As we move forward in the past to the 1958 NBA season, we are inching closer to the beginning of the Boston Celtics dynasty we’ve all read about in sports history. Does that mean our MVP awards are going to Boston players every year? Only time will tell; stats don’t lie, though.
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1958 MVP: Bill Russell (original), Dolph Schayes (revised)
The St. Louis Hawks won the Western Division with a 41-31 mark, while the Celtics won the Eastern Division with 49 victories. Every team in the league was either in the playoffs or in playoff contention except the Minneapolis Lakers, who won just 19 times.
That puts a lot of MVP candidates on the table: Syracuse center Dolph Schayes (first in Win Shares, second in Player Efficiency Rating); Detroit small forward George Yardley (2nd, 3rd); Boston center Bill Russell (3rd, 4th); Philadelphia center Neil Johnston (4th, 6th); St. Louis power forward Bob Pettit (5th, 1st); St. Louis small forward Cliff Hagan (7th, 5th); and Cincinnati center Clyde Lovellette (6th, 7th).
The pairing of Pettit and Hagan all but eliminates both of them from contention, even though Pettit posted the best PER mark (26.26) in the NBA. That’s easier to do when you have a teammate also worthy of MVP consideration. They fed off each other all season, so they didn’t have to carry the same loads as their peers under scrutiny here.
Each of the five remaining candidates played for a postseason entrant, and that makes it easy to look at Schayes first, our pick for the 1954 MVP. The Nationals won 41 games in the Eastern Division to finish second there, giving Schayes’ efforts plenty of value. He led the NBA in minutes played, while also topping the league in free-throw percentage (90.4). Schayes added 24.9 points per game, 14.2 rebounds per game, and 3.2 assists per game as well.
Yardley led the NBA in scoring (27.8 ppg), while Russell dominated the boards, league wide (22.7 rpg). However, Yardley and Russell did not have Schayes’ passing ability. Neither Johnston—our back-to-back MVP pick in 1955 and 1956—nor Lovellette topped the NBA in any significant category.
This makes it easy to award Schayes his second MVP award; for the record, voters at the time—the NBA players themselves—gave him second place in the official tally for the award, so our pick is just a modern adjustment to a past error. Yardley finished third, incidentally, so the players did have the top three correct at the time.