Throughout the history of the NBA, there have been a vast number of players who have become underrated. As more time passes, these non-superstars are more along the lines of being completely disregarded and forgotten. The 1960s are a prime example of this. The likes of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Walt Frazier, and Willis Reed are honored and celebrated widely across the league to this day. But what about the other guys?
Even the Hall of Famers not named above from the 60s have been overshadowed across time by their contemporaries. Of course, there is also the widely disputed evolution of the game debate where skill is the main arguing point and whether or not the players of the earlier era’s possessed much of it. Regardless of what your biases may be, these underrated players of the 60s accomplished feats and put up incredible numbers during a period dominated by all-time greats.
10. Bob Pettit
Career Stats: 26.4 PPG, 16.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 43.6 FG%
Achievements: 2x MVP, 11x All-Star, 11x All-NBA Team Selection, 2x Scoring Champion, 1954-1955 Rookie of the Year, Hall of Fame
Bob Pettit is by far the most accomplished player on this list, which explains his spot at number 10. Being considered the greatest big man in Atlanta Hawks history and being named to the 75th-anniversary team earlier this year are the highest honors held by Pettit. During a time that was dominated by bigs like Bill and Wilt, Pettit was able to snatch multiple MVPs and a championship from their grasp. Pettit was doubted by many to be successful coming out of college in the “big and bad” NBA due to his slender build.
After moving from Center to Power Forward and becoming the first big man to play facing the basket, Pettit dominated. During the 1961 and 1962 seasons, he was particularly special. Pettit posted 27.9 PPG and 20.3 RPG in 1961 and 31.1 PPG and 18.7 RPG in 1962. Pettit, Wilt, and another all-time great on our list, Jerry Lucas are the only three players to average 20 points and 20 rebounds in a season. Impressive numbers in any era. Pettit was forced to retire at just 32 years old due to low wages around the league, forcing players to focus more on offseason jobs and life after basketball. At the time of his retirement, he was the league’s leading scorer (20,880) and 2nd in rebounds (12,849).
9. Jerry Lucas
Career Stats: 17.0 PPG, 15.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 49.9 FG%
Achievements: 7x All-Star, All-Star MVP, 5x All-NBA Team Selection, 1964 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Jerry Lucas was not underrated for his time. He was one of the largest ticket sales draws, not named Wilt or Bill. However, as time has passed, you rarely, if ever, hear of just how good Lucas was. Jerry Lucas was the first big man to truly space the floor, able to consistently hit jump shots from beyond what is known as the three-point line today. He led the league in field goal percentage his rookie season, although his role was mainly rebounding and physical aggression. He was elite at both. In over 308 games from 1964 to 1968, Lucas averaged an astounding 20.5 PPG and 19.8 RPG in 4 years. He even outbattled the great Bill Russell and topped him by over 100 boards in 1968.
The only other player in that time putting up consistently better scoring and rebounding numbers was Wilt Chamberlain. Lucas would win his only NBA championship in 1973 with the New York Knicks. Although his time in NY was met with substantial questions about his size, Lucas answered the call with his elite outside shooting and rebounding skills. Every team Lucas played for was far better offensively and defensively from the instant he stepped foot on the floor. Jerry Lucas was also named to the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team in 2022, although you would never think it from the lack of coverage and conversation of his greatness.
8. Dick Barnett
Career Stats: 15.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.8 APG, 45.6 FG%
Achievements: 1x All-Star
Dick Barnett is one of the smartest and fundamental players of the 1960s. The lefty shooting guard was nicknamed “Fall Back Baby” by announcer Chick Hearn due to Barnett’s unorthodox shooting form. Barnett would jump and kick both legs behind him as he went up for the shot. Ugly, but it went in, kind of like a throwback lefty version of Shawn Marion. Used for much of his career as a 6th man, Barnett always seemed to be overshadowed by his superstar backcourt running mates.
He played behind Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in LA and Walt Frazier in New York. In his first season with the Knicks in 1965, Barnett led all scorers with a 23.1 PPG. He was also a key contributor for the 1970 World Champion New York Knicks, adding 16.9 PPG off of the bench. He may have been overlooked for most of his career, but Dick Barnett was a true professional who always showed up big when his name was called.
7. Bailey Howell
Career Stats: 18.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 48.0 FG%
Achievements: 6x All-Star, 1x All NBA Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
For most of his early career, Bailey Howell was the centerpiece of some very underwhelming teams in Detroit and Baltimore. Nevertheless, Howell played spectacularly. In his rookie season, Howell put up over 17 PPG and over 10 RPG but his team finished the season at 30-45. Howell would lead the Pistons and Baltimore Bullets to the playoffs annually, but could never get over the hump that was the LA Lakers. In 1966, Howell was traded to the powerhouse Boston Celtics, who at the time had won every title from 1960 to 1965.
Howell would fit in perfectly with the C’s, averaging over 20 PPG and 8 RPG in his first season. He probably would have had more rebounds, but he played next to some guy named Bill Russell, who grabbed over 21 RPG. Howell would be instrumental to 2 championship runs by the Celtics, including in 1968, where he averaged 18.1 PPG and 7.7 RPG for the entirety of the playoff run. Howell was a star in a league full of superstar big men. The superstars just shined a little brighter, tagging Howell as very underrated.
6. Richie Guerin
Career Stats: 17.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.0 APG, 41.6 FG%
Achievements: 6x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Richie Guerin was an all around bona fide baller. He was among the league’s best scorers in the 60s along with an extremely high basketball IQ, elite playmaking, and passing. He was no slouch on the defensive end, either. Guerin was as tough as nails, not afraid to go toe to toe with the league’s juggernauts before becoming one himself. He was the leader of the Knicks from 1957 to 1964, electrifying the Garden night in and night out. The problem was that the Knicks were never very good during Guerin’s tenure, only making the playoffs one time. In the early 60s, Guerin set Knicks records for points (57) and assists (21) in a game. Both records have since been broken, but it took nearly 50 years for them to fall.
In 1962, Guerin averaged 29.5 PPG and 6.4 APG, both career highs. He poured in over 20 PPG for 5 consecutive seasons in NY. From NY, Guerin set his sights on St.Louis with the Hawks. Guerin would join them as a player-coach, alongside such greats as Bob Pettit and Lenny Wilkens. Guerin would go on to win the NBA Coach of the Year award in 1968 and coach the All-Star game in 1969 and 1970 before retiring for good in 1971.
5. Dave DeBusschere
Career Stats: 16.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 43.2 FG%
Achievements: 8x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Team Selection, 6x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall of Fame
Dave DeBusschere was a rough and tough defensive nightmare built perfectly for this period. Although deemed small for the aggressive style of play he possessed, he dominated the boards and could shut it down at any position on the defensive end outside of the point guard. DeBusschere was very well known for his time with the 1970s NY Knicks championship teams, but he was just as effective and lethal in the 60s.
The offensive numbers weren’t nearly as impressive, but his defensive presence alone was noteworthy. At 24 years old, Debusschere was named a player-coach for the Pistons, but that stint was short-lived and he became the player we know today. DeBusschere was quite the athlete outside of basketball too, having been a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox.
4. Gus Johnson
Career Stats: 16.2 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 44.0 FG%
Achievements: 5x All-Star, 4x All NBA Team Selection, 2x All-Defensive Team Selection, Hall Of Fame
Gus Johnson can be credited as one of the first true forwards who played his game above the rim. Johnson was incredibly strong and athletic, with the ability to leap to tremendous heights. This enabled him not only to be a force on the offensive end with his dunks and layups, but as a rebounder as well. He also possessed insane speed for a man who was 6’6", 230 pounds. From College to the NBA, Johnson was always considered 2nd or 3rd best behind Jerry Lucas and college teammate Nate Thurmond.
Johnson paved his path though, becoming one of the game's first ferocious dunkers and shattering three backboards during his career. With his signature gold tooth grin, Johnson was a powerhouse who wowed audiences night in and night out. Johnson would not taste championship glory until he joined the Indiana Pacers in 1973 and won the ABA title.
3. Dave Bing
Career Stats: 20.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 6.0 APG, 44.1 FG%
Achievements: 7x All-Star, 4x All-NBA Team Selection, 1967 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
This selection may be a bit controversial because Bing did most of his damage to the league in the 70s. However, Dave Bing was still a force to be reckoned with in the mid to late 60s. Bing was a prolific scorer who, in his rookie season, poured in over 20 PPG. How did he follow that up in his 2nd season in 1968? He led the league in scoring with a blazing 27.1 PPG. He was named an All-Star that season as well and All-NBA 1st team.
Bing was a wizard on the floor, sharp-minded and all business. His quickness, basketball IQ, and exceptional playmaking made him a serious threat to the rest of the league at the time. Bing started his career with 6 consecutive seasons of at least 20 PPG and 6 APG, showing the world he was ready to take over when called upon. If Bing had put up these numbers in any other era, we would be talking about him in a whole different light.
2. Walt Bellamy
Career Stats: 20.1 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 51.6 FG%
Achievements: 4x All-Star, 1962 Rookie of the Year, Hall Of Fame
Walt Bellamy is easily one of the best big men of the 60s, but you would never know it in 2022. To this day, Bellamy still has one of the greatest rookie seasons ever when he posted an insane 31.6 PPG and 19 RPG. His rookie record of 973 field goals made still stands today. He was equally impactful on the defensive side of the ball. However, they didn’t keep track of defensive stats in the 60s, so you will just have to take my word for it.
Bellamy was also a member of the 1960 Men’s Gold Medal winning team in Rome, which he was inducted into the Hall Of Fame separately from his playing career for. Bellamy also still holds the single-season record for games played with 88 due to teams having offset schedules. In all but 3 of his 14 seasons in the league, Bellamy averaged at least a double-double in points and rebounds. Truly remarkable considering he was going up against some of the greatest bigs in history.
1. Hal Greer
Career Stats: 19.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 45.2 FG%
Achievements: 10x All-Star, 7x All-NBA Team Selection, All-Star MVP, Hall of Fame
Hal Greer is easily one of the most consistent and proficient players in Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers history. Greer was extremely athletic and elusive. He was a menace on the fast break and possessed some of the softest touches on his jump shot and finish the league had seen at the time. From 1964 to 1970, Greer put down 7 straight seasons of at least 20 PPG, 5 RPG, and 4 APG.
During that time, Greer was extremely durable as well, playing in at least 80 games all but one season. At the time he was enshrined into the Hall of Fame, Greer still ranked top 10 all-time in points and field goals made and had logged over 4,500 assists and 21,000 points in his career.
You may have noticed that a majority of these players have been elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame at some point or another. You may be asking yourself, 'How can a Hall of Famer be underrated?’ The way the 60s are viewed throughout history is enough to merit any one of these players being underrated. There seems to be a consensus that the 60s may be the worst or weakest era in basketball history. That could be true depending on what you value in your evaluation, but could it be the most underrated era in history as well?