LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The best in the whole NBA
Easy winners in the West last season, the Lakers have strengthened themselves to a point where Coach Fred Schaus believes he now has so much versatility with 10 men he won't even carry the 12, although permitted to by league rules. The Lakers were pleasantly surprised when the two players they wanted in the college draft. Gene Wiley from Wichita and LeRoy Ellis from St. Johns, were passed up by other clubs. Wiley, at 6 foot 10, is not a scorer, but the Lakers thought he could contain the league's other big men. He has looked superb on defense so far. Ellis can score, and has a cheery exuberance to match his quickness; he now seems to be able to get the ball and hold on to it. The Lakers came within inches of winning the NBA championship without an adequate center last year. They appear to have corrected the weakness. Elgin Baylor, the league's best all-round player, is free of the Army once again, and can join scoring sidekick Jerry West full time, a prospect that horrifiesfoes. West, normally a guard, may get some action as a corner man, because two other guards, Frank Selvy and Hot Rod Hundley, have looked very sharp in exhibition games. There is also the competent Rudy LaRusso, who has proved he is a steady corner man. The Lakers have the offense, the defense and the youth not only to win the Western Division almost as they please but to construct the next dynasty in professional basketball.
SAN FRANCISCO WARRIORS
New town, but no help for Wilt
When a ball club is assured of 50 points in every game from one man it is bound to win more than a few. The Warriors, newly moved to the West, have such a fellow in Wilt Chamberlain, but they don't have much else. Wilt probably will improve on his 50-point average this year and still get his 25 rebounds, presuming he finds he can get along with Bob Feerick as well as he seemed to with Frank McGuire last year and doesn't go into a case of the Stilt sulks. Feerick, meanwhile, has not only had to abandon the tight defensive game he taught his college teams at Santa Clara, but finds himself coaching a squad that was plunged into a tough exhibition schedule with hardly so much as a single practice session. The exhibition games did two things. They proved what nobody guessed about Rookie Hubie White from Villanova—that he just won't do, so Guy Rodgers, Al Attics and Tom Gola are the backcourt once again and not one of them has an acceptable outside shot, and they showed thatWayne Hightower, now in the NBA after a year of barnstorming in Spain, will need some time to become a suitable starting forward. Meanwhile, second year man youngster on the squad and its strongest corner man—broke his wrist and will be sidelined about a month. Consequently, even more than last year, the Warriors area one-man team. Wilt will win some, but he can't beat LA alone.
A freshening breeze, and maybe a gale
The one-year-old Chicago Packers have a new name (Zephyrs), a new coach (tough Jack McMahon), a new general manager (baseball trader Frank Lane), only two players left from the ill-sorted group that started last season, high hopes and one big problem. The problem is 6-foot-9 Bill (The Hill) McGill, the Zephyrs' first draft choice. McGill came out of Utah as one of the sharpest shots in college history. But the pros don't give him the split second he seems to need to get set, and he is a disappointment to date. The Zephyrs' second "draft choice, Terry Dischinger, will only play on weekends until he completes his master's degree at Purdue in January. In the meantime, All-America Dischinger is practicing patterns and moves prescribed for him by McMahon. One of Chicago's big faults last season was that it didn't shoot enough and McMahon is trying to eliminate that weakness. John Cox, who played in the ABL last season, is a good outside shot at guard and Woody Sauldsberrycomes from St. Louis with five years of pro experience; both should help. The big man, however, is still Walt Bellamy, who last season averaged 31.6 per game, shot .513, was the league's third best re-bounder and its rookie of the year. Last year the Packers lost $250,000. To meet their budget of $380,000 they must average 4,200 fans a night. This club might draw them, especially in the second half of the season. It is a patsy no more.
Kicked by an absent Shue
"I don't know what we'll do without Gene Shue," says Coach Dick McGuire. "I never would have made the trade." All of which indicates McGuire's future may be limited, and his team's, too. The loss of Shue at guard (via a trade to the Knicks after he fell into disfavor with Piston Owner Fred Zollner) leaves Detroit with a backcourt of gunners and dribblers. Best of the musketeers is Don Ohl, who may be joined as a starter by Rookie Kevin Loughery of St. John's. At center, sometimes clumsy and always inconsistent Walter Dukes will get help from sometimes clumsy and always inconsistent Darrall Imhoff, who came in the Shue trade. This leaves it all up to the forwards. Fortunately, as a group they are among the league's best. Bailey Howell and Ray Scott are two experienced starters and the drafting of a hometown rookie, Dave DeBusschere, may push Detroit into a three-forward offense. McGuire says the era of the big center is going out, unless the center is aChamberlain or Russell. The trend is to three forwards instead of a pivot man, he claims, but his voice sounds wistful. DeBusschere shoots well and would fit into such an offense, but he must learn to drive for the basket. His rebounding must also improve if there is no big pivot man. "We don't have a real star," says McGuire. "We have a good, well-balanced team, but when you need that big play in the fourth quarter, balance won't get it for you. Elgin Baylor will."
ST. LOUIS HAWKS
Trouble right here in River City
As usual there is a new coach in St. Louis to greet a new season. This time it is Harry Gallatin and Harry is going to be in for some blue evenings. The return of Len Wilkins from the service will help the Hawks in the backcourt but, as Gallatin says, "Our greatest need is for a quarterback—a guard who can size up the situation and call the play. I hope that Wilkins can take over this job, but in the past he has showed a reluctance to do so." If Wilkins doesn't, the Hawks will have to hope that Nick Mantis, formerly of the ABL, or Rookie Bob Duffy will. Up front St. Louis still has hard-working Bob Pettit, a good scorer and a fine rebounder. Cliff Hagan can score too, but his lack of height (6 feet 4) is a liability. And the Hawks' three Untouchables are now only two. Clyde Lovellette is gone. Injured last season, he reported even slower this fall. The Hawks had seriously hoped he would regain his old form, and his loss hurts. Replacements Phil Jordan and CharlieTyra will be of little help, so the Hawks' top-draft pick, Zelmo Beaty of Prairie View, must come through. He is fast, but he is at least a year away from being of genuine assistance. St. Louis is hoping that the ABL folds swiftly so that they can acquire Bill Bridges and Gene Tormohlen from Kansas City. If it doesn't, Hawk owner and master promoter Ben Kerner better depend on jazz bands and dancing girls to please his customers. His team isn't likely to.
They go on and on and...
Massachusetts has the Kennedys and the Celtics, and it doesn't look like there is ever going to be a loser in the lot. The Celts won their fourth straight Eastern Division Championship last year without breaking into an honest sweat. Over the past two seasons they have beaten their present foes in the East—the Royals, Knicks and Nats—52 times while losing only 16, and this year the team is as strong as ever. Bob Cousy, playing his 13th and last season, is cavorting like a college freshman. He won't see as much action as a year ago, but he is still the man who can control the ball in the tight spots. Tom Sanders and Tom Heinsohn are sound scorers and rebounders, and Coach Red Auerbach, who issues his commands from behind a screen of dense cigar smoke, may have succeeded in convincing Heinsohn to stop smoking in order to stay in better shape. The Jones boys, Sam and K.C., are fast and deft as ever. Injury-prone Frank Ramsey is already limping with a sore heel, but an achingRamsey is better than many guards. Looking for the least chance to break into the lineup is one of the NBA's best rookies, Ohio State's 6-foot-5 rugged All-America, John Havlicek. The Celtics' lone weakness is too much dependence on their great Center Bill Russell. Clyde Lovellette has been acquired from St. Louis to aid Russell, but if anything should happen to Bill, the Celtics are in trouble. If Russell stays healthy, it's five in a row for Boston.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Good reason to hope, at long last
For the first time in recent memory there may be a professional professional basketball team in New York. The Knicks, who have not had many happy winters, have had a very encouraging summer. They got an excellent guard, Gene Shue, from Detroit for Darrall Imhoff and $20,000, neither of which the Knick management will miss. Shue can move a ball club, can shoot, and gives the backcourt better ball handling than it had all last season. Coach Eddie Donovan also has some new help around the backboards, with baseball pitcher Gene Conley and Ken Sears both back in the NBA after a year in the ABL. Donovan is just the type of coach to spur on the often diffident Sears, something that his predecessors couldn't do. Conley, although not much of a scorer, is excellent under both boards. Rookie Paul Hogue (from the University of Cincinnati) is also going to be able to adapt himself underneath. His speed is barely adequate, but he is strong and he scores well from close in. He may be thecenter the Knicks have long lacked, though he will need a season to get used to the NBA. Guard Richie Guerin and Forward Willie Naulls, who were the sixth and seventh scorers in the league last season, should be even better because they now have help. Backing up the starters are USC's agile John Rudometkin and Donnis Butcher, a seasoned NIBL player. This is the NBA's most improved team, but it had a lot of improving to do.
The team with a forward look
Getting one good player a year out of the NBA draft is considered a major achievement, which makes it all the more startling that Syracuse seems to have come up with three. Hulking Len Chappell (from Wake Forest) combines just enough speed with mounds of muscle and a good shot to be a help at forward. For reasons they are already regretting, no team picked 6-foot-7, Jaguar-fast Corner Man Chet Walker (from Bradley) in the first round of the draft. Finally there is third draft choice Porter Meriwether (from Tennessee A&I). With Hal Greer and Larry Costello, Syracuse needs guards like the Yankees need a center-fielder, but Meriwether moves so well the team may end up carrying five backcourt men just to keep him. Greer is starting the season with a severe charley horse and a calcium deposit in a thigh muscle, but he looks as fast as ever. A more serious ache is the one in the knee of that alltime, all-pro Dolph Schayes. He very much wants one big year before retiring, andthe Nats need it from him. This would help offset the problems at center where Johnny Kerr offers more teamwork than scoring punch. Chappell will be used occasionally at center—but only out of dire necessity—and Syracuse may eventually join Detroit in trying to work out an offense using three forwards and no pivot man. With the rookies and Dolph, they have the corner men to do it—and Syracuse has its best prospects in some time.
Lots of running, but mostly down
There isn't a faster team around than Cincinnati, but it is running on a treadmill. Last season Oscar Robertson was again one of the NBA's superstars, the club finished second in the Western Division and it lost 518,198 at the gate. This season it failed to sign top draft choice Jerry Lucas, brought in no apparent help for its starters and can hardly hope to be better than last year. Robertson led the league last season in assists, was third in scoring and led his team in rebounding. Coach Charley Wolf can obviously ask no more from Oscar. Jack Twyman, the hot shooting forward who was bothered by injury and illness, may improve his 22.9 average slightly. Wayne Embry is learning to throw his 250 pounds around at center, and Arlen Bockhorn seems to be shooting better. But these are small pluses, compared to what 6-foot-8 Bob Boozer must learn to contribute at the other forward, where he is still having trouble blocking out under the backboards. His lack of aggressiveness gothim fined $50 during the playoffs last year and Wolf is hoping the lesson has been remembered, but Boozer may never learn to use his height. Rebounding was so bad last year that Robertson had to be moved to forward on defense in some games, where he took a severe physical pounding. Cincinnati's best rookie, 6-foot-8 Bud Olsen, may help the defense, but the Royals will have to win with their running, or else not win at all.