If Pete Maravich Were Playing Today

By Jonathan Yates, sports writer & talk show host
Posted 12/16/18

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.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

If Pete Maravich Were Playing Today

Posted

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: thepoliticsofsports@gmail.com   twitter: politicsports13

Other articles enjoyed:  When UCLA RuledThe 3-Point Shot, A NoveltyCollege Hoops & A NY Legacy

SPORTS HISTORY MAGAZINE in DIGITAL

Winter 2021

Fall 2020

Summer 2020

Spring 2020

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

CURRENT ISSUE

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

FOOTBALL February 6, 2001  The Green Bay Packers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV. Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, launched 3 touchdowns and completed 24 of 39 passes to win the game MVP. His counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger, hurled 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, one of which resulted in a 37-yard running score against Pittsburgh. It was the 4th SB victory for Green Bay, the NFL’s first champions dating back to the 1966 season.

20 years ago

BASKETBALL February 11, 2001  The NBA holds its 50th All-Star game at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. Allen Iverson picked up the MVP after rallying the Eastern Conference to defeat the West in a narrow 111-110 game. Vince Carter (Toronto Raptors) and Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers) topped the highest number of selection votes from the East, while Shaquille O’Neal (Los Angeles Lakers) and Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) were most popular in the West.

30 years ago

BASEBALL February 4, 1991  The Board of Directors at the Baseball Hall of Fame votes 12-0 to bar Pete Rose from being inducted. Due to his past gambling activities around the game, both as player and manager, Rose continues to be kept out of the prestigious institution. Playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds from 1963-1989, Rose was a 17x All-Star and 3x World Series champion. In his playing career he batted .303, hit 4,256, and had RBI of 1,413.

40 years ago

MOTOR SPORTS February 15, 1981  Rich Petty wins the 23rd annual running of the Daytona 500. Rounding the 200-lap chase in just under 2 hours and 57 minutes, Petty beat Bobby Allison by 3½ seconds and brought out Buick’s first NASCAR win since 1956. It was the 7th and last Daytona 500 victory for the North Carolina native who still holds the record for most wins at the famed track. Petty is tied with Jimmy Johnson and Dale Earnhardt for the NASCAR series (7x).