The Lost MVP: 1949-50
The choice is obvious!
No need for suspense on this one, our first lost award.
The lost MVP winner for the NBA’s inaugural 1949-50 season is center George Mikan of the Minneapolis Lakers.
OBVIOUS and OVERWHELMING
George Mikan’s case is pretty easy to make despite the offensive record-keeping from this era being spotty compared to ours.
Mikan stood out mightily in the stats that were tracked and I think it’s important to dwell on that basic PPG average for a minute. 27.4 PPG is definitely on the low end for a modern PPG leader. Over the last 50 years, only Allen Iverson (26.8 PPG in 1999) and George Gervin (27.2 PPG in 1978) had lower averages that still led the NBA.
But for 1950, 27.4 PPG was a titanic achievement. Alex Groza was the runner-up in the category that season. He averaged 23.4 PPG. The third-place finisher was Frankie Brian with 17.8 PPG. So, Mikan was four points ahead of the #2 scorer and nearly 10 points ahead of the #3 scorer.
Not too shabby with that FG% either (for the period), which was good for fifth in the league. And ain’t nobody complaining 70 years later if their center makes nearly 78% of their free throws.
This is why every chance I take, I trumpet George Mikan. His domination of this era is wildly underappreciated nowadays.
Anyhoo, let’s move on to the advanced stats we’ve been able to retroactively gleam.
Mikan dredged up 21.1 win shares in a 68-game schedule. Replicating the chasms found in PPG, Mikan’s win shares led the NBA by a country mile. Groza was in second place with 17.9 win shares while Dolph Schayes was #3 in the category with 12.8 win shares.
Lastly, we got true shooting percentage. (Not a lot of advanced stats to work with since the NBA had yet to track minutes played.)
Mikan held a .487 TS% mark, which was good enough for fourth in the league. Al Cervi (.491) and Bobby Wanzer (.515) were ahead of Mikan but couldn’t hold a candle to the offensive weight he carried. Combined those two guards averaged 23.0 points. Remember, Mikan averaged 27.4 PPG. The league’s leader in TS% was Groza who shot an absolutely absurd .548.
When it came to scorers in this very early NBA era, Groza was the only man who gave Mikan a run for his money. And honestly he’s the only person you’d even consider voting for MVP over Mikan. But it’d be a mere consideration. You would never go through with it.
The last frontier of analysis is team play. Mikan’s Lakers finished tied with Wanzer’s Rochester Royals for the second-best record in the NBA as each team sported a 51-17 record. Cervi’s and Schayes’ Syracuse Nationals finished with the best record in the league (51-13). The NBA clearly didn’t have an even schedule that year, so Syracuse’s .797 win percentage is a smidge better than Rochester’s and Minneapolis’ .750.
Groza’s Indianapolis Olympians were pretty good (39-25), but were a step below those first-class contenders.
Mikan ultimately had just one star teammate that season: Jim Pollard. Oh sure, Vern Mikkelsen and Slater Martin, both future All-Stars and All-NBA members, were on the roster too, but they were just rookies. Only Pollard could truly be considered a commiserate star player. Mik and Martin would soon catch up.
However, 1950 was Mikan’s (and Pollard’s) show that carried the Lakers to the top of the league. And Big George is getting this lost NBA MVP.
My 1949-50 “Lost” NBA MVP Ballot
The Obvious and Clear Runner-Up
Alex Groza — center for the Indianapolis Olympians
As detailed above, Groza was the only serious challenger to Mikan this season for MVP. If not for Mikan, Groza wins this award easily. And this was his rookie season in pro ball, whereas Mikan was in his fourth year including service in the NBL and BAA.
Groza was second in PPG (23.4), while also smashing the competition in FG%. The average FG% in 1950 was .340. Groza shot .478. Dick Mehen of the Waterloo Hawks was second in the category with .420. Like I said, Groza smashed the competition when it came to field goal accuracy.
No MVP for him this year, but homie’s on the right track for one soon! Right?
Other Main Contenders
Bob Davies — guard for the Rochester Royals
Davies was already 30 years old this season, but was still the leader of Rochester’s royal band of merry men including Bobby Wanzer, Arnie Risen, and Jack Coleman. It’s hard to pick any single player from these Royals teams for MVP honors because they were typically well-balanced.
However, Davies gets the lion’s share of MVP consideration since he led the team in scoring (14.0 PPG) and assists (4.6 APG).
However, he just gets consideration. Don’t worry, though. Davies already has an NBL MVP from 1947.
Dolph Schayes — forward for the Syracuse Nationals
This was Schayes’ second professional season. In 1948-49, he was named the NBL’s Rookie of the Year. In this, his sophomore campaign, Schayes averaged 16.8 PPG and 4.0 APG. That assist number was a healthy dose for a 6’8” forward back in the day. Or for any player back in the day.
The APG average was fifth overall in the league as was his PPG. Serving as the linchpin of a fairly egalitarian Nationals offense, Schayes propelled the club to an NBA-best 51-13 record as documented above.
Frankie Brian — guard for the Anderson Packers
Brian’s candidacy isn’t that much stronger than the men mentioned in the ensuing “honorable mentions,” but I decided to bump him up to this category because the Packers finished 37-27 this season, despite having three different coaches. Honestly, you could rotate any of the other guys into Brian’s spot.
Nicknamed “The Flash,” Brian overwhelmingly led the team in scoring (17.8 PPG) and was tied for the APG lead with 3.0 a contest. Now, his FG% was lackluster even for the era as he shot just .318. However, he was a monster at the free throw line shooting .824 with 7.6 attempts per game.
The FT% was sixth overall in the league, while he trailed only Groza and Mikan in total makes. Not bad for a 6’1” guard to be a volume menace at the charity stripe.
Max Zaslofsky — Chicago Stags
Andy Phillip — Chicago Stags
Carl Braun — New York Knicks
Harry Gallatin — New York Knicks
Ed Macauley — St. Louis Bombers