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NBA MVP Award Winners Per Position: Centers Have Historically Been More Valuable Than Guards And Forwards

NBA MVP Award Winners Per Position: Centers Have Historically Been More Valuable Than Guards And Forwards

Easily the most important individual accolade a player in the regular season can win is the Most Valuable Player Award. Since only one player is chosen for this award, there is steep competition for being the MVP of your team all season. Not to mention, the NBA is a league full of superstar players who all probably deserve the MVP Award over the course of 82 games. For example, this year, there were 3 players who each deserved the award in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, and Joel Embiid. Of course, it was Nikola Jokic who took home his second-straight MVP award this year.

Since the 1955-1956 season, the MVP Award has been awarded to the best single player over the regular season each and every year. Most often, although there are some disputes, the MVP award is awarded to both the best overall player in the league that year along with who provided the most value to their team. In other words, the MVP of the league is the most important member of his team and without him, success would not be generated.

We have witnessed some incredible MVP seasons, including record-breaking circumstances and production. Here is every single MVP winner by position in NBA history.

Point Guards - 11

3x Magic Johnson (1986-87), (1988-89), (1989-90)

2x Steve Nash (2004-05), (2005-06)

2x Stephen Curry (2014-15), (2015-16)

1x Bob Cousy (1956-57)

1x Oscar Robertson (1963-64)

1x Derrick Rose (2010-11)

1x Russell Westbrook (2016-17)

Unsurprisingly, Lakers legend Magic Johnson captured multiple MVP Awards as the greatest point guard of all time. His first came in the 1986-87 season, where he was the undisputed leader and most spectacular player of a dominant Lakers team.

While Nash certainly deserves an MVP Award for his spectacular floor leadership and offensive dominance, a second MVP Award is very debatable. Many claims he stole an MVP from Kobe Bryant, although Nash does have an argument considering how dominant he made the Suns.

Curry is a three-time NBA champion and two-time MVP. He even managed to win a very deserving unanimous MVP Award following one of the most legendary regular-season performances in NBA history. Curry’s MVP seasons were the reason why the NBA has changed so much, and Curry gets all the credit for directing the next generation of players.

The first perimeter player to capture the award, Cousy was part of a very dominant Celtics team that managed to win multiple NBA titles. As the point guard and leader of the team, Cousy was the best player on the best team all year for the Celtics. His numbers were certainly solid at 20.6 PPG and 7.5 APG while leading Boston to the best record in the league.

Oscar Robertson, before Russell Westbrook, was the king of the triple-double. He could do it all on the floor, and his near triple-double average (after averaging a triple-double two years prior) all season long gave the league no choice but to gift him the award. The legendary guard averaged 31.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, and 11.0 APG during the year while leading the Royals to the second seed in the East.

Derrick Rose was an absolute monster in his prime and was completely unguardable in his MVP season. He was so dominant, that he managed to win the MVP over LeBron James. Rose will go down as one of the greatest what-ifs in NBA history, and his MVP season will forever be etched in fans' memories because he carried the Chicago Bulls to the best record in the league.

Westbrook was thrust into the alpha role after Kevin Durant left him for the Warriors. Westbrook grasped that role and put up a historic triple-double season en route to his first MVP Award. Russ is the new king of the triple-double, taking over from legendary Oscar Robertson, and his MVP season was one to remember. Capping off the season with a game-winner almost ensured Russ was going to be the first point guard since Rose to win the MVP.

Shooting Guards - 8

5x Michael Jordan (1987-88), (1990-91), (1991-92), (1995-96), (1997-98)

1x Allen Iverson (2000-01)

1x Kobe Bryant (2007-08)

1x James Harden (2017-18)

No doubt about it, MJ deserved every MVP Award he won over his career. In fact, many argue he should have won them all in every season he played in. MJ put up ridiculous numbers and took over countless games it was hard to count. As the greatest player of all time, there is not much more that has to be said because he led the league in scoring each and every time he won the MVP award. He is also the player (tied) with the second-most MVP awards.

Iverson’s MVP season was legendary, as he was responsible for carrying a Sixers team all season long. Iverson was simply unguardable, and he used his speed and quickness to his advantage when it came to beating defenders off the dribble. Iverson is quite possibly the greatest player ever, pound for pound and he proved it in 2001 by posting 31.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.5 SPG. Making the NBA Finals with 35-year-old Dikembe Mutombo as his best teammate was probably his biggest achievement in the postseason as well.

Kobe Bryant finally won an MVP Award after falling short a few times in the mid-2000s. Bryant had one of the most spectacular offensive seasons in history just two years prior, putting up ridiculous point totals all season long including an 81-point game. But it took Bryant getting the help he needed in Pau Gasol before he led the Lakers to the best record in the West in 2008. Kobe probably should have won more than one MVP Award, but his name is cemented as the second greatest shooting guard ever no matter what.

The Beard was the last MVP winner at the shooting guard spot, and he probably deserved the award one year prior considering his elite numbers. Looking at his impact, production, and numbers, The Beard earned at least one award as a member of the Houston Rockets. Harden completely took over the league all season long, and he could not be stopped no matter who was defending him, posting averages of 30.4 PPG and 8.8 APG.

Small Forwards - 9

4x LeBron James (2008-09), (2009-10), (2011-12), (2012-13)

3x Larry Bird (1983-84), (1984-85), (1985-86)

1x Julius Erving (1980-81)

1x Kevin Durant (2013-14)

As possibly the greatest regular-season performer in NBA history, James managed two back-to-back MVP seasons in which he managed to win two championships as well. James is simply the most unstoppable physical athlete we have ever seen, in terms of overall ability. He was quick, strong, and explosive, and could not be stopped. Especially when he played for the Miami Heat, James is one of the most dominant MVP winners of all time.

Larry Bird won three straight MVP Awards and was well-deserving of all of them. Bird had it all offensively, including toughness to finish inside and a deep-range jumper with one of the most iconic high-arcing shots ever. Up until LeBron James, Bird was undoubtedly the best small forward of all time and is still top-two at this moment of time. As one of the legends of the game, Bird is well-deserving of every MVP trophy he won when he owned the league in the 80s.

Dr. J, Julius Erving, is one of the most popular athletes of all time, and he set new trends in the professional basketball world with his style of play and swagger. Erving was a tremendous scorer, and he could light up each and every stadium he went to. When it comes to pure impact and being box office, there are few players in NBA history who can match what Dr. J did over his career. His MVP season was also great as he posted 24.6 PPG and 8.0 RPG for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kevin Durant was the last small forward to win the award, and he did it as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. As good as his running buddy Russel Westbrook was, Durant was on another level in 2013-2014. He was the best scorer in the league and showed an overall game including defense and playmaking all year. Posting a league-leading 32.0 PPG on 50.3% shooting from the field, KD was the best player in the world in 2014.

Power Forwards - 12

2x Bob Pettit (1995-56), (1958-59)

2x Karl Malone (1996-97), (1998-99)

2x Tim Duncan (2001-02), (2002-03)

2x Giannis Antetokounpo (2018-19), (2019-20)

1x Bob McAdoo (1974-75)

1x Charles Barkley (1992-93)

1x Kevin Garnett (2003-04)

1x Dirk Nowitzki (2006-07)

Pettit won the first-ever MVP Award, as a member of the St. Louis Hawks. Pettit was a monster, especially in his second MVP season, where he averaged 29 points and 16 rebounds. Pettit made history as the first MVP and was also one of two players to win the All-Star Game MVP at least four times. Quite frankly, there haven’t been more dominant power forwards in NBA history than Pettit, as he is the greatest Hawks star of all time.

Malone was a scoring machine with the Jazz, and he managed two MVP Awards. A double-double threat every night, Malone was the recipient of beautiful bounce passes and lobs from John Stockton. Their tandem was incredible, and Malone's scoring ability is the reason he is a top 3 scorer of all time in terms of total points scored. Armed with an automatic mid-range jumper and a solid post-game, The Mailman was even solid enough to “steal” an MVP trophy from Michael Jordan during the 1997 season.

Duncan won two MVP Awards as part of the Spurs, and he was well-deserving of each. He was the main piece to the Spurs' big 3, and everything ran through Duncan on both ends of the floor. Of course, the Spurs won a ton of games almost every year and Duncan's impact was the main reason why. The greatest power forward ever, The Big Fundamental probably deserved more than the two MVP trophies he won in 2002 and 2003 although he played in a league that had a prime Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, and Steve Nash which took away his votes every year.

The NBA's most recent MVP winner from the power forward spot, Giannis has been on a crash course to becoming the best player in the world. So far, he has reached that level and managed to win back-to-back MVPs in 2019 and 2020. As he continues to develop an outside jumper, Giannis will soon be among the all-time greats when his career is over. At age 27, Giannis already has 2 MVP trophies to his name and a couple more could soon follow.

McAdoo averaged a whopping 34.5 points and 14 rebounds per game while playing for the Braves. This was his career-high scoring average, and it came only in his third NBA season impressively. Only the old heads will understand how great of a player McAdoo was, which is why he is greatly revered by some of the all-time greats. An elite scorer, McAdoo was simply unstoppable in 1975.

While we have seen many versions of Chares Barkley including the one in Philadelphia, the Suns' version was by far the best when looking at team success. The power forward was a beast in the paint, destroying opponents on the inside and crashing the boards on both ends. Many don't remember how great Barkley was because he never won an NBA title, but there is no denying he is one of the best players to have ever played.

The Big Ticket himself, KG was by far the most valuable player to his team in 2003-04, as he was literally doing everything for the Wolves. His leadership, passing ability, scoring, and defense were just a step above most players in the league. He managed to lead a poor Wolves team into the playoffs after securing an impressive 58-24 record which led the West. It is hard to argue against Garnett being the greatest player in Timberwolves history, either.

Dirk was a monster in 2007, thanks to his ability to score from anywhere on the court. His shooting was sublime and was one of the few bigs who could actually spread the floor. He led the Mavs to a very strong record at 60-22 although he fell short in the NBA Finals. Still, averaging 24.6 PPG on 50-40-90 splits as a power forward was incredibly impressive.

Centers: 27

6x Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-71), (1971-72), (1973-74), (1975-76) (1976-77), (1979-80)

5x Bill Russell (1957-58), (1960-61), (1961-62), (1962-63), (1964-65)

4x Wilt Chamberlain (1959-60), (1965-66) (1966-67) (1967-68)

3x Moses Malone (1978-79), (1981-82), (1982-83)

2x Nikola Jokic (2020-21), (2021-22)

1x Wes Unseld (1968-69)

1x Willis Reed (1969-70)

1x Dave Cowens (1972-73)

1x Bill Walton (1977-78)

1x Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-94)

1x David Robinson (1994-95)

1x Shaquille O'Neal (1999-00)

Possibly a top-two player all-time, Kareem has one of the greatest resumes in sports history. He was a winner at every level and is the number one leading scorer of all time. He had an unstoppable Skyhook maneuver that could not be blocked or stopped. Kareem won a whopping 6 MVP titles for two different teams, something we might never see again, and he ranks 1st all-time in MVP trophies won.

An 11-time NBA Champion, Russell won 5 MVP Awards thanks to his defensive dominance, consistent rebounding, and his one-of-a-kind leadership. Russell was the unquestioned leader of the dominant Celtics team of his era, and he will go down as the greatest winner in NBA history. His MVP titles are a testament to that, but so are his 11 NBA rings.

The greatest stat-sheet stuffer in NBA history, Wilt once put up 100 points in a single game. On another occasion, he grabbed 50 rebounds. There will never be another Wilt, and he managed to capture 4 MVP awards thanks to his dominance on both ends of the floor. Since then, we have seen physical specimens such as Shaquille O’Neal and Giannis Antetokounmpo come through the ranks but even they cannot match Wilt’s numbers.

Moses Malone was a special player, as he is one of the few players in NBA history to capture two MVPs with different teams. Moses often played like a man among boys, using his size and skill to dominate players around the rim. Moses is one of the greatest bigs we have ever seen, and his 3 MVP trophies rank him (tied) for 3rd all-time behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Wilt Chamberlain.

The latest center to win the award is Nikola Jokic, one of the most unique big men to have ever played the game. Thanks to his elite playmaking ability from the center position, Nikola has the capability to lead the fast break and also control the offense in the half-court. Winning his first award in 2021, Jokic will be crowned back-to-back MVPs after averaging 27.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG, and 7.9 APG this season.

Wes Unseld, made history during his MVP season, by capturing both the special award and the Rookie of the Year Award. Only he and Wilt Chamberlain were able to manage this incredible feat, and for good reason. Unseld was special all year long, averaging 14 points and 18 rebounds per game while controlling the paint at a superstar level.

Willis Reed was a special player for the Knicks, capturing the All-Star Game MVP, regular-season MVP, and Finals MVP in the same year. Reed led the Knicks to 60 wins in his MVP year and even led the team to a whopping 18-game winning streak in that season. No doubt, Reed is one of the greatest players ever to get drafted out of the second round.

Cowens averaged 20.5 and 16 rebounds per game as the starting big man for the Celtics in the 1972-73 season. Cowens owned the boards, and always made the Celtics a relevant force when he played, as evidenced by the 68-14 record his team held. He ended up finishing his career with 8 All-Star appearances and two NBA championships.

Bill Walton, prior to the injury, might be on the Mt. Rushmore of big men thanks to his special skill and size. Walton was a beast in the 1977-78 season, averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds and affecting the game in almost every way. He could pass, defend, score, and lead his team to victory every night through determination and raw impact.

A second Rockets big man to win the MVP, Olajuwon might have been the best one yet. Hakeem was the best player for the Rockets and led them to two NBA titles in a row. In fact, Hakeem was the best player in the league once Michael Jordan was in retirement. There was simply no answer for Hakeem in the 1994 season, as he took over the league and even dominated the likes of Patrick Ewing in the NBA Finals.

The Admiral, David Robinson, was a fantastic player for the Spurs, eventually winning his MVP Award in 1995. During that year, Robinson averaged 28 and 11 while playing both ends of the floor. His numbers clearly scream MVP, but his impact did even more considering the San Antonio Spurs finished with a 62-20 record which ranked 1st in the West.

The undisputed most dominant big man since Wilt Chamberlain, Shaq was the unquestioned best player in the league in the year 2000. There was no answer for him, and he usually fouled out most defenders on most nights. Shaq was extremely dominant on both ends of the floor, posting ridiculous numbers of 29.7 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, and 3.0 BPG.

Centers Are The Most Dominant MVP Performers Historically, Michael Jordan And LeBron James Are Anomalies

There have been 27 MVP winners that have been centers, an incredible fact that shows the dominance an oversized player can have on an NBA floor. Pairing centers with elite skill and leadership traits often means individual and team success, which is why so many big men have won the elusive MVP award trophy. Of course, the last two years, we have crowned a center as the MVP because size and skill will always trump anything else a guard or forward can do statistically.

While centers have won the most MVP trophies, power forwards come second with 12 superstars hoisting the trophy at the end of the year. Before Jokic captured his 2 straight MVP awards, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the most recent power forward to win 2 straight MVP awards. He is tied with Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, and Bob Pettit for that feat and all of them could be considered centers as well. When looking at it, a combined 39 “big men” have been crowned MVPs. They say the NBA is a big man’s league, and it just might be.

The history also shows how difficult it is for score-first players, such as shooting guards, to win an MVP award. Michael Jordan is an anomaly with a whopping five MVP trophies, but no other shooting guard managed to win more than one. There have only been 4 shooting guards to have ever won the trophy, after all. Similarly, LeBron James and Larry Bird are other anomalies that managed to capture a combined 7 MVP trophies while only 4 small forwards in NBA history have managed to win MVP trophies as well.

It seems point guards are more likely to win MVP trophies than shooting guards and small forwards, possibly because they are considered the leaders of the team and floor generals that carry the ball up the floor. Magic Johnson stands out with the most MVP trophies won as a point guard with three, but there have been a total of 7 superstar players to win the trophy as the leader of their teams. Interestingly, only Magic, Steve Nash, and Bob Cousy won the award as pass-first point guards while the other 4 were considered score-first point guards.

Overall, big men have dominated the NBA throughout history and that will likely not change considering Nikola Jokic has just captured his second-straight MVP trophy. In fact, two other bigs in Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo were also considered for the award which goes to show that talented centers and power forwards will always have the ability to take over games and put up monster statistics for their teams.

The logic is simple: would a GM rather have a 7-foot skilled player or a 6’3”/ 6’6” skilled player? Big men are able to do more on the court because of their raw physical advantages, and a whopping 39 MVP winners throughout NBA history have either been centers or power forwards as a result. 


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