Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Philadelphia 76ers: All-Time NBA Starting Fives
This occurred to me, admittedly in largely NBA-centric sense, as I sifted through the history of the Philadelphia 76ers (and Syracuse Nationals, as they were previously known) in order to assemble an all-time starting five. There’s little argument that only the Lakers and the Celtics occupy the NBA penthouse, both in terms of teams success and quality of talent through the years. However, as we move past these two, it’s tough to avoid placing the Philadelphia 76ers at the very top of the next tier, given the franchise’s 9 Finals appearances (trailing only LA & Boston), 3 Championships (1967, 1983 and 1955 in Syracuse) and laundry list of superstars and legends. Though the years, this franchise has been stacked with talent.
PG- Maurice Cheeks (12.2 ppg, 52.8% FG, 79% FT, 7.3 apg, 2.3 spg in 853 games)
As impressive as his on-court resume is, his longevity with organization, the lone bride between generations, is equally noteworthy. The Sixers’ top scorers in his rookie season, 1978-79, were Julius Erving and Doug Collins, with Bobby Jones also featuring on the team. In the years to come, Cheeks saw the arrival of Moses Malone (and the aforementioned Fo-Fo-Fo title), Andrew Toney and Charles Barkley and the retirements of Doc and Bobby Jones, culminating in 1988-89, with Barkley now firmly in his prime, and Hersey Hawkins and Mike Gminksi playing prominent roles. Impressive, I know.
A quick side note: did you know that in 1988-89, Mike Freaking Gminski (Mike Freaking Gminski!) averaged 17.2 ppg and 9.4 rpg? How crazy is that? Crazier yet, it was arguably not his best year! (Gonna make you look that one up)
With Allen Iverson falling into the two-guard category, Cheeks’ only competition was the easily outclassed Eric Snow and Andre miller, whose stats (15.9 ppg, 6.9 apg, 1.3 spg) stack up well, but aren’t backed up with any team success.
SG- Allen Iverson (28.1 ppg, 42.1% FG, 77.5% FT, 3.9 rpg, 6.1 apg, 2.3 spg in 697 games)
Some have argued that Shaq, and not Allen Iverson, should not have won that MVP award. Not only was AI fully deserving of the award, for the purpose of this exercise, dragging that Sixers team to within three wins of a championship is the equivalent of a ring.
Iverson’s impact on not only the Sixers, but also the entire NBA cannot be overstated. He introduced the NBA to real hip-hop (sorry, DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince at All-Star Weekend in the 1990s don’t count) and to a gritty toughness that’s not been seen before, or since.
In terms of numbers, Iverson is equally tough to beat: 28.1 ppg (including four seasons of 30+), 30 postseason ppg, eight All-Star selections (2 MVPs), a league MVP award, almost 20,000 points and 11 50-point games, including his breathtaking solo destruction of the Lakers in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals.
In discussing him, a lot of people will bring up everything that Allen Iverson is not (42% FG, 3.7 turnover/game, his disdain for practice), but the reality is that with little in the way of on-court help or physical stature, he accomplished as much as virtually anyone in franchise history, and he did it through sheer toughness and will, in a way that was impossible to ignore.
As you can see, waxing poetic about Allen Iverson can be somewhat intoxicating, but it would be a crime to not spend some time on Hal Greer. Greer spent his entire career with the organization, remains the Sixers’ all-time leader in points (21,586 in 1,122 games), was a 10-time All-Star and wingman on Philly’s Wilt-led 1967 title team, averaging 27.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.3 apg in the postseason. Rereading that last sentence, I can’t shake the feeling that maybe I am going down the wrong path with this pick. There is a case to be made for that, but given the statistical edge, comparable team success (if we adjust for quality of teammates, edge goes to AI as well) and the visceral experience of watching him play, the edge here goes to Iverson.
SF- Julius Erving (22.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.5 bpg in 836 games)
Additionally, each one won a single NBA title with Philly- neither as the best player. Erving was the second-best player (behind Moses Malone) on the Sixers’ 1983 title-winning team, while Cunningham was the #4 scorer and rebounder on the Wilt-led 1967 champs. In the end, Erving’s personal accolades and greater contribution to team success, combined with athleticism and revolutionary effect on NBA wing play, won him this spot.
PF- Charles Barkley (23.3 ppg, 57.6% FG, 11.6 rpg, 1.7 spg in 610 games)
Barkley, on the other hand, starred for the team in arguably the most competitive decade in NBA history. And while he took the Sixers past conference finals (reached his rookie year), he made six All-Star teams, four All-NBA 1st teams, won the 1986-87 rebounding title, averaging 14.6 rpg and was the post-Dr. J face of the franchise.
C- Wilt Chamberlain (27.6 ppg, 23.9 rpg, 6.8 apg in 277 games)
It’s sad that after averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds and playing the central role in Philly’s 1983 title, capturing the Finals MVP, but Moses Malone never had a chance to win this spot. Such is the fate of centers pitted against Wilt Chamberlain- especially if you caught in-his-prime Wilt in rare team-first mode.