This is our second installment in our NBA Tuesday series exploring, analyzing, and awarding past trophies to individual players, as outlined in the inaugural post on basketball MVPs (and other notable awards to come, eventually).
The NBA was in its infancy in the 1950s, and not all modern-day statistics were tabulated regularly back then, so we do the best we can under the circumstances. Without any more blather, here we go for the second season of the modern NBA.
1951 MVP: George Mikan
This is really the same situation as the 1950 discussion, in many ways, although we do have other intriguing players this time around to add to the fray. Mikan, playing center for the Minneapolis Lakers, led his team to a league-best 44 wins in the regular season, while posting 23.43 WAR and 26.46 PER. Both those marks were the best in the NBA in 1951.
So how does any other player compete with that? Here’s the list of contenders:
- Alex Groza, C, Indianapolis Olympians: 17.96 WAR, 31 victories, no Top-10 PER
- Ed Macauley, C/PF, Boston Celtics: 15.89 WAR, 39 victories, 4th in PER (22.55)
- Paul Arizin, SF, Philadelphia Warriors: 13.74 WAR, 40 victories, 2nd in PER (25.53)
- Dolph Schayes, C/PF, Syracuse Nationals: 10.29 WAR, 32 victories, 3rd in PER (23.71)
With the low team-victory total and the lack of a Top-10 PER mark, it is relatively easy to drop Groza from consideration, despite his league-leading field-goal percentage mark (.470). He averaged a double-double effort in 1950-1951 with 21.7 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game, but it’s just not enough all things considered.
Schayes is in the Hall of Fame as a 12-time All-Star selection, but his WAR is just too low here for true MVP consideration. Part of that has to do with team quality, as the Nats just weren’t a very good team during Schayes’ second season in the NBA, where he led all players with a 16.4 rpg mark. This was the first of his 12 straight All-Star seasons, by the way.
Can either Arizin or Macauley challenge Mikan? Not really, but they are worth discussing, nonetheless. Arizin was a rookie in the first of 10 straight All-Star seasons (excepting 1952-53 and 1953-54 when he served in Korea), although his overall numbers (17.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) don’t match Mikan’s marks (28.4 ppg, 14.1 rpg) on any level.
As for Macauley, this was the first of seven straight All-Star seasons for him, the first six with the Celtics. With a 20.4 ppg average, a 9.1 rpg average, and a 3.7 assists per game mark, his all-around game was very impressive, giving him an admiring nod in this debate, perhaps the runner-up finish in a hypothetical vote.
It’s just that no one has the overall set of accomplishments that Mikan does. This is why earlier this year we pointed out that he is probably the “greatest Laker” despite all modern hype to the contrary.