The title NBA MVP has been awarded to one individual every season since 1955. It is the most prestigious individual award you can receive and the list of recipients is very impressive with several multiple award winners. Players that have won more than two include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Bill Russell (5), Michael Jordan (5), Wilt Chamberlain (4), LeBron James (4), Magic Johnson (3), Larry Bird (3) and Moses Malone (3).
All have been well deserving of the award; however, that may not have translated to an MVP-level career (or maybe it did, but was still not up to par with the rest of the winners). This could be due to injuries, lack of post-season success or the inability to replicate that one (or two) memorable season. This list looks at the 10 NBA MVP winners that had the least impressive careers. They may be Hall of Famers, but still fall short when compared to their competition.
Honorable mention goes to two first-ballot Hall of Famers, Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks) and Karl Malone (Utah Jazz). Nowitzki won the award once and is rarely brought up as one of the all-time great players of his era. Malone on the other hand, one of the greatest power forwards of all time (also one-time MVP winner), relied heavily on his pick and roll companion, John Stockton. Had it not been for Stockton, Malone would not have put up the career numbers he had.
The list covers MVP winners from the 1968 through 2014, again, all were deserving of the award the year they won, but fell short when compared against their peers. You don’t have to win six MVP awards to avoid this list (looking at you, overachieving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), but you need to back up your performance with consistency throughout your career. These players fell short in one way or another, here are your 10 NBA MVP winners with the worst careers.
10 2013-14 Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
In the nineties Charles Barkley and Karl Malone each stole MVP awards from Michael Jordan. I say “stole” because some voters like variety and giving out the MVP to Jordan each year was too easy. In 2013-14, Durant stole the MVP award from LeBron James. Not to say Durant wasn’t deserving, he clearly was a top player in the league (along with James), but in hindsight James still had the better overall season and meant more to his team. Durant started 2014-15 with injury, but bounced back nicely. It’s too early to tell with Durant, but I know I’m not sold on him being the very best in the league. Durant has many years to prove me wrong on this one.
9 2000-01 Allen Iverson (Philadelphia 76ers)
8 1974-75 Bob McAdoo (Buffalo Braves)
From 1973 to 1976 Bob McAdoo just killed it in the NBA, averaging over 30 points and 13 rebounds. After his time with Buffalo he went to New York where his numbers dropped and then bounced around before ending his career with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles. McAdoo was so good for three seasons that I guess the drop off was inevitable. Still, when he went to the Knicks I’m sure they expected more than the 20 points and 10 rebounds a game they got from McAdoo. The drop off occurred for two reasons: First, after five consecutive All-Star appearances the injury bug hit; he also wasn’t playing for very good teams until his twilight years when he was only a role player for the Lakers.
7 1977-78 Bill Walton (Portland Trail Blazers)
Walton averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds during his MVP season, but even that season was cut short to only 58 games due to injury. In fact, Walton only played part of eight seasons before he was forced to retire due to injuries. The former number one pick was a legend in college which probably helped his MVP campaign as well as the NBA being low on talent during the late seventies. When he was on the court, Walton was the franchise savior for the Trail Blazers. Lucky for them they got a title during his career, because if they had blinked they would have missed their chance as well as Walton’s career.
6 1972-73 Dave Cowens (Boston Celtics)
Cowens, in only his third year in the league, snagged the MVP award after posting averages of 20 points and 16 rebounds a game. Most thought Cowens was undersized, but during his MVP year he proved his critics wrong, playing center and posting gaudy numbers for the Celtics. Unfortunately Cowens wouldn’t replicate his 1972-73 season due to injury and he retired in 1980. Ex-teammate, Don Nelson coaxed him to come back out of retirement in 1982 to play for the Milwaukee Bucks, but at that point he was a shell of his former self and unable to contribute much in the NBA.
5 1992-93 Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns)
Due to backlash over Michael Jordan getting all the credit, Barkley won the MVP in 1992-93 while playing for the Phoenix Suns. Barkley was a great player who put up consistent numbers, but never really elevated his game to an MVP level, consistently averaging around 22 points and 11 rebounds a game for his career. Another strike against Barkley having an “MVP Career” is that his numbers per 36 minutes were less than his career averages, signaling his numbers were somewhat inflated because he was on the court more than most. Had Barkley had a couple years where he went for 30 points and 15 rebounds and led his team to the NBA Finals I would think different. Of course, this never happened.
4 1969-70 Willis Reed (New York Knicks)
Reed played for 10 seasons, posting averages of 18 points and 12 rebounds a game. His statistics weren’t anything special (outside of your average All-Star) and the year he won the MVP was more of the same. The problem with quantifying Reed’s career is not his talent or production, but rather the team he played for. The Knicks were not a very good team for most of his career. Sure, they tried to add players (as the Knicks still do), but chemistry and injuries derailed most success. Still, Reed won the MVP in 1969-70, which probably says more about the overall NBA talent level at that point than his individual accomplishments that season.
3 1968-69 Wes Unseld (Baltimore Bullets)
Right out of the gate during his rookie season Unseld destroyed the competition, averaging 18 points and 18 rebounds a game for Baltimore. He won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards that season (the only person to ever do so). How do you top that? Well, I guess you don’t. Despite leading the Bullets to four NBA Final appearances (and eventually being named one of the greatest 50 players of all-time) he would go on to average of 10 points and 14 rebounds a game for his career. Quite a drop off after putting up Chamberlin-type numbers his rookie season.
2 2004-05, 2005-06 Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns)
1 2010-11 Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)
Rose is the poster boy for why locking in a big contract young is important. One injury can change everything. Rose won the MVP in 2010-11 and then blew out his knee in the post-season. Until recently, Rose has been unable to return to the court on a consistent basis and most certainly has not approached his numbers or impact from his lone MVP season. It’s not inconceivable that Rose would return to his award-winning form, but it is unlikely and even the Bulls have seemingly started to move on, building around other pieces, unable to count on a healthy Rose to return.