Perhaps it was the shortened season. Or the Tae-Bo training. Or maybe it was all the time he spent holding his breath waiting to see if Dennis Rodman was going to show up for practice. Whatever the reason, Shaquille O'Neal's fickle abs didn't cost him any court time this year, and as a result, he dominates the SI Player Ratings* for the '99 NBA season through Sunday. After a strong start by Sacramento's Chris Webber, O'Neal (right) took over the top spot in mid-March, and had an almost unassailable lead at week's end, with just two games left on the Lakers' schedule.
The top-rated forward, San Antonio's Tim Duncan, avoided a sophomore slump, and in the third slot is Phoenix's Jason Kidd, the top point guard. Rounding out our All-Pro By The Numbers team are last season's top-rated player, Karl Malone, at the other forward spot and Allen Iverson (No. 13 overall) of the Sixers at shooting guard. Orlando guard Darrell Armstrong made the biggest leap, going from 198th last season to 34th at week's end, and Sacramento center Vlade Divac went from 94th to 20th. (Who says he can't jump?) A couple of other players on the verge of stardom are Denver's Danny Fortson (from 124th to 41st), Maurice Taylor of the Clippers (148th to 60th) and Toronto's Tracy McGrady (184th to 79th). Taking big dives were Boston's Antoine Walker (seventh to 43rd) and a pair of Pistons, Jerry Stackhouse (75th to 140th) and Bison Dele (92nd this year), who was better when he was Brian Williams (32nd last year).
Finally, it's worth noting that Charles Barkley missed a Sir Charles-sized chunk of the season (eight games) and was still rated among the league's top 20 players. All hail the pride of Chucky!