We’re back with the NBA Tuesday miniseries on the Daily McPlay, analyzing the Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards for both professional leagues in 1972. It definitely was an exciting time for both leagues, as the sport started to make gains in popularity across the nation as a whole with exciting young stars who would dominate the decade in basketball.
Remember to check out the first miniseries entry on this year for context, because knowledge is power.
1972 NBA FINALS MVP: Wilt Chamberlain, C, Los Angeles (original, confirmed)
The Los Angeles Lakers downed the New York Knicks in a coastal battle of hoops powers, winning the Finals in 5 games, and legendary Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain was voted the Finals MVP. He won our nod for this award in 1967, before there was an official trophy for the honor. He really doesn’t have any competition for this one, in our minds, and here’s why.
The Stilt averaged 47.2 mpg in the Finals, and the next-closest teammate clocked in at just 43.4 mpg. The roster had a very strong starting five, including shooting guard Gail Goodrich (series-high 25.6 ppg), but Chamberlain was all over the court: 19.4 ppg, 23.2 rpg, and 2.6 apg. He also shot 60 percent from the floor to lead the Lakers to a 4.4-ppg margin in the Finals. It was all-around supremeness for Wilt.
1972 ABA FINALS MVP: Freddie Lewis, PG, Indiana (original); Roger Brown, SF, Indiana (revised)
The Indiana Pacers cut down the New York Nets in 6 games to win the ABA title, and Pacers point guard Freddie Lewis was voted the playoff MVP for his 22.8 ppg/5.3 apg/3.0 rpg line in the Finals. Indiana outscored New York by 4 ppg over the course of the series, so it was a strong performance by the Pacers, despite Nets small forward Rick Barry and his 31.5 ppg/6.0 rpg/5.5 apg stat line.
Barry was clearly the best player in the matchup, though, although we feel Pacers rookie SF George McInnis was more valuable to his team than Lewis. He put up 18.3 ppg, 15.5 rpg, and 2.0 apg while playing considerably fewer minutes than Lewis. That kind of productivity deserved more playing time, for sure, although McGinnis also topped all players in the Finals for fouls and turnovers.
And that brings us back to Lewis: He played 45.5 mpg, bested only by Indiana SF Roger Brown (46.2). Arguably, Brown was the better player, too (21.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.7 apg), committing 7 fewer TOs. Brown also led all scorers with 32 points in the decisive Game 6 road win for the Pacers, playing all 48 minutes in a performance that was dominant—and title clinching, too. We’re going with Brown here instead, again.
1972 NBA DPOY: Nate Thurmond, C, Golden State
Eight players posted impressive Defensive Win Shares totals between 6.3 and 7.9 for the year. After sifting through them for eliminating factors (teammates, non-playoff value, etc.), we have these finalists: Chamberlain (7.90 DWS), Milwaukee Bucks C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7.06), and Golden State Warriors C Nate Thurmond (6.35).
The Lakers and the Bucks cruised into the Western Conference playoffs, while the Warriors claimed the final postseason slot by a mere 2 games over the Phoenix Suns and 4 games over the Seattle SuperSonics. This means Thurmond’s defense was quite valuable to his team, definitely meaning the difference between the playoffs and an early vacation.
Surprise! Picking Thurmond over the two legends makes sense, however, and Thurmond himself was a Hall of Fame player. His numbers that earned this award? 16.1 rpg and 2.7 fpg in 43.1 mpg while playing the best of the best all season long at age 30. We will take it.
1972 ABA DPOY: Artis Gilmore, C, Kentucky Colonels
There are only two real candidates here: Kentucky Colonels rookie C Artis Gilmore (7.15 DWS) and last year’s winner, Memphis Pros power forward Gerald Govan (7.09). With the Pros finishing with the second-worst record in the ABA, then this award goes to Gilmore, by default, even though he certainly earned it with the top DWS mark in the league—and his team won a league-best 68 games, too.
The stats tell the story: 17.8 rpg, 5.0 bpg, and 3.3 fpg in 43.6 mpg. Not bad for a rookie playing in an offensive-oriented league. It was the start of a Hall of Fame career, clearly.