Last season: Won 52, lost 20; first in East
Top scorer: Bill Sharman, 20.4 average
Top rebounder: Bill Russell, 23.0 average
The Celtics are the world champions and they can hardly be better than they were last year when they took a long early lead, held it for three months and then breezed past Minneapolis in four straight games for the title. This year's champions will be the team that can beat Philadelphia and Wilt Chamberlain, and the Celtics surely have the best chance in the East. They have balanced scoring power: up front they have Tom Heinsohn, an amazing shooter whose occasionally erratic temperament is the only thing that has kept him from true stardom, the rugged Jim Loscutoff and Bill Russell, who was the second-best percentage shooter in the NBA last season. In the backcourt they have Bill Sharman and the incomparable Bob Cousy, who have both averaged 18 points or better per game for many years. In reserve are two men who can play either the front or back court: the speedy Sam Jones and Frank Ramsey, the game's greatest sixth man. In the battle with Chamberlain, however, two other factors could swing the tide. First is the savvy of Coach Red Auerbach, whose explosive courtside behavior has long obscured the fact that he has one of the keenest minds in the game. And second, of course, is Cousy's brilliant generalship, which probes for rival weaknesses and exploits them relentlessly. None of which takes into account Russell's determination to maintain his rating as basketball's best defensive player. Gene Conley and K. C. Jones are vastly improved players, and three rookies, John Richter, Gene Guarilia and Maurice King, are all ready to play pro ball. King, a guard, has a tough job of breaking into a squad loaded with backcourt talent. Richter, battling for a corner spot, seems the best bet to stick past cutdown date.
Last season: Won 35, lost 37; third in East
Top scorer: Dolph Schayes, 21.3 average
Top rebounder: John Kerr, 14.0 average
The Nationals' Dick Barnett is a slender, brown youngster who carries his eyelids at half-mast and generally wears the expression of a well-fed cat looking for a warm spot to curl up in and sleep. Deceptive is a feeble word for all this. Alert and quick-handed, Barnett is a streak on the dribble and drive and an excellent shooter. In service until December 1, he has played in one exhibition game with Syracuse and shown enough to guarantee that when he gets out and joins the speedy Larry Costello, Hal Greer and Al Bianchi, the Nats will have the fastest backcourt in the league. If one of these four can develop into a floor leader, the Syracuse attack will be devastating. Up front, Dolph Schayes and George Yardley are deadeye marksmen and Bob Hopkins spells either of them effectively. In the pivot, Johnny Kerr has raised his scoring average three years in a row now; in exhibitions he has appeared to be out of condition, but his touch, especially on hooks, has been sure. Kerr's relief man, Connie Dierking, seemed to have all the attributes of a pro as a rookie last season—except confidence. The year's experience and Coach Paul Seymour's skill at handling men should help that condition. Since Paul retired to the bench, the lack of a strong quarterback has prevented the talent on this squad from displaying full efficiency. Even so, Syracuse made a late and nearly successful run for the title last year, after a sad start. Stronger and better-balanced now, though still without a floor general, they are fully capable of upsetting the favorites in both divisions. Their habit of always giving the Boston Celtics a particularly hard time will stand them in good stead. Against Philadelphia, the Nats' speed and ability to hit from all points of the compass will keep Wilt hopping.
Last season: Won 40, lost 32; second in East
Top scorer: Kenny Sears, 21.0 average
Top rebounder: Willie Naulls, 10.0 average
Lack of consistent rebounding, critical in a game that requires players to shoot within 24 seconds, was the Knicks' downfall last year. The hope is that Johnny Green will solve the problem, but asking him to take on this tough job as a rookie, and against men many inches taller than he, may prove too much of a demand. Green was extremely effective on the boards as a collegian, but he's in another league now. The other weakness, inadequacy in the pivot, which stems from the same absence of a good big man, was ingeniously countered last season by Coach Fuzzy Levane's use of a wide-open offense. The Knicks played without a post man much of the time, setting up simple, inside screens for their fine shooters and keeping rival big men out of the middle to help their drivers. Regardless of Green's ability or whatever improvement Ray Felix and Charlie Tyra show this year, they will undoubtedly use a similar attack. Rookie Bob Anderegg brings muscle and a fine shooting touch to the backcourt which, unfortunately, already has plenty of those qualities and could use speed. The veterans are Richie Guerin, Carl Braun, Ron Sobie and Jack George. Guerin's rise in stature has been spectacular; he has doubled his scoring average in three years and become a fine playmaker. Sobie, bothered by foot and knee injuries and often overweight in the past, has appeared slender and fit in training. If the knee holds up, his hustle will be a great asset. Those superb shooters up front, the graceful Willie Naulls and rangy Kenny Sears, have lost none of their skill. If Sears had some of Willie's deception, and Naulls some of Kenny's tenacity, what a pair they would be! Finally, rugged Mike Farmer is now also a scoring threat.
Last season: Won 32, lost 40; last in East
Top scorer: Paul Arizin, 26.4 average
Top rebounder: Woody Sauldsberry, 11.5 average
It goes without saying anything more than the name Wilt Chamberlain that the Warriors are no longer a last-place team. But how much higher one new man can raise Philadelphia is an interesting question. The prevailing opinion is that the Warriors will become the new world champions because Chamberlain will retrieve the ball consistently off the backboard and will also stuff it into his own basket with sufficient regularity to assure the required number of Philadelphia victories. But basketball is still a team game, and the other Warrior players must be considered. One who will benefit greatly from Wilt's presence is Paul Arizin, who has been scoring at least 20 points a game for six years, without Wilt on his side. Now, clearly, no one is going to drop off Wilt and double-team Paul. Joe Graboski and Woody Sauldsberry, up front, will enjoy a measure of the same comparative freedom. In the backcourt, Guy Rodgers, Tom Gola, Ernie Beck and Vern Hatton should be able to break quickly, after the opposing team shoots, secure in the expectation that Wilt will get the ball for them. The theory appears to be flawless, but—. That backcourt, highly skilled in ball-handling, has yet to demonstrate outside shooting ability. Possibly it won't be needed, but Wilt would surely be even more dangerous in close if there were a constant threat outside. Sauldsbery has played well only in brief streaks, apparently when aroused. Gola is recovering from the debilitating effects of hepatitis. Neil Johnston is brand-new at the business of coaching. And all the other teams will be taking dead aim at Chamberlain & Co. The Warriors are hardly a shoo-in. Indeed, the feeling here is that Boston and St. Louis will beat them in a majority of their games, at least this year.