NBA Season Recaps: 1951-1952

By Lorenzo Tanos

The NBA's membership was down to ten teams in 1951-52, and it was more of the same – Rochester, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Syracuse all favored to go far in the Playoffs.  Still, this season was memorable for a couple other reasons – first, George Mikan wasn't the NBA's leader in points for the first time in a while, and he got beat out for the rebounding title by two youngsters.  (He would have led in rebounds had averages been taken into account in those days.)  Second, this season proved 1950-51 was not a fluke for Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics, as Bob Cousy enjoyed a breakout season for the C's and led the way on a team that now featured Bill Sharman in the backcourt to complement Cousy and starting center Ed Macauley.

Eastern Division        
Syracuse Nationals* 40 26 .606
Boston Celtics* 39 27 .591 1.0
New York Knicks* 37 29 .561 3.0
Philadelphia Warriors* 33 33 .500 7.0
Baltimore Bullets 20 46 .303 20.0
Western Division        
Rochester Royals* 41 25 .621
Minneapolis Lakers* 40 26 .606 1.0
Indianapolis Olympians* 34 32 .515 7.0
Fort Wayne Pistons* 29 37 .439 12.0
Milwaukee Hawks 17 49 .258 24.0

NBA Champions – Minneapolis Lakers (def. New York Knicks 4-3 in NBA Finals)
MVP – None

LEAGUE LEADERS – Paul Arizin (Philadelphia, 25.4ppg, 1,674 points), Mel Hutchins (Milwaukee, 13.3 rpg, 880 rebounds), Larry Foust (Fort Wayne, 13.3 rpg, 880 rebounds), Andy Phillip (Philadelphia, 8.2apg, 539 assists), George Mikan (Minneapolis, 286 fouls), Paul Arizin (Philadelphia, 44.8%), Bobby Wanzer (Rochester, 90.4%)

PITCHIN' PAUL SUPERSEDES JUMPIN' JOE – Since the birth of the BAA, Joe Fulks was the Philadelphia Warriors' go-to guy.  That changed in the 1951-52 season, as second-year man Paul Arizin led the NBA in scoring with 25.4 ppg, edging George Mikan and turning Fulks into a secondary option on the star-studded Warriors lineup.

SURPRISE DUO BEATS OUT MIKAN FOR REBOUNDNG TITLE – If league leaders were based on averages, then George Mikan would have returned to the top of the rebounding rankings.  Instead, leadership was shared by Milwaukee Hawks second-overall pick Mel Hutchins and second-year center Larry Foust of the Fort Wayne Pistons.  Both 23-year-olds grabbed 880 rebounds (13.3 rpg) for the 1951-52 season, officially leading Mikan, who totaled 866 yet averaged 13.5 rpg.

BANNED FOR LIFE – For the 1950-51 season, Alex Groza (21.7 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 47% FG) and Ralph Beard (16.8 ppg, 4.8 apg) were bona fide stars for the Indianapolis Olympians.  But their involvement in one of the era's many point-shaving scandals during their days as Kentucky Wildcats resulted in the duo getting banned for life by NBA President Maurice Podoloff.  Surprisingly, the Olympians actually fared better in 1951-52 without Groza and Beard; with the two disgraced stars onboard, Indianapolis went 31-37 in 1950-51.  The year after, the Olympians relied on Joe Graboski (13.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and Leo Barnhorst (12.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.9 apg) to finish 34-32 with a balanced scoring lineup.

A LOOK AT THE TITLE WINNERS –The Minneapolis Lakers were back in the championship hunt in 1951-52, with the usual standouts making a big difference – George Mikan (23.8 ppg, 13.5 rpg), Jim Pollard (15.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.6 apg), Vern Mikkelsen (15.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and up-and-coming point guard Slater Martin (9.3 ppg, 3.8 apg).  Whitey Skoog and Bob Harrison would platoon at the off-guard position – not an ideal duo, but they got the job done.  Minneapolis would defeat the Rochester Royals 3-1 in the Western Division Finals to meet the New York Knicks, who once again lost a seven-game series in the NBA Finals, this time to the Royals' bitter Western Division rivals the Lakers.

THE CELLAR DWELLERS –  If one of your best players holds an NBA record as the only man to commit eight personal fouls in a game, then your team must be in trouble.  The Milwaukee Hawks, once known as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, utilized a whopping 20 players for the entire 1951-52 season, although only a few of them were true keepers.  Even if he was the aforementioned single-game fouls record holder, Otten averaged a decent 13.0 ppg and 7.3 rpg, and defensive and rebounding-oriented Mel Hutchins (9.2 ppg, 13.3 rpg) had an impressive rookie year.  Also averaging in double figures for the 17-49 Hawks were Dwight Eddleman (12.8 ppg) and Dick Mehen (10.8 ppg).

LOOKING AT THE LEAGUE LEADERS – 1951-52 was a reverse of 1950-51, where the Minneapolis Lakers had the best regular season record but the Rochester Royals won the NBA Championship.  There were no significant changes on the 1951-52 Royals lineup, although Bobby Wanzer did have his best NBA season ever, averaging 15.7 ppg and shooting an impressive 90.4% from the line.  Leading the way as usual were point guard Bob Davies and frontcourt men Arnie Risen, Jack Coleman and Arnie Johnson, while ex-Chicago Stags forward Odie Spears debuted for the Royals after a year in the short-lived NPBL as the team's sixth man.

ERRATUM – The Rochester Royals, not the Minneapolis Lakers, were 1950-51 NBA champs.

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