How Good Would Bias Have Been?

LenBiasAs you might imagine, Len Bias‘ name comes up quite a bit in Bill Simmons’ new Book of Basketball. As a lifelong Celtics fan, I understand the emotions that surround the very mention of Bias’ name — for instance, my father was convinced Bias was going to be almost as good as Bird, and take the torch from Larry Legend as he extended the C’s dynasty into the 1990s. (Instead, Reggie Lewis died, and we got Rick Pitino & Antoine Walker. Go figure.) So I can see why Bias is such a burning “what if?” for the NBA, and Celtics fans in particular, because he represents untapped potential and a posthumous legend that’s only grown by leaps and bounds since his tragic demise. But I want to know — coldly, rationally — how good Bias could have legitimately been if we put down the green-tinted glasses: What were his college numbers like? What were people saying about him before the draft? In other words, I want to remove the James Dean aspect from the Bias story and focus solely on the facts at hand.

Let’s start with the perception of Bias in college… According to the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia, Bias was Bob Gibbons’ 8th-ranked national prospect out of high school, eventually becoming a consensus All-America — and highlight machine — in 1986, his senior year. “He’s maybe the closest thing to Michael Jordan to come out in a long time,” Celtics scout Ed Badger said after watching Bias in six games. “I’m not saying he’s as good as Michael Jordan, but he’s an explosive and exciting kind of player like that.” (Ed.’s note: I guess two years is a “long time”?) Here’s another statement about the pre-draft scouting of Bias:

“…In scouting reports, it is customary to make player comparisons. Our basic report characterized Bias as a ‘Michael Jordan type who was bigger, with a better jump shot, but who didn’t go to the basket as well.’ “

This is what Sports Illustrated was saying about Bias before the 1986 season:

“Lefty [Driesell] has always had excellent forwards, and he thinks senior Len Bias, the ’84-85 ACC Player of the Year, is his best ever.”


“The only question about the power-forward position is what Bias, the 6’8″, 195-pound gamebreaker who grew up in Landover, just down the street from Cole Field House, will do for an encore. Last season he led the conference in scoring (19.0 points per game), and was an iron man, averaging 36.5 minutes. For a time, though, there was doubt that there would even be an encore. Rumors had Bias jumping to the pros, but he claims he never seriously considered leaving Maryland.”

“‘I didn’t think I was that good,’ Bias says. ‘I wasn’t ready. My game wasn’t ready. I wanted to stay in school, get it perfected and get my degree.’ Says Driesell, ‘Last year Leonard probably would have been one of the top 10 picks in the draft. This year he could be number one. He didn’t care whether he was one or one hundred. He wanted to stay in school.'”

And I found this passage from the ’86 ACC tournament interesting:

“…6’10” [UNC] forward Joe Wolf crashed to the court early in the first half and had to be carried away with a sprained ankle. Though the Tar Heels led Maryland at the half 34-28, the numbers of the Terps’ Bias were more meaningful: two baskets, five turnovers; pennies from heaven for Carolina. Soon, without Wolf, the Tar Heels could not guard Bias—he had 13 points and 10 rebounds after intermission—nor play their high-low double-post offense with Daugherty alone. Maryland scored 18 of the first 21 points in the second half for a 46-37 lead and later outran the losers 20-4, as Terp guards Keith Gatlin and Jeff Baxter lit up the Carolina backcourt for 39 points. A helpless Daugherty did not score a field goal for a stretch of 16½ minutes in the 85-75 Maryland victory…”

“Possessing the body of a Greek god and a surly demeanor, the 6’8″ Bias has had a spectacular big-game year—41 points against Duke, 35 against Carolina, 30 against Georgia Tech. A sometime artist and a self-described born-again Christian—’Yeah,’ says Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times, ‘from the church of the Holy Vicious Elbow’—Bias was MVP of the ACC tournament as a sophomore when Maryland won it in Greensboro in 1984. This season Driesell has called Bias ‘the player of the universe’ …”

“Maryland had taken command [vs. Georgia Tech in the following game] at 47-41 on a Bias baseline jumper early in the second half, when the defensive effects of the Yellow Jackets’ [John] Salley quickly were felt. Bias started missing shots, throwing away passes, looking frustrated…”

“Maryland went 9:23, and Bias himself more than 11 minutes, without a field goal as Georgia Tech rallied to take a 62-60 lead. But then Bias did jump over Salley, not to mention the moon, to tie the game with 12 seconds left.”

Maryland ended up losing, though, when Duane Ferrell picked off Keith Gatlin’s inbound pass with 5 seconds left in the game, dunking for the win as time expired. At any rate, you’ve got Daugherty and Bias establishing themselves as the clear-cut top two players in the 1986 Draft, and Daugherty was flat-out shut down by Maryland in that ACC Tournament game. (Not that Bias himself was above being stopped with physical play, however, as the Salley example showed.) We’ve seen a lot of Jordan comparisons to Bias, many of which were somewhat favorable for the Maryland product. With the draft approaching, were teams considering Bias the first “next Jordan”?

Well, come draft day Daugherty was taken 1st overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Bias was taken 2nd by the Celtics. Why Daugherty over Bias? Some people like to say they needed a center and that it was just a case of Sam Bowie Part II, but I’m not so sure… If Cleveland merely drafted out of need, why take Daugherty when you already had a former #6 overall pick at center in 26-year-old Mel Turpin, who had just posted a 16.4 PER and 6.0 Win Shares? And if they didn’t need a stud forward, why was their starting PF the following season Hot Rod Williams, a rookie that they took 45th overall?

It actually looks to me like the Cavaliers thought they had a better future with the duo of Ron Harper and Brad Daugherty than with Bias. Now, there are two caveats: 1) teams overrated size back then, so if you considered Daugherty equal to Bias, you went with the big man; and 2) these are the Cavs we’re talking about, the same team that had drafted Tim McCormick over John Stockton in 1984 & Charles Oakley over Karl Malone in 1985. But still, with Jordan tearing up the league already (the “God disguised as MJ” game had occurred just a few months before the ’86 draft), wouldn’t it stand to reason that teams might want to right the wrong of ’84 and get a do-over if they truly thought Bias was going to be as good as — or better than — Jordan?

Let’s look at the numbers from college:

82-83 Maryland 30 661 86 180 3 11 42 66 125 55 22 34 16 10 217
83-84 Maryland 32 1104 211 372 0 0 66 86 145 81 48 47 24 13 488
84-85 Maryland 37 1352 274 519 0 0 153 197 251 106 65 113 33 34 701
85-86 Maryland 32 1185 267 491 0 0 209 242 224 90 33 89 14 27 743

Ed Weiland of HoopsAnalyst does great work with the NBA Draft, and he came up with some benchmarks for players based on their NCAA stats. These are not hard-and-fast rules, mind you, since so many factors can influence college stats, but they serve pretty well as general guidelines. Weiland broke forwards into the traditional SFs & PFs, and also what he called “Combo Forwards”, who kind of split the difference between 3s and 4s. Since Bias could be described as a SF or a PF, we’ll compare him to the benchmarks for each position. Weiland determined that the most important factors for SFs were adjusted (or “Effective”) FG%, Points/40 min, Rebounds/40 min, Assist-to-Turnover ratio, and (Assists + Steals + Blocks)/40 min. Here’s how Bias stacks up each season, along with some contemporaries:

NCAA Freshman SF prospect eFG% P40 R40 A/TO ASB40
All-Star 0.556 20.1 9.0 0.9 6.0
Rotation Regular 0.546 17.9 9.0 0.7 5.1
Journeyman 0.548 16.9 8.2 0.7 5.2
Never made it 0.541 16.7 8.9 0.9 5.0
Kenny Walker 0.611 15.2 10.1 0.5 3.4
Chris Mullin 0.534 18.8 3.7 0.9 5.3
Michael Jordan 0.534 17.1 5.5 1.1 4.1
Chuck Person 0.541 16.4 8.1 1.0 3.5
Len Bias 0.486 13.1 7.6 0.6 2.9
NCAA Sophomore SF prospect eFG% P40 RASB-T per40 ASB40
All-Star 0.609 21.3 11.4 6.4
Rotation Regular 0.564 19.2 11.4 5.2
Journeyman 0.552 19.0 10.8 5.1
Never made it 0.561 19.0 10.5 4.7
Michael Jordan 0.567 25.9 10.2 5.8
Chuck Person 0.543 22.0 9.5 3.1
Chris Mullin 0.577 20.8 5.9 4.9
Len Bias 0.567 17.7 6.6 3.1
Kenny Walker 0.555 15.5 9.5 3.6
NCAA Junior SF prospect Adj FG Pct. P40 R40 A/TO ASB40
All-Star 0.625 22.4 8.5 1.0 6.0
Rotation Regular 0.588 21.1 8.9 0.9 5.8
Journeyman 0.555 19.9 9.1 0.8 5.1
Never made it 0.573 19.9 8.8 0.8 4.7
Kenny Walker 0.559 24.9 11.1 0.8 3.7
Michael Jordan 0.551 26.5 7.1 1.0 6.5
Chuck Person 0.544 24.1 9.8 0.9 4.2
Chris Mullin 0.571 23.1 4.5 1.1 6.6
Len Bias 0.528 20.7 7.4 0.6 3.9
NCAA Senior SF prospect Adj FG Pct. P40 R40 A/TO ASB40
All-Star 0.622 23.5 9.1 1.0 6.4
Rotation Regular 0.585 22.0 9.0 0.9 5.7
Journeyman 0.555 21.0 9.2 0.8 4.9
Never made it 0.563 19.8 8.7 0.9 4.9
Kenny Walker 0.582 23.0 8.8 0.9 4.4
Len Bias 0.544 25.1 7.6 0.4 2.5
Chuck Person 0.519 23.8 8.7 0.4 2.4
Chris Mullin 0.521 20.9 5.1 1.7 7.3

And what if we considered Bias a Power Forward? For PFs, the key categories Weiland found were 2-point FG%, Pts/40, Reb/40, (Stl + Blk)/40, A/TO ratio, and PPS (Pts per shot; Pts/FGA):

NCAA Freshman PFs 2 pt. pct. Points40 Reb40 SB40 A/TO PPS
All-star level 0.580 19.6 12.5 3.7 0.5 1.45
Rotation Regular 0.526 18.2 11.1 3.3 0.5 1.37
Journeyman 0.498 18.8 10.5 2.8 0.4 1.29
Never made it 0.532 15.3 9.8 2.9 0.6 1.37
Wayman Tisdale 0.580 28.5 12.0 4.0 0.3 1.39
Ed Pinckney 0.640 16.7 9.2 4.2 0.7 1.72
Xavier McDaniel 0.504 17.2 10.9 1.6 0.6 1.21
Chris Washburn 0.478 16.6 9.1 3.3 0.8 1.12
Len Bias 0.491 13.1 7.6 1.6 0.6 1.21
Detlef Schrempf 0.452 11.7 7.1 0.6 0.6 1.26
NCAA Sophomore PFs 2 pt. pct. Points40 Reb40 SB40 A/TO PPS
All-star level 0.568 20.8 12.7 4.4 0.6 1.38
Rotation Regular 0.552 19.8 11.2 3.3 0.5 1.46
Journeyman 0.526 18.5 10.1 2.5 0.5 1.37
Never made it 0.548 17.1 9.9 2.7 0.6 1.41
Wayman Tisdale 0.577 29.8 10.7 3.3 0.4 1.44
Xavier McDaniel 0.593 21.3 16.3 2.0 0.5 1.40
Chris Washburn 0.562 20.2 7.7 2.0 0.4 1.40
Len Bias 0.567 17.7 5.3 1.3 1.0 1.31
Ed Pinckney 0.568 15.1 11.7 4.3 0.7 1.71
Roy Tarpley 0.527 17.7 11.4 3.8 0.5 1.31
Detlef Schrempf 0.466 13.7 8.8 1.0 0.6 1.24
NCAA Junior PFs 2 pt.pct. Points40 Reb40 SB40 A/TO PPS
All-star level 0.599 23.2 12.6 4.3 0.6 1.53
Rotation Regular 0.558 21.2 11.2 3.4 0.7 1.45
Journeyman 0.540 19.9 10.5 2.9 0.6 1.42
Never made it 0.543 18.1 10.4 2.6 0.7 1.42
Wayman Tisdale 0.578 29.1 11.8 2.6 0.6 1.46
Xavier McDaniel 0.564 21.9 13.9 2.7 0.7 1.39
Roy Tarpley 0.525 22.4 12.3 3.7 0.6 1.34
Ed Pinckney 0.604 17.9 9.2 4.0 0.8 1.78
Len Bias 0.528 20.7 7.4 2.0 0.6 1.35
Detlef Schrempf 0.539 17.6 7.8 1.5 1.0 1.44
NCAA Senior PFs 2 pt. pct. Points40 Reb40 SB40 A/TO PPS
All-star level 0.563 23.2 12.6 4.3 0.6 1.53
Rotation Regular 0.542 20.5 11.2 3.2 0.7 1.45
Journeyman 0.529 20.5 10.5 2.9 0.6 1.41
Never made it 0.528 18.5 10.5 2.6 0.7 1.38
Xavier McDaniel 0.559 29.5 16.1 2.7 0.7 1.34
Len Bias 0.544 25.1 7.6 1.4 0.4 1.51
Roy Tarpley 0.541 20.1 11.1 5.6 0.5 1.39
Ed Pinckney 0.600 18.4 10.5 4.0 0.8 1.85
Detlef Schrempf 0.558 17.2 8.6 1.3 1.2 1.48

Despite all the accolades, it’s not clear that there was much evidence (besides Bias’ raw athleticism) to suggest Bias was going to be as good as Jordan — or even that he was going to be a future All-Star. Playing in the same conference, his key indicators were inferior to Jordan at every stage of his career; and Jordan was able to leap to the NBA after his junior year, while Bias stayed at Maryland for a fourth year. I would imagine his ceiling was going to be a poor man’s James Worthy instead:

Player Year eFG% P/40 R/40 A/TO ASB/40
Bias Fr. 0.486 13.1 7.6 0.6 2.9
Worthy Fr. 0.587 17.7 10.5 0.6 6.6
Bias So. 0.567 17.7 5.3 1.0 3.1
Worthy So. 0.500 16.9 9.9 0.9 6.0
Bias Jr. 0.528 20.7 7.4 0.6 3.9
Worthy Jr. 0.573 18.1 7.3 0.9 5.8

Or, to make a few, more current, comparisons:

Player Year eFG% P/40 R/40 A/TO ASB/40
Len Bias Fr. 0.486 13.1 7.6 0.6 2.9
Len Bias So. 0.567 17.7 5.3 1.0 3.1
Len Bias Jr. 0.528 20.7 7.4 0.6 3.9
Len Bias Sr. 0.544 25.1 7.6 0.4 2.5
Chris Webber Fr. 0.573 19.5 12.5 0.8 7.9
Chris Webber So. 0.649 24.1 12.7 0.9 8.0
Carmelo Anthony Fr. 0.498 24.4 11.0 1.0 5.1

Would ’87 Boston have been a sweetheart of a situation for a rookie? Oh, yeah. And it would have helped Bias get as much out of his potential as any young player could hope for, so everyone was right to be terrified of the fact that the defending champs (and possibly the greatest team ever) added the #2 pick in the draft. However, in college Bias didn’t rebound or contribute in non-scoring areas as much as his fellow prospects (historical, modern, you name it) did, and his NCAA efficiency numbers were sub-par. I’m not saying he would be a bust or even that it would have been impossible for him to be a star, but I am saying that we might have allowed Bias’ tragic and untimely passing to distort the way we viewed his potential. Just like anyone who died before their time, there’s the tendency to idealize the person and put them up on a pedestal, projecting onto them everything we wished and hoped they could someday be. In Bias’ case, what my dad and so many other Celtics fans wanted was for him to become Larry Bird’s heir at the helm of the Boston dynasty. Unfortunately, given his important performance indicators in college, that probably wasn’t the most realistic expectation in basketball 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 November 23, 2009, in History, NBA Draft. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. I understand the projections, but James Worthy was no pushover. Plus, taking Bias’ raw talent and putting it into the capable hands of talent developer Red Auerbach and the mentorship of Bird, McHale, Dennis Johnson, etc., and Bias very well could have been the peer-rival Michael Jordan never had that would have made him an even greater player–scary.

  2. A good article. Bias was a loss, certainly, but there is zero evidence to suggest that he was a “natural competitor to Jordan”. With more college development time than Jordan and many others, Bias dominated less than a number of other prospects with better projections … and none of them even sniffed Jordan’s status. Thus the argument that Bias was likely to be on Jordan’s level is absurd on its face.

    Still, a terrible story/loss. You never do know.

  3. Although Len Bias was a very good college player he did not have the multi-dimensional skillset usually associated with a surefire dominant NBA player. In all likehood, Len Bias would have become a very good NBA player but would not have fit into the category of an “All-Time Great”.

  4. In a lot of ways he reminds me more of Dominique Wilkins than MJ

  5. How come the defending champs Celtics had the 2nd choice in the 1986 draft?

  6. Before the 84-85 season, the Sonics rather stupidly traded their 1986 1st-round pick to Boston for Gerald Henderson Sr. (father of the current Bobcat), a mediocre-to-average player who made what was (in retrospect) one of the most important plays in the 1984 Finals. The Sonics were basically a .500 team in 83-84, but they fell to 31-51 by 85-86 and “won” the 2nd pick in the draft via the lottery.

  7. Neil,

    re: the trade which Boston made to acquire the No. 2 Draft Selection that year

    It is so silly when certain NBA observers/fans try to put down the best organizations in the NBA for “allegedly getting lucky by acquiring high end draft picks”, or making what turn out to be one-sided transactions, through various means, that eventually lead to the major successes which those same teams then achieve [i.e. winning the NBA Title down-the-road].

    Instead of putting down teams like Boston [e.g. Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Len Bias and Kevin Garnett], Chicago [e.g. Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose], the Lakers [e.g. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol], Orlando [e.g. Dwight Howard] and San Antonio [e.g. David Robinson and Tim Duncan], etc., fans of lower level NBA franchises need to begin to re-evaluate the lack of ingenuity their own management teams display when it comes to doing what’s necessary to build and maintain a championship-calibre organization in this league.

    Bad breaks/luck/unforeseen circumstances happen to everyone in this world. What matters most is what you make of the hand which you’ve been dealt. :-)

    Kudos to the best teams in the NBA that achieve this goal, on a consistent basis.

  8. Neil, I think you’re wrong about Bias. First, I don’t like the way those statistics are used since they don’t adjust for league. Second, the standards they set are ridiculously high. Look at the NCAA small forward sophomore list. Jordan himself falls short in both RASB-T per40 and ASB40. I think he turned out OK, don’t you think? They also list Kenny walker as a 3 when he was a 4 in college and couldn’t shoot at all, even after years of practice for the Knicks. So citing FG% and giving Walker a nod over Bias is a perfect example of misinterpreting statistics. Walker couldn’t score in the pros because he didn’t have a jump shot and couldn’t dunk on people there like he could in college.

    Also, I was a graduate student at Chapel Hill during the Bias/Daugherty era and got to see Bias play live twice, once in old Carmichael and once in the Dean dome the first year it opened. It was ridiculously obvious Bias was the better player, by far the best player on the floor. maryland should have won both games but lost the first in Carmichael because A) Dave Popson pulled a 20-footer out of his ass at the buzzer after the game looked all but lost and B) Maryland had Lefty as a coach.

    Bias was too small to be a power forward in the pros, I think, so the comparisons to people like Tarpley, Washburn and Pinckney are off the mark. Bias was a wing player all the way. He was very strong, actually unusually strong for a 3 (just ask Steve Hale, who ended up with a fractured rib contesting Bias for a loose ball) and had the smoothest mid-range jumper I ever saw. The elevation on it was unreal, and had to be seen to be believed. That he was MVP of the ACC tournament as a sophomore, the only time Lefty ever won it, says a lot about his ability.

    In comparison to Jordan, he jumped just as well and was bigger and stronger, though not quite as quick. He had a more effective jump shot because nobody could contest it once he elevated. He didn’t have Jordan’s ball handling ability (but he was a 3 while Jordan was really a 2 so I’m not sure how that’s so relevant. He was a better on the boards than Jordan simply because he was bigger) nor was he as good a defender. He was an average passer.

    How he would have done in the pros? Who knows. He would have had to develop some, extend his range about 4 feet on his shot and refine his ball handling and passing skills a bit. I’ll tell you one thing, though. I certainly thought he was a can’t miss prospect, as did every other ACC fan around at that time. Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski say he was the best college player they ever saw.

    1986 wasn’t really a weak draft. It just seemed that way because the 1984 and ’85 drafts were so unusually strong (you hear that all the time. “This year is a weak draft, etc. What is a GM going to say who has to sign the guy he drafts, “This year is a phenomenal draft year so I’m going to have to pay the guy I draft more than is normal.”?). Daugherty, Harper and Tarpley were developing into superstars before being derailed by various circumstances on and off the court. Mark Price, Jeff Hornacek and Dennis Rodman became an all-star caliber players. John Salley, Hot Rod Williams and Chuck Person became good NBA players. Daugherty, Price and Salley were all ACC players. Bias blew them all away prospect-wise.

    One last point I would like to make. Brad Daugherty was selected ahead of Bias. Do you know why? Because Auerbach wanted Bias so badly, he laid a carefully constructed misinformation campaign, making statements prior to the draft how he was worried about Bias’ size and how high he was on Daugherty and would likely draft him. It was the same trick he used to reel in Dave Cowens, acting disgusted druign a scouting trip, even going so far as to leave the arena in the middle of a Florida State game. Red recounted: “He was so good, I was scared we wouldn’t be able to get him. We only had the 4th pick.” Cleveland apparently swallowed the bait, which in the end worked out for them anyway.

  9. All of the evidence that Bias was a surefire superstar is anecdotal, though — “he was the best I ever saw”, etc. Trouble is, observers tend to say that about a lot of players at the time, then adjust the stories in hindsight to conveniently forget about the misses and tout the makes. In Bias’ case, there was no post-college career, so the “can’t-miss” stories stick with him. The bottom line is, I’m comparing him to prospects that projected to play the same position in the pros (whether you thought he was a wing or a PF, I covered both), at roughly the same level of competition, and his numbers underwhelm. It’s not about FG% as much as it’s about the rebounds, the blocks, the steals, and the assists. Those are really important indicators for pro performance, because the successful pros always contributed statistically in an area beyond scoring when they were in college. For instance, in addition to some of the best P/40 rates, Jordan was also among the best in ASB/40. But if you look at Bias, there’s just nothing there beyond the scoring: middle-of-the-road eFG%, subpar rebounding, poor A/TO ratio, poor steal and block rates, etc. Bias was a damn good scorer, and that would have been his calling card. Strong P/40 rates are a requisite for SF prospects, and Bias’ was the best aside from Jordan. But to be a superstar, you really had to have good numbers in the non-scoring categories. In fact, it’s very difficult to find a college SF with peripheral rates as weak as Bias’ that became the kind of star people were projecting Bias to be.

  10. Well, I would reply by saying that the statistics used above to evaluate players stink. Out loud. It makes it seem that Kenny Walker was better than Michael Jordan and Chris Mullin. I’d rather have anecdotal evidence than overtly wrong evidence like that.

    And I don’t have only anecdotal evidence. As I said, I actually got to see him play live. Twice. The first time he was impressive. The second time, he was so good, I was wondering if he was the best player I’d ever seen. And I go all the way back to the Russell days in Boston.

    Having said that, I do think Simmons goes too far sometimes. Bias projecting as a superstar isn’t the same as being one. He would have had to develop some to become that. But my opinion of him was it would have required no stretch of his abilities to develop. Nothing like stretching Walker by hoping he’d develop a jumpshot or hoping Person would become a better rebounder.

  11. Remember, this is evaluating their merits as SFs. Jordan was not a small forward, I simply included him as a point of comparison since Bias was being compared to him so heavily. So it’s entirely possible that Walker was a better SF prospect than Jordan as NCAA juniors, since Jordan wasn’t a SF and SGs have an entirely different set of criteria upon which they are judged.

  12. The disclaimer that there’s nothing in this player’s college history to indicate that the player would be as good as Jordan – also applies to the prospect of Michael Jordan ever becoming what he did. No one saw Jordan coming as GOAT, not really. He was one of a few dozen from the decade with that possibility, but not really much more.

  13. JKD,

    Before MJ played a game at UNC, he was touted by Al McGuire as a player who would, one day in the future, go down in Hoops History as, “The Greatest Tar Heel Of Them All”. Was Coach McGuire wrong?

    Evaluating basketball players accurately involves a great deal more than simply crunching numbers.



    Like you, I, too, can recall seeing Len Bias play on more than one occasion against elite level competition.

    Although there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was an outstanding college player, who was likely going to have a very good pro career, as an under-sized Power Forward, ala James Worthy, IMO, any comparison of Bias’ actual skill-set to that of Michael Jordan’s, as the quintessential NBA OG/SF, is simply off-base.

    Please re-read carefully the anecdotal comments referenced in this thread praising Len’s ability to play the game at a high level. What you should be able to see are subtle hints that reveal a distinct qualitative difference between Bias’ physical and skill-based assets:

    * He was not quite as quick
    * He was not quite as agile
    * His ball-handling and passing skills needed to improve
    * His range on his jumper needed to increase
    * His driving ability was not that of a prototypical SF in the NBA

    in comparison with His Airness.

    Forget a statistical analysis of these two elite level hoopsters.

    Len Bias Highlights

    In all likelihood:

    * Len Bias would not have become “a poor man’s James Worthy”; James Worthy would have become “a poor man’s Len Bias”

    * Len Bias would have become a much better NBA player than Brad Dougherty

    * Len Bias, as an under-sized PF, would still have fallen short of names like Russell, Jordan, Oscar, Chamberlain, The Logo, Erving, Magic, Bird, Kareem and Hakeem, as the GOATs.

    There is little/no shame in that … considering the quality of those aforementioned names.

  14. Man, I forgot what a great college player CWeb was. He played C in college though. Probably not a great comparison w/ a 3/4 like Bias. Juwan might be a better fit.

    I grew up a Celts fan as well, and I remember the adults being very hung up on Bias, but I never watched him myself. I can tell you one thing – drawing comparisons to Jordan does not might not guarantee success, but there’s been a long lineage of very good players who were all named the “next” at some point. Ron Harper, Clyde Drexler, Harold Minor (kinda), Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade. They don’t suck.

  15. everyone is talking about his shooting. what was his FT% ? just out of curiosity.

  16. 1983- 63.6%
    1984- 76.7%
    1985- 77.7%
    1986- 86.4%

    That last figure is phenomenal for a college player. Since he was obviously still improving, it’s not unreasonable to assume he would have been a 88-90% free throw shooter by the age of 25, which is Larry Bird territory. I believe Bird was 84% as a rookie in the NBA and Bias was already there as a college senior.

    Bias was much better than James Worthy. He had shooting and ballhandling skills that Worthy could only dream about. He was also a better rebounder. Bias ability-wise and body wise is similar to LeBron james, though I’m not sure he would ever gotten as good as LeBron.

  17. I just had to comment on the Harold Minor reference lol. What a bust he was. In college I thought he was darn good. I wonder what he is up to now.

  18. I just read this about Harold Minor….Since his retirement from basketball, he had been disinclined to give interviews or make public appearances, instead remaining private and largely inaccessible.

    Wow, I guess being given the title of Baby Jordan and not living up to it has made him very sour. Heck it’s not like he was even a top 10 pick in the draft, we was just an average bust.

  19. This is a couple of years old but, anyway.

    As far as Daugherty going #1. Yes, back then teams did put a premium on big-time centers. Really, until, Jordan won those championships, the thinking was you had to have if not great, at least a very good center to win it all.

    As far as Bias, while I was only 10. I always thought more Dominique Wilkins like. Then Jordan, to be honest. (I watched a lot of Wilkins as a kid). But, I heard mention at that time as Jordan being a lesser Dr. J. (which wouldnt have been a knock on Jordan in 1986). Jordan was a great talent, with freakish potential, but no one knew he’d be THAT great. Bias would have probably been a great player, with the benefit of being eased into a Parrish, McHale, Bird frontcourt (well, Walton was still around but, he was near the end). And Boston with Auerbach was always good at molding. But mentioning Reggie Lewis’s tragedy. Those 2 really could have been a lesser Jordan-Pippen to help lead the Celtics through the 90s battling the Bulls. (I think they would have needed more help than Jordan-Pippen, particularly an actual PG, but they could have probably stole at a couple of titles from the Bulls, assuming they werent moved or went FA etc)

    Course, with Len Bias, even if didnt die that night, we can wonder if drugs wouldnt have hindered him at some point, like so many other players had happened to. (and if I remember Red was particularly intolerant of drugs)

  20. All those stats don’t illustrate the full story. Playing with Bird, McHale, Parish, Ainge, DJ, Red and KC would have advanced his career much more than any stat could calculate. Sure, his college stats weren’t mindblowing, but you play with Larry Bird for three years, you’re getting experience you’re not getting anywhere else. Potential isn’t a number, and neither would Bias’s impact on the Celtics have been, since he would have taken minutes off McHale and Bird, and given them a backup so they could heal, and they would have dominated. Alas

  21. Jordan was more careful with the ball in his hand while Bias was more careful with an 8 ball. Sad but true. He couldve been this or that but he couldn’t make a smart decision as to not inhale several grams of coke. He was incredibly athletic and talented but obviously from what happened to him he wasn’t that much for intelligent decision making. Larry bird himself said that Bias’ cocaine addiction couldve been the end of the team. No matter how talented you are, smart choices have to be made. MJ was smart on and off the court (in regards to his health and game). Bias was called the closest thing to Jordan. Just after Jordan was in 2 seasons. MJ didn’t even reach his potential within those 2 years. Bias couldve been molded into a great but the league was changing and he couldn’t even hold on to the ball. more turnovers than assists. by a huge margin. Couldn’t shoot further than mid range. i respect him as a player. my dad loved him but lets be honest, Jordan showed us why he is considered one the greatest( if not the greatest); Bias wasn’t mature enough to do that. What mature individual goes to town on several grams of coke right after getting signed to a dream. not trying to bash the guy but man his actions kind of speak to his character.

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