George McGinnis, Mel Daniels
George McGinnis (left) and Mel Daniels (right) are the only two Pacers players to ever be named league MVP.
Pacers Sports & Entertainment

Greatness of Both Daniels, McGinnis Remains Underappreciated

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

On Saturday night, the Pacers will honor two of the greatest stars in franchise history. The commemorative bobbleheads that will be distributed to fans attending Saturday's 1970s Decade Game are of the late Hall of Famer Mel Daniels and Pacers legend George McGinnis.

It's appropriate that the two will share bobblehead honors since they also shared the load in leading the franchise to many of its greatest heights in the early and mid-1970s.

1970s CENTRAL: Learn More About the Decade at Pacers.com/1970s »

As was the case with Roger Brown – the bobblehead selection for the 1960s – many diehard Pacers fans never got the chance to see Daniels or McGinnis play. They spent the bulk of their careers playing in the ABA and both were retired well before any player on the current Pacers roster was even born.

Still, in the decades since they hung up their shoes, only a small handful of players have compiled better resumes than either Daniels or McGinnis.

Their place in Pacers history is readily evident. Just look up at the rafters at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and you'll quickly realize that Daniels and McGinnis are two of just four players in franchise history to have their numbers retired (the others are Brown and Reggie Miller).

Both more than earned that distinction during their time with the Blue & Gold. To this day, in terms of averages, they're the two best scorers and rebounders in franchise history.

McGinnis' scoring average of 19.6 points per game ranks just ahead of Daniels at 19.44. Daniels also averaged an absurd 15.96 rebounds per game over his six seasons in Indiana. McGinnis (10.72 boards per game) is the only other player in Pacers history to have a double-digit rebounding average with the team.

Through 49 seasons of Pacers basketball, they're also the only two players to win league MVP honors. Daniels was a two-time ABA MVP, winning the honor for both the 1968-69 and 1970-71 seasons. McGinnis was co-MVP in 1974-75, sharing the award with future Hall of Famer Julius Erving.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS: George McGinnis »

And of course, they were central figures on the Pacers' ABA championship teams.

Daniels was the backbone and leading rebounder on all three teams that won an ABA title. He also led the 1971-72 team – the second championship squad – in scoring.

McGinnis joined the Pacers after a stellar sophomore season at Indiana University and fit in seamlessly with Daniels, Brown, and the rest of the Pacers veterans. Indiana won ABA titles in each of McGinnis' first two professional seasons. In the 1972-73 season, at just 22 years old, McGinnis led the team in scoring and was named MVP of the ABA Finals.

No one would dispute the notion that both Daniels and McGinnis are among the best players to ever wear a Pacers uniform. But where do they rank among the sport's all-time greats?

PACERS VOTE: Fans Pick Starting Five from the 1970s »

In truth, both players are probably underappreciated historically. There are two key contributing factors that – probably unfairly – hurt their legacy in historical discussions.

The first is that both of their careers were relatively brief. Daniels essentially played eight seasons (he did not play in 1975-76 before attempting a comeback with the Nets the next year, but only played in 11 games before being released). McGinnis retired at 31 after 11 professional seasons.

The second contributing factor is a bias against players who spent most of their careers in the ABA, a sentiment that prevailed for far too long. It wasn't until the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame created an ABA Committee a few years ago that Daniels, Brown, and legendary Pacers coach Slick Leonard were finally enshrined in Springfield.

McGinnis still hasn't gotten into the Hall of Fame and his chances of induction became slimmer after the Hall got rid of the ABA Committee in 2015.

But ABA or NBA, the numbers Daniels and McGinnis posted speak for themselves.

Basketball-Reference uses a metric called "Similarity Scores" to compare players across eras. Similarity Scores match up win shares from each season in a player's career with other players who played a similar position.

The metric determined that Daniels' career is most similar to those of Yao Ming or Marc Gasol. Not bad company.

McGinnis' Similarity Scores match him up with Chris Webber and Ben Wallace. Again, that's a Hall of Famer and another with a strong case to one day end up in Springfield.

Still, those metrics might be underselling just how good Daniels and McGinnis were at their peak.

Pacers.com's Mark Montieth wrote at length earlier this week about McGinnis' MVP season in 1974-75, which he called "unquestionably the greatest single season a Pacers player has ever had."

McGinnis' numbers from that year look like something out of a video game: 29.8 points, 14.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 2.6 steals per game.

To put that into perspective, only seven other players have ever averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists over an entire season. The list: Erving (three times), Oscar Robertson (three times), Wilt Chamberlain (twice), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor, and Charles Barkley (Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is on pace to join the club through the first quarter of the 2016-17 season).

Those names speak for themselves. But guess how many of them ever averaged 29, 14, and 6 over a single season? None.

That's right, George McGinnis' 1974-75 season is truly one of a kind.

Daniels, meanwhile, is quite simply one of the greatest rebounders in professional basketball history.

Despite playing just six seasons with the Pacers, Daniels still has the most rebounds in franchise history – by a wide margin. His 7,643 career boards with the Blue & Gold are over 1,600 more than Dale Davis amassed over 10 seasons in Indiana and nearly 2,400 more than Rik Smits accumulated in 12 seasons.

PHOTOS: Mel Daniels' Pacers Career »

Only five players in NBA or ABA history have a better career rebounding average than Daniels: Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Bob Pettit, Jerry Lucas, and Nate Thurmond. Factor in his scoring and Daniels is one of just three players with career averages of at least 18 points and 14 rebounds per game, the others being Chamberlain and Pettit.

Had they played a few decades later, both Daniels and McGinnis would be household names. But even though they may not have received all the recognition they deserve, both are rightly remembered as among the greatest players to ever wear a Pacers uniform.

50 years from now, they'll still be right at the top of that list.

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