It’s Week 8 of our look into the sports past, and today we focus on the NBA again as we do every Tuesday. We are into our second season of measuring how good a job the voters for the MVP award did back then, compared to our advanced sabermetric analysis today.
It’s time for another edition of NBA Tuesday!
1957 MVP: Bob Cousy (original), Bob Pettit (revised)
Boston Celtics point guard Bob Cousy led the NBA in assists for the fifth straight year (7.5 per game), amid an eight-year run of doing so. He is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, but Cousy shot just 37.8 percent from the field during this season on his way to winning the MVP on a vote from his peers.
We think the MVP should go to someone better than that. Cousy finished just eighth in both Win Shares (WS) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER), respectively. Heck, his Celtics teammate—and our 1953 MVP pick—Ed Macauley was just as good as Cousy was this season, finishing ninth in WS.
Once again, we have an upper echelon of players finishing in the Top 5 for both WS and PER: Philadelphia center Neil Johnston (first in WS, second in PER), Syracuse power forward Dolph Schayes (2nd, 3rd), Philadelphia small forward Paul Azirin (3rd, 5th), and St. Louis center Bob Pettit (4th, 1st).
This quartet was the best in the league, which saw Boston win the Eastern Division by six games over Syracuse and seven games over Philadelphia, with all three teams making the playoffs. In the Western Division, three teams—including St. Louis—tied for the lead with 34-38 records.
You read that correctly: Only three teams posted winning records in the 8-franchise NBA during the 1956-57 season. The Rochester Royals finished last in the Western Division by three games, so unlike the prior season, Pettit’s efforts had value in terms of securing a co-division title for the Hawks.
Because Johnston and Azirin complemented each other—and still only managed to finish third—both of them don’t have as much value as do Schayes and Pettit. For the record, Schayes, who won our 1954 MVP Award, shot just 37.9 percent from the floor while leading the NBA in minutes played per game only.
Meanwhile, Petit didn’t lead the league in any counting stats, only topping everyone else in PER—which is more than Schayes can say, of course. Here’s a quick look at the two players and their basic numbers:
- Pettit: 24.7 ppg, 14.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 41.5 percent shooting
- Schayes: 22.5 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 3.2 apg, 37.9 percent shooting
Generally, we’d argue that Pettit had the slightly better season using traditional stats, while his edge in PER—28.03 to 24.41—is greater than Schayes’ edge in WS—12.53 to 11.63, even if a straight-up point comparison doesn’t work there. It’s the percentage gap that does matter, though: 13 percent is greater than 7 percent.
Pettit’s edge in PER was twice as much as Schayes’ edge in WS, so we can comfortably give Pettit the 1957 MVP Award, to replace the one he was stripped of from 1956.