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Monday, January 18, 2010

Bob McAdoo Reconsidered

This article was originally published in the June 2004 issue of Basketball Digest under the title "Top-50 Gyp." I prefer my original title because it clearly tells the reader who the article is about and it does not besmirch the Romani people, who are colloquially known as "gypsies."

Check out this resume: three scoring titles, two NBA championships, one MVP, Rookie of the Year. These credentials would seem to be more than enough to earn admission into any basketball pantheon, but this particular applicant was rejected when the NBA selected its 50 Greatest Players list--the only regular season MVP who did not make the cut. Bob McAdoo is the Stealth Bomber of great players--he flies underneath the radar.

McAdoo, a center in college, began his NBA career in 1972-73 with the Buffalo Braves (now known as the Los Angeles Clippers) as a 6-9, 215 pound forward chasing around smaller forwards. Despite playing out of position McAdoo claimed Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 18.0 ppg and 9.1 rpg.

Buffalo traded Elmore Smith and installed McAdoo as the starting center in 1973-74. McAdoo responded by leading the NBA in scoring (30.6 ppg) and field goal percentage (.547), a remarkable feat considering that a large number of his attempts came on outside jump shots. The only other players to lead the NBA in field goal percentage and scoring in the same season are Wilt Chamberlain (four times) and Shaquille O'Neal (once). At 22 McAdoo remains the youngest scoring champion in NBA history (Spencer Haywood, a future teammate of McAdoo's with the New York Knicks, won the ABA scoring title as a 20 year old rookie).

McAdoo also ranked third in rebounding (15.1 rpg) and third in blocked shots (3.32 bpg) while carrying the fourth year Braves to a 21 game improvement in the standings and their first playoff berth. McAdoo finished second in regular season MVP voting to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar despite ranking ahead of him in scoring, field goal percentage and rebounds and trailing only slightly in blocked shots.

The Braves fell 4-2 to the eventual champion Boston Celtics in a hard fought Eastern Conference Semifinal series. McAdoo averaged 31.7 ppg in defeat, highlighted by 44 points in a 104-102 game four victory.

McAdoo was even better in 1974-75, winning the regular season MVP and again claiming the scoring title (34.5 ppg). He put on some dazzling shooting displays, including a 44 point outburst against a tough Washington Bullets team in which 14 of his 19 made field goals came on medium or long range jump shots. Performances like that are probably why Celtic Hall of Famer John Havlicek once said, "I've never seen a better outside threat." Bill Russell, another Celtic Hall of Famer, coached the Seattle Supersonics during McAdoo's prime, and went even further in his praise: "He's the greatest shooter of all time, period. Forget that bit about 'greatest shooting big man.'"

McAdoo's tenure in Buffalo ended in 1976 when the team, unwilling to pay him a market value contract and fearful of losing him for nothing when he became a free agent, dealt him to the New York Knicks. McAdoo received unwarranted criticism when the Knicks--a hodgepodge collection of players haphazardly thrown together--failed to recapture past glory. McAdoo's time as a Knick tends to be overlooked, but during this period he averaged 26.7 ppg--which still ranks first in franchise history--and became the youngest player in NBA history to score 10,000 career points (Kobe Bryant broke this record in 2002-03).

McAdoo next made brief stops in Boston, Detroit and New Jersey. His career was stuck in a quagmire consisting of poorly managed teams, unrealistic expectations and nagging injuries.

McAdoo's fortunes turned around in December 1981, when he was acquired by the Los Angeles Lakers, who had just lost high priced free agent pickup Mitch Kupchak to a season-ending knee injury. The change of scenery revitalized his career and proved to be a major boost for the Lakers. McAdoo played in four straight Finals as a Laker. Pat Riley coached the Showtime Lakers and flatly states that they would not have won the 1982 and 1985 championships without McAdoo's significant contributions.

McAdoo was an excellent rebounder and shot blocker, but his best attribute was his incredible shooting ability. His career scoring average (22.1 ppg) is higher than the averages of more than half of the members of the 50 Greatest Players list--and he shot .503 from the field. Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay coached McAdoo in Buffalo and lists him among the five greatest players he coached. The other four--Bill Walton, Billy Cunningham, Clyde Drexler and Hal Greer--each made the 50 Greatest Players list.

Note: I started doing these "Reconsidered" articles in 2004 when John Hollinger's book publisher agreed to purchase advertising in Basketball Digest in exchange for Basketball Digest awarding him a stat-based column. Hollinger's column replaced "Digits," the stat-based column that I had been doing since 2001, but editor Brett Ballantini liked my work so he gave me the opportunity to do two regular columns that would appear in each issue: a "Reconsidered" column about an underrated/forgotten player and a "Classic Confrontation" column about a great rivalry (I selected the names for both of those columns). Although I did not like the way that my stat-based column was canceled after I had done such a fine job with it, in the long run things turned out for the best because I got the opportunity to prove that I was not just a numbers guy but that I could do interviews and write feature stories that were not primarily numbers oriented--and that led directly to one of my favorite articles ever, my oral history of the two ABA-NBA Supergames. Hollinger got handed a position on a silver platter and parlayed that into a job at ESPN--but I got to interview Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Mel Daniels, Slick Leonard and Paul Silas!

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:42 AM

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3 Comments:

At Wednesday, January 20, 2010 11:03:00 PM, Blogger Dylan Murphy said...

I agree Bob McAdoo is vastly under appreciated, but the 50 greatest players list is a terrible list. Too many players on the list, such as James Worthy, only had their careers enhanced by those around them (Kareem, Magic). Yes, he was a great player. I'll give him top 100. But top 50 players should be those who were in the top 5 of their eras, and Worthy was not even the best player on his team.

 
At Thursday, January 21, 2010 2:15:00 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

David:

Kudos to you for rejecting the subtle racism of the magazine's headline. That's horrible.

Hollinger worked for CNNSI.com before switching to ESPN around 2005. Disney/ESPN seems to be throwing around cash like candy to lure SI employees. Also see: Rick Reilly, Tim Kurkjian, etc.

The Top 50 list announced in 1996 included some questionable guys like Worthy, and also some young guys (Shaq, David Robinson) who had not really accomplished much up until that time. Today, their post-1996 accomplishments clearly merit inclusion in the list, but in '96, it seemed like a marketing gimmick to include those guys.

 
At Monday, August 29, 2011 5:29:00 AM, Blogger Mick said...

absolutely right, about Worthy. A solid player for sure. But... if he had been drafted by most other teams, nothing more than a fast break wing man and competent player. A front count Byron Scott.

 

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