The greatest rookie seasons in NBA history share a number of qualities, starting with individual statistical dominance. However, you can't overlook the context beyond the box score; initial expectations, team success, and overall legacy all matter.
While we wait for the 2019-20 season to resume, theScore's NBA editors have dusted off the record books to determine the top 25 rookie seasons in league history.
No. 17 in our series is Cincinnati Royals big man Jerry Lucas. Catch up on previous posts in the series here.
Lucas was a part of Ohio State's vaunted 1958 recruiting class, which included future Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek and infamous Indiana coach Bob Knight.
Debuting as a sophomore in 1959, the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 24.3 points and 17.2 rebounds per game across three seasons in Columbus. He was named an All-American in each year and won AP Player of the Year honors twice.
The Buckeyes made three straight national title game appearances, beating powerhouse Cal in 1960 for the championship. Later that same summer, Lucas won a gold medal playing for the U.S. at the Rome Olympics.
With Ohio State falling in the Cincinnati Royals' region, the Chicago Zephyrs, who held the top pick that year, never had a chance of drafting Lucas, whose territorial rights had been secured by the local pro team years earlier.
Still, Lucas' path to Cincinnati was circuitous. Instead of joining the Royals, he signed a deal with the Cleveland Pipers of the upstart American Basketball League, a team founded by future New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
However, the ABL folded before Lucas could appear for the Pipers. Furthermore, his business contracts precluded his ability to jump back to the NBA until the 1963-64 season, at which point he finally signed on to play for the Royals.
Lucas played 41.4 minutes per game as a rookie, second on the team only to Oscar Robertson. Slotting next to burly center Wayne Embry, Lucas put up 17.7 points, 17.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per contest, leading the league with 52.7% shooting (made even more spectacular by the fact he was a capable outside shooter by pre-3-point line standards).
In addition to capturing Rookie of the Year honors, Lucas made the All-Star team and was an All-NBA second team selection. He even received a down-ballot MVP vote.
With a trio of young future Hall of Famers in Robertson, Embry, and Jack Twyman in tow, the Royals were already on the upswing, going 42-38 and advancing to the Eastern Division finals the season prior to Lucas' arrival.
Still, his addition further raised the bar. The team improved to 55-25 - the second-best mark in the league - and again reached the division finals, losing to a Bill Russell and Havlicek-led Celtics team.
Offense was the team's calling card. The Royals recorded 114.7 points and 24 assists per game while shooting 45.3% from the floor - all league highs.
While Lucas' rookie season lived up to the expectations of his prodigious talent, that year also wound up being the high watermark for the Royals. The franchise didn't crack 50 wins again until 2000-01 - after first relocating to Kansas City in 1972, then to Sacramento in 1985, where the Kings have remained ever since.
Lucas retired after the 1973-74 season with career averages of 17 points, 15.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists over 11 seasons. His career rebounding clip still ranks fourth in NBA history.
In total, Lucas was a seven-time All-Star (including the All-Star MVP in his second year), five-time All-NBA selection, and won an NBA title with the New York Knicks in 1972 as a role player. The Hall of Fame came calling in 1980.
Come back Friday to see who came in at No. 16 in theScore's Top 25 Rookie Seasons series.