Clyde Drexler

Born: June 22, 1962
Position: Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Portland Trail Blazers (NBA): 1983-’95
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1995-’98

Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)
Clyde Drexler (Manny Millan/SI)

To pull out an old, cliched writing trick… Webster’s Dictionary defines “glide” as the following:

: to move smoothly, continuously, and effortlessly

: to go or pass imperceptibly

It’s a term that connotes ease, that signifies freedom from agitation. Clyde Drexler as a basketball player encapsulated these attitudes and mores. Despite being one of the more exciting players in the NBA during the 1980s and 1990s, it was quite often an understated excitement, if possible.

His dunks came about in such a gliding ease. He rose majestically and flowed seamlessly through the atmospheric fluid flushing home the jam. Seemingly lacking even less effort was the way Drexler could extend  and wind his way into gorgeous finger rolls and scooping layups that no man should ever have any business of taking, let alone making.

Well, after viewing Drexler’s highlight package, it’s kind of clear that not all of his dunks were done devoid of invigorating passion. The man could throw down a hammer on opponents.

There was so much more to Drexler’s game than the dunks and flashy layups though. He was an extraordinary passer from the big guard spot, was great on cleaning up the defensive glass, and was magnificent at anticipating woeful passes to steal. Combining all of those traits with his flair for dunking and Drexler became perhaps the most feared player on the fastbreak during his era.

He possessed beguiling dribbling handles for a man 6’7″ tall, even if he did dribbled with his head down. The tunnel vision drive, though, just made the ultimate outcome of his forays even less in doubt. He was going to glide in stride and leave you embarrassed at the end of the occasion.

The full package of skills for Clyde took a little bit to unveil itself. During his first few seasons in Portland he shared time on the wings with Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe – both All-Star players in their own right. The glut of wing depth in Portland famously caused the Blazers to pass on Michael Jordan in favor Sam Bowie, which over time would fuel comparisons between Drexler and Jordan. They had similar – though by no means not exactly the same – playing styles. And they’d eventually meet in the NBA Finals.

Drexler’s full emergence pushed aside Paxson and Vandeweghe by 1988. He averaged a sensational 27 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists, and 2.5 steals that season as Portland finished with 53 wins. It was their best regular season since 1978. A brief regression in 1989 was corrected with the addition of burly power forward Buck Williams.

Drexler, Buck, Kevin Duckworth, Jerome Kersey, and Terry Porter steered Portland to a three-year reign as the Western Conference’s dominant team with 59, 63, and 57 wins respectively in the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons. The Blazers lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals, and succumbed to the Detroit Pistons in the 1990 NBA Finals and Jordan’s Bulls in the ’92 Finals.

Grueling hamstring injuries to Drexler helped to undue the run of Blazer glory. By 1995, the Oregon squad was almost completely turned over and Drexler was shipped off to the Houston Rockets. Although Houston was average with Drexler during the final stretch of the 1995 season, they caught fire in the playoffs thanks to Hakeem Olajuwon’s undeniable brilliance and won the 1995 NBA title.

Although not up to the heights of his Portland days, Drexler was instrumental in the title run. In a must-win Game 4 against Utah in the 1st Round, Drexler poured in 41 points, nine rebounds, and six assists while making 12 of his 18 shot attempts. In the must-win Game 5 of the same series he produced 31 points and 10 rebounds. In Game 7 against the Phoenix Suns, Clyde the Glide soared his way to 29 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Three more seasons with the Rockets followed before Drexler retired in 1998. As his career wound down, Clyde continued to be productive averaging about 18 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game each year. Not bad for a shooting guard in his mid-30s.

His assortment of abilities led him to play in the NBA Finals three different times  and delivered a membership on the Dream Team in 1992. He’s one of just five retired players to have averaged over 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists for a career. However, when it comes to naming great shooting guards in the NBA’s history, Drexler’s name can often glide by without notice.

Well, let this serve as a reminder to always remember the magnificent ride of Clyde the Glide.

Honors

Champion (1995)
All-NBA 1st Team (1992)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1988, 1991)
2x All-NBA 3rd Team (1990, 1995)
10x All-Star (1986, 1988-’94, 1996-’97)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1086 games):
20.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 5.6 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.547 TS%, .472 FG%, .318 3PT%, .788 FT%
21.1 PER, .173 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (145 games):
20.4 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
.532 TS%, .447 FG%, .288 3PT%, .787 FT%
19.7 PER, .134 WS/48

 

Dave Bing

Born: November 24, 1943
Position: Point Guard and Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1966-’75
Washington Bullets (NBA): 1975-’77
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1977-’78

Dave Bing warm ups

Dave Bing’s remarkable career is rather stunning. He was one of the best guards – whether shooting or point – for a decade in the NBA averaging 20 points and six assists per game. And he did that despite two horrific eye injuries. As a child Bing’s vision was marred when a nail scarred his left eye. As a professional, another eye injury, this time a detached retina, further dimmed his vision. But the injuries, remarkably, never dimmed his basketball abilities.

The prior to detaching his retina, Bing was an awesome scorer for the Detroit Pistons. He was wily and always winding with the basketball. His ability to contort while elevated in the air beguiled opponents. Whatever his official label – point, shooting, combo, whatever-guard – Bing in just his second season led the NBA in total points scored in 1967 while also finishing second in points per game with 27.1. Up through 1971, Bing averaged 24.3 points a night along with 5.7 assists.

Then came his retina injury.

The points per game for the rest of his career fell to 17.2. Bing’s passing ability, however, remained unchanged and even got better. He averaged a career-high 7.8 APG in 1973. Per 36 minutes he tallied 6.2 assists after his eye injury compared with 5.5 before. As it turns out, the same slithering attributes that made his shot hard to stop, often allowed him to pass the ball when opponents least expected it.

Bing spent the vast majority of his career with the Detroit Pistons. He represented Motown six times in the All-Star Game and in 1968 he spurred the Pistons to a 40-42 record. Doesn’t sound like much but it was the best regular season record for the franchise since 1956 when they were in Fort Wayne. In the 1968 playoffs, the Pistons lost 4-games-to-2 to the eventual champion Celtics. In the deciding Game 6, Bing scored 44 points overall including 37 in the second half and 16 of those second half points came in a blistering row.

The Pistons high-water mark in the Bing Era came in 1974 when the club won 52 games. Alongside Bob Lanier, Bing’s Pistons eventually lost to the Chicago Bulls in the Western Conference Semi-Finals by 2 points in the Game 7. That achievement would be the best regular season and playoff showing for the Detroit Pistons until the Bad Boys game around a dozen years later.

From there the Pistons declined and Bing was traded to the Washington Bullets. His chance at an NBA title never seemed higher, initially at least, when he joined the Bullets. Washington had appeared in the 1975 NBA Finals, losing to Golden State. They hoped Bing was another, if not final, piece toward securing the championship. Dave made one final All-Star appearance in 1976. He made it worth his while snagging the game’s MVP.

However, the Bullets would be bounced in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in both of Bing’s seasons with the franchise. And by the end of the 1977 postseason, it was clear Bing was diminished considerably. He finally ended his career in 1978 with the Boston Celtics.

Twice he averaged 27 points in a season and twice he was named to the All-NBA 1st Team. Unfortunately, Bing never achieved the ultimate team glory, but his wizardry with the ball was a spellbinding sensation. All the more remarkable considering he did it all with a bad eye. Makes you wonder what might have happened if both his eyes were 100% healthy.

Accolades

2x All-NBA 1st Team (1968, 1971)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1974)
7x All-Star (1968-’69, 1971, 1973-’76)
All-Star Game MVP (1976)
Rookie of the Year (1967)
All-Rookie Team (1967)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (901 games):
20.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG
.502 TS%, .441 FG%, .775 FT%
17.6 PER, .101 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (31 games):
15.4 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.7 RPG, 0.6 SPG
.470 TS%, .423 FG%,  .748 FT%
15.6 PER, .067 WS/48

Willie Wise

Born: March 3, 1947
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Los Angeles Stars (ABA): 1969-’70
Utah Stars (ABA): 1970-’74
Virginia Squires (ABA): 1975-’76
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 1976-’77
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977

Willie Wise

“My first and only goal coming into the ABA was to be a great defensive player,” explained Wise. “I loved playing defense. It was always a challenge to see if I could stop guys like Rick Barry, John Brisker, and Roger Brown. But I didn’t like to think of myself as the best defensive player in the league. That’s because when I started to think about that I might have let down.”

Remember the ABA: Willie Wise

Like the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, Willie Wise was never quite satisfied with himself. No matter how well he played, how well he shot, how well he shut down opponents, he was never ever satisfied with himself. For Wise basketball was a game meant for passion and zeal. To believe perfection had been attained was to acquiesce with complacency.

Wise had no time and no place for resting on laurels.

He was a man dedicated to improving every facet of his game. Working with Utah Stars coach Bill Sharman, himself a great shooting guard, Wise drastically improved his offensive game and by 1972 was averaging 23 points a game while shooting a touch over 50% from the field. His defense was stifling and suffocating. And even though he stood just 6’5″ he was also a superb rebounder, snaring 10.7 boards a game over his first three seasons (1970-’72).

Just ask the poor Kentucky Colonels who faced the wonderful Wise in 1971. Stars center Zelmo Beaty had a whale of a game with 40 points and 15 rebounds, but Wise was right behind him:

“Beaty did a great job,” Sharman said following the game. “But Wise was outstanding.” The Utah coach described Wise’s 26 points and 24 rebounds as “just too much to expect.”

Wise and Beaty had huge games at the right moment. It was Game 2 of the 1971 Finals and they edged out Kentucky 131 to 121. They eventually won the title in seven games. The Stars behind Wise, Beaty, and Ron Boone were a constant power in the ABA from 1970 to 1974, making at least the Conference Finals every season.

Wise may have hated to praise himself, but this team success left him gushing all over. And as this successful team filled with teammates and friends aged it was dismantled. Wise, a man who played for passion, lost much of his drive and zeal as he saw management discard his brothers in basketball arms.

After the 1974 season ended with a Finals defeat against the New York Nets, the Stars tossed aside Beaty and super scorer Jimmy Jones while Wise went into hiding refusing to play. After months of stalemate, the Stars sold Wise to the Virginia Squires late in the 1974-75 season. Willie played just 16 games but, despite the layoff, he looked close to his normal, All-Star self averaging 21 points and six rebounds.

The next season (1975-76) Wise began suffering from a balky knee. The knee quickly proved extremely troublesome and his career was totally over by 1977 at age 30. Wise, true to his name, wasn’t one to beleaguer the point. He didn’t try and hang on for years making comebacks. One moment revealed to him it was all over:

I remember they put me on the Iceman. That’s George Gervin. And I don’t mean this in a vain, proud way, but I used to be able to stay with the Iceman as long as he was out on the court. If he took me down on the block, he could elevate over me because he was 6’7″, almost 6’8″, and he could leap. But if he tried to beat me out on the floor, he couldn’t. And boy, he blew by me. I thought, Whoa. And that’s when it really hit me that I just couldn’t move laterally anymore. That was the time on the court that I thought, You know what? I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.

But when Willie could do it, he was one of the best.

Accolades

Champion (1971)
2x All-Defensive 1st Team (1973-’74)
2x All-ABA 2nd Team (1972, 1974)
3x All-Star (1972-’74)
All-Rookie Team (1970)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (552 games):
17.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG
.529 TS%, .475 FG%, .724 FT%
18.1 PER, .127 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (74 games):
19.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.0 SPG
.542 TS%, .498 FG%, .709 FT%
19.0 PER, .143 WS/48

Dave Cowens

Born: October 25, 1948
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1970-’80
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1982-’83

Dave Cowens
Dave Cowens

With so many great players and Hall of Famers, the following sentence may apply to a bushel of players, but, here it goes…

Dave Cowens may be the overlooked Celtics legend.

Yes, other guys like Satch Sanders, Sam Jones, Bill Sharman, Jo Jo White, and others get the overlooked treatment, but Cowens is one of just four Celtics to win an MVP award as a Celtic. Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Larry Bird are the others. Cowens, however, doesn’t ever seem to demand the kind of historical attention those other three command.

This is a strange turn of events given that Cowens demanded and commanded all kinds of attention while he played. How could you ignore the firebrand who yelled and wailed at horrendous referee calls that he considered crimes against humanity? (Famously Cowens, disgusted with a ticky tack foul call, decided to show the ref a real foul by body-checking the flopping Mike Newlin of the Houston Rockets. “Now that’s a foul!”, Cowens howled at the ref.) How could you miss the 6’9″ center crashing the boards relentlessly knocking bodies out of the way in the process? How could you possibly overlook his lefty hooks, outstanding jump shot, and agile athleticism?

And most of all, how could you ignore the startling success of the Celtics while Cowens was with them?

Joining Jo Jo White and John Havlicek in the 1970-71 season, Cowens was Rookie of the Year and helped re-establish Boston as a force after the retirement of Bill Russell in 1969. Their 44 wins weren’t good enough to make the East playoffs in 1971, but in 1972 they improved to 56 wins and in 1973 they reeled off a ridiculous 68 wins.

That Celtics squad may be the most undervalued great team in NBA history. Sixty-eight wins and I bet most readers never even knew about it. The problem is that Havlicek hurt his shoulder that postseason and the Celtics were (barely) dislodged in the 1973 Conference Finals by the New York Knicks in seven games.

Cowens for his efforts that year was named MVP. It’s one of the more controversial MVPs in NBA history. Cowens made the All-NBA 2nd Team that very same season while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the All-NBA 1st Team at center, but still lost out on MVP to Cowens. To his credit, Dave averaged 20.5 points, 16.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists that year. Then again, Kareem averaged 30.2 points, 16.1 rebounds, and 5.0 assists.

In any event, the distressing playoff loss to the Knicks in ’73 didn’t cause any let up in Cowens’s intensity for the 1973-74 season. The Celtics finished with 56 regular season wins, but more importantly captured the NBA title. They did so by besting Kareem’s Milwaukee Bucks in a classic seven-game series where Dave left behind his most famous play, which accurately depicts his determination and style of play.

After poking the ball loose from Oscar Robertson, Cowens and the Big O got into a foot race for the ball. Dave started stumbling and then decided to just make a giant leap for the ball and skid across the floor for what seemed like a mile:

Dave_Cowens_dives_for_the_ball

Another title followed in 1976 over the Phoenix Suns, but that was the last great year for Cowens’ original gang of Celtics. Havlicek would soon retire, Paul Silas and White were traded, and a string of underwhelming stars were brought in. Big Red himself temporarily lost his fire the sport and took a one month sabbatical in the 1976-77 season.

However, by the 1979-80 season, the Celtics and Cowens had a return to glory. Teaming up with Larry Bird, Tiny Archibald, and Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, Boston won 61 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Dr. J’s 76ers proved a tad bit better and won the series in five games. That offseason, the Celtics made their swindle/trade with Golden State for Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

Perhaps Cowens could have stuck around for a chance to win a couple of more titles in his twilight. After all, he was just 31-years-old, had only played 10 seasons, and had just come off a year averaging 14 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Not bad at all for a starting center. So, surely he could put together three or four more seasons of good basketball as Parish’s back up.

Instead, Cowens chose to retire. At least temporarily.

He made a quirky return to the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1982-83 season at the age of 34 – he averaged eight points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. But Cowens was always a strange character. Cowens drove a taxicab during the late 1970s just for fun. He sold Christmas trees in his home-state of Kentucky during his 1976 sabbatical. And the fiery countenance he exhibited on the court transformed into an amazing sense of humor off of it.

But when he was on the court, heaven help you if you were the opposing team, or even worse, the referee…

Honors

NBA –
2x Champion (1974, 1976)
MVP (1973)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1973, 1975-’76)
All-Defensive 1st Team (1976)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1975, 1980)
8x All-Star (1972-’78, 1980)
All-Star Game MVP (1973)
All-Rookie Team (1971)
Rookie of the Year (1971)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (766 games):
17.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG
.496 TS%, .460FG%, .783 FT%
17.0 PER, .140 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (89 games):
18.9 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG
.480 TS%, .451 FG%, .744 FT%
16.6 PER, .119 WS/48

 

Robert Parish

Born: August 30, 1953
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Golden State Warriors (NBA): 1976-’80
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1980-’94
Charlotte Hornets (NBA): 1994-’96
Chicago Bulls (NBA): 1996-’97

Robert Parish (Celtics Pride)
Robert Parish (Celtics Pride)

Robert Parish’s NBA career lasted longer than any player in history. He strung together 21 seasons and played in 1795 games between the regular season and playoffs. Naturally, luck plays a role in anyone being able to play for that long, but also credit Parish’s stringent training, yoga, and vegetarian diet for keeping him spry year after year.

Most of those years, of course, were spent with the Boston Celtics. From the 1980-81 season through the 1993-94 campaign, the Chief called Boston home. His presence alongside Larry Bird and Kevin McHale created what many think is the best frontcourt trio in NBA history. They have a good case given the trio of titles they captured together.

Parish, no doubt, was the lowest key of the three. He didn’t say much to begin with and his game was perhaps even quieter. He wasn’t prone to dazzling displays of athleticism, he never averaged over 20 points a game, and he didn’t swat shots into the 5th or 6th row.

But what Parish delivered certainly was constant and consistent. In his second NBA season (with the Golden State Warriors) in 1978, Parish scored 12.5 points per game. 16 years later in 1994, Parish at the age of 40 was still scoring 11.7 points a night. His defense and rebounding followed a similar ever-ready suit. Opposing centers rarely got the upper hand on the Chief who resolutely patrolled the paint and registered stifling resistance night after night.

For another perspective on Parish’s triumphant longevity, He was just a year younger than Bill Walton, his teammate on the 1986 Celtics. Walton entered the NBA in 1975, Parish in 1976. By the time Parish retired in 1997, Walton had been retired from the NBA for a decade and was in the midst of broadcasting playoff games that Parish was still appearing in. Parish was also just a year younger than George Gervin. Imagine the Ice Man still on an NBA roster in ’97. That’s the longevity of Parish.

Robert Parish schools Kareem

If there was anything “flashy” about Parish it was his insanely high-arching turn-around jumper. Already 7’0″, Parish lofting a shot from such a perch was impossible to block and he hit the shot an absurd amount. That shot enabled Parish to have games like a 31-point demolition of Detroit in the 1987 playoffs while making 10 of his 12 field goals, plus 11 of his 12 free throws.

The other patented Parish move was his one-handed, always-in-stride dunk. The Chief was an underrated finisher on the break since he never ran that fast, but he never stopped running so he could get down the court and finish with authority.

Notice how unfast Parish was running in that clip, but he kept a-movin’ and got the jam.  And at the age of 43 Parish was still doing his unfast floor trot to slam home dunks…

That’s the kind of ceaseless determination that defined the career of Robert Parish.

 

Honors

4x Champion (1981, 1984, 1986, 1997)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1982)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1989)
9x All-Star (1981-’87, 1990-’91)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1611 games):
14.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.571 TS%, .537 FG%, .721 FT%
19.2 PER, .154 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (184 games):
15.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.547 TS%, .506 FG%, .722 FT%
16.6 PER, .121 WS/48

Sam Cassell

Born: November 18, 1969
Position: Point Guard
Professional Career:
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1993-’96
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1996
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1996-’97
New Jersey Nets (NBA): 1997-’99
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1999-2003
Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA): 2003-’04
Los Angeles Clippers (NBA): 2005-’08
Boston Celtics (NBA): 2008

Sam Cassell

Sam Cassell enjoyed a lengthy career as an NBA point guard, but only after an arduous college basketball journey. At age 20, he began playing junior college ball with San Jacinto College outside Houston. Then, at age 22, he transferred to Florida State. After two successful seasons there, Cassell was finally drafted into the NBA at age 24.

And nearly everywhere he went in the NBA, Cassell catalyzed improvement for his teams.

Selected by the Houston Rockets, the geriatric rookie immediately made a huge impact for the Rockets. No one doubts Hakeem Olajuwon was the primary fuel for the Rockets that won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995, but Cassell’s role as backup point guard and big game performer helped pull Houston out of some tough fixes. In the 1994 Finals, Cassell hit a huge three-pointer in the final moments to win Game 3. He finished that game with 15 points on 4-6 shooting. Not bad for a rookie who averaged 7 points in the regular season. In the 1995 Finals, Cassell exploded for 31 points on 12 shots leading Houston to a 2-0 series lead over the Magic.

These huge playoff performances paid dividends for Cassell. By his third season, 1995-96, he was averaging 14.5 points and 5 assists per game off of Houston’s bench. Following that season, however, Cassell was traded to the Phoenix Suns and thus began his wandering days.

Over the next three seasons, Sam played for the Suns, Nets, and Mavericks before finally settling in Milwaukee. Not that he wasn’t productive. Cassell averaged 18 points and 6.5 assists in this span, but no club seemed to truly appreciate what he offered. The Nets were particularly foolish. They made their lone postseason between 1994 and 2002 while improving from 26 to 43 wins in their one full season with Cassell.

With the Bucks, though, Cassell found a home and exploited his talents to the max. His biggest assets, oddly for a point guard, were his abilities to post-up and generate lots of free throws. Milwaukee lacked a power forward or center capable of scoring, so Cassell’s production of 19 points and 7 assists per game while making 87% of his free throws was sorely needed. In 2001, teaming with Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen, Cassell’s Bucks narrowly missed out on the NBA Finals losing to the 76ers in a tough 7-game series.

Ever the wanderer, though, Cassell’s time in Milwaukee finished in 2003. Still, Cassell had a couple of curtain calls left.

The Timberwolves in 2004 enjoyed their best season in franchise history after Cassell’s acquisition. Indeed, it was a career year for Cassell who finally made the All-Star Team and was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team at the tender age of 34. With Kevin Garnett as league MVP and Cassell riding shotgun Minnesota made the Western Conference Finals. An unfortunate back injury to Sam kept the Wolves from mounting a full challenge to the Lakers, though, and they lost the series in six games.

In 2006, after an injury-plagued 2005 season, Cassell helped lift the Los Angeles Clippers from their wretched depths. Yes, the Clippers, a franchise that hadn’t won a playoff series since 1976 as the Buffalo Braves. Cassell’s savvy, leadership, and still potent skills mixed beautifully with another superb power forward (Elton Brand) as the Clippers won 47 games. In the playoffs, Sam’s Clippers advanced to the Western Conference Semi-Finals where they lost to the Suns in seven games. From that point on, Cassell was severely limited by injuries, but managed to snag a final NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

With his ebullient energy, pull-up jumpers, fearless forays to the rim, and confidence Cassell improved every team he appeared with. The Rockets, Nets, Bucks, Timberwolves, and Clippers were all demonstrably better with the services of Cassell. Even if those teams’ appreciation for Cassell usually proved very short-lived, that kind of track record is no accident, but proof of his prowess. In a career that was anything but short-lived, you can see that prowess almost from the get-go.

Honors

3x Champion (1993-’94, 2008)
All-NBA 2nd Team (2004)
All-Star (2004)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (993 games):
15.7 PPG, 6.0 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.1 SPG
.544 TS%, .454 FG%, .331 3PT%, .861 FT%
19.5 PER, .141 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (136 games):
1.2 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.6 RPG, 0.8 SPG
.525 TS%, .414 FG%, .363 3PT%, .847 FT%
15.9 PER, .093 WS/48

George Yardley

Born: November 3, 1928
Died: August 13, 2004
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Fort Wayne Pistons (NBA): 1953-’57
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1957-’59
Syracuse Nationals (NBA): 1959-’60
Los Angeles Jets (ABL): 1961-’62

George Yardley
George Yardley

The one thing I’m most proud of as a coach is playing Yardley. He became the first player to score 2,000 points in a season, and he was such a skinny, chalky-white bastard that you thought he was dying from malnutrition.

– Fort Wayne Pistons coach Charley Eckman in Tall Tales

George Yardley was indeed the first player to score 2000 points in an NBA season. The Bird, as the fleet forward was called, pulled off the feat in the 1957-58 season. In the final game of the year, he needed 25 points to reach the 2000-point mark. Against the Syracuse Nationals, he scored 26 points and ended the year with 2001 points on 27.8 points per game.

That little factoid can be Yardley’s calling card, but the swingman deserves to be remembered for so much more.

Along with Philadelphia Warrior forward Paul Arizin, Yardley was a pioneer of off-the-dribble jump shooting. As Yardley himself once attested, Arizin and he were the only guys who took their jump shots at the apex of their jump instead of while shooting on the way up.

Seems like a small, insignificant thing. However, it was another important evolution of shooting. Shooting while going up meant the shot was more pushed than released. At the apex required greater strength from the arms, wrists, and hands rather than letting the legs provide the momentum.

Given his shooting and scoring methods, Yardley was probably the most athletic slasher and shooter in the mid-1950s NBA.

George Yardley

Aside from his jumping shot, he possessed a lightning-quick first step. This put defenders in a bind since Yardley could nail his jumper standing still, but if you closed out too hard he would blow by you in a hurry to the basket. And even if you did recover, Yardley was a beast at making off-balance or fading away jumpers. Basically, he’s the antecedent for players like Reggie Miller, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant who love to fire up jump shots from a litany of contorting angles.

Yardley spent the majority of his career with the Fort Wayne Pistons, had a  short stint in Detroit after the Pistons relocated there in 1957, and closed out his brief seven-year career with the Syracuse Nationals. The brevity is partly because he had to serve two years in the Navy thus delaying the start of his career and partly because he retired early to start his own engineering company.

He still packed those seven years with significant achievement. He was a six-time all-star and played in back-to-back NBA Finals with the Pistons in 1955 and 1956. The first of those was a nail-biting seven-game series with Fort Wayne against Syracuse. The Pistons lost the final game by one point. The next season the Pistons again lost to the Philadelphia Warriors in a much-closer-than-it-looks five games. They lost three of the four games by a combined eight points. The Yardbird was absolutely beastly in the ’56 Finals, despite the negative result for his Pistons. He averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds in the five-game series.

As his career wound down, Yardley helped lead the Pistons – now in Detroit – to the Western Division Finals in 1958. In 1959, after the trade to Syracuse, Yardley injected the Nationals with enough punch to nearly knock off the emerging Celtics Dynasty. Yardley averaged 26 PPG in the Eastern Division Finals against in Boston in ’59. In the decisive Game 7, Syracuse lost by a mere 5 points on Boston’s home court. Yardley was superb with 32 points in the narrow loss.

When Yardley did finally step away from the NBA after the 1960 season, he still had plenty of juice left averaging 20 points and eight rebounds on career-highs in FG% and FT%. His 20.2 PPG that year made him the first player to retire while averaging over 20 PPG in his final season. Since then he’s been joined by only Bob Pettit, Rudy LaRusso, Paul Arizin, and Michael Jordan.

And yet, Yardley wasn’t quite done with pro basketball just yet. He joined the Los Angeles Jets of the upstart American Basketball League in the 1961-62 season. George swooped in and averaged 19.2 points in 25 games before the Jets prematurely folded due to financial trouble.

What’s most intriguing of Yardley’s brief sojourn in the ABL was the three-point shot. The ABL was the first pro league to use the three-pointer and Yardley made 14 of 37 attempts that year for a cool average of 37.8%. Yardley was already an offensive menace. Imagine him with a three-pointer to his already impressive arsenal.

As it stands, Yardley was damn good enough and one of the best scoring small forwards in basketball history.

Honors

All-NBA 1st Team (1958)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1957)
6x All-Star (1955-’60)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (497 games):
19.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.8 APG
.499 TS%, .421 FG%, .378 3PT%, .781 FT%
20.5 PER, .178 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (46 games):
20.3 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.4 APG
.507 TS%, .422 FG%, .817 FT%
20.7 PER, .174 WS/48