Celtics-Sixers-Lakers NBA, early ABA
Celtics-Sixers-Lakers NBA, early ABA
By Glenn Guzzo
Strat-O-Matic’s journey deeper in pro basketball history continues this summer with the Windows release of ratings for all the 1967-68 National Basketball Association and 1968-69 American Basketball Association teams.
The 1967-68 NBA season looked very familiar, yet new NBA teams and a rival new league made this a turning-point season.
After Philadelphia (62-20) dominated the regular season (again), the 76ers blew a 3-1 lead in the playoffs to Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics. Then for the fifth time in eight seasons, the Celtics beat Los Angeles in the finals.
Philly’s Wilt Chamberlain won his third straight MVP award, leading the league in shooting percentage, rebounding, total assists and minutes played.
Meanwhile, NBA expansion teams in Seattle and San Diego, and the debut of the American Basketball Association had an immediate impact on the established NBA teams.
Rick Barry left San Francisco to join the ABA, but the loss of the league’s scoring leader left the Warriors’ record almost unchanged – 43-39 compared to 44-37 the year earlier. Rudy LaRusso (21 ppg) and Fred Hetzel (19 ppg) picked up the scoring slack at forward. And despite losing center Nate Thurmond (21 ppg, 22 rpg) for 31 games, SF was the league’s best rebounding team. However, instead of being good enough for first place in the West, the Warriors dropped to third in a division where records of established teams were inflated by wins over weak expansion teams that won only 38 games between them. Both St. Louis (56-26) and Los Angeles (52-30) made big jumps from losing records in ’66-67 and leapfrogged San Francisco.
For LA, Jerry West averaged 26 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, but missed 31 games. Elgin Baylor averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds and backcourt mates Archie Clark and Gail Goodrich combined for 34 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
Counting Lou Hudson, whose season ended early with a call into military service and Don Ohl, his replacement acquired from Baltimore, St. Louis had seven men who averaged double-figure points, led by Zelmo Beatty (21.1) and playmaker Lenny Wilkens (20.0). More impressively, the Hawks had three men average double-figure rebounds – Beatty (11.7), Paul Silas (11.7) and Bill Bridges (13.4).
Oscar Robertson missed 17 games, costing Cincinnati a role in the post-season, but played the minimum 65 to qualify for the league titles in scoring (29.2 ppg) and assists (9.7). Six players scored more points: In order, Detroit’s Dave Bing (27.1), LA’s Baylor (26.0), Philadelphia’s Chamberlain (24.3), Baltimore’s Gus Johnson (24.3) and Philadelphia’s Hal Greer (24.1).
Willis Reed led New York in scoring (21 ppg) and rebounding (13 rpg), but the Knicks owed their first winning record since 1959 to a depth and teamwork bolstered by rookies Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley and Phil Jackson.
They were part of a terrific rookie class that included Rookie of the Year Earl Monroe of Baltimore and Detroit guard Jimmy Walker.
With this release, Strat-O-Matic will have produced the entire ABA with the exception of its initial season in 1967-68.
The 1968-69 ABA was an 11-team league dominated by Rick Barry’s Oakland Oaks.
With Barry averaging 34 points in his ABA debut following his jump from the NBA, the Oaks started 15-2. Barry lasted only 35 games, but with Rookie of the Year Warren Armstrong (21.5 ppg) and future NBA coaches Doug Moe (19 ppg) and Larry Brown (league-best 7 apg), Oakland scored 126.5 ppg and had the best record by far, 60-18 that included a 16-game win streak. No other team won more than 44.
In the playoff finals, Oakland needed only five games to dispose of Eastern Division champ Indiana and ABA MVP Mel Daniels (24 ppg, league-leading 16.5 rpg).
The young league already had a fine selection of former college stars and future ABA legends: Minnesota’s Connie Hawkins (30 ppg, 11 rpg in 47 games), Kentucky’s Louie Dampier (25 ppg, 6 apg), Denver’s Larry Jones (scoring champ at 28.4 ppg) and such eventual ABA legends as Byron Beck, Ron Boone (a rookie in 68-69), Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis and Bob Verga.