Lakers Hall of Fame guard Jerry West averaged 27.0 points in his 14-year career four times going over 30 points for a full season and leading the NBA in scoring at 31.3 points in 1969-70. He was a deadly shooter and made 49.7% of his shots that year, well above the league average (46.0%).
West also averaged 6.7 assists and led the league with 9.7 assists per game in 1972.
When Slam magazine tweeted out a set of West highlights asking where West would fit into today’s game, how many points he would average and noting, “Dude was a bucket,” it drew thousands of responses, but none of more interest than that of current Lakers star LeBron James.
“Yes he was!” James tweeted. “Straight Bucket Getter. Also could pass the hell out of it too. I mean he could play off the ball (c&s) and on the ball (pull ups), get to the basket and make free-throws. I’d say 24-27PPG/8assist.”
LeBron James Studies NBA History
A couple of things worth noting here.
First, LeBron James has always been a student of NBA history. He watches film of the all-time legends and appreciates their contributions to the game as well as their individual greatness. That’s something he has emphasized throughout his career.
He praised Oscar Robertson, the player to whom he is most often compared. “If you understand the history of the sport, then there is no way you could ever forget Oscar Robertson,” James said in 2015. “This guy, he averaged a triple-double for, like, forever.”
Last year, he tweeted about Wilt Chamberlain: “Flat out Monster and ridiculously/freakish athlete!! Would be dominant in any era, point blank”
He even had kind words for Larry Bird, Celtics legend. Boston, of course, has been a longtime rival of James and no Boston player better symbolized the modern version of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry than Bird. Last fall, James tweeted about Bird: “Man he was so COLD!!!!! Zero flaws in his game. Larry Legend.”
While many on Twitter pointed out that West lacked the size and athleticism of today’s players, that is in part because there was little attention paid to training in those days. Obviously, West on a training program would have been a bit bulkier.
But really, he might not have needed to be. Remember, he averaged all those points as a deadeye shooter without a 3-point line. In today’s game, West probably would average 9 or 10 attempts from the 3-point line per game, which would cause his overall scoring average to tick up 3.5 or 4.0 points.
There’s also the physicality of the defense. There was no hand-checking rule in the 60s and 70s—defenders were able to manhandle guards. That gets an immediate whistle now.
At 24-27 points per game, James might have been selling West short.
Stephen Curry a Good Jerry West Comparison
The player most often compared to West in today’s game is Stephen Curry, who has averaged 23.5 points in his career, shooting 47.6% from the field and 43.5% from the 3-point line. Curry averaged 6.6 assists.
Hall of Fame guard Nate Archibald, who came into the league in 1970, said this of Curry and West: “But there’s another guy I played against, if the 3-point shot was in, he would probably have averaged about 50 points a game. And that’s Jerry West. (Curry) reminds me of a combo guy like that.”