It’s safe to say that not a lot of people my age really watched basketball in 90s (mostly because they were too young). Heck, I didn’t really even watch it. Ever since a thing called Youtube was created I’ve been browsing clips like no other. Youtube has allowed me to catch footage of some of the greatest players that ever played in any sport, after I truly understood what greatness was.
When I think about the 1990s era of the NBA, my thoughts are mostly full of Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ six NBA Championships. That’s probably what everyone that thinks about the 90s thinks, but what about the lesser known players that just didn’t have the Scottie Pippens? This is what this list is all about.
With that said, would you rather be underrated or overpaid?
Sorry Bryant Reeves, I’ll have to take the former.
Here are the 10 most underrated NBA players of the 1990s.
10. Dan Majerle, Guard-Forward
Thunder-Dan Majerle was originally known for his thunderous dunks (hence the nickname). Like fine wine, as Majerle grew older he completely shifted his game into clutch three-point shooting and turned himself into a defensive specialist. In the 91-92 season Majerle was only the second player ever (next to Kobe Bryant) to be voted as an all-star starter without even starting on his own team. Majerle averaged an impressive 17.3 points per game that same season and improved upon that number in the playoffs, where he averaged over 18 points per game to go along with 6 rebounds per game.
9. John Starks, Guard
Known for one of the best plays in Knicks’ history, and a play that Bulls fans try not to remember, John Starks was a force for the New York Knicks teams that constantly gave the Bulls fits whenever they met in the playoffs. Starks began his career undrafted and eventually earned a spot on the Knicks after a season with the Golden State Warriors. Starks came into his own with the Knicks in the 90s, leading them to eight straight playoff appearances and one NBA Finals appearance. Starks left the big apple with a 14 points per game and 4 assists per game average.
8. Horace Grant, Forward
If it wasn’t for Michael Jordan absolutely hating him and Horace sharing those same feelings for Jordan (maybe even worse), Horace Grant would probably have 6 NBA Championship rings instead of 4. We might be mentioning him as one of the best power forwards of his time, but many believe he was nothing without MJ. Lets give this guy some love. Over 1,100 games played (over 38,500 minutes), nearly 13,000 points, and nearly 10,000 rebounds. He was the 3rd best player on the first set of the 90’s Bulls 3-peats, and a MAJOR reason why the ’95 Bulls still made the playoffs during Jordan’s sabbatical. More importantly, Grant’s defense was at times superb and his effort never waned.
7. Latrell Sprewell, Guard
Probably the biggest steal of the ’92 draft, Sprewell was thrust into the starting lineup immediately and did not disappoint. In his rookie season, Sprewell averaged 15.4 points per game for the Golden State Warriors, earning him All-Rookie Team honors. After the significant departure of Tim Hardaway, Golden State’s leading scorer the following season, Sprewell put the Warriors on his back and turned the team around from a 34-48 record to 50-32 whilst averaging 21 points per game. Not only was he an explosive scorer, but Sprewell could defend the best of them as well. Sprewell made the All NBA-Defensive team as well as the All-NBA First Team in 1994. “Spree” finished his career with one NBA Finals appearance with the Knicks and a Western Conference Finals appearance with the Timberwolves. However, Sprewell will always be remembered for the infamous choking of Warriors’ coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997 during a practice.
6. Kevin Willis, Center
Someone who is virtually unheard of when you think of 90s big men, Willis put up one of the most overlooked seasons in 1991-1992 when he averaged an astounding 18 points per game and 15.5 rebounds per game, only to be overshadowed by former Bull and Piston Dennis Rodman, who averaged a ridiculous 18 rebounds per game. Willis averaged at least three rebounds more than the third-best rebounder that season. Not only was Willis an elite rebounder and scorer for the Hawks, he was also one of the most durable players of all time. Willis played all the way until the he was 44 years young, totaling 22 NBA seasons. He finally won a championship ring with the Spurs in 2003, which is a feat not many on this list accomplished.
5. Cliff Robinson, Forward-Center
One of the few big men who had the ability to hit the three ball during this time period, Robinson ranks 31st all-time in career three-point field goals made, and is one of only two players of those 31 that is over six foot nine inches tall. Robinson’s best season in his career had him averaging 19 points, 6.6 rebounds and a career-high two blocks per game while shooting over 47 percent from behind the arc. Did I mention he was putting this up while coming off of the bench? Robinson was snubbed of an all-star game appearance but eventually wound up winning NBA Sixth Man of the Year for that year (1992-1993). He also put up 20 and 21 points per game twice in the next three seasons, only to make it to one all-star game in his career (1994). Robinson was a proven winner, playing for five different NBA teams and missing the playoffs only once in a total of 18 seasons.
4. Larry Johnson, Forward
With one of the best nicknames of all time, “Grandmama” translated one of the best college careers into a great, but short-lived, NBA career. After two years at Odessa College (a junior college), Johnson transferred to UNLV and led the Running Rebels to the biggest win in national title game history, beating Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke team 103-73 while also setting the record for most points scored in a title. Johnson finished his two year career at UNLV as the 12th ranked career scorer and 7th ranked rebounder in school history. Once he got drafted 1st overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1991 draft, Johnson made an immediate impact by averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds per game. The next season Johnson averaged 22 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and started the all-star game. He eventually signed the most lucrative contract in NBA history at the time, a 12 year, $84 million contract. In the 1993-1994 season Johnson suffered a sprained back which would go on to plague him for the rest of his career. Due to the injury, Johnson had to develop a three point shot, which he did successfully, hitting 81 threes in 1994-1995, which was 53 more than he hit in his first three seasons combined. Johnson made one more all-star team and retired with the Knicks at the ripe age of 29 after chronic back problems. Had he not suffered injuries, “Grandmama” may have been known as one of the best forwards of all time.
3. Detlef Schrempf, Foward
Before Dirk Nowitzki, there was another German big-man who played for the Mavericks, his name: Detlef Schrempf. Drafted 8th overall in the 1985 draft, Schrempf quickly worked his way into Dallas’ rotation before they foolishly traded him to the Indiana Pacers for veteran center Herb Williams, who gave the Mavs two mediocre seasons before departing to the New York Knicks. Schrempf instantly increased his production from about 9 points per game with the Mavs to 16 points per game with the Pacers while also average a solid 8.5 rebounds per game. While with the Pacers, Schrempf won the Sixth Man of the Year award two years in a row. Eventually Schrempf was traded once again to the Seattle Supersonics, where he played with the likes of Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Sam Perkins and Hersey Hawkins. During the 94-95 season he shot an astounding 51.4 three-point percentage, which ranks second all-time. A year later Schrempf became the first German-born NBA player to reach the NBA finals, where he and the Sonics fell to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Schrempf finished out his career with three all-star appearances and one All-NBA third team.
2. Kevin Johnson, Guard
In my opinion, the closest thing to Derrick Rose, Johnson was one of the league’s most well-rounded point guards at the time. How many guys that average 13 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds in their rookie season go on to win the Most Improved Player award? Johnson did, after he improved his numbers to a staggering 20 points and 12 assists the very next year. Those numbers placed him in the record books, as only two other players (Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson) have averaged 20 and 12 over the course of a season. “KJ” went on to post two more consecutive 20 and 10 seasons from 1989-1991, joining Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson as the only three players to average 20 and 10 for three consecutive seasons, and also as one of two players (the other Magic Johnson) to average 20 and 10 while also shooting over 50 percent from the field for two seasons. Johnson’s Phoenix Suns team in 1992-1993, along with Charles Barkley, posted a NBA-best 62-20 record and reached the NBA Finals, only to lose to Michael Jordan and the Bulls (just like everyone else this decade). In 105 playoff games, Johnson averaged over 19 points and 9 assists per game. Did I mention that he’s also the incumbent Mayor of Sacramento?
1. Mitch Richmond, Guard
When Michael Jordan says that you’re one of the hardest players to guard and your game virtually has no weaknesses, that’s saying a lot. Jordan expressed these words for longtime Sacramento King shooting guard Mitch Richmond, who I believe was the second best shooting guard during this era (yes, better than Reggie Miller). The stats don’t lie. Richmond is only one of seven players to average at least 21 points per game in each of his first 10 seasons. The other six players? Richmond joins NBA greats Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Oscar Robertson. The only reason why you’ve never heard of this guy? Likely because he was playing for the bottom-feeder Kings, who were rarely on television and only reached 30 wins three times during Richmond’s seven seasons with the team. It also doesn’t help that Richmond’s best teammate throughout those seasons was Wayman Tisdale, who never averaged above 17 points a game during his seasons with Richmond. If anybody should be crying, it should be Mitch. Richmond was more than just a great player, he was a great professional, not once demanding a trade or even demanding some help on the court. It is truly a shame that Richmond landed in Sacramento, because if he was on a team with a star or two, he probably would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer and debated as one of the best two-guards of all time. However, Richmond did get a championship ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000-2001, but he played sparingly as it was the last season of his 14 year career.