1962: The Ancestral Home of Über Scorers
Last time here at ProHoopsHistory we checked out how the 2020-21 season was filled to the brim with Über scorers. Y’know Über scorers. Guys who wear Lederhosen and love chocolate.
Oh wait that’s an Üter scorer. Sorry.
Über scorers are NBA players that I consider super scorers. The threshold I use to demarcate these players is 24.4 PPG. Because, if a player were to score that many points over a full 82 games, they arrive at 2000 points for a season.
So, back to last time… I did a glance at Über scorers since the NBA-ABA merger. You should read it. But the short story is, there’s been a whole lotta Über scoring this season way out of historical proportion. At least since 1976.
Now is the time for the other half of the NBA’s history. How many Über scorers were there from 1936 to 1976.
Yes, 1936 to 1976.
I consider the NBA’s history to have begun with the Midwestern Basketball Conference (MBC), which changed its name to the National Basketball League (NBL) for the 1937-38 season. Read more about my cantankerous historical beef with the NBA, if you want.
On to the scoring!
Season-by-Season Uber Scorers (1936-1976)
So, you’ll notice three distinct bumps in the number of Über scorers. There’s the very late 1940s, the early 1960s, and the early 1970s. These all happened for very different reasons.
LATE 1940s: So from the founding of the MBC until 1949, no player in the NBA’s parent leagues (MBC, NBL, or BAA) managed to cross 24.4 PPG. This relative lack of scoring had its reasons.
Shooting techniques were being refined as always. Even more important, however, were the rules. Professional basketball used a center-jump after every made basket until the mid-1930s when the MBC/NBL did away with that rule.
Naturally removing the center-jump produced more fluid play and helped spark higher scores. The beautifully named Chuck Chuckovitz averaged a spectacular 18.5 PPG in 1942 to lead the NBL. The highest PPG previous to that was 14.0 PPG by big bad Leroy Edwards in 1938.
Nonetheless scores were still suppressed in the MBC/NBL because they played 40-minute games. Something the vast majority of basketball leagues to this very day utilize. The idea of 48-minute games sprang up with the Basketball Association of America, which was founded in 1946.
So the 1948-49 BAA season arrives and George Mikan and Joe Fulks crash the 24.4 PPG barrier together. Not only that, but Mikan gets up to 28.3 PPG that season. Soon enough we’ll have a 30 PPG scorer, right?
Yeah, but it’ll take a revolution.
EARLY 1960s: So that first bump is indeed more like a bump. The next bump looks like a damn mountain and that’s thanks to the shot clock.
After the NBL and BAA merge, you routinely get a handful of 20 PPG scorers a year. And only Neil Johnston and Paul Arizin got to Über scorer territory and barely so. Arizin had 25.4 PPG in 1952 to lead the NBA. Johnston reached 24.4 PPG in 1954.
Well, for the 1955 season the league introduced the shot clock. It did not immediately produce Über scorers out the wazoo, but in 1958 George Yardley was the first player to score 2000 points in a season. Then in 1960 Wilt Chamberlain and Jack Twyman became the first players to average 30 PPG in a season.
The race was on!
By 1962 you had eight Über scorers in a nine-team league. Seven of those players crossed 28 PPG. And six of them crossed 30 PPG. That’s still the most 30+ PPG scorers in a single season in NBA history. This is the year Wilt averaged 50. That Baylor was in the Army half the season and averaged 35. Walt Bellamy was a rookie on the awful Chicago Packers and averaged 32, while being the first player to shoot 50% from the field. A golden age for the Übers.
But the league quickly came down from this sugar high as teams and players fully acclimated to the shot clock. After awhile only Wilt, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West were flirting with 30 PPG.
EARLY 1970s: The next mountain arrives thanks to the ABA. The NBA from roughly 1955 to 1965 was static at eight teams and expanded to nine in 1962. Then for the 1966-67 season it began an earnest and deliberate expansion program hastened by its upstart rival.
By 1972 the NBA had 17 franchises. Alongside them, the ABA sprang up in the 1967-68 season and by 1972 was fielding 11 teams of its own.
So in the course of a decade professional basketball’s major operations went from eight teams to 28 teams.
That essentially explains the mountain of 19 Über scorers for the 1971-72 season, still the most for any one season. Although 2021 is on track to equal or break that record.
Add to the rapid increase in teams was the rapid increase in previously unavailable talent. Legal challenges from Connie Hawkins and Spencer Haywood cracked the NBA’s labor structure. The NBA had previously been able to blackball players with reckless abandon while also requiring them to be four years removed from high school.
The Hawkins and Haywood cases, along with the ABA’s lack of giving a shit about the NCAA, allowed underclassmen to re-enter the pros again after the NBA shut that down back in the early 1950s.
Three of the ABA’s top five scorers in 1972 (Charlie Scott, Ralph Simpson, and Julius Erving) were all such players who had dipped out early from college to make some money in the pros.
By the mid-1970s the playing field had stabilized and you can see the number of Über scorers dropping once more.
Lastly, if you look back at the graph, you’ll notice the proportion of 28+ and 30+ PPG scorers is much lower for this era than previously showing a greater breadth than depth of Über scoring. This suggests that when you get right down to it, you can perhaps juice up the number of guys able to reach 20 or even 24 points per game, but you still can’t magically pump out 28 and 30 PPG scorers.
Anyways, next time I’m thinking about breaking this all down across NBA history on a per team basis. We’ll see.
Until then, good friends!