How many wins will the 2010-11 Miami Heat produce? That’s the burning question of the summer among NBA fans.
To try to answer it, or rather to examine how monster win teams are structured, I am putting together a series of Win Charts for some of the most successful regular season teams in NBA history. The Win Charts purport to credit each team’s wins and losses to individual team members using a derivation of the parent metric Win Score which I call Marginal Win Score.
The first chart featured the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, led by the great Michael Jordan. Today’s chart features the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, led by the even greater Wilt Chamberlain. If you click on this sentence you can view the Lakers Win Chart.
As you can see, the 71-72 Lakers validate the prevailing “It takes 3, baby” rule when it comes to monster win teams. Two players alone can’t do it, and one player by himself certainly cannot.
The big 3 win producers for that team were Wilt, SG/PG Jerry West, and PF Happy Hairston. Just like the 96 Bulls, the 72 Lakers were powered by two pretty well-recognized stars in Wilt and West and a hardhat possession creator with one of the great names in NBA history, PF Happy Hairston.
Besides the 3 great producers, what else sticks out on the Win Chart is the concentration of Game Responsibilities. Compare that column to a typical column from last season. The first thing you notice is that in today’s era no one racks up 14+ games. Chamberlain routinely did so. The second thing you notice is how many game responsibilities were given to the Lakers starting five. The starting five played a combined 77% of the Lakers minutes. This was typical of the era as well. If you recall the Bucks Win Charts from the early 70s, a heavy percentage of playing time was also centered around their starting five.
Today that figure would be closer to 67%. Generally at least one or more of the starting five splits time with a reserve, and even the largest of stars doesn’t usually accumulate more than 12.6 games. In fact, Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies (of all people) led the NBA in game responsibilities last season with only 13.1 games. By comparison, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 14.2 game responsibilities for his entire career. You’ll never see that again.
The final thing to note about the 1971-72 Lakers is their unusual amount of improvement from the previous season. Without any significant roster additions, the team went from a mediocre 48 game winner in 1971 to an historic 69 game winner in 1972, a 21 game improvement. What the hell happened?
The first thing is they changed coaches. This led to a stronger defensive performance and a far more efficient offensive performance.
Second, Wilt Chamberlain committed himself to playing winning basketball. He took only high percentage shots, posting a career high field goal percentage of .645%, and he did an outstanding job of setting his teammates up for scores, leading the Association in assists that season. Plus he dominated the boards.
Finally, Happy Hairston really got on the backboards with a vengeance, and in doing so made the Lakers a much, much better team. In 1970-71, Hairston grabbed 13.1 rebounds per 48 minutes. In 1971-72, Hairston grabbed 18.3 rebounds per 48 minutes, a huge improvement.