Published March 9, 2023
The NBA Time Machine:
Back In Chicago
After the Chicago Zephyrs moved to Baltimore in 1963, the NBA was without a team in the promising mid-west market once more – it only took them a few years to commit to the idea again, now choosing to host the Chicago Bulls.
With the Bulls in town, the league now had ten teams for the first time in fourteen years. They occupied the already watered-down Western Division, further worsening its competition. This also meant the Baltimore Bullets now occupied the East – a much-appreciated relief for their personnel, who no longer had to travel cross-country to meet half of their rivals.
As usual with fresh teams, the Bulls participated in an expansion draft. However, the most notable pickup was perennial All-Star Guy Rodgers, who had been acquired in a trade with the San Francisco Warriors. He was integral to the impressive thirty-three-win season Chicago put together, as his experienced playmaking took pressure off of less comfortable teammates.
Due to the increase in league size, the playoffs were re-formatted. The following changes were made:
- Four teams from each division made the playoffs, as opposed to three.
- The first seed in each division no longer received a “bye”, and were required to compete in the first round.
- This increased the playoffs series total from five to seven.
This shift in structure arguably increased the competitiveness of the post-season, but slightly disincentivized pushing for a first seed.
The Philadelphia 76ers finished last season on a disappointing note, bowing out to their rival Boston Celtics in a gentleman’s sweep upset. Philly responded by building the greatest campaign in league history – they soared past their contemporaries to a sixty-eight-win total, ranked as the best offense, and only lost two games at home.
There were two major reasons for this advancement – first was the hiring of the accomplished coach Alex Hannum, who boasted a championship and three Finals appearances to his name. Hannum had coached Wilt Chamberlain in San Francisco, and was a large component of the Stilt’s then-most successful season to date.
The other catalyst was Chamberlain’s willingness to alter his playing style behind Hannum’s advice. His scoring average dropped by almost ten points, but he committed to being an elite playmaker – his 7.8 assists per game was good for third in the league. Chamberlain’s shot selection was also refined, shooting an unbelievable sixty-eight-percent from the field that crushed the previous record of fifty-four-percent – also set by him.
A number of rival leagues had sprouted around the nation at this point, but the NBA was too storied and solidified – nothing could truly knock it down. However, a particular competitor was founded this year – the American Basketball Association (ABA), of whom basketball great George Mikan was the commissioner.
It didn’t make noise remotely close to that of its established rival, but the inter-league ties – as well as new gimmicks – garnered the interest of some players.
Bay Is Booming
Western Division antics were at an all-time high, with five teams present and only one soaring above the rest. The team in question was the San Francisco Warriors, who improved by nine games and finished top three league-wide.
Sophomore Rick Barry led the NBA in scoring with a ballistic 35.6 points per game, and center Nate Thurmond had now blossomed into one of the best defenders around. It was reasonable to say the Warriors ran California at this moment – since their arrival, this was the first instance in which they finished with a winning record and the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t.
Despite a disappointing end to the previous season, Philadelphia let nothing demotivate them. Wilt Chamberlain led the team to a historic winning pace – despite averaging a steep career low 24.1 points per game, his playmaking and efficiency hit unprecedented levels. He became the first player to shoot over sixty-percent from the field.
Regardless of an already lethal rookie campaign, Barry elevated to an unbelievable level in ’66-67. The Warriors improved by nine wins, grabbed the first seed in the West, and looked like dark horse contenders. He also led the league in points per game, becoming the first player besides Wilt Chamberlain to do so since 1959.
Russell had a taxing year, taking over coaching duties for the Celtics while also having to maintain his superstar image. He sacrificed scoring production for efficiency and playmaking, taking advantage of the improved Celtics offense. The reigning champions ultimately finished with the third sixty-win season in franchise history.
While the Royals struggled – amassing their first losing record since Robertson’s rookie season – the former M.V.P. had another fine run. He averaged over thirty points and ten assists for the fifth time in seven attempts.
Reed was silently blossoming into a future superstar. He became increasingly comfortable sharing the frontcourt with Walt Bellamy, leading New York in both points and rebounds. The most intriguing storyline was the Knicks seeing the playoffs – their last visit was in the fifties.
Strangely enough, the return to form for Elgin Baylor wasn’t enough to keep the Lakers afloat. They were nine games worse, but West continued to lead them to a playoff berth despite injury bugs – his continued improvement as a playmaker influenced that outcome.
Around the League
An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.