The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 66 | Dave Twardzik
Games Played with Blazers: 280 Regular Season, 25 Postseason
*PTS: 9.5 | AST: 3.4 | FG%: 55.2
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: June 1976, signed as a free agent out of the ABA
Departed Club: June 1980, retired from NBA
Place in History: Dave Twardzik may be the least-heralded key member of Portland’s 1976-77 NBA Championship squad. His earliest years were spent with the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association. He made the 1975 ABA All-Star Game, but even then carried averages of only 14 points and five assists per game. Twardzik was...understated. He wasn’t tall. He didn’t jump. His razzle was limited to an occasional fancy pass; his game was light on the dazzle. He had no compunction about careening through big defenders in small spaces, earning the name “Pinball”, but otherwise what you saw is what you got.
But Twardzik knew basketball. His court sense was uncanny. For the ‘76-77 Blazers, that was an irreplaceable asset. That squad hadn’t been together for years. Heck, they hadn’t been together for minutes. The holdovers from the season prior were Larry Steele, Bob Gross (less than 20 minutes per game in ‘75-76), Lionel Hollins (26 minutes per), Lloyd Neal (injured for much of the championship run), and Bill Walton, who would play his first full NBA season in ‘76-’77. That’s five returning players on a 13-man roster, only three of whom had seen regular playing time.
Add in a whole new coach and a whole new system and you’re left with a continuity nightmare. The Blazers added plenty of talent in the summer of 1976, including Twardzik, but it should have taken them half a season to gel, minimum. Instead they started the season 7-1 and ended it with the trophy in hand.
Twardzik was just the right point guard to make that happen. His mind was brilliant, his game unselfish, and his reads near-impeccable. He could handle the ball but didn’t need it. He fit right into Jack Ramsay’s offensive philosophy: “The best shot usually comes from whomever is open; if that’s you, don’t miss.” If a player got free, Twardzik would find them. And when the time came for him to shoot, you couldn’t find any better in the NBA.
Twardzik would never be a George Gervin volume scorer. (Gervin had been a teammate with the Squires, actually. George averaged 21.5 shot attempts per 36, Dave just under 9.) But Twardzik shot 61.2% as a guard during his first year with the Blazers in ‘76-77. Fellow ABA alum Artis Gilmore, the huge Chicago Bulls center who dwarfed everybody while scoring at the rim, averaged 52.2% from the field that year. “Pinball” was more bankable than the best percentage scorers in the entire league. With all eyes turned towards Walton and Maurice Lucas, that became the dagger embedded in opponents’ backs.
Twardzik would finish his four-year stint in Portland with a field goal percentage of 55.2%. He’d average just short of 10 ppg, right around 3.5 assists. He’d be displaced by younger, quicker, more athletic guards, fall to injuries, then go on to a career on the bench and in the front offices of the Charlotte Hornets, Golden State Warriors, and Orlando Magic. For helping put together that magical run to the title, being exactly the point guard his team needed at the time, Dave Twardzik earns the 66th spot in our Trail Blazers Top 100 list.
Discuss your thoughts and memories of “Pinball” below, and check back every day as we continue the countdown to No. 1.