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Lakers best forwards: A vote for Elgin Baylor and James Worthy

They played in different eras, but it's hard to deny the impact each had on the franchise and on the league in general.

November 10, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

Talk about forward-thinking.

The Lakers, during their 50 seasons in Los Angeles, can lay claim to two of the best forwards ever to wear a pair of high-tops: Elgin Baylor and James Worthy.

Baylor was the Michael Jordan of his era, an acrobatic wonder who helped make the Lakers a powerhouse in the West in the 1960s.

He scored 71 points in 1960 against the New York Knicks, a Lakers record that stood until Kobe Bryant scored 81 against Toronto 46 years later.

Forget Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and other Lakers centers. It's Baylor who has more rebounds than any other player in team history (11,463). And he stood only 6 feet 5, making him perhaps the best rebounder inch-for-inch in NBA history.

He became the third-highest scorer in team history (23,149), a testament to Baylor's almost nightly penchant for inventing moves on the way to the basket. He knew how to pass too, finishing with 3,650 assists, seventh in Lakers history.

Baylor's most remarkable season might have been 1961-62, when he averaged a franchise-record 38.3 points a game while bouncing back and forth from the Lakers to his obligations in the Army reserve. He would spend several days a week outside California before reuniting with the Lakers for weekend games and never seemed to struggle.

Surprisingly, though, Baylor never won a scoring title, primarily because of Wilt Chamberlain, and he never won an NBA championship thanks mainly to the dominant Boston Celtics and Bill Russell.

Winning championships was never a problem for Worthy, who was surrounded by talent on the 1980s "Showtime" teams and often lived up to his nickname of "Big Game" James.

He was on the Lakers' 1984-85 team that finally broke through decades of failure against the Celtics by beating them in the NBA Finals. Worthy averaged 21.5 points while shooting an uncanny 62.2% in the Lakers' playoff run that year.

He also had a memorable effort in Game 7 of the 1988 Finals, collecting 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists as the Lakers beat Detroit for the franchise's 11th championship.

One of the best finishers of all time, Worthy often punctuated a Lakers fastbreak with a soaring, powerful dunk. He could also score in the post on a quick spin move, his lightning-fast first step allowing him -- and his trademark goggles -- to blow by opponents.

For good measure, he had the third-most steals in Lakers history (1,041) and was fifth in team history in field-goal percentage (52.1%).

The Lakers have had a long parade of other exceptional forwards, including Rudy LaRusso, Jim McMillian, Happy Hairston, Jamaal Wilkes, Michael Cooper, A.C. Green and Bob McAdoo. But it's hard to put any of them ahead of Baylor and Worthy in the last half century.


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