We creep closer to the 21st century on this edition of NBA Tuesday, and that means we have hit another milestone: the End of the Jordan Era (Part II). Yeah, we know Michael Jordan would un-retire again later down the line, but this was the true swan song for one of the greatest players—if not the greatest—in NBA history. The Chicago Bulls pulled off another three-peat title run, and MJ hung ’em up (again).
Will he get to keep the MVP hardware this time? Read on …
1998 NBA MVP: Michael Jordan (original), Karl Malone (revised)
The best players in the league, without a doubt, were Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone (16.35 Win Shares, 27.92 Player Efficiency Rating), Jordan (15.80 WS, 25.24 PER), San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson (13.77 WS, 27.85 PER), and Spurs rookie PF Tim Duncan (12.79 WS, 22.63 PER). We should also note that Los Angeles Lakers C Shaquille O’Neal topped the NBA in PER (28.79), as well.
Robinson and Duncan lose value since they combined to lead San Antonio to 56 wins and second place in the Midwest Division. O’Neal wasn’t good enough in WS (10.2) to compete with Malone and Jordan, even though the Lakers won 61 games to tie Seattle for the Pacific Division title. The Mailman topped the NBA in WS and was second in PER, while His Airness was second in WS and fourth in PER.
Yes, Chicago won 62 games and the Central Division, but Jordan wasn’t as good as he had been in the past, and Malone was still at the top of his considerable game. MJ led the NBA in scoring for the tenth straight time that he played a full season, while Malone didn’t top the league in any categories—but this version of Jordan shot just 46.5 percent from the floor, his lowest mark ever in a full season.
Meanwhile, the Mailman buried 53 percent of his shots and only trailed Jordan for the scoring title by 1.7 points per game … while taking five fewer shots per game. The PER discrepancy here is important to note: Not only was Malone more valuable to his team in terms of WS, but Jordan had turned into a much-less effective shot maker at this point, as reflected in the PER marks. That’s why we’re giving this award to Malone, in a reversal of last year’s decision-making analysis.
It’s key to note now that Jordan won just 5 MVP awards from the voters, but we have bestowed 8 upon him—even though we took two away (1996). That’s just the way it goes when we have the ability to correct the errors of the past as we arm ourselves with more knowledge. MJ’s MVP total ties him with Wilt Chamberlain and leaves him one short of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in this space. That’s almost three decades of hardware going to just three players, if you want to start discussing GOAT status.
1998 NBA ROTY: Tim Duncan (original, confirmed)
The above information is all you need to know about why Duncan is an easy choice to confirm as ROTY. However, for the record, here were the next-best guys playing their first years in the league: Cleveland Cavaliers C Zydrunas Ilgauskas (9.4 WS) and his point guard teammate Brevin Knight (8.4). The Cavs won 47 games to claim the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, and in most other seasons, those two guys would have won this award.
Duncan’s numbers, for the record: 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.5 blocks per game on 54.9-percent shooting over 39.1 minutes per game in 82 contests. The Big Fundamental was pretty good in his first season, wasn’t he? We think so.
Check in every Tuesday for our NBA awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!