No. 4: Phil Chenier
Before a back injury during the 1977-78 season slowed his career down, Phil Chenier was one of the best shooting guards in the league.
His entry to the NBA was quite interesting. He was drafted by the Wizards in 1971 but it was in a NBA Supplemental Hardship Draft. Before 1971, basketball players in college aren’t allowed to enter the NBA unless they were seniors. Chenier, who was a junior at the University of California, was selected as the fourth overall pick.
Chenier only averaged 12 points in his rookie year but still managed to make it on the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
The following year was a complete turnaround. As a matter of fact, if the Most Improved Player award existed back then, he most likely would’ve won it.
Chenier averaged 19 points per game during the 1972-73 season, scoring 20-plus points in the first seven games. On Dec. 6, he scored a career-high 53 points in a 115-102 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers.
But it wasn’t just scoring he excelled in; he found other ways to contribute. On Oct. 25, he decided to get his teammates involved as he dished out 10 assists in a 115-105 victory against the Detroit Pistons. On Mar. 8, he grabbed 10 rebounds but the Wizards ended up with a 105-93 loss to the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.
After averaging just nine points in the 1972 playoffs, he leveled it up this time around. He logged in 17 points per game but the Wizards ended up losing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-1 to the New York Knicks. He was, however, able to squeeze in a 27-point performance in Game 2.
Chenier had himself a career year during the 1973-74 campaign
He averaged 21 points and five rebounds, both setting career-highs for him. Throughout the season, he turned in 12 30-point games, including back-to-back ones on Mar. 9 and 10 (30 points and 33 points, respectively). His highest-scoring game came on Feb. 1. He scored 38 points to lead the Wizards to a 107-99 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Along with his scoring, Chenier had four games with double-figure rebounds. But he also displayed great defense at times. On Nov. 25, he registered eight steals as the Wizards grabbed a 109-81 win over the Knicks.
Once the postseason approached, he never let up. He averaged 22 points per contest but once again lost to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-3. Coincidentally, he had another great scoring outlet in Game 2. This time, he dropped 35 points.
Chenier made sure to remain consistent the following year as he averaged another 21 points. His best scoring displays came in March, nearly back-to-back. On Mar. 11, he scored 38 points in a 99-87 win against the Atlanta Hawks. Just three days later, he recorded 32 points and 12 rebounds but the Wizards lost 103-102 to the Kings.
During the playoffs, he averaged 24 points, his best yet. This go around, the Wizards made it to the NBA Finals. But it wasn’t easy.
The Wizards were facing elimination again in the Semifinals, this time to the Buffalo Braves. The series got pushed to a Game 7 and Chenier knew he had to give it his all. He scored a playoff career-high 39 points to help the Wizards advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1971.
The Wizards defeated the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals but got swept by the Golden State Warriors 0-4 in the Finals.
Chenier’s scoring took a slight dip in the 1975-76 season. He only logged in 19 points a game but still had some special moments. On Feb. 17, he registered 42 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals in a 113-112 victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. It came just one game after scoring 30 points as the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the 1976 playoffs, he averaged 18 points but the Wizards lost to the Cavaliers 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He finished the series off with a 31-point display in Game 7.
Chenier averaged 20 points during the 1976-77 season, marking the last time he averaged 20-plus points in his career. What really stood out this year was what he did in the postseason.
During the playoffs, he averaged a career-high 25 points while putting together two great scoring affairs. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round against the Cavaliers, he scored 38 points. For the entire round, he averaged 26 points while the Wizards advanced to the Semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
The Wizards lost the second round but, of course, Chenier found a way to get his hands dirty. In Game 2, he logged in 37 points and 10 rebounds.
For the 1977-78 season, Chenier averaged 14 points but his season was cut short due to a back injury. After that happened, his career started to go downhill. He averaged just five points in the 1978-79 season before being released by the Wizards in 1979.
Though it was never the same after his injury, his career was extremely special. Currently, Chenier is the Wizards’ eighth all-time leader in points with 9,778 points and fifth all-time leader in steals with 667. His jersey can be seen in the rafters during the Wizards’ home games.