If Pete Maravich Were Playing Today
It’s been stated that UNC legend Dean Smith was the only coach who could keep Michael Jordan from scoring under twenty points a game in college. If offensive legend “Pistol” Pete Maravich were playing hoops under today's rules, it’s doubtful any coach appreciating his unique talents would have responsibly kept his scoring average under 70 points a game.
Pete Maravich averaged 44.2 points a game while playing varsity for LSU in the late 1960’s. After the Atlanta Hawks grabbed him in the third pick of the 1970 NBA draft, his offensive production was just as noteworthy, averaging 24.2 points and 5.4 assists over the course of his professional career.
At the time he was playing in college, there was no 3-point shot. Dale Brown, former coach at LSU, commissioned a study of every shot taken by Maravich and concluded that had there been a 3-point sweetener, Pistol's average would have increased to 57 baskets per game.
It could be higher as even more of the shots could have been taken from behind the arc. But it’s impossible to know without the boundary on the floor and the referees tossing both arms into the air. But then again, it could have been lower, so let's stick with 57 as the point-of-reference.
Bob Carter from ESPN wrote, "He loved gunning from long range." If there was a 50% bonus, you can bet there would have been fewer drives and more 3-pointers from Maravich. Every time he drove, he risked getting smacked around by big men in the paint.
At 6'5", Maravich was huge for a point guard. Some of the starting centers of the era such as Wes Unseld of the Bullets and Chuck Hayes of the Rockets matched his size. Maravich, therefore, had a major height advantage over those trying to cover him, making it easier to get more tosses from a distance.
There was also no shot clock back then, which means that Maravich would launch more balls in the air today. Remember, the shot clock was instituted to increase scoring. When basketball king Julius Erving (“Dr. J”) played briefly with Maravich in Atlanta, he stated that he was the most skilled player he had ever seen on the court.
The 3-point weapon and a time constraint on holding the ball would also force a new defensive strategy around Maravich, though to his advantage. A proficient long-distance shooter compels opposing players to spread out, resulting in other types of scoring opportunities and more room for Maravich to operate.
Averaging over 5 assists a game in the pros, his passing skills were unmatched and could be lethal on the court today. Covering a working offense by playing zone defense 20 feet from the basket is challenging, if not unwise. It puts at least 40% of the defenders too far from the net, hopelessly out-of-position and beyond the range of crashing the board for rebounds.
So, trying to double or triple-team Maravich in a zone strategy around the 3-point line would be ineffective, as he and his team would find more ways to score against an unbalanced defensive formation. With a 3-point shot, the only way to hold off the basketball prodigy from North Carolina would be through man-to-man coverage.
But even before the arrival of the 3-point rule and the shot clock, it was tough going up against Pistol Pete, a 3x NCAA scoring leader who later became a 5x NBA All-Star. Just ask Walt Frazier of the New York Knicks, considered the top NBA defensive guard of the 1970’s. Playing for New Orleans at the time, Maravich toasted him for 68 points on February 25, 1977 when the Jazz defeated the Knicks 124-107. In that game, Maravich rode high with 26 field goals (60.5%) and 16 free throws.
With more room to maneuver, more time resulting in more shots, only one defender on him, fewer shutdown specialists, and 50% more for sinking those beyond the arc that were well within his range if not his "sweet spot," it’s tough to see how Pete Maravich would not have averaged 70 points a game in college with a supportive coach under today's rules!
Jonathan Yates is host of “The Culture of Sports”. He has written numerous articles in outlets such as Newsweek and the Washington Post and held interviews at NPR and CNBC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: politicsports13
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