach in the '64 season, Alex Hannum, at least wanted Wilt's teammates to participate. He could see that they had become completely dependant upon Wilt for everything. And Hannum also believed, and rightfully so, that if Chamberlain's teammates were more involved offensively, that they would become more involved at the defensive end, as well. So, while Wilt's scoring dropped some, the entire TEAM benefitted. Unfortunately, that 48-32 record was achieved as much with "smoke-and-mirrors", too (as the '65 season would prove.) As for Chamberlain's post-season that year? Quite possibly his second greatest behind his 67 run. 34.7 ppg, 25.2 rpg, and .543 shooting. And he then outscored Russell, per game, in the Finals, 29-11, as well as outrebounded him, per game, 27-25. Hopefully one day we will get he and Russell's FG%'s from that series.
Chamberlain was traded to the Sixers mid-way thru the '65 season, and remarkably took what had been a below .500 team the year before (and a .500 team when he arrived), to a game seven, one point loss against Russell's 62-18 Celtics, with Wilt putting up a 30-31 series.
His coach with the Sixers, Dolph Schayes, somewhat continued what Hannum had begun. Wilt was still the primary scorer, but, Schayes realized that there were other talented scorers on that team (as well as rugged Luke Jackson...who sacrificed his natural position, center), and he had Wilt become more selective in his shooting and passing. The result? A 55-25 team with the best record in the league...and all with Chamberlain leading the league in scoring, at 33.5 ppg; leading the league in rebounding, at 24.6 rpg; setting a then FG% record of .540; AND still handing out 5.2 apg.
Hannum returned in '67, and refined his philosophy even further. Chamberlain would become the team's best facilitator. The ball would go thru Wilt, and he would find the best option. The result was arguably Wilt's greatest season. 24.1 ppg, 24.2 rpg, 7.8 apg...and an eye-popping .683 FG% (in a league that shot .441, and with the next best guy at .521.) And it carried over to the post-season, as well. 21.7 ppg, 29.1 rpg, 9.2 apg, and .579 shooting...with two of his three series played against perhaps the two greatest defensive centers in NBA history (aside from himself, of course), in a dominant world championship.
The '68 season was more of the same...except Chamberlain decided to carry it even further,...leading the league in assists. There are those recaps that suggest that Wilt even went out of his way to win that assist title. No matter...his Sixers ran away with the best record in the league. And, had they not been decimated by injuries, most likely would have waltzed to a repeat title.
Wilt engineered his trade to the Lakers the next season. Unfortunately, he came to a franchise that had a coach who didn't have a clue on how to use him. Yes, Wilt could play the high post, but, when he had done so, HE was the primary facilitator. With this Laker team, it was West and Baylor playing volleyball with the ball. And the reality was, Chamberlain was the game's greatest low-post player in history. Why acquire a player of that caliber, and then shackle him? Not only that, but Baylor was in a slow state of decline (and of course, was AWFUL in the post-season.)
In any case, PHILA posted the classic quote from Van Breda Kolf, "When we pass the ball into Wilt, he will score. But, it is such an ugly offense to watch." So, instead of taking full advantage of Chamberlain's offensive skills, Van Breda Kolf reduced his role. The result was a Chamberlain that averaged a career low (at the time) 20.5 ppg, albeit on a league-leading .583 FG% (as well as leading the league in rebounding at 21.1 rpg.)
PHILA and ShaqAttack have already alluded to Wilt's post-season that year. And I concur...it was his worst. However, in Chamberlain's defense, Van Breda Kolf was, BY FAR, the WORST coach that Wilt had had (and he had some pretty poor one's.) The best example came in game seven of the Finals. Early in the 4th period, Russell drew his fifth foul. The Lakers immediately went into Wilt, who then went right around Russell for an easy basket. If memory serves me right, that was the last time Chamberlain touched the ball on the offensive end.
Thanks to Psileas, we now have a better grasp of Wilt's 69-70 season (and again, with ANOTHER coach.) If those nine games are any indication, Wilt was probably on his way to close to a 30 ppg season.
Of course, Chamberlain's devastating knee injury hampered his offensive production the rest of his career. Although, had Wilt had Shaq's mentality, he could STILL have been among the scoring leaders. He was over 300 lbs and still possessed amazing leaping ability (his injury affected his lateral mobility, but not his vertical.) He could simply have overpowered his peers.
In any case, Wilt came back way ahead of anyone's expectations, and, yes, for the benefit of his teammates (which goes against his critics who routinely suggested that Chamberlain was not a team player, and a "cancer" in the locker room.) And while he was nowhere near 100%, he led them back from a 3-1 first round series deficit, (and with three straight remarkable games)...which again, goes against the grain of his pundits. Then, after a sweep of Atlanta, he gets that 46-36 Lakers team, with West, a declining Baylor, and him at considerably less than 100%,...and little else...to a game seven loss against the 60-22 Knicks. Granted, Reed was hobbled in the last three games of that series, two of them Knick wins, but you certainly couldn't fault Wilt's play...especially considering that he, himself, was only four months removed from major knee surgery. And, Chamberlain averaged 23.2 ppg, 24.1 rpg, and shot .625 from the floor in that series...which included a "must-win" game six performance of 45 points, on 20-27 shooting, with 27 rebounds, in a resounding 135-113 win.
I have already been on record as stating that his 70-71 REGULAR season was his worst, at least IMHO. His numbers were clearly down across the board. 20.7 ppg, 18.2 rpg (career low BTW), and on a .545 FG%. There was no question that his knee injury (and subsequent surgery), along with his other arthritic knee hampered his performance. And, with Baylor basically missing the entire season (and post-season), and with West going down in the last fourth of the season, and also missing the playoffs, Chamberlain's Lakers finished at 48-34. All-in-all, a very uneventful season.
HOWEVER, during the regular season, and then in the post-season, Wilt and Kareem played 10 H2H games (five and five.) And, while Kareem was not yet in his physical prime, he was already nearing his statistical prime (his '71 and '72 seasons were his greatest IMHO.) And, as I have pointed out before, a 34 year-old Wilt, and only a year after major knee surgery, and playing in arguably his WORST season...battled a PRIME Kareem to a statistical draw in those 10 games. Kareem slightly outscored Wilt, while Chamberlain slightly outrebounded and outshot Kareem. So, considering that this may have been Chamberlain's "low point" of his career...this may have also been among his most remarkable.
In the following season, once again Wilt had a new coach. And Bill Sharman immediately came to Wilt and mapped out his strategy for the upcoming 71-72 season. The Lakers, with all five starters over 30, were going to RUN. And it was going to be Chamberlain that would ignite them with his defense, rebounding, and outlet passes. Of course, Sharman did force Baylor into retirement, and promptly inserted second year player Jim McMillain into the starting lineup...and the rest was history. 33 straight wins, a 69-13 record. A team that blitzed the league to the tune of 121 ppg (in a league that averaged 110...and in which the second best team was at 116 ppg.) And with Wilt's defense limiting opposing teams to .432 shooting, and with he and teammate Happy Hairston each getting over 1000 rebounds, the Lakers steamrolled the entire league.
Then, in the post-season, Chamberlain reduced a Kareem, who had shot .574 during the regular season, down to a .457 shooter, and even more remarkably, limited him to .414 shooting over the course of the last four pivotal games of that series. On top of all of that, the 35 year old Wilt was blocking some 15+ sky-hooks in that six game series. And Chamberlain completely took over the 4th period of that clinching come-from-behind road win in game six. In some respects, I believe that game to have been Wilt's "finest hour." And then Wilt followed that up with a FMVP in leading his team to an overwhelming title.
Wilt's last season was pretty much a repeat of his '72 season. He was voted first team all-defense; he led the league in rebounding; he shot a record .727 from the field; he finished 4th in the MVP balloting; his team went 60-22 and made it to the Finals, where they lost four games in the last minute to the Knicks and their six HOFers.
So, once again, has there ever been another "great" that was asked to change their game and roles, so MANY times?