The NBA

April 19, 1992

Year-End Awards

It has been such an eventful year for Michael Jordan off the court and such a relentlessly efficient one on it that, believe it or not, his accomplishments have been somewhat slighted. There is even one school of thought that says although Jordan has all but clinched his sixth straight scoring title, Scottie Pippen, heading for career highs in average points (21.1 at end of week), rebounds (7.7) and assists (7.0), has been more valuable than Jordan.

Imagine that.

One thing is for sure—this years MVP almost has to come from the NBA's runaway best team. And it says here that even though Pippen has been outstanding, the MVB, Most Valuable Bull, is still Jordan. If the sportswriters-voters agree, the MVP Award will be Jordan's third.

Herewith our other end-of-the-year award winners.

Defensive Player

The award is not for rebounder of the year, so Dennis Rodman of the Pistons does not get it. It's not for intimidator of the year, so the Knicks' Patrick Ewing doesn't get it. And the award is not for being all over the court all of the time, so the indefatigable Bulls trio of Jordan, Pippen and Horace Grant does not get it.

Our choice is the Spurs' David Robinson, even though thumb surgery has kept him out of the lineup since March 25. His 4.49-per-game average for blocked shots leads the league, and his 2.32 average for steals is fourth best, a formidable statistical achievement for a pivotman. It's now clear that the Admiral is the best defensive center since Bill Russell and possibly on his way to becoming the best ever.

Sixth Man Award
Year in and year out, this is the most bogus award offered by the NBA, not because there's a shortage of excellent nonstarters, but because the best ones strain the definition. Nevertheless, our choice, the Knicks' John Starks, comes closest to filling the role of a true sixth man. For one thing, he has a clear and defined mission when he comes off the bench—to score and take the tempo up a notch, both offensively and defensively. Starks also can drive to the basket, shoot three-pointers and play defense. The Knicks should change his name to Sparks.

Most Improved Player
There are many reasons why an NBA player suddenly has an outstanding season after a couple of mediocre ones, most of them having little to do with personal improvement. Maybe his role in the offense changes, or he's given more minutes, or he suddenly comes to life under a new coach, or he's playing for a new contract, or the tendinitis in his knee has gone away, or he has a new wife who keeps him from running around at night. But ask this question: Which NBA players have far surpassed their performances of past seasons? Bullet center Pervis Ellison, Nugget forward Reggie Williams and Nets guard Drazen Petrovic are our top candidates. But the choice here is Petrovic, who leads the NBA in one category (three-point field goal percentage) and has been instrumental in putting his team into contention for the playoffs.

Rookie of the Year

Back in January a poll of NBA coaches and general managers indicated that Denver center Dikembe Mutombo would have been the overwhelming winner if the honor were conferred at that point. And so with the NBA season drawing to a close, we would like to announce SI's choice for top rookie, who is, of course...Larry Johnson of the Hornets (page 48).

And it would be Johnson even if Mutombo had not injured his left thumb and missed the final 11 games of the season. Hey, things change, right? Over the last half of the season, Johnson clearly elevated his game to the elite class, while Mutombo dribbled in place. Hornet boosters, in fact, claim that Johnson has played well enough to be considered for one of the All-NBA teams. Next year maybe.

Coach of the Year

The Knicks' Pat Riley has an interesting history with this award. He was overlooked in each of his four championship seasons with the Lakers and didn't win the title until 1990, which, after a second-round playoff loss to the Suns, turned out to be his last year with Los Angeles. Riley seems to be the favorite for the award this year because of the outstanding job he has done with the Knicks, the Atlantic Division leaders, who possess nowhere near the talent of his vintage Laker teams. Also deserving of consideration are the Bulls' Phil Jackson, the Cavaliers' Lenny Wilkens and the Warriors' Don Nelson.

But our choice is the Lakers' Mike Dunleavy. Has any coach in recent years endured more misery than this man has this season? Magic Johnson retired, and three other starters, center Vlade Divac and forwards James Worthy and Sam Perkins, all missed significant time because of injuries. No one in the league sympathized with Dunleavy, and that's understandable, considering the Lakers' past success. But that doesn't change the fact that Dunleavy kept the Lakers in playoff contention and, most significantly, playing hard almost every night in what could have been a train wreck of a season.

All-League Teams

The retirement of Magic, season-ending injuries to Dominique Wilkins and Worthy, the on-again, off-again status of Larry Bird and the erratic play of Charles Barkley paved the way for some new blood in this category. Here are our choices, presented with only occasional explanation.

•First team: Karl Malone and Pippen, forward; Robinson, center; Jordan and the Warriors' Jim Hardaway, guard. (The Trail Blazers' Clyde Drexler could have been the other backcourtman, but the purist vision of basketball look hold and dictated that a point man be paired with Jordan.)

•Second team: the Warriors' Chris Mullin and Rodman, forward; Ewing, center; Drexler and the Cavaliers' Mark Price, guard. (Quietly, Cleveland has acquired the third-best record in the NBA; Price's contributions deserve to be recognized. And so does Rodman's astounding 18.7-per-game rebounding average.)

And Then...

The Most Dramatic Change of Opinion Award goes to Bill Laimbeer. The Piston center recently blasted general manager Jack McCloskey for, among other things, undermining coach Chuck Daly. Laimbeer specifically mentioned McCloskey's hiring of Ronnie Rothstein, Daly's apparent heir apparent, as TV analyst-watchdog. In December, Laimbeer told SI that Rothstein's presence shouldn't affect Daly: "A little competition's good for anybody." (Laimbeer was entirely correct in his recent analysis, entirely wrong in his original one.)

The Why Didn't I Stay with the J.D. Salinger Act Award goes to Jimmy Rodgers. After being fired by the Celtics in 1990, Rodgers became a virtual recluse. Then last June, to the surprise of many, Rodgers accepted the head coaching job with the Timberwolves, an unhappy group of campers. What a year for Rodgers. His team is the worst in the league, and a few of his players are actually claiming they miss former coach Bill Mussel-man, who was fired the previous season partly because the players didn't like him.

The Comeback of the Year Award goes to Bill Fitch. The Nets coach seemed only hours away from receiving his pink slip in December. At one point, in fact, he told his team, "If you sec me hanging, cut me down before you go out to play." But he survived and has his team battling for a playoff spot. (But don't think for a minute that his job is safe.)

The They May Be Heavy, but They Ain't John Williams Award is shared by Stanley Roberts and Victor Alexander. The rookie centers for Orlando and Golden State, respectively, lost a combined 70 pounds and turned themselves into respectable players with futures. (That's the way it looks now, anyway.)

The Yogi Berra Award for Clear Speech goes to Charles Oakley. Asked about trade rumors, the Knick forward said, "Talk don't hurt you. Talk is just a figure of speech."

The Even Greg Kite Couldn't Touch This Award goes to Manute Bol. The 76ers' 7'7" matchstick may be the first player in NBA history whose season point total (96 at week's end) does not match his rebounds (204), blocked shots (194) or personal fouls (134). Yikes!

The on the Whole We'd Rather Do Knott's Berry Farm Award goes to the Orlando Magic. On March 19, Magic owner Rich DeVos flew his team to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., where, among other activities, it toured the headquarters of Amway Corp., the home-products company that DeVos co-founded. It is not clear whether any of the players purchased shoe polish or stain remover.

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHThe Admiral (50) has been the anchor for the Spurs on defense. PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERThere are actually things about Bol that aren't elevated, some of his offensive stats in particular.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)