Greatest Power Forward in Portland Trail Blazers History?

| by David Berri

As we wait patiently for the 2010-11 season to get started, is entertaining fans by holding a vote for the greatest players in the history of each NBA franchise. Henry Abbott – of TrueHoop – checked in on this vote on Monday and discovered a result that left him unhappy.

Something terrible has happened.  …Perhaps the most important player in Blazer history didn’t even make the starting five. Maurice Lucas should come in first or second as the franchise’s all-time MVP, and instead finished behind both Rasheed Wallace and Sidney Wicks. Lucas got just 14.6% of the lousy power forward vote.

For those unfamiliar with NBA history, Lucas began playing in the ABA in 1974. When the ABA merged with the NBA, Lucas joined the Portland Trail Blazers in 1976. That first season, Lucas produced approximately 10.2 wins* with a WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] of 0.171. So Lucas was an above average performer on a team that went on to win the NBA title in 1977.

The next season the productivity of Lucas slipped to only 5.8 wins and a 0.131 WP48.  In 1978-79, though Lucas returned to what we saw in the championship season. His WP48 that season was 0.166 and he produced 8.5 wins. In sum, Lucas was an above average performer from 1976-77 to 1978-79, posting numbers that are similar to what we saw from Amare Stoudemire this past season (Stoudemire’s WP48 was 0.170 in 2009-10).

Despite these numbers, Portland fans prefer Rasheed Wallace and Sidney Wicks.  Both of these players, though, offered less than Lucas. Rasheed’s very best season – in terms of Wins Produced — was in 2001-02 when he produced 8.5 wins and posted a 0.138 WP48. In other words, Wallace at his very best, was not as good as Maurice Lucas.

Sidney Wicks, though, might have been a little bit better. At least for one season.  In 1974-75, Wicks** produced 11.8 wins with a 0.179 WP48. Wicks, though, was below average in 1973-74 and 1974-75, and produced in the negative range for the Clippers the last three years of his career (1978-79 to 1980-81).

In contrast, Lucas just got better after leaving Portland.  Lucas was sent to the New Jersey Nets in the midst of the 1979-80 season. Across the next five seasons, Lucas posted the following numbers:

  • 1980-81 (Nets): 5.5 Wins Produced, 0.122 WP48
  • 1981-82 (Knicks): 14.9 Wins Produced, 0.267 WP48
  • 1982-83 (Suns): 9.7 Wins Produced, 0.180 WP48
  • 1983-84 (Suns): 11.9 Wins Produced, 0.248 WP48
  • 1984-85 (Suns): 6.3 Wins Produced, 0.180 WP48

After the 1984-85 season, Lucas was 33 years old. He then played three more seasons with the Lakers, Sonics, and then Blazers. But across these three years, though, he only produced 6.7 wins. 

Prior to age taking its toll, though, Lucas was very productive. And his career WP48 of 0.159 easily tops what we see from Wallace [0.089 career WP48] and Wicks [0.079 career WP48]. So if your choice is Lucas, Wallace, or Wicks, then I think Henry is on to something. Lucas was the more productive power forward in this trio.

Of course, Portland fans did have another choice. About 6% of fans chose Charles Linwood Williams as the best power forward in team history. Buck Williams began his career in 1981 and came to the Blazers before the 1989-90 season. Williams had his best season in his career with the Nets in 1981-82.  That year he produced 22.3 wins and posted a 0.362 WP48. Williams never surpassed the o.300 mark again, but he did post WP48 marks beyond the 0.200 threshold in eight more seasons (something Lucas only did twice in the NBA). Three of these were with the Blazers, with the best season coming in 1990-91. That year Williams produced 12.4 wins with a 0.231 WP48. Those numbers surpass anything offered by Lucas, Wallace, or Wicks. In sum, I think one can argue that Buck Williams was the “best” power forward in Portland team history.

Let me close by noting two issues. First, Buck Williams – relative to Maurice Lucas – was the more efficient scorer. And this is primarily why Williams was more productive. Secondly, I have a table ranking the most productive players in Blazer history. And it appears Wins Produced strongly disagrees with the fans of the Blazers at another position. My hope is to post this table — and a corresponding discussion—tomorrow (or some day soon).

- DJ