The NBA Time Machine: 1958

Published November 29, 2022

The NBA Time Machine:
1958


Things Come and Go

Location Shift

Two teams made significant changes to their home city in this season – the Fort Wayne Pistons relocated to Detroit, and the Rochester Royals moved to Cincinnati.

The Pistons primarily did so because of Fort Wayne’s lack of sustainability for an NBA franchise – Detroit was not a particularly big basketball city either, missing a professional team for about a decade at that point. Regardless, the move was still profitable.

The decision to move to Cincinnati was a more rational one for the Royals – the college basketball fanbase there was enormous, and there was no football team for them to compete with. As a result, a strong focus could be placed on getting the city to identify with their new basketball team.

Lakers Retooling

After two consecutive seasons of a losing record and relatively forgettable playoff efforts, the Minneapolis Lakers focused on changing their roster. They traded star Clyde Lovellette away to Cincinnati in the off-season alongside young forward Jim Paxson, and received a plethora of players in return.

They also made moves to acquire six-time All-Star Larry Foust from the Detroit Pistons, who had led that team to back-to-back Finals appearances. The move seemed like a steal, but Foust could not anchor a team without an identity – his numbers jumped in the new role, but the winning impact was nonexistent.

Minneapolis also hired franchise great George Mikan as head coach to immediate disaster. He could not get the largely young core to commit to playing well on either end of the floor, and was fired mid-season after accumulating a 9-30 record. Long-term coach John Kundla returned to the position afterwards to similarly low levels of success.

Loss of a Star

On the final game of the regular season, Royals franchise player Maurice Stokes was knocked unconscious following a drive to the basket. He injured his head after rough contact with the floor, but continued the game after revival via smelling salts.

Following the first-round playoff opener against Detroit, Stokes began to feel sick and eventually had a seizure. This paralyzed him for life, rendering him unable to play and stripping the league of a future all-time talent.

In light of the unfortunate circumstances, teammate Jack Twyman regularly visited Stokes to support him and keep his spirits up. Twyman eventually became his legal guardian, and continued to take care of his friend until Stokes passed away in the early-70s.


Standout Players

Bill Russell

The Celtics-drafted sophomore had a much-anticipated breakout season following his amazing playoff run in 1957. He made the Celtics the team to beat – they were the first-ranked defense behind his rim protection, and lost every game he sat out in. As a result, he won the Most Valuable Player award – the first person of African-American descent to do so.

Bob Pettit

Going into the next year, Pettit had something to prove as the arguable best player in the league. He led St. Louis to their second consecutive first seed – this time without much resistance – and ranked top three in both scoring and rebounding averages.

Dolph Schayes

The king of consistency struck again with a low-key M.V.P. campaign of his own. Voters selected him as the runner-up for the award, largely thanks to the Nationals surpassing forty wins for the first time since their championship season.

Bob Cousy

The reigning M.V.P. maintained the basketball world’s respect through leading the NBA in assists for the sixth year in a row. He was no longer the consensus best player on the Boston Celtics, but he was still integral to their team – his playmaking upheld an otherwise subdued offense.

George Yardley

Yardley had silently been climbing his way up the league’s top ranks, eventually settling as the annual leading scorer this time around. Detroit mourned the trading of franchise cornerstone Larry Foust, but Yardley ensured they had nothing to worry about – they only finished with one less win.

Cliff Hagan

Pettit amassed all the attention on the Hawks, but Cliff Hagan was a star second option that bolstered their success rate. Practically having a 20/10 season, his combination of ridiculous efficiency and rebounding launched him into the top three small forwards of the NBA.


Around the League

Team Standings

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

Eastern DivisionWLWestern DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*4923St. Louis Hawks*4131
Syracuse Nationals*4131Detroit Pistons*3339
Philadelphia Warriors*3735Cincinnati Royals*3339
New York Knicks3537Minneapolis Lakers1953

Fun Facts

  • The Minneapolis Lakers had their worst season in franchise history up to this point – this is unsurprising considering they were ranked dead last in defense.
  • For the first time in half a decade, the same teams ranked first in their respective divisions consecutively – in this case, it was the Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks.
  • The Boston Celtics sunk deep into defensive commitments, winning the most games despite ranking seventh in offense.
  • Rochester had the next best thing going as far as protecting the rim goes – running two defensive juggernauts in Maurice Stokes and Clyde Lovellette together established a gritty identity.
  • The Western Division was still awful – the New York Knicks, who ranked fourth in the East, would have snagged a cushioned second seed in the West.

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
Cincinnati Royals
Detroit Pistons
Minneapolis Lakers
St. Louis Hawks
New York Knicks
Philadelphia Warriors
Syracuse Nationals
Boston Celtics
Cincinnati Royals
Detroit Pistons
Hot Rod Hundley
Charlie Tyra
Jim Krebs
Win Wilfong
Brendan McCann
Lennie Rosenbluth
George Bon Salle
Sam Jones
Dick Duckett
Bob McCoy

Players

DatePlayerTeamActionDestinationStats
April 17, 1957Clyde LovelletteMinneapolis LakersTradedRochester Royals(20.8p/13.5r/2a)
September 12, 1957Larry FoustDetroit PistonsTradedMinneapolis Lakers(12.4p/9.1r/1.2a)

Other Personnel

DatePersonTeamActionStats
June 19, 1957Coach John KundlaMinneapolis LakersReassignedRecord: 34-38
June 19, 1957Coach George MikanMinneapolis LakersHiredRecord: 9-30
December 18, 1957Coach Charles EckmanDetroit PistonsResignedRecord: 9-16
December 19, 1957Coach Red RochaDetroit PistonsHiredRecord: 24-23
January 14, 1958Coach John KundlaMinneapolis LakersRe-hiredRecord: 10-23
April 5, 1958Coach Vince BorylaNew York KnicksResignedRecord: 35-37
April 8, 1958Coach Andrew LevaneNew York KnicksHiredRecord: n/a
April 10, 1958Coach John KundlaMinneapolis LakersResignedRecord: 10-23

Retirements

PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Red RochaSt. Louis Bombers
Baltimore Bullets
Syracuse Nationals
Fort Wayne Pistons
1x Champion
2x All-Star
Bobby WanzerRochester Royals1x Champion
3x All-NBA
5x 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
PPGGeorge Yardley (27.8)
Dolph Schayes (24.9)
Bob Pettit (24.6)
Clyde Lovellette (23.4)
Bill Sharman (22.3)
RPGBill Russell (22.7)
Maurice Stokes (18.1)
Bob Pettit (17.4)
Dolph Schayes (14.2)
Red Kerr (13.4)
APGBob Cousy (7.1)
Dick McGuire (6.6)
Maurice Stokes (6.4)
Carl Braun (5.5)
Tom Gola (5.5)
FG%Jack Twyman (45%)
Cliff Hagan (44%)
Bill Russell (44%)
Ray Felix (44%)
Clyde Lovellette (44%)
FT%Dolph Schayes (90%)
Bill Sharman (89%)
Bob Cousy (85%)
Carl Braun (84%)
Dick Schnittker (82%)

Playoffs

Semifinals

East / Philadelphia Warriors beat Syracuse Nationals, 2-1
The inter-divisional rivalry between Syracuse and Philadelphia continued with their third straight meeting in the playoffs – the Nationals set things off with a quick win at home following a terrible game from the Warriors’ two stars.

However, Philadelphia quickly got their act together and took the remaining two matches behind good team efforts. Dolph Schayes tried his hardest to keep his team afloat, but his supporting cast was underwhelming offensively.
West / Detroit Pistons beat Cincinnati Royals, 2-0
The Pistons dropped their foe off with ease, as their offensive firepower was too much to handle. Cincinnati could not commit to their defensive identity and nobody on the team scored particularly well – not even Jack Twyman, who led the league in field goal percentage.

Couple that with Royals star Maurice Stokes missing the second game to injury, and the team’s first playoff berth in a few years was soiled.

Division Finals

East / Boston Celtics beat Philadelphia Warriors, 4-1
Boston showed no remorse in their opening series, quickly taking a 3-0 lead. No matter what, somebody showed up with a stellar performance – Cousy almost dropped a triple double in Game 1, Sharman delivered thirty-two points in Game 2, and Russell grabbed a ridiculous forty rebounds in Game 3.

The Warriors managed to take Game 4 at home to avoid the sweep, largely thanks to the three-headed monster of Arizin, Gola, and Johnston combining for eighty-seven points. Their optimism was shut down the night after though, as Boston pulled away for good – thank Bill Russell’s thirty rebounds for that.
West / St. Louis Hawks beat Detroit Pistons, 4-1
The West’s top two seeds unsurprisingly duked it out in the division finals, which was yet another gentleman’s sweep. Detroit blew leads in the first two games, crumbling under pressure to the more-experienced Hawks.

They convincingly took the third thanks to big games from George Yardley and Harry Gallatin, but St. Louis handled business in back-to-back blowouts for the remainder of the series. The fourth game was a direct display of the Hawks’ depth (seven players scored in double digits!), while Game 5 was a Cliff Hagan masterclass.

Finals

St. Louis Hawks beat Boston Celtics, 4-2
In an anticipated rematch between the two top dogs of the league, the Hawks looked to avenge their narrow defeat at the hands of Boston in last year’s playoffs. They entered aggressively, upsetting the Celtics on their home court behind sixty-three combined points from stars Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan.

Boston responded with a blowout in which four players scored twenty or more points, only to lose narrowly in Game 3 after Pettit took over. In this game Bill Russell also injured his ankle – a repeat from the reigning champions wasn’t totally out of the picture, but their fans surely had something to worry about at this point.

The Celtics managed to take Game 4 without their starting center – Bob Pettit had an awful shooting night from the field, opening up opportunities. They couldn’t hold onto back-to-back wins, though – Pettit dominated once again as the Hawks went up 3-2 on the road.

In Game 6, Bill Russell made a return despite being in an injured state. He could not make a big enough impact, only tallying eight points and rebounds each in twenty minutes, along with less assertive defense. The real star of the show was Pettit, who dropped an unbelievable fifty points to secure his first championship. Much like the year prior, the game was down to the last possession – the only difference is this time, St. Louis was the talk of the town.
The St. Louis Hawks win the 1958 NBA championship!

Awards

Notes
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 YearMVP
Woody SauldsberryBill Russell

All-NBA

All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Bob Cousy
Bill Sharman
George Yardley
Dolph Schayes
Bob Pettit
Slater Martin
Tom Gola
Cliff Hagan
Maurice Stokes
Bill Russell

All-Stars

Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Paul Arizin
Larry Costello
Bob Cousy
Richie Guerin
Neil Johnston
Willie Naulls
Bill Russell
Dolph Schayes
Kenny Sears
Bill Sharman
Larry Foust
Dick Garmaker
Cliff Hagan
Slater Martin
Dick McGuire
Bob Pettit*
Gene Shue
Maurice Stokes
Jack Twyman
George Yardley
East beats West, 130-118

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
Warriors21947, 1956
Royals11951
Nationals11955
Celtics11957
Hawks11958

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