Blake Griffin and the 16 Best Rookie Seasons in the History of the NBA
Blake Griffin is electrifying the NBA with his highlight reel dunks and regular double doubles. It's generating conversation that he not only belongs in the All Star game, but some are even thinking that maybe he deserves a start.
In fact Griffin's rookie season is one of the 15 best in NBA history. Where does he stack up against the other great rookie seasons? Good news for Clippers fans, everyone else on this list who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame and the ones who are active are most likely going in on the first ballot.
16: Maurice Stokes
In his rookie season of 1956-1957 Maurice Stokes set what was then an NBA record for rebounds in a season with 1256, or 16.2 per game. He also averaged 16.8 points per game. He remains one of only five rookies in the history of the game to average 16 and 16 in the same season.
15: Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan was the Rookie of the Year in 1997 when he averaged over 21 points and just short of 12 rebounds per game. He was the NBA Rookie of the Month for every month of the season. He was selected the second team All-Defense team the same year. Since then he's gone on to win 4 NBA championships with the San Antonio Spurs.
14: Magic Johnson
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Magic Johnson is one of two players on here who did not win Rookie of the Year. In both cases though the person who won is also on the list. Magic got a better award in his rookie season, thee Finals MVP. He remains the only rookie in history to receive that award. Magic averaged 18 points and seven assists and nearly eight rebounds per game his rookie season.
13: Larry Bird
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Larry Bird was the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1980 and the reason Magic didn't win. In scoring over 21 points, 10 rebounds and over four assists per game, he is the only player since the NBA/ABA merger to average 20 points, 10 boards and four assists per game as a rookie. Largely because of Bird's play the Celtics set a then NBA record for the largest single season turn around by improving 32 games.
12: David Robinson
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David Robinson led the Spurs to one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history when the Spurs improved 35 games in his inaugural season. He scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds a game en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award.
The 35 game turn around was an NBA record that was eventually broken when teammate Tim Duncan was drafted. However, the year before Robinson had missed the majority of the season due to injuries. In effect you could argue that Robinson was responsible for the two biggest turnarounds in the history of the NBA.
11: Blake Griffin
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There will doubtless be those who are aghast at Griffin's placement here. There is a good argument to be made though. Check out Griffin's splits.
It's not just how well he's doing, it's how much he's improving. If he simply maintains his present averages then he'll be only the seventh rookie in NBA history to average 21 points and 12 rebounds per game. And the thing is, he's getting better. If he keeps up at his present rate, he could become just the third rookie to ever average 22 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. In fact, People aren't inflating Griffin's value, he's having one of the great rookie seasons in the history of the game.
10: Shaquille O'Neal
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When Shaq O'Neal came out and was drafted, he was arguably the biggest prize in the lottery ever, both literally and figuratively. Expectations were so high it was almost impossible to live up to them. Shaq surpassed them, averaging 14 rebounds and 23 points in his rookie year. His 3.5 blocks were the second best by an NBA rookie. His .562 field goal percentage is the highest by any rookie who has ever scored more than 20 points per game.
9: Jerry Lucas
Jerry Lucas averaged more than 17 points and 17 rebounds his rookie season. This was in spite of being the fourth option for scoring behind Oscar Robertson, Wayne Embry and Jack Twyman. Lucas also grabbed 40 rebounds in one game his rookie year. The only other two players who have ever accomplished that feat are Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
8: Elivn Hayes
Elvin Hayes scored 28 points and grabbed 17 rebounds a game in his rookie year of '68-'69. He remains the last rookie to lead the league in scoring. He is the other player on this list though that didn't win the Rookie of the Year award. He is one of the eight rookies to have scored 50 or more points in one game.
7: Wes Unseld
Wes Unseld is the lowest scorer on this list, averaging just shy of 14 points per game, but he was renown for his defense and rebounding. In his rookie year he averaged more than 18 boards a game, and led the Bullets to an enormous worst to first turn around. It was enough to earn him both the Rookie of the Year award,(over Hayes), and the MVP. He remains one of only two players to have received both those awards in the same year
6: Michael Jordan
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Michael Jordan is one of only two rookies to average more than 25 points, five rebounds and five assists in his rookie year. His rise to super-stardom was so fast that when he was voted into the All-Star game in his rookie season the other stars refused to pass him the ball, reportedly because they felt he was getting too much attention. His averages for his rookie year were 28.2 points, 5.9 assists and 6.5 rebounds. He also maintained a 51 percent field goal percentage.
5: Elgin Baylor
Elgin Baylor averaged 15 rebounds and almost 25 points per game in his rookie season. He was in the top 10 in scoring, rebounding and assists. He had a 55 point game in his rookie year, and turned the franchise from a last place team into an NBA finalist where they lost to the Celtics.
4: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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Then known as Lew Alcindor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's rookie year was nothing short of spectacular as he scored almost 29 points and 14.5 rebounds per game. His arrival to the Bucks marked a 29 game game turn around as the team went from a 27 win team to a 56 win team. He finished third in the MVP balloting in his rookie year. He'd have to wait until the following season to claim the first of his six prizes.
3: Walt Bellamy
Walt Bellamy's rookie season is eye-popping. He averaged over 30 points per game and over 19 rebounds. His 31.6 points trails only Wilt Chamberlains in NBA history. The Chicago Packers weren't that good, but Bellamy went on to become a Hall of Fame player. An interesting side to him is that he holds the NBA record for games played in a season with 88. This was because of a mid-season trade.
2: Oscar Robertson
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Most people know that Oscar Robertson averaged 30 points and a triple double for an entire season. What you may not know is that he was just 20 total assists shy of doing it in his rookie year. He also missed by only seven rebounds in the '63-'64 season. I believe that if Robertson played today he would be considered the greatest player ever. Like it or not, fantasy sports have changed the way we look at athletes.
1: Wilt Chamberlain
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Honestly this isn't even close. No one ever has had, and it's highly doubtful that anyone ever will have, a rookie season that matches, or even comes close to Wilt Chamberlain. He averaged more than 37 points and 27 rebounds per game as a rookie. He was named the Rookie of the Year and the League MVP.
Wilt is probably the most underrated athlete of all time. He's often perceived as being just a big man who was so much bigger than everyone else that his production came easy. In truth he was fouled constantly and fouled hard. Few players have taken the beating that he took.
He was a track athlete, competing in the discus throw, the high jump and the 100 yard dash. He is in the Volleyball Hall of Fame for his play after he left the NBA. He ran marathons. He could bench over 500 pounds. He was actually an amazing athlete. It wasn't just size that allowed him to dominate the game the way he did, it was athleticism. It can be argued that no player in any team sport individually dominated as much as Wilt did.