Saturday, 5 November 2011

DR J: THE MOST UNDERRATED SUPERSTAR EVER


Julius Erving is the most underrated superstar ever.

The irony is that players who electrify crowds with gravity-defying dunks are, if anything, usually overrated. Vince Carter, Shawn Kemp, Dominique Wilkins and others were all known for their emphatic assaults on the rim. They hold a special place in our hearts for the simple fact that they could do things on a basketball court that mere mortals could only dream of doing. Team success and individual accolades be damned, players like that will be remembered forever – YouTube will see to that.

Is it possible that Julius Erving became so overrated that he is now underrated?

Could it be that Dr J’s aerial ability actually hurt his long-term legacy? Do people look back at his flashy game and perceive it as style-over-substance?

For someone once so famed for his style, Erving has relatively quickly become an unfashionable choice when ranking the best players of all-time.

Much more than just an offensive juggernaut, people seem to forget that he averaged a Kirilenko-esque 2.0spg and 1.7bpg for his career.

He was a force of nature offensively too, of course, shooting .507 FG% for his career. And no, that statistic is not inflated by his ABA numbers. He actually shot the ball slightly better in the NBA than in the ABA.

Erving’s statistics were mind-boggling. In his rookie year, in the ABA Playoffs, Dr J played in 11 games and averaged 33.3ppg, 20.4rpg and 6.5apg.

Some people might scoff at such statistics and argue that it came against inferior competition. And yet, in the 1976 ABA Finals, against a tough Denver Nuggets team (featuring future Hall of Famers Dan Issel and David Thompson, as well as Bobby Jones – one of the best defenders of his era and a future teammate of Erving’s in Philadelphia), Erving averaged 37.7ppg, 14.2rpg, 6.0apg, 3.0spg and 2.2bpg. Erving's Nets won the championship.

“He had the best playoff series in a championship series that I've ever seen one individual have”, his coach, Kevin Loughery, would later say about Dr J’s performance in the 1976 ABA Finals.

In the NBA, Erving took some time to adjust but, in his fourth year in the League, won the regular season MVP award. In doing so, he became the first non-center to win the award since Oscar Robertson seventeen years earlier.

In total, across both the ABA and NBA, Erving was selected to 16 All-Stars Games, was named All-League 1st Team on 9 separate occasions, received 4 MVP awards and won 3 championship rings.

And yet, nearly every publication and journalist ranks Erving 15th or lower in their respective all-time player rankings. The only voter of note who apparently bucks the trend is Peter Vecsey who once named Erving as the 9th best player of all-time.

There are certainly about 8 or 9 players who deserve to be ranked ahead of Erving. But he has a case to be ranked ahead of the likes of Bob Pettit, Malone (Karl and Moses), Elgin Baylor, John Havlicek and Hakeem Olajuwon.

In fact, when you factor in all the possible criteria – statistics, accolades, team success, legacy – it’s hard to rank Erving below the likes of Jerry West or Kobe Bryant.

Were either of those players really better than Dr J?

Is it possible that Julius Erving became so overrated that he is now underrated?

I believe so.

11 comments:

  1. "In fact, when you factor in all the possible criteria – statistics, accolades, team success, legacy – it’s hard to rank Erving below the likes of Jerry West or Kobe Bryant. Were either of those players really better than Dr J?"

    How on earth is it hard according to these criteria? Statistically and accolade-wise, all three are somewhat comparable, but Erving's inflated ABA stats make it closer than it should be. The ABA certainly had its share of good players, but the overall quality of the league was undoubtedly lower than the NBA. Erving absolutely proved his worth during his NBA career, but the ABA numbers/awards just do not carry the same weight as NBA numbers/awards. There is a reason why his production slips from ABA to NBA.

    As far as team success, West went to the NBA finals 9 times, winning once, with one finals MVP. Kobe has went to the NBA finals 7 times, winning 5, with 2 finals MVPs. Erving went to the NBA finals 4 times, winning once, no finals MVPs. Erving may be in a similar category to West when it comes to ultimate team success, but West did manage to get his team to 5 more finals appearances. Erving is nowhere near Kobe in this department, with 4 less titles and 3 less finals appearances.

    Legacy is subjective, but results speak the loudest. Kobe and West are/were better.

    -Adam

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  2. Hi Adam, thank you for reading the article and taking the time to reply.

    Even if you ignore Erving's ABA statistics, his NBA numbers are just are comparable to Kobe's. However, Dr J's peak was in the ABA - we shouldn't just discount it because it was a watered down league. He still dominated against those players so would have likely done the same in the NBA during the same time period.

    Kobe has more rings but Shaq played a large part in that. Team success is sometimes unfairly used to judge individuals. Was Kobe really a better player than Erving? Both were very similar in my opinion. Meanwhile, West has multiple Finals appearances but couldn't get past Russell's Celtics (understandable).

    All three players should be ranked closely, i.e. closer than they currently are by most experts.

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  3. Fair enough. I do not disagree with your overall sentiment because Erving was indeed a special player. However, Kobe's offensive peak puts him way over the top in my opinion. Averaging 35 a game during an NBA season is hard to match. In addition, Kobe averaged 30, 30, and 29 in his last 3 finals runs as the primary option in the playoffs, while Erving only came close to that offensive output once (27.3) during his 4 finals runs in the NBA playoffs.

    Also, Kobe did average a cumulative 25, 6, and 5 in the playoffs during his 3 titles with Shaq, so he certainly played a large part in Shaq winning 3 as well. Kobe was more productive during his 3 titles with Shaq than Erving was during his one NBA title with Moses.

    I believe there is a bit more separation between the two than you suggest, but when comparing the top 5, 10, or 15 players of all-time, pros and cons can be discussed in a variety of ways.

    -Adam

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  4. Reasons Erving may be underrated
    1) His statistical peak occured in the ABA (actually quite strong on swingmen in that era with McGinnis, Barry, Cunningham, Bobby Jones etc).
    2) His early NBA career was damaged (both statistically, and in terms of titles relative to expectations) by playing on a team full of scorers (Free, Collins, McGinnis).

    For me it would be hard to argue that Erving was superior to Baylor, similar players but Baylor came first and posted huge rebound numbers early in his career.

    Certainly seems like Erving may have slipped a little versus one or two of the players mentioned - in the '88 book "100 Greatest Basketball Players" Erving was ranked 9th, Pettit 14th, Baylor 16th, Moses 17th and Havlicek 18th (the rankings were more an afterthought in a book of profiles than a focal point but it does give an indication).

    One thing that really affects where he should be ranked in history (to me anyway) is how good his D really was. His stats (especially from the ABA) were strong, by contrast Bill Simmons described him as a "surprisingly subpar defender".

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  5. Excellent comments Martin, thank you for contributing. I need to find a copy of that 1988 book. It sounds intriguing. The players would have been more 'fresh in the mind' back then.

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  6. It seems to be available on Amazon.co.uk (1p 2nd hand plus p&p) by Wayne Patterson. Though as I said it's a tad picture heavy and from memory, it's not that great, mostly potted biogs. If you want the rankings or a sample of their profiles I could send you them.

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  7. I have since acquired another B-Ball rankings book (Pro Basketball Statistics by Martin Taragano, 1993) he ranks 6th as high as I've seen him on any list (however Pettit is at 3 and Baylor is at 4, whilst Havlicek is 14th and Moses 15th) published or otherwise. In another book (Peter C Bjarkman's Encyclopedia of Team Histories, 1994), the rankings aren't explicit (but it is suggested that players are mentioned in rank order) but Erving is mentioned 6th (though Bird mentioned next is called the games "best all-time forward" so perhaps tied 6th). The point, in essance is that Erving certainly does seem to be slipping, and not only because of players since the publication of such lists (Duncan, Shaq, Kobe).
    Scouring my head for other reasons for his drop I came up with
    1) Possibly percieved as "anti-clutch" when the Sixers failed to win titles with him as their best player. Especially during the weak late 70's.
    2)Only 1 NBA title and that as the 2nd option.

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  8. Thank you, Martin, I will definitely try to get hold of those books.

    I recently bought 'The Experts Pick Basketball's Best 50 Players in the Last 50 Years' by Kenneth A. Shouler and '100 Greatest Basketball Players' by Wayne Patterson. Also, although it doesn't rank the players, I am halfway through reading '24 Seconds to Shoot: The Birth and Improbable Rise of the NBA' by Leonard Koppett which is an outstanding read.

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  9. The Erving slide continues. In NBA List Jam co-authors Pat Williams (Erving's former Sixers GM) and Michael Connelly rank Erving 37th, behind the likes of Allen Iverson, Jerry Lucas and Dwight Howard in their "Top 100 NBA Players", in which players from "NBA and ABA history" are ranked not on how they "would fare ... in an one-on-one tournament" but the "players who had the greatest positive impacts on their eras, teams, leagues, and the game of basketball itself". It's on impact and would seem to account for a ABA careers (though no ABA only players) so the reasoning is particularly tough to fathom.

    This is by far the lowest rank Erving has seen, Lacy Banks' 20th was the previous low rank.

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  10. Julius Erving is 8th-to 10th on the all time greatest players!, but by far!!!!!! the best thing that happend to the game since the Ball.........the Doctor carried the league for more than a decade! he was and still the most loved,admired and respected player EVER!!!!!! ( yes, more then MJ,magic,Bird,James or koby)...As far as accomplishments,Doc played 16 years, all star each year, 12 time all league,3 scoring titles,4 MVP,3 championships, and only player ever to score 30000 points,10000 rebounds,5000 assists,2000 steals and 2000 blocks!...his ABA numbers were much better, But Not because the league was weaker (if that was the case how is it that Gervin,moses,Thompson etc..had better numbers in the NBA?)...Doc was younger, on a team that needed more of his assault and healthy knees....Doc still was able to get the sixers (with NO TALENT) to the finals in 80 and 82 (beating the celtics twice against Parish,Bird,mchale,maxwell,Archible,wow!!!!!!!) and loss in six to the lakers of kareem,magic,nixon,Macdoo,cooper wilkes etc...Thats Greatness! finally, last but not least, Doc was the best Entertiner ever, best facial in game dunker,greatest flyer ever,best in the open court and made shots, no player can EVER Attempt!!!!!!!!

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  11. Julius Erving is 8th-to 10th on the all time greatest players!, but by far!!!!!! the best thing that happend to the game since the Ball.........the Doctor carried the league for more than a decade! he was and still the most loved,admired and respected player EVER!!!!!! ( yes, more then MJ,magic,Bird,James or koby)...As far as accomplishments,Doc played 16 years, all star each year, 12 time all league,3 scoring titles,4 MVP,3 championships, and only player ever to score 30000 points,10000 rebounds,5000 assists,2000 steals and 2000 blocks!...his ABA numbers were much better, But Not because the league was weaker (if that was the case how is it that Gervin,moses,Thompson etc..had better numbers in the NBA?)...Doc was younger, on a team that needed more of his assault and healthy knees....Doc still was able to get the sixers (with NO TALENT) to the finals in 80 and 82 (beating the celtics twice against Parish,Bird,mchale,maxwell,Archible,wow!!!!!!!) and loss in six to the lakers of kareem,magic,nixon,Macdoo,cooper wilkes etc...Thats Greatness! finally, last but not least, Doc was the best Entertiner ever, best facial in game dunker,greatest flyer ever,best in the open court and made shots, no player can EVER Attempt!!!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete