Fun With Random Pages: 1974 Bulls

When we think of the greatest teams in the history of the Chicago Bulls, we think of the core group of the 1990s — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr, Bill Cartwright, etc. — a squad that in one incarnation or another managed to win six NBA crowns in 8 years. But the Jordan-era Bulls were not the first Chicago team to rise to hoops prominence. Under coach Dick Motta in the the 1970s, the Bulls forged a top-flight defensive team that made the playoffs in 7 of 8 seasons between 1970 & 1977, including 2 consecutive Western Conference Finals appearances in 1974 & ’75. Though they neither won a title nor were as strong as the 1990s version of the franchise, this was a terrific team that was always a threat in the seventies.

One thing that’s interesting to me about the 1970s Bulls is the presence of a guy named Chet Walker. Walker has to rank as one of the most underrated players in league history, and I can’t for the life of me understand why — the man was a 3-time NCAA All-American, a 7-time NBA All-Star, he was super durable (he played the max number of games 5 times and only missed 13 games between 1965 & 1974), he scored almost 20,000 career points and averaged 20.3 per 36 minutes, and was one of the league’s most efficient scorers to boot (top 10 in TS% for 5 seasons, top 10 in FT% 6 years). If we convert his Basketball on Paper stats to the 2008-09 offensive environment of 108.3 points per 100 possessions, this is what you get:

Year Ag Tm Ht Pos G Min trORtg %Poss trDRtg
1963 22 SYR 78 F 78 1992 114.2 18.1 107.2
1964 23 PHI 78 F 76 2775 112.0 19.0 110.5
1965 24 PHI 78 F 79 2187 108.7 20.2 109.8
1966 25 PHI 78 F 80 2603 113.6 18.2 105.5
1967 26 PHI 78 F 81 2691 122.0 20.1 108.1
1968 27 PHI 78 F 82 2623 114.2 20.2 105.5
1969 28 PHI 78 F 82 2753 121.3 19.1 108.2
1970 29 CHI 78 F 78 2726 118.4 21.8 109.2
1971 30 CHI 78 F 81 2927 118.5 22.8 107.2
1972 31 CHI 78 F 78 2588 127.7 22.9 105.9
1973 32 CHI 78 F 79 2455 120.6 24.4 107.8
1974 33 CHI 78 F 82 2661 121.0 23.0 107.0
1975 34 CHI 78 F 76 2452 123.2 23.6 107.1

Those efficiency numbers would have statheads drooling if Walker put them up nowadays. But for some reason, Walker is so underrated that his name doesn’t even come up frequently in discussions of underrated players… He’s even too underrated to appear on “all-underrated” lists!

Why? Despite his more appealing statistical traits (at least among APBRmetric circles), his Hall of Fame probability according to our own metric based on past voting patterns is just 53.8%. One look at what the selectors tend to value tells you why Walker slips below the radar so often in all-time player discussions. Unlike the analytical community, the Hall committee likes gaudy per-game averages; Walker’s 18.1/7.1/2.1 career line is nothing to scoff at, but it makes him look more like, say, Shareef Abdur-Rahim than Elgin Baylor. The HoF process also rewards players who won championships, as well as those who made strong bids in the MVP award balloting. As we mentioned earlier, Walker’s Bulls never won a title, and when he did get a ring, it was as a third banana (behind Rick Barry Wilt Chamberlain & Hal Greer on the 1967 76ers). Meanwhile, Walker’s best showing in the MVP voting was a measly tie for 16th in 1975.

Don’t let the reputation (or lack thereof) fool you, though: Walker was a terrific player, especially at his peak. His raw stats may be solid if unspectacular, but his advanced metrics — his per-minute rates and his efficiency numbers — are very impressive. Mark this down as another case of today’s more informative statistics giving a measure of long-overdue credit to a guy that has, to some degree, fallen through the cracks of NBA history.

About Neil Paine

I work for I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on July 13, 2009, in Fun With Random Pages, History. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Uh, when you say Rick Barry & Hal Greer of the ’67 Sixers, I’m guessing you meant Wilt Chamberlain & Hal Greer. It’s a common mistake :-)

    You’re definitely right about Chet being underrated. Even among the older Bulls fans I know they talk about Love, Sloan, and Van Lier, but you don’t hear much about Walker.

  2. Yeah, what you said. :) (Why did I say Rick Barry?)

  3. Bob Love? Jerry Sloan? Norm Van Lier? Those Bulls teams were more than just Walker, IMO.

  4. Of course, but those names are more recognizable to many fans than Walker’s, so I thought his career deserved some extra attention.

  5. I’m stumped by the conversion referred to as :
    “If we convert his Basketball on Paper stats to the 2008-09 offensive environment of 108.3 points per 100 possessions,..”

    Has this conversion been described elsewhere?

    Is Walker assumed to be more efficient in a league where teams average a higher efficiency?

    Does this mean that a player in 2009 on a low ORtg team has an ‘equivalent efficiency’ on an average ORtg team? Or what exactly does it mean?

    In his best years (efficiency) he only played 31-33 MPG. This on a team desperate for points. What does this suggest?

  6. We talked about translated stats here. It’s like exchanging currency, or adjusting for inflation — a certain efficiency level “bought” you a certain number of wins in 1974, and we’re determining the equivalent level of efficiency that “buys” you the same number of wins in 2009. In no way are we saying what Chet Walker would do if transported to 2009 via time machine. But if his performance was worth x rate of wins in 1974 and the leaguewide level of efficiency has changed since then, we put things in a 2009 context by finding the performance rate that earned you the same amount of wins this past year.

  7. Can’t say for sure, but part of the reason for the relatively low minutes / game when he was a Bull might simply be age (over 30 year old guard in the early ’70s) or it might be teammates. He played the same positions as Sloan (2) and Love (3), the team’s best defender and best scorer respectively.

  8. OK, I didn’t see Wins on the chart, just ‘trORtg’ and ‘trDRtg’, sans reference.

    This was a truly odd team. Sloan is normally listed as Guard, even though he didn’t assist and rebounded like crazy. Both Love and Walker are Forward, though neither was remotely a PF. Love shot terribly but took the most shots and played huge minutes; so we assume he was an active defender.

    The Bulls’ TS% in 1974 was .498; outside of Walker (.566) they were .484. He must have been a smoker.

    Neil, this random ‘1974 Bulls’ post doesn’t even have a link to that page. And it’s only about Walker.

    Doesn’t a 54% HOF probablility mean he should probably be in?

  9. loved the guy.
    best head fakes EVER!

  10. Granted, fair point – the stats talk for themselves, so why is Chet so underrated?

  11. Love was a multiple All-Def guy like Sloan, and had the most range of the 3 despite being the guy who usually guarded the 4s. Walker wasn’t a bad defender either but he was very much an iso guy in an league of controlling coaches; his game was taking guys one on one rather than playing without the ball which gave him a rep of being a bit selfish.

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