Drafting players is far from an exact science. There are many intangibles that can come into place and help a player shape his career. You can't measure work ethic, development, and even luck.
That's why it's not so unusual to see teams strike out when it comes to taking a prospect. There's never such a thing as a can't-miss kind of player, and sometimes those projections and scouting reports just fail.
On the flip side, there have been many players that have outplayed their draft stock. They end up being huge steals and playing way better than most people expected. Today, we're going to talk about some of them, letting you know about the top 10 lowest drafted MVPs in NBA history.
Honorable Mentions: Charles Barkley & Kevin Garnett (5th Pick)
10. Larry Bird - 6th Pick (1978)
MVP Stats: 24.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.8 SPG (1984)
MVP Stats: 28.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.2 BPG (1985)
MVP Stats: 25.8 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 6.8 APG, 2.0 SPG (1986)
Can you imagine five teams passing on Larry Bird? Well, somehow, that's exactly what happened in 1978 when he fell right into the Boston Celtics lap. Mychal Thompson, Phil Ford, Rick Robey, Micheal Ray Richardson, and Purvis Short went all ahead of him.
Needless to say, all those teams would come to regret that decision, as Bird became the best player in the league, one of the all-time greatest shooters, and the best small forward to ever live - before LeBron James arrived.
9. Stephen Curry - 7th Pick (2009)
MVP Stats: 23.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 7.7 APG, 2.0 SPG (2015)
MVP Stats: 30.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 6.7 APG, 2.1 SPG (2016)
Not many people thought Stephen Curry would go on to become the superstar he is nowadays. He was never a highly-scouted prospect, didn't play in a big program, and the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted back-to-back point guards ahead of him.
Curry endured some issues with his ankles early in his career but once he broke out, he never looked back. Now, he's the only unanimous MVP in NBA history, a 3-time NBA Champion. and the greatest shooter to ever lace them up. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves are still looking for their first ring.
8. Dirk Nowitzki - 9th Pick (1998)
MVP Stats: 24.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.4 APG (2007)
The Milwaukee Bucks had the chance to get Dirk Nowitzki but didn't think of him as a difference-maker so they traded him to the Dallas Mavericks. Notably, players like Michael Olowokandi, Raef LaFrentz, and Robert Traylor were all drafted ahead of him.
Dirk went on to become the best player in Dallas Mavericks history and the greatest shooting big man in the history of the league. He put that franchise in his back and led them to their only title while also being their only MVP... for now.
7. Willis Reed - 8th Pick (1964)
MVP Stats: 21.7 PPG, 13.9 RPG, 2.0 APG (1970)
Willis Reed is one of the greatest figures in New York Knicks history. He spent his entire playing career in the Big Apple before also serving as a coach. He was known for being a physical force on both sides of the hardwood and an explosive finisher.
Moreover, Reed was one of the main reasons why the Knicks were able to win both of their championships. Also, he was one of the most durable players in the league, rarely missing games due to injury.
6. Julius Erving - 12th Pick (1972)
MVP Stats: 24.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.4 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.8 BPG (1981)
Julius Erving, mostly known as 'Dr. J.' Is one of the most influential players of all time. He inspired Michael Jordan and countless legends of the game with his electric dunks and athleticism, becoming one of the first true entertainers of the league.
While not mentioned as often as other superstars of the league, Erving was one of the most dominant scorers of all time. His crafty moves paved the way for many more to come after him, as well as his never-ending bag of moves.
5. Karl Malone - 13th Pick (1985)
MVP Stats: 27.4 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.4 SPG (1997)
MVP Stats: 23.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 4.1 APG, 1.3 SPG (1999)
Karl Malone doesn't get any love among younger NBA fans for reasons we're no here to discuss. But when it comes to basketball, there's no denying that he was one of a kind. He was strong, dominant, athletic, and just unstoppable for most of his career.
Not many people thought that a 13th-overall pick would go on to become the league's second-all-time leading scorer. Ed Pinckney, Kenny Green, Keith Lee, Jon Koncack, Wayman Tisdale, among others were all drafted ahead of him.
4. Kobe Bryant - 13th Pick (1996)
MVP Stats: 28.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.5 SPG (1999)
The class of 1996 featured some of the all-time greatest players in NBA history. But none of them had a better career than Kobe Bryant, a shooting guard out of Lower Merion high school who slipped to the 13th spot.
Kobe was younger than most players and it took him a while to showcase his talents. But once he became a starter, he wrote his name on sports history. He's the greatest player in Lakers' history and the closest we ever were to a second Michael Jordan.
3. Steve Nash - 15th Pick (1996)
MVP Stats: 15.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 11.5 APG, 1.0 SPG (2005)
MVP Stats: 18.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 10.5 APG (2006)
Steve Nash also made it to the league thanks to that iconic class of 1996. And in all honesty, not many people thought he would end up becoming the best point guard of his generation.
Nash bounced around the league at the beginning of his career before getting a chance to showcase his talents. He won back-to-back MVPs by leading one of the most entertaining offenses ever and was one of the few members of the 50/40/90 club, which notably also features Bird, Curry, and Dirk among the players in this list.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo - 15th Pick (2013)
MVP Stats: 27.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.5 BPG (2019)
MVP Stats: 29.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 5.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG (2020)
When the Milwaukee Bucks took Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round, they became Twitter's laughing stock. Not many analysts understood why they reached to get an unknown prospect so high when they could've taken him in the second round.
Fast-forward to today and Giannis is one of three players to win MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Finals MVP, joining Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan. The Greek Freak finally silenced his critics by leading the Bucks to their first ring in 50 years.
1. Nikola Jokic - 41st Pick (2014)
MVP Stats: 26.4 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 8.3 APG, 1.3 SPG (2021)
And last but not least we find the latest MVP: Nikola Jokic. Jokic is the lowest drafted MVP and the only second-rounder to achieve this honor. He's improved on a yearly basis and has completely revolutionized the way the five spot is played.
Jokic is the reason why scouts are so high on passing big men that can pull up from beyond the arc. But still, he's just such a unique talent. Notably, he was drafted after Cleanthony Early, Johny O'Bryant III, Jarnell Stokes, DeAndre Daniels, and many players who are either out of the NBA or barely played at all.
Credit: Hooper Hall of Fame