Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 30, 2003
BASKETBALL: Blocked Out

One of my recent interests has been simulated basketball on WhatIfSports.com, a site Bill Simmons got me interested in (on the baseball side) in its infancy some two years ago (my username is crank, for those of you who are denizens of the site). In typically backwards fashion, renewing my interest in basketball's statistical past has revived my interest to some extent in the current game, but that's a topic for another post.

One of the great imponderables in NBA history - with which the "WIS" site has to struggle, since it includes players going back to the Fifties - is the tabulation of blocked shots prior to 1973-74, when the league started counting them. There are few more frustrating unknown statistics in professional sports than Bill Russell's blocked shots; Russell's statistics (despite adequate scoring and assists averages and great rebounding numbers) are otherwise not really impressive enough to equal his reputation, but if we had shot-blocking numbers, there would be something closer to a quantifiable way to measure his defensive greatness. WIS pegs him around 5-6 blocked shots per game; I've heard people who saw him play quote figures as high as 10. That's probably Old Fogeyism talking, but then, there were an awful lot of missed shots in those days, and Russell was on the court for 44-46 minutes a night.

Anyway, one thing I noticed that was unique and repeated in several sources without an explanation of where it came from was the ABA's single season blocked shots record: 422 by Artis Gilmore in his rookie season in Kentucky in 1971-72, an average of just over 5 a game -- one of only two seasons of 400 blocks (the other is the NBA record of 456 by Mark Eaton in 1984-85) in the recorded history of professional basketball and almost 150 above Gilmore's next highest total. What's unusual is that basketball-reference.com has nearly no record for anybody else's blocked shots but Gilmore's for 1971-72. Yet, the NBA's official website cites the figure in Gilmore's bio; so does Gilmore's own personal website; so does ESPN.com.

If anyone knows the true story of how they came up with this figure, I'd love to hear it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:00 PM | Basketball | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I can't answer your question directly, but in Terry Pluto's Loose Balls, an oral history of the ABA (and an absolute great read, BTW), one of the people intervewied was Lee Meade, who was the ABA's first PR man. According to Meade, he designed the ABA's scorecard, which included offensive and defensive rebounds, turnovers, steals, and blocked shots, none of which was being kept by the NBA at the time. (They recorded rebounds, but didn't break them down.) Assuming this is accurate, there should be blocked shots recorded for the whole history of the ABA. Meade does say that early ABA stats are shaky because the scorekeepers didn't always fill them out accurately and he had to project them, but 1971-72 was the 5th season of the league, and you'd think the bugs would have been worked out by then.

Also, by some of the discussion in the book, it sounds like Kentucky had built a defense around Gilmore's shot-blocking in his rookie year, where they would seem to leave a lane open to the basket, the offensive player would drive, and Gilmore would cut him off at the pass. They also say the Nets figured out what they were doing by the playoffs and changed their strategy in response, which might account for Gilmore's totals dropping off in the following years. (I don't know why it would take the league all season to figure that out, but not all the ABA coaching was topnotch.)

Posted by: Devin McCullen at December 31, 2003 12:25 PM

Just to ramble on some more - I was in Borders yesterday and looked at Total Basketball, which looked like it just came out. Anyway, they had the 422 blocks listed under Gilmore's stats, but under the ABA records, they didn't have it for Most Blocks in a season (and all 5 listed there were in seasons after 1971-72, 3 by Gilmore and 2 by Caldwell Jones.)

Also, just to point something out, although he tries to fake it, whoever runs that basketballreference.com isn't associated with Sean Forman. I don't think there's any real conflict, because there is a link to the site on baseball-reference, but there's no offical connection.

Posted by: Devin McCullen at January 1, 2004 12:30 PM

Just ran across your comments on early ABA stats. I would be glad to discuss it, it you are still interested.

Posted by: Lee Meade at April 3, 2004 10:27 PM
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