Last season: Won 49, lost 23; first in West
Top scorer: Bob Pettit, 29.2 average
Top rebounder: Bob Pettit, 16.4 average
Even that old cigar-chewing pessimist himself, Owner Ben Kerner, would be hard put to find a flaw in the Hawks, an assembly he made over the years through audacious trades and perceptive draft choices. It has balance, speed, scoring punch throughout, depth and experience. The addition of John McCarthy, a good playmaker and shooter, to a backcourt consisting of Slater Martin, Si Green, Jack McMahon and Al Ferrari, puts it on a par, at least, with the best it must face. Green seems to be fully recovered from his head injury; if he really is, he should move quickly into the top rank of backline performers—tenacious on defense, swift as a hawk in pursuit of the ball. Charlie Share's screening bulk will be missed up front, but the big three there—Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan and Clyde Lovellette—possesses every variety of offensive move and shot. This kind of balance, incidentally, will give Philadelphia and Wilt Chamberlain the most trouble, especially Lovellette's ability to hit both with hooks and from far outside. Pettit set six new scoring records last season and seems to get better each year. Hagan is still the biggest 6-foot-4 man in basketball, a terror in close and with his hook. Among the reserves, Rookie Bob Ferry has surprised everyone with his shooting and over-all hustle; he has apparently beaten out Hub Reed as second-string center. Dave Gambee, out with appendicitis most of last season, is a much-improved shooter. Probing for trouble spots, the severest critic must be content with the observation that Lovellette—a substitute for Share last season—still has to show the stamina to play full time. Clyde worked hard all summer at conditioning and exercises designed to increase his spring, is apparently ready.
Last season: Won 28, lost 44; third in West
Top scorer: Gene Shue, 17.6 average
Top rebounder: Walter Dukes, 13.3 average
When Gene Shue and Dick McGuire bring the ball upcourt for the Pistons, they face the problem that will haunt this team all year: on whose scoring ability up front can they rely in setting up a play? Will it be the erratic, occasionally lackadaisical Walter Dukes in the pivot? How about the speedy Ed Conlin, who often gets a step ahead of his defensive man but still has difficulty getting the ball through the rim? Should they take a chance on Rookie Bailey Howell who is, admittedly, a fine shooter but is under the double handicap of shifting from the post to cornerman and is unfamiliar with rival personnel? Maybe Archie Dees? True, he hardly lived up to his promise with Cincinnati last season, but perhaps a year's experience has helped him. Earl Lloyd? Shellie McMillon? Fine rebounders both, but mediocre shooters at best. Well. the way Shue and McGuire likely will solve the problem more often than not is to set up Shue himself. After 10 years as one of the game's finest playmakers, McGuire is still reluctant to shoot the ball, so Shue gets the assignment almost by default. Shue can score consistently, and perform every other function required of a pro backcourtman, but he simply can't make enough points by himself to win games. Red Rocha believes Dukes will finally settle down and play steady basketball and that his new contact lenses will help his shooting; that Howell can become a top pro in one season (possibly the best of the whole lot); that the Pistons' shallow backcourt is as good as any in the NBA; that all his cornermen suddenly will develop into sharpshooters. A cynic would point out that Red believes all this because he's the coach. But then, he may be right. If he's not, Detroit may be fighting to keep third place.
Last season: Won 33, lost 39; second in West
Top scorer: Elgin Baylor, 24.9 average
Top rebounder: Elgin Baylor, 15.0 average
In retrospect it is hard to believe that the Lakers are the team that knocked St. Louis out of the playoffs last year. Even recalling Baylor's seemingly limitless ability doesn't help much, and any assumption that this year's Lakers will be a better team must rest on the theory that Baylor, himself, will be better, which no one has any right to expect. If help can be anticipated from Rookies Tom Hawkins and Rudy LaRusso up front, it will be more than offset by the loss (to retirement) of Vern Mikkelsen. Mik was the most stouthearted of competitors and will be missed all around the NBA. Hawkins, the Notre Dame All-America, is a strong, aggressive youngster who needs a year of seasoning but may be a starter here simply because he's needed. Alternating at center, Larry Foust and Jim Krebs averaged 12 and 9 points, respectively, last season, and though Krebs should continue to improve a little, Foust, 31 and in his 10th season, may not even be able to play as much as he did a year ago. Boo Ellis and Steve Hamilton learned a lot in their first season; Ellis' boardwork may begin to approach the effectiveness it achieved in college ball. The Laker backcourt of Dick Garmaker and Bob Leonard rates the term "adequate," in a league where adequate is not good enough. Both shoot well, though Leonard is not consistent, and often has temper trouble. The high hopes for Rod Hundley have yet to be fulfilled—it begins to look as if they never will be—and Ed Fleming's flashes of real brilliance are too sporadic. All in all, peppery new Coach John Castellani must count on the fine team spirit which really made the triumph over St. Louis possible and which is an incalculable asset even among pros—that and the all-round All-Star, Baylor.