This is the 20th edition of NBA Tuesday, and we are rolling right along into a classic era of professional basketball. Also, those pesky Boston Celtics finished fourth in the Eastern Division and still managed to cheese their way to another NBA title. Go figure!
Regardless of the lucky, plucky guys in the Garden, here is our analysis for the final year of the 1960s …
1969 NBA MVP: Wes Unseld (original), Wilt Chamberlain (revised)
As the league expands in real time, it’s tougher for us to delineate all the competing teams, so check out the standings for yourself here. Needless to say, there were a lot of contenders during the regular season.
The Baltimore Bullets finished with the best record in the league (57-25), and their rookie center, Wes Unseld, won both the MVP and the Rookie of the Year awards (see below). However, Unseld finished just 8th in Win Shares, and he was not in the Top 10 for Player Efficiency Rating. That doesn’t bode well for his “real” MVP chances here.
The best players in the league were New York Knicks center Willis Reed (1st in WS, 4th in PER), Los Angeles Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain (2nd, 2nd), and Cincinnati Royals point guard Oscar Robertson (3rd, 3rd).
The Royals finished 7 games behind the Celtics in the Eastern Division, however, rendering this a two-way debate between the big men, since Cincy didn’t qualify for the postseason. While Reed didn’t lead the NBA in any categories, Chamberlain did, of course: minutes played (45.3 per game), field-goal percentage (.583), and rebounding average (21.1 per game).
That’s a typical Stilt season, and he helped his new team in L.A. to 55 wins and the Western Division title. Meanwhile, the Knicks finished third in the East with 54 victories. Chamberlain was more consistent in WS/PER, in terms of overall combined context in comparison to his peers, and he also led the NBA in traditional statistical categories as well.
Wilt’s ability to play top minutes at high efficiency really separate him here from Reed’s season (21.1 points per game, 14.5 rebounds per game, .521 shooting percentage). This is Chamberlain’s eighth overall MVP in our analyses, and it’s also his fourth consecutive—at age 32—since Robertson took the nod in 1965.
Never let anyone try to tell you than the Stilt was overrated.
1969 ABA MVP: Mel Daniels (original), Jimmy Jones (revised)
Eight of the 11 teams in the new league made the postseason, and the three teams that did not—the New York Nets, the Los Angeles Stars, and the Houston Mavericks—were terrible. So that’s the contending team list right there.
The three best players in the league were New Orleans Buccaneers point guard Jimmy Jones (1st in WS, 2nd in PER), Minnesota Pipers center Connie Hawkins (2nd, 1st), and Denver Rockets point guard Larry Jones (3rd, 3rd). All three teams made the playoffs, so we’re good there. Larry Jones falls behind in direct comparison here, so he’s not relevant.
By the way, Indiana Pacers center Mel Daniels won the MVP vote, finishing just fourth in PER and seventh in WS, so he was not better or more valuable than his peers above.
Hawkins had a five-point lead on Jimmy Jones in PER, while Jones had a five-win lead on Hawkins for WS. New Orleans finished with 10 more wins than Minnesota did, which accounts for the large gap there, but what about their individual numbers?
- Jones: Topped ABA in field-goal percentage (.535) while scoring 26.6 ppg and averaging 5.7 rpg and 5.7 assists, as well.
- Hawkins: Didn’t lead the league in any categories while scoring 30.2 ppg, grabbing 11.4 rpg, and dishing out 3.9 apg.
Jones actually led the ABA in two-point percentage (.537) as well, in addition to effective FG percentage (.535). In the end, we’re also going to go with the guy that led his team to more victories, because in the end, that is the value tiebreak when almost everything else is relatively even.
1969 NBA ROTY: Wes Unseld (original, confirmed)
This award comes down to Unseld (10.8 WS, .175 WS/48) and San Diego Rockets center Elvin Hayes (9.6 WS, .124 WS/48). Unseld’s team did win the most games in the regular season, too, while the Rockets won 20 fewer games despite making the postseason as the last qualifier in the Western Division.
Unseld’s numbers are better than Hayes’ numbers, too, although the San Diego rookie led the NBA in scoring (28.4 ppg) while grabbing 17.1 boards per game. Hayes did have a higher PER, too, than Unseld (18.9 to 18.1).
In essence, Hayes put up better traditional stats, while Unseld’s overall value was hidden in the sabermetric measurements. Yet he still was enough of a presence to earn the double awards at the time.
That’s an interesting paradox, in truth. Both players earned more defensive WS than offensive ones, so there’s nothing hidden there. All things considered, we are going to give the slight edge to Unseld, although we wouldn’t complain if someone disagreed: Hayes was a stud.
1969 ABA ROTY: Warren Jabali (original, confirmed)
Three different ABA rooks posted 5.0 WS or better: Dallas Chaparrals shooting guard Ron Boone (5.8, .105), Oakland Oaks shooting guard Warren Jabali (5.8, .109), and Kentucky Colonels center Gene Moore (5.0, .119).
Jabali probably won the vote at the time, because the Oaks won 60 games—14 more victories than the next-best team. But the team had seven guys scoring in double digits every night, so Jabali was not the reason for that success … just part of it.
Moore played in more games than Jabali, and that WS/48 mark is the best of the bunch. However, the Colonels won just 42 games, so it was harder for him to match the overall WS mark, individually.
How about the individual numbers, since all three are relatively even sabermetrically?
- Boone: 18.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.6 apg in 34.4 mpg
- Jabali: 21.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 3.5 apg in 35.8 mpg
- Moore: 13.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.2 apg in 26.7 mpg
If Moore had played more minutes, his WS/48 would be more impressive—but also probably lower based on regression to the mean. Jabali played the most minutes and put up the highest WS mark, while his WS/48 is higher than Boone’s mark.
It’s close, and maybe some of it has to do with style of play as the Oaks were running the ball and shooting a lot, but in the end, Jabali does have a distinct edge on his peers here overall.