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Don Otten - Unseen, Unknown, and Unfufilled


Don Otten

From Bellefontaine, Ohio, Don Otten was a 6'10" Center and was one of professional basketball's earliest Superstars. However, his name is rarely brought up in conversations. To be fair, Otten played in the 1940s-60s, so the number of people that have watched him play are probably little to none (because they're dead).


On the other hand, players like George Mikan, Paul Arizin, Bob Cousy, etc., also played in the same era, yet their names are brought up all the time. In honor of Otten's legacy, we'll be going over his three seasons in the NBL and additional four seasons in the NBA.


Fun Fact 1:

Before the goaltending rule, players were allowed to block shots even while the basketball was going downwards. As a result, players like Don Otten, George Mikan, and Bob Kurland stood under the basket and, with ease, block shot after shot.


The triplet blocked so many shots that they forced the professional basketball leagues to enforce the 1945 goaltending rule change!

Fun Fact 2:

Because of how often Don Otten blocked shots, he was nicknamed "The Goalie" in high school. Otten also happens to be one of the first players ever to dunk a basketball!

 

Table of Contents:

 

1946-1949: NBL


1946-47: Rookie Season

Don Otten joined the NBL in the 1946-47 season alongside the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, who entered the NBL as a team in the same season. You may know the Tri-Cities Blackhawks as the Atlanta Hawks nowadays. This means that Otten was the first Superstar the Hawks ever had since (spoilers) the Blackhawks never had any good players when they first entered the league.

In the 1967-67 NBL season, the Blackhawks would go 19-25 (43.2 W/L%). This would put them as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference (aka, second to last). The Blackhawks PPG was awful, ranking 11/12 (49.1). On the other hand, their OPPG was amazing, ranking first (51.8).


As for Don Otten, in this season, he averaged:


12.9 Points

4.5 Field Goals

3.8 Free Throws, 5.9 Free Throw Attempts

In his first season in the NBL, Otten was already leading the Blackhawks in EVERY stat. Out of the entire league, Otten ranked fifth in points (569), sixth in field goals (200), and fourth in free throws (169).

Even though Otten had a fantastic rookie season, unfortunately, he would lose the Rookie of the Year award to Freddie Lewis. However, it was no surprise that Lewis won since he averaged 13.3 points. Lewis was even selected to the All-NBL First Team!


What is surprising is that Otten wasn't selected to the All-NBL Second Team. Otten wasn't better than Arnie Risen or Hal Tidrick, but he was better than the other three players that were on the All-NBL Second Team:

  • Robert Calihan: 11.0 Points

  • Bob Carpenter: 11.7 Points

  • Red Holzman: 12.0 Points

This season was horrible for the Tri-Cities Blackhawks but excellent for Don Otten. All Otten needed to do was get better and for the Blackhawks to get a decent player next to Otten. Thankfully, both of these things came to fruition the following season.


1947-48

In the 1947-48 NBL season, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks would add three star-level players next to Don Otten:

  • Whitey Von Nieda: 12.1 Points

  • Robert McDermott: 12.1 Points

  • Billy Hassett: 10.7 Points

In addition, Otten would improve his play from last season. This season, he averaged:


13.7 Points

4.7 Field Goals

4.3 Free Throws, 6.5 Free Throw Attempts


With the newly acquired start players and an improved Don Otten, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks would go 30-30 (50.0 W/L%). This would put them at the third seed in the Western Conference. For some reason, the team changed conferences. I have no idea why. However, that doesn't matter. What matters is that Otten and the Blackhawks were going to make their first playoff appearance.


In the first round of the playoffs, the Blackhawks beat the Indianapolis Kautskys with ease, winning 3-1. However, in the second round, the Blackhawks would get swept by the George Mikan-led Minneapolis Lakers, 0-2.


For their first playoff run, this was pretty good. In addition, Don Otten played AMAZINGLY during the playoffs. He averaged:

16.3 Points

5.7 Field Goals

5.0 Free Throws, 6.3 Free Throw Attempts


Don Otten wasn't the only one that played fantastically during this game. Whitey Von Nieda played just as well as Otten during the playoffs:


16.2 Points

6.8 Field Goals

2.5 Free Throws, 4.7 Free Throw Attempts

Combined, the duo scored 32.5 points. By today's standards, this is nothing. Stephen Curry is singlehandedly averaging 32.0 points. However, the Blackhawks only scored 60.9 PPG. This means that Otten and Nieda scored 53.3% of the team's points!


Unlike last season, this season, Don Otten was selected to the All-NBL Second Team. However, Otten deserved to be on the All-NBL First Team. Besides George Mikan, who averaged 21.3 POINTS this season, Otten was better than or on-par with everybody else on the First Team:

  • Mike Todorovich: 13.0 Points

  • Jim Pollard: 12.9 Points

  • Red Holzman: 10.2 Points

  • Al Cervi: 13.4 Points

Also, out of the entire league, Otten ranked second in points (824), third in field goals (282), and second in free throws (260).


Somehow, this isn't even the biggest snub. Otten's right-hand man, Von Nieda, wasn't even selected to All-NBL Second Team, and he only averaged 1.6 fewer points than Otten!


1948-49: MVP Season

The 1948-49 NBL season was the last season that the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and Don Otten would be in the NBL. Thankfully, for Otten at least, it ended with a bang.


This season, on top of the Big 4 from last season, the Blackhawks added two other star players onto the team:

  • Hoot Gibson: 10.1 Points

  • Don Ray: 7.1 Points

With an even better team than last season, the Blackhawks would once again improve their record. They went 36-28 (56.3 W/L%) and were ranked second in the Western Conference, the highest they've ever been during their three seasons in the NBL.


This was also the only season that the Blackhawks were Top 5 in PPG and OPPG. They were ranked third in PPG (65.1) and fifth in OPPG (62.4)!


Okay, let's get back to Don Otten. This season, Otten averaged:


14.0 Points

4.7 Field Goals

4.6 Free Throws, 6.6 Free Throw Attempts


Once again, Don Otten improved. In addition, Otten would finally be given the respect he deserved and was selected to the All-NBL First Team. Not only was he on the First-Team, but Otten was the 1949 NBL MVP! In the NBL's last season, Otten clutched and secured the last MVP awarded by the NBL before they eventually ceased operations.

Don Otten was ranked first in points (899), second in field goals (301), and first in free throws (297)!


Although I'm happy that Don Otten won MVP this season, a lot of luck was on his side. George Mikan, the previous NBL MVP, just left the NBL this season to join the BAA. In the 1948-19 BAA season, Mikan averaged:


28.3 Points, 3.6 Assists

41.6 FG%, 77.2 FT%


If Mikan had stayed in the NBL, there's no way that Otten would have won MVP. If you combined the top-two leading scorers on the Blackhawks, Otten and Gibson, they still would have had fewer points than Mikan:

  • Otten and Gibson: 24.1 Points

  • Mikan: 28.3 Points

As for the playoffs, they went the same as last season's playoffs. In the first round, the Blackhawks swept the Sheboygan Redskins, 2-0. However, in the second round, the Blackhawks would get stomped by the Oshkosh All-Stars, 1-3.

Also, like last season's playoffs, Don Otten played amazingly:


15.2 Points

4.0 Field Goals

7.2 Free Throws, 9.2 Free Throw Attempts


Even though Otten played amazingly, I don't think the Blackhawks would have even made it past the first round if it weren't for Dee Gibson. Whitey Von Nieda, Billy Hassett, and Hoot Gibson (I have no idea if Dee and Hoot Gibson are related) didn't play that well. On the other hand, Dee Gibson did:

9.5 Points

3.2 Field Goals

3.2 Free Throws, 5.0 Free Throw Attempts


These aren't All-NBL Team numbers, but this was a massive improvement from his regular-season play, where he only averaged 4.7 points.


By the end of his career, Don Otten would have the 20th most games played (168), 8th most field goals (783), fourth-most free throws (726), and sixth most points (2292). This doesn't sound that impressive because he's not Top 3 in any of these stats, but remember, Otten only played three seasons in the NBL. The NBL lasted twelve seasons!


1949-1953: NBA


1949-50: Welcome to the NBA

After three seasons in the NBL, Don Otten would say goodbye to the NBL and join the NBA with the same team he started with, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. However, Otten's tenure with the Blackhawks wouldn't be long. After 48 games with the Blackhawks, Otten would leave the team he's been on for 3.5 seasons to join the Washington Capitals.


During those 48 games with the Blackhawks, Don Otten averaged:


12.1 Points, 1.6 Assists

36.6 FG%, 71.7 FT%


I don't blame Otten for leaving. Although the Blackhawks would still make it to the playoffs by the end of the season, they went 29-35 (45.3 W/L%). On the other hand, the Washington Capitals went 32-26 (47.1 W/L%).


In addition, Otten played a lot better on the Washington Capitols. In the 18 games that he played, he averaged:


14.9 Points, 1.0 Assist

39.1 FG%, 77.7 FT%


Every stat besides assists improved when on the Capitals.


Even though Don Otten was still good, he was no longer the superstar he once was in the NBL.

The competition in the NBA was much more fierce. Players like George Mikan, Max Zaslofsky, Alex Groza, etc., were taking the league by storm. In the four seasons, he was in the NBA, Otten wouldn't make a single All-NBA Team.


Rewinding to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, there was one game that Don Otten played that I wanted to point out. On November 24th, 1949, against the Sheboygan Redskins, Otten would put up:


12 Points, 3 Assists

4/11 FG, 4/8 FT


Nothing that special, right? Wrong. By the end of the game, Otten accumulated EIGHT personal fouls. This was because of NBA Rule 3. This rule allowed players to continue playing even if they've fouled out if there are no bench players that can replace the player. Since 5/10 of the players had already accumulated SIX personal fouls, Otten continued to play.


It's been 71 years since this game, and there still hasn't been a single player to beat Otten's EIGHT personal fouls. As a result of this game, Otten was nicknamed the "Foul King." Not the record to be known for, but a record nonetheless.


Also, did I point out that Don Otten's brother, Mac Otten, also played for the Tri-Cities Blackhawks in the 1949-50 NBA season? Mac was nowhere near as good as his brother. He averaged:


3.3 Points, 0.9 Assists

35.3 FG%, 68.2 FT%


Okay, let's go back to Don Otten's current team, the Washington Capitals. Although the Capitiols would make the playoffs, they would lose in the first round against the New York Knicks, 0-2.


Otten led the series in points (20.5) and was third in assists (3.0). This must have meant that he played well, right? Well... kind of?


In the first game of the series, Otten scored 20 points and had four assists! However, he shot 4/29 from the field! Only 13.8% of his shots went in! On the other hand, his free-throw shooting was fine. He shot 12/15 from the free-throw line.


Otten wasn't the only player that shot horribly in this series. Otten's teammate, Chick Reiser, shot even worst. Reiser shot 1/11 from the field. Only 9.1% of his shots went in! I know that professional basketball wasn't that advanced back then, but if you're missing a crap ton of shots, maybe stop shooting?


In the second game of the series, Don Otten redeemed himself. He put up:


21 Points, 2 Assists

6/12 FG, 9/11 FT


He led the team in points and field goal percentage! However, it wasn't enough. The New York Knicks had six different players score more than ten points. Amongst those six, five of them shot 40% or more from the field.


1950-52: Downfall


1950-51

Between 1950-52 was when we saw the downfall of Don Otten. To be fair, he was already 29-30 years old. Within this two-season period, Otten was on four different teams:

  • Washington Capitals (1950-51): 16 Games

  • Baltimore Bullets (1950-51): 2 Games

  • Fort Wayne Pistons (1950-52): 56 Games

  • Milwaukee Hawks (1951-52): 57 Games

Otten was passed around the league like he was a basketball. In the 1950-51 NBA season, Otten was on three different teams. In all three of those teams, Otten averaged less than ten points per game. This was the first time Otten had ever averaged less than ten points.


Here were his stats for each team:


Washington Capitals (16 Games):

9.3 Points, 1.4 Assists, 6.6 Rebounds

29.1 FG%, 79.6 FT%

Baltimore Bullets (2 Games):

5.5 Points, 1.5 Assists, 1.5 Rebounds

20.0 FG%, 55.6 FT%


Fort Wayne Pistons (56 Games):

8.4 Points, 0.8 Assists, 6.0 Rebounds

36.2 FG%, 81.1 FT%

He had a considerable downgrade during his stints with the Washington Capitals and Baltimore Bullets, but Otten played better with the Fort Wayne Pistons. I'm a bit upset that Otten didn't average as many rebounds as I thought he would have. He was 6'10" and towered over everyone, so I thought he would at LEAST grab ten rebounds per game.


If Don Otten's prime wasn't during the NBL, I'm pretty sure Otten would have been remembered as one of the greats during the NBA's beginnings. He was an MVP, 1x All-NBL First Team, and Second Team, but that didn't matter since the NBA doesn't recognize NBL awards.


Although Don Otten got worse and was passed from team to team, it benefited him in the long run. Obviously, getting worse doesn't help, but him switching teams did.

The Washington Capitals ended up going 10-25 (28.6 W/L%). They only played 35 games because midway through the season, the Capitals ceased operations. As for the Baltimore Bullets, they ended up going 24-42 (36.4 W/L%) and were last in the Eastern Conference.


However, the Fort Wayne Pistons were good. They went 32-36 (47.1 W/L%) and were the third-seed in the Western Conference and got to play in the playoffs.

In the playoffs, as usual for any team that Don Otten is on, they lost in the first round against the Rochester Royals, 1-2. In the playoffs, Otten averaged:

9.7 Points, 2.7 Assists, 6.3 Rebounds

30.8 FG%, 81.3 FT%


By NBL Don Otten's standards, this isn't the best stat-line. By NBA Don Otten's standards, this is pretty good. In-Game 2 of the series, Otten scored 13 points and shot 7/7 from the free-throw line!


This would be Don Otten's last playoff appearance.


1951-52:

Once again, Don Otten was on different teams in the 1951-52 NBA season. He started the season, played seven games with the Fort Wayne Pistons, and played the rest of the season with the Milwaukee Hawks. With each team, he averaged:


Fort Wayne Pistons (7 Games):

3.4 Points, 0.7 Assists, 2.9 Rebounds

25.0 FG%, 87.5 FT%

9.0 Minutes


Milwaukee Hawks (57 Games):

13.0 Points, 7.3 Rebounds, 2.1 Assists

35.2 FG%, 76.9 FT%

30.3 Minutes


If the Milwaukee Hawks sound familiar, that's because they were previously the... Tri-Cities Blackhawks! Don Otten's former NBL team.


Based on the stats, I'm assuming that Otten left the Pistons to join the Hawks since he was only receiving nine minutes of playing time. In addition, it was his former team, after all. This time, switching teams didn't work in Otten's favor.


While the Pistons would go 29-37 (43.9 W/L%) and were fourth in the Western Conference and would make the playoffs, the Hawks would go 17-49 (25.8 W/L%), fifth in the Western Conference, and wouldn't make the playoffs.


However, it still did kind of work in Don Otten's favor since he ended up having his best season in a while. This is the most points, rebounds, and assists he's averaged in the NBA! He was also the Hawks' best player this season! Unfortunately, Otten still wasn't good enough to get an All-Star selection.


In general, Don Otten's best game in the 1951-52 NBA season and the best game was on February 9th, 1952, against the Indianapolis Olympians. Otten put up:


27 Points, 22 Rebounds

9/10 FT


Otten had the most 20+ points games this season. 11/64 of Otten's games had 20+ points.


I'm not going to make a subsection for the 1952-53 NBA season because, unfortunately, Otten retired 24 games into the season. During those 24 games, Otten averaged:


5.5 Points, 0.9 Assists, 3.7 Rebounds

39.1 FG%, 70.3 FT%

16.0 Minutes


By this season, Otten was already 31 years old. It made sense that he retired. Even players like 6x All-Star Neil Johnston, 7x All-Star Ed Macauley, and 4x All-Star George Mikan retired earlier than Otten.


Although Don Otten never won a Championship, at least he retired on the team he started his professional basketball career.


 

Sources:




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