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Monday, August 17, 2009

Pro Basketball's 100-100 Club

This article was originally published in the April 2002 issue of Basketball Digest; I submitted it with the title "Pro Basketball's Greatest Ball Hawks" but for some strange reason the editor awkwardly renamed it "Basketball's Inside-Out Superstars." I still don't know what that is supposed to mean but in any case it hardly provides an accurate or meaningful description of the subject of the article. Attentive readers will note that I later revisited this subject for NBCSports.com and the editor there used the title that I selected: Pro Basketball's Greatest Ball Hawks.

Great shot blockers do not usually get a lot of steals and the best ball thieves generally do not block many shots. Most blocked shots happen in the paint, which is patrolled by centers and power forwards, while steals frequently occur in the open court and on the perimeter, areas in which smaller, quicker players flourish. It is uncommon for a player to get 100-plus steals and 100-plus blocked shots in one season (only Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion, Tracy McGrady, Bo Outlaw and Ben Wallace did so in 2000-01).

The ABA began recording steals and blocked shots in 1972-73 and the NBA followed suit in 1973-74. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain probably blocked 200-plus shots every season of their careers and may very well have exceeded 100 steals multiple times, particularly in their early years, but both of these Hall of Famers retired before such records were kept. Connie Hawkins almost certainly was a "100/100" player in the ABA and in his first seasons with the Phoenix Suns (he still managed 113 steals and 81 blocked shots in 1973-74 as a 32 year old player on the downside of his career). Jerry West posted 81 steals and 23 blocked shots in only 31 injury riddled games in 1973-74, his final season. West, who frequently blocked post players' shots as a double team defender a la a young Michael Jordan, likely had at least one "200/100" season.

While there is no way to measure the defensive prowess of pro basketball's early players, nearly three decades worth of statistics are enough to demonstrate that the "100/100" Club only admits a handful of members each year. In that period 48 players have joined the "100/100" Club, 25 of whom managed only one such season. Julius Erving is the charter member of the club, totaling 181 steals and 127 blocked shots in 1972-73 as a second year player with the Virginia Squires of the ABA. That season he also founded the "Top Ten" Club, ranking among league leaders in both categories (third in steals and seventh in blocked shots).

The New York Nets acquired Erving before the 1973-74 season and Coach Kevin Loughery employed a pressing, trapping defense to take advantage of Erving's ball hawking skills. The Nets started out 4-1 but lost nine straight as the team found it impossible to effectively maintain full court defensive pressure for four quarters. Loughery pulled back the reins and the Nets rolled all the way to the ABA title. Erving had his only "100/200" season and nearly became the first "200/200" Club member, compiling 190 steals (third in the league) and 204 blocked shots (third in the league).

After racking up 186 steals (fourth in the league) and 157 blocked shots (fourth in the league) in 1974-75, Erving became the first "200/100" Club member in 1975-76 with 207 steals (third in the league) and 160 blocked shots (seventh in the league). Erving continued accumulating "100/100" and "Top Ten" seasons after joining the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976-77. Erving finished his 16 year career with a record 12 "100/100" seasons, missing a 13th in 1977-78 by three blocked shots; he also likely had "100/100" numbers in his rookie season, the year before the ABA began recording steals and blocked shots. His other two non "100/100" seasons came in the last two years of his career.

Erving had a record six "Top Ten" Club seasons and narrowly missed a seventh in 1981-82, finishing 11th in steals by .012 spg. Only three other players have joined him in the "200/100" Club. When he retired in 1987 Erving ranked first on pro basketball's career steals list with 2272 and sixth on the career blocked shots list with 1941; at the start of the 2001-02 season he ranked fourth and 14th respectively.

The 76ers consistently ranked among the NBA's best in points allowed and scoring differential after trading for Bobby Jones, a perennial member of the All-Defensive First Team. Jones posted six "100/100" and two "Top Ten" seasons during his 12 year ABA/NBA career. Jones and Erving combined with Maurice Cheeks (2310 career steals, second all-time at the start of the 2001-02 season) and shot blockers Caldwell Jones and Darryl Dawkins to transform the 76ers from a team that simply tried to outgun the opposition into a formidable defensive team.

Much attention has been deservedly paid to Hakeem Olajuwon's considerable offensive prowess, but his abilities as a defensive player are just as amazing. He tied Erving's record with 12 "100/100" seasons and set the mark for "100/200" years with 11. He also has three "100/300" seasons and two "150/300" seasons; the only other members of those clubs are David Robinson (three-time "100/300" Club member and one-time "150/300" Club member) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (one-time "100/300" Club member).

Olajuwon’s four "Top Ten" seasons are second only to Erving and his three shot blocking titles trail only Abdul-Jabbar and Mark Eaton, who each won four. Olajuwon has ranked in the top ten in shot blocking a record 14 times. Olajuwon is a two time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and in 1988-89 he became the first and only member of the "200/200" Club with 213 steals (sixth in the league) and 282 blocked shots (fourth in the league). This feat will likely never be matched. No center other than Olajuwon has approached 200 steals and the only "midsize" (6-7 or under) players to block 200-plus shots in a season besides Erving are "100/200" Club members Gar Heard and Terry Tyler. Heard blocked 230 shots (sixth in the league) and had 136 steals in 1973-74 for the Buffalo Braves. The Detroit Pistons' Tyler ranked fifth in 1978-79 with 201 blocked shots and moved up to fourth in 1979-80 with 220 blocked shots; he had 104 and 107 steals respectively in those seasons.

Olajuwon is the career professional blocked shots leader (3740 before the start of the 2001-02 season) and ranks seventh on the career professional steals list with 2088. Injuries and age have slowed down Olajuwon and he has not had "100/100" numbers since 1996-97, although he did manage 82 steals and 123 blocked shots in the lockout shortened 50 game 1999 season.

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen round out the "200/100" Club roster. Jordan is the only two time "200/100" Club member, with 236 steals (second in the league) and 125 blocked shots in 1986-87 and 259 steals (first in the league) and 131 blocked shots in 1987-88, the year that he won his only Defensive Player of the Year Award. Interestingly, his next best shot blocking total was 83 in 1990-91. He has won three steals titles (tied for the most ever with Michael Ray Richardson and Alvin Robertson) and ranked in the top ten in steals nine times. Jordan entered the 2001-02 season third on the professional career steals list (2306).

Pippen, Jordan's teammate on six Chicago Bulls' championship teams, had 211 steals (third in the league) and 101 blocked shots in 1989-90. In 1990-91 Pippen just missed the "200/100" Club, posting 193 steals (fifth in the league) and 93 blocked shots. Pippen had 155 steals and 93 blocked shots in 1991-92 and made one last run at "200/100" with 232 steals (first in the league) and 89 blocked shots in 1994-95. His 2080 career steals rank eighth on the all-time list prior to the 2001-02 season.

Elvin Hayes, Marvin Barnes and David Robinson are the other members of the "Top Ten Club." Hayes, 16th on the career professional shot blocking list with 1771, had his only "Top Ten" Club season in 1974-75, ranking fourth in blocked shots (187) and tenth in steals (158).

Barnes joined the "Top Ten" Club in 1975-76 with the ABA Spirits of St. Louis, blocking 134 shots (sixth in the league) and getting 124 steals (eighth in the league). Barnes was an immensely talented player whose career fizzled due to off-court problems.

Robinson won his sole Defensive Player of the Year Award in his only "Top Ten" Club season, leading the league in blocked shots in 1991-92 (305) and ranking fifth in steals (158). Robinson also won the shot blocking crown the previous year and stood in the sixth position on the career professional blocked shots list at the start of the 2001-02 season (2703).

George Gervin is perhaps the most intriguing member of the "100/100" Club. His detractors would argue that he accumulated his steals and blocks by gambling, frequently giving up easy shot attempts to his opponents. Unfortunately, there is not an individual statistic for points allowed. Each steal and blocked shot that an individual tallies is a tangible victory for his team's defense; whether a gambling defensive style pressures the opponent into mistakes or gives up more scoring opportunities than it foils is a difficult question to answer.

An analogy can be made with Allen Iverson and Dennis Rodman. Iverson's critics belittle his prolific scoring totals because of his low field goal percentage; Rodman was frequently accused of not playing good help defense, particularly toward the end of his career, so that he could stay close to the basket and win rebounding titles. The fact that Gervin, Rodman and Iverson played significant minutes on teams that advanced deep in the playoffs strongly suggests that their styles of play were not harming their teams.

Note: the following lists accompanied the original article and thus were compiled prior to the completion of the 2001-02 NBA season.

"100/100" Club

Player Seasons
Julius Erving 12
Hakeem Olajuwon 12
Sam Lacey 7
David Robinson 7
Bobby Jones 6
George Gervin 5
Vlade Divac 5
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 4
Terry Tyler 4
Kevin Garnett 4

Note: List includes all players who totaled 100-plus steals and 100-plus blocked shots in at least four seasons.

"100/200" Club
Player Seasons
Hakeem Olajuwon 11
David Robinson 7
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 3
Terry Tyler 2
Patrick Ewing 2
Julius Erving 1
Gar Heard 1
Bob Lanier 1
Elvin Hayes 1
Robert Parish 1

Note: List includes all players who totaled 100-plus steals
and 200-plus blocked shots in the same season.

"200/100" Club
Player Seasons
Michael Jordan 2
Julius Erving 1
Hakeem Olajuwon 1
Scottie Pippen 1

Note: List includes all players who totaled 200-plus steals
and 100-plus blocked shots in the same season.

"Top Ten" Club
Player Seasons
Julius Erving 6
Hakeem Olajuwon 4
Bobby Jones 2
Elvin Hayes 1
Marvin Barnes 1
David Robinson 1

Note: List includes all players who ranked in the top ten in
steals and blocked shots in the same season.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:41 AM



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