Editor’s Note: I added the teams to Lucas’ Win Resume
If there has been one superstar basketball player who has been strangely lost to time, I’d say it was power forward Jerry Lucas. This weekend I did a MWS Win Resume for his career, which you can click on below.
According to my numbers, Lucas was one of the great power forwards of all time, an elite win producer for three separate and very different teams. His 1.060% career player winning percentage compares favorably with contemporary players like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. (To compare Jerry Lucas’s Career Win Contribution Rating with the WCRs of the 20 Most Valuable Players from last season, click here.)
Yet I surfed the internet for “all-time power forward” lists, and he isn’t on any of the ones I could find. Most of them had lesser lights like Elvin Hayes listed but no Lucas. Why the lack of respect?
Bill Simmons, in his Book of Basketball, nicely summarizes contemporary opinion on Lucas. Basically Simmons runs him down for being an unathletic statmonger who played on losing teams. In his all-time rankings, Simmons rates Lucas below less accomplished players, namely Allen Iverson.
I don’t know that these critiques are fair, though. The same “statmonger” criticism could be leveled at any productive player, and the “he didn’t play for winners” is completely bogus. He played for virtually the same kind of teams as Oscar Robertson. Yet Robertson is greatly admired, Lucas is not.
Its so strange that Lucas’s legacy has worn so poorly. He was one of the most famous high school players of all time. He was one of the most accomplished college players of all time. Coming into the NBA, he was incredibly popular. Yet, according to Wikipedia, his popularity wore off by the end of the 1960s. Let me speculate as to why.
First, he’s legendary for his intellect, which can sometimes come across as arrogance. I’ll bet that rubbed people the wrong way. Second, if his final season stats are indicative, he was mainly a defensive rebounder, and he probably scooped up every one of the “freebies”, which probably led to his “statmonger” reputation.
If I could compare him to anyone, it would probably be Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Pistons. Laimbeer, a center, had much the same skill set and league wide reputation. Both players were fantastic rebounders who relied on very accurate outside shooting to do their offensive damage. And both had a reputation for “sharp elbows” and arrogance.
But you cannot deny that Jerry Lucas was one of the great win producers of all time. He may not have been athletic or likeable, but he could produce, and he according to my estimates he produced for three separate teams with three completely separate styles. Everywhere he went he was versatile and productive.
And he deserves a better legacy than the one he has gotten so far.