There aren’t many players who were considered as the best during any of point of the careers of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. That number only decreases when those two legends were in their respective primes.
Regarded as one of the top players during an era filled with players of legendary caliber, is now a shadow among casual fans who have no real appreciation nor understanding of his career and achievements, This article will be dedicated to Elgin Baylor and why he is up with anyone to play the game.
So, what made him that great?
You are probably wondering what more credit does a 6’5 forward who had the size of your average two guard now deserve that he hasn’t got from playing in a fast pace era which inflated his numbers, hitting some fancy shots and playing with an awkward style compared to today?
How and why should he be ranked higher than he is now? For starters, there are numerous reasons behind this answer. It goes beyond the fact that he took spectacular play to whole new heights for which the league is recognized. He was just that good.
Elgin wasn’t the tallest out there but he made it up with his superb physical tools that fitted his style to a near perfection. He had incredible strength, was extremely explosive, was fast and a high leaper who was known for his hang time.
His explosiveness alongside his ability to jump were ridiculously impressive, even after having a knee cap injury, the type which ended careers back in the day. His athleticism complimented his skill set, high IQ and instincts in a great way that allowed him to make his presence felt.
And he did it with his versatility. Baylor was one of the most versatile players in NBA History. He was a remarkable offensive player who scored in bunches, grabbed rebounds like a center, was an underrated yet great passer, a surprisingly good ball handler and more than good defender.
Don’t believe me? Then, believe these following facts. Elg, as his teammates sometimes called him, was one of the three players to lead in points, rebounds and assists at least once. Another fact is that during the ’62-63 season, he was the only player to be ranked top 5 in four different categories as well.
He also posted 30 triple doubles in both the regular season and playoffs. The Captain led the Lakers in categories like scoring, rebounding and assists many times individually. This earned him a reputation as the league’s best all-around player for quite some time.
Despite his excellence as a complete threat whose versatility allowed him to attack teams in numerous ways, it was his offense that made opposing players be scared of facing him and what the fans of the past and today acknowledged him for.
Baylor was a prolific scorer who could explode for 50, 60 or 70 points on any given night within the frame of the offense. He did it by relying on his ability to get to the rim, by utilizing a good jumper from distance, a wide arsenal of shots inside and a post up game on which he relied especially during the later parts of his career.
He was respected for his one on one excellence as well. And naturally when teams tried to double him, he’d punish them by finding the open man for the easy basket. Not many realize just how outstanding he was in this aspect, as he alongside his elite scoring, he racked up a bunch of assists and led his team in it a bunch of times.
Elgin routinely ranked among the leaders in these two category and did so in many seasons together that speak value of his productive offense as he peaked in the postseason where he was the top scorer for four years with comfortable margin over his peers while doing it quite efficiently.
In addition to this, he ranked among the leaders in assists, a proof his productive offensive abilities. It’s only right that Baylor can be called as not only one of the greatest offensive players, but also one of the most dominant forces of all time.
Although there are concerns regarding his efficiency, it’s a result of the fast pace in which he played and the way it was played. He’d sometimes take a shot off, just to go grab the missed one and score from his own miss. Also, Elg had a little “different” arsenal when finishing in the paint and there were no star calls to bail him out in an extremely physical era considering he was mainly an inside player.
Speaking of grabbing missed shots, Elgin was above good for his position. He relied on his physical tools, positioning and will to rebound at a level that separated him into a company of the absolute elite. He led his team routinely in rebounding and his 19.8 boards average is the top one for a non center and power forward among other notable feats.
While not known for his defense, the Captain was great at it. He played the lanes, interrupted and swatted shots beyond well by relying on his athleticism and instincts. He stayed with his man well duo to his good footwork, but made his mark with his off-ball actions. He ranked three times in the top 10 leaders in defensive win shares and had good efforts in the playoffs.
For all his excellence out there, he couldn’t win a championship ring which was duo to a number of reasons among of LA not having a proper defensive big to match against Bill Russell of the Celtics and just not some luck stand out most.
Baylor suffered a knee cap injury that back in the day would be a career killer yet still continued to play at a strong level although one could wonder what if he never suffered one. However, this is what players like Baylor who relied on athleticism went through because of the insane minutes they played on such pace without the benefits of proper nutrition and medicine.
Regardless of the fact that Elgin went eight times in the Finals while never winning once (closest he came was a too soon attempt to tip a missed shot in ’62), his top achievement was accepting to play for the Lakers. Had he not accepted this offer, the franchise wouldn’t have stayed in LA.
This tops even the influence he has on the NBA and every fancy lay up, dribble, shot or a dunk because those things that make the highlights that earn contracts with shoe companies that guys like Dr J, Michael etc later would do was inspired by this man. Yeah, that’s right.
Despite the lack of championship criteria forced heavily by today’s fans, many players including peers Big O and Russell have claimed that Baylor is the greatest of all time, and Erving has modeled his style after him because Elgin was his favorite player.
When everything is taken in consideration, Baylor is a legend who’s on a level with the absolute best players to play the game. His all-around game and abilities have earned him the respect of not only the old fans, but peers, teammates and those who came after him.
This article wasn’t written to make you think twice on your decision on the greatest of all time, but simply to give the name of Elgin Baylor the credit that it truly deserves because it’s more than a name.
-You Tube user “Wilt Chamberlain Archive” who made this video