We have reached what experts and historians might call the “modern game” here on NBA Tuesday today: The rookie seasons of two very famous players, and you probably know who we mean.
Will either of them win an award today? Let’s see!
1980 NBA MVP: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (original, confirmed)
The two best players in the league—Los Angeles Lakes center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Philadelphia 76ers small forward Julius Erving—both led their teams to at least 59 victories, narrowing this analysis quite nicely from the start.
The Big Fella led the NBA in Win Shares (14.84), while finishing second in Player Efficiency Rating (25.30). Meanwhile, Dr. J topped his peers in PER (25.36) and finished second in WS (12.48).
Here are the traditional stats.
- Abdul-Jabbar: 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.4 blocks per game
- Erving: 26.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 4.6 apg, 2.2 steals per game, 1.8 bpg
Kareem also shot a career-best 60.4 percent from the floor, and his blocks mark let the league. Meanwhile, Dr. J made 51.9 percent of his shots and played four fewer games than Abdul-Jabbar did. Considering the Lakers center was three years older than Erving, that is significant.
In the end, we see Kareem’s edge in WS significantly outdoing Dr. J’s edge in PER, so we confirm the vote for this award. This ties the Big Fella with Wilt Chamberlain for the most MVPs (8) in this space.
1980 NBA ROTY: Larry Bird (original, confirmed)
Here is the deal: The Boston Celtics topped the league with 61 wins, while the Lakers won 60 times. Each had a leading candidate for this award on the team—Celtics power forward Larry Bird and Lakers point guard Magic Johnson. You may have heard of these guys.
Three rookies stood above the rest in the league, with New York Knicks center Bill Cartwright added to the list for legit reasons.
- Bird: 11.2 WS, 20.5 PER
- Johnson: 10.5 WS, 20.6 PER
- Cartwright: 9.7 WS, 17.9 PER
The Knicks finished under .500 and missed the playoffs, and Cartwright trailed the two legends by a bit in each sabermetric measurement. In many other years, he would have won this award.
The Lakers had three players lock in double-digit WS, as small forward Jamaal Wilkes (10.0) joined Kareem and Magic there. For Boston, small forward Cedric Maxwell (12.2) topped the roster in WS. There was a little drop off (8.9 WS) to the next-best player, in terms of value, on the Celtics roster.
Johnson was the slightly better player as a rookie; Bird had a little more value during this specific season. Bird definitely carried a bigger load than Johnson did, so we confirm this award, too.
But what a time to see Kareem, Dr. J, Magic, and Bird all playing at the same time … definitely a defining season in NBA history.