On NBA Tuesday, we have reached the end of the 1990s, and really, the end of an era. Michael Jordan retired a second time, and even though he played a few more seasons in the 2000s after coming out of retirement (again), his effectiveness as a dominant player ended with the 1998 playoffs. So now, who’s league will it be going forward? We’ve had the Wilt Chamberlain era, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar era, and the Air Jordan era. The heir apparent awaits!
Now, let’s get to the fun stuff …
1999 NBA MVP: Karl Malone (original), Shaquille O’Neal (revised)
This was a shortened season—only 50 regular-season games—and so the Win Shares were a little off in terms of volume. The two best players? Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone (9.62 WS, 25.60 Player Efficiency Rating) and Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal (9.04 WS, 30.55 PER). San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson was a distant third (8.44 PS, 24.55 PER).
The Jazz and the Spurs tied for the best record (37-13) in the league atop the Midwest Division, while the Lakers finished second in the Pacific Division with 31 victories. Robinson also had the help of power forward Tim Duncan (8.73 WS, 23.21 PER), so we can remove the Admiral from the MVP conversation.
Neither Malone nor O’Neal had a teammate in the Top 10 for WS or PER, although certainly both players had solid supporting casts on their respective rosters. But what stands out to us here is Malone’s slight edge in WS—and Shaq’s huge edge in PER. The two players were 1-2 in each category, respectively, but O’Neal was clearly the better player.
Take him off the Lakers, and L.A. misses the playoffs in a season when 25 wins was the postseason threshold. Remove the Mailman from Utah’s lineup, and the Jazz probably still have enough to make it to the playoffs. That’s a big difference in value right there.
O’Neal’s numbers: 26.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game on a league-best 57.6-percent shooting from the floor. Yes, we know Shaq committed a textbook offensive foul almost every time he got the ball in the low post, and his 54-percent free-throw shooting was painful to watch, but O’Neal was a force on the court—and very efficient, nonetheless.
1999 NBA ROTY: Vince Carter (original, confirmed)
The current NBA season is the first one without Vince Carter since this one, when as a first-year small forward for the Toronto Raptors, he won the ROTY vote after posting 5.0 WS and 19.6 PER. The only other rookie in his neighborhood was Boston Celtics small forward Paul Pierce (4.9 WS, 19.2 PER)—and it was a tight neighborhood, clearly.
With 23 wins, Toronto missed the playoffs by four games, while Boston won just 19 times. The Raptors showed massive improvement from the year before (16-66), while the Celtics actually regressed a bit from a 36-46 record the prior season. We are going to give Vinsanity the benefit of the doubt here on being the main reason for that improvement, and his team was also more of a contender than Pierce’s team. We confirm the vote.