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NBA

The top forgotten players of the 1990s

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Mason and Grant (NBA Getty Images)

This week on NBA.com, we're taking a closer look at each decade in NBA history.

Today's focus? The 1990s.

While we will spend the day looking at the best players, teams and biggest storylines from the decade, we also wanted to shine a light on the players from the 1990s who you might have forgotten about.

Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13): Imagine you're a hardcore NBA fan in 2020, but you've never seen, heard or read about '90s hoops. You're transported back in time to April 5, 1994, to Portland, Oregon to sit courtside for Blazers-Suns. You're given one piece of information and that's it:

The reigning Most Valuable Player is playing in this game.

The catch? You're not told who it is.

There's a 6'3" whirling dervish of a point guard who is in total command. He's leaving All-Star defenders buried in cement, rifling one-handed passes through traffic, executing flawless textbook pick-and-rolls, sprinting past everyone in the open floor and surgically ripping to shreds a Suns team less than a year removed from the NBA Finals. It takes mere minutes to come to the realization that Rod Strickland must be this so-called MVP.

Spoiler alert: Strickland did not win the MVP award. In fact, over a 17-year career, he didn't make a single All-Star team.

There was far more production than one random game against Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and the 1994 Suns. Hot Rod racked up three 20-dime games between 1993-94 and 1997-98 - the most of any player in the NBA, including all-time assist king John Stockton - two more games with 19 helpers and yet another masterpiece against Phoenix in which he dropped a cool 26-18-11.

Strickland led the NBA in assists in 1997-98, earning All-NBA Second Team honours alongside Tim Hardaway, behind first-teamers Michael Jordan and Gary Payton, and ahead of Hall of Famers Reggie Miller and Mitch Richmond. Speaking of Richmond, did you know that Strickland finished his career with a higher Player Efficiency Rating, more Win Shares, more Win Shares per 48 minutes and a higher Box Plus-Minus all while lasting three more seasons and reaching the playoffs seven more times than his fellow 1988 draftmate and one-time teammate in Washington? Richmond is in the Hall of Fame. Strickland never donned an All-Star jersey.

Augustin Aboy (@AboyAgustin): In the '90s, the NBA was overflowing with legendary power forwards. Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, Shawn Kemp, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Vin Baker. Even the first years of Tim Duncan. Before the "stretch four" became a trend, these men were deadly next to a traditional centre. But there's one player who belongs on that list even though his career ended up being a "what if?"

The first pick of the 1990 Draft, Derrick Coleman was a tall, strong lefty with the ability to play above the rim and space the floor a little bit with his shooting. (He made only 29.5% of his 3-point attempts in his career, but Coleman had a couple of decent seasons from the perimeter). With that, plus a low post game, Coleman quickly became a 20-10 threat. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1991 and helped lead the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Playoffs in 1992, 1993 and 1994 alongside Drazen Petrovic and Kenny Anderson.

During those golden years, Coleman even was selected to one All-Star Game, got nominated two times for the All-NBA Third Team and played for USA Basketball in the 1994 World Cup. He averaged 19.9 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 blocks per game in his five seasons with the Nets. Unfortunately, injuries and off the court trouble derailed his career. He got traded to the Philadelphia 76ers before the 1995-96 season and didn't play much there. In fact, he didn't play much at all once he left New Jersey. The only season he played in more than 65 games for the remainder of his career was 1999-00 with the Charlotte Hornets.

In his late 30s, Coleman came back to the Sixers and was a starter next to Allen Iverson, but he was already past his prime. His career ended with the Pistons bench in late 2004, a few days after being a part of the "Malice at the Palace."

It seems like all these bad decisions stopped what could have been a Hall of Fame career, but don't forget that on his peak, Coleman was really, really good.

Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): Horace Grant didn't rack up the All-Star appearances or All-NBA selections, but he was one of the most important pieces to the Chicago Bulls' first three-peat in the '90s.

Grant's defence was uber important to what the Bulls were trying to accomplish. His offence was needed as well. He led the league in offensive rating in '92-93 and when MJ retired in '94 he stepped up and became Chicago's second-leading scorer, leading to his one and only All-Star selection.

Grant finished 12th in win shares for the decade, ahead of Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler, Dennis Rodman and Shaquille O'Neal. Many always looked at Grant as a defensive stopper - rightfully so as he made four All-Defensive teams - but he was more than that and he proved that at multiple stops throughout the decade.

Grant doesn't get the credit he deserves for what he meant to the Bulls' first three championships and quite frankly he was far more impactful on the court than Rodman was for the last three Bulls titles.

Alex Novick (@Anov_SN): This man might not have been "forgotten" had he been unleashed more in the prime of his career, or even in today's era. I'm talking about the late Anthony Mason, a thick, undersized, do-it-all lefty with a smooth handle, a jumper and flair to his game.

Before going any further, let's pre-date the '90s and shock you with Mase's college stats at Tennessee State. No, that's not Karl Malone's numbers you're looking at, capped off with a 28-10-3 line as a senior. And even more eye-popping, Mason made 40 of 81 3-point attempts that year, good for 49.4 percent (!) in an era where big men weren't firing from long range.

This makes it all the more unfortunate that after falling to a 3rd-round pick in the 1988 draft, the 6'7" power forward bounced around with three different teams over three years before finally seeing the court with the Knicks in 1991. Mason quickly became a critical piece to the Knicks' extended playoff runs through the first half of the decade, taking home Sixth Man of the Year honors in 1994-95.

It wasn't until the '95-96 season - at age 29 - that Mason's uniquely versatile game was on full display. His playing time soared to over 42 minutes per game and he averaged 14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 56 percent from the field. But that wasn't good enough for the Knicks, who desperately in search of star power to pair with Patrick Ewing, traded Mason to the Hornets for Larry Johnson in the offseason.

This was not a good trade for New York.

As LJ's career deteriorated from back issues, Mason maintained those impressive averages over the next five years (with a year missed due to bicep injury mixed in) and helped his team to the playoffs each season. It wasn't until the decade was over that he became one of the oldest players ever to make an All-Star debut, doing it in 2000-01 at the age of 34 as a member of the Heat.

Mason never did get to show off that three-ball, though, so it's fun to imagine how many All-Star nods he would've gotten today as a stretch-four who could create off the dribble and distribute. It's easy to envision a Pascal Siakam-like impact player, which is too bad for a player who's remembered more by many fans as a guy with trendy designs shaved into his hair.

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