Not all basketball greats had to score a lot to make a big impact
When the term “basketball star” comes up, it’s a near certainty that the first thing somebody will think of is scoring. After all, offense is what attracts fans, as making a tough shot almost always trumps a big rebound or a nifty pass. It’s true that most NBA stars can put the ball in the basket, but there are rare instances where that’s not always the case. Here are four NBA legends who didn’t score.
Bill Russell, Center: One of basketball’s all-time legends built his reputation on his terrific rebounding and defensive skills. In 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, he averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Sadly, his blocked shot totals are unknown, as it was not a statistic kept during his time, but by all accounts, the number would be significant — likely well more than anyone else in history.
15.1 points seems like a reasonable scoring average, but his game was not as the focal point of offense. Many of his points would have come on put backs, and he cleaned the glass like a seasoned window washer. Dominating the boards also allowed him to become a master of the outlet pass for Boston teams that liked to run their opponents out of the building. He never averaged more than 18.9 points in any one season yet was the heart and soul for a franchise that won 11 NBA titles during his tenure as their anchor in the paint, and ultimately a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Dennis Rodman, Forward: “The Worm” was the size of a typical small forward but played like a giant on the court. Despite scoring in double figures just once in his career (11.6 points for the 1987–88 Detroit Pistons), he became a star due to his rebounding and tenacious defense. In one seven-year stretch, he led the NBA in rebounding every year. He was also an NBA All-Defensive First Team member eight times (including two Defensive Player of the Year awards). In 14 seasons, he averaged 7.3 points and 13.1 rebounds.
Rodman was a second-round draft choice out of NAIA school Southeastern Oklahoma State in 1986. Interestingly, he averaged 25.7 points in three college seasons (along with 15.7 rebounds). Upon reaching the NBA, he quickly found out that offense would not be his calling card and focused on the things that ended up making him so successful. He was a member of five championship-winning teams and was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2011.
Wes Unseld, Center: The original Round Mound of Rebound, Unseld was listed at 6’7” and was seemingly all butt and shoulders. He used his significant bulk to carve out a career as an intimidating big man. The second overall pick in the 1968 draft played 13 seasons with the Baltimore/Washington Bullets, averaging 10.8 points, 14 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
So valuable was Unseld, that he not only won the Rookie of the Year award in 1968–69, he was also voted the NBA’s MVP, averaging 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds per game. His scoring declined as his career progressed, hitting double figures in scoring average just once after his fifth season. However, he did so many other things that it didn’t matter. He was key member of a Bullets team that won the 1978 NBA Championship and was immortalized with enshrinement in the Hall of Fame in 1988.
Ben Wallace, Center: At 6’9” (probably a generous measurement), Wallace was rather undersized for center, but forged a career as an NBA star despite having to work his way up from being undrafted out of Virginia Union. Although he wasn’t the biggest, he was among the strongest, which allowed him to make a living banging down low, doing the dirty work. In 16 NBA seasons with five teams (most prominently with the Pistons), he averaged 5.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and two blocks.
Wallace never averaged more than 9.7 points per game in any one season but was a two-time rebounding leader and won four Defensive Player of the Year awards. His tenacious grit and relentless defense were key reasons behind the Pistons winning the 2004 NBA title. Now retired, he has not made the Hall of Fame yet, but has a compelling case that could well get him to Springfield before it’s all said and done.