In the third part of our ongoing NBA Tuesdays series on award winners from the past, we get to look at the 1952 season. Our methodology is explained here, and our MVP analyses so far have been relatively straightforward. Will that change today?
Read on to find out!
1952 MVP: Paul Azirin
This NBA season was a fun one, as the Syracuse Nationals won the Eastern Division by one game over the Boston Celtics, with the New York Knicks just two games behind Boston, while the Rochester Royals won the Western Division by one game over the Minneapolis Lakers.
Those five teams won at least 37 games each in a 66-game regular season, setting up a wild postseason where the Lakers emerged victorious in the Finals over the Knicks in a seven-game series—where the home team won the last four games in a row. Minneapolis’ three-win edge in the regular season may have been the difference maker.
But we digress … what about the MVP in 1952?
The best player on paper may have been Philadelphia Warriors small forward Paul Azirin, as he led the NBA in Win Shares (16.1) and was second in Player Efficiency Rating (25.53). Meanwhile, Minneapolis center George Mikan was second in WS (14.38) and first in PER (26.46). Another contender for the award, Boston Celtics center Ed Macauley, was third in WS (13.82) and fourth in PER (22.55).
We have to consider the reality that the Warriors finished four games behind the Knicks with a .500 record, earning the last playoff spot in the East. Mikan, of course, played on a team that finished one game out of first place in the West, and Macauley also played for a second-place finisher. How does Azirin’s value stack up against those of Mikan and Macauley?
Minneapolis also featured power forward Vern Mikkelsen, who finished fourth in WS (13.17) and sixth in PER (21.87). Clearly, Mikan had some help in getting the Lakers to the postseason. Similarly, Macauley played with point guard Bob Cousy (10th in WS at 7.7; 7th in PER at 21.41). Basketball is still a team sport, and your teammates can make you better in situations like this when you feed off each other’s production.
No one else on the Warriors had more than 4.8 WS during the regular season, so it’s fair to say the Lakers and the Celtics would have made the playoffs, anyway, and the Philadelphia team would have missed out on the postseason entirely without Arizin. He was the best player and the most valuable as well.
For the record, here is Azirin’s MVP stat line: He led the league in minutes played (44.5 per game), shooting percentage (44.8%), and scoring average (25.4 points per game) while also tossing in 11.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists every time out. Not a bad season for a small forward, right?
That’s definitely worthy of the award in our estimation, and without him, the Warriors never would have made the playoffs.