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Wilt Chamberlain, the Warriors' moody 7-foot 2-inch center, broke 10 NBA records last season and became the first pro to score 3,000 points. This year, under new Coach Frank McGuire (see page 30), he may not be the league's top scorer, but he will be an immeasurably better team player. He is adapting himself to McGuire's college-style offense, which calls for lots of passing by two very fast, small guards, Guy Rodgers and Al Attles. Bigger and slightly slower, Tom Gola is now playing regularly as a forward, where he joins burly Paul Arizin, the slowest man (and best shot) in this quick offense. Ed Conlin rounds out the backcourt, and 6-foot-6 Tom Meschery, this year's best rookie, adds muscle up front. The team badly needs what McGuire calls "one mean big man." But plenty of foes will rind the new Warriors nasty enough.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Last year the Celtics could have won in a walk, and they almost did, beating Philadelphia by 11 games for their fifth consecutive Eastern Division title. This year they are still the best in the NBA, but they will have to run all the way to prove it. Bill Sharman (16.3 points a game) and Gene Conley (substitute center) are gone. Bob Cousy is still matchless, but he is also 33. Coach Red Auerbach has nine returning veterans, however, so the changes won't be fatal. The Joneses (Sam and K.C.), line-drive-shooting Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey and Tom Sanders, who performed so well as a rookie in last year's playoffs, will share Sharman's points. Cousy paces himself well, and Auerbach can afford to rest him often. Bill Russell, the defensive wonder who was last season's MVP, is back with a goatee and a better shot. The Celtics' future depends on Russell. If he stays healthy, it's Boston.
Despite the presence of three rookies, Syracuse is back with much the same strengths and weaknesses as last year. Hal Greer and Larry Costello still compose the fastest and perhaps the best backcourt in the league. Greer is an excellent middle-distance jump shot, and Costello is worth 10 points on defense alone. Dick Barnett has gone to the ABL. However, a newcomer, Paul Neumann, a fair shot and a cool playmaker, may help the Nats' offense more than Barnett, while scoring less. The master of the forecourt is, of course, Dolph Schayes, now in his 14th season and fit as ever. Dave Gambee and a hustling rookie, Lee Shaffer, are the other top forwards, with hook-shooting John Kerr and huge (7-foot-3) and improving Swede Halbrook the somewhat erratic centers. Syracuse will depend less on its guards, get the ball to the forwards for closer shots, and make the playoffs.
ST. LOUIS HAWKS
It isn't so much that the Hawks overwhelm the Western Division; they plow it under. They won by 16 games two seasons ago, and 15 games last year. This season they are better, but the competition is too. So the Hawks may win by only half as many. Their terrorizing forecourt of Bob Pettit, Clyde Lovellette and Cliff Hagan is as daintily accurate with its shots and as bulldozing on defense as ever. Old Larry Foust is showing new zeal and a 6-foot-7 rookie, Ron Horn, top player in the armed forces last year, may be added. Dismayed by poor backcourt shooting. Coach Paul Seymour came up with a surprising find in irrepressible Cleo Hill. Very fast and a good shot, Hill will be a starter. Si Green, John McCarthy and another good shooter, Len Wilkens (if out of the Army in time) are among the able backcourt men. Seymour calls the team "my best." Who can argue?