NBA History: 1948-1949 BAA Season

By Lorenzo Tanos

In the BAA's third season, the league would grow to twelve teams, thanks to the addition of four teams from the soon-to-be-defunct National Basketball League – the Fort Wayne Pistons, Indianapolis Jets, Minneapolis Lakers and Rochester Royals.  With the exception of the Jets, all three teams are still in the NBA, and the Royals and Lakers were, in fact, big hits upon joining the BAA.  This would also be the last year the BAA would be known as such, as the league would be renamed the National Basketball Association the following season, following the BAA-NBL merger.  Here's the third – and "last" – BAA season at a glance.

Eastern Division        
Washington Capitols* 38 22 .633
New York Knicks* 32 28 .533 6.0
Baltimore Bullets* 29 31 .483 9.0
Philadelphia Warriors* 28 32 .467 10.0
Boston Celtics 25 35 .417 13.0
Providence Steam Rollers 12 48 .200 26.0
Western Division        
Rochester Royals* 45 15 .750
Minneapolis Lakers* 44 16 .733 1.0
Chicago Stags* 38 22 .633 7.0
St. Louis Bombers* 29 31 .483 16.0
Fort Wayne Pistons 22 38 .367 23.0
Indianapolis Jets 18 42 .300 27.0

BAA Champions – Minneapolis Lakers (def. Washington Capitols 4-2)
MVP – None

LEAGUE LEADERS – George Mikan (Minneapolis, 28.3 ppg, 1,698 points), Bob Davies (Rochester, 5.3 apg, 321 assists), Ed Sadowski (Philadelphia, 273 fouls), Arnie Risen (Rochester, 42.3%), Bob Feerick (Washington, 85.9%)

INSTANT STARDOM IN NEW LEAGUE –  Former NBL players dominated the BAA's league leaders in 1948-49, with the Lakers' George Mikan having by far the biggest impact in his new league.  Mikan averaged a then-unthinkable 28.3 ppg following two impressive NBL seasons, one with the Chicago American Gears, one with the Minneapolis Lakers.  In the assists department, Rochester's Bob Davies was neck-and-neck with BAA veteran Andy Phillip for the assist title, and he won it by just two assists in 1948-49.  Finally, Arnie Risen was the BAA's leader in field goal shooting; a 6'9" center, Risen played for both the Indianapolis Kautskys and Rochester Royals in the NBL before shooting a then-record 42.3% in his BAA debut.

PICKING UP THE PACE – The influx of NBL teams seemed to result in a significant improvement in team scoring, with a faster pace that would have been considered "go-go" basketball in those days.  From 72.7 ppg in 1947-48, average team scoring shot up to an even 80.0 in 1948-49, and six teams averaged more than 80 ppg that season.

BREAKING THE 30% AND 70% THRESHOLDS – Thanks to the "phenomenal" shooting of the Royals and Lakers (37.2% and 36.6%) respectively, the BAA, as a whole, shot 32.7% in 1948-49, while players sank 70.3% of their free throws.  Not bad for a league where, just a year before, field goal shooting percentages were quite comparable to baseball batting averages.

A LOOK AT THE TITLE WINNERS – Once again, the BAA championship was won by a newcomer team, though the Minneapolis Lakers did win the 1948 NBL title right before they jumped ship and joined the BAA.  The team was led by George Mikan, who averaged a team-leading 28.3 ppg, 3.6 apg and 4.3 fouls per game, while shooting 41.6% from the field, also best on the Lakers.  The only area where he didn't lead his team was free throw shooting, as that was 6'0" guard Herm Schaefer's specialty.  Aside from those two, the Lakers also featured high-leaping 6'4" forward/center Jim Pollard, and several standouts from the University of Minnesota (Don Carlson, Tony Jaros) and DePaul, though Whitey Kachan and Johnny Jorgensen, Mikan's former college teammates, were deep reserves.

THE CELLAR DWELLERS – And for a second straight year, the Providence Steam Rollers got steamrolled.  This was actually the team's swan song in the BAA, as not even the addition of first-overall pick Howie Shannon, could help.  Shannon was a high scorer from Kansas State who stood 6'2" and played both forward and guard, but even with him and the backcourt tandem of Kenny Sailors and Ernie Calverley and two relative giants in Chick Halbert (6'9") and George Nostrand (6'8"), Providence could only win 12 of its 60 games.

LOOKING AT THE LEAGUE LEADERS – Like Providence, the NBL's Rochester Royals also had two uber-talented guards.  But Bob Davies and Bobby Wanzer were far more dynamic; Davies was nicknamed the "Harrisburg Houdini" for his dribbling and passing wizardry, while Wanzer was a reliable shooter who was, in actuality, Davies' protégé, as Davies was a Seton Hall assistant while Wanzer was playing there, and eventually convinced him to join the Royals.  Third guard Red Holzman was quite reliable, and would later achieve much greater success as the New York Knicks' head coach from 1967 to 1982. Also, the two Arnies – Risen (6'9") and Johnson (6'5"-240) were quite skilled as starting frontcourt men.  The Royals went 45-15 in their first BAA season, but got swept by the Lakers 2-0 in the BAA Western Division Finals.

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