The Lost MVPs: The 1951-52 NBA Season

Desert (Moyan Brenn - Flickr)

After a Rochester Royals interregnum, the Minneapolis Lakers resumed their domination of the NBA this year as they began their second three-peat.  Even though the NBA title will be in no doubt for the next few seasons, the choice for MVP will be quite muddled as George Mikan finally begins to show cracks in his impressive armor.

#5 Ed Macauley – Boston Celtics (39-27)
All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
19.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, .432 FG%, .799 FT%

Celtics and Royals at the Basketball Hoop

The Celtics center took a slight step down in stats this year, but that was more to do with Bob Cousy’s inspired emergence than anything wrong with Easy Ed. He continued to provide the fast, quick offensive punch that left slow-footed  frontcourt players in the dust while displaying his customary soft touch on hooks and free throws.

Just another in a long stretch of seasons where Macauley would hover around 19 PPG and 9 RPG on stellar field goal and free throw percentages.

#4 Vern Mikkelsen – Minneapolis Lakers (40-26)
All-NBA 2nd Team, All-Star
15.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, .419 FG%, .761 FT%

Vern Mikkelsen

The stats depict a man who should be further down the rankings, but defense has never been quantified all that well, especially before blocks and steals were tallied. Let me assure you Vern Mikkelsen was a devastating defensive force for the Lakers frontcourt.

As center George Mikan and small forward Jim Pollard’s age crept up, Mikkelsen’s youthful, hustling play helped keep the Lakers dynasty afloat. Like Gallatin, Mikkelsen wouldn’t necessarily set the world on fire offensively, but his rebounding was superb and he was good enough on offense to keep his man honest. But the defense is where Vern truly earned his keep. With a somewhat wiry but muscular 6’7″, 230-lbs frame Mikkelsen made life hellish for opposing forwards and made it golden for the Lakers.

#3 Bob Cousy – Boston Celtics (39-27)
All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
21.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 6.7 APG, .369 FG%, .808 FT%

Bob Cousy (skiids.com)
Bob Cousy (skiids.com)

In his second season in Boston, Cousy began to emerge as the premier guard in the NBA. Never before had a player scored so many points while assisting on so many at the same time. Despite a field goal percentage that never made it beyond the high .300s, Cousy was an offensive savant. Other players, notably Rochester’s Bob Davies, had exhibited daring-do with their dribbles before, but none had done so with the frequent flair that Cousy exhibited.

The Cooz finished third in PPG and second in APG for the entire NBA this season. Furthermore, Cousy became the first player to top off above 20 PPG, 6 RPG, and 6 APG in a sesaon. Something only 18 players have done since. I’ll call this one the “Cousy Line”. Afterall, his teammate Ed Macauley got a “line” (20+ PPG, 9+ RPG, 3.5+ APG) so Cousy should get one too. Featuring those two top-five MVP candidates made Boston a title contender for the first time in its history.

#2 George Mikan – Minneapolis Lakers (40-26)
All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
23.8 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 3 APG, .385 FG%, .780% FT

Big George Mikan

Well, the good times had to end for Mikan. He’ll have to settle for a measly 2nd-place this year after winning three consecutive MVPs.

Mikan’s scoring dipped to just under 24 PPG, the worst yet seen in his BAA and NBA career. This of course would represent an astronomical career-high for just about everyone else. Picking up slack elsewhere, Mikan led the league in rebounds per game for the first time in his career. The Lakers, as usual, would finish a game behind Rochester for the regular season wins lead, but would go on to win the NBA title. Mikan’s powers may have slipped from previous seasons, but he was still among the league’s absolute best and his team would continue to dominate.

Still, this season, I think another player just squeezed ahead of Mikan for MVP honors…

#1 Paul Arizin – Philadelphia Warriors (33-33)
All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
25.4 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 2.6 APG, .448 FG%, .818 FT%

Paul Arizin

The Philadelphia Warriors finished with a perfectly average 33-33 record, but that came thanks to the mammoth play of small forward Paul Arizin, one of the greatest to ever play the position.

With due respect to Joe Fulks and Andy Phillip, the Warriors were utterly dependent on Arizin. He led the entire NBA (not just his team) in total minutes played, field goals made, free throws made, free throws attempted and points scored. Arizin also led the NBA in minutes played per game (44.5), points per game (25.4) and FG% (.448).  Meanwhile, his FT% was good enough for 9th overall in the league and despite being 6’4″ tall he hauled down 11.3 RPG which placed him 7th overall. Along with Cliff Hagan, this makes Arizin the shortest man to ever gobble up 10+ RPG in a season.

Arizin achieved these numbers with exceptional athleticism that came despite an asthmatic condition that caused him to wheeze  heavily while playing. Equally at home taking a standard one-hand set shot when wide open on the perimeter or taking to a dribbling attack that ended in his use of the new-fangled “jumping shot”, Arizin was an absolute terror and the deserved MVP, in my opinion, of this NBA season.

Unfortunately, Arizin would have no chance to defend his MVP the next season. He would be drafted into the Marine Corps and wouldn’t return to the NBA for two seasons.

The Lost MVPs: the 1950-51 NBA Season

Searching (Jeffrey Beall - Flickr)

For the 1st time in the Lost MVPs series, all five finalists for the MVP award have been enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. This is indeed an indicator that the talent pool continues to increase and make the selection ever more difficult. Such luminaries as Arnie Risen, Bob Cousy, Bob Davies, Joe Fulks, Andy Phillip, Harry Gallatin, and Carl Braun don’t make the cut.

A notable change this season though is that the bloated NBA of the previous season (courtesy of the NBL fully merging with the BAA) has already started to shrink. From 17 teams in 1950, the league has quickly dwindled to 11 teams as the St. Louis Bombers, Anderson Packers, Sheboygan Red Skins, Waterloo Hawks, Denver Nuggets and Chicago Stags all bit the dust.

On the statistical front, for the first time rebounds were tallied allowing us another tool to examine our candidates. And in one final exciting change, there was the inaugural All-Star Game held this season at the Boston Garden!

As for the postseason results, the powerful Rochester Royals finally upended their perennial rival, the Minneapolis Lakers, and captured the NBA title. This would be the only point between 1948 and 1954 when the Lakers did not capture the title of the league they competed in, whether it was the NBL, BAA, or NBA. However, the Rochester achievement was such a team effort that none of their fine players makes the final cut for my individualist MVP rankings…

#5 Paul Arizin – Philadelphia Warriors (40-26)
All-Star
17.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.1 APG, .407 FG%, .793% FT

Paul Arizin 1951

An excellent rookie year from one of the NBA’s all-time great small forwards. Arizin joining the Warriors was the significant move that lifted the team from a 26-42 also-ran campaign in 1950 to a 40-26 contender this season.

If there was a Rookie of the Year award at this time, Arizin would have easily snagged it. Sorry, Bob Cousy. The frightening thing, at least for the rest of the league, was that this would be the worst season of Arizin’s career. His acrobatic, athletic offensive game would prove to be increasingly difficult to stop over the coming years. But for now, he’ll merely settle for being 5th place on this assessment of MVP candidates.

#4 Dolph Schayes – Syracuse Nationals (32-34)
All-NBA 2nd Team, All-Star
17 PPG, 16.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, .357 FG%, .752% FT

Dolph Schayes early

The big Syracuse forward in his 3rd pro year posted his best season yet, but does fall a place in the rankings compared to last season. It’s certainly no fault of his own. In the first year of tabulating rebounds, Schayes demolished the competition in the category, recording 16.4 per game. That represents not only a career-high for Schayes but the highest RPG average of the pre-shot clock era and wouldn’t be eclipsed (and barely so) until 1956 by Bob Pettit and Maurice Stokes.

The Syracuse Nationals however did stumble a bit this season. They managed only 32 wins placing them 4th in the Eastern Division. Schayes’s FG% was also one of the worst of his career, but still, his domination of the glass, alongside his usual swinging offensive game maintains his high status among the NBA elite.

#3 Alex Groza – Indianapolis Olympians (31-37)
All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
21.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, .470 FG%, .786 FT%

Alex Groza

Alex the Great returned this season just as good as ever, but his team’s losing record was a detriment and the deciding factor in his third place finish behind our #2 player this year.

Still, Groza led the league in FG% for a second-straight season and would see his FT% rise from 73% in 1950 to 78.6% this season. Sadly, this season would turn out to be the last of Groza’s NBA career as he was banished soon after for a point-shaving scandal that occurred during his collegiate days.

But that has no effect on his outstanding NBA play. The sign of things that could and should of come was in the postseason as Groza averaged 32 points and 14 rebounds on 49.5% shooting against the mighty Minneapolis Lakers. That’s a little statistical feat only accomplished by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone and Shaquille O’Neal. An all-time great talent whose path we won’t be crossing again on the Lost MVPs.

#2 Ed Macauley – Boston Celtics (39-30)
All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
20.4 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 3.7 APG, .466 FG%, .759% FT, 15.9 win shares

Easy Ed Macauley celtics

Easy Ed had an excellent debut rookie campaign for the St. Louis Bombers, but that team’s absolutely horrible record kept him out of the MVP race last season. Well, with that franchise’s liquidation, Macauley caught on with the Boston Celtics and caught fire with his shooting touch.

Zooming from 39.8% to 46.6%, his FG% massively improved. This is in no small part to the presence of rookie point guard Bob Cousy and Red Auerbach’s fast breaking offense, but Macauley also deserves tremendous credit for putting the ball in the basket. And as a testament to his all-around game, I’m creating the “Macauley Line”: 20+ PPG, 9+ RPG, 3.5+ APG

He was the first player to produce that stat line. And it would take eight years for another player – Elgin Baylor – to replicate it. That stat measure is a titanic indicator for how all-around a frontcourt player’s talent is. Obviously, it also speaks to Macauley’s unique and special prowess. We’ll be seeing more from him in the coming years.

#1 George Mikan – Minneapolis Lakers (44-24)
All-NBA 1st Team, All-Star
28.4 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, .428 FG%, .803 FT%

George Mikan (sports.terra.com)
George Mikan (sports.terra.com)

No surprise here. George Mikan has just snagged his third-straight MVP. There’s only so much gushing left to do for the man.

Mikan set career-highs in PPG, FG% and FT% this year as he led the league for a third-straight season in PPG. In other, unsurprising news, the Lakers finished with the best regular season record in the NBA and were on the ridiculous verge of securing a fourth-straight pro title, except the Rochester Royals finally dethroned their long-time nemesis in the Western Division Finals, taking advantage of a hurt Mikan in the playoffs.

The intrigue now lies with whether Mikan can hold on for an unbelievable fourth-straight MVP the following season. Here’s a hint – if he does take it home, it’ll be a close call. He’s getting older and the new, young talent is maturing fast.

Robert Sarver: Modern Day Ted Stepien

Look at me ma, I'm grandstanding!
Look at me ma, I’m grandstanding!

In a ridiculous turn of events, Robert Sarver apologized to Suns fans last night for the San Antonio Spurs resting two old ass players – Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili – and letting three other players with mild injuries rest up during a PRESEASON GAME.

Here’s some of the histrionics from Sarver via the Arizona Republic:

“Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight,” Sarver said. “This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I’ve got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you.”

First of all, I’m of the opinion those fans wasted their money by buying preseason tickets.

Second of all, if Sarver wants to apologize to Phoenix fans for wasting their hard-earned money on the Suns, he oughta give a mea culpa for his apparent and silly mandate from 2004 to 2007 to discard any and all potentially useful draft picks.

After viewing the list of travesties, you’ll conclude, like I have that Sarver was a modern-day Ted Stepien… the infamous Cleveland owner from the early 1980s who gave away draft picks for next-to-nothing.

JUNE 2004

The Suns drafted Luol Deng with the 7th overall pick and hastily traded him to the Chicago Bulls for a Jackson Vroman and a 2005 1st Round Pick. As I’m sure y’all know, Deng has gone on to a fine career while Jackson Vroman has… what has he done? I’ve honestly never heard of him before this. According to Basketball-Reference, Vroman played a total of 57 minutes for the Suns before being traded away.

Well, at least the Suns used that 2005 1st Rounder from Chicago to select Nate Robinson…

JUNE 2005

Well, that didn’t last long. After the Suns drafted li’l Nate they packaged him with Quentin Richardson for the New York Knicks. In return the Suns got wild-eyed Kurt Thomas and Dijon Thompson. Dijon however was no good and wasn’t in high demand like Grey Poupon. Thompson would play a grand total of 43 minutes for the Suns.

In a separate deal, the Suns gave away 2nd Round draft pick Marcin Gortat to the Orlando Magic for the mythical “future considerations.” Seems like an even deal.

JUNE 2006

With an all-world point guard like Steve Nash, the Suns still needed to have some backup help and they coulda had it in spades this year by drafting Sergio Rodriguez and Rajon Rondo.

Instead, they wound up trading both men. Rodriguez was sold for cash to the Portland Trail Blazers. Meanwhile Rondo was shipped to Boston for a future 1st Round Pick. Don’t worry they’ll be trading that pick soon enough.

Instead of having Rodriguez or Rondo to back up Nash, Phoenix went out and signed… Marcus Banks. Jesus.

JULY 2007

That 1st Rounder Phoenix got for Rondo turned out to be Rudy Fernandez. Rudy got sold for cash to the Blazers.

Don’t worry, just a week later the Suns dumped Kurt Thomas, a 2008 1st Rounder, and a 2010 1st Rounder on Seattle for the privilege of a 2nd Round draft pick and a trade exception. The two first rounders Phoenix dumped turned out to be Serge Ibaka and Quincy Pondexter. One an All-Star caliber player, the other turning into a fine rotation swingman. The Suns took Emir Preldzic, who has yet to play in the NBA, with that 2nd Rounder they got in return.

THE SCORE

So, let’s tally the score shall we. From 2004 to 2007, Phoenix traded away draftees and draft picks that became Rajon Rondo, Serge Ibaka, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, Rudy Fernandez, Marcin Gortat, and Sergio Rodriguez for cash, Marcus Banks, Dijon Thompson, and “future considerations.”

Wasn’t like Phoenix was a title-contender all these years, coming perilously close to the Finals.

Good grief.

 

Thanks to basketball-reference as always for being a great research source.

Basketball’s Future Past

Time Machine
A fly time machine

The laziest disservice and view of basketball history, or any history, is to do a straight-up transportation of one person to another era and issue blithe commentary.

For example: “Any NBA player in 2014 could mop the floor with a player from 1954.”

Another example in reverse: “The Founding Fathers who lived without knowledge of germ theory or combustion engines have all the answers to problems in 2014.”

Whoops, political opinion. Back to basketball…

The first problem with this unfortunate logic is to assume that “any NBA player in 2014″ could exist in 1954. Yes, J.R. Smith’s moves are ostensibly more impressive than Paul Seymour’s, but transporting J.R. Smith back to 1954 should strip away every advancement that was made to his benefit in the intervening 60 years.

Also, Paul Seymour hit a game-winning half-court shot in the 1954 NBA Finals and made the All-NBA 2nd Team twice. Dude could play.

Digressions aside, I can’t detail right now every single advancement in basketball’s long history. However it would be excellent for you – the reader – to ask yourself exactly what has changed in 123 years since basketball was first played.

After having done so myself, I’ve concluded there are three ways to view the changes in basketball: Social, Technological, and “Genetic”.

“GENETIC”

Imagine all basketball players the world over as the human species. We are 99.9% similar to each other the world over. The little differences in that 0.1% are what makes us appear so vastly different. Yeah, Isaac Newton and Martin Luther King were smart fellas, but they still had to eat, breath, and shit like the rest of us. We’re all operating pretty much the same, but that little percentage in difference creates a lot of variety.

In basketball, it is the same. Go to any court, any where and things are 99% the same but that 1% makes the players look vastly different. Yeah, LeBron James is going to be dunking with a ferocity you’ll never see on 99% of pickup courts, but on those pickup courts you see players dribbling, passing, shooting, driving, arguing, hi-fiving, etc. like NBA players. That 1% of LeBron dunking seems so different it makes us overlook that 99% of what’s similar.

But where does that 1% difference come from?

When basketball was created in 1891, its first players were all at least in their mid-20s. This was not a game people had grown up with and could apply their childhood imagination and instinct to. It was not intrinsic to them. They were constantly grafting their experiences with other sports onto basketball.

As the decades went by, we began having more and more people who never knew life without basketball. Their twists and turns and takes on the game can be considered the genetic mutations of the sport. These mutations often happened totally independent of one another, much like real genetic mutations do.

The jump shot is a great example of this.

Several players across the country in the 1930s and 1940s were doing jumpers with no knowledge of the others’ existence. They were just doing what felt natural to them. The jumper proved advantageous and slowly pushed aside older shots like the two-hand set shot, the one-hand set shot, and underhanded shots.

Other things we take for granted – bounce passes, dribbling, picks, etc. – all were “devised” the same way. Random people from random parts of the world just began doing the moves. What now seems essential and integral was once a mutation of basketball as it then stood.

Bob Cousy’s whimsical over-the-head passes in 1952? Basketball mutation.
Gus Johnson breaking a backboard cuz he dunked so hard in 1964? Basketball mutation.
J.R. Rider dunking between his legs in 1995? Basketball mutation.
Elgin Baylor gliding across the lane for scoop shots in 1958? Basketball mutation.
Kenny Sailors in the 1930s, at only 5’10″, in his backyard in Wyoming trying to shoot over his 6’5″ brother by jumping then shooting? Basketball mutation.

Bob Davies, the Rochester rocket taking the game airborn
Bob Davies mutating basketball

Like all “genetic” discussions, though, it’s futile – AND EXTREMELY DANGEROUS – to say one mutation is inherently better than the other though. It all depends on circumstances. The two-hand set shot seems archaic and “obviously” a stupid move. But considering the basketball environment it flourished in, it makes sense it took decades for the jumper to overtake it.

TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY

The technology of basketball – the environment we all play in – has an undervalued role in how successful players of any era are. The first “basketball” was actually a soccer ball. The first “basket” was actually a basket not an iron rim with a net. It took several years for shoes to be designed specifically for the sport.

These things are of no small consequence to how we play the game.

The first true basketballs were larger than the ones we use today, had huge protruding laces, and their leather material soaked up moisture becoming heavier as the game went on. The large, heavy, and unwieldy basketballs were better shot with a two-hand set shot and not the jumper. Indeed, re-introduce that old-time basketball today and players like Steph Curry wouldn’t be dribbling as easily as they do and then tossing up 25-foot bombs with ease.

Like players of yesteryear, they would put a higher premium on motion and screens without the ball. This lack of emphasis on dribbling didn’t mean players in the 1940s couldn’t dribble well, it meant they had to conduct themselves in an environment where A) an open set-shot required more off-ball movement and screens, B) the set-shot took longer to release due to the shot’s mechanics and the ball’s unfortunate physics and C) no shot clock meant you could weave and screen as long as it took to get someone open.

And don’t forget that the Currys of the world need a coach willing to let him shoot those bombs. When Kenny Sailors entered the pros his coach told him to lose the jumper  and stick to the set-shot.

Just another great GIF to enjoy. Look at that pass from Wilt to Elgin!
Just another great GIF to enjoy. Look at that pass from Wilt to Elgin!

Likewise, the three-point shot has been around since 1961, but the social orthodoxy of the NBA didn’t adopt it until 1979 and it took a while longer before NBA offenses figured out what to do with the damn thing. A player like Louie Dampier, who flourished in the ABA thanks in large part to the three-pointer, would not have been nearly as successful in the NBA.

Would that have made Dampier any less of a great player, though? Or just a talented victim of circumstance and orthodoxy?

These social constraints dictate a large degree of player success. What we oughta struggle with is how much of a player’s success is their talent and how much is the circumstance? And note my emphasis on struggle. We can never know that answer, but we should seriously consider what the answer could be.

And that “could be”  leads to the main, final, and most important point… Imagination.

Think, question, and imagine how players, equipment, and thought on basketball has changed over the last 123 years. The game we play and watch today is vastly different from what it was in 1891. When someone today has an innovation – mutation – it can now be quickly transferred and amplified thanks to the technology at our disposal. Imagine how quickly the jump shot might have spread with the communications and training network we have today? On the other hand, consider what groundbreaking moves are being scoffed at right now by the current basketball orthodoxy.

Every era has its innovators and naysayers, coat-tail riders and outside-the-box thinkers.

But above all, remember that with all these changes, all these restrictions, all these thoughts…the game is 99% the same as it was in 1891. Love, embrace, and sympathize with our basketball ancestors. In the end, we’re doing the same old thing they were: eating, breathing, shitting, and trying to put a ball in the basket.

Pro Hoops History HOF: Kenny Sailors

Kenny SailorsThe pro career of Kenny Sailors was never as grand as it should have been. Institutions are always slow to accept change. And basketball, as an institution, was slow to adopt the pet move – seen above – that Sailors helped popularize.

The following exchange, noted in The Origins of the Jump Shot, during Sailors’ rookie season helps show the resistance to Sailors’ extraordinary brilliance:

Kenny was about to step into the shower after that first practice when [Cleveland coach] Dutch Dehnert approached him. “Say-lors,” Dutch pronounced Kenny’s name. “Where’d you get that leapin’ one-hander?”

“I been shootin’ it ever since I was a kid.”

Whether that satisfied Dutch or not, his face gave no hint.

“And that dribblin’ of yours,” he continued. “You don’t dribble in this league. You pass the ball.”

Kenny shrugged. “I have to dribble to shoot my jumper, Dutch.”

“I’m gonna give you some advice, Say-lors. If you’re gonna go in this league, you gotta forget that dribblin’.”

Kenny turned to enter the shower.

“And you gotta get yourself a good two-hand set shot,” Dutch shouted after him.

Needless to say, Say-lors never had much opportunity to win over the recalcitrant Dehnert. Nonetheless, the way Sailors played basketball has gone on to shape and influence nearly every player since.When was the last time you’ve seen a player let loose a two-hand set shoot?

So, although just 5’10″ tall, Sailors’ greatest contribution to the game was elevating it to new heights.

Literally.

He was one of the first prominent players to use the jump shot back in the 1940s. Sailors did not invent the jumper. It had been around since the 1920s, at least. What makes Sailors notable is just how reliant he was on the shot. His diminutive height made it necessity for him to jump while shooting, otherwise he’d constantly be blocked by earthbound, yet taller opponents.

With the jumper in hand, however, Sailors could more than equalize the situation turning it completely to his favor. Not only could he lift his release point higher by jumping, his opponents were unfamiliar with the shot, so they didn’t know how to defend it. Used to earthbound two-handers and set-shots, the defenders couldn’t adjust on the fly to Sailors.

Sailors attended college at the University of Wyoming and was named Most Outstanding Player of the 1943 NCAA tournament en route to leading Wyoming to the championship that year. In 1942, 1943, and 1946, Sailors was named an All-American as well. The disruption in his college career came thanks to his service in the Marine Corps during World War II.

Kenny Sailors card

Naturally, the delay in finishing college meant his pro career was also delayed. At age 24, Sailors finally entered pro basketball with the Cleveland Rebels in 1946. Unfortunately for Sailors, his pro career was racked with chaos, misfortune and the skepticism of coaches like Dehnert. Sailors’s website does an excellent job summing up the dysfunction caused by the unstable financial situation of many ball clubs in the BAA and early NBA.

  • July 27, 1947 – Drafted by the Chicago Stags from the Cleveland Rebels in the dispersal draft when Cleveland folded
  • November 1947 – Sold by Chicago to the Philadelphia Warriors
  • December 1, 1947 – Sold by Philadelphia to the Providence Steamrollers
  • July 16, 1949 – Signed by the Denver Nuggets as Providence folded when the BAA merged into the new NBA
  • June 22, 1950 – Sold by Denver to the Boston Celtics as Denver folded
  • December 1, 1950 – Traded by Boston to the Baltimore Bullets where Kenny retired after one season and finished his professional career

After failing to impress in Cleveland and cast aside by Philly and Chicago in short order, Sailors’s greatest success in the pros came with the Providence Steamrollers and the Denver Nuggets from 1947 to 1950.  Sailors was freed to shoot his jumper. For the 1949 and 1950 seasons Sailors finished in the top 5 in scoring in the BAA/NBA while also finishing 7th and 6th, respectively, in assist per game.

For his stellar 1948-49 campaign with the Steamrollers, Kenny was named to the All-BAA 2nd Team. His 1950 season with the Nuggets was worthy of similar honors, despite his exclusion.

Unfortunately for Sailors, the free-wheeling offenses that let him loose in Providence and, especially, Denver weren’t to last. Providence folded in 1949 and Denver in 1950. Sailors  was picked up by Boston prior to the 1950-51 season, but with Bob Cousy in hand they had no use for Kenny. Traded to Baltimore, Sailors was now 29 years old and longing to return to the West. So after that 1951 season with the Bullets, Sailors retired from pro ball and headed back to the other side of the Mississippi.

The pros never quite appreciated the revolution Sailors was instigating back in the 1940s. Even today, very few appreciate the role that Sailors commanded in what is one of the largest transformations in basketball’s history.

Thanks to his simple boldness to take a jumper, shooting was on the road to greater accuracy. The game was to become more exciting. The little man added another weapon to offset the domination of the leviathans in the paint.

So even though his own personal greatness never blossomed due to the inertia of tradition, Sailors has a hand in all the great players since who’ve jumped and taken a shot.

Years Played: 1946 – 1951

Accolades:
All-BAA 2nd Team (1948-49)

Statistics:
12.6 PPG, 2.8 APG, 2.0 RPG, 32.9% FG, 71.2% FT

Pro Hoops History HOF: Dale Ellis

Dale Ellis
Dale Ellis

It took a while for Dale Ellis to get cooking in the NBA.  Drafted ninth overall in 1983, Ellis would spend the first three years of his career buried on the bench of the Dallas Mavericks. In his limited time on court (16.4 minutes per game), Ellis provided the Mavs with instant offense averaging 8.2 points per game. Dallas had no real need for Ellis at the time, though. With Rolando Blackman and Mark Aguirre occupying the shooting guard and small forward spots, Ellis could never crack the starting lineup or gain significant playing time.

Fortunately for Dale Ellis, a trade in the summer of 1986 sent him from Dallas to Seattle and from the bench to NBA stardom. Ellis averaged 25 PPG that first year with the Super Sonics and had such luminous performances as 32 points on 13 shots in 28 minutes; and 40 points on 19 shots. More of the same flowed from Ellis through the 1989-90 season. During that four-year stretch in Seattle, Dale averaged 25.6 PPG. He peaked in 1988-89 with 27.5 PPG and his lone selections to both, the All-NBA 3rd Team and the All-Star squad.

Curiously, while Ellis was averaging career highs in minutes and points these seasons, he was also averaging career highs in field goal percentage. During this torrid peak in Seattle, he never shot below 49.7% from the field and in 1989 he shot a ridiculous 47.8% from downtown on over 4 attempts per game. No one in the history of the NBA (except JOE JOHNSON!) has taken as many three-pointers a game and shot as high a percentage as Ellis did that season.

Behind Ellis hot shooting, Xavier McDaniel’s hot-headed drives, and Tom Chambers’s dynamite dunks, the Super Sonics of the late 1980s proved highly entertaining and somewhat super successful. In their first season as a trio, Ellis, McDaniel, and Chambers caught fire (and some lucky breaks) in the playoffs and made the Western Conference Finals despite 39 regular wins.

And in the 1987 postseason Ellis received a huge measure of revenge in defeating his former team the Dallas Mavericks. In the four-game series, Ellis averaged 30 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 56% FG, 50% 3PT% and 84% FT. Safe to say Dallas had no answer for the stone-faced Ellis.

Dale Ellis 2

The Sonics made the playoffs the two following seasons, but by 1991 that core was broken up and Ellis was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. For the rest of his career, including stops in San Antonio, Denver, Charlotte and return trips to Seattle and Milwaukee, Ellis would largely play the role of key reserve with 14.5 PPG for the rest of his career.

Ellis retired in 2000 with just a touch over 19,000 career points. At the time he was 34th on the all-time points leader board for NBA players. He scored those points in a variety of ways. He was quick and deceptive off the ball gathering easy mid-range jumpers and layups off cuts. He was also capable off the dribble and posting up leading to further easy buckets.

After all, no one scores 19,000 points on just three pointers.

But what made Ellis unique, special, and Hall of Fame worthy was indeed his way of shooting and nailing three-pointers. His expert use of the shot as integral part of his arsenal was truly revolutionary for the NBA.

Let’s just take his aggregates and accuracy step-by-step.

In 1986, Ellis ranked 19th all-time in 3-pointers made (117) despite barely getting off the Mavericks bench. Tellingly he was 3rd in 3PT% at that point with a 37.6% mark.

In 1991 the season he was traded from the Sonics, Ellis in spite of a huge rise in attempts still held firm at 6th in 3PT% (40.0%). And with that huge rise in attempts (and an increase in accuracy) he had vaulted into 2nd all-time in 3-pointers made (625).

By 1996, Ellis had become the first NBA player to make over 1000 threes and had sat atop the all-time 3-point standings for several seasons. In making his 1269 three-pointers to that point Ellis was still raising the bar on his accuracy with a 40.3% clip now.

By the time he retired in 2000, Ellis had been supplanted by Reggie Miller (1867 threes made) atop the leader board, but with his 1719 makes Dale was still in 2nd place and far ahead of the next closest player. And he retired with that 40.3% accuracy in tact.

As the three-point shot has achieved greater prominence, Ellis has fallen further down the board. He’s currently 10th in threes made, but it’s important to note two things:

1) None of the players above him shot the three-ball more accurately than his 40.3% and
2) You gotta go down to #66 on the list (Derek Harper) to find a player who started playing in the NBA mid-1980s like Ellis did.

He was a man of his time, who happened to also point the way to the NBA’s future. Indeed he helped blaze the way for the three-point shooter who could control a game. And if the Hall of Fame is made for anything, it’s certainly made for trail blazers.

Years Played: 1983 – 2000

Seattle SuperSonics
Seattle SuperSonics

Accolades

Most Improved Player (1987)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1989)
All-Star (1989)

Statistics

NBA Career: (1983-84 through 1999-2000)
Peak Career Production: (1986-87 through 1996-97)

Average and Advanced Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 993 136 610 34th
PPG 15.7 12.2 18.4 30th
RPG 3.2 2.6 3.6 200th
APG 6.0 4.4 7.0 9th
SPG 1.07 0.77 1.16 54th
BPG 0.16 0.14 0.17 225th
TS% 0.544 0.525 0.547 68th
2PT% 0.477 0.430 0.482 98th
3PT% 0.331 0.363 0.333 142nd
FT% 0.861 0.847 0.866 15th
PER 19.5 15.9 20.9 21st
WS/48 0.141 0.093 0.158 24th
Ortg 110 106 112
Drtg 108 109 108

Aggregate Stats

Stat Career Playoff Peak Peak Rank
Games 993 136 610 34th
Minutes 29812 3539 20731 27th
Points 15635 1656 11229 18th
Rebounds 3221 349 2203 112th
Assists 5939 592 4275 6th
Steals 1058 105 710 33rd
Blocks 163 19 105 212th
2PTs 10529 448 3789 18th
3PTs 672 117 374 102nd
FTs 3567 409 2529 17th
WS 87.5 6.9 68.3 20th

Pro Hoops History HOF: Ed Wachter

Ed Wachter
Ed Wachter

At 6’1″ tall, Ed Wachter was the best center in basketball during his heyday and one of pro basketball’s first stars. Born in 1883, eight years before the sport was created, Wachter began playing pro basketball at age 17 in 1900. It was only two years since the first pro basketball league started – grandiosely, it was called the National Basketball League despite being in just Pennsylvania and New Jersey – and Wachter would play a pivotal role in evolving the style and play of the game.

Hailing from Troy, New York, Wachter learned basketball at his local YMCA. The YMCA was the typical spot in this era for the best pro and amateur talent to emerge. At age 17, Wachter began his pro career in Massachusetts with the Ware Wonders of the Western Massachusetts League in 1900. Over the next decade, Wachter bounced around playing a year or two with teams in Haverhill (MA), Schenectady (NY), Gloversville (NY), Pittsfield (MA), and McKeesport (PA).

By 1905, Ed Wachter along with his brother Lew, Jimmy Williamson, and Bill Hardman traveled from team to team together forming a bond and rapport. While in Gloversville they whipped the Buffalo Germans in a match in 1908. Nonetheless, the barnstorming Germans would go on to win 111 straight games over the next three years as the press celebrated them as basketball’s best team.

Perhaps sensing they themselves were worthy of the title, Wachter and company went back to Troy, New York, and formed the Trojans in 1909. Competing in the Hudson Valley League, the Trojans thrived on their exquisite teamwork and wound up winning four straight championships (1910-1913). The first two of  these came in the Hudson league while the final two  came in the New York State League. Although in two different leagues, the Trojans were the first professional basketball team to secure four straight titles.

Ed Wachter proved the focal point of pro basketball’s first dynasty. Not only the best player, he also served as the team’s coach. His skills, vision, and prodding made the Trojans one of the first teams, and certainly the first great team, to employ crisp bounce-passing and a fastbreaking style of basketball. Aggressive, Wacther and the Trojans also instituted a grilling man-to-man defensive style that fostered the fastbreak.

Ed, along with is brother Lew, were also strong proponents of a daring rule change in basketball: the man fouled while in the act of shooting had to shoot the resulting free throws. Prior to this, teams generally selected their best foul shooter to take all free throws after any shooting foul. Ed and Lew’s new rule was adopted by the Hudson River Valley League in 1910. The rule would slowly spread and catch on with most other pro leagues by 1917 and with college basketball by 1924.

Even though his playing days began over a century ago, the influence of Ed Wachter remains with basketball to this day. Things as simple as how free throws are taken, or how bounce passes are made, we owe to the thoughts and skills of Wachter and the Troy Trojans.

Years Played: 1900 – 1924