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NBA Players With The Least Amount Of Games Played To Win The MVP Award: Karl Malone Won The 1999 MVP With Only 49 Games

NBA Players With The Least Amount Of Games Played To Win The MVP Award: Karl Malone Won The 1999 MVP With Only 49 Games

One of the most important accolades a player can win is the Most Valuable Player Award. Since only one player is chosen for this award per season, there is steep competition for being the MVP of an NBA team all season. Winning the award comes down to individual performance, production, and winning to get a player over the hump and capture the prestigious award. Of course, consistency is the key for superstar players as they need to play the majority of the season and produce at an elite level to be considered for the greatest individual accolade.

Since 1955, 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 player in the league that year along with who provided the most value to their team. But it is rare for an MVP award winner to not play a lot of games to win the award, and that number has been around 70 games for the most recent MVP winners. But there have been some players that have been exceptions, and playing in lockout-shortened seasons might have something to do with it. Here are the 13 MVP award winners with the least amount of games played throughout NBA history.

T10. James Harden - 72 Games (2017-18)

(via Hoops Habit)

(via Hoops Habit)

Total Games That Season: 82

The Beard was the MVP three years ago, and he might have deserved the award a year later as well. By looking at his impact, production, and numbers with the Houston Rockets, he does have a valid point. Harden completely took over the league all season long in 2018 and he could not be stopped no matter who was defending him. Averaging 30.4 PPG (league-leading), 5.4 RPG, and 8.8 APG made Harden the league’s most dominant player.

Playing 72 games at this elite level was no easy task for The Beard, who helped the Rockets capture the number one seed in the West ahead of the dominant Golden State Warriors. Even though Harden had help with the likes of Chris Paul and Clint Capela, it was the shooting guard’s production that boosted Houston to their tremendous 65-17 record.

T10. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 72 Games (2018-19)

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Total Games That Season: 82

Since his dominant 2019 NBA season, Giannis has been on a crash course to becoming the best player in the world. He has used this award victory to become the most dominant player in the league, arguably, because he would capture his second-straight MVP award the following season. The Greek Freak did not need to play 80 games to win the award, because he was incredibly dominant during 2019.

His averages were spectacular, as he put up 27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG, and 5.9 APG for the Milwaukee Bucks. Thanks to Giannis’ production, the Bucks finished with the best record in the league and went on to have a decent playoff run. Fortunately for Giannis, a couple more MVP winners played 72 games to earn the award.

T10. Wilt Chamberlain - 72 Games (1959-60)

Wilt Chamberlai Rookie Season

Total Games That Season: 75 (Standard games played during the season)

The greatest stat-sheet stuffer in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 37.6 PPG and 27.0 RPG in his rookie year, capturing Rookie of the Year and also MVP. Wilt just completely dominated the game, using his incredible physicality to blow out opponents.

Of course, his statistical averages were inhuman, and he would go on to have the greatest career ever on paper. There will never be another Wilt, and he managed to capture another 3 MVP awards thanks to his dominance on both ends of the floor. Playing 72 games out of 79 did not take away from his impact in 1960, because we have not seen a player like him since.

T10. Bob Pettit - 72 Games (1955-56)

Bob Pettit

Total Games That Season: 72 (Standard games played during the season)

Pettit won the first-ever MVP Award, as a member of the St. Louis Hawks. Pettit was a monster, averaging 25.7 PPG and 16.2 RPG while shooting 42.9% from the field. The legendary power forward was the deserving MVP, and his numbers suggest that he had little competition in that regard.

There were only 72 games during the entire season and Pettit was great enough to lead the Hawks to the Western Conference Division, failing to make the NBA Finals thanks to the Fort Wayne Pistons. Still, Pettit played every game and ran away with MVP. After three seasons, he would do it again.

T10. Bob Pettit - 72 Games (1958-59)


Total Games That Season: 72 (Standard games played during the season)

The superstar power forward averaged 29.2 PPG, 16.4 RPG, and 3.1 APG on 43.8% shooting in his second MVP season. There were once again only 72 games in the entire season, and Pettit played every single one by averaging 39.9 MPG.

With only 8 teams in the league, Pettit led the St. Louis Hawks to a 49-23 record which was good enough for the second-best record in the league behind the dominant Boston Celtics. Of course, the Celtics would win the title (first of 8) by defeating the Minneapolis Lakers in the Finals. If not for Elgin Baylor and the Lakers, Pettit would have made the Finals against Bill Russell and the Celtics.

T10. Nikola Jokic - 72 Games (2020-21)

Nikola Jokic

Total Games That Season: 72 (Covid-shortened season)

In a covid-shortened season, Nikola Jokic managed to complete 72 games out of the 72 total games during the year. The center averaged 26.4 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 8.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 0.7 BPG for the Denver Nuggets, and had to carry the team with the late absence of Jamal Murray. Of course, the Serbian came through in a big way.

The Nuggets finished with a 47-25 record, good for 2nd in the Northwest Division, and tied for the 3rd best record in the league. Only the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns had a better record, but there was no doubt that Jokic was the most dominant player in the league and has a chance to be the MVP again in 2022.

7. Allen Iverson - 71 Games (2000-01)

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Total Games That Season: 82

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 was at his best during his MVP season.

Averaging 31.1 PPG (league-leading), 3.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, and 2.5 SPG (league-leading), Iverson helped Philadelphia capture the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and eventually made the Finals. Thus, 71 games played was certainly enough for “The Answer” to capture MVP that year.

6. Bill Russell - 69 Games (1957-58)

Bill russell

Total Games That Season: 72 (Standard games played during the season)

An 11-time NBA champion, Russell won 5 MVP Awards thanks to his defensive dominance, consistent rebounding, and 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. The big man’s MVP titles are a testament to that, but his season in 1958 might have been his most frustrating.

Russell averaged 16.6 PPG and 22.7 RPG, and his rebounding numbers led the league. The “issue” was that the center “only” played 69 games out of 72, and he ended up losing in the Finals (his only loss out of 12 Finals appearances) against the St. Louis Hawks. But Bill Russell was only in his second season, and his first MVP season would kick off a career of dominance.

5. Bob Cousy - 64 Games (1956-57)

Bob Cousy

Total Games That Season: 72 (Standard games played during the season)

The first perimeter player to ever 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 a Celtics squad that finished with a 44-28 record (number one in the league).

The superstar point guard averaged 20.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 7.5 APG for Boston. Cousy was the original dominant guard in the league, and his first MVP award would prove to be vital as he would lead the Celtics to the NBA championship.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 63 Games (2019-20)

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Total Games That Season: 72 (Covid-shortened season)

In a covid-shortened season, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the best player in the world. He put up 29.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 1.0 BPG in a fantastic all-around season. As a superstar forward also captured Defensive Player of the Year, a fantastic achievement for a 25-year-old. The Bucks would also have the best record in the league for the second-straight year.

There would only be 72 games during the season, as the coronavirus would cause a ton of concern around the league due to a late start. Still, Giannis appeared in 63 games which means he only missed 9 total games. For the best player on the best team, this was not held against Giannis for the MVP award by any means.

3. LeBron James - 62 Games (2011-12)

LeBron James Miami Heat

Total Games That Season: 66 (Lockout-shortened season)

In a lockout-shortened season, LeBron James made the most of the extended rest by dominating the league in an extraordinary fashion. After failing in the Finals a season before, James returned with a vengeance by posting 27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, and 6.2 APG while finishing 4th in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

With Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh by his side, James proved to be the most dominant player in the world and he would maintain this level of play until the playoffs. This might be the most important season of The King’s career because he finally learned how to tune out noise and dominate the game, and did it by winning his first NBA title.

2. Bill Walton - 58 Games (1977-78)

Bill Walton

Total Games That Season: 82

It is amazing how Bill Walton managed to play only 58 games out of 82 and still earn the MVP award. The center posted very solid averages of 18.9 PPG, 13.2 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, and 2.5 BPG in his limited court action. When he was on the floor, Walton dominated every aspect of the floor as his numbers suggest.

As the reigning NBA champion and Finals MVP, Bill Walton impressed everyone with his play the following season which is why his limited number of games played was not held against him. Quite frankly, during this period, Bill Walton was one of the dominant players ever which is why his MVP award was well-deserved.

1. Karl Malone - 49 Games (1998-99)

Photo credit: GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images

Photo credit: GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images

Total Games That Season: 50 (Lockout-shortened season)

Karl Malone was a scoring machine with the Jazz, and he managed two MVP awards by the time of his retirement. 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 point scorer of all time.

But during the 1999 season, Karl Malone only played 49 games which were enough to gift him his second MVP award. The superstar power forward averaged 23.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, and 4.1 APG on 49.3% shooting from the field. Many critics claim this MVP award victory was bogus and that it was given to Malone out of favor instead of awarding Michael Jordan the award seemingly every year. Nonetheless, Malone’s dominance over 49 games was enough to convince voters he was the best player in the league. 


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