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.
After suffering a devastating knee injury in the 1970 season, a 34-year-old Wilt Chamberlain triumphantly returned to form, nearly averaging a 20-20 in points and rebounds while also distributing just about 4.5 assists per game. The Lakers center helped shore up a team in transition. Elgin Baylor was pretty much done as an NBA player, missing all the season except two games. Gail Goodrich, after having been lost to Phoenix in 1968, returned to the Lakers. Jerry West was great as ever, but the Lakers mustered just 48 wins. Wilt’s spectacular recovery was a needed sign that the center spot was still fine in L.A. After a coaching change after the 1971, the Lakers indeed proved fine: winning 69 games overall, including 33 in a row, and the capturing the NBA title.
In the guard spots are two players forever linked as a fearsome tandem later in the 1970s, but here they make the All-NBA 3rd Team as opponents: Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan.
In just his second NBA season, Stormin’ Norman became the lead point guard in Cincinnati and produced a rich bounty. Averaging 16 points, a league-leading 10 assists and 7 rebounds a game, Van Lier was the brightest spot on an increasingly woebegone Royals franchise. After just one more season in Cincy, the Royals moved to Kansas City (and Omaha) to become the Kings. Before that 1973 move occurred, Van Lier was traded in 1972 to make room for Tiny Archibald as the team’s point guard. It was this trade that would make Norm the backcourt mate of Jerry Sloan in Chicago.
And Sloan had been around a decent amount of time in Chicago. Entering his fifth season with the Bulls, Sloan was already a two-time All-Star and a two-time member of the All-Defensive Team. He would add another All-Defense selection to his resume this season, but he also produced perhaps his finest offensive campaign of his career in 1971. Sloan averaged a career-high 18.3 PPG as well as a career-high 3.5 APG. The gritty Illinoisan’s work helped lift the Bulls (only around since 1966-67) to a then-franchise record of 51 regular season wins. In fact it was their first winning season at all. Adding Van Lier the next season would help propel Sloan and the Bulls to a string of highly successful seasons throughout the early 1970s.
At the power forward slot is an old-time favorite making a bounce back season: Jerry Lucas. The last we saw of Lucas in 1969, he was on his way out of Cincinnati as the Royals – as mentioned above – were sliding into awful mediocrity. Traded to the San Francisco Warriors early in the 1969-70 season, Lucas never quite got his footing that year. But here in ’71, the 30-year-old made a triumphant return, much like Wilt Chamberlain, with averages of 19 points, 16 rebounds and nearly 4 assists per game. All while shooting 49.8% from the field and 78.7% from the line. Teamed with Jeff Mullins and Nate Thurmond, Lucas formed a talented, yet forgotten triumvirate in Warriors history. However, the team was thin elsewhere and won just 41 games and getting pummeled by the 66-win Milwaukee Bucks in the playoffs. After that postseason defeat, Lucas was traded to the New York Knicks and helped them make the back-to-back Finals in 1972 and ’73, winning it all the latter season.
Lastly, we have Lou Hudson of the Atlanta Hawks. Super Lou was in his fifth season with the Hawks and would appear in his third-straight All-Star Game on the strength of averaging 26.8 PPG this year. That point production placed Hudson fifth amongst all NBA players that year, the second-straight season he had done so. Despite Hudson’s continued brilliance, and the addition of rookie Pete Maravich, the Hawks slipped to 36 wins this season after winning 48 the previous season. The loss of Joe Caldwell to the ABA proved to be a huge blow for the squad. Nonetheless, Hudson maintained his fine level of play and deserves the final spot on the 1971 All-NBA 3rd Team.
|F||Lou Hudson||Atlanta Hawks||76||26.8||5.1||3.4||0.484||0.759||7.9||18.2|
|F||Jerry Lucas||San Francisco Warriors||80||19.2||15.8||3.7||0.498||0.787||10.5||20.6|
|C||Wilt Chamberlain||Los Angeles Lakers||82||20.7||18.2||4.3||0.545||0.538||12.6||20.3|
|G||Norm Van Lier||Cincinnati Royals||82||16.0||7.1||10.1||0.420||0.816||6.0||16.2|
|G||Jerry Sloan||Chicago Bulls||80||18.3||8.8||3.5||0.441||0.715||6.0||14.6|