Welcome back to NBA Tuesday on the Daily McPlay, where we’re examining the Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards for the NBA alone in 1977—as the ABA folded, and a few teams merged into the older league. Similar to the 1970 season for the NFL, we’re now in a single-league universe once again!
Remember to check out the first miniseries entry on this year for context, because knowledge is power.
1977 NBA FINALS MVP: Bill Walton, C, Portland (original); Julius Erving, SF, Philadelphia (revised)
The Portland Trail Blazers won their first NBA title, beating the Philadelphia 76ers in 6 games—after losing the first two on the road by a combined 24 points. Portland center Bill Walton was named the MVP after scoring 18.5 ppg and grabbing 19.0 rpg while dishing out 5.2 apg and notching 3.7 bpg, too. That is an impressive all-around game, for sure.
But Walton was not even the top scorer on his team, as the Blazers had four players average at least 16.0 ppg in the series. Meanwhile, 76ers small forward Julius Erving was just as dominant as Walton: 30.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.0 apg, and 2.7 spg—all while playing almost 4 more minutes per game than Walton did. Overall, we think Erving’s performance was more valuable, since his team’s roster was more shallow.
Yet in a series that didn’t go 7 games, can we give the MVP to a member of the losing squad? We think we should here. Erving (.543) and Walton (.545) both shot well from the floor, but the difference in positions is huge. Also, Erving was better from the line by 68 percentage points, which is significant. In the last 2 games, won by Portland, Erving scored 77 combined points, carrying his team more.
1977 NBA DPOY: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, C, Los Angeles
The four candidates here are Los Angeles Lakers C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5.92 DWS), Denver Nuggets power forward Bobby Jones (5.54), Chicago Bulls C Artis Gilmore (5.50), and Washington Bullets PF Elvin Hayes (5.50). Three of these names are familiar here, already, although Kareem has never won this award from us, surprisingly.
All four teams made the postseason, but Washington had the smallest margin of error (8 games). That means none of these guys made that big of a difference on defense. We will go with Kareem here for two reasons: first, his DWS mark is the highest, clearly, and second, the Lakers secured home-court advantage throughout the postseason by just 3 games, so his defense made a difference there.
His numbers at age 29: 13.3 rpg (including 10.0 on the defensive end), 3.2 bpg, and 1.2 spg. He also committed 3.2 fpg, so there was a balance between effectiveness and intimidation, too. With 53 victories, the Lakers won the Pacific Division, and without Kareem’s defense, the team would have been middle of the pack in the Western Conference.
Check in every Tuesday for our NBA awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!