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2002 MVP Race: Tim Duncan Beat Out Jason Kidd And Shaquille O’Neal, Won His First MVP Award

2002 MVP Race: Tim Duncan Beat Out Jason Kidd And Shaquille O’Neal, Won His First MVP Award

Tim Duncan is widely regarded as the greatest power forward of all time, and the 2002 MVP Award is a fine example of why. Recognized as one of the tightest MVP races over the last two decades, The Big Fundamental beat out a host of other elite talents who had superstar seasons to win the award. The 2002 season was a special year for 25-year-old Tim Duncan, who won his first MVP award after guiding the San Antonio Spurs to the 2nd record in the Western Conference. He was simply on an entirely different level that year, as the most dominant player in the game by a wide margin. 

But credit goes to the other players who finished just short of Duncan’s greatness during the year. We saw one of the best leaders ever in Jason Kidd lead the New Jersey Nets to the best record in the Eastern Conference, and he even guided the Nets to the NBA Finals in a showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers. Of course, the Lakers duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were in the mix for the MVP awards after posting sensational numbers across the board as their team finished 3rd in the Western Conference.

Any one of those players deserved the award when looking at certain factors, and the entire race was determined by slight margins. Without further ado, here is the breakdown of an iconic MVP race that ended with superstar power forward Tim Duncan finishing ahead of the pack.

10. Ben Wallace - 24 MVP Points 

Ben Wallace

Stats: 7.6 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.7 SPG, 3.5 BPG

How can a player averaging only 7.6 PPG finish among the top 10 in a season’s MVP race? The reason is that the center is one of the greatest defensive players of all time. Wallace was on a tear during the 2002 season, posting a league-high in RPG and SPG. Wallace was a force on the boards, usurping the likes of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett to lead the league, and also posted 3.5 BPG, which was first over Raef LaFrentz (2.7 BPG).

Thanks to Wallace’s defensive presence in the paint, the Detroit Pistons finished second in the Eastern Conference and had one of the best defenses in the NBA. Anytime a single player can have this much impact, it is only natural for him to be considered for the most valuable player award. Known as “Big Ben”, the center also led all big men in SPG and had one of his greatest seasons by winning Defensive Player of the Year.

9. Allen Iverson - 29 MVP Points

Allen Iverson

Stats: 31.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 2.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG

The Philadelphia 76ers had made the NBA Finals a year prior, but they were not the same team in 2002 as it was again only Allen Iverson who was able to put up efficient scoring numbers. Not to mention, Iverson’s best teammate was 35-year-old Dikembe Mutombo, who was not known as a scoring threat. Iverson was on a tear throughout the year, leading the league in scoring ahead of Shaquille O’Neal (31.4 PPG vs. 27.2 PPG). Iverson also led the league in steals, posting a very impressive 2.8 SPG. Quite simply, without Iverson playing at an MVP level, the 76ers would not have finished 6th in the Eastern Conference and made the playoffs.

Of course, Iverson’s scoring output would not be enough to get the team back in the Finals, as they lost in the first round to the Boston Celtics. Still, Allen’s scoring was extremely impressive as he did everything he could to carry a rather under-talented team into the postseason. The Answer proved to be an offensive phenom all year, winning his third scoring title in four years, and clearly deserved recognition for winning the Most Valuable Player award although his team's record wasn’t as good.

8. Dirk Nowitzki - 31 MVP Points

Dirk Nowitzki 2009

Stats: 23.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG

The Dallas Mavericks had the 4th seed in the Western Conference, largely thanks to the scoring and rebounding ability of superstar power forward Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk was sensational at putting the ball in the basket, averaging 23.4 PPG on 47.7% shooting from the field, 39.7% from three, and 85.3% from the free-throw line. Of course, this was the year that Dirk made his first All-Star Team at age 23, the first of many more to come.

Nowitzki was starting to become a force on the offensive end, and the 2002 season with the Mavericks was the first year we began seeing this. It certainly helped Dirk that a 27-year-old Steve Nash was playing alongside him. Nash also made his first All-Star Team by posting 17.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 7.7 APG on 48.3% FG and 45.5% 3-PT FG. The duo of Nowitzki and Nash was certainly exciting to watch, and the Mavericks were onto something as a result of their 57-win season.

7. Chris Webber - 37 MVP Points

Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Stats: 24.5 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.4 BPG

In most instances, the best player on the best team in the NBA would finish among the top 5 in the MVP award race. But the 2002 season was so intense, that Webber managed to miss out on the top 5 despite putting solid numbers across the board. Webber was sensational at rebounding the ball, scoring in the paint, and also creating for others. On defense, he was a factor because of being 6’10” and weighing 245 lbs.

Webber led the Sacramento Kings to a fantastic 61-win season and the star player was the key behind their Western Conference Finals push. Of course, there is a massive conspiracy that the Kings should have actually made it to the NBA Finals, and would have likely won had they reached there. Nonetheless, Webber had a fantastic season by making his 4th All-Star Team and kick-starting the last time the Kings were an actual threat to winning a championship. As a result, Chris Webber finished 7th in MVP voting behind 6 other star players.

6. Gary Payton - 54 MVP Points

Gary Payton Believes The 90s Were The Best Era In NBA History: "This Era Is About Shooting Threes, Getting Up And Down, And Entertainment. It Is What It Is... But I Played In What I Think Was The Best Era Ever. I Think The ’90s Was The Best Era Ever."

Stats: 22.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 9.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG

There is no doubt that Gary Payton was the second-best point guard in the NBA in 2002 behind Jason Kidd, and he fell just outside the top-5 ranking of all players during the MVP race. Payton played all 82 total games, shot 46.7% from the field, and nailed 79.7% from the stripe. Payton’s consistency as a scorer and elite perimeter defender was important for the Seattle SuperSonics to make the postseason. Without Payton playing at such a high level, there was no way Seattle deserved to be competing with the likes of the Spurs, Lakers, Kings, and Mavericks in a stacked Western Conference.

Payton, at age 33, even managed to finish ahead of 7th place Chris Webber, the power forward who averaged 24.5 PPG and 10.1 RPG for the best team in the Western Conference. The point guard proved he can not only defend at a superstar level but carry an offense by scoring the ball from the perimeter and inside the paint. Not to mention, Payton was an elite playmaker all year and checked all the boxes in that regard.

5. Kobe Bryant - 98 MVP Points

Kobe Bryant 2003

Stats: 25.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.4 BPG

With his center and superstar teammate Shaquille O’Neal finishing 3rd in MVP voting, Kobe Bryant also finished 5th averaging 25.2 PPG and 5.5 RPG on an efficient 46.9% shooting from the field. Bryant and his dominant teammate O’Neal led the Lakers to the 3rd seed in the Western Conference behind the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs. In fact, the Lakers were tied with the Spurs with 58 wins but lost the tie-breaker and ultimately finished 3rd in the West. That might have played a role in Bryant (and Shaq) missing out on the top-2 ranking in the MVP race.

The superstar shooting guard was still spectacular all season and his numbers were MVP worthy if not for 4 other Hall of Fame talents ahead of him. The shooting guard made his 4th All-Star appearance and played 80 games at an impressive 38.3 MPG. Bryant also averaged at least 25 PPG for the second-straight year and began to show his true value as arguably the most spectacular perimeter scorer in the NBA. Of course, it would not be long before Bryant would ultimately push Shaq out of Los Angeles, although they did win the championship at the end of the season.

4. Tracy McGrady - 390 MVP Points

Tracy McGrady

Stats: 25.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.0 BPG

Tracy McGrady was an absolute beast on the offensive end in 2002, dominating the scoring charts with ease. T-Mac was the undisputed superstar for the Orlando Magic and he was a consistent force at carrying an offense, oftentimes single-handedly. The ultimate offensive talent, McGrady played 76 total games, at 38.3 minutes per game during the 2002 season. During the regular season, McGrady blossomed into a superstar player after he averaged at least 25 PPG for the second-straight season.

McGrady was rewarding the Orlando Magic for their confidence in him because leaving Toronto was the best thing to ever happen to the shooting guard’s career. The superstar offensive player was effective in every facet of the game, and judging by his numbers, he was required to do a lot for the Magic. Of course, the team was not ready to compete just yet as they finished 5th in the Eastern Conference with 44 wins. In the playoffs, McGrady could not carry the team past the Charlotte Hornets in the first round.

3. Shaquille O’Neal - 696 MVP Points

Shaquille O'Neal

Stats: 27.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 0.6 SPG, 2.0 BPG

Finishing 3rd in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers were a title-contending team mainly thanks to the spectacular dominance of Shaquille O’Neal. The Diesel made his name and his fame during the 2000s, blossoming as a Rookie of the Year and eventually destroying the league, starting in the 2000 season when he won league MVP. The following season, Shaq was third in the MVP race and started staking his claim as one of the best players in the world, if not the best. By 2002, Shaq already had two championships and two Finals MVPs to his name.

The big man dropped 27.2 PPG and 10.7 RPG in the 2002 season, adding in 2.0 BPG and 0.6 SPG. One of the contenders for the MVP award, Shaq ranked 2nd in scoring, even through 67 games played. The superstar would completely dominate the paint when he did play, although he relied mainly on Kobe Bryant to carry the Lakers when he did not play. Once again, at the end of the year, the Lakers won the NBA championship with Shaq earning Finals MVP honors for the third-straight year.

2. Jason Kidd - 897 MVP Points

Jason Kidd

Stats: 14.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 9.9 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.2 BPG

Unsurprisingly, the best point guard in the game during the season appears in the top-2 in the MVP race. Jason Kidd had a sensational season in 2002, averaging a near double-double and also leading the New Jersey Nets to the first seed in the Eastern Conference. With Kidd at the helm, the Nets were very efficient on offense and made it to the NBA Finals after disposing of the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. But during the season, Kidd ranked 2nd in APG and was still the best leader on the court, sharing that honor with Andre Miller who led the league in assists. 

Jason Kidd would have won the MVP in any other season, but it was Tim Duncan’s time to put a stamp on the league and solidify himself as one of the most unstoppable players in the league. The Nets were certainly a solid team with competitors, including Kenyon Martin and Keith Van Horn playing significant minutes, but there was no way anybody expected the Nets to finish with the best record in the East. Kidd was the heart and soul of the team, not to mention their best player. Amazingly, the Nets reached the Finals but succumbed to Shaq, Kobe, and the Lakers in only 4 games.

1. Tim Duncan - 954 MVP Points

Tim Duncan

Stats: 25.5 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.5 BPG

There is no doubt that the 2002 season was Tim Duncan’s time. He was both the most efficient player in the league and also the best defensive big man in the league, posting very solid statistics across the board. He was on a mission to completely dominate the rest of the NBA and he was far and away the most impactful player in the regular season. The power forward averaged 25.5 PPG over the entire season, along with 12.7 RPG and 2.5 BPG to go along with 3.7 APG.

Even beyond numbers, Duncan was on a different level as he played all 82 games at an average of 40.6 minutes per game. The Big Fundamental led the San Antonio Spurs to the second-best record in the Western Conference and began solidifying himself as the next-best thing since a prime Karl Malone at his position. Duncan was the go-to offensive player for the Spurs and also a solid defensive star in the interior, edging out a dominant Jason Kidd by 57 MVP points. This was certainly a very close MVP race during the year, as Jason Kidd and even Shaquille O’Neal deserved their shot at winning the award. But Duncan was so efficient during the year on both ends of the floor, shooting 50.8% from the field and doing everything the Spurs asked of him. 


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