The Winners Are...
SI Polled NBA head coaches to find out who they think are the league's best in several categories—now that they can no longer answer "Michael Jordan" to every question. We promised the coaches anonymity, and the only rule imposed on the 21 who responded was that they couldn't vote for their own players. The envelopes, please.
•Player you would pick to take the last shot with the game on the line: The Rockets' center Hakeem Olajuwon (seven votes) edged Sun forward Charles Barkley (six). "Olajuwon has the most unstoppable shot in the league," says an Eastern Conference coach. "He can get his own shot, and he's the best at playing through a double team," says another. A Barkley voter from the Western Conference said that "with Jordan gone, Barkley is probably the best one-on-one, go-to guy." Biggest surprise: A vote for Sonic guard Ricky Pierce. "He's a good enough athlete to shoot over people, and he's strong enough to take the foul." says a Western Conference coach. "You can't crowd him, either, because he's a great free throw shooter and he knows how to get to the line."
•Player you would take first if you were starting a franchise: Nearly everyone chose a center, with the Magic's Shaquille O'Neal (nine votes) the clear winner over the Spurs" David Robinson (five) and the Hornets' Alonzo Mourning (four). But most of the votes for O'Neal were cast with reservations. Says one Western Conference coach about Shaq. "You get an inside game, you get rebounding and you get charisma. He'd put people in the seats. Now if he ever learns how to play...." One Western coach who picked Mourning had this assessment of the other top centers: "Here's a guy [O'Neal] who's going to be a part-time basketball player compared to everything else he does. You need longevity, which pushes Hakeem and Patrick [Ewing] out. Robinson? I still don't think he has the guts to win [an NBA championship]." Biggest surprise: a vote for a college player. California sophomore guard Jason Kidd.
•Most underrated player: Bull forward Horace Grant (three votes) edged Warrior guard Latrell Sprewell and Hawk guard Mookie Blaylock (two each) in a widely split vote. Grant's total didn't include the Eastern coach who voted for "Chicago's whole team." Three Bulls-Grant and guards B.J. Armstrong and Steve Kerr—received votes.
•Most overrated player: Again, a wide split, with Trail Blazer guard Clyde Drexler and Net forward Derrick Coleman leading the way with three votes each. "It's a long list," says one Western coach about overrated players. "Where do I start?" Coaches picked the 31-year-old Drexler because they think age and injuries have eroded his game. As for Coleman, "I think he's a very good player, so I'm kind of talking out of both sides of my mouth." says a Western Conference coach. "But something seems to be missing there. If he's really a unique talent, he should be able to carry that team a little bit further." Biggest surprise: a vote for Warrior forward Chris Mullin. "He always gets great numbers, but he has trouble getting a big shot down the stretch, and he can't create his own shot," says a Western coach. Jazz forward Karl Ma-lone received one vote each for most underrated and most overrated.
•Best one-on-one defender: Bull forward Scottie Pippen (six votes) edged Spur forward Dennis Rodman (four). Olajuwon, Blaylock and Sonic guard Gary Payton (two votes each) were the only other players chosen by more than one coach. "Rodman used to be the guy. but he's slipped—he doesn't like to go too far from the basket anymore," says a Western coach, I think Pippen can disrupt more than Rodman." Biggest surprise: a vote for Knick backup forward Anthony Mason. "Every time I see him put his mind to covering someone, he locks them up," says a Western coach. "He has strength, quickness and a mean streak that won't let you go."
•Best passer: Jazz point guard John Stockton (15 votes) was the most convincing winner in any category. "Not even close," says a Western coach. "After him there's a hole a mile wide, Every time you watch him. he leaves you scratching your head and saying, 'Can you believe that pass?' Magic threw great passes, but he had nights with 10 turnovers with the stuff he did. When you get Stockton to turn the ball over, it's almost a badge of honor." Biggest surprise: Again, someone—a different coach this time—found Kidd irresistible. "I think Jason Kidd is the best passer playing basketball right now," says an Eastern coach. "He's unbelievable."
•Assistant coach you would most like to steal: Twelve assistants drew at least one vote, with the Knicks' Dick Harter and the Nets' Brendan Suhr leading the way with three each. "Harter has great experience and a defensive mind," says one coach. "But I'd also really like to find out about [New York head coach] Pat Riley through the eyes of an assistant coach."
•Player who would make the best coach: Magic guard Scott Skiles (five votes) narrowly beat Knick guard Doc Rivers (four). Says one Western coach of Skiles, "He's a leader, he's smart and he's tough." As for Rivers, "He understands the entire game, offensively and defensively." says one Eastern coach. "He knows all the concepts from having played point guard. He has a nice way of dealing with people and is bright and articulate." Biggest surprise: a vote for Rodman. "Really. He should be able to handle any situation," says a Western coach. "He deserves to see what it's like to be a coach."
•Player you would pay to see: Barkley, Olajuwon and Pippen tied with four votes each. O'Neal, with two votes, was the only other player with more than one. Biggest surprise: A vote for the Hornets' 5'3" point guard Muggsy Bogues. "I like guys who shouldn't be here, yet here they are," says a Western coach. "He's the toughest guy in the league."
Finally, it's worth noting that Pippen was the only player to receive at least one vote in five categories—last shot, starting a franchise, best defender, best passer and player worth paying to see.
Weight and See
The Nuggets were thrilled when guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, formerly known as Chris Jackson, lost 17 pounds before last season, dropping his weight to 168, and wound up being voted the league's Most Improved Player. They are not as thrilled that Abdul-Rauf has continued to lose weight. Down to 155 at the start of this season, the 6'1" Abdul-Rauf now weighs just 149, leaving the Nuggets concerned about whether he is strong enough to stand up to the rigors of an NBA season, especially considering that his weight could be headed even lower.
Abdul-Rauf, a convert to Islam, is observing Ramadan, the Moslem holy month that began Feb. 11, in which followers of that religion fast from sunrise to sunset each day. Although some athletes who are believers in Islam make allowances for the physical demands of their sport—Olajuwon, for instance, eats on game days during the holiday—Abdul-Rauf plans to adhere strictly to his fast.
Abdul-Rauf had been in a shooting slump—he made only 36 of 123 shots in the 10 games before the All-Star break. But when games resumed last week, four days after the start of Ramadan, he made 20 of 35 field goal attempts in his first two games. Abdul-Rauf is convinced that his eating habits won't affect his performance. "My strength comes from Allah," he says. "I have more strength than I've ever had, and it's an inner strength."
Line of the Week
David Robinson, Spurs
TP: 34; Reb: 10; A: 10; Blocks: 10.
There's no ignoring only the fourth quadruple double in NBA history—Olajuwon, Alvin Robertson and Nate Thurmond had the others—which Robinson achieved in a 115-96 win over the Pistons on Feb. 17. But it should be pointed out that a day earlier the Kings' Mitch Richmond came close to getting a quad of his own. although a slightly dubious one. In a 94-92 win over the 76ers, Richmond had 31 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists...and seven turnovers.
The California Kidd was named by one NBA coach as the player he would want to build a team around.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
The Nuggets are concerned that Abdul-Rauf may be spreading himself too thin.