Decade Review: 1990s

Since there isn’t much going on in NBA land and we had so much fun picking the team of the 00s, I thought that we could do the same thing with the other decades.  Working backwards, we’ll start today in the 1990s.  Remember from last time, that our decade spans from 1989-90 through 1998-99.  So let’s go through the analysis:

-Team of the Decade: Unlike the 00s, the team of the 1990s has no debate.  The Bulls dominated the field, going 6-0 in the NBA Finals and looking pretty good in the other years too (except for the puke bad 1998-99 post-Jordan team).  Who is number two for the 1990s?  An interesting question.  The Pistons won the first title of the decade but proceeded to suck for most of the rest of the decade.  The Rockets were good for the most part and won the 1993-94 and 1994-95 titles but didn’t have any real dominating seasons.  The Spurs were very good and won the title in 1998-99 but had some disappointing playoff finishes and their own crappy season (1996-97).  A few non-titlist were quite good for almost the entire 10 year span too (Knicks, Pacers, Blazers, Jazz, Suns, and Sonics).  Well let’s look at how the franchises did in average wins per season (the 50-game lockout schedule in 1998-99 will be pro-rated to an 82-game season):

Average Wins Per Season

1.   Bulls 56.6

Jazz 56.6

3.   Sonics 52.7

4.   Suns 52.0

Spurs 52.0

6.   Blazers 51.7

7.   Lakers 50.5

8.   Knicks 49.8

9.   Rockets 49.2

10. Pacers 46.3

The Jazz score shockingly well in the wins test, though their lack of a title hurts the resume a little.  Another surprise is that the Lakers were so good in the 1990s.  Yes, we caught the tail end of the Magic Johnson Years and the beginning of Kobe/Shaq but I expected less since their leanest years in L.A. came in the 1990s and the good years were not title worthy.  The Sonics also were quite good and its frankly amazing that such a team would be gone from Seattle so soon after its heyday but that’s life in the business.

In looking for the number two of the 1990s, however, we have to ask if the Jazz’s sustained excellence can be trumped by the title runs of some of the other squads.  The Rockets have two titles but averaged less then 50-wins per year.  The Spurs have a title but actually were worse in the playoffs than the Jazz in most of the rest of the decade.  Sure they didn’t win a title but The Jazz were no playoff slouches.  They went to two NBA Finals, as much as any team not named the Bulls, and several conference finals as well.  The failure to beat the Bulls in those two tough series shouldn’t hurt the Jazz too much, particularly since no one else could beat the Bulls either.  So, Jazz are my number two for the decade.

-All-Decade Team:

-PG, John Stockton: There were some good points in the 1990s but no one touches Stockton, who was a star for the entire decade and racked up almost 3,000 more assists (11.9 apg) than anyone else while shooting .516% and being more durable than any other point.  Kevin Johnson, Gary Payton, and Tim Hardaway were all excellent but the sustained excellence of Stockton can’t be touched.

-SG, Michael Jordan: Again, there is no point even debating this one.  So, what about his backup?  The contenders for the backup slot are Mitch Richmond, Reggie Miller, and Clyde Drexler.  Both objectively and a per minute basis, Drexler is clearly the best player of the three.  His disadvantage is that he missed a season at the end of the decade to retirement.  Couple that early retirement with a few injuries he suffered and the fact Richmond and Miller were incredibly durable and Drexler played 120 less games than Richmond and 170 games less than Miller.  This is a significant deficit and perhaps enough to trump Drexler’s stats edge. Let’s take a look at the stats per 48 minutes:

Player Games Pts FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3s 3sA 3% Rebs Asts Stls Blks Tos
Richmond 722 29.2 10.4 22.6 0.459 6.5 7.6 0.850 2.0 5.1 0.393 5.1 4.8 1.7 0.4 3.6
Miller 776 28.3 9.2 19.0 0.482 7.3 8.2 0.884 2.7 6.6 0.405 4.2 4.4 1.6 0.3 2.7
Drexler 608 28.0 10.1 22.2 0.456 6.2 7.7 0.794 1.7 5.1 0.329 8.6 7.6 2.4 0.9 3.6

Drexler certainly has his holes (injuries and three-point shooting) but he so thoroughly dominates the other two in rebounding, passing, steals, and block that I think you have to give him the theoretical backup slot here.  As a final note, I was surprised to see that Miller is a decent amount better than Richmond offensively.

-SF, Scottie Pippen: While I can understand why Pippen annoyed non-Bulls fans (myself included) he is pretty clearly the best small forward of the decade.  The competition was much less durable and probably wouldn’t have been as good as Pippen even if you ignored that fact that Pippen played more games.  The tier below Pippen is occupied by solid but flawed players:  Dominique Wilkins (age, injuries, and sojourn to Europe), Chris Mullin (injuries), Detlef Schrempf (not quite good enough), and Glen Rice (ditto) .  A quick note on Nique.  He was still quite excellent scoring in the 1990s but his passing was quite weak (averaging only 2.6 apg in the 1990s versus 2.3 topg).

-PF, Karl Malone: The battle here really is between Malone and Charles Barkley.  Barkley was always a more versatile offensive player and was a more intriguing player at his peak than Malone.  The funny thing about Malone is that he aged better than any NBA player I’ve ever seen.  He was basically the same player for the first nine years of the decade and was damn good in decline in 1998-99 too.  Barkley retained a lot of his value but not as much as Malone and he couldn’t stay healthy either.  In the end, Malone put up 27.2 ppg, .531 FG%, 10.7 rpg, and 3.7 apg in 38.2 mpg for the decade (785 games) while Barkley had 22.4 ppg, .523 FG%, 11.6 rpg, 4.2 apg in 36.8 mpg for the decade (664 games).  As much as I liked watching Barkley he fell behind Malone by the mid-1990s.

Another interesting side note is that the third highest scoring power forward of the decade is the much loved Derrick Coleman at 18.8 ppg and 10.3 rpg.

-C, Hakeem Olajuwon: In 1988, Sports Illustrated wrote a cover story called “The Vanishing Center” pining for the days of the great center, with the sub-heading: “They just don’t make ’em like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell anymore.”  Well, the center hadn’t quite disappeared back then but a few years later, the NBA would be more center-rich than ever.  The 1990s had more great centers than any time we’ve ever seen: Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and even guys like Rik Smits and Vlade Divac.  Obviously, any discussion revolves of center of the decade revolves around the Big Four (Hakeem, Robinson, Ewing, and Shaq).  Here’s how they look for the 1990s:

O’Neal 455 37.3 27.1 10.9 18.8 0.578 5.4 10.1 0.536 12.2 2.5 0.8 2.6 2.9
Robinson 685 37.0 24.4 8.6 16.5 0.523 7.1 9.7 0.740 11.5 3.0 1.6 3.4 3.0
Ewing 702 37.2 24.1 9.4 18.7 0.503 5.3 7.0 0.748 11.0 2.2 0.9 2.7 3.2
Olajuwon 689 38.1 23.9 9.6 18.7 0.513 4.7 6.3 0.747 11.6 3.0 1.8 3.5 3.3

Shaq looks pretty tough here but the fact that he played 230 less games than the other three centers really takes him out of contention for player of the decade (though he has a really good argument for the the title of best center from 1992-93 through 1998-99).  Looking at the other three, Ewing appears to be a smidge below them in most categories and can be eliminated first.  Between Robinson and Olajuwon, there isn’t a whole lot of difference.  Robinson has a huge edge at the free throw line but Olajuwon has those intangible arguments (the titles and the head-to-head whipping of Robinson in the 1994-95 playoffs).  While common lore has Hakeem as the clearly better player, I don’t see that as quite the case in the 1990s.  I’d say they are pretty close to dead even with Robinson looking better offensively.  I’ll go with Hakeem based upon some of these intangible factors and the fact that he was the best low post center of the bunch but this is really as close to a push as we’ve seen.

And now for fun, here has some of the leaders in the stat categories for the 1990s:

Decade Per Game Leaders (minimum 400 games)

Points Per Game

1.  Michael Jordan, 30.8 ppg

2.  Karl Malone, 27.2 ppg

3.  Shaquille O’Neal, 27.1 ppg

4.  David Robinson, 24.4 ppg

5.  Patrick Ewing, 24.1 ppg

No surprise, MJ lapped the field with the usual suspects trailing behind.

Rebounds Per Game

1.  Dennis Rodman, 15.1 rpg

2.  Shaquille O’Neal, 12.2 rpg

3.  Dikembe Mutombo, 12.1 rpg

4.  Hakeem Olajuwon, 11.6 rpg

Charles Barkley, 11.6 rpg

Yup, Rodman is pretty clearly the greatest rebounder of the modern era and probably ever and is as dominant in the rebounding category as MJ was as a scorer.

Assists Per Game

1.  John Stockton, 11.9 apg

2.  Kevin Johnson, 9.3 apg

3.  Tim Hardaway, 9.0 apg

4.  Rod Strickland, 8.5 apg

5.  Muggsy Bogues, 8.3 apg

Mark Jackson, 8.3 apg

Ditto for Stockton at the point.

Steals Per Game

1.  Mookie Blaylock, 2.4 spg

2.  Michael Jordan, 2.3 spg

John Stockton, 2.3 spg

Gary Payton, 2.3 spg

5.  Scottie Pippen, 2.2 spg

Block Per Game

1.  Dikembe Mutombo, 3.6 bpg

2.  Hakeem Olajuwon, 3.5 bpg

3.  David Robinson, 3.4 bpg

4.  Alonzo Mourning, 3.0 bpg

5.  Patrick Ewing, 2.7 bpg

Turnovers Per Game

1.  Alonzo Mourning, 3.3 topg

Hakeem Olajuwon, 3.3 topg

3.  Patrick Ewing, 3.2 topg

John Stockton, 3.2 topg

5.  Kevin Johnson, 3.1 topg

Tim Hardaway, 3.1 topg

Unlike in the 00s, the turnover list is dominated by centers and not guards.  I wonder if the fact that the refs were a little more permissive and that contributed to turnovers at the center position.

Decade Totals Leaders


1.  Karl Malone, 21,370

2.  Michael Jordan, 18,014

3.  Patrick Ewing, 16,914

4.  David Robinson, 16,715

5.  Mitch Richmond, 16,613

It probably doesn’t really matter but Jordan cost himself the points leader with his premature retirements.  Meanwhile Malone kept trucking along (until his abrupt retirement).   In comparing the 1990s to the 00s, we don’t see quite as many points from the top scorers.  Malone scored more than Kobe did in the 00s but Vince Carter, who was fifth in the 00s in points (17, 341), would have been third in the 1990s.


1.  Dennis Rodman, 9,964

2.  Karl Malone, 8,426

3.  Hakeem Olajuwon, 7,999

4.  David Robinson, 7,881

5.  Patrick Ewing, 7,733


1.  John Stockton, 9,146

2.  Mark Jackson, 6,426

3.  Tim Hardaway, 5,925

4.  Rod Strickland, 5,885

5.  Muggsy Bogues, 5,398


1.  John Stockton, 1,753

2.  Mookie Blaylock, 1,740

3.  Scottie Pippen, 1,639

4.  Gary Payton, 1,603

5.  Hersey Hawkins, 1,395


1.  Hakeem Olajuwon, 2,381

2.  David Robinson, 2,323

3.  Dikembe Mutombo, 2,176

4.  Patrick Ewing, 1,898

5.  Alonzo Mourning, 1,372

Quite a drop off from Ewing to Zo.


1.  John Stockton, 2,420

2.  Karl Malone, 2,347

3.  Hakeem Olajuwon, 2,240

4.  Patrick Ewing, 2,224

5.  Scottie Pippen, 2,201

Decade Per-48 Minutes Leaders (minimum 400 games)

Points Per 48

1.  Michael Jordan, 38.5 p/48

2.  Shaquille O’Neal, 34.9 p/48

3.  Karl Malone, 34.2 p/48

4.  Dominique Wilkins, 33.3 p/48

5.  David Robinson, 31.6 p/48

Jordan’s scoring looks even greater in this context.

Rebounds Per 48

1.  Dennis Rodman, 20.8 r/48

2.  Jayson Williams, 17.5 r/48

3.  Chris Dudley, 16.5 r/48

4.  Dikembe Mutombo, 15.8 r/48

5.  Shaquille O’Neal, 15.6 r/48

As does Rodman’s rebounding.  It’s funny how many interesting characters we have in the rebounding leaders.  Even Dudley’s pretty memorable in his own way.

Assists Per 48

1.  John Stockton, 16.4 a/48

2.  Muggsy Bogues, 12.8 a/48

3.  Mark Jackson, 12.7 a/48

Kevin Johnson, 12.7 a/48

5.  Rod Strickland, 11.7 a/48

Steals Per 48

1.  Nate McMillan, 3.8 s/48

2.  Eric Murdock, 3.4 s/48

3.  Randy Brown, 3.3 s/48

Mookie Blaylock, 3.3 s/48

5.  John Stockton, 3.1 s/48

Gary Payton, 3.1 s/48

Doc Rivers, 3.1 s/48

Gary Grant, 3.1 s/48

Some more obscure names pop up in the steals leaders.  Murdock was fairly decent point guard for a few years in Milwaukee and then later in Miami but never quite held it together.  Brown was never very good but had a long career as defensive guy in Sacramento and later with the Bulls.

Blocks Per 48

1.  Dikembe Mutombo, 4.7 b/48

2.  David Robinson, 4.4 b/48

Hakeem Olajuwon, 4.4 b/48

4.  Alonzo Mourning, 4.0 b/48

Duane Causwell, 4.0 b/48

Turnovers Per 48

1.  Gary Grant, 4.5 to/48

Shawn Kemp, 4.5 to/48

3.  Alonzo Mourning, 4.4 to/48

4.  John Stockton, 4.3 to/48

Kevin Johnson, 4.3 to/48

Kemp and Zo were fouling machines early in their careers.  Zo was able to improve in this category but Kemp never did, and, in fact, had his worst turnover year during his awesome 1995-96 campaign.

4 comments for “Decade Review: 1990s

  1. Devin
    September 3, 2009 at 6:55 pm


    This doesn’t have to do with the article, but I thought I’d inform you that your Twitter link and Facebook link both go to Twitter.

    Sorry, I couldn’t find a “Contact” link.

  2. September 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    While I agree that Eddy Curry has his issues, why no pot shot at ‘Zo here for being the only center on the list? Esp. considering his per 48 turnovers are higher than Eddy’s 4.3 to/48?

    Disclaimer: I am a rabid Bulls fan and followed them esp. closely during the failed Krause rebuilding. While Curry had many, many faults if not for Tim Floyd and Krause relying on him & Chandler far earlier than was reasonable by trading future All-Star Brad Miller he could’ve been a very different player.

  3. September 8, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    man looking back at the 90s, there were some great centers…compare that to now where the only true center is Yao (and a very old Shaq) with a lot of Power Forwards masquarading as Centers..

    and also to Charlie, Zo may have had more TOs than Eddy per 48 mins, but Zo brought a lot more to the table than Eddy Curry, Rebounding, Great Defence and Leadership

  4. September 19, 2009 at 1:58 am


    obviously zo is better than eddy in just about everything. i wasn’t comparing the quality of players, merely asking harlan why he needed to potshot eddy? i mean everyone knows eddy’s been a failure, i just felt some need to support a fellow chicagolandian who could’ve been something better if the cards had been played differently for him.

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