The NBA Time Machine: 1955

Published September 27, 2022

The NBA Time Machine:
1955


You Only Get 24…

The Shot-Clock

After years of teams stalling, excessively passing the ball, and employing slow offense, the NBA reacted. They implemented a twenty-four second shot clock – if you could not get a shot up in that time frame, you lost the ball.

This worked wonders for the excitement of the game. The point average went up by a noticeable fourteen, while the free throw average only went up by two – this showed that plays were coming through natural, fast-paced decision making, as opposed to unnecessary fouls and a sluggish pace.

With the increase in possessions, teams hit new highs in points and assists. The Boston Celtics even managed to exceed one-hundred points per game as a collective. It was a new, exhilarating change that helped the league’s popularity greatly.

Gone, Washington, Gone

The Baltimore Bullets became the latest – and, to this date, last – NBA franchise to fold. Much like the rival Washington Capitols did some years prior, they bowed out mid-season after posting a poor record.

This left the league with only eight teams, its smallest amount since 1948. Due to the lack of size, not only did teams play more games against their divisional opponents, but the playoffs worked differently as well. The first seed in each division got an automatic “bye” to the Division Finals, meaning they only had to win two series for a championship. This increased the importance of playing hard for regular season seeding.

Farewell to Mr. Basketball

After the end of the 1953-54 season, Minneapolis Lakers legend George Mikan announced his retirement from basketball. He cited injuries and wanting to focus on his family as the main reasons why – he sustained ten broken bones and sixteen stitches in his career, and regularly played through them.

At the time of his retirement, he was the all-time leader in both points and rebounds, and – alongside some teammates – had the most championships in NBA history with five.

Paul Has…A-Rizin

Even though the basketball world mourned the departure of one great, another returned to the scene. Philadelphia Warriors forward Paul Arizin, who had missed the last two seasons to military service, returned to his signature franchise to team up with former teammate-turned-superstar Neil Johnston.

NBC

After a one-year stint with DuMont, NBC became the long-term partner of the NBA for televised matches.


Standout Players

Neil Johnston

For the third season in a row, Johnston led the league in scoring – even above his teammate Paul Arizin. The Warriors still weren’t a playoff team, but Johnston certainly looked like the successor to George Mikan – it was a matter of him reaching for the same level of impact.

Dolph Schayes

Fresh off a finals appearance, Schayes remained dedicated. He once again topped his career high in points per game, adapting to the new shot clock rules very well. That was unsurprising, given the Nationals owner called for them to be implemented.

Bob Cousy

The Celtics had worsened quite a bit, but Cousy was still the most exciting superstar in the NBA. He led in assists for the third year straight and once again finished second in points per game, also improving his efficiency.

Clyde Lovellette

Lovellette’s impact in his sophomore season was unique – he had the burden of succeeding George Mikan, but remained unfazed. He cemented himself as an elite interior presence and one of the best shooting big men, helping Minneapolis net another forty-win season.

Larry Foust

Foust was a more subdued star, never standing out much personality-wise and considered a bit boring. However, he got his due credit as a premier player after leading the Pistons to the number one seed this season. He boosted the team on both ends of the floor.

Bob Pettit

While rookie Bob Pettit could not make the Hawks competitive, he was phenomenal individually. He ranked top four in both points and rebounds, and helped the team post an 8-3 win-loss period around the new year – that was the best stretch of games the franchise had seen up to that point.


Around the League

Team Standings

Notes
An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.

Eastern DivisionWLWestern DivisionWL
Syracuse Nationals*4329Fort Wayne Pistons*4329
New York Knicks*3834Minneapolis Lakers*4032
Boston Celtics*3636Rochester Royals*2943
Philadelphia Warriors3339Milwaukee Hawks2646

Fun Facts

  • Despite losing George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers still remained a largely net positive team with a great defense.
    • The development of Clyde Lovellette, who was formerly a backup for Mikan, had a lot to do with the aforementioned consistency.
  • The Baltimore Bullets records and statistics this year are not officially recorded by the NBA, but they finished with a 3-11 record prior to folding.
  • For the first time in franchise history, the Rochester Royals had a losing record – this was also their first season below forty wins.
  • The Boston Celtics‘ big three of Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, and Ed Macauley made history – all three finished in the top ten for points and assists.
    • Macauley also barely missed the top ten for free throw percentage, clocking in at eleventh behind his teammates.

Notable Movement

Key

The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season.
Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with a plus (+) opted to play in another league instead of the NBA this season.

Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with an asterisk (*) were selected with a territorial draft pick.
p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists

Top Draft Picks

#TeamPlayer
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Baltimore Bullets
Milwaukee Hawks
Philadelphia Warriors
Fort Wayne Pistons
Boston Celtics
Syracuse Nationals
Rochester Royals
New York Knicks
Minneapolis Lakers
Baltimore Bullets
Frank Selvy
Bob Pettit
Gene Shue
Dick Rosenthal
Togo Palazzi
Red Kerr
Tom Marshall
Jack Turner
Ed Kalafat
Slick Leonard

Players

DatePlayerTeamActionDestinationStats
September 17, 1954Ray FelixBaltimore BulletsTradedNew York Knicks(17.6p/13.3r/1.1a)
September 18, 1954Don SunderlageMilwaukee HawksTradedMinneapolis Lakers(11.2p/3.3r/2.8a)

Retirements

PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Leo BarnhorstChicago Stags
Indianapolis Olympians
Baltimore Bullets
Fort Wayne Pistons
2x All-Star
Vince BorylaNew York Knicks1x All-Star
Joe FulksPhiladelphia Warriors1x Champ
4x All-Team
2x All-Star
2x Scoring leader
George MikanMinneapolis Lakers5x Champ
6x All-Team
4x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP
3x Scoring leader

2x Rebounds leader
Fred SchausFort Wayne Pistons
New York Knicks
1x All-NBA
1x All-Star

League Leaders

If a stat is not listed, it was not recorded at the time. As time goes on, this section will begin to include steals per game, blocks per game, etc.

Key

PPG – points per game
RPG – rebounds per game
APG – assists per game
FG% – field goal percentage (percentage of shots that hit)
FT% – free throw percentage (percentage of foul shots that hit)

StatLeaders
PPGNeil Johnston (22.7)
Bob Cousy (21.2)
Paul Arizin (21)
Bob Pettit (20.4)
Frank Selvy (19)
RPGNeil Johnston (15.1)
Harry Gallatin (13.8)
Bob Pettit (13.8)
Dolph Schayes (12.3)
Clyde Lovellette (11.5)
APGBob Cousy (7.8)
Andy Phillip (7.7)
Dick McGuire (7.6)
Paul Seymour (6.7)
Slater Martin (5.9)
FG%Larry Foust (48%)
Jack Coleman (46%)
Tom Marshall (44%)
Neil Johnston (44%)
Ray Felix (43%)
FT%Bill Sharman (89%)
Frank Brian (85%)
Dolph Schayes (83%)
Dick Schnittker (82%)
Jim Baechtold (82%)

Playoffs

Semifinals

East / Boston Celtics beat New York Knicks, 2-1
Both the Celtics and Knicks looked less adept than the previous season, making this a toss-up.

However, it was the sheer skill of Boston’s big three that won them the series – Cousy, Macauley and Sharman all performed very well and showed up in the tiebreaker game. The most notable fact about said game is that the Knicks outscored the Celtics 45-25 in the second quarter…only to blow the lead away.

If there was one positive of this series for Knicks followers, it was the breakout of Nat Clifton. He led the team in scoring and kept them in the series – they just lacked the scoring ammunition their rivals enjoyed.
West / Minneapolis Lakers beat Rochester Royals, 2-1
With George Mikan out of the picture, the declining Royals had hope that they could push for one more possible series win against their long-lasting nemesis in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, it seemed as if Rochester’s window for contention was officially over.

Despite a thirty-point effort from Bobby Wanzer in Game 1, they still failed to capture a victory. All-Stars Jack Coleman and Arnie Risen were terrible, and it seemed Bob Davies was past his days of productive basketball.

The veteran point guard achieved in Game 2, but the Royals won by only a thread. It was no surprise that an inability to contain the Lakers’ arsenal of talents in the tiebreaker led to their downfall – and Clyde Lovellette didn’t even play well.

Division Finals

East / Syracuse Nationals beat Boston Celtics, 3-1
The defensive gifts of the Nationals were the spotlight of this series, ruining Boston’s hope of avenging themselves after last year’s sweep.

Boston’s Bill Sharman lit up the Nationals defense, but his co-stars struggled quite a lot – Macauley was just all-around less productive, and Cousy didn’t have any signature big games despite averaging a double-double.

It was also worth considering that the Nationals having six double-digit scorers while shooting 40% solidified their path to the Finals – things were clicking at the highest level for them.
West / Fort Wayne Pistons beat Minneapolis Lakers, 3-1
This was the Pistons’ third time matching up with the Lakers in the playoffs – fourth if you count last year’s round robin – and they had yet to beat them once.

However, Fort Wayne took advantage of their amazing regular season and translated that success to the playoffs, sending Minneapolis home without a championship for the first time since 1951.

Nothing about the series was particularly eventful – it was practically a story of the Pistons’ bench greatly outperforming the Lakers’, aiding them in an eventual series win. Minneapolis failed to acquire center depth after Mikan’s retirement, and it hurt them here – Lovellette had to take on a far bigger-than-necessary burden to even squeeze out one win.

Finals

Syracuse Nationals beat Fort Wayne Pistons, 4-3
Syracuse’s second consecutive Finals appearance involved a match with the aspiring Pistons, who had never reached the biggest stage before. Much like last year, the series went to seven.

Opposing stars Dolph Schayes and Larry Foust traded good moments on the Nationals home court, but Syracuse took both games. Fort Wayne then proceeded to win three in a row – going into Game 6, they seemed primed to take home their first championship.

Syracuse then went ballistic to force a Game 7, led by Schayes’ twenty-eight points. Even with Pistons star George Yardley dropping over thirty, they couldn’t pull away.

Game 7 itself featured one of the most controversial moments in playoff history – at the end of the game, the teams were tied and Fort Wayne had possession. They turned the ball over, which forced them to foul George King of the Nationals – he split the free throws, giving the Pistons one last chance to score.

With three seconds left, All-Star Andy Phillip carelessly lost the ball, throwing away Fort Wayne’s chances at an easy bucket and title. Some believe that Phillip purposely threw because of gambling ties, but nothing was confirmed – besides the Nationals going home victorious, that is.
The Syracuse Nationals win the 1955 NBA championship!

Awards

Notes
All-Team selections were not yet selected based on position yet.
Name(s) under the “All-Stars” section with an asterisk (*) were listed as the MVP of the All-Star Game that year. Those with “(IR)” next to their name were chosen to replace an injured star.

Major Awards

Rookie of the Year
Bob Pettit

All-NBA

All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Neil Johnston
Bob Cousy
Dolph Schayes
Bob Pettit
Larry Foust
Vern Mikkelsen
Harry Gallatin
Paul Seymour
Slater Martin
Bill Sharman

All-Stars

Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Paul Arizin
Carl Braun
Bob Cousy
Harry Gallatin
Neil Johnston
Ed Macauley
Dick McGuire
Dolph Schayes

Paul Seymour
Bill Sharman*
Jack Coleman (IR)
Larry Foust
Slater Martin
Vern Mikkelsen
Bob Pettit
Andy Phillip
Jim Pollard
Arnie Risen
Frank Selvy
Bobby Wanzer
George Yardley
East beats West, 100-91

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

Notes
The Baltimore Bullets (1947-1954) won the championship in 1948, but are defunct. As a result, they are not listed.

TeamCountYears
Lakers51949, 1950
1952, 1953
1954
Warriors11947
Royals11951
Nationals11955

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