Talk about the NBA is often filled with criticism. People cry and moan all the time that it’s rigged and everything was planned months in advance. It’s not, probably, but when looking at the MVP voting you may get more ammo for your argument. It seems like almost every year there’s a scandal surrounding who won the MVP and who deserved it, more so than in any other sport. It’s not only about who had better numbers or whose team had more wins, but more about who do the writers like more and who can bring more profit to the league.
Steph Curry this season did something that no one has ever even gotten close to matching when he scored 402 3-pointers. Then there was controversy over the fact that he won the award unanimously, as people took to twitter screaming that it was rigged and that the NBA just wanted to help the Curry “brand.” It is better for the league if Curry is good, we agree with that. However, who else could get votes when Curry broke his own single season 3-point record by more than 100. Yes, he might have received a bit of sway because voters like him, but the dude deserved what he won. However, there have been a number of times when it seems like someone got the award just because the voters didn’t want someone else to get it.
Here are the 15 worst NBA MVPs.
30 Dirk Nowitzki, 2006-07
No one is going to try and say that Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t been one of the best players of his generation. He is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer who will be remembered as one who changed the game with his devastating fall-away shot. Getting an MVP was a nice bonus to add to his career, but he didn’t totally deserve it from the 2006-07 season. Dirk was the best player for the Mavericks, and that year they topped the league by winning 67 games. However, despite winning so much, the Mavs completely collapsed at the end of the season going 6-4 to close out the season, and then lost to the Warriors in 6 games in the first round of the playoffs. This defeat got coach Avery Johnson fired, and many writers pointed their fingers at him when discussing the disappointing season, saying that his up-tempo play style doesn’t work when playing 82 regular season games. The vote took place before the playoffs started, but in this specific case, the playoffs mattered. Winning 67 games means nothing if you lose in the first round. That year, Dirk was not in the top 10 in points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, field goal percentage, or any defensive category. He did top the list in categories like Offensive Rating and Win shares, but he was playing on a team that was gunning it every game and he didn’t have a true backup (6’8” Deavon George often came in to give Dirk breathers). In hindsight the award should have been given to Tim Duncan or Kobe Bryant. Kobe was the scoring machine that we all expected year in and year out and he (by himself) carried his Lakers to the playoffs. Duncan ranked in top 20 of most major statistical categories and helped lead the Spurs to a sweep of Cleveland in the Finals. Dirk deserved an MVP award. But one for his 2006-07 season? Not so much.
28 Dave Cowens, 1972-73
When going back to 1972-73 and looking at the NBA season, it’s baffling how Dave Cowens won the MVP. Cowens was a great player, one of the most underrated superstars in the NBA’s history. Over a very successful 11 years in the NBA, he led the Celtics to 2 championship titles (without Larry Bird), won a rookie of the year, and went to the All-Star game 7 times. It’s not hard to see why Cowens was inducted into the Hall of Fame, but he should have never picked up the MVP award in 1972-73. People can make the case that he should have won the award a few seasons later in the 1977–78 season. That year he led the Celtics in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals (more on that later). The year Cowens won, there were two choices for MVP that we feel would be more deserving of the award; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Nate “Tiny” Archibald. Statistically, Archibald should have run away with the award. He led the league in minutes and had a substantial lead in points and assists per game. However, he wasn’t able to get his team to the playoffs and may have lost votes for that reason. Kareem was by far the most dominant player of the year (and that decade). He led the Bucks to a top seed in the playoffs while leading the league in Win Shares and Rebounds. He had a win share percentage of 21.9, almost 10 more points than Cowens (who didn’t even lead his own team in that category). Kareem may have lost votes purely because he had won MVP the past 2 years, and voters wanted a change. Cowens had a great team around him and had a very strong season, and that boosted him to win the MVP award, even if he didn’t deserve it.
26 Karl Malone, 1996-97
Michael Jordan should have won. When it was announced that Karl Malone won the MVP in the 1996-97 season, many people just assumed that the voters decided that Jordan had won enough MVPs. Jordan had won the award the season before, and if he won in ’97 it would be his 5th. The Mailman had a great season, as he often did, and won the award despite the fact that he didn’t lead the league in any stat category except for PER and free throws (even though he missed 25% of them). Jordan on the other hand led the league in win share, field goal attempts, and his team had the most wins in the league. Oh and Jordan scored more point and had more points per game than Malone, the guy who was known for being the best pure scorer in the league. A lot of his game involved getting under the basket and waiting for John Stockton (the best point guard in the league) to put the ball in his hands. Jordan took the ball up the court, battled for a shot, had to pass the ball, and hope his teammates got the ball into the hoop or back in his hands. And he still did better than Malone that season. Malone was great, but this was prime Jordan years, no one else deserved most valuable player.
24 Allen Iverson, 2000-01
The 2000-01 season was basically the year of Allen Iverson. He was one of the biggest names in the game and was ready to take another step forward and lead his team to an NBA championship. He got close, but lost to Shaq and Kobe in the finals. It’s completely understandable that Iverson won the award considering he won 56 games with the 76ers with Aaron McKie as his second option. He owned the team’s scoring presence, but he also had Dikembe Mutombo absolutely dominating the paint and refusing to let anyone score. The real winner of the award should have been either Shaq or Tim Duncan. 9 players (including Shaq and Timmy) had a higher win share total than Iverson, and he wasn’t amongst the top 20 players in Offensive Rating. Iverson led the league in points, but he didn’t even try when it came to assists or relying on his teammates, which would eventually be the downfall of the team’s season. He never distributed the ball, and rarely fought for rebounds. In today’s NBA, Iverson would be criticized immensely. Pundits knock Russell Westbrook for being too selfish, when he’s near the top of the league in assists. Iverson changed the point guard position to focus more on scoring, but that idea has had some negative repercussions through the league today as we see guys like Derrick Rose who hurt themselves trying to do too much. Playing extremely selfish basketball should not be rewarded, but it was that year.
22 Magic Johnson, 1989-1990
Magic is Magic. He’s one of the few players that can be held up with Michael Jordan as the “best player of all time.” You can make the case that Magic was in fact better than Jordan (not our opinion, but the arguments are legitimate) and he changed the game more than any other player since George Mikan. Never before had we seen a point guard who was able to dominate in the paint and take the ball up court. Magic has won 3 MVPs through his career, but it feels like it should have been 2. The 1989-90 season was one of the best in NBA history with David Robinson having one of the greatest rookie seasons ever, and Michael Jordon and Charles Barkley starting up one of the best rivalries in sports history, not to mention the Pistons won the championship with one of the best teams ever assembled. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Charles Barkley all had better seasons than Magic Johnson, who’s career was winding down. Johnson had a good season, but Jordan had a higher win share percentage, more points per game, a higher PER, and had more of an impact on the boards and on the defensive side of the ball. The only thing Magic did better than Jordan was assists per game (though John Stockton had more). It was a year when half of the NBA’s all-time greats had amazing seasons; Johnson’s just wasn’t as amazing as many of his peers, specifically Michael.
20 Tim Duncan, 2001-02
There should be no one who wants to argue that Tim Duncan was not one of the best players through the 2000s, and one of the best players in NBA history. He should be a 2-time MVP, but he probably didn’t deserve to take the award home in the 2001-02 season. It’s not that he didn’t have a fantastic season; averaging 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game is nothing to rub your nose at. However, the numbers aren’t much better than his previous years and it amounted in the Spurs tying for the number 2 seed with Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers (who would go on to win it all). The guy who should have won MVP played on the team that the Lakers swept in the finals; Jason Kidd. Kidd has put together a Hall of Fame career winning a ring in Dallas, being named to the All-Star team 10 times, and is only behind John Stockton for most career assists. One of the big knocks on him is that he never won an MVP, but many agree that he deserved one in 2002. His numbers weren’t on par with Duncan’s as he put up 14.7 points, 9.9 assists and 7.3 rebounds a game, but he did lead one of the most miraculous turnarounds in NBA history. The 2000-01 season the Nets went 26-56, missing the playoffs by a landslide and in need of a lot of rebuilding. They were able to trade for Kidd, and then went 52-30 the next season, taking the one seed in the playoffs. The turnaround was epic, and Kidd got very little credit for it because of his domestic violence arrest during the offseason. The negative publicity from that arrest cost Kidd his MVP, which is a great lesson to be learned, even though everyone seems to have forgotten about that moment.
17 Bill Walton, 1977-78
We briefly mentioned that Dave Cowens would have been a good choice to win MVP in the 1977-78 season. George Gervin would have also been a great choice that year, as would Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or David Thompson. However, it was Bill Walton who came away with the award. We can’t stress this enough, Bill Walton was a fantastic player who deserves a ton of respect. However, how can you give the award to a player who didn’t make a huge impact on the stat sheet and only played 60 games? Walton was the best player on the defending champion Portland team, and was hell-bent on repeating the title. Everything was looking good at first and Walton led the team to a 50-10 record, then he broke his foot. Walton’s career would never be the same after this injury, as it led to a multitude of other injuries that would drastically shorten his career. Following the broken foot, the Trail Blazers went 8-14 and faltered in the playoffs despite still earning a top seed. We understand that Walton was obviously the most valuable player for the Trail Blazers, but missing 22 games should have hurt his standing as the most valuable player in the NBA that season. Walton winning this award is the same logic that earned Josh Hamilton an MVP in the MLB and was the basis for people saying Peyton Manning should have received votes when he was out for the entire 2011 NFL season. Walton missing so many games should have eliminated him from the running, but we can’t change history, and Bill Walton is one of the best to have played the game, so we can’t be too upset with the choice.
15 Karl Malone, 1998-99
The argument has been made that maybe Malone should have never won an MVP, but the voters couldn’t just keep giving it to Michael Jordan. Could they? Michael Jordan retired after the 1997-98 season, riding into the sunset with his 5th MVP and a 6th NBA championship. He may have deserved a 6th MVP for the 1998-99 season, as the Bulls went from NBA champions to winning 13 games without Michael, but he was ineligible for votes. This left the door open for someone new to take the award. Malone wasn’t a terrible choice; he led the league in win shares and was dominating the league, until the final month when he and the Jazz slumped into the playoffs and lost the 1-seed to the Spurs. Slumping late in the season often eliminates a player from the MVP discussion, but not this time. The 1999 season was shortened by a lockout, so voters didn’t have the best crop of players to choose from. However, Alonso Mourning of the Miami Heat had his best season averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game, leading the Heat to a number 1 seed, and Tim Duncan posted slightly better numbers with posting 21.7 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Malone had 23.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, but again he only had to sit under the basket and wait for Stockton to do his thing. Duncan should have won the award, but instead he just had to settle for a championship. Oh well, you win some and lose some.
13 Steph Curry, 2014-15
Yeah, we're going there. Steph Curry’s play has ignited interest in the NBA and is changing the game year after year. What he and the Warriors have done with the 3-point barrage they assault teams with is going to be looked at as one of the most revolutionary times in the NBA. Steph led the Warriors to the best record in the NBA and eventually helped them win the franchise’s first NBA championship. However, outside of making the most 3-pointers ever, Steph’s numbers weren’t overwhelmingly impressive. Klay Thompson made almost the same amount of 3-pointers as Steph and got 0 attention in the MVP voting. For all the crap that we (I specifically) have talked about James Harden for his unbelievably selfish play last year, he deserved the MVP in 2015. He led the league in win shares, minutes played, and points scored. The big knock on Harden was his high turnovers rate, but it wasn’t much higher than the likes of Russell Westbrook, John Wall, or even Steph’s. Steph-mania took over the NBA and the league saw an opportunity to cash in. The MVP award was not rigged, but many believe there were some nudges in Steph’s direction. Steph wasn’t in the top 5 in points per game, assists per game, or rebounds per game. It should have been a close race and our edge would go to Harden, but Steph was the new face of the NBA, and this was a great way to solidify that idea.
11 Julius Erving, 1980-81
This year was one of the best arguments on why there needs to be a defensive player of the year as well as an MVP. If the NBA had already added the defensive award, Julius Erving (from here on referred to as Dr. J) would never have found himself on this this list. Dr. J led his 76ers to a tie for the best overall record in the NBA and did so by putting up 6 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 4.4 assists a game. Great stats, but he only ranked in the top 10 in points (7th in the league). In Houston, Moses Malone (Dr. J’s future teammate) dragged a group of nobodies to a playoff berth (even if they barely made it). He led the league with 14.8 rebounds a game, and was second in points scored with 27.8 points per game. Malone was third for offensive win shares, while Dr. J was second in defensive win shares. This put the two men at a near tie with Dr. J having a 13.8 overall win share, and Malone had a 13.7. Dr. J won the MVP because of his amazing defense paired with good offensive prowess. If there was a Defensive Player of the Year award in 1981 then Dr. J would have won that and Malone would have taken MVP. However the argument may have been moot because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a better season than either of them, but he had already won 6 times. And don’t feel bad for Malone; he went on to win 2 straight MVPs in 1981-82 and 1982-83.
9 Derrick Rose, 2010-11
Derrick Rose may be the only NBA MVP who won’t make it to the Hall-of-Fame. The only 3 retired MVPs who aren’t currently in the Hall are Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan (and they’ll make it). Rose’s career looks like it’s winding down and he has nothing to show post-MVP season. When Rose won the award, it seemed a bit obvious what really happened, the NBA punished LeBron James. It’s not some conspiracy theory saying that they are anti-LeBron, or something even stupider than that, but it was in the league’s best interest to have a different winner. The offseason in 2010 was defined by one quote, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach.” This choice, which was televised live, sent reverberations around the NBA as for the first time ever, the players seemed to have more power than the league and owners. LeBron became a villain and the Heat became the new Yankees, a team that the World loves to hate. Coming off his second straight MVP season, the writers needed to find a new star to write about, and Derrick Rose seemed like the perfect player to use. He was a high draft pick, playing entertaining basketball, in his home city of Chicago, and his team was one of the best in the NBA. He was the perfect player to anoint to stardom, but his play-style just could not last. Rose had a good season, but statistically LeBron blew him out of the water leading the league in Win Share and PER, and leading Rose in every offensive category. Only one player has ever won 3 straight MVPs (Larry Bird), and the writers didn’t want to give another one to LeBron after his pompous offseason. Obviously the idea didn’t last, and LeBron is a media sweetheart again while Rose is in New York trying to reinvent his career.
7 Willis Reed, 1969-70
The 1969-70 NBA season was the year of Willis Reed. He won the regular season MVP, the All Star MVP and Finals MVP. He definitely deserved 2 of those 3, but there are many arguments that he shouldn’t have gotten the regular season award. That season he had 7 points, 13.9 rebounds, and 2 assists a game, which were good numbers. Good, but MVP level? Maybe not so much. Rookie Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) had better stats in every category, and Jerry West, Connie Hawkins, and Walt Frazier (Reed’s teammate) all had empirically better stats. We hear the naysayers here, “Reed was a defensive player! That’s what he was best at.” That’s a great point; Reed did lead the league in defensive win shares. However among the top 5 included fellow Knicks, Frazier and Dave DeBusschere. So yes Reed played top tier defense, but so did half of his defense. We aren’t trying to take away from Reed’s impact, but it’s easier to play defense at the rim when your opponent can’t ever get a shot off. To make matters worse, Frazier had a higher win share total than Reed. The true MVP that season should have been Jerry West, who led the league in points and in win shares and was the best player on his own team. Again, if there were a Defensive Player of the Year award this would not have been a problem.
5 Steve Nash, 2004-05
The voting that got Steve Nash his first of 2 MVPs was absolutely baffling. Nash led the league in assists, which could have been impressive if he wasn’t playing in Mike D'Antoni's offense where there was a shot every 7 seconds and Nash was the one taking the ball up the floor. If Nash had a better shot than he would have been scoring at a Steph Curry level, but instead he just threw the ball around. The Suns had the best record in the NBA that season, so it would be more understandable if Nash was the best player on his own team, but he wasn’t. Amare Stoudemire had 26.9 points per game and collected 8.9 rebounds, but the voters vastly ignored him. The true MVP should have been Shaq, who in his first year in Miami led the Heat to a number 1 seed (a 16 game improvement for the team from the year before). Some feel that Shaq didn’t get the award because his move from LA to Miami hurt the NBA’s profit line by taking eyes away from one of the world’s biggest markets. Nash didn’t have a bad season in 2005, he just had one of the worst stats of anyone who has won MVP and was outplayed by his teammates. It’s just hard to understand how he walked away with the award.
3 Steve Nash, 2005-06
Speaking of hard to understand, Nash’s 2005-06 MVP was one of the most baffling ever. Kobe Bryant clearly deserved the award, but people hated, hated, hated, hated him. In the mid-2000s the NBA had earned a reputation as a violent league. There was the Pistons-Pacers brawl, enforcers like Chris Anderson and Rasheed Wallace running the paint, and a slew of “golden boy” players like Jason Kidd and Kobe getting arrested for violent acts off the court. The NBA went out of it’s way to try and shed this reputation via things like team enforced curfews (which didn’t work), and a David Stern appointed dress code (which were condescending and racist). Kobe Bryant put together one of his best seasons in 2006, but his recent scandals and arrests seemed to remove him from MVP consideration. That season Kobe had 35.4 points per game (best in the league), 5.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He also took a Lakers team that consisted of guys like Smush Parker, Ronny Turiaf, and (groan) Kwame Brown to the playoffs. The second best player on that team was a toss up between a bad Lamar Odom and a rookie Andrew Bynum. Bottom line is that Nash should not have won an MVP at all (much less to have won twice), but the 2006 snub of Kobe felt as blatant as possible.
1 Bill Russell, 1961-62
We aren’t trying to take anything away from Bill Russell and his amazing career, but the dude has 5 MVPs, he could sacrifice this one. The 1961-62 season was unlike anything that will ever be replicated again. During a game in March of that season, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game. It’s a record that will probably never been even encroached on in today’s NBA game. But no matter amazing that was, MVP is not decided by one game in a year. Then you need to realize that Wilt averaged 50 points a game that season. 50 points a game! Thus far in LeBron’s career he only has 10 games where he knocked down 50 in a game. Kevin Durant only has 4. Steph Curry turned heads when he did it 3 times in a season. Wilt did it every game for a season while also averaging 25 rebounds a game, yet he still didn’t walk away with the MVP. We would shrug this off, if Oscar Robertson had at least won that year. After all, the man did average a triple double that season posting a slash line of 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds a game. To put that in perspective, the world praised Russell Westbrook last year for getting 18 total triple-doubles, dubbing it one of the best seasons of all time. Westbrook wasn’t even close to averaging a triple double though; he was a full 2 rebounds per game shy of doing so. Somehow Bill Russell’s outstanding defensive play earned him an MVP for that year, but we disagree. Any other year you could make a case for Bill, but Wilt or Oscar definitely deserved the prize in that season.