Brad Daugherty, A Forgotten Great?

Brad Daugherty was a professional basketball player in the NBA from 1986-94. He entered college at the age of 16 and played ball for the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected him with the first pick in the 1986 NBA draft. They also drafted Ron Harper (8th pick), John Williams (45th pick), and acquired the rights to Mark Price (25th pick) from the Dallas Mavericks. Daugherty, Harper, and Williams would all go on to be named to the 1986-87 All-Rookie Team. Daugherty’s impact on the team was undeniable. He put up averages that rivaled many all-time great centers throughout NBA history. Yet, when discussing the great centers of the past, he largely goes unmentioned. This is due to a number of reasons that I will attempt to explore further.

Impact:

In order to first establish him as a rival to great NBA centers, I will take some time to explore his accomplishments. Keep in mind that Brad Daugherty played during what many consider to be the golden-age for big-men. The likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, and Patrick Ewing were roaming the paint and abusing opposing teams.

During his rookie campaign he maintained respectable averages of 15.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 0.8 blocks per game. He did this while shooting 70% from the free throw line and 54% from the field, again, respectable averages. Standing 7 feet tall and weighing 245 pounds, he provided an inside presence that every team was looking for. Even though he had solid averages as a rookie, the team only won two more games than they had the previous year, putting up a record of 31-51. That would all change during his sophomore effort, however, as the team put up a record of 42 wins and 40 losses. The first time in nine years that the Cavaliers managed to win over half their games and the third-best record in team history. Daugherty was a big reason for this success, as he averaged 18.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. He did this while shooting 72% from the free throw line and 51% from the field. In his third season he averaged 18.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, and shot 74% on free throws and 54% on field goals, helping the Cavaliers to a new team-best record of 57-25. The team would go on to win more than 50 games in two of the next 5 seasons with Daugherty.

His best statistical effort was the 1990-91 season, where he put up 21.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while shooting 75% from the free throw line and 52% on field goals. When he retired, he did so with career averages of 19 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He did this while shooting 75% from the free throw line and 53% from the field over the course of his career. Again, when we consider who was guarding him, great defenders such as Olajuwon, Robinson, Mourning, and Ewing, Daugherty has to be praised for his offensive capabilities. Daugherty was a gifted offensive player with some very strong post moves and smooth footwork. He also had a soft touch around the basket, which is exactly what you want from a center. He was also perhaps the greatest passing big-man of his era. During a time when teams ran a significant part of their offense through the post, this was a very useful skill.

Defense:

A big-man is typically tasked with keeping the other team’s players from driving the lane, and making them pay the price for attempting it. Blocking shots usually accomplishes this. Though forcing the offensive player to alter their shot or simply being a big body that gets in their way also helps. Daugherty wasn’t much of a shot-blocker, however, notching a career high of just 1.1 blocks per game during the 1991-92 season and a career average of just 0.7 per game. Only once during his career did he manage to average at least one block per game. When we compare his block average to other elite centers from his era the difference in defensive ability becomes obvious. Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 3.1 blocks per game for his career, David Robinson averaged 3.0, and Alonzo Mourning averaged 2.8. Also, none of these players ever averaged below 1.5 blocks per game. Their career lows were still greater than Daugherty’s career high! He also did a poor job of using his big frame to intimidate or push other players around. Other centers, such as Olajuwon, Robinson, and Shaq could pretty much get any shot they wanted against Daugherty. This meant he was a glaring weakness for his team defensively. As he just couldn’t stop the other offensively dominant centers of his time.

Injuries:

In the second half of the 1993-94 season, Daugherty injured his back. It was originally believed to be a lower back strain and he missed the last 29 games of the season. He would later undergo surgery and have two herniated discs removed. Daugherty and the Cavaliers were both hopeful that he would be able to play in the second half of the 1994-95 season, but rehabilitation was proving an issue. For the next two years he saw specialist after specialist only to be told the same thing each time. Daugherty had this to say about the experience, “None was optimistic. They all said I should not be running.” As a result, he officially retired after the 1995-96 season. In honor of his contributions to the team, the Cavaliers retired his number, 43, in 1997. If injuries hadn’t curtailed his career, I believe he would have been able to make a stronger case for himself as one of the all-time great centers in NBA history.

Opposition:

There is no denying that Brad Daugherty and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced considerably strong teams during the 80’s and 90’s. Larry Bird and the Celtics, Magic and the Lakers, Robinson and the Spurs, Olajuwon and the Rockets, and MJ and his Bulls. These teams and their star players constantly overshadowed the Cavaliers. Fielding teams composed of all-stars like Mark Price and Larry Nance, the Cavaliers were no slouches. They also had strong role-players like Ron Harper, John Williams, Tree Rollins, Craig Ehlo, and Chris Mills. However, they just couldn’t make deep playoff runs consistently. They missed the playoffs twice during Daugherty’s eight years with the team and failed to make it past the first round four times. The furthest they got was in 1991-92 when they beat the Boston Celtics in the Conference Semi-Finals. After which they went on to get beat by MJ and the Chicago Bulls in the Conference Finals. There were simply too many other strong teams, some of which are among the strongest teams in NBA history.

This lack of team success certainly hurts Brad Daugherty’s legacy, just as it hurts the legacy of other members of those teams. Basketball is a team sport and no one player can ever take all the credit or blame. However, a lack of results does weigh more heavily on star players than it does the role players. It isn’t unfair either, because when the team does see success the star players typically receive more credit. This is just the double-edged nature of being the face, or faces, of a franchise.

In Closing:

Brad Daugherty was a gifted offensive basketball player who possessed excellent footwork and passing skills. He also had an array of post-moves and a soft touch around the rim. He boasts career averages in many categories that rival those of elite centers of his era. However, his defense was soft and he was never able to become a reliable shot-blocker. A serious back injury and failed rehabilitation attempt further limited him. The era he played in was also dominated by great teams that will be remembered for many years. Teams that were led by Hall of Fame caliber players who overshadowed him. These reasons, and perhaps more, are why Brad Daugherty is not counted among the all-time great centers of the NBA.

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