Our ongoing NBA Tuesday miniseries rolls again on the Daily McPlay, analyzing the Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards for both professional leagues in 1971. The arrival on the championship scene of one of the most dominant players ever surely helped the NBA overcome any adversity it may have been facing at the time.
Remember to check out the first miniseries entry on this year for context, if you want to for fun!
1971 NBA FINALS MVP: Lew Alcindor, C, Milwaukee (original, confirmed)
The Milwaukee Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets in the Finals, with center Lew Alcindor winning the Finals MVP Award—he would legally change his name by Fall 1971, by the way. The games were not close, really, as the Bucks averaged 12.3-point margins of victory. Arguably, Milwaukee had the two best players on the floor: Alcindor and 32yo point guard Oscar Robertson.
The future Kareem (27.0 ppg, 18.5 rpg, 2.8 apg) played 42 minutes on average, while the Big O (23.5 ppg, 9.5 apg, 5.0 rpg) played 41 minutes on average. Sentiment wants to give Robertson the nod, knowing more was in store for the younger star; but we cannot do that. We confirm the MVP vote, although we never would have argued if the media at the time had gone Big O’s way.
1971 ABA FINALS MVP: Zelmo Beaty, C, Utah (original, confirmed)
The Utah Stars beat the Kentucky Colonels in a thrilling, 7-game series to take the ABA title, and the Stars’ 31yo center Zelmo Beaty was the voted playoff MVP. Utah did outscore Kentucky by over 5 points per game, and Game 7 was a 10-point victory for the home team—even though Colonels C Dan Issel led all scorers with 41 points in the deciding game.
Beaty was better overall than Issel, but we also want to look at Utah small forward Willie Wise:
- Beaty: 28.4 ppg, 16.0 rpg, 2.3 apg
- Wise: 25.3 ppg, 16.4 rpg, 4.4 apg
Wise actually played almost 5 more minutes per game than Beaty did, too, although Beaty was much better from the free-throw line, shooting 85.5 percent to Wise’s mere 67.2 effort. The small forward also committed 11 more turnovers in the series, so we will confirm the vote, once again.
1971 NBA DPOY: Elvin Hayes, C, San Diego
Four players stood tall defensively in the senior league: San Diego Rockets C Elvin Hayes (7.06 Defensive Win Shares), New York Knicks point guard Walt Frazier (6.69), Knicks C Willis Reed (6.48), and N.Y. power forward Dave DeBusschere (6.41). With three teammates here, we naturally look to Hayes’ situation. The Rockets missed the postseason by just 1 game, and it’s good enough for us.
Hayes didn’t lead the league in rebounding as he had the prior year, but snaring 16.6 boards per game was still pretty good. He also cut down his fouling from 3.3 per game to just 2.7 per game this season, which means the control factor was settling in for the third-year star. San Diego, as a team, was outscored by 0.2 ppg on the season, and it would have been a lot worse without Hayes in the middle.
1971 ABA DPOY: Gerald Govan, C, Memphis
Some familiar names rose to the top here: Memphis Pros C Gerald Govan (7.04 DWS), Beaty (5.97), Indiana Pacers C Mel Daniels (5.42), and Stars PF Red Robbins (5.41). Of course, Daniels won this award the first two times out (1968, 1969), but can he grab a third? Govan’s DWS mark will be hard to overcome, perhaps. The Pros had an 11-game cushion for the playoffs, so that’s significant.
Meanwhile, the two Utah teammates cancel each other out, and the Pacers finished 17 games above Memphis in the division, so Govan will get our hardware. For the record, he led the ABA with 44 minutes per game, while posting 13.5 rpg (including 10.3 on the defensive end) and committing 3.4 fouls each game as well. That’s a guy no one wanted to see in the key.