It's never easy to stand out from the rest of the pack in the NBA. The greatest players coexist and go at each other on a yearly basis, and things only get tougher as seasons go by and your rivals have more time and footage to study your game and its flaws.
Moreover, there are few players that are capable of making a big impact on both ends of the floor. Most NBA players are one-way players. They're either great scorers or lockdown defenders but it's not very often that you find guys that can excel at both.
However, 16 players have been so good on both ends that they've finished in the top-3 in the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the very same year, even though just two (Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan) have won it on the same campaign. Today, we're going to let you know about these players and their historically great campaigns:
Larry Bird (1983)
We don't often talk about Larry Bird as a defensive specialist but make no mistake. Larry Legend was as solid as they come at that end of the floor during his prime, as you can tell by his 1982-83 season when he averaged 23.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game.
Bird was just on his fourth season in the league and led the Boston Celtics to a 56-26 record, but they ended up losing in the second round of the playoffs. Still, he finished second to Moses Malone in the MVP voting and tied 3 for DPOY, although Sidney Moncrief took the award home.
Michael Jordan (1988, 1993)
Michael Jordan is the most competitive and dominant athlete to ever live. He should have won many more MVPs that he actually won and most importantly, he was a fearless defender that could turn it up any given night. He was never going to back down from a challenge.
It didn't take him long to make an impact on the league. Back in 1988, he averaged an NBA-high 35.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, a league-high 3.2 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. The Bulls won 50 games but lost to the Bad Boy Pistons in the second round. Jordan won his first MVP and his lone DPOY award that season.
Jordan kept on putting together MVP-caliber seasons after it. He won the award in 1991 and 1992 and came pretty close in 1993. He averaged a league-high 32.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.8 steals (league-leading), and 0.8 blocks per game. The Bulls went on to win their 3rd straight title but he finished third in MVP voting behind Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon. He was also tied 2nd with David Robinson for DPOY, which Hakeem won.
David Robinson (1991, 1992, 1994)
David Robinson was always the strongest man on the court. He was as dominant as they came and could make a huge impact on both ends of the floor thanks to his combination of skill, strength, and athleticism. He definitely deserves more praise from younger fans.
Robinson was already an MVP and DPOY candidate in his sophomore season. He averaged 25.6 points, a league-high 13.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals, and 3.9 blocks per game. The Spurs won 55 games and he finished third to Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson for MVP. Also, Dennis Rodman beat him for the DPOY.
That wasn't going to stop The Admiral from pushing it even further next season. He averaged 23.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.3 steals. and a league-leading 4.5 blocks per game. San Antonio won 47 games and he finished third in MVP voting behind Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler but won the DPOY that season.
Robinson kept dominating on both ends of the floor during his prime. Back in 1993-94, he averaged a league-high 29.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.7 steals, and 3.3 blocks per game. The Spurs won 55 games and he finished in second to Hakeem Olajuwon for both MVP and DPOY.
Hakeem Olajuwon (1993, 1994)
It seems like we don't talk about Hakeem Olajuwon enough. Honest to God, he may have been the most skilled two-way big man the league had ever seen, and he definitely showed up for it in his prime, especially after Michael Jordan's retirement.
But even before winning his first of two NBA Championships, The Dream had already put the league in notice. His 1992-93 campaign was outstanding with averages of 26.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and a league-high 4.2 blocks per game. His Rockets won 55 games and he finished 2nd to Charles Barkley for MVP but won the DPOY.
Still, his best season ever will come the next year, when he led the Rockets to a 58-win season and a ring by averaging 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 3.7 blocks per game. He won the MVP, Finals MVP, and DPOY that year.
Gary Payton (1998)
Gary Payton is just one of the 5 guards (Michael Jordan, Michael Cooper, Sidney Moncrief, Alvin Roberson, and him) that have ever won the DPOY award and the last one to ever do it. There haven't been many backcourt defenders as dominant as The Glove.
Back in 1998, Gary Payton averaged 19.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 2.3 steals per game, and was already a one-time winner of the DPOY. He led the Sonics to a 61-21 record in the regular season and finished second to Dikembe Mutombo for the DPOY, and third to Michael Jordan and Karl Malone for MVP.
Alonzo Mourning (1999, 2000)
Alonzo Mourning should also get more recognition nowadays. There was a time when he was a major dominant force down low, a difference-maker that was going to bully his way around the rim and not let anybody get their way. He was a top-notch defender.
That mostly showed up during the 1998-99 season. Mourning averaged 20.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and a league-leading 3.9 blocks per game. The Heat won just 33 out of 50 games, which didn't help his case for MVP, as he finished in second to Karl Malone. At least, he won the DPOY that season.
Mourning didn't take his foot off the gas next year. He was as hungry as ever and it showed on his averages of 21.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 3.7 blocks per game (also a league-high). Miami won 52 games and he won the DPOY award again, although he finished in 3rd in the MVP voting to Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett.
Shaquille O'Neal (2000)
Shaquille O'Neal is the most dominant big man to ever live and that goes without question. However, he never actually won the Defensive Player of the Year award despite being one of the league's top-tier post-men and rim protectors.
He came pretty close in 2000, though, as he averaged a league-leading 29.7 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 3.0 blocks per game. The Lakers won the NBA Championship and Shaq was named MVP while finishing second to Alonzo Mourning for DPOY.
Tim Duncan (2001)
Tim Duncan is one of the greatest defenders in the history of the NBA. Inexplicably, he doesn't have a Defensive Player of the Year award to show for it, even though he was selected to 15 All-Defensive teams, which is an NBA record.
2000-01 Duncan was a major presence on both ends. He averaged 22.2 points, 12.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.3 blocks per game. The Spurs won 58 games but fell to the Lakers in the WCF. Duncan finished second to Allen Iverson in the MVP race and third in DPOY voting behind Dikembe Mutombo and Kevin Garnett.
Kevin Garnett (2003, 2008)
Kevin Garnett was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent. He could have won multiple NBA Championships if it wasn't for the Timberwolves' inability to surround him with top-tier talents. Still, he almost led them to glory on his own in his prime.
That was the case in 2003. The Big Ticket averaged 23.0 points, 13.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. The Timberwolves won 51 games thanks to him and he finished second to Tim Duncan for MVP. Also, Ben Wallace and Metta World Peace finished ahead of him in DPOY voting.
5 years later and playing for the Boston Celtics, Garnett did it again. He averaged 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. Boston won 66 games and the ring and he finished in 3rd in MVP voting behind Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul and won the DPOY award.
Dwyane Wade (2009)
Dwyane Wade is one of the greatest backcourt defenders of all time. In fact, he holds the record for most blocks as a guard with 885 and had 6 seasons averaging over 1 blocked shot per game. Sadly, he was never able to win a DPOY award throughout his career.
He came pretty close in 2009, though, when he averaged a league-leading 30.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 2.2 steals, and a career-high 1.3 blocks per game. The Heat won 43 games, but it was LeBron James who won the MVP award that season ahead of Kobe Bryant and Wade. The Flash also finished 3 in the DPOY voting behind Dwight Howard and LeBron.
LeBron James (2009, 2010, 2013)
One of the most impressive things about LeBron James is the fact that he's been around for that long and he always seems to be among the league's leaders in every single regard. He's one of the most durable athletes in the history of sports.
However, he clearly was at his peak towards the end of the last decade. Back in 2009, he led the Cavaliers to a 66-win season by averaging 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game. He won his first of four MVP awards that season and came in second to Dwight Howard for DPOY.
James kept that same energy and grind for the following campaign. He led the Cavaliers to a 61-win season but they lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Still, he won another MVP by averaging 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. He finished third in DPOY voting behind Dwight Howard and Josh Smith.
And finally, LeBron James did it again with the Miami Heat in 2013. The team won 66 games and the NBA Championship and he got his 4th MVP award. Averaging 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game, he also finished in 2nd in DPOY voting, trailing just Marc Gasol.
Dwight Howard (2011)
People forget how dominant Dwight Howard used to be during his days with the Orlando Magic. He was the best big man in the world for a stretch and he seemed poised for stardom. That definitely showed up during the 2010-11 season.
Superman averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.4 blocks per game. However, his Magic fell in the First Round of the playoffs. Still, Howard finished in 2nd to Derrick Rose for the MVP award and won the DPOY.
Kawhi Leonard (2016, 2017)
Kawhi Leonard came pretty much out of the blue and quickly became one of the ultimate two-way players in the history of the game. It seems like he continues to get better and better, so he'll likely add many more campaigns of being a top-3 MVP and DPOY candidate.
The first time The Klaw ever had such a season came in 2016. He led the Spurs to a 67-win season while averaging 21.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. He finished second in MVP voting behind Stephen Curry and won the DPOY.
He had pretty similar numbers next season when he averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game. The Spurs won 61 games and he came in third in MVP voting behind Russell Westbrook and James Harden. He also came in third in DPOY voting behind Draymond Green and Rudy Gobert.
Anthony Davis (2018)
Anthony Davis has been putting MVP and DPOY caliber seasons since he entered the league. Still, he's yet to win any of those awards mostly because of how poorly his New Orleans Pelicans fared. Now that he plays for the Lakers, he'll finally have a shot and that and most importantly, a ring.
Davis' most impressive season thus far came in 2017-18. He averaged 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals, and a league-high 2.6 blocks per game. The Pelicans won 48 games and he finished 3rd in MVP voting behind James Harden and LeBron James and 3rd as well in DPOY behind Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid.
Paul George (2019)
Paul George is a true warrior. He overcame a gruesome career-jeopardizing injury and went back to playing at the highest level. In fact, he took the reins as the best player in the 2018-19 Oklahoma City Thunder despite sharing the spotlight with Russell Westbrook.
PG was a major stud on both ends of the floor that season. He averaged 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and a league-high 2.2 steals. The Thunder, however, underperformed in the playoffs after winning 49 games. George finished third to Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden for MVP, and third to Rudy Gobert and Giannis for DPOY.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019)
Giannis Antetokounpmo is on the verge of making history. According to the projections, he's about to become the third player in NBA history to win both the MVP and DPOY in the very same season. That's just how good and dominant he's become lately.
Last season had been his best campaign in the league thus far. He averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. The Bucks won a league-best 60 games and Giannis won his first MVP. He also finished second in DPOY voting, trailing just Rudy Gobert.