The season featured a lot of the same old, same old. The Los Angeles Lakers were competing for a championship, while the Detroit Pistons were once again triumphant over the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan fought for being named the best player in the league, while Larry Bird remained a top player in the Eastern Conference.
However, there were new traditions being made this season. John Stockton and Karl Malone were starting to make a name for each other as the best combo in the league. Meanwhile, Hakeem Olajuwon was starting to prove he was also a top-3 pick with Jordan from the 1984 Draft.
By the end of the year, the 1987-1988 All-NBA Team featured a ton of Hall of Fame talent without even realizing it.
All-NBA Second Team
14.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 13.8 APG, 3.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG
The 1987-1988 season was the first of nine consecutive seasons that Stockton led the league in assists. The Utah Jazz was somewhat of a new franchise at the time as the season was their 14th in the NBA. The Jazz finished third in the Midwest Division with a 47-35 record and the team qualified for the playoffs for a fifth straight season.
Stockton was a key contributor in the playoffs as the Jazz swept the Trail Blazers. In the second round, the team was defeated by the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. At the time, Stockton was in his mid-20s and would form a partnership with Karl Malone, which would go down as the most legendary duo of all time.
27.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.5 SPG, 0.6 BPG
The 18th season in Portland history saw the team finish 53-29 and fourth in the Western Conference. It was the sixth straight year the team qualified for the playoffs and it was a four-game improvement from last season. However, the team’s brilliant regular season came to a halt in the first round when the Blazers were defeated 3-1 in a best of five against the Utah Jazz.
The Trail Blazers had many awards for their team this season. Kevin Duckworth averaged 15.8 points and was named Most Improved Player. Steve Johnson made the All-Star Team with Drexler. In the end, Drexler was in the middle of his prime and a top-10 talent in the NBA.
27.7 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG
By this season, Malone was the main cog of the team offense, while Stockton was the floor general. Malone made his first All-Star appearance in 1988, which would be the first of 14 consecutive appearances. Malone led the Western Conference in the game with 22 points.
After defeating the Trail Blazers in the first round, the Jazz had a tough matchup with the Lakers, who were led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. In Game 7, Malone finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds, but the Lakers won the game 109-98. In 11 playoff games, Malone averaged 29.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.
30.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG
It was a great season for Wilkins, who posted the highest scoring average of his career and finished second to Michael Jordan in the NBA scoring race. He averaged 30.7 points per game for the Atlanta Hawks but was still bested by Jordan, who also beat out Wilkins in the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Chicago.
At the time, Wilkins became the first Hawks player to be named NBA Player of the Week three times in a season. At the All-Star Game, Wilkins scored 29 points on 12 of 22 shooting. The Hawks won 50 games for the third straight season before falling to the Boston Celtics in seven games in the conference semifinals. In Game 7, Wilkins finished with 47 points in a 118-116 loss.
20.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 3.0 BPG
Ewing was the lone bright spot for an underachieving Knicks team. The team finished the regular season with a 38-44 record. The Knicks qualified for the playoffs but were defeated by the Celtics in the first round 3-1. Following the season, Bill Cartwright was traded to the Bulls, who became a contributor in Chicago.
Ewing was not alone in the awards recognition as Mark Jackson was named Rookie of the Year. Altogether, Ewing was the main man on offense and defense as he averaged 3.0 blocks per game. Ewing was one of three players to average at least 3.0 blocks per game, losing out to Mark Eaton’s 3.7 blocks for the most.
All-NBA First Team
19.6 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 11.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Before the season, Lakers coach Pat Riley announced he would be back to defend their championship. Johnson had another productive season with 19.6 points and 11.9 assists per game. Johnson missed 10 games with a groin injury but played enough in the regular season to still wow the voters into being voted on the First Team.
In the playoffs, the Lakers swept the Spurs and then survived a seven-game series with Utah and Dallas. In the NBA Finals, the Lakers overcame the “Bad Boys'' Detroit Pistons. Famously, Johnson kisses Isiah Thomas on the cheek before the opening tip. Johnson had a strong championship series, where he averaged 21.1 points, 13.0 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. It was his fifth and final championship of his career.
35.0 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, 3.2 SPG, 1.6 BPG
Jordan led the league in scoring by averaging 35.0 points per game on 53.5% shooting from the field. It also marked his first regular season Most Valuable Player Award. Jordan also won Defensive Player of the Year after leading the league with 3.1 steals per game, as well as contributing 1.6 blocks. The Bulls finished 50-32 and made it to the playoffs for the first time in Jordan’s career.
Jordan got his first bit of postseason success as the Bulls beat the Cavaliers in five games. However, the team was defeated by the Pistons in five games by a more experienced group. Regardless of the outcome, Jordan’s play this year goes down as one of the best individual overall seasons ever in the NBA.
29.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.8 BPG
The 29.9 points per game that Bird scored were the highest scoring output of his career. It was also the second straight season that Bird made the 50-40-90 Club. Bird shot 52.7% from the field, 41.4% from three-point range, and 91.0% from the free-throw line.
In the playoffs, he proved he belonged on the First Team. In the semifinals against the Hawks in Game 7, Bird shot 9 of 10 from the floor in the fourth quarter, scoring 20 points to leave the Celtics in a series-clinching win. His efforts helped the Celtics overcome 47 points from Dominique Wilkins before falling in the Conference Finals to the Pistons.
28.3 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG
This was the first season of the post-Julius Erving era, as the team was now led by Charles Barkley. With a youthful team, the 76ers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1975, as the team finished with a 36-46 record. Head coach Matt Goukas was fired in the middle of the season after going 20-23 and was replaced by Jim Lynam.
No matter, Barkley put together one of his best seasons in the league. It was Barkley’s fourth year in the NBA and he scored his best scoring per game average up to date. He also shot over 58% from the field. This would be his best scoring average in his career with the 76ers.
22.8 PPG, 12.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.1 SPG, 2.7 BPG
The Rockets finished fourth in the Midwest Division with a 46-36 record and made the first round of the playoffs. The Rockets were eliminated by the Mavericks in the first round, but their season was highlighted by Hakeem Olajuwon’s development. Olajuwon put together a strong season for a young center with 22.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game.
This season was considered a “down” year for Olajuwon because he had spoiled fans for three years prior. His blocks were down from 3.4, while his scoring dipped by half a point. This was his best rebounding total up this career. After this season, Olajuwon would begin a streak of seven straight years of recording at least 3.0 blocks per game.