In the fifth entry in our ongoing NBA Tuesdays series on award winners from the past, we look closely at the 1954 season. Our methodology is explained here, in case you were curious how we’re doing this.
1954 MVP: The lesser-flawed candidate in a crowded field of contenders
The same five players make up the Top 5 for both Win Shares (WS) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in this season of professional basketball: Philadelphia center Neil Johnston (first in WS, second in PER), Syracuse center Dolph Schayes (2nd, 3rd), Boston center Ed Macauley (3rd, 5th), Minneapolis center George Mikan (4th, 1st), and New York power forward Harry Gallatin (5th, 4th). Our MVP pick will come from this group.
The Knicks won the Eastern Division by two games over both the Nationals and the Celtics, with the Warriors finishing 15 games behind New York. Meanwhile, the Lakers won the Western Division by two games over the Rochester Royals. This means four of the five players above competed on contending teams, and one did not.
Mikan did not lead the league in any significant category, and he shot a career-worst 38 percent from the floor. That is not the profile of an MVP candidate in our minds. Predominantly playing center for the only season of his career, Schayes also shot 38 percent from the floor—and didn’t top the NBA in any statistical category, either. This is not inspiring confidence in our candidates for the MVP, so far.
Macauley shot 48.6 percent from the floor to lead the league, and that is more along the lines of what we would expect from an award-winning season. Likewise, Gallatin topped the league with 15.3 rebounds per game. Our two “lowest-ranked” players in this Top 5 may have had the most “valuable” seasons, based on some counting stats.
Johnston was clearly the best all-around player this season, leading the NBA in scoring (24.4) and minutes played (45.8). Again, though, he did it in a vacuum, playing for a 29-43 team that never had a chance to make the playoffs, really. Philly finished 13 games out of a postseason slot: His stats aren’t dominant or historic enough to overcome that contextual flaw.
Is the worst season of Mikan’s career still an MVP season? We can’t get past that 38-percent shooting percentage for a big man, no matter what the era. His 77.7-percent rate from the free-throw line is passable, but Mikan went to the line just 7.6 times per game—also a career low. We have to take a hard pass on this candidate, who played just 32.8 minutes per game as well—one more career-worst mark.
Schayes also shot poorly from the floor, as noted above, but he did hit 82.7 percent of his free throws—and he played out of position all year to help his team, before going back to his more-familiar PF slot the following season. He posted per-game marks of 17.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.0 assists to produce nice all-around numbers on a team that won 42 games in the better division.
Other than the shooting percentage, all Macauley’s per-game averages dropped from his 1953 MVP campaign; that’s not a sign of value in our minds. Gallatin scored just 13.2 points a game while shooting 40.4 percent from the floor. Clearly, this was a year for defense in the NBA.
This is probably the least-clear cut analysis of any we have done so far in our multiple series down Memory Lane in the pro-sports world. Every candidate has major flaws, so we’re going to go with Schayes, a Hall of Fame player that did make 12 All-Star teams in his career, for posting great numbers while playing a new position for his team.
Not a bad choice for a year when there were few good choices.