Old Time Stars

highflyer0
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Old Time Stars

I've been watching some restored film of classic players from the 60s and 70s and it got me wondering about the age-old argument "Would these guys stand a chance in today's league?" I know this topic has been discussed at length on this site but I've noticed something interesting when digging deep into stats.

Of course there is a monumental difference between the NBA in the 60s,70s, or 80s compared to today, but the more I look at Basketball Reference the more I feel like a great player would truly be great in any era. Let's take Walt Frazier as a conservative example. He began his career in 1967, the era of Jerry West, Wilt and Oscar Robertson. His last effective season ended in 1978, where he averaged 16 points and 4 assists. Despite the obvious developments in athletic ability that must have occurred in those eleven years (a time when the game was changing rapidly), Walt Frazier's career had a very typical trajectory. That is to say, there was no sudden dropoff once guys entering the league started jumping a couple inches higher and learned how to use their left hand.

Oscar Robertson entered the league in 1960, when the NBA was truly in its infancy. Clips from that era look kind of ridiculous, due to the rudimentary ball handling and shooting. Of course, Oscar dominated from the get-go. But in 1973, at the age of 35, he was still an effective player (13 ppg and 6 apg). Not only had the league gotten exceptionally more athletic, but his own athleticism had declined drastically. Yet, he was still a good player.

Rick Barry took the league by storm in 1965 and retired in 1980. The league in 1980 was a million times stronger than it was in 1965, right? I mean, we're talking about the beginning of Bird and Magic. Yet, in 1979-80, a 35 year old Barry still averaged over 12 ppg. This suggests that, in his prime, he would have been a terrific player in the 80s as well. At what point in what era would he have become ineffectual?

For a more contemporary example, John Stockton was good from the mid 80s all the way to the early 2000s. Even though he was forty years old and probably had about as much athleticism as Michael Sweetney.

I know this is a rambling post filled with statistics and points that are probably not particularly eye-opening. However, logically speaking, if the stars of the past were good only for their era, shouldn't there be major dropoffs in their performance after a couple of years in the league? Of course, big men are probably the exception in some cases as the pace of play has deemed their style unplayable in some respects. But regardless, I think the data shows that there is an intrinsic aspect of being a "star" that transcends eras, athleticism, and narrative. Now, I'm not saying you could take Bob Cousy from 1955 and bring him into 2018 and have an allstar. What I take from this is that, regardless of how silly Jerry West's ball handling may look or how unimpressive Elgin Baylor's vertical may look on tape, these guys should be respected, not only as relics of a fargone era, but as stars just as impressive and important as today's. Because they are not as different from Steph and Lebron as we think. And thirty years from now, when there are 6'11 point guards with the strength of Steven Adams and the speed of a prime Derrick Rose, we'll sit here and argue, like all the bitter old timers do, that Lebron was just as great or greater than anyone in the game today. And we'll be right.

Michael Jordan had 43 and 10 against Finals-bound New Jersey in 2003. At forty years old. In an era when one team had more high-flyers than a dozen teams in Jordan's rookie year. So, how'd he do it? Bad knees and all? Because a star is a star.


Wotan
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Like the post

Keep in mind, that players in that era had to dribble with the hand on top of the ball; you couldn't palm the side of the ball without getting a traveling call. It made many plays we take for granted extremely difficult , if not impossible. If you've watched a lot of Jerry West, you know that he would be a star in the league today.

The Goat
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That's the argument people

That's the argument people forget - there are always players whose careers have spanned over multiple eras, like Kareem for example. We can effectively compare a player from era A against Kareem and also compare player from era B against Kareem, and although we are doing it different points in Kareems career, we can still use that as a pretty good guide.

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historical players

This is a really good point, and one other thing to note is that the league considerably expanded throughout this time. To make the NBA in the 1960s, you had to be one of the top 100 players in the world considering there were only 8 teams. While the planet's talent pool has considerably expanded, so have the available spots in the league.

When comparing eras, I always assume that we are evaluating physical talent and basketball IQ more than skill, as we can only assume that if we transport Jerry West to today's game he would focus on the skills that are currently emphasized and train like current players train. Bill Russell would probably be a millionaire's Clint Capela, Elgin Baylor would probably play like a rich man's Jimmy Butler, and Oscar would probably play like a Chris Paul/Russell Westbrook hybrid. We can't fault people for when they were born, only how they performed relative to their surroundings.

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I was watching some videos of

I was watching some videos of mamhmoud Abdul rauf and George gervin. I think they both would dominate in today's game. Abdul-rauf=steph cury/iverson. I actually see a bit of gervin in Lonzo Ball's game, tbh.

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Mahmoud Abdul Rauf??? The

Mahmoud Abdul Rauf??? The same guy who never averaged 20 points a game in any season he played in the league. I really liked him but using him in an argument alongside the ice man to speak about generational players..... wow

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He got black black balled for

He got black black balled for not standing for the national anthem and his house was burned down in Mississippi. The best years of his career were taken from him.

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Yeah I know the story but he

Yeah I know the story but he finished up in the nba at age 31 I’m not sure how much better he was getting!

cohenbc1
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I made this same point in a

I made this same point in a thread awhile back about Wilt. Some people were saying that Wilt was an unathletic dinosaur who only excelled because he was so much larger than any other players back then, and could not even make a modern NBA team.

I replied that once Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) came into the league, Wilt was still a top-10 player during his final years in the early '70s.

And you could continue the analogy ... Old Kareem was competitive with young Olajuwon and Ewing in the mid-80s. Old Olajuwon was competitive with young Shaq in the mid-'90s. Old Shaq was competitive with young Duncan in the mid-2000s, and old Duncan was competitive with the new crop of all-star big men in the mid-2010s.

To play devil's advocate, one could argue that the stars of each generation, in their primes, were slightly better than the previous generation's stars in their primes. And over time, that incremental improvement adds up to a big difference -- so that, in fact, someone like Anthony Davis or Rudy Gobert are in fact much, much better than Wilt ever was.

But that would be pure speculation -- you can't prove it with advanced stats, because advanced stats compare players to the other players they actually competed against, in their own times.

Clearly there has never been a time when the stars of one generation, en masse, simply couldn't compete with the rising stars of the next generation.

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