As we start to move through the 1980s on NBA Tuesday, it really becomes clear that we are heading into another era of superstars, where perhaps the voters wanted to spread the MVP love around … when perhaps they were doing history and posterity an injustice by misrepresenting the facts.
So, once more unto the breach, dear friends!
1981 NBA MVP: Julius Erving (original), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (revised)
Here we go again. One player topped the league in both Win Shares (14.26) and Player Efficiency Rating (25.48), and he did it for a playoff team that won 54 games. That player is Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who wins his record-breaking ninth MVP Award from us.
Philadelphia 76ers small forward Julius Erving won the vote, by finishing second in WS (13.84) and fourth in PER (25.07). Dr. J clearly didn’t trail the Big Fella by much in either category, so it wasn’t a bad vote, per se—but it wasn’t the right vote, either.
Abdul-Jabbar’s stat line included per-game averages of 26.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.9 blocks while playing 37.2 minutes per night as a 33-year-old veteran and shooting 57.4 percent from the floor.
Other players worth mentioning? Houston Rockets center Moses Malone (3rd in WS, 3rd in PER) and Utah Jazz small forward Adrian Dantley (4th in WS, 5th in PER) also had great seasons. But no one was better or more valuable than Kareem.
1981 NBA ROTY: Darrell Griffith (original), Larry Smith (revised)
Jazz shooting guard Darrell Griffith won this vote despite posting just 0.4 WS and 14.7 PER marks. That is pretty bad. Dr. Dunkenstein must have wowed voters with his 20.6 ppg, but the rest of his game was lacking, clearly.
Who were the real contenders for this award? These guys:
- Golden State Warriors power forward Larry Smith (6.1 WS, 14.8 PER)
- Boston Celtics power forward Kevin McHale (4.7 WS, 16.4 PER)
- Warriors center Joe Barry Carroll (5.7 WS, 16.4 PER)
Carroll and McHale were a part of that infamous trade between the Warriors and the Celtics that all but built the Boston dynasty of the decade, so it is perhaps ironic that Smith was the most valuable rookie of the bunch.
McHale only averaged 20 minutes a game during his rookie season, so that takes him off the table, really, as a serious candidate. The Warriors only won 39 games, but that was enough to get them within one victory of a playoff spot. That’s “contending” enough for us.
Carroll had the flashier stats, but Smith was doing the dirty work: The latter topped the NBA in both offensive rebound percentage and total rebound percentage while grabbing 12.1 rpg and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. He gets our nod here over “Joe Barely Cares” in an analysis of rookie teammates.
Check in every Tuesday for our NBA awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!