1958 record: won 35, lost 37; fourth in East. Top scorer: Kenny Sears, 1,342; ninth in league. Top rebounder: Willie Naulls, 799; 10th in league
This is, essentially, the same team as last year's, which scored 100 or more points in 37 consecutive games to break the old record by 25 games. It is an obviously aggressive, experienced crew—with two flaws which cost it a playoff spot last season and may do so again. The first is the lack of a grade-A big man who is a real threat on offense in the pivot and can reasonably contain rival big men. Neither Ray Felix nor Charlie Tyra measures up to the job, though neither can be faulted for effort. The second is the absence of truly adequate replacement for Kenny Sears. Understandably, at 6 feet 9 and only 190 pounds, Sears tires faster than most frontcourtmen from the relentless pounding under the boards. Coach Fuzzy Levane has hope that either of two rookies will be able to give Sears the rest he needs. They are Mike Farmer and Pete Brennan. Farmer is the stronger and, at this stage, appears the better on defense; Brennan has the better scoring touch. Levane plans to get around his lack of pivot strength by keeping his center out of the slot and playing more of a running, driving game than last year. The Knick backcourt bows to none: Carl Braun, Richie Guerin and Ron Sobie are fast, intelligent ball handlers and double-figure scorers. A year's experience has helped reserves Brendan McCann and Guy Sparrow. Finally, there is Willie Naulls, as superb a natural athlete as can be found in any sport. It is more than worth the admission price to watch Willie toss in his soft one-handers with the ease and grace of a ballet movement. But, considering the flaws, the pick for New York is fourth again.
1958 record: won 37, lost 35; third in East. Top scorer: Paul Arizin, 1,406; fifth in league. Top rebounder: Neil Johnston, 790; 11th in league
Three weeks ago, during an exhibition game with St. Louis, Neil Johnston smashed into a wall and damaged a knee severely. Doctors predicted he would be out for most of the season. Until then there had been at least a reasonable prospect that Philadelphia would be an Eastern title contender all the way and might even beat Boston in the playoffs. The latest prognosis is considerably more optimistic, but no one can say when Johnston will be completely effective again. It is a critical question for the Warriors. A tireless, full-hearted competitor, Neil is the only player besides George Mikan ever to lead the NBA in scoring for three straight years. And he has always been the Warriors' best rebounder. Even without Johnston, however, new Coach Al Cervi will hardly field an also-ran. First, there is Cervi himself—a peppery, inspirational presence on the bench and a tactician second to none in the NBA. Two rookies—Guy Rodgers and Andy Johnson—add power and flexibility to the squad. By using Rodgers, a superb playmaker, in the backcourt, Cervi will be able to move Tom Gola to one of the corner positions, where his defensive and rebounding skill will have increased scope. This may be precisely the opportunity Gola has needed to demonstrate the talent that flared so brilliantly during his college years and has flickered only occasionally since then. Johnson, 6 feet 6 and 220 pounds of brawn, has shown the ability to make the transition from the showboating Globetrotters to NBA ball easily. All veterans are back and fit. With Neil Johnston, the Warriors should finish second; without him, third.
1958 record: won 41, lost 31; second in East. Top scorer: Dolph Schayes, 1,791; second in league. Top rebounder: Dolph Schayes, 1,022; fourth in league
For two years in a row, Player-Coach Paul Seymour has driven Syracuse to the second-best winning percentage in the league. He has done this with two or three old pros and a collection of castoffs from other clubs—goading them into an ever-running, never-say-die series of performances. It has been a highly creditable job. Last year, Paul lost all four of his top draft choices when none decided to turn pro, a serious blow to his planning. This year he has fared considerably better. Fresh from college ranks, Connie Dierking has already shown himself ready to spell John Kerr at center, releasing Bob Hopkins for duty up front behind Dolph Schayes. Backcourt Rookies Hal Greer and Tommy Kearns may well satisfy Seymour to the point where he will spend most of his time on the bench or even quit playing. Greer has phenomenal speed and Kearns is a Seymour-type determined hustler. Offensively, the front court of Schayes and Ed Conlin can match any other pair. Dolph, starting his 11th year as a pro, is an amazingly resilient athlete who shows no sign of slowing down; when he does, every estimate of this team must be changed, as a glance at the above statistics shows. Possibly the biggest intangible here is whether or not Kerr will ever achieve the self-confidence which would release all of his great potential. Seymour is hopeful this is the year. For the spectator, the Syracuse style of fast-weave and give-and-go basketball, with great emphasis on speed, is always a delight. It should also enable the Nats to finish second or third in the East, depending on Neil Johnston's availability at Philadelphia.