NBA's Best Players of the Decade: 1960s Edition

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NBA's Best Players of the Decade: 1960s Edition
Ken Levine/Getty Images

During the 1960s, big men continued to dominate the NBA.  However, guards began to make a larger impact on the game, most notably Jerry West and Oscar Robertson.

This decade belonged to the Boston Celtics.  They won all but one NBA Championship in the 1960s.

These 10 players were the best of the best during the 1960s.  

 

10. Jerry Lucas

Jerry Lucas was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals, where he played throughout the 1960s.  The Royals started Lucas in their frontcourt immediately during his rookie season in 1963-1964. 

As a rookie, Lucas led the league in field goal percentage, shooting 52.7 percent from the field.  Not surprisingly, he won the NBA Rookie of the Year.  In his second season, Lucas won the All-Star Game MVP in his first of six All-Star Game appearances during the decade.

The 6'8" big man was one of the best rebounders of all time, averaging 15.6 rebounds per game over his career.  That ranks him in the top five rebounders in NBA history. 

 

9. Elgin Baylor 

Elgin Baylor played his prime years during the 1960s as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.  At 6'5", he was an undersized forward who absolutely dominated throughout the decade.

Baylor was selected to the All-Star team in every year of the decade, except for 1966.  He was also a First Team All-NBA player in every year of the 1960s.  

Even though Baylor was small for his position, this did not stop him from rebounding with the best.  He frequently finished in the top 10 for rebounds per game, and he ranks ninth all time in the NBA with 13.5 rebounds per game.  

In addition to his rebounding, Baylor often ranked in the top 10 for assists and points per game.  He was an all-around great player.

 

8. Bob Pettit 

Pettit is the only player to rank in the top 10 during both the 1950s (fourth) and 1960s.  He retired after the 1965 season, but he was only 32 years old.  This meant his peak years came during the 1960s.  

Pettit was recognized as one of the best players in the league, as his honors can validate: an All-Star selection every year he played and a First Team All-NBA selection every year except his last.  

In addition, the 6'9" big man ranks amongst the all-time greats in points per game (seventh) and rebounds per game (third).

 

7. Sam Jones 

Sam Jones was a career Celtic, where he was a hybrid guard/forward for their dynasty.  Of the 10 NBA Championships during the 1960s, the Celtics won nine of them.  Sam Jones was a team member for all of them.  

Thanks mainly to Bill Russell, Jones was never the best player on the Celtics, but he was the number two guy for most of their rings. 

Sam Jones was an overshadowed player during the decade, as he had to compete with Jerry West and Oscar Robertson for awards.  As a result, he was only selected to five All-Star games and was never a First-Team All-NBA player; although, he was chosen for the Second Team three times.

 

6. Walt Bellamy 

Bellamy was frequently on the move during the 1960s.  In total, he played in four different cities.

Despite the frequent change of uniforms, Bellamy was a force to be reckoned with no matter where he was playing.  After being selected first overall by the Chicago Packers in the 1961 NBA Draft, Bellamy instantly became a star.  He won the Rookie of the Year in 1962, playing the best year of his career.  During Bellamy's rookie campaign, he scored 31.6 points and grabbed 19.0 rebounds per game, while leading the league with a 51.9 percent field goal percentage.  As a result, Bellamy was awarded Rookie of the Year honors.

Unfortunately for Bellamy, he played center during a decade dominated by two other centers: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.  This meant Bellamy was all but shut out for awards.  He was selected to four All-Star Games, but he was never an All-NBA player.  

 

5. Bailey Howell 

When people think of the 1960s, 6'7" forward Bailey Howell does not often come to mind first.  Nonetheless, he should.

When Bill Russell began to decline in his final two years, Bailey Howell stepped in as the best player on the Celtics' final two Championships of the decade.

Throughout his career, Howell was a 20-point and 10-rebound per game player.  As well, he was a six-time All Star.   

 

4. Bill Russell 

While he did not contribute significantly on the offensive end, Bill Russell was the best defensive player to ever step on to an NBA court.  During the 1960s, Russell was in the top three in rebounding per game every single year, leading the league twice.

In addition to his rebounding prowess, Russell was a solid passing big man.  He was in the top 10 in the league for assists per game four times during the decade.

Perhaps most impressively, Russell was a major reason the Boston Celtics were able to win nine NBA Championships during the decade.  

Russell was bestowed numerous honors during the decade.  These included 10 All-Star selections, four NBA MVPs, one All-Star Game MVP, two First-Team All-NBA selections and seven Second-Team All-NBA selections.  Unfortunately, the NBA did not start awarding All-Defensive Team honors until Russell's final season.  Unsurprisingly, he was selected to the First Team.

 

3. Jerry West 

Unlike the 1950s, the 1960s had two guards who were amongst the best during the decade: Jerry West and Oscar Robertson.  West spend the 1960s as the leader for the Los Angeles Lakers and one of the best offensive players of the decade.

Amongst the all-time best, West ranks near the top.  He ranks fifth all time in points per game, 35th in assists per game and was frequently one of the most efficient scorers in the game.

During the 1960s, West made nine All-Star Games and six First-Team All-NBA selections.  Had West played in the 1950s or 1970s, he would have been the best guard of the decade.  However, that honor belongs to the next man on the list.

 

2. Oscar Robertson

The Big O spent the 1960s with the Cincinnati Royals.  This meant limited postseason success, but that was in spite of Robertson's tremendous play.

Robertson was everything a team could want in a guard.  He scored 30 points per game throughout the 1960s, leading the league in scoring once.  As well, he led the league in assists per game seven times during the decade.  In his career, Robertson averaged 9.5 assists per game, ranking fourth all time.  During his first few seasons in the league, Robertson even averaged double-digit rebounds per game.   

Oscar Robertson was widely recognized as the best guard of the decade.  He was selected to nine All-Star Games, winning the game's MVP three times, won Rookie of the Year and won the 1964 NBA MVP.  In addition, Robertson was a nine-time All-NBA First-Team selection.

 

1. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt the Stilt was heads and shoulders above everyone else in the NBA during the 1960s, in terms of both height (7'1") and play.  He was Bill Russell with a dominant offensive game.

During the decade, Wilt led the league seven times in field goal percentage, eight times in rebounds per game and seven times in points per game.

This led to him being an All-Star every season of the 1960s and a First-Team All-NBA player seven times.  As well, he won four NBA MVPs, including one during his rookie season where he also won the Rookie of the Year award and All-Star Game MVP.

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