Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why It Makes No Sense to "Normalize" Wilt Chamberlain's Statistics

There is a growing desire amongst basketball stat folks to say that Wilt wasn't really that great of a player because:  1) he played 48 minutes a game versus a normal starter's minutes of around 36; and 2) teams played at a far higher pace in the 1960s than they do today. 

What these well-intentioned folks seem to miss is that people during Wilt's day were playing under the same rules and at the same pace of play he was playing at.  They had the same opportunities to play all 48 minutes, if they could hack it.  There was nothing peculiar about Wilt's situation that permitted him to sleep more or travel less or rest in practice more.  Wilt was just able to play 48 MPG without fouling out or diminishing his skills substantially on a per-minute basis.

If the "Wilt wasn't that good" argument were correct, then we would assume that Wilt's scoring marks and rebounding marks would be roughly equivalent to others of his day or perhaps 10-15% higher than, say, the 5th place guy in the statistical categories.  That just simply did not happen.

Wilt's stats were routinely 30-50% higher than the 5th place finisher.  The only players who challenged Wilt for supremacy as a player were Russell and Oscar.  Neither of these guys put up the rebounding AND scoring numbers that Wilt did.  Russell was always fighting Wilt for the rebounding title, but Russell never scored 20 a game (those who seek to normalize Wilt's stats probably need to state how they feel about Bill Russell claiming to the #1 player of all time and scoring an adjusted, what?  10 ppg?  Imagine a player in today's league claiming #1 status and performing at 2004 Ben Wallace levels).

And the final thing to consider is this -- when you are looking for outrageous statistical achievements in scoring and rebounding (and even triple doubles, where Wilt is the only guy to go 20-20-20) who do you turn to?  Wilt.  If Wilt really wasn't that great, then why wouldn't there be at least 20-30 Wilt-like efforts sprinkled into the mix?  I saw a stat the other day that said "there have been 58 games of at least 39--29 in NBA history -- Wilt has 53."  Allen Iverson played a ton of minutes.  Paul Silas played LeBron one night in Minneapolis after LeBron literally lost consciousness on the sideline and had to be helped back to the locker room for an IV.   There have been guys played to death by their coaches.  Where are the 39-29 performances or the 20-20-20 performances?  Where are the instances of guys going for 45+ for 20 consecutive games?  How about 35+?  Wilt averaged 50 a game.  Jordan, I am pretty sure, is second at 37 a game.  There was never a better player than Jordan, but he couldn't go 48 minutes a night and get 50 a night even though the pace of play in 1987 was pretty fast.

Anyway, hoping that when people run down Wilt that someone might do a Google search and find this item and re-think their assessment.

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