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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Julius Erving's Best Scoring Streaks/Most Productive Scoring Months

During his prime, Kobe Bryant had some amazing scoring streaks. He averaged at least 40 ppg in a calendar month four times, more than any player in pro basketball history other than Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged at least 40 ppg in 11 calendar months. During one of those 40 ppg months (February 2003), Bryant scored at least 40 points in nine straight games, tying Michael Jordan for the fourth longest such run in pro basketball history (Chamberlain had two 14 game streaks, plus a 10 game streak). Whenever Bryant went on a scoring tear, basketball historians went to the archives to see whose records he was approaching or breaking. The names that came up most often were Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. Sometimes Elgin Baylor's name would appear as well but Julius Erving's name was rarely if ever part of that particular conversation.

Erving was just the third player in pro basketball history to score more than 30,000 career points, so he put up some big numbers, particularly during the first five years of his career when he played in the ABA--but the NBA does not officially recognize ABA statistics and most mainstream media outlets ignore the ABA so little is reported about the first third of Erving's Hall of Fame career. For instance, when I researched Erving's playoff career I found out that he posted amazing--and, in some cases, unprecedented--statistics. As a rookie in 1971-72, Erving led the ABA in playoff scoring (33.3 ppg) and playoff rebounding (20.4 rpg); the only other player in pro basketball history to average 30-20 in a playoff season is Chamberlain (1960-62, 64) and the only other players in pro basketball history to lead the ABA or NBA in playoff scoring and rebounding in the same year are George Mikan (1952 NBA), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1977 NBA), Hakeem Olajuwon (1988 NBA) and Shaquille O'Neal (2000 NBA). None of those legendary centers came close to matching Erving's 6.5 apg average when they accomplished their league leading scoring/rebounding double. Facing fellow future Hall of Fame forward Rick Barry in game one of the second round of the 1972 ABA playoffs, Erving produced 26 points, 20 rebounds and 15 assists as his Virginia Squires defeated Barry's New York Nets 138-91. I have yet to uncover a comparable playoff performance, though Chamberlain had the only 20-20-20 regular season game in pro basketball history (22 points, 25 rebounds, 21 assists for the Philadelphia 76ers in a 131-121 regular season victory over Detroit on February 2, 1968).

I previously compiled a complete list of Erving's 40 point games, so I know that even in the ABA he did not have any streak of 40 point games approaching what Chamberlain, Bryant and Jordan did; Erving's longest streak of 40 point games was two (which he accomplished six times, including once in the playoffs), although he had longer streaks during which he averaged at least 40 ppg overall. Erving never averaged 40 ppg in a calendar month, topping out at 35.1 ppg in March 1973; that is one of 12 calendar months in which Erving averaged at least 30 ppg, all of which took place during his ABA years.

Erving first posted back to back 40 point games in March 1972, near the end of his rookie season (41 points on March 26, 45 points on March 28), which was also the first month that he averaged at least 30 ppg (30.9 ppg). Erving's teammate Charlie Scott--who won the 1972 ABA scoring title with a 34.6 ppg average--jumped to the NBA's Phoenix Suns after the first six games in March; Erving averaged 27.3 ppg in those six games and 32.8 ppg in the remaining 11 games, including three games of at least 40 points.

Erving missed the first four games of the 1972-73 season due to a contract dispute. The Squires went 0-4 in those games but promptly won three in a row after Erving returned to the lineup in late October. Erving did not completely hit his stride in October 1972 (25.5 ppg in six games) but in November 1972 he averaged 32.9 ppg in 16 games (which turned out to be the third highest scoring calendar month of his entire career). Erving's November to remember point totals were 39, 33, 42, 38, 34, 34, 24, 23, 35, 45, 27, 36, 30, 46, 16, 25.

He was almost as prolific in his 16 games in December 1972 (31.3 ppg), topped by a trio of 41 point games (including his second back to back 40 point games, on December 7 and December 8). The December schedule included games on four consecutive nights (December 6-9), with Erving scoring 32, 41, 41 and 30 in those games. Erving also played on four consecutive nights less than a week later (December 14-17), scoring 24, 24, 37 and 35 in those games.

Erving averaged 30.2 ppg in 14 January 1973 games--including 46 points on January 16 and 47 points on January 31--but the closest that Erving came to sustaining a Chamberlain-Jordan-Bryant kind of scoring run was in February and March of 1973. Erving averaged 34.8 ppg in nine games in February 1973, scoring 20, 35, 58 (his regular season career-high for a non-overtime game), 44, 35, 44, 20, 31 and 26 points. Erving averaged 45.3 ppg in the four games starting with his 58 point outburst in a 123-108 win versus the Nets. I do not have complete records for highest scoring average in a four game stretch but not including Chamberlain--who averaged a record 50.4 ppg in 1961-62 and 44.8 ppg in 1962-63--Erving's tally as a second year pro must rank pretty high on the list.

Erving averaged 35.1 ppg in 10 games in March 1973, scoring 38, 38, 29, 36, 29, 29, 42, 38, 44 and 28 points. The 29-42-38 run came on three consecutive nights (March 8-9-10) and that type of old-school back to back to back scheduling led to wear and tear which could somewhat explain the chronically sore knees that Erving experienced even early in his career. Erving averaged a career-high 31.9 ppg in the 1972-73 season en route to claiming the first of his three ABA regular season scoring titles.

Erving joined the Nets for the 1973-74 season. He averaged 30.7 ppg in nine October games but after a 4-1 start the Nets lost nine games in a row. Coach Kevin Loughery realized that he was overworking Erving, expecting Erving to lead the league in scoring while also serving as the key figure in the team's full-court press: "My original concept seemed perfectly suited to the Doctor. He plays so hard, so fast. But no one could play that way for 84 games. By the third week of the season, I had run him into the ground. I was in the process of destroying the best player on my team, maybe in the game."

For the remainder of Erving's three seasons with the Nets under Loughery, the team ran and pressed more selectively. Erving did not average 30 ppg in a month again until February 1975--but with Erving leading the way as an all-around threat at both ends of the court the Nets won championships in 1974 and 1976. In March 1974, Erving "only" averaged 27.1 ppg in 17 games but he logged back to back 40 point games for the fourth time in his career (41 on March 16, followed by 41 on March 17).

Erving's 30.7 ppg average in 15 games in February 1975 included three 40 point games: 40 on February 3, a career-high 63 in four overtimes on February 14 and 51 on February 22, Erving's 25th birthday. In a five game stretch from February 14-February 22, Erving averaged 40.4 ppg.

After averaging 27.4 ppg in 1973-74 (good enough to win his second consecutive scoring title) and 27.9 ppg in 1974-75, Erving averaged 29.3 ppg in 1975-76, capturing his third and final scoring title with the second highest scoring average of his career. He averaged 32.0 ppg in five October 1975 games (the minimum number of games used by the Elias Sports Bureau when comparing calendar month scoring statistics), including 39 and 42 in back to back games on October 29 and October 31. Erving averaged 30.2 ppg in 11 November 1975 games. The Nets won three of four games in a stretch spanning October 29-November 4 as Erving averaged 38.0 ppg.

Erving averaged 30.9 ppg in 17 games in January 1976, including 49 points on January 10 and 51 points on January 18. In the five games spanning January 10-18, Erving averaged 37.0 ppg. Erving averaged 31.7 ppg in 17 games in February 1976, including the fifth and final time that he posted back to back 40 point games in the regular season (44 points on February 5, 40 points on February 8).

Erving's performance in the 1976 ABA playoffs--capped off by leading both teams in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocked shots in the ABA Finals while carrying the Nets to the final ABA title before the ABA-NBA merger--is as sublime as any accomplishment in pro basketball history. Erving led the ABA in playoff scoring (34.7 ppg) for the fourth time in five years and he topped the 40 point barrier in each of the first two games of the ABA Finals versus the Denver Nuggets, who had assigned Bobby Jones--arguably the best defensive forward in pro basketball at that time--to guard Erving. Erving scored 45 points on 17-25 field goal shooting (.680) in game one, hitting the game-winning jumper over Jones at the buzzer, and then Erving poured in 48 points on 17-26 field goal shooting (.654) in a game two loss. Erving scored 41 points in a one point game six loss in the previous series versus San Antonio before scoring 28 points in the Nets' game seven win; thus, in a four game span against the ABA's toughest competition Erving averaged 40.5 ppg as the Nets eliminated the Spurs and gained home court advantage in the Finals with a 1-1 split against the Nuggets.

After the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, Erving was a very productive and consistent player during his 11 year NBA career but--like many great players, including Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan--his highest scoring seasons happened within the first five years of his pro career. Erving averaged between 27.3 ppg and 31.9 ppg each season during his ABA career, while in the NBA he averaged at least 20 ppg each season until he turned 35 but he never averaged more than 26.9 ppg, when he ranked fourth in the league in scoring during his fourth NBA season, 1979-80. In the final month of that campaign, he hit his peak as an NBA scorer, averaging 29.8 ppg in 13 games in March 1980. In a three game stretch from March 12-16 he averaged 38 ppg, scoring 40, 33 and 41 points.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:39 PM


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At Monday, December 21, 2015 4:53:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

Excellent research, David! Erving's numbers in his rookie year in the ABA are astounding, especially in the playoffs that year. Averaging 20/20 in 11 games during the ABA playoffs is no mean feat, since it's not like he put up those numbers in three or four games in the first round before getting bounced out.

At Monday, December 21, 2015 8:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you. I enjoyed diving into all of this data and writing about the results of my research. I wish more footage of Erving's ABA exploits existed, because the snippets that are available are incredible.

At Tuesday, December 22, 2015 12:22:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...


I don't know if this is still true, but back in the days of Kazaa as the primary filesharing option, it was relatively easy to track down old ABA games. Between 2003-2008 I probably watched around 200 or so this way. Even if that format is dead and gone, I would assume somewhere out there on the internet those files are still circulating. They're generally poor quality VHS transfers, but that's still something.

Also, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the announcement that the ABA Committee for the HOF is no more as its "served its purpose." Do you think they got in everyone they needed to, or would you like to see the Willie Wises of the world get their due?

At Wednesday, December 23, 2015 1:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am not familiar with Kazaa. I have watched all of the ABA footage that I can find in any format but it is disappointing how little is available.

Regarding the ABA Committee, Gilmore, Brown, Daniels, Leonard and Dampier (the five candidates selected by that committee) all should have been inducted many years ago. Those were the most glaring oversights among ABA figures. I think that the ABA Committee should have stayed intact at least a little longer to give consideration to guys like George McGinnis (the only eligible ABA or NBA regular season MVP who is not in the Hall), Willie Wise and Bobby Jones but I expected that the committee would only last long enough to induct a handful of individuals.

So, I would say that I am disappointed but not surprised.


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