The Most Outstanding NBA Players of the 1990s
The 1990s are what many people consider to be the glory years of NBA basketball. Michael Jordan was in his prime (despite taking off almost two full seasons in the middle of the decade), while other great players such as Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, and Reggie Miller were doing work with their respective teams. But which players stood the tallest throughout the decade? We have the 30 best NBA players of the 90s, sorted by Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) accumulated during the entirety of the decade.
30. Nick Anderson – 22.6 VORP
Originally drafted in 1989 with the No. 11 overall pick, shooting guard Nick Anderson quickly became one of the best things about the Orlando Magic. His best season as an individual came in 1991-92, his third year in the league, when he averaged 19.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. That Magic team was bad enough to land Shaquille O’Neal in the draft, which pushed Anderson into a role player but made Orlando one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Anderson played the entire decade in Orlando and averaged 15.4 points on 36.3% from three-point range.
29. Kevin Johnson – 22.9 VORP
Point guard Kevin Johnson was already a young, established star in the NBA when the ‘90s rolled around. 1989-90, Johnson averaged 22.5 points and 11.4 assists per game for the Phoenix Suns — which ended up being the best season of his career. Johnson helped lead his team to the NBA Finals in 1993, losing to the Chicago Bulls, and eventually retired from the league following the 1997-98 season. He returned briefly in 2000. Johnson averaged 18.8 points and 9.3 assists during the ‘90s.
28. Larry Johnson – 25.0 VORP
Many had doubts about Larry Johnson when he was drafted in 1991 by the Charlotte Hornets. He played like a power forward, but at just 6-foot-6, it was hard to imagine him succeeding with that style of play. He beat all expectations, averaging 22.1 points and 10.5 rebounds in just his second season in the NBA. Johnson made two All-Star teams during his time in Charlotte before moving on to play for the New York Knicks, where he became famous for his amazing four-point play against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1999. Johnson averaged 17.6 points and 8.0 rebounds during the decade.
27. Grant Hill – 25.7 VORP
He only played in the NBA for half the decade, but he was good enough that he still qualified for this list. Grant Hill was drafted by the Detroit Pistons No. 3 overall in 1994, developing into a star immediately and making the All-Star team in his rookie year. Hill was remarkably consistent in his early years, averaging 20.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 6.5 assists during his five seasons in the decade. Unfortunately, Hill would eventually leave Detroit for Orlando and have his career derailed by injuries.
26. Charles Oakley – 26.2 VORP
Back in the 1990s, players like Charles Oakley were an uncommon combination of both talent and hatred of the opponent. He began his career with the Chicago Bulls but had moved on to play for the New York Knicks by the time the decade started. Only an All-Star once (in 1993-94 when the Knicks were Eastern Conference champions), Oakley finished out the decade with averages of 9.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. He was one of the best defensive forwards in the game. He finished the ’90s with the first of three seasons playing for the Toronto Raptors.
25. Rod Strickland – 28.3 VORP
The 19th overall pick in the 1988 draft, point guard Rod Strickland bounced around the league a bit during the 1990s, but still managed to develop into a decent player. He never made an All-Star team, but Strickland’s best season came in 1997-98 when he was with the Washington Wizards and averaged 17.8 points while leading the league with 10.5 assists per game. For the decade, he played for the Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and New York Knicks, averaging 15.7 points and 8.5 assists per game.
24. Dikembe Mutombo – 28.5 VORP
Center Dikembe Mutombo was one of the best defensive players in the game when he was in his prime. He came into the league with the Denver Nuggets in 1991, asserting himself as a rim protector and showing off his trademarked finger-wag when he’d block a shot. Mutombo led the league in blocks per game three times in the ‘90s and finished the decade with an average of 3.6 blocks per game to go along with 12.9 points and 12.1 rebounds. The biggest highlight of the decade would likely be when his Nuggets upset the top-seeded Seattle Sonics in the first round of the 1994 NBA playoffs.
23. Shawn Kemp – 28.9 VORP
Speaking of the Sonics, power forward Shawn Kemp was a big part of what made those Seattle teams great in the 1990s. He played sparingly as a rookie in 1989-90, but he slowly began to develop beyond just being an extremely athletic dunker and truly became a star in 1992-93. Kemp made six All-Star teams in the decade and averaged 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds in eight years with the Sonics and two with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
22. Dennis Rodman – 29.0 VORP
Historic rebounder Dennis Rodman is best known for his time with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. However, the best years of his career came while he was with the Detroit Pistons.Rodman played the first four years of the decade in Detroit, with his best season coming in 1991-92 when he was an All-Star and averaged 9.8 points and 18.7 rebounds. He played two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, three with the Bulls where he won three NBA championships, and then one with the Los Angeles Lakers to round out the decade. Rodman finished with averages of 6.8 points and 15.1 rebounds per game.
21. Chris Mullin – 29.8 VORP
When the ‘90s began, small forward Chris Mullin had already established himself as one of the premiere scorers in the NBA. In the first four years of the decade, Mullin averaged over 25 points per game every single year and made four All-Star teams. He got hurt in 1994-95 and his production took a step down. Eventually, he was dealt to the Indiana Pacers where he spent the final two years of the decade playing catch-and-shoot alongside Reggie Miller. Mullin averaged 19.0 points and 40.1% shooting from three-point range in the decade.
20. Dan Majerle – 30.0 VORP
Shooting guard Dan Majerle was one of the big-time players with the Phoenix Suns teams of the early ‘90s. He made three All-Star teams during his time in Phoenix, developing into an excellent shooter and scorer alongside Kevin Johnson and power forward Charles Barkley. Majerle eventually made a quick stop with the Cleveland Cavaliers before moving on to play for the Miami Heat in the latter part of the decade — settling into a role alongside Jamal Mashburn, Tim Hardaway, and Alonzo Mourning. Majerle averaged 13.1 points per game in the 1990s.
19. Patrick Ewing – 30.4 VORP
One of the best players to ever put on a uniform, Patrick Ewing was the leader of the New York Knicks in the 1990s. He helped the team reach the NBA Finals twice during the decade, representing just one of five teams to go to the finals more than once. Ewing made eight All-Star teams and averaged 24.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, staying healthy for the most part until he had to miss a massive chunk of the 1997-98 season due to injury. When the decade ended, Ewing was 37 years old.
18. Shaquille O’Neal – 30.8 VORP
Center Shaquille O’Neal played seven seasons in the ‘90s, the first four coming with the Orlando Magic and the final three with the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq developed into a star immediately upon coming into the league, transforming a bad Magic team into a championship contender in just three seasons. He received a lot of hate when he left for L.A., but O’Neal would eventually win four rings in his career — three of which came with the Lakers. Shaq averaged 27.1 points and 12.2 rebounds per game while making six All-Star teams in the 1990s.
17. Tim Hardaway – 30.8 VORP
The ‘T’ in the Golden State Warriors’ “Run TMC”, Tim Hardaway was a special player in his early days in the NBA. He came into the league as a rookie in 1989-90 and averaged 23.4 points and 10.0 assists per game in his best season in 1991-92. Hardaway missed the entire 1993-94 season due to a knee injury, and was only briefly with the Warriors after returning before being dealt to the Miami Heat. He never won a championship, but his Heat team made a run to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1996-97. Hardaway finished the decade with averages of 19.4 points and 9.0 assists.
16. Detlef Schrempf – 31.1 VORP
Forward Detlef Schrempf was a unique talent playing for the Indiana Pacers and Seattle Supersonics in the 1990s. He was tall at 6-foot-9, but could shoot and handle the basketball like a guard. After four seasons with the Pacers, Indiana traded him to Seattle in exchange for forward Derrick McKey. Schrempf would excel for the Sonics, posting an absurd 51.4% from three-point range in 1994-95 and helping the team reach the NBA Finals in 1996. He averaged 16.8 points and 7.4 rebounds in the decade.
15. Vlade Divac – 31.1 VORP
After seven seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 1991, center Vlade Divac had the unfortunate distinction as being the player the Charlotte Hornets traded for Kobe Bryant. Even worse for the Hornets is that Divac stuck around in Charlotte for just two seasons, leaving to sign with the Sacramento Kings prior to the 1998-99 season. Divac had a resurgence with the Kings, averaging 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game that year. For the decade, he averaged 12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds.
14. Hersey Hawkins – 33.4 VORP
Shooting guard Hersey Hawkins was one of the best shooters in NBA history. He spent the first four years of the 1990s with the Philadelphia 76ers, then two with the Charlotte Hornets, and finished out the decade with four years in Seattle with the Sonics. A major part of the 1996 Sonics team, Hawkins averaged 15.6 points and 38.4% from the three-point range. He finished the decade with averages of 16.1 points and 39.3% from downtown.
13. Gary Payton – 36.1 VORP
Another Sonics great is point guard Gary Payton. He entered the league in 1990-91, and while he remained healthy in the early part of his career, Payton didn’t really take off and become a star until 1994-95. That season, he averaged 20.6 points and 7.1 assists per game. Payton won Defensive Player of the Year in 1995-96, made five All-Star teams, and played the entire decade for the Sonics. He finished the 1990s with averages of 16.3 points, 6.8 assists, and 2.3 steals per game.
12. Mookie Blaylock – 36.4 VORP
One of the more underrated players from the ‘90s was point guard Mookie Blaylock. Never known as a great shooter, he finished the decade with shooting percentages of 41.3% overall and 33.7% from three-point range. Blaylock still found his way to decent scoring averages while dishing out the assists. His best year came in 1994-95 with the Atlanta Hawks, when he averaged 17.2 points and 7.7 assists per game to go along with 2.5 steals per game. Blaylock was a strong defender, leading the NBA in steals twice and averaging 14.4 points and 6.9 assists overall in the decade.
11. Horace Grant – 36.8 VORP
One of the more reliable and consistent players of the 1990s was power forward Horace Grant. He began his career with the Chicago Bulls, winning three championships in the early portion of the decade alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. The best year of his career came in 1993-94, when he made his first All-Star team and had career bests with 15.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. Grant moved on to play with Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic after that year, making another trip to the NBA Finals in 1995. He finished the decade with averages of 13.0 points and 9.0 rebounds.
10. Jeff Hornacek – 37.0 VORP
Most people think of Jeff Hornacek during his time at the end of his career with the Utah Jazz and forget just what a high volume scorer he was at the start of his time in the NBA. Hornacek played for the Phoenix Suns in the first few years of the ‘90s, averaging 20.1 points on 51.2% shooting and 43.9% from three-point range in 1991-92. Hornacek was moved to the Philadelphia 76ers and later to the Jazz, where he made two appearances in the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. He scored 16.4 points per game during the decade.
9. John Stockton – 41.7 VORP
Another great Utah Jazz player, point guard John Stockton was one of the best in the 1990s. Stockton led the NBA in assists for the first seven years of the decade, averaging 11.9 assists per game overall. The ‘90s were Stockton’s absolute prime playing alongside Karl Malone, and the duo led the Jazz to back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals before losing each time to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Stockton made eight All-Star teams before seeing his performance begin to decline toward the end of the decade.
8. Reggie Miller – 41.7 VORP
Indiana Pacers shooting guard Reggie Miller was just 24 when the 1990s began and he made his first All-Star team by averaging 24.6 points 41.4% from three-point range in 1989-90. He was a unique talent in the league at the time, a combination of a great shooter and great scorer that seems like he’d be a better fit in today’s game. Miller finished the decade with 21.0 points per game on 40.5% shooting from downtown, making it to the Eastern Conference Finals three times, but being unable to get to the NBA Finals until after the ‘90s were over.
7. Clyde Drexler – 44.7 VORP
Shooting guard Clyde Drexler was so great, he was a big part of the reason that the Portland Trail Blazers passed on Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft. Drexler started off the decade well, averaging 23.3 points per game for the Blazers and leading the team to the NBA Finals. He’d made three trips to the finals in the decade, losing twice in Portland and then finally winning it all with the Houston Rockets in 1995. Drexler retired in 1998 and finished the decade with averages of 20.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game.
6. Hakeem Olajuwon – 49.4 VORP
Another great member of the Houston Rockets, center Hakeem Olajuwon is one of the most talented big men to ever play the game. He made seven All-Star teams in the 1990s, averaging 23.9 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game during the decade. Olajuwon’s Rockets took advantage of the break in the Chicago Bulls’ greatness to win back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995 — with Hakeem winning the Finals MVP both times. He played with great talents as Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, and Scottie Pippen during his time in Houston.
5. Scottie Pippen – 55.5 VORP
Small forward Scottie Pippen really came into his own in the 1990s. Playing nearly the entire decade for the Chicago Bulls, Pippen won six championships alongside Michael Jordan and head coach Phil Jackson. His best season came when Jordan stepped away to play baseball in 1993-94, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game as the primary star on the team. Pippen was traded to the Rockets after the 1998 championship, and he finished the decade with averages of 19.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game.
4. Charles Barkley – 56.6 VORP
The big-time rebounder known as Sir Charles (or “The Round Mound of Rebound”), forward Charles Barkley was one of the greatest and most unique players in NBA history. During the 1990s, Barkley averaged 22.4 points and 11.6 rebounds, despite being several inches shorter than the typical power forward. Barkley was well-known for being outspoken and somewhat edgy, even once doing a commercial to proclaim himself to be not a role model. Barkley joined the Houston Rockets in 1996-97, hoping to combine with Drexler and Olajuwon to finally win a ring, but he finished his career never having won an NBA championship.
3. Michael Jordan – 58.3 VORP
Some may be confused to see Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan not at the top spot on this list, but it’s actually a credit to his greatness that he finished as high as No. 3. Jordan essentially took off almost three full seasons in the 1990s, but still found his way to six NBA championships. He averaged 30.8 points, leading the NBA in scoring average seven times, and went out at the top of his game in 1998 after finishing off the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals. That is, until he returned in 2001 with the Washington Wizards.
2. Karl Malone – 65.8 VORP
Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone gets all the way up to No. 2 because of greatness and durability. Malone only missed three total games during the entire decade. His best season came in 1989-90, when Malone averaged 31.0 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He won his only NBA MVP award in 1997-98 when he averaged 27.0 points and 10.3 rebounds and led the Jazz to the best regular season record and an NBA Finals appearance. Malone finished the decade with averages of 27.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
1. David Robinson – 66.4 VORP
San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson is able to take this top spot despite missing almost the entire 1996-97 season. That was the last time the Spurs missed the playoffs, but it also landed them the top draft pick and Tim Duncan. Robinson averaged 24.4 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks per game in the 1990s. He won the scoring title in 1993-94 with 29.8 points per game — thanks in large part to scoring 71 points in the final regular season game. Robinson was 33 years old when the decade ended and his Spurs won their first NBA championship in franchise history.
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.