Los Angeles — Like a great racehorse that has been assigned extra weight as a handicap, 6 ft. 10 in. center-forward Bob McAdoo of the Los Angeles Lakers has for years played pro basketball with a mental cloud over his head. However, few players have ever had his credentials as a shooter.
At one time, all you ever heard about McAdoo (despite three NBA scoring titles early in his career) was that he was useless without the ball, faked injuries, and played defense with all the enthusiasm of a man assigned to a bomb defusing squad.
The New York Knicks, for example, wanted Bob's points so badly that nearly seven years ago they paid the NBA's former Buffalo franchise $3 million for him. Less than two seasons later, the Knicks traded him to the Boston Celtics for future draft choices and a player to be named later. From there he was passed along to the Detroit Pistons and New Jersey Nets before finally winding up in L.A.
If McAdoo ever felt like a reject, he hasn't with the Lakers, who've gotten excellent mileage out of him the last three years, and are doing so again during the current playoffs.
In the Lakers' first two playoff series this year (against Kansas City and Dallas), McAdoo has caused the opposition more problems than a spoon in a garbage disposal. The fact is that when Bob is firing pull-up jumpers, wheeling into the lane, or controlling the offensive board, no opponent seems to match up very well against him.
''When McAdoo is moving and hitting and getting the ball where he can do something with it, there isn't anybody in the league who can guard him effectively,'' explained Lakers' Coach Pat Riley. ''I use him off the bench for instant points, but he also gives me a good effort defensively and on the boards. He is playing 15 pounds lighter this year and I think that has been reflected by the extra spring in his legs.
''On another NBA team Bob would probably be a starter, but with us it isn't necessary,'' Riley continued. ''We can afford to pick just the right situations for him. That's one of the reasons we've done so well in the playoffs, because we can bring in reserves like Michael Cooper, James Worthy, and McAdoo without taking anything away from the tempo of our games.''
While it would be inaccurate to say that McAdoo never slam dunks, Bob seldom has to resort to that maneuver to get his points. Over the years he has used the backboards to make his shots into the basket; created opportunities for himself by moving without the ball; and taken advantage of his great range to shoot over opponents who don't guard him that closely away from the hoop.
And like all of pro basketball's offensive greats, McAdoo discovered early that the way to be one of the game's top scorers is to learn to put the ball on the floor and go strong to the basket. If a man with his shooting touch can get himself fouled 10 or 15 times a game, that's at least another 10 points or more if he can hit most of his free throws.
''Whenever we're in a slack period offensively, McAdoo can usually be counted upon to get us out of it,'' said the Lakers' Magic Johnson, who has also played brilliantly in the playoffs. ''Bob is not your average area shooter, because he can score from almost anywhere on the court. He's not your average rebounder, either, because he's able to get up in the air and reach over people to grab balls that most players would concede to their opponents.''
The feeling among a lot of Laker fans is that McAdoo, if he played regularly, could get 25 points a game any time he put his mind to it. Maybe he could and maybe he couldn't, but the fact is that he has averaged that figure or better six times during his career.
''Basically I've become like a relief pitcher who doesn't need a lot of time to get himself ready,'' McAdoo once told reporters. ''I've adjusted to the situation that I'm not going to start with this team, but that I can usually count on getting quality minutes while I am on the floor. And at this point in my career, that's all I need as long as we're winning.''
Even this year, coming off the bench, Bob averaged more than 13 points every 20 minutes he was on the floor. According to the Lakers' publicity department, that made him the league's leading scorer among players who didn't start a single game.
''If Los Angeles and Boston should wind up playing each other in the NBA finals,'' said scout Larry Creger of the Indiana Pacers, ''McAdoo will nullify what Kevin McHale does for the Celtics coming off the bench. Even though Bob is 32, he doesn't play enough minutes to get tired, and as a shooter he almost never has a poor night.''