We can guarantee one thing this time out on NBA Tuesday: Michael Jordan will not win the MVP. After taking seven consecutive trophies, Jordan “retired” to go play professional baseball. The Houston Rockets won their first NBA championship, after the Chicago Bulls won three straight titles, and the whole NBA was a different place—for better or for worse.
So, just who did take home the hardware in MJ’s absence?!
1994 NBA MVP: Hakeem Olajuwon (original), David Robinson (revised)
The three best players this season were San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson (19.18 WS, 30.66 PER), Orlando Magic center Shaquille O’Neal (16.91 PS, 28.53 PER), and Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon (14.33 WS, 25.29 PER). It was a big man’s league now with His Airness toiling away in the minor leagues of pro baseball, and Olajuwon won the vote from the awards panel.
Houston (58-24) won the Midwest Division by three games over San Antonio (55-27), while Orlando (50-32) was second in the Atlantic Division behind the New York Knicks (57-25). A topical analysis suggests that Robinson should win the MVP Award, as his WS and PER totals were the best in the league, while Olajuwon’s team was the best—and not just because of him. Shaq falls off a bit here in the discussion, although clearly O’Neal’s presence on the Magic roster drove them to improve by 29 wins in two seasons.
Robinson’s sabermetrics are so superior, however, it’s hard to fault him that his team didn’t win its division. Without him, perhaps the Spurs don’t even make the postseason, whereas the Rockets probably still would have done so without the Dream. In truth, O’Neal has more value than Olajuwon, putting the MVP order in our mind in the same order as the sabermetric valuation above.
For the record, here are the Admiral’s traditional stats: league-best 29.8 points per game, to go with 10.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 3.3 blocks, and 1.7 steals every time out. He also averaged 40.5 minutes per game, which was a career-high mark for Robinson, who also won the ROTY Award in 1990.
1994 NBA ROTY: Chris Webber (original), Penny Hardaway (revised)
The three best first-year players were Boston Celtics power forward Dino Radja (5.9 WS, 18.2 PER), Magic point guard Penny Hardaway (7.1, 17.4), and Golden State Warriors center Chris Webber (7.8, 21.7). The voted award went to Webber, who was the best of the bunch, but was he the most valuable?
The Celtics won just 32 games to miss the postseason, as Radja was the second-best guy on that roster. Meanwhile, Hardaway was the third wheel on the Magic, while Webber was the second fiddle in Oakland for the Warriors. How did Golden State do on the season? A 50-32 record got the Warriors into the postseason, as Billy Owens, Latrell Sprewell, and Webber formed a new youth movement for the team.
While Webber was the “best” rookie, was he really the most valuable on a roster that also included Chris Mullin and Avery Johnson? That’s an interesting question. The first team to miss the postseason in the Western Conference was the Los Angeles Lakers with 33 victories, so Webber’s team surely would have made the playoffs without him.
The Charlotte Hornets missed the postseason in the Eastern Conference with a 41-41 record, so the Magic were in much more danger in the hypothetical scenario of a Penny-less existence (see what we did there?). Sure, Hardaway was playing with the best player (Shaq) in the Eastern Conference, and he also had swing man Nick Anderson to dish the ball, too, but Webber did have it “easier” on the West Coast with that cast around him. We know Webber was better, yet we see Hardaway having more value here based on team need.
This is the first ROTY vote we have disagreed with since 1986, by the way, and the first season since 1981 where we have disagreed with both awards votes. See what havoc Jordan’s absence hath wrought?!