Greatest Players in NBA History: Oscar Robertson

In this blog I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments…in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest? This week’s player The Big O, Oscar Robertson, one of the greatest offensive talents in history.  Everyone these days remembers Robertson for being the only man in NBA history to average a triple-double over an entire season...which of course is bananas...but when I really looked in-depth into Robertson's career I found that his impact transcended even those lofty box score accomplishments.  Said simply, Robertson is on the extremely short list with an argument for best offensive player ever. 

Robertson in many ways was the original model of Magic Johnson, or better yet LeBron James.  Robertson was huge to be the primary ball-handler, with a stocky 6-5 frame that would have easily allowed him to play forward in his time.  But he was still an excellent ball-handler with excellent court vision that rivaled Magic's.  Robertson's scoring prowess was more like LeBron's, though, as he routinely averaged more than 30 points per game.  Robertson was an absolute match-up nightmare, perfectly content to back smaller players into the post and have his way with them.  But you couldn't put a big guy on him, because O would just blow right past him.  Put it all together,  and you have a player that would have been the in the argument for #1 overall fantasy pick every year if fantasy sports had existed in the 1960s.

Let's start our four facts about Robertson with a look at a couple of NBA history studies:

1) Basketball-reference went back and estimated the top-50 team offenses in NBA history.  If you follow that link, you'll see that two of the top-25 offenses on that list were the 1962 Cincinnati Royals and the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks...both of which were led by Robertson playing PG, with entirely different casts.

2) A second basketball-reference study went back and looked at what players were most associated with the most top-offenses in NBA history.  This study looks more at correlation instead of causation, so if you follow the link you'll see a bunch of 1980s Lakers and 2000s Suns on the list since the Showtime Lakers and 7-seconds-or-less Suns are two of the greatest offensive dynasty of all-time.  But if you use your basketball common sense you can infer that guys like Michael Cooper and Raja Bell just happened to be along for the ride, while point guards Magic Johnson and Steve Nash were likely the ones driving the excellent results.  And once again, right at the top of the list for players associated with historically great offenses is Oscar Robertson.

3) As mentioned above, Robertson's 1962 campaign still goes down in history as the only time a player has averaged a triple-double for a fully season.  He averaged 30.8 points (48% FG, 80% FT) with 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists on the year.  But what many don't know is that Robertson also averaged a triple-double in the playoffs that season, posting 28.8 points (52% FG, 80% FT) with 11 boards and 11 assists in the 1962 postseason.

4) Robertson led the league in assists per game seven times, and in 1968 led the league in both points per game AND assists per game.

Bonus fact: During the "Russell-Chamberlain" era, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain won every NBA MVP between 1960 and 1968.  Except for one.  Robertson was the only player to break that duopoly, when he took home the 1964 MVP award.

I notice that when I hear people talk about the greatest players in NBA history, Robertson is often in the top-5 or at worst top-10.  But on message boards he tends to slide a bit, as many rank Jerry West above him.  What is your take?


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