Keeping in mind that oft-hobbled Shaquille O'Neal remains the best player on the planet, here are SI's award winners for 2001-02.
MVP: Tim Duncan, Spurs. At week's end Duncan was averaging 25.5 points (fifth in the league), 12.8 rebounds (second) and 2.42 blocks (fourth) for the team with the fourth-best record. "We surrounded Tim with new players at the one, two and three positions and told him to make it work," says Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "And he did."
Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan, Sonics. He edges the Pistons' Puck Carlisle because he 1) got the most out of his eight first-and second-year players, 2) helped persuade Gary Payton to renounce his Mr. Hyde side and 3) drove a team that seemed lottery-bound into the playoffs in the formidable West.
Rookie of the Year: Pau Gasol, Grizzlies. Through Sunday the 21-year-old Spaniard was leading all rookies in scoring (175 points), rebounds (9-0), blocks (2.13) and shooting percentage (51.4%).
Most Improved: Jerry Stackhouse, Pistons. The NBA is loaded with selfish players who wouldn't sacrifice their stats, as Stackhouse has done, to help turn a losing team into a winner—the only improvement that really matters.
Executive of the Year: Rod Thorn, Nets. By trading Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd, Thorn exchanged an enormous headache for the perfect cure.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ben Wallace, Pistons. The 6'9" forward leads the NBA in blocks (3.50 per game) and ranks 15th in steals (1.72).
Sixth Man: Bobby Jackson, Kings. Sacramento depends on his defense and scoring, especially in the fourth quarter.
All-20-and-Under Team: Eddie Griffin, F; Tyson Chandler, F; Eddy Curry, C; Darius Miles, G; Tony Parker, G.
All-36-and-0ver Team: Karl Malone, F; Michael Jordan, F; David Robinson, C; Reggie Miller, G; John Stockton, G.