Yes, last week on NBA Tuesday, we actually took away an MVP Award from Michael Jordan. Shame on us! But that’s why we are here, and we cannot be afraid to embrace accurate revisionism when it comes to sports history. But some times, what comes around goes around, and we all know better than to cross His Airness. He takes that sh*t personally, after all, and as usual, these columns never cease to amaze us in what we uncover.
So, here we go again …
1997 NBA MVP: Karl Malone (original), Michael Jordan (revised)
We have a similar situation to the 1996 edition of this column, where two players split the top spots on the Win Shares and Player Efficiency Rating charts while leading their respective teams to the best records in their respective conferences: This time, it is Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jordan (18.30 WS, 27.76 PER) and Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone (16.71 WS, 28.90 PER)—the latter being the winner of the MVP vote at the time. Here is a quick statistical comparison:
- Jordan: 29.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals per game on 48.6 percent shooting in 37.9 minutes per outing
- Malone: 27.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals per game on 55.0 percent shooting in 36.6 minutes per outing
MJ’s usage/volume ties into his superior WS mark, while Malone’s superior game at this point fuels his higher PER number. The Bulls did win five more games than the Jazz did, too, which adds to Jordan’s WS potential. No one would argue Utah was a better team, but that’s not the point here (and maybe they could argue it?). The issue is value: We know Chicago was capable of making the postseason without MJ, as they did in 1994 and 1995 when he was playing baseball.
But Malone was the best offensive and defensive player on a three-headed team; Jordan actually was not the best defensive player on a two-headed team—small forward Scottie Pippen was as the other leader on the Chicago roster. This tells us a few things. First, these Bulls were deep, even as they were fading from their peak. Second, Malone actually had more top-shelf help in Utah than Jordan did in Chicago. Third, Jordan carried a bigger burden than Malone did, in terms of support, especially on offense.
Pippen rated out as only 0.2 defensive WS better than MJ, anyway, so this assessment of team quality around the two stars actually shows that Malone benefitted from his teammates—namely point guard John Stockton and shooting guard Jeff Hornacek—a lot more than Jordan did from his supporting cast.
The fact the Bulls managed to win five more games than the Jazz did in a tougher conference says volumes about MJ’s value during this season when he carried a “weaker” team to greater heights. He was the glue that held a fading roster together, and for that value-added reality, Jordan gets this MVP nod from us—his eighth overall and first since 1993.
1997 NBA ROTY: Allen Iverson (original), Matt Maloney (revised)
We want to point out that the All-Rookie Second Team this season included Milwaukee Bucks shooting guard Ray Allen and Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Throw in Philadelphia 76ers point guard Allen Iverson, and you have three Hall of Famers in this rookie class, with Iverson taking home the hardware after winning the ROTY vote.
For the record, Bryant registered just 1.8 WS and had no business being named to the All-Rookie Second Team (surprise). The best boys of the first-year bunch were Iverson (4.1), Houston Rockets point guard Matt Maloney (5.3), New Jersey Nets shooting guard Kerry Kittles (6.9), and Allen (4.9). Clearly, Iverson won the award on volume, we suspect, launching almost 20 shots a game at a 41.8-percent rate, showing that even he could out-Kobe Kobe.
On to business, though: The Bucks won just 33 games, which was an 8-game improvement from the prior season, but they still missed the postseason by 11 wins. The Nets won 26 games, which was a 4-win decline from the previous year. The Rockets won 57 games, upping their win total by 9 victories, and they finished just 7 games behind the Jazz in the Midwest Division. The 76ers won 22 games, improving by 4 wins.
This pretty much gives the award to Maloney by default. He had the second-best WS mark, anyway, so it’s not a stretch, since the voters were so misguided in voting for Iverson—who clearly was not the Answer here. It’s just interesting in a rookie class with three Hall of Famers that a relative nobody would win this award. Sabermetrics don’t lie, even if they sometimes confuse us: Maloney ended his injury-riddled career with just 9.5 WS total, so this was obviously his singular moment in the NBA sunshine.