As we continue to forge ahead on NBA Tuesday, we have reached the 2002 season, one that stands out in our memory for all the wrong reasons. That has nothing to do with the analysis of these awards, however, so we will make sure to focus in the right places for this column today. In the future, we will fill this space with some serious analyses of the types of shenanigans like the above—but not right now …
So, on with the awards!
2002 NBA MVP: Tim Duncan (original, confirmed)
A new era arrived in the NBA with San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan starting to dominate the game. The Big Fundamental won the ROTY Award in 1998, confirmed by us, but this was his coming-out season in terms of ascending to the top of the pyramid. Duncan finished first in Win Shares (17.81) and second in Player Efficiency Rating (27.01), while leading the Spurs to 58 wins and the Midwest Division title.
Of course, Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal—the winner of our last three MVP nods—wasn’t going to surrender his throne so easily, as he ended up first in PER (29.68) and fourth in WS (13.20). The Lakers were the two-time defending champions, but winning 58 games in the Pacific Division only netted them a second-place finish behind the Sacramento Kings.
Dallas Mavericks center Dirk Nowitzki is also in this discussion, as he was third in WS (13.38) and fifth in PER (24.12). The Mavs won 57 games to come in right behind the Spurs in the Midwest Division. Yet it’s hard to overlook the huge edge Duncan has in WS over these other two candidates: In fact, Duncan finished over 4 WS ahead of the next-best player in the league, Los Angeles Clippers power forward Elton Brand (13.58).
Shaq still may have been the “best” player, but Duncan was the most valuable, for sure. His per-game numbers—25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.5 blocks—are impressive for a star just coming into his prime.
2002 NBA ROTY: Pau Gasol (original), Andrei Kirilenko (revised)
Four first-year players stood out from the crowd: New Jersey Nets small forward Richard Jefferson (4.7 WS, 13.4 PER), Utah Jazz small forward Andrei Kirilenko (7.3 WS, 18.8 PER), Memphis Grizzlies power forward Pau Gasol (7.6 WS, 19.5 PER), and his teammate, small forward Shane Battier (4.8 WS, 13.9 PER). Clearly, Gasol and Kirilenko were the best of the bunch, but the Grizz won just 23 games—and Utah won 44 times to make the postseason.
Fact is Memphis won 23 games the prior season as well, so Gasol—and Battier, in fact—didn’t do a lot to improve the team, or get it near the postseason. The same cannot be said of Kirilenko, as the Jazz claimed the final playoff slot in the Western Conference. They wouldn’t have been able to do that without AK-47 (which is one of the worst nicknames ever, so we shouldn’t even use it).