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Zion Williamson’s huge season wasn’t enough


With the New Orleans Pelicans eliminated from NBA playoff contention, Zion Williamson‘s standout season will end without him making his first appearance in the postseason. Williamson’s fractured left finger left him on the bench as the Pelicans failed in their final push to make the play-in tournament.

Williamson isn’t the first star to miss the playoffs and he certainly won’t be the last. But he is set to become the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1992-93 to finish in the top 10 in scoring and field goal percentage and miss the playoffs. Charles Barkley actually did this twice — in 1987-88 and 1991-92.

ESPN Stats & Information researched some of the top seasons in NBA history for players who had excellent individual seasons but missed the playoffs. Here are some of the best:

Oscar Robertson (1960-61)

Robertson’s career started how you would imagine. He had a triple-double in his first NBA game and 26 for the season, which is still 14 more than any other rookie in league history. He fell 20 assists shy of averaging a triple-double for the season (30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists per game), was the All-Star Game MVP and was a first-team All-NBA selection. His Cincinnati Royals finished 33-46, though, missing the playoffs by one game in an eight-team league. — Doug Clawson

Wilt Chamberlain (1962-63)

The greatest season in NBA history without a playoff appearance belongs to Chamberlain, hands down. He averaged 44.8 points per game, the second-highest scoring average all time, behind the 50 he averaged the year prior. He had 30 50-point games, one shy of Michael Jordan’s career total, and added 24.3 rebounds per game for good measure. It wasn’t enough to make up for the loss of two Hall of Famers, though. Paul Arizin retired when the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco before the season, and Tom Gola was traded at midseason. The Warriors finished 31-49, the only time Wilt missed the playoffs in his career. — Clawson

Tiny Archibald (1972-73)

In 1972-73, Nate “Tiny” Archibald averaged 34 points and 11.4 assists per game and became the first and only player in NBA history to win the scoring and assist titles in the same season. No player in the history of the league has amassed more points from scoring and assists than Archibald that season (4,539), and it came without the benefit of the 3-point line. However, his Kansas City Kings, with Bob Cousy as the head coach, finished just 36-46 and ranked last in the league in field goal percentage defense. — Vincent Johnson

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1975-76)

The 1975-76 season was a magnum opus in the illustrious career of Abdul-Jabbar. “Cap” finished the season with averages of 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 4.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game en route to winning the league’s MVP award in his first season with the Lakers. But despite leading the league in rebounding and blocks, the Lakers finished 40-42 in Abdul-Jabbar’s first act in purple and gold, as he missed the playoffs for just the second (and final) time in his 20-year career. This remains the only time in NBA history that the league MVP failed to make the postseason. — Jason Joseph

Shaquille O’Neal (1992-93)

O’Neal was an instant superstar. The 1992 No. 1 overall pick won NBA Player of the Week in his first week in the NBA, was named an All-Star Game starter in his first season, won Rookie of the Year — and broke two backboards along the way. His monstrous numbers (23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game) helped Orlando improve its win total by 20 games, but the Magic missed the playoffs after losing a tiebreaker with the Pacers. Shaq would go on to make the postseason in each of his next 15 seasons. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, his ’92-93 campaign was the last time a player missed the playoffs despite ranking in the top 10 in the league in points per game and field goal percentage … until Zion this year. Twenty-five players have ranked in the top 10 in both categories between Shaq and Zion, all making the playoffs. — Clawson

Tracy McGrady (2003-04)

Hopes were somewhat high for the 2003-04 Magic coming off three straight playoff appearances and looking to avenge a blown 3-1 lead against the Pistons in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, but that hope faded quickly. Grant Hill would miss the entire season with continued ankle issues and the team’s 1-10 start got coach Doc Rivers canned. Tracy McGrady carried a team that finished with the worst record in the NBA, leading the league in scoring for the second straight season, posting 28.0 PPG to go with 6.0 RPG and 5.5 APG. He finished nearly four points per game ahead of the second-best scorers (MVP Kevin Garnett and Peja Stojakovic, who had 24.2 PPG each) in what would be his final season in Orlando. — Joseph

LeBron James (2004-05)

James’ ascension to the upper echelon of the league accelerated in his second NBA season (27.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 7.2 APG). He improved across the board from his Rookie of the Year campaign, sharply increasing his points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. Cleveland entered the All-Star break 30-21, the third-best record in the East, but limped to a 12-19 mark the rest of the way, firing coach Paul Silas along the way. The Cavaliers lost the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Nets for the eighth seed and missed the playoffs for a franchise-record seventh straight year. — Johnson

Russell Westbrook (2014-15)

The legend of Westbrook was solidified in the 2014-15 season, when he led the league in scoring (28.1 PPG) and triple-doubles (11) despite missing the playoffs. Westbrook came back from a broken hand that sidelined him for 14 games in November. The Thunder were snakebit that season, as reigning MVP Kevin Durant would miss 55 games with foot issues. While Westbrook picked up the slack (30.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game in 40 games played without Durant), the Thunder finished 45-37 and lost a tiebreaker with the Pelicans for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The West was stacked that season as seven teams won 50 or more games. — Joseph

Bradley Beal (2019-20)

Last season, Beal became the first player in NBA history to average 30 points per game without making an All-Star team (minimum of 25 games). He earned that dubious distinction because of the lack of team success, as his Wizards finished just 25-47. Two days before he was left off the All-Star team, he scored 40 points in back-to-back games — but the Wizards lost both and gave up 150 points in each. Just four days after the All-Star break, he responded with 50 points in back-to-back games — and the Wizards lost both of those games too. — Johnson

Zion Williamson (2020-21)

Williamson was limited to just 24 games in his rookie season because of injuries and the pandemic-shortened season, but he made sure to make up for lost time in his sophomore campaign. Williamson averaged 27 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 61.1% from the floor. His 27.0 points per game are the most in NBA history for a player who shot better than 60%. Williamson has scored 2,187 points in his first 85 career games. In the past 40 seasons, only Michael Jordan scored more. Williamson averaged 20.3 points in the paint this season, the most since O’Neal in 1999-00. — Andrew Lopez



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