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Monday, March 23, 2009

Andrew Toney: A Postseason Strangler

This article was originally published in the August 2004 issue of Basketball Digest.

Andrew Toney's career lasted just eight seasons--and he was completely healthy for only four of them--yet he left an indelible impression on anyone who saw him strike fear in the hearts of countless opponents. Pat Riley, who played with Jerry West and coached Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, once marveled, "He’s the greatest clutch player I've ever seen." Veteran broadcaster Dick Stockton called many of Toney’s games for CBS. He compares Toney to Detroit Pistons' great Joe Dumars: "They were guys that were tough defensive guards who were counted on to score."

Despite playing with Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Moses Malone on the Philadelphia 76ers, Toney was frequently the first option in clutch situations. In that sense Stockton sees a similarity between Toney and current Sixers’ guard Allen Iverson. Toney had a sturdier body type and did not shoot as much as Iverson, but Stockton remarks that, like Iverson, "His job was to be productive"—to score points even when the defense knew that he was going to get the ball.

During most of Toney's career the three point shot was rarely utilized in the NBA but when the Sixers needed a three pointer Toney delivered. He ranked second in the NBA in three point field goal percentage in 1981-82 and sixth in 1984-85. Toney set up his outside game with his tremendous footwork, including a devastating crossover move.

Toney was also was very adept at delivering a pass. During the 76ers' 1982-83 championship season Erving noted, "He sees things out on the court that other players just don't see. Andrew has such strong wrists that he can throw the pass off the dribble, sideways, behind his head, any way."

Toney averaged 12.9 ppg in the regular season as a rookie in 1980-81, but elevated his production to 19.1 ppg in the Sixers’ seven game loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. In 1981-82 Toney ranked second on the Sixers with 16.5 ppg. He torched the Lakers for a career high 46 points on March 7, 1982 in a 119-113 win, shooting 21-29 from the field. Two weeks later against the Celtics he set Spectrum records for points in a quarter (25) and three pointers made in a quarter (four).

These performances were just a prelude to the playoffs. Toney cemented his reputation as the "Boston Strangler" by scoring 34 points in the Boston Garden in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, leading Philadelphia to a 120-106 win. He also had games of 39 and 30 points in the series, averaging a team-high 22.1 ppg while shooting .496 from the field. Toney (26 ppg) and Erving (25 ppg) played brilliantly in the Finals, but the Sixers had no answer for Abdul-Jabbar and fell in six games to the Lakers.

Malone's arrival the next season finally enabled the Sixers to effectively counter Abdul-Jabbar. Toney scored 19.7 ppg in 1982-83, raising that to 22.0 ppg in the Finals sweep of the Lakers. In 1983-84, Malone (22.7 ppg), Erving (22.4 ppg) and Toney (20.4 ppg) each averaged 20-plus ppg in the regular season but the New Jersey Nets shocked the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs, despite a strong effort from Toney (20.6 ppg on .519 shooting).

A nagging ankle injury eroded Toney's effectiveness in 1984-85 and he slumped to 17.8 ppg with a .492 field goal percentage in the regular season and 16.9 ppg while shooting .477 from the field in the playoffs. Everything fell apart for Toney in 1985-86, as stress fractures in his feet limited him to only six games. He gamely tried to return at the end of the season and again in 1986-87, but he never regained his health or his old form.

Toney averaged 24.4 ppg in his two Finals appearances, the 12th best NBA Finals career scoring average. The players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame or are active players who very likely will make it on the first ballot after they retire (Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan). If Toney had played 10 or 12 fully healthy seasons would he have put together a Hall of Fame caliber career? Stockton would not rule this out: "Possibly. It’s hard to really project…It's interesting that his healthy years corresponded with the Sixers' healthy years." After the premature end of Toney's career the Sixers did not reach the Eastern Conference Finals again until Iverson led the team all the way to the NBA Finals in 2000-01.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:19 AM

5 comments

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5 Comments:

At Monday, March 23, 2009 8:55:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Hes one of the best Ive ever seen at the 2 guard position. He could score on anyone. His crossover was basic and very efficient. Its a shame his feet were so bad and how the Sixers didnt believe him because many forget how scary good he was. HOF? Id put him in after 4 years. That would never happen.

Knowing what the original Boston Strangler was, would that name fly today?

 
At Monday, March 23, 2009 5:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I think that Sandy Koufax and Gale Sayers are the only players who made it to the HoF with comparably brief careers (Koufax' career was actually longer than Sayers' or Toney's but in the first part of his career he had control issues, so he only had a few dominant seasons before he got hurt). As exceptional as Toney was, he cannot really be compared with Koufax or Sayers, so it is tough to put Toney in the HoF based on what he could have or might have done with another four-five healthy years. Toney was a beast, though, no doubt about it and I agree with Stockton that Toney had HoF caliber talent.

As for his nickname flying today, look at the ubiquitous references to "drinking the Kool Aid." Does anyone remember or care that this is a reference to the mass suicide by the Jim Jones cult in Guyana in 1978? That happened a lot more recently than the Boston Strangler murders, so (rightly or wrongly) I think that Toney could have the same nickname today if he had that kind of success versus the Celtics.

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2009 8:55:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Indeed Sayers and Koufax are the names that came to mind when I wrote my comments.

So you think that name would fly today? Okay. Now I missed the last game at the Spectrum. Was Andrew there?

 
At Tuesday, March 24, 2009 7:04:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

Toney, Barkley and Cheeks did not show up. Doc, Moses and Bobby Jones were among the retired players who attended the ceremony and the game.

 
At Wednesday, March 25, 2009 9:45:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

O Ok.

 

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