The MVP Award is the greatest regular-season achievement for a player because it shows that they were the best player over 82 games. This award is given to not only the best player for their team, but the most impactful star taking into account the narrative of the season. Nikola Jokic became the most recent MVP and Giannis Antetokounmpo won back-to-back MVPs in 2019 and 2020.
Unsurprisingly, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the most MVP Awards in NBA history with 6 but had he won the amount he should have, the legend might have had more. Of course, the likes of Michael Jordan and LeBron James could have won the award every season of their career, but team bias and also factors such as a team’s narrative also comes into play from voters. Here are the 5 most undeserving MVPs in NBA history, and the player that should have taken the award at the end of the season.
5. Steve Nash Over Kobe Bryant (2005-2006)
Steve Nash Stats: 18.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 10.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 54-28 Record
Kobe Bryant Stats: 35.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 45-37 Record
Steve Nash was deserving of the MVP in 2005, leading the Phoenix Suns team to 62 wins and the best record in the entire league. Nash was at his best, orchestrating one of the best offenses we have ever seen. But one year later, Nash was one of the most undeserving MVPs in history. Voters were clearly in love with Steve Nash’s ball-handling, shooting, and passing but there is no way he should have won the MVP over Kobe Bryant.
With zero help on the roster (think Smush Parker and Kwame Brown), Bryant had to carry the Lakers on his back and averaged 35.4 PPG to take one of the worst teams in the league to the postseason. The Lakers had no business being in the playoffs, but Bryant’s insane season included an 81-point performance in what might be the most incredible offensive feat since Wilt dropped 100 points. Bryant should have been a 2-time MVP if the best player in the game was awarded the MVP trophy in 2006.
4. Karl Malone Over Michael Jordan (1996-1997)
Karl Malone Stats: 27.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 64-18 Record
Michael Jordan Stats: 29.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.7 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 69-13 Record
Karl Malone was undisputedly the best big man in the game in the 1997 season, but he should not have won the MVP Award over Michael Jordan. Malone led the Jazz to the best record in the West, but even his team record was beaten by the Chicago Bulls. Malone put up MVP numbers, but he was not a better player than the best player in the world in Michael Jordan.
His Airness averaged more points and steals and guided the Bulls to a spectacular 69-win season. An 84.1% winning percentage while leading the league in scoring almost always results in an MVP Award, but voters might have just got sick of awarding Michael Jordan the MVP trophy. Voters probably thought Malone deserved an MVP Award because of his long-term dominance in the NBA, but that makes The Mailman one of the most undeserving MVP winners in history.
3. Willis Reed Over Jerry West (1969-1970)
Willis Reed Stats: 21.7 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 60-22 Record
Jerry West Stats: 31.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 7.5 APG, 46-36 Record
Willis Reed is one of the greatest winners who ever played for the New York Knicks, winning 2 championships and 2 Finals MVPs in 1970 and 1973. Having the best record in the NBA is certainly a boost for a player’s MVP chances, but not when Jerry West was at his elite level. West was forced to carry a Lakers team without Wilt Chamberlain (played 12 games) and an absent Elgin Baylor (missed 28 games as a 35-year old).
West led the NBA in scoring, picking up the slack of his 2 absent superstars. “The Logo” also carried the Lakers to the NBA Finals, coming up short in 7 games to Reed and the Knicks. It was amazing how West was able to guide the Lakers into the playoffs with the 2nd best record in the Western Conference, but he did it anyway. Jerry West never won an MVP Award before he retired, but his first should have truly come in the 1970 season.
2. Dave Cowens Over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972-1973)
Dave Cowens Stats: 20.5 PPG, 16.2 RPG, 4.1 APG, 68-14 Record
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Stats: 30.2 PPG, 16.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 60-22 Record
Dave Cowens is a deserving Hall of Famer and one of the great big men in his era, but the dominant big man should not have won the MVP Award over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem leads all players in most MVP Awards won, but he should have had at least 7. Abdul-Jabbar was on an entirely different level in 1973, carrying the Bucks to the best record in the West (Milwaukee was in the Western Conference in 1973).
Kareem averaged more points and assists than Cowens, although the Bucks won 8 fewer games. Clearly, team record should not be the only criteria for an MVP winner because Kareem was undoubtedly the best player in the game at that point. Milwaukee’s superstar led the league in win-shares (21.9) and was the most dominant two-way player in the game in one of the best seasons of his career.
1. Bill Russell Over Wilt Chamberlain (1961-1962)
Bill Russell Stats: 18.9 PPG, 23.6 RPG, 4.5 APG, 60-20 Record
Wilt Chamberlain Stats: 50.4 PPG, 25.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 49-31 Record
Bill Russell was the best player on the best team in the league in 1962, a criterion that normally results in an MVP Award win. But the 1962 season was a different case because Wilt Chamberlain put up the most spectacular numbers we have ever seen. In 80 games, Wilt averaged 50.4 PPG and 25.7 RPG (seriously!) while guiding the Philadelphia Warriors to the 3rd best record in the NBA in only his 3rd season.
Wilt Chamberlain put up numbers that no other player has ever put up before, and likely will never be eclipsed. Wilt “The Stilt” had the greatest statistical season in NBA history, scoring 100 points in a single game and also scoring 42 points in the All-Star Game. Based on pure dominance alone, Wilt should have won the MVP Award in 1962 and should have retired with over 4 MVP Awards to his name.