There always seems to be controversy surrounding the NBA Most Valuable Player voting every season. This past season was one an outlier as it seemed obvious to everybody that Russell Westbrook was the most deserving for the award after finishing the season with a triple-double average per game. Although James Harden was also very good this past season, it didn't seem like much of a competition when it really came down to the vote. Still, most seasons there are at least two or three guys that could arguably win the MVP award in the NBA.
It's important to realize that the MVP trophy doesn't always go to the best player or to the most valuable player on that team. If that were the case, LeBron James would have at least 10 MVP awards already because he is the best player in the game today and also can you imagine how bad Cleveland would be if LeBron weren't there anymore? So it's impossible to determine what the MVP voters actually consider to be the most important aspects of a players season when voting, but fortunately for this list: I'm the voter so I make the rules.
Hindsight is always 20/20 (50/50 according to Cam Newton), so it's time to take a look back at NBA history to see who were the biggest MVP snubs of all-time. Some of these snubs have occurred in recent history, but others date back to the 1960s. So sit back, grab a drink, and take a trip down MVP history lane. Note: Kevin Durant's mom is the real MVP every year... or so we are told.
16 2007 MVP: Dirk Nowitzki
After leading his team to the NBA's best record (67-15) and averaging nearly 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game, Dirk Nowitzki was honored with his first (and only) MVP award. The Dallas Mavericks were so reliant on their sweet-shooting big man during the 2006-07 season that they went an impressive 18-1 when Dirk would score over 30 points. That statistic shows just how important Dirk was to the Mavericks and why he was an obvious candidate to win MVP.
But for as good of a season Dirk had, it was ultimately all for not as the powerhouse Mavericks roster was shockingly upset in the first round by the Golden State Warriors. The MVP voting was performed before the playoffs that season, so obviously the Mavericks meltdown in the playoffs did not cost Dirk any votes in terms of the MVP. But looking back on it, it's difficult to defend Dirk winning this MVP trophy because of the fact that his team was upset in the playoffs and also because there were guys who, at least on paper, appeared more deserving than the big German.
15 Should Have Been: Steve Nash (2007)
In 2006-07, Steve Nash led the "7 seconds or less" Phoenix Suns to an impressive 61-21 record, second only to the Dallas Mavericks. Nash, who was already coming off back-to-back MVP seasons in 2005 and 2006, finished second in the 2007 MVP voting with 44 first place votes. Yes, believe it or not Steve Nash nearly won three straight MVP awards during his time in Phoenix. That is incredible and shocking all at the same time.
As the reigning two-time MVP, Nash went on to average 19 points, 4 rebounds, and nearly 12 assists per game. Nash's number were arguable better in 2006-07 than they were in either of his two MVP winning seasons. Should Nash have won three MVP awards in his career? Probably not, and that will be addressed further in this article. But should Nash have been named the 2007 NBA MVP? Absolutely.
14 1997 MVP: Karl Malone
Karl Malone is the proud owner of two NBA MVP trophies and is commonly known as the most dominant power forward of his generation. Although he was never able to win an NBA Championship, Malone will always be remembered for his hard-nosed playing style and his sweet mid-range stroke. The "Mailman" is certainly an NBA legend in his own right.
In 1997, Malone averaged 27.4 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game for the Utah Jazz. He and legendary point-guard John Stockton helped lead the Jazz to the 1997 NBA Finals, where they were defeated by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Although Malone had an excellent season in 1997, many people believe that he won because the NBA didn't want to give Jordan back-to-back MVP's following his brief retirement.
13 Should Have Been: Michael Jordan
This one is obvious. Michael Jordan is the greatest player to ever play in the NBA (yes, that's my opinion) and he was his always amazing self in 1996-1997. Apart from winning the 1997 NBA Finals, Jordan also had a great statistical season in which he averaged 30 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and almost 2 steals per game. Jordan was the king of the NBA at that time and should have been crowned with his second straight MVP trophy.
What really set Jordan apart from his NBA peers in the 1996-1997 season was that he also led the Tune Squad in a interplanetary match-up against the feared Monstars. A game in which he risked eternal damnation to save his teammates. Of course, Jordan came up clutch, as usual, as he hit a game-winning dunk from half-court at the buzzer. All joking aside, Jordan was the best player in the NBA in the late 1990's and deserved the 1997 MVP trophy.
12 2011 MVP: Derrick Rose
It's sad to think that in Derrick Rose's last full healthy season, he won the NBA MVP award. Rose was a new-age style point guard with elite athleticism and ability to get to the hoop. By the 2010-11 season, Rose had groomed his potential into an All-NBA level game and it showed in his stat-line: 25 points, 7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1 steal per game.
Those are certainly great numbers and the fact that he led the Chicago Bulls to an NBA's best 62-20 record definitely helps add to his MVP caliber resume, but Rose was not the best player in the NBA in 2011. He wasn't even the best player in the Eastern Conference that season. The best player in 2011 had recently taken his talents from the mid-west down to the nightlife eccentric South Beach in Miami. While it's devastating that Rose will never be able to regain his MVP level of play, it's debatable whether he should have ever been named MVP. Hopefully Rose balls out wherever he plays this season.
11 Should Have Been: LeBron James
Who else would it be during this time frame? Lebron could justifiably been named the NBA MVP from 2004 to present day (note: he has won four MVP trophies). He's just that good and he affects the game in all aspects unlike any other player in the league today. Lebron was named the MVP in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. There is no explanation as to why he was not named MVP in 2011, although the fact that he was playing for the Miami Heat and had become an NBA villain probably didn't help his cause.
But still, just take a look at Lebron's career stats per season. His numbers are mind-boggling and what makes them so impressive is how consistently dominant he has been in the NBA over the past decade-plus. In 2011, Lebron averaged 27 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals per game, and he did this while shooting over 50% from the field for the entire season. Lebron took an L in the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, but was still more than deserving of the 2011 MVP trophy. It's unjust that Lebron doesn't have more MVP trophies than he already does.
10 2006 MVP: Steve Nash
Coming off an MVP season in 2005, Steve Nash looked to up his game and lead the Phoenix Suns back to the Western Conference finals for the second straight season. Nash did just that but the Suns were ultimately defeated by the Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals, a crushing blow to end what was a great season.
Not only did Nash lead the Suns with 19 points, 4.2 rebounds, and an NBA leading 10.5 assists per game, he did so without the help of fellow all-star Amar'e Stoudemire who was out nearly the entire season after suffering a severe knee injury. The fact that Nash was able to put the Suns on his back and continue their success without Stoudemire is undoubtedly why he won the 2006 MVP award. It was Nash's second straight MVP award, meaning he finished his career with more MVP trophies than Kobe Bryant.
9 Should Have Been: Kobe Bryant
It's hard to imagine Steve Nash having more MVP trophies than Kobe Bryant. At least for purposes of this hypothetical list you don't have to wrap your brain around that because both would end up with two career MVP trophies. While Nash did in fact win the 2006 MVP award, Kobe Bryant was absolutely robbed by voters after having arguably his greatest individual season in his career.
In 2005-06, Bryant averaged a career high in points (35.4), while also getting 5 boards, 5 assists, and two seals per game. The Lakers were garbage and in the midst of a rebuild, so Kobe took that as an opportunity to show the league just how dominant he can be. Kobe's scoring barrage was historic and he had 6 games in which he scored over 50 points, including a 62 point effort and the now legendary 81 point game. The man was on a mission and put together one of the most entertaining NBA seasons of all-time. Kobe was clearly the 2006 NBA MVP.
8 2015 MVP: Steph Curry
Everybody loves Steph Curry's game and how he has helped shape the new spread out, three-point barrage style of offense that many NBA teams try to replicate nowadays. Curry was always talented, but he took his game to a higher level in 2014-2015 when he averaged 23 points, 7.7 assists, and 4 rebounds, including shooting over 44% from 3-point land.
This was the first season in which the Golden State Warriors clearly had something special going on with Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. The "Splash Brothers" took the league by storm and ultimately won the NBA Championship, surviving a dominant effort by Lebron James in the Finals. As good as Curry was, there was one player in the NBA that year who put up numbers that should not have been overlooked as much as they were. 2015 should have been the year of The Beard.
7 Should Have Been: James Harden
In 2014-15, James Harden officially put his name on the list of top NBA players in the game today. Harden was always a good player during his time as a 6th man in Oklahoma City, but when Harden became the go-to guy in Houston it's like everything clicked for him and he became a superstar. Maybe it was him getting more opportunity out of the shadow of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant or maybe it was the power of the beard.
Regardless of what it was, Harden put up incredible numbers: 27.4 points, 7 assists, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game. Harden nearly single-handedly led the Rockets to the second best record in the Western Conference and helped the team make a deep playoff run that season as well. That wasn't enough to steal the MVP trophy from Curry in 2015, but don't be surprised if Harden wins a couple of MVPs before his career comes to an end. Plus it helps that rapper Lil B' officially lifted the "Based God" curse that had been placed on Harden seasons ago.
6 1981 MVP: Julius Erving
Julius Erving (aka "Dr. J") was already a living legend by the time he won the MVP award in 1981. The 1980-81 season was another one for the record books for Dr. J in that he averaged 24.8 points, 8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game and helped lead the 76ers to a tie for the best record in the NBA (62-20).
Despite having another great statistical season, Erving was unable to bring a championship to Philly that season as they were defeated in the Eastern Conference finals by the Boston Celtics. This is a bit of foreshadowing for who should have won the MVP trophy in 1981. While Erving was great, per usual, Larry Legend in Boston was just a bit better in that particular season.
5 Should Have Been: Larry Bird
In just his second season in the NBA, Larry Bird averaged a double-double with 21.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Bird also affected the game with his great passing skills 5.5 assists per game and defense (2 steals per game). More importantly, the young Bird helped bring the championship trophy back to Boston.
Bird would later go on to win three consecutive MVP awards (1984-1986) but he should have won his first in 1981 at the expense of Dr. J. While both players were clearly great and would battle for years to come in the Eastern Conference, Larry Bird was better in 1981. Even though he did not win the MVP, his 1981 performance put the league on notice that Bird and his Celtics were the real deal.
4 2001 MVP: Allen Iverson
Don't get me wrong, Allen Iverson is one of the greatest NBA players of his generation. Given his small stature and fiery attitude, Iverson was a player that many casual NBA fans could identify with and root for. His swagger alone could win him an MVP trophy. In the 2000-01 NBA season, Iverson was remarkable nearly every night and ended the season with the highest scoring average in the league (31.1 ppg).
Not only was Iverson putting up ridiculous individual statistics, he was also the face of the Philadelphia Sixers run to the NBA Finals. Although they were over-matched by the Los Angeles Lakers, Iverson won over NBA fans' hearts all over the world with his inspiring and often braggadocious efforts. But there was a force in the NBA in the early 2000s that could not be stopped, even by Iverson, and that force was the Diesel.
3 Should Have Been: Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal (aka "Shaq-Diesel"; "The Big Aristotle"; "The Big Shaqtus"; "Shaq-fu"; etc.) was the best player in the NBA in the early 2000's. There was nobody that could stop Shaq from scoring if he caught the ball in the post. As good as Allen Iverson was, he was no Shaq-daddy. Just look at the stats for Shaq in 2000-2001: 28.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and nearly 3 blocks per game. Are you kidding me?
It can be argued that Shaquille O'Neal should have finished his career with 5 or 6 MVP trophies, and there would be a lot of statistical evidence to back that up. The one knock on Shaq was his poor free-throw shooting that led teams to employ the "hack-a-shaq" system to help slow him down. If Shaq could have even shot just 70% from the free throw line, it's not out of the question that he could have averaged over 40 points per game in his prime. To harp on it again, can you believe that Steve Nash finished his career with more MVP's than O'Neal? Yea, me neither.
2 MVP: Bill Russell (1962)
Given all the talk about Michael Jordan being better than Lebron James because Jordan won 6 NBA Championships, it's easy to forget that Bill Russell won a ridiculous 11 Championship rings. Russell also owns 5 NBA MVP awards to his name. So clearly Russell is a deserving MVP caliber player, that part is undeniable.
It is also undeniable that Russell was outstanding in the 1961-1962 season, averaging 18.9 points and 23.6 rebounds per game. Yes, 23.6 rebounds PER GAME! Russell actually averaged over 22 rebounds per game for his career, so this was pretty standard for him. While those numbers are eye popping and would surely deserve an MVP award in most years, it shouldn't have been enough to get Russell the 1962 MVP award.
1 Should Have Been: Wilt Chamberlain (1962)
Any other year, it would be fair to say that Bill Russell deserved the MVP award, but the 1961-62 season is a historic season for one NBA legend. That season was best known for the 100 point game that Wilt Chamberlain had against the New York Knicks. Even more impressive, is the fact that Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game during that season.
Are you kidding me? What were the MVP voters smoking that year to not give a man who averaged over 50 points and 25 rebounds per game the MVP trophy? It's outrageous and a shame that Chamberlain wasn't awarded for his otherworldly play in the 1962 season. There will never be another season like the one that Chamberlain had and the stories generated from that season will last much longer than any MVP trophy accolades could. But it still would have been nice to recognize Chamberlain for his unreal performance. It would have been nice to witness that season in person, but instead we will have to hope that Devin Booker can score over 100 next season.