For the 30th edition of NBA Tuesday this week, we find ourselves in unique situations for both awards analyses, and we won’t spoil it by saying anything more here. That would eliminate the fun, right?
That being said, let’s get going with the good stuff!
1978 NBA MVP: Bill Walton (original), David Thompson (revised)
Somehow, Portland Trail Blazers center Bill Walton won this MVP vote after playing in just 58 games during the regular season—and not finishing in the Top 10 for Win Shares. Walton was a good player, of course, finishing second in Player Efficiency Rating (24.83), but his value? Nope.
This is one of the worst MVP selections we have seen in NBA history. Let’s look at the real candidates for this award:
- Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 3rd in WS (12.13), 1st in PER (29.22).
- San Antonio Spurs shooting guard George Gervin: 4th in WS (11.98), 4th in PER (24.68).
- Denver Nuggets shooting guard David Thompson: 1st in WS (12.70), 8th in PER (23.19).
- Chicago Bulls center Artis Gilmore: 5th in WS (11.48), 7th in PER (23.51).
Okay, the reality here is that Kareem was the best player in the league, but like Walton, he missed a lot of time during the regular season: At age 30, he sat out 20 games. You cannot win an MVP Award when you miss a quarter of the season.
The Nuggets and the Spurs won their respective divisions, while Chicago did not make the postseason—missing a berth by four games in the Western Conference. Since Gilmore is the weakest of the candidates above, anyway, that removes him from consideration.
So it comes down to Gervin or Thompson: the Iceman was the slightly better player, while Skywalker was the slightly more valuable player. They both averaged 27.2 poings per game, with Gervin winning the scoring title by famously outdueling Thompson on the final day of the season.
Gervin also shot better from the floor, .536 to .521, as reflected in his superior PER. Yet again, this is about value, and Thompson led the NBA in WS while playing for a division winner. That has to be the deciding factor here.
1978 NBA ROTY: Walter Davis (original), Marques Johnson (revised)
First off, the NBA All-Rookie Team this year was impressive: Seattle SuperSonics center Jack Sikma (5.4 WS, 13.5 PER); Phoenix Suns small forward Walter Davis (10.1 WS, 22.1 PER); Milwaukee Bucks small forward Marques Johnson (10.6 WS, 21.3 PER); New Jersey Nets small forward Bernard King (5.9 WS, 17.3 PER); and Los Angeles Lakers point guard Norm Nixon (4.5 WS, 14.1 PER).
They’re all famous now to a sports fan of the 1970s, but a quick glance reduces the field to Davis and Johnson. Both Phoenix and Milwaukee made the postseason, and like the MVP analysis above, this comes down to value over individual “greatness”—meaning, we give the award to Johnson.
For comparison’s sake, here are their major per-game numbers:
- Davis: 24.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.2 blocks
- Johnson: 19.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.3 blocks
This is the first time since the 1965 season where we have revised both major NBA awards, so this sort of thing doesn’t happen too often. This was just a year where the voters were off on both decisions.