Winning the MVP award is one of the toughest things any hooper can ever achieve, as he’ll have to put up better numbers than his competition while also leading his team to contention.
And given how many talented and dominant players the league features on a yearly basis, it’s not unusual to see players that posted MVP-caliber seasons go empty-handed not one, not two, but every single year of their careers.
Needless to say, that also means that many players fall off a cliff following MVP-ish campaigns, and they end up being those top-5 MVP candidates nobody even remembers several years later.
That’s why today, we’re going to talk about five guys that were among the top 5 MVP candidates you probably forgot about:
Jermaine O’Neal (3rd in 03-04)
20.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.6 BPG, 43% FG
The 2003-04 Indiana Pacers were a machine. They dominated by putting together one of the toughest, most physical defenses in the league, anchored by big man Jermaine O’Neal in the paint.
O’Neal was coming off back-to-back All-Star campaigns and put together the most impressive season of his career by helping the Pacers win 61 games, even though they ended up losing in the ECF vs. the Detroit Pistons, who’d end up winning the Championship.
O’Neal was 3rd in the MVP race that season ahead of guys like Peja Stojakovic, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Ben Wallace, but the award ended up in the hands of Kevin Garnett.
Chauncey Billups (5th in 05-06)
18.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 8.6 APG, 41% FG
Chauncey Billups was a bit of a late bloomer and went under the radar for most of his career. However, he couldn’t go unnoticed anymore following the 2005-06 season, when he led the Detroit Pistons to 64 wins and got his first All-Star nod.
The Pistons found a great balance between offense (4th in the league) and defense (5th). Billups pulled the strings of their slow-paced offense and led them to the ECF, although they lost vs. the Miami Heat.
Even though he didn’t post the most impressive numbers, Billups was still ahead of Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, and Allen Iverson in the MVP voting, but Steve Nash took the award home.
Joakim Noah (4th in 13-14)
12.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 47% FG
A 28-year-old Joakim Noah stepped up as the leader of the injury-riddled Chicago Bulls and kept them in contention throughout the season. He was a triple-double threat every night out there and got his second straight (and final) All-Star season.
Noah led the Bulls to a 48-34 record on a season Derrick Rose played only 10 games and Luol Deng was their leading scorer at 19.0 points per game. Sadly, the Washington Wizards beat them in 5 games in the first round.
Still, Noah’s point-center campaign granted him more MVP votes than James Harden, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and Paul George, but Kevin Durant won the award.
Isaiah Thomas (5th in 16-17)
28.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 46% FG
It’s crazy to think that not so long ago, Isiah Thomas was leading the NBA in points in the clutch and the Boston Celtics to playoff contention. He beat the odds and earned back-to-back All-Star nods, with the 2016-17 season being his breakout year.
Thomas was third in points per game that season and led the Celtics to a 53-29 record. However, the passing of his sister and a back injury derailed his campaign in the playoffs, as he had to sit out for the final 3 games of the ECF vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Sadly, it all went downhill for him ever since. However, that season he got more votes than Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Russell Westbrook was named MVP.