Ed. Note: Prior to the 1988-89 season, the NBA only had All-NBA 1st and All-NBA 2nd Teams. To fill in that historical award gap, the crack Pro Hoops History committee of one has gone back and created the Lost All-NBA 3rd Teams.
The 1975-76 season would be the last in which the pro basketball world in the United States would be divided into rival camps. The NBA and ABA would merge in the offseason thus making the All-NBA 3rd Team selections that much harder. Hooray, I suppose. So here we have the final All-NBA 3rd Team – or what the All-NBA 3rd Team should have been – of the old NBA.
A new era had already begun in Milwaukee. The Bucks had traded their franchise center(piece), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to the Los Angeles Lakers for a Junior Bridgeman, Brian Winters, Elmore Smith, and Dave Myers. Despite the loss of Kareem, the addition of several pretty good players in his place allowed the Bucks to turn in the exact same record in 1976 as they did in 1975: 38 wins and 44 losses. The biggest reason for the Bucks’ ability to stay competitive even after losing Kareem was Bob Dandridge. The small forward who had been the 3rd Wheel behind Kareem and Oscar Robertson earlier in his career was now the Man in his seventh NBA season. He rose to the challenge with best season yet: 21.5 PPG (career-high), 7.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 50% FG, and 82.5% FT. The Bucks surprising season came to an end early in the playoffs against Detroit. Dandridge averaged 22 PPG in the three-game series that saw every game decided by three points.
Turning south, we find another team on the rebound in 1976: the Atlanta Hawks. Their core of Pete Maravich (traded), Walt Bellamy (retired), and Lou Hudson (over 30, soon-to-be-traded) was pretty much finished and they put their hopes into young forward John Drew to return them to glory. Drew had been sensational his rookie year (1975) with 18.5 points and 11 rebounds per game. Now in his sophomore campaign, Drew upped the ante with 21.6 PPG while escalating his FG% from .428 in ’75 to .502 in ’76. The remarkable shooting improvement gave him a PER of 25.2, good enough for second in the entire NBA that season. Drew also placed second in the league in WS/48. The offensive rebounding machine played a mere 30 minutes a game, which might be why Atlanta staggered to 30 wins this year. Drew was a wise investment, but the Hawks would need more to return to the playoffs.
For the third season in a row, Bob McAdoo led the NBA in PPG and thus easily secures a spot on this squad. The 1975 MVP of the league again averaged over 30 points, again grabbed over 12 rebounds, and again blocked over 2 shots a game this season. For good measure McAdoo also dished a career-high 4.0 assists per game. McAdoo’s Buffalo Braves finished with 46 wins this season and for the third-straight season found themselves dislodged from the postseason by the Eastern Conference’s eventual champion after a hard-fought series. Appearing to have reached a stalemate, the Braves would unfortunately trade McAdoo the following season and they embarked on a four-decade sojourn (as the Braves and Clippers) to return to the heights McAdoo took them too.
At the guard slots we have a pair of former teammates: Jo Jo White and Paul Westphal. The two shared the backcourt in Boston, but Westphal was traded to the Phoenix Suns after making too many demands for a new, wealthier contract from the Celtics. Not sure exactly how much money Westphal demanded, but he sure seemed worth it. The backup guard in Boston turned into a starting sensation with the Suns: 20.5 PPG, 5.4 APG, and 2.6 SPG in 1976. And this would be his worst season through 1980. Jo Jo White on the other hand was about to hit the downside of his career. About to hit it. He was still in fine form this season averaging 18.9 PPG and 5.4 APG in his seventh season with the Celtics.
In fitting fashion, it would be Westphal’s Suns and White’s Celtics that met in the NBA Finals this season. The tight series could have swung either way, but the 3OT Game 5 won by Boston ultimately gave the Celtics the series edge. White scored 33 points that game on his way to being named Finals MVP.
|F||Bob Dandridge||Milwaukee Bucks||73||21.5||7.4||2.8||0.6||1.5||0.502||0.824||9.0||19.1|
|F||John Drew||Atlanta Hawks||77||21.6||8.6||1.9||0.4||1.8||0.502||0.744||10.6||25.3|
|C||Bob McAdoo||Buffalo Braves||78||31.1||12.4||4.0||2.1||1.2||0.487||0.762||12.3||23.3|
|G||Jo Jo White||Boston Celtics||82||18.9||3.8||5.4||0.2||1.6||0.449||0.838||7.4||14.6|
|G||Paul Westphal||Phoenix Suns||82||20.5||3.2||5.4||0.5||2.6||0.494||0.830||10.0||19.9|