An Appreciation for Dolph Schayes
Friend of the Program Marc Stein made his 75 Greatest NBA Players list… and left off Dolph Schayes, Hal Greer, and Paul Arizin. Don’t worry gang. I gave him hell on Twitter.
What followed was some good-natured discussion between myself, Stein, and Nemesis of the Program Mike Lynch of Schayes’s impact and skills. You can click the tweet and see the whole thread of questions, answers, and discussion. It’s like the good ole days of Twitter a decade ago!
In early 2010s blogger form, I’d like to take this one comment and explore it further in these august digital pages.
Dolph Schayes’s FG% for his career was .380. Obviously that stinks for a 6’8” forward in today’s game. However, we gotta remember Dolph was taking a lot of long-range bombs. How many? We’ll never know cuz nobody tracked every shot’s distance back then.
But Bob Pettit gave a standard quote about contemporaries being flummoxed by Dolph just launching these looooooong bombs.
In Syracuse I was assigned to guard Dolph Schayes. I had never seen him play, so I picked him up 25 feet from the basket, figuring, heck nobody can hit from out here. I figured wrong because Dolph took the ball and threw in a two-handed set [shot] and I said to myself, “Let me see him do it again.” He did it again, only this time it was from 30 feet out. So next time I picked him up a little bit sooner and he grabbed the ball and threw in a two-handed set from 38 feet out and right away I learned something about Dolph Schayes. I learned never to give him his two-handed shot no matter where he was on the court. Dolph has the best two-handed shot I ever played against.’
Now every retelling of a story involves a bit of embellishment, but guys don’t outright lie recalling basketball either. Maybe Dolph didn’t make three consecutive long-range shots from precisely 25, 30, and finally 38 feet out. But he did psychologically damage Pettit with three really long set shots. And Pettit doesn’t describe any other player doing that kind of shooting from that far out in his book.
Now imagine what Schayes’s gallivanting around the perimeter does for Syracuse’s offense. It’s the old “gravity” discussion from a few years ago with Steph Curry. You have an offensive player able to distort a defense because his long-range shooting drags people physically out, or at least mentally draws their attention, giving teammates better avenues of attack.
Anyhoo, Schayes’s propensity for long shots partially explains his overall FG%. If the NBA had three-pointers back then, he would have been rewarded a few extra points per game and we would retroactively forgive his overall FG% as the price to pay for getting those three-pointers. Just like we do with a lot of shooters today.
But the thing is, Schayes’s overall FG% was actually not that far off the average mark for his era. I suspect then that his shot attempts closer to the basket were just as, if not more accurate, than the average player. And his free throw volume and accuracy was magnificent for any time. He had four seasons at 90% from the foul line and a career average of 85%. All the better considering he took eight free throws a game.
Alright, getting back to the FG%, here’s a graph showing how Schayes kept up with the NBA’s average until he got old and creaky.
It’s not until he gets into his 13th season at age 32 does Schayes slip away from the pack. And that disastrous 1964 season at the end is when he was player-coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. (Schayes likely would have retired as a player after 1963, but when the Nationals moved to Philadelphia, the new owners wanted to keep Schayes on as player-coach to help the transition). He barely played appearing in just 24 games at age 35 in his 16th and final pro season.
Yes, 16th season. 15 in the NBA and one in the NBL. Never forget!
Alright, let’s go into the FT% where the Dolphster dominated like crazy.
No prisoners taken there by Schayes. Started out merely above average and then became an all-time great at the task. According to longtime teammate Johnny “Red” Kerr, Schayes would practice his free throws shooting a regulation basketball into rims that were smaller than normal. No room for error. Gotta be a swish.
And now TS% just for kicks to mix the FT% and FG%.
Once again you can see his scoring prowess doesn’t fade until—like many players—he hits a wall in his early 30s around the 1962 season and then craters that final year where he was player-coach.
So soaking in all the graphs, tsk-tsking Schayes for shooting 38% in his era is like tsk-tsking somebody shooting 46% in ours. It’s right around league average.
Except Schayes was waaaay above league-average as a free-throw shooter. And was a volume scorer who took long-range shots. So his surface-level .380 FG% would look even better in TS% terms if we could magically convert his long twos that woulda been threes today actually into threes.
But we can’t.
Also, there’s more to be said about Schayes’s rebounding, passing, and Iron Man capabilities. He played in over 800 consecutive games. Not only did he play well, you could count on him to be out there every night.
So, thanks for taking this time to appreciate Dolph Schayes.
6x All-NBA 1st Team
6x All-NBA 2nd Team
12x NBA All-Star
1949 NBL Rookie of the Year (never forget the NBL!)
1955 NBA champion
1955 Lost Finals MVP (by my estimation; NBA didn’t hand out the award)
1954 Lost Regular Season MVP (by my estimation; NBA didn’t hand out the award)
Man who left Bob Pettit chagrined.
Bob Pettit with Bob Wolff, The Drive Within Me, 47-48