For almost four months now, we’ve been going through NBA history to confirm or re-assign the Most Valuable Player award. Last week, we added the Rookie of the Year Award, too, for the NBA Tuesday series.
The Boston Celtics won their seventh-straight NBA title in Spring 1965. We’ve already taken away four MVP awards from the team’s centerpiece … will we do it again? Yes, we will—as in 10 seasons now, we’ve reassigned the MVP award eight times!
1965 MVP: Bill Russell (original), Oscar Robertson (revised)
The Celtics won 61 games to win the Eastern Division, and the Los Angeles Lakers won 49 games to win the Western Division. Only four teams finished above .500, as the Cincinnati Royals (48-32) and the St. Louis Hawks (45-35) joined the division winners. Two other teams made the postseason: the Philadelphia 76ers (40-40) and the Baltimore Bullets (37-43).
Since it’s hard to consider any other teams true contenders, this makes our MVP candidates fewer in number. And as usual, we start with center Wilt Chamberlain, traded midseason from the last-place San Francisco Warriors to the 76ers. The Stilt led the NBA in scoring (34.7 points per game) and shooting percentage again (.510), while also topping the league in Player Efficiency Rating (28.62).
However, Chamberlain slipped to fourth in Win Shares (15.09), leaving an opening for Cincinnati point guard Oscar Robertson to lay claim to the MVP: Big O posted the highest WS mark (16.95) in the league, slightly edging out Boston center Bill Russell (16.87). But Robertson was second in PER (26.68), while Russell was merely ninth (19.53).
Robertson topped the league in assists (11.5 per game—the highest mark of his career) and minutes played (45.6 per game, the best of his career), while also scoring 30.4 points per game and grabbing 9.0 rebounds every time out as well. His usage rate was tops, of course, in line with the minutes, giving more value to his sabermetric ratings.
The Big O was close to winning the MVP in his first four seasons of outstanding play, and this is the year that he finally gets it done—as Russell once again loses an MVP award he never should have won in the first place.
1965 ROTY: Willis Reed (original), Luke Jackson (revised)
The New York Knicks finished last in the Eastern Division with a 31-49 record, despite rookie center Willis Reed averaging 19.5 points and 14.7 rebounds per game to make an immediate impact in the NBA. But when you’re doing it for a last-place team, does anyone really care?
Meanwhile, Philadelphia power forward Luke Jackson posted 14.8 points and 12.9 boards a game for a playoff team that finished nine games ahead of the Knicks in the standings. On a per-game basis, Jackson has a higher WS rate than Reed, too.
Two factors to consider as well: First, Reed was joined by fellow rookie power forward Jim Barnes—averaging 15.5 points and 9.7 rebounds—in the lineup, meaning both of them had plenty to do with the Knicks’ “success” during the season. Both rookies still couldn’t elevate the team to the postseason.
Second, Jackson did benefit from Chamberlain joining his team for the final 35 games of the season. The 76ers posted a 18-17 record in those games, though, so the Stilt didn’t immediately change much since the Philly squad finished at 40-40 for the year.
That means Jackson did a lot on his own as a rookie before Wilt showed up, and that gives him more value than Reed had for the last-place Knicks.