This is a question that often gets contemplated. How would Wilt Chamberlin have performed in the modern NBA? We’ve written extensively about the different Eras in comparison as well as how this is secretly the golden age of the big man. Obviously, he wouldn’t average 50 points or 25 rebounds in today’s NBA. It’s a much different game and even those statistics were inflated by pace, minutes per game, and low percentages leading to massive amounts of rebounds. Regardless, above anyone else from the 1950s and 1960s Wilt Chamberlin is most likely the most capable player of being transported to 2023 and making a high impact.
We believe had he played 15 years ago he would have even had more of an impact than today. In the last decade especially the reliance on the three-pointer has changed the floor dynamics. There are still wonderful and highly efficient big men, and it remains an important position, certainly.
Skilled Bigs of Today
Most of the elite ones like Nikola Joki? and Joel Embiid are highly skilled. Joel Embiid is an 86% free throw shooter this season and a career 34% three-point shooter. Given Wilt Chamberlin was a career 51% free throw shooter who got worse over the course of his career, we’ll assume he would have never been a good shooter. Chamberlin shot 63% in his first year at Kansas and 61% in his second. By his rookie year in the NBA he was at 58% and he only exceeded that number 2 other times. Every other season was less than 54% including six below 47%. He got worse even with years of practice.
I’ve never bought the line that if players were born today they would automatically be better shooters. There are still plenty of great players that never learn how to shoot, and plenty of players from past eras who did. Some players have it and others do not. Wilt is one I do not believe would have ever had the touch. He practiced the same free throw shooting for decades that players today and didn’t excel when many of his contemporary peers did.
The Things Wilt Would Excell In
Physically Chamberlin would be one of the most gifted players regardless of any era. There are many stories about his physical exploits. Some are more believable than others. The thing that is undeniably true is his durability. Outside of one season he basically never missed games. This while many seasons logged 48 minutes a game. The season he averaged 50 points per game he played 48.5 minutes a game. He never came out and for his career, he logged 45.8 minutes a game.
What really blows my mind about that was that he was running around in Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars, with 1960s technology, diet, medicine, travel etc. When you consider how pampered the players are today and where they rest and have all the advantages of modern recovery science, it’s pretty incredible.
If Wilt were in this era he would have better access to weight programs, training tables, recovery, etc. I’m not sure he even really needed it though or that it would make that much of a difference. This is a man that at 36 years old and nearly 300lbs was still playing 47 minutes a game and never missing a game. Where it probably would have benefited him is that he would have gotten elite muscle mass and size earlier more likely.
Likely becomes this sooner with modern weight and training table programs.
Scoring around the Basket, Defense, Rebounding and Passing
For what Wilt would lack in shooting with modern offenses he would have had little problem dunking shots at the rim. I would imagine him as a prime DeAndre Jordan-type of rim roller. He’d probably have FG%’s around 65%+ in today’s modern offenses instead of 54% he had in yesteryear. He wouldn’t be asked to score as much or post up as he did back then. With less usage, more rest, and fresher he would have likely been a highly efficient player like many of the other big of today that don’t shoot threes and dunk everything.
Defensively while we do not have block numbers from the time he played he’s likely one of the better defensive big in the league and a plus defender. I’m hesitant to compare him to some of the elite players of today like Rudy Gobert who has a 9-7 Standing reach because he only anchored a #1 defense once in 16 seasons. When you play on average 46 minutes a game in your career and almost every game that’s clearly a reflection on you. Some of the defenses were more average to slightly above average as well. A few were 2nd best, and when you consider the Celtics had the #1 defense many of those years it’s probably not a massive knock. I’m going to say a good defender, not the best.
Passing may have been his most underrated basketball skill. Defenses were certainly keyed on him which opened up passes to open teammates. He once was 2nd in the league in assists averaging 8.6. Considering these weren’t the most sophisticated offense I could certainly see him developing a nice passing game. Even for that era, he had a knack. It’s unlikely he would have as much usage though of even a Shaq in his prime in the modern NBA and possibly not as much as Embiid either. I believe he still would have managed 3 or 4 assists today.
The rebounding would likely be his standout skill. It’s very likely even with the reduced minutes and rebound opportunities of today he easily would be averaging 12 to 15 rebounds a game most seasons. There is no block or steals data in this era but from estimations of tape of 100 games he is said to have averaged 8.8 blocks per game. That a lot of blocks but when you adjust for pace, minutes per game, and how differently the game is played today it would be far less. There were much fewer shots on the perimeter and with so many misses and rebounds a lot of shots were going up from around the basket.
|1973-74||37||Did Not Play&nbsp;(sat out option year)|
I do think Wilt given his incredible durability would have been able to play 36 minutes per game in the modern NBA and be one of the higher per minute players. That’s what these numbers are adjusted to. Per 36 minutes.
That is basically the rebound rate of Andre Drummond in the last decade. His block numbers would be around the best in the league. He’s a lower usage scorer but higher efficient similar to how he was later in his career. With a more modern offense, I do believe he could have been a high-level passing big. He wouldn’t be Nikola Jokic or Domantas Sabonis level in my opinion, but 4 assists most seasons seems reasonable passing out of the post with the attention he would get. These would be my estimation if he played today. He’d probably be a higher usage DeAndre Jordan / Rudy Gobert that could also pass much better.