NBA Stars of 1960s Pace Adjusted Stats

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Why we always gotta be in black and white?

We all know the names of the best players from the 1960s, giants of the game who broke trails for the rest of the league. From Bob Cousy, the original fastbreak point guard to Elgin Baylor, the prototype for the slashing wing, the game we know took form under their guidance. Film is sparse, and those of us too young to have listened to Johnny Most rely heavily on the stories of people who were there to provide profiles of who these players were on the court.

Statistical reference is useful but difficult to interpret. The game was played at a breakneck pace, and per game stats were very high while shooting percentages were woefully low. To that end I’ve undertaken a brutal (for me) endeavor to modernize the box score stats of the very best players from 1960-69 by factoring pace, effective field goal percentage differential, and rebound rate.

Please examine this modernized stat sheet for the 6 absolute statistical titans of their day:

Wilt Chamberlain – Wilt suffered the most extreme drop off because in addition to the pace adjustment, I had to adjust his minutes from over 46 per game to a more realistic (in modern terms) 40 per game. Nevertheless, his stats are still phenomenal. His 2003-12 paced stats come to 27 Pts on 58.8% shooting, 12 Rbds, and 4 Blks far better than any actual center playing today.

Bill Russell – Russell also had a minute correction to accompany his pace reduction. Overall he fell to 12 Pts on 48.8% shooting, 12 Rbds, 2 Stls, and 4 Blks. DPoY numbers but probably not on the MVP list. Obviously stats can’t capture all the intangibles that an 11 time champion who never lost a game 7 brings to the table, so we’ll just let this one go.

Oscar Robertson – Big O was the biggest surprise for me in this exercise. Russell came out a dominant defensive big man. Wilt is right on par with a young Shaquille. The pace adjustment brought Oscar’s rebounds and assists down pretty harshly, and he transformed from a point guard to a scoring wing with a great all-around game. His closest comparison turned out to be high usage, high assist rate wing Dwyane Wade.

Elgin Baylor – Elgin was another that surprised me. The volume of available rebounds in the ’60s was dramatically higher than it is today. Elgin’s actual rebounds were on par with Charles Barkley, and that’s who I expected to use as the primary comparison. After the pace adjustment, Baylor’s best comparisons were actually Dominique Wilkins and Dr. J. Not necessarily worse but different than Charles.

Bob Pettit
– I actually called the comparison on Pettit before I even looked. Part of the reason was that Pettit’s age range was shorter than the others, and I knew who I would have to work with in the 27-32 years old range. Patrick Ewing is the guy. A moderately efficient high scoring big man who didn’t pass much and rebounded well but not at an absolutely elite Russell / Wilt level. Defensively I went with the more mobile but less block-happy Kevin McHale.

Jerry West – Here’s another guard whose rebounds and assists were nerfed pretty badly in the era conversion. Since this pre-dates the ’70s when West became the primary distributor for his team, that brought the assists down to pure shooting guard levels. Because his adjusted effective shooting percentage is so high, Jerry’s best comparables are three point specialist guards. Ray Allen in particular matches pretty well at the same ages. Because of West’s reputation as a great defender, I minute adjusted Manu Ginobili, whose defensive stat rate playing on the Spurs are tremendous.

Wilt should have worn his Bombatta head-dress in games.

I was able to calculate adjusted assists, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, total rebounds, and modernized effective field goal percentage using the available box score data. Defensive stats, offensive rebounds, and turnovers I calculated based on the rates of similar players from more modern times (I used Shaq’s offensive rebounds and turnovers and David Robinson’s blocks and steals rates in estimating Wilt’s numbers).

I could not fabricate three point field goals made and attempted, three point shooting percentage, or adjusted field goal percentage. There’s just not any data to go on. I could have estimated based on similar players from today, but unlike blocks and steals which we can guess from size / athleticism / reputation, we just don’t know how a player like West or Oscar would adjust his game to factor in the three point shot. Players did in fact steal the ball and block shots. They did not shoot three pointers strategically. The additional benefit did not yet exist.

As always, all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

If people enjoy these era adjusted figures and comparisons please let me know, and I’ll work on the top 6 players from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Or let me know who you’d like to see updated, and I’ll do a group of requested players for our 2.5 readers.

For a more comprehensive approach to era adjustment that accounts better for league assist and rebound rates, check out this great rantland post.

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25 Responses to “NBA Stars of 1960s Pace Adjusted Stats”

  1. pmadavi Says:

    Great work, J!

  2. Dee Says:

    Great work indeed! I’d love to see the same done with 70s and 80s stars.

  3. Fascinating Pace Adjusted Stats Says:

    […] Russell NBA Stars of 1960s Pace Adjusted Stats | Double Dribble I think he accounts for this in one of his explanations, I will try to find […]

  4. chris_n_sd1001 Says:

    Interesting analysis on this article. However, I have mixed feelings about over-analyzing the era of the 1960’s. I have had a chance to watch considerable amounts of the limited footage of the early sixties NBA. It was a much more run & gun style of play. With only 8 to 10 teams, as compared to the 30 teams today, the players had to face each other 3 to 4 times more back in that era; (e. g., Russell vs Wilt, Bellamy vs Reed, West vs Roberston, Baylor vs Pettit, Wilkens vs Cousy or Havlicek). My argument is this; no one played in a vacuum, there were Hall of Fame players and All Star players back then, and the game is much like today, except no 3-pt line. Each team has 48 minutes to find a way to beat the other team, one way or another.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      You’re not wrong, Chris, and as I found myself questioning later, how do we know the extent to which a player’s production rates and efficiency levels might change with a different pace. As an experiment and a game in finding cross-generational comparisons the, these articles were fun (I did a ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s as well), but they don’t really show some exact translation.

      I’ve also seen some ’60s and ’70s footage recently and found that I really enjoyed it. The stars shown even brighter back then because they were way ahead of their time both in athleticism and with their understanding of the game. Oscar and Frazier really impressed me with their vision for the game.

  5. AYC Says:

    Cool stuff. I was searching and yours was the only article online I found attempting this sort of thing. I have my own excel spreadsheet with era-adjusted numbers, but my results are a little different. Did you adjust for LG assist %?

    All stats are per 40 minutes, from 1960-69, adjusted to the 2012-13 LG environment.

    WC 25.2 ppg, 15.1 rpg, 3.7 apg, .612 efg%
    BR 11.4 ppg, 14.8 rpg, 3.9 apg, .507 efg%
    OR 23.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 9.2 apg, .559 efg%
    JW 24.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.5 apg, .538 efg%
    EB 24.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.2 apg, .496 efg%
    BP 24.1 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, .522 efg%

    • jpalumbo Says:

      I did not adjust for league assist % and not doing so threw off the results particularly for Oscar and West (moreso Oscar). I scaled league eFG% and used that data to modify scoring and available rebounds, but it didn’t even occur to me to adjust for assist %. Nice job!

      • AYC Says:

        Thanks. I adjusted points off FG (not total points) using eFG%, but for the rebounding adjustment, I used regular FG% since a rebound off a missed 3PA is no different than one off a 2PA. I think that explains the differences in our results.

  6. Anumit Says:

    I don’t understand why you had to reduce the minutes of players. If Wilt could play 45 minutes in a much faster league that ran a lot more, doesn’t it stand to reason that he’d be able to play all 48 minutes in today’s slow-paced game?

    • jpalumbo Says:

      That’s one way of looking at. Three factors convinced me that a minute adjustment made sense.

      1. While the game is slower in terms of how long each team takes to get a shot off today, the actual gameplay is more athletically taxing. Players are faster. Defensive possessions last longer whichever means more time spent in a defensive crouch sliding and fighting for position and more time banging for rebounds.

      2. There are more athletic penetrating guards and more mobile big men in the game, so it seems unlikely that any shot blocking big man of Wilt’s stature could keep from fouling at least a little more than he did in the ’60s.

      3. Nobody has even come close to that kind of minute per game average since him. I suspect a super athlete on a crumby team like a young David Robinson or LeBron would have come close if possible.

  7. Rob Says:

    Can anyone share what Oscar Robertson’s pace adjust numbers for his career would look like? I was hoping to compare his career to more modern superstars (like Kobe) but it’s not fair to do so without the adjustment for pace. Would really appreciate such a piece of information. Thanks.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      Rob – in the middle of this post is a link to the spreadsheet with my actual figures, and in the above comments AYC added his modernized ’60s stats using a different and probably better formula to account for the variance in how assists used to be credited. AYC’s Big O box score stats came to 23.5 pts, 6.0 rbds, and 9.2 asts on 55.9% eFG.

      Remember though that just adjusting for pace doesn’t necessarily give a great model for comparison. Slower pace usually means that a coach is able to get the ball to his best players in good positions to score more often, so those numbers may change significantly. Also Oscar didn’t have the benefit of the 3 point shot. Defenses are also very different now. Oscar would probably defend 2s and 3s instead of point guards, while playing the big point guard role, and that might impact his rebounding a little.

  8. Bill Russell talking out his ass, making sure people know about his titles - Page 12 - SportsHoopla.com Sports Forums Says:

    […] linked to analysis is pretty good imo: Fascinating Pace Adjusted Stats The most relevant part: NBA Stars of 1960s Pace Adjusted Stats | Double Dribble Bill Russell : 12 ppg, 12 rebs, 4 blks. He's essentially Joakim Noah. Very good player but his […]

  9. ayc3434 Says:

    FYI, I updated the career stats of Wilt, Russell, Oscar, Jerry, Elgin and Pettit to the 2013-14 NBA environment on my blog here:

    http://rantlandusa.com/2014/08/11/translating-nba-boxscore-stats-across-eras-2/

  10. ayc3434 Says:

    Thanks!

  11. javierfhcortez Says:

    How do you do the math? I would like to learn.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      I found average team pace for the player’s career, factored minutes played, and adjusted for league eFG, DRbd Rate, and a couple other things. The good news is you don’t have to do any work these days. Basketball-Reference.com has built in stats on a per possession measure now.

  12. Marc Levy Says:

    I simply do not buy any of this. The six players you mentioned could play in any era and be stars – perhaps better or worse than they were in the 1960’s. However, by reducing their numbers to what YOU think they would do today reduces what they actually accomplished. Frankly, it is an insult to their enduring legacies. These guys are the immortals of the sport and what they did, they did. Period.

    Who are you to come along and say Wilt would have only played 40 minutes a game. The man averaged nearly 46 minutes a game throughout his career. Nobody was even close. #2 was Bill Russell, who played just 42.29 minutes per game. The Big O was #3 at 42.20 minutes per game. If Wilt played 46 minutes per game in an era where the game moved at a faster pace, why on earth would you reduce his minutes per game to 40 in an era where the game moves so much slower. It makes more sense.

    I would have loved to have seen Wilt against Shaq but they are from two different era’s. I somehow doubt that Shaq would have tolerated the way that black athletes were treated in the 1960’s. He barely tolerated it while making $300 million in the 2000’s. His flamboyance off the court would not have been tolerated and I think he would have been booted out of more games than he played. But again, that is wild speculation. It means nothing.

    The thing about this type of “redefinition” is that it simply doesn’t work, nor is it aplied to other sports. Does anyone seriously diminish Babe Ruth’s accomplishments because he only played against white players? Does anyone say that his home run and hit numbers are inflated because he never had to face middle inning specialty relievers or closers? I’d love to see you redefine his or Gehrig’s numbers because of the condition of the day. Should we add hits to players like Ryan Howard because cmputers have shown manaers to shift the short stop to the right of second base?

    I wonder how many major’s Jack would have won if his mistakes were featured on TMZ every day for year and his mistress gets is featured on the latest reality show called “Americans WAGS” or she releases a sex tape that shows he is playing with an undersized putter.

    Before the West Coast Offense was developed by Bill Walsh, an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals in the early 1970’s, very few quarterbacks ever had a season where they threw for more than 3,000 yards. Today, a good quarterback in the right system with the right O-line and right receivers will pass for more than 4,000 yards. When he was 22, Dan Marino threw for an obscene 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. Marino’s 5,084 is now #6 on the all time single season pssing yards list. Even lightly regarded Matthew Stafford threw for 5,038. Marino’s 48 TD’s is now #4. Marino’s 1984 numnbers were once seen as one of those unbreakable records. When Peyton Manning was 37, he threw for almost 5,500 yards AND 55 touchdowns. In the 1970’s, it was only the QB’s with the freak arms that threw for 3,500 yards. in the 1960’s, only Namath and Jurgenson threw for more than 3,500.

    Every sport develops. By assuming you “know” what Wilt or Russell would have done against today’s competition is an insut to what they actually did do. In 2015, Jahlil Okafor was drafted #3 by the 76ers. Have you seen this guy in the post. At 19, he has post moves that rival the best of Hakeem and Kevin McHale. have no idea what his career will be, but I hope it is brilliant and that twenty years from now, bigs coming into the NBA look to the career Okafor had and dream “What if?”

    My bottom line – let the careers of the players be what they were. Do not diminish their accomplishments because you worked out a “formula” that in the end, is nothing more than guess work. Your best guess is an insult to what these MEN actually accomplished. I am insulted by your analysis.

    • jpalumbo Says:

      By no means do I intend to redefine anything or to say that players would not adapt, adjust, or improve. Much the opposite. I believe Bill Russell and Bob Cousy who shot atrocious percentages by today’s standards would be drastically better shooters in today’s environment. I know Elgin Baylor would be more skilled if he had the examples of Jordan and Kobe to grow up analyzing. If you’re actually offended by this piece, then I think you may be attributing an intent to discredit past stars to this article, and that was in no way intended.

      My only objective was to give some perspective on how to interpret the statistics that are so different from what we see today. To say that Oscar might, just might, be reminiscent of Wade is not in any way meant to diminish the Big O. Wade was at the time that I wrote that piece the second best player in the league by most advanced statistics, and Oscars advanced stats were actually close to Wade’s (that’s just happenstance).

      I work hard to try to give an even take that considers how much better modern players have it in terms of gear, medicine, travel, and training. The pioneers of the game deserve immense credit for what they’ve built and the challenges they faced. I used to participate on message boards and espouse the greatness of the players of older eras at great length.

      I just think people have trouble conceptualizing what it means for Wilt to average 50 points and 25 rebounds per game and then see a PER that’s the same as LeBron putting up 26 and 8. Showing the possession adjustment can help. Similarly it’s not easy to understand that Rodman rebounded a much higher percentage of misses than Russell or Wilt did even though his totals were nowhere near as high. That’s by no means to say that in a league of better shooters and less possessions Wilt and Russell
      wouldn’t rebound a higher percentage. I’m sure they would. It’s all about building historical perspective.

      Today basketball reference has the per possession stats built in which makes all these articles pointless.

  13. Jay Kolodne Says:

    Doesn’t account for the advent of the 3 point line for the players who would’ve actually made use of it, nor the fact that what constitutes a foul today (not to mention the fact that players today can “get away with murder” – especially superstars when it comes to fouls and travelling)

    • jpalumbo Says:

      I agree with all your points. My math also did not account for the more generous crediting of assists by today’s score keepers. This was a fun exercise, but there are better ways to play these statistical games today.

  14. fredgordon112233 Says:

    With wilt, you could also do it this way; what would a player score and rebound in today’s game who was 7’1″ barefoot, who had a vertical jump in the 50’s, who was a world class track and field star in the 100, 200, 400, 800, high jump, long jump, and shot-put, who bench pressed 500 lb., who was the fastest player up the floor on the fastbreak, and who was in such good shape that he could play just about every minute of every game for the entire season? Or what could a player be like today if he could rebound the ball, have a solo fast break, take off just inside the free throw line, jump over a player, and finger roll the ball into the basket, just like the 6’10” (in barefeet) Bill Russell did on YouTube lol. (Really, you’ve got to see it, it’s amazing!)

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