The MVP Award is the most coveted regular-season award in the NBA. It showcases which player was the most valuable for their team, based on statistics and narrative. Each year an MVP Award is crowned to the league's best and most impactful player, and the race for the award is often tight.
Looking back over the past decade, the MVP Award races have been historic. There have been 5 players per season who legitimately deserved to win the Award, but there could only be one winner. Here are the MVP races during each season of the past 10 years, with the leading vote-getter capturing the individual award.
2011 MVP Race
1. Derrick Rose - 1182 Points
25.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.6 BPG
The youngest MVP ever, Derrick Rose was the star of the NBA in 2011. Despite guys like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant still donating the game in their prime, a 22-year old Rose stood out most as the most unstoppable player in the league. Rose was the only player in the league in the top-10 in total points (2,026) and assists (623). Perhaps most importantly, the Chicago Bulls were a contender thanks to Rose and the young star was the first player in Bulls history since Jordan to record at least 25 points and 7 assists in a season.
2. Dwight Howard - 643 Points
22.9 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.4 SPG, 2.4 BPG
Dwight Howard was a defensive and offensive phenom in 2011. Despite claims of him being an inconsistent go-to scorer, Howard was a force on both ends of the floor as a rebounder and rim runner. Dwight Howard gained a lot of traction in the MVP voting when people began to realize how average the Orlando Magic squad was. After Dwight, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu were the best players on the team. Howard still won the Defensive Player of the Year Award which was his 3rd straight.
3. LeBron James - 522 Points
26.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG
LeBron James was probably the best all-around player in the game then, he just didn't have the narrative on his side like Derrick Rose and even Dwight Howard had. James was a force in his first season with the Heat, posting his usual numbers and even dominating defensively. James was on a mission, although he did fall short in the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.
4. Kobe Bryant - 428 Points
25.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.1 BPG
At 32 years old, Kobe Bryant was still one of the top five players in the NBA and he was desperate and hungry for his 6th NBA championship. The Lakers were looking older and slower by the year, and other than Andrew Bynum, no key player was particularly young. But Kobe did his part, guiding the Lakers to the 3rd seed in the West and putting up his usual numbers which earned him a top-4 spot.
5. Kevin Durant - 190 Points
27.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder finished 4th in the West, and Durant finished 1st in scoring at 27.7 PPG. Durant was a force to be reckoned with, and his improved handles were on full display in 2011. If there was any weakness of Durant, it was becoming increasingly evident that he would soon have none. Durant also made big improvements in his defense and that earned him a top-5 spot in the MVP race.
2012 MVP Race
1. LeBron James - 1074 Points
27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG
2012 was the year of The King. After suffering the most embarrassing moment of his career during the 2011 NBA Finals, LeBron returned with a vengeance. With LeBron taking more of a "villain" role instead of the usual superhero, he tuned out the noise and dominated the game as the league's best player. With Kobe Bryant aging and a young Kevin Durant nipping at his heels, LeBron took his game to another level to win the MVP and also Finals MVP in the same year.
2. Kevin Durant - 889 Points
28.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 BPG
With Durant leading the NBA in scoring and the Oklahoma City Thunder finishing second in the Western Conference in the lockout-shortened season, he finished second in MVP voting. LeBron James was just on another level in 2013 and even Durant's dominance wasn't even to convince voters that the Thunder star deserved it.
3. Chris Paul - 385 Points
19.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 9.1 APG, 2.5 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Arguably the best point guard in the NBA, Chris Paul made the Los Angeles Clippers relevant. Finishing 3rd in assists behind Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul was the heart and soul of a 40-26 Clippers squad. The Clippers finally looked like a threat thanks to Chris Paul and that is why he earned a top-3 MVP finish behind LeBron and Kevin Durant.
4. Kobe Bryant - 352 Points
27.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Kobe Bean Bryant wasn't going to just disappear into thin air. At 33 years of age, Bryant finished 3rd in scoring behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James, all while launching the most shots in the league by 39 shots over Durant. Kobe did everything in his power to make the Lakers contenders again, and he managed to almost do that. The Lakers were solid with the #3 seed in the West but they were clearly behind the Thunder and Spurs in the pecking order.
5. Tony Parker - 331 Points
18.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 7.7 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Tony Parker took back the clock in 2012 and started rediscovering his All-Star form of old. Greg Popovich knew that Parker was having a sensational season and cut back on resting his star point guard a bit. Parker was spectacular, guiding the San Antonio Spurs to the best record in the Western Conference and showing arguably the best leadership in the NBA at the point guard position.
2013 MVP Race
1. LeBron James - 1207 Points
26.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG
LeBron James kept the same energy from the previous season into 2013. He was motivated after tasting victory and winning his first NBA title, and he continued dominating the game as he does best. The King finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and he probably should have won it if not for bias over Marc Gasol. Still, James was the best player in the world and he won his second straight MVP and Finals MVP.
2. Kevin Durant - 765 Points
28.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.3 BPG
Once again, Kevin Durant finished second to LeBron James. Until Durant joined Golden State in 2017, that would be the narrative for a few years. Durant held his own as he improved his defense even more while his playmaking took a massive jump. Durant fell short of the scoring title to Carmelo Anthony (28.7 PPG) but he might have been the most consistent scorer in the league.
3. Carmelo Anthony - 475 Points
28.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG
Carmelo Anthony was balling in 2013. With a strong supporting case of Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, and J.R. Smith backing him up he led the league in scoring. Anthony and the Knicks had a 54-28 record, good for 2nd in the East, and the scoring superstar was at the heart of it. Anthony was the soul of the Knicks franchise that finally became contenders again, although they only managed to reach the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
4. Chris Paul - 289 Points
16.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 9.7 APG, 2.4 SPG, 0.1 BPG
Chris Paul was right back where he left off the previous season by guiding the Los Angeles Clippers and improving every aspect of the franchise. Paul finished second in assists per game behind Rajon Rondo (11.1 APG), and also finished first in steals per game. With Paul leading at the point guard position, the Clippers finished 4th in the West with a 56-26 record.
5. Kobe Bryant - 184 Points
27.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.3 BPG
Kobe Bryant played like an MVP until the end. In what would be the final season of the real Black Mamba, he tore his Achilles which ultimately ended his reign as one of the top players in the world. Bryant played 78 games, put up monster stats, and carried the Lakers on his back in order to help them make the playoffs. For his efforts, he finished in the top-5 in MVP voting.
2014 MVP Race
1. Kevin Durant - 1232 Points
32.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Kevin Durant earned his first and only MVP during the 2014 season. He played 81 games out of 82 and played 38.5 MPG. He also led the NBA in scoring at 32.0 PPG and earned his 5th straight All-Star Team selection. Durant never surpassed his scoring during the 2014 season, and with only 3 games behind the Spurs for the best record in the NBA, Durant was the undisputed MVP.
2. LeBron James - 891 Points
27.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG
LeBron James, to the majority, was the best player in the world. No player affected the game like The King, and his all-around play was second to none. LeBron and the Miami Heat were the favorites for the NBA championship all season long and were only 2 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the #1 seed. LeBron might have been a better all-around player than Durant, but Durant had slightly better statistics and the latter had a dominant offensive season.
3. Blake Griffin - 434 Points
24.1 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG
2014 was a strange year because Blake Griffin actually remained healthy and was one of the best players in the world. He was the most dominant player for the Clippers who finished 3rd in the West behind the Spurs and Thunder. Griffin had his best season that year and deservedly finished 3rd in the MVP race.
4. Joakim Noah - 322 Points
12.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 5.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.5 BPG
Continuing the strange year of 2014, Joakim Noah was a force on both ends of the floor. Of course, he won the Defensive Player of the Year and earned his second straight All-Star Team selection. The Chicago Bulls finished with only the 4th seed in the East, so Noah didn't have a chance to win the Award, but he was still sensational on the court.
5. James Harden - 85 Points
25.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG
James Harden would make his mark on the NBA during the 2014 season. Harden shocked the world with his play during the 2013 season, but once he followed it up with another great season in 2014, he was ready to become the best shooting guard in the NBA. Harden was great enough to guide the Rockets to the 4th seed in the West, and alongside Dwight Howard, Houston looked like a force to be reckoned with.
2015 MVP Race
1. Stephen Curry - 1198 Points
23.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.7 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Stephen Curry was the MVP during the 2015 season because he was the best player on the best team in the NBA. The Warriors held the best record with 67 wins, and it was Curry's unstoppable shooting that was the main reason. Curry shot 48.7% from the field, 44.3% from three, and 91.4% from the free-throw line. The Warriors were a massive problem and it culminated with the NBA title at the end of the season.
2. James Harden - 936 Points
27.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG
James Harden had a legitimate shot to win the NBA title. He made the Houston Rockets a massive contender, holding the second seed in the West, and his offense was undeniably great. The Beard carried the Rockets during the season and the only reason he did not earn MVP was that Curry's Warriors had the better record.
3. LeBron James - 552 Points
25.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 7.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Of course, LeBron James was in the conversation for MVP as usual. Cleveland held the second seed in the Eastern Conference and LeBron's all-around dominance was the reason the team reached the Finals. But the MVP is a regular-season award and the fact that the Cavaliers had the 4th best record in the NBA left him 3rd in the race.
4. Russell Westbrook - 352 Points
28.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 8.6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.2 BPG
The Oklahoma City Thunder had a very difficult season. Kevin Durant only played 27 games before missing the rest of the season with injury. Russell Westbrook had to carry a below-average squad all season long, and even if he didn't make the playoffs, his impact was undeniably great for his team. Without Westbrook, the Thunder would have been in the lottery and just missed the playoffs due to a tiebreaker.
5. Anthony Davis - 203 Points
24.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.2 BPG
Anthony Davis, at age 21, had the New Orleans Pelicans in the playoffs. He was the best big man in the NBA already and his skillset already looked legendary. A double-double, the 8th seed, and the impact at a young age made him a top-five contender for the MVP Award. Anthony Davis didn't really have a shot at winning the award but the fact he was in the conversation shows his quality as a player.
2016 MVP Race
1. Stephen Curry - 1310 Points
30.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.1 SPG, 0.2 BPG
The first-ever undisputed MVP, Stephen Curry led the Golden State Warriors to a 73-9 record in a loaded Western Conference. It was also the year where Curry solidified himself as the best shooter of all time, and there was no more debate. Curry and Klay Thompson were the best duo in the NBA during the regular season and Curry earned his second straight MVP.
2. Kawhi Leonard - 634 Points
21.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.0 BPG
In second place came San Antonio Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard. Leonard and the Spurs finished second in the West and had a career year in scoring and blocks. Leonard blossomed into the go-to scorer for the franchise and looked ready to take the mantle from the firm grip of Tim Duncan. The Claw arrived in 2016 and his second-place finish in the MVP race was proof of that.
3. LeBron James - 631 Points
25.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 6.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG
LeBron James had Cleveland at the top of the Eastern Conference with 57 wins and was his usual efficient self. The only problem was that Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard had much better records than The King. Curry won 73 games with the Warriors while Leonard won 67 wins with the Spurs. LeBron's stats were on point but his record wasn't.
4. Russell Westbrook - 486 Points
23.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 10.4 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.3 BPG
The Oklahoma City Thunder would have their two superstars make the top five in MVP voting. Russell Westbrook averaged a monster double-double during the season, playing 80 games and having the best year of his career until that point. Westbrook was coming for Curry's top spot and would get it next year.
5. Kevin Durant - 147 Points
28.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.2 BPG
Kevin Durant finished 5th in the MVP voting, guiding the Oklahoma City Thunder to the 3rd seed in the West. Behind the Warriors and Spurs, the Thunder had a legitimate shot of winning the title. But Durant finished Russell Westbrook in the race because he played 8 fewer games and did not average a double-double.
2017 MVP Race
1. Russell Westbrook - 888 Points
31.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 10.4 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Russell Westbrook was the most unstoppable player in the NBA in 2017 and there was no question about it. Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the first time since Oscar Robertson, and he guided the Kevin Durant-less Thunder to the playoffs. Westbrook had the stats and dominance on his side, but the Thunder had zero help for Westbrook which makes his MVP season even more impressive.
2. James Harden - 753 Points
29.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 11.2 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG
James Harden was an MVP player in 2017 because he led the NBA in assists per game and finished second in scoring. The Beard also guided the Houston Rockets to the 3rd seed in the Western Conference behind Durant and the Warriors and Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs. Harden was beginning his reign in the NBA and he fell just short of Westbrook's legendary season.
3. Kawhi Leonard - 500 Points
25.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Kawhi Leonard was supposed to be the next franchise player for the Spurs after Tim Duncan. And he was in 2017, averaging a then-career-high in PPG. The soft-spoken assassin was tremendous on both ends of the floor and his dominance guided the 61-win Spurs to the second seed in the Western Conference.
4. LeBron James - 333 Points
26.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 8.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG
The King was in familiar territory as he was basically exempt from being an MVP candidate because he was too good. We saw it with Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal, as different players deserved chances to win the MVP. But LeBron was at his best, as usual, putting up big numbers and guiding the Cleveland Cavaliers into the second seed in the Eastern Conference. James was so great that he even finished ahead of the man who guided Boston to the best record in the East.
5. Isaiah Thomas - 81 Points
28.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 5.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Isaiah Thomas blossomed into a franchise superstar and a fan favorite for loyal Boston fans. He played his heart out, putting up 28.9 PPG for the best team in the East. The Celtics had a 53-29 record and were a big problem on both ends of the court. Assisted by the defensive impact of Avery Bradley, Al Horford, and Jae Crowder; Thomas was unstoppable on offense. His reign didn't last long as he was traded for Kyrie Irving a year later but his season will never be forgotten.
2018 MVP Race
1. James Harden - 965 Points
30.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 8.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG
James Harden finally broke through and won his MVP Award. For Harden and all his supporters, it was long overdue as he had a massive chance the previous year to win it. Harden was exceptional on offense, guiding the Rockets to the best record in the NBA. The Warriors were the title favorites but Harden was the best player in 2018 without a doubt.
2. LeBron James - 738 Points
27.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 9.1 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG
LeBron James was at his usual best for the Cavaliers, putting up a near triple-double for Cleveland. Unfortunately for James, the Cavaliers had a very average record and that is why he had no shot at catching James Harden. The Cavaliers held a 50-32 record which was good for 4th in the East, but his numbers were fantastic and there was no doubt who the best all-around player in the game was.
3. Anthony Davis - 445 Points
28.1 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.6 BPG
Anthony Davis developed into one of the top five players in the world, arguably, in 2018. The Pelicans superstar was playing like the best big man in the NBA and even led New Orleans to the playoffs with a solid 48-34 record. The Western Conference was very competitive in 2018 and the Pelicans season was a reason Davis finished in the top three.
4. Damian Lillard - 207 Points
26.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Damian Lillard guided the Portland Trail Blazers to an unexpected 3rd seed in the Western Conference, finishing 4th in the NBA in scoring behind James Harden, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James. Lillard exploded onto the scene as a top-5 player in the game and no one could deny it in 2018.
5. Russell Westbrook - 76 Points
25.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 10.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG
After winning the MVP Award one year prior, Westbrook finished top-5 in 2018. He averaged a triple-double for the second consecutive season, and he led the Thunder to the 4th seed in the West. Even though Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant deserved MVP votes, Westbrook's incredible season earned him a top-5 finish.
2019 MVP Race
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 941 Points
27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.5 BPG
Giannis Antetokounmpo captured his first MVP Award after guiding the Milwaukee Bucks to the only 60-win team in the NBA. The Greek Freak had a double-double average, finishing 3rd in scoring 6th in rebounds. Giannis and the Bucks were the expected favorites coming out the East, even ahead of the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors. The race between him and Harden was also a very exciting one.
2. James Harden - 776 Points
36.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 7.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Even though James Harden believed Giannis didn't deserve MVP and was "just tall", he finished second behind The Greek Freak. Harden was the front-runner for the MVP at some point in 2019, but the Bucks kept winning and the Rockets fell to the 4th seed in the Western Conference. That was ultimately the difference. Harden still had an MVP caliber year and he was increasingly staking his claim as the most unstoppable scorer ever.
3. Paul George - 356 Points
28.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 4.1 APG, 2.2 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Paul George was absolutely sensational for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019. Posting career highs in points and rebounds, George was in the best physical shape of his life. His postseason was a bit of a disappointment but it shouldn't take away from his dominant regular season. George finished 2nd in the NBA in scoring behind James Harden and 3rd in MVP voting.
4. Nikola Jokic - 212 Points
20.1 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.7 BPG
Nikola Jokic is probably the front-runner for the MVP Award in 2021, but he began staking his claim in 2019. The big man was a force on offense, with Denver running played through him most of the time. Jokic delivered, as he was the best player on a Denver team that finished 2nd in the Western Conference only 3 games behind the Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant-led Golden State Warriors.
5. Stephen Curry - 175 Points
27.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Stephen Curry was the best player for the Warriors in 2019, averaging the most points on the team ahead of Kevin Durant (26.0 PPG). Durant actually finished 8th in MVP voting in 2019, showing the immense talent in Golden State. The Warriors had the best record in the Western Conference but Curry had too much help to be the most valuable player and that's why he finished 5th.
2020 MVP Race
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 962 Points
29.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Giannis captured the 2020 MVP after averaging a monster double-double that saw the Milwaukee Bucks hold the best record in the NBA for the second straight season. Giannis also captured the Defensive Player of the Year Award as well, making this season the best of his career so far. As great as LeBron James was, Giannis Antetokounmpo deserved his second straight MVP in 2020.
2. LeBron James - 753 Points
25.3 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 10.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.5 BPG
As seen over the past 10 years, LeBron James just misses out on another MVP Award. James was sensational as usual, and he was the best player on the best team in the Western Conference. Even though Giannis won MVP, James got the last laugh by winning his 4th championship and 4th Finals MVP.
3. James Harden - 367 Points
34.3 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 7.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG
James Harden will be in the MVP Race again this season, so it is not surprising to see him in the top-3 last year. The Beard was unstoppable on offense, and he carried the Rockets to a 4th seed in the West en route to an exciting first-round matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
4. Luka Doncic - 200 Points
28.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 8.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Luka Doncic blossomed into a superstar and one of the top ten players in the world last season. His numbers and impact were MVP level, but he just didn't have the team record that the Lakers, Bucks, or Rockets had. Doncic still guided the average Mavericks squad to a 7th seed in a very competitive West.
5. Kawhi Leonard - 168 Points
27.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.6 BPG
Kawhi Leonard was his usual 2-way self, dominating both the offensive and defensive end for the Clippers. After the Lakers, the team with the biggest shot to win it all in the West were the 2nd ranked Clippers. Leonard guides Los Angeles to a .681 team record and were only 3.5 games behind LeBron James and the Lakers.
Credit for idea: NBA Debates